Sunday, May 23, 2010

A bill to support scientific research in the Muslim world

In the past few months I have posted several items about science and education initiatives in the Muslim world. Some of this follows from Obama's Cairo speech and his appointment of science envoys. Even if there is no immediate impact, these efforts, I think, are going to have a net-positive impact if employed with long-term effects in mind. Yes, there is a danger of US appearing to be a patronizing power or being perceived as coming in with some sinister motives. However, there is also the real need in much of the Muslim world of scientific intellectual input and the development of an infrastructure that can sustain high-quality research in the long-run. Since there are economic benefits also tied in with this development, my guess is that a positive engagement will, in the end, win out against trepidation over the US involvement. I may sound like a broken record here, but I hope that this engagement goes beyond applied sciences and that there is a serious effort to invest in pure sciences as well (and the related issue of providing safe space for free speech and tolerance of other ideas).

A bill has now been introduced in the House of Representatives, cosponsored by a Democrat (Howard Berman, D-CA) and a Republican (Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE), that wants to provide grants for scientific research to universities, businesses, and institutes in the Muslim world (see full text of bill H.R.4801 here). From Nature Medicine:
The Global Science Program for Security, Competitiveness and Diplomacy Act, co-sponsored in March by Berman and Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, would provide grants of up to five years to universities and businesses and fund infrastructure for research in a number of specific fields, including multi–drug-resistant and water-borne diseases, renewable energy and nuclear nonproliferation, among others. Research into sensitive subjects such as bioterrorism and select agents would not be funded. The bill, which does not specify a budget, also aims to create a 'global virtual science library' that would make scientific journals available at little to no cost.

Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian-born chemist at the California Institute of Technology and a member on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, applauds the legislation. “This is about creating the infrastructure, exchanges and management” in science between the US and the Muslim world, says Zewail, who was one of three science envoys appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November.

Still, he concedes that some countries in the region do not have the capacity to support research, even if paid for by US taxpayers. “Some countries are at different levels,” he says. “Some will only be able to contribute human resources,” but others should produce concrete results.

Read the full story here. This bill is in its early stages and has to first go through the foreign affairs committee as well the relevant science committees of both the House and the Senate, before it can be brought up for a vote in the respective chamber of the Congress.

6 comments:

emre said...

You're right to harp on the importance of the pure science to challenge their beliefs, and appreciate the scientific method.

I would like to add that they need to teach those things much earlier; as early as possible. They could also foster an educational environment that encourages debate. Muslims are not used to supporting their arguments with facts, so maybe these universities could teach some basic critical thinking skills that the students should have acquired in secondary school but didn't.

Anonymous said...

Are there any Muslim biologists who completely believe in evolution?

Salman Hameed said...

Emre: Critical thinking is absolutely a must. I would also add a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Anonymous:
Just like other places, there is a broad spectrum in the ways Muslims accept or reject evolution. There are many Muslim medical doctors who have no problem with evolution (but many reject it also). We are, in fact, currently conducting a study on the way Muslim medical doctors negotiate evolution. Will share the results when we finish our work - hopefully by the summer of 2011.

emre said...

Dear Nitin,

I will be happy to buy some medical supplies. Do you sell mint-flavored condoms?

Emre.

Anonymous said...

I am a Muslim medical doctor. I find Darwin's Theory unconvincing. Natural selection is not God. But the theory of evolution expects it to play God.

emre said...

Dear doctor,

The theory of evolution very much does not expect natural selection to play god. The absence of an omnipotent being guiding the process is very much a selling point.

It's a bit like trying to describe why objects fall without the theory of gravity. Maybe god is upset that the objects are trying to reach his heavenly heights and he smacks them down to earth? Or maybe there is a simpler explanation.