Friday, December 15, 2017

Fantastic Iraqi Translation Project for Science

Salman Hameed

I have just returned from Qatar after attending a workshop on science education in the Gulf. More on that soon. But there were interesting discussions about the medium of instruction for science classes. This is a tricky issue as children learn best in their mother language. But good translations (our any translations) are not available, thus limiting what can be taught and learn in school. Within this context, is fantastic to know about the Iraqi Translation Project. Paul Baterman has a nice article about this project and its promise in the Arab world:
The Iraqi Translation Project (ITP) is one of several similar projects that have sprung up in recent years, spurred on no doubt by the disappointments of the Arab Spring. The potential audience is enormous; these projects keep well-curated Facebook pages, and according to the Dubai-based Arab Social Media Report, there are over 150m Facebook users in their target areas.
ITP started in 2013. Its materials are archived on its website, and accessible through Facebook, where it has over 140,000 followers, and on YouTube. The closely related Arabic-language Real Science, founded in 2011, also has its own website (now bilingual) and Facebook page. 
The co-founders of ITP, several of whom are also involved in Real Science, include Hassan Mazin Alkhayuon, currently a PhD candidate in applied mathematics at the University of Exeter – and my own main contact with the project – a biology teacher, a construction engineer with experience in popularising science, a surgeon and an English literature graduate. 
ITP translates cultural articles, videos and documentaries, with particular concentration on science-related digital materials for a general audience, of which there is a severe lack in Arabic. The project runs entirely on a voluntary basis, and currently has over 50 active volunteers, including some qualified or qualifying as a translators.
This is a fantastic effort and needs to grow. The impact is not immediate, but it needs a sustained effort. One of the offshoots of this kind of effort is that it may also allow a broader discussion of topics that are not usually addressed. Now evolution, unfortunately, is becoming one of the topics that is being considered more and more controversial in several Muslim countries (it wasn't the case in biology textbooks even a few years ago - and places like Saudi Arabia were more of an exception in their opposition to evolutionary theory). Therefore, it is great to know that ITP has been translating works on evolution as well, including that getting the support of Neil Shubin:
The project has managaed to attract some high-ranking support. Neil Shubin, discoverer of Tiktaalik (the “missing link” between lobefish and amphibians), gave an interview on his motivation as a scientist. His book, Your Inner Fish, is one of my favourite accounts of evolution science, and ITP has provided the documentary version with Arabic subtitles. 
So far, ITP has translated over 2,000 articles, 60 documentaries and 150 videos. Topics cover a wide range of subjects, from Sumerian civilisation, gravity waves and political secularism, to female philosophers and interbreeding of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.
The project does not shy away from sensitive topics, although of course publication does not imply agreement, and recent posts discuss anything from the nature of religious belief to the politics of separatism in Catalonia and Kurdistan. Evolution is one of the most popular subjects, with the first instalment of Your Inner Fish having received over 90,000 views since August 2016. 
And yes, you should definitely check out Your Inner Fish - both the book and the documentary.

At a time when there is a shortage of good and positive stories, it is great to hear about the Iraqi Translation Project.

Read the full article here.


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