Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Integrating science in Muslim societies

by Salman Hameed

One of the advantages of attending conferences is that you get to meet other academics and researchers who are working in related areas. At the AAAS meeting last week, I had a chance to meet Naser Faruqui, the director of science policy at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada (yes, they still insist on spelling "center" the wrong way :) ). The meeting ended up being a bit odd, as we ended up spending the entire time waiting in line to get coffee - which we eventually did. During this coffee wait, I found out that he is involved with The Atlas of Islamic-World Science and Innovation. This promises to be a fantastic resource and is expected to chart the interplay of science, culture, and politics in 15 OIC countries. Eight organizations are involved in the project, including IDRC, The Royal Society, The British Council, Qatar Foundation, etc. and case studies of Malaysia, Pakistan and Qatar are already underway. Since Malaysia and Pakistan are also part of our own study of perceptions regarding evolution in the Muslim world, this resource will be of enormous help!

But as it turns out, Naser Faruqui also had an oped piece, Turning on the Light of Muslim Science, in yesterday's The Globe and Mail. He brings up the point that the current happenings in Tunisia and Egypt provide an opportunity to "improve the prospects for harnessing science and its values to advance sustainable and equitable development, openness and democracy in the Islamic world". He makes three key recommendations - and what I like about them is that they emphasize on taking advantage of local conditions as well as keeping an eye on the impact on the society as a whole. And of course, the emphasis on social science is absolutely essential:

Investment in science by developing countries helps alleviate poverty and foster openness – but these improvements take time. Many countries with strong R&D sectors can also be authoritarian. Sometimes, periods of military rule can be more supportive of science than periods of democracy. Science, for all its benefits, is no guarantee of development and democracy.
So how can science be pursued in a way that leads to multidimensional development, including economic gains but also greater transparency, voice and freedom? Naturally, scientific rigour is essential, but three other principles are important.
First, science must be local. The best way to achieve sustainable and equitable development is to build homegrown capacity to do research. Rather than importing scientific know-how, people can, with help, acquire the skills they need to solve their own problems – and reduce their dependence on foreign aid.
Second, science must be multidisciplinary. Research for development demands a range of approaches, which should be focused on solving socioeconomic problems with natural or engineering ones. In other words, the social sciences – which tend to be neglected in developing countries, including Muslim ones – are as crucial to success as the natural or applied sciences.
And third, science must pursue equity and inclusiveness alongside growth. While it’s essential to use science to promote growth and competitiveness, it’s not enough. Many countries that have grown this way have widened the disparities between rich and poor. The solution is to choose science, technology and innovation paths that will benefit society as a whole, not just a narrow elite.

Read the full article here. For a fantastic example of local and environmentally friendly science, check out this earlier post on Eco-Islam and a "green Imam" in Tanzania


Don said...

That second plank about encouraging multidisciplinary (read: social) sciences is very interesting. SS has sure come a long way since some of the Marxist or rational choice strawmen that anti-intellectuals continue to write about... perhaps this is a chance to introduce some of the social science work of the last few decades to people!

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