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December 08, 2003

A proposal for the "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad" (part 1)
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]

network.JPG In the last two decades, the emigration of scientists and skilled workers, also known as brain drain, has become a crucial barrier against the rapid growth of Iran. Every year, a considerable number of Iranians who could participate significantly in the development of their home country leave Iran permanently for another country. The approach that the Iranian government has taken toward this issue is quite sad and disappointing. They neither have any estimate of how extensive the problem is, nor a clear understanding of the problem and its possible solutions.

Emigration of the elite is the consequence of many political, social and economical factors and is not specific to Iran. Every year, many scientists leave Canada and Europe for the United States. Emigration of scientists and skilled workers even happens within the US from one state to the other. It is important to note that in Iran and to some extent in other countries, this problem and its solutions are not really different from other problems of society. As in the case of our home country, unless the government of Iran becomes more democratic and life becomes easier in financial respects, there is not any real hope that every year, many Iranians won't immigrate to other countries. It would be a big mistake if we think that the brain drain problem can be solved without taking care of the other problems of the society.

Although no short-term comprehensive solution is ahead of us, there is still a lot that could be done. A few approaches to this problem have been tried in different countries in the last two decades. The first is called "Preventive Policy," which is the attempt to keep scientists inside the country, in some cases by making immigration difficult. This policy has failed drastically in all the countries that have tried it. What is wrong with this policy is the assumption that separates the value of a scientist from his or her environment. In fact it is the interaction between a scientist and his or her community that brings success. A talented person in a country which can not appreciate it will not be productive.

The second option is called "Return Policy" and is followed by some new industrialized countries such as South Korea and China. These countries let their people go to the more developed countries for periods of work or study. At the same time, they try to make a strong scientific infrastructure in order to encourage their scientists to return home and use the expertise and knowledge they have gained. However this option can only be implemented in relatively rich countries with large financial resources and strong management. Sadly, it is a bit optimistic that Iran could invest on this option.

The other strategy is called "Diaspora Option". This policy is based on the fact that many of the scientists do not go back to their home country anyway. However, for cultural and personal reasons they would like to help, in any way they can. The goal of this policy is to systematize the connection between the scientists abroad and their home. There are several advantages to this approach. Firstly, since the scientists stay in the developed countries, the concern is not valid anymore that they may not be productive. Moreover this policy gives the opportunity to the developing countries to take advantage of the scientific environment of the developed countries through the contact with their scientists.

In the second part of this post, I will discuss how "Diaspora Option" can be implemented for Iran by giving a proposal for a "Network of Iranian Academics Abroad".

Reference:

Jean-Baptiste Meyer and Mercy Brown, Scientific Diasporas:A New Approach to the Brain Drain, World Conference on Science, Hungary, 1999.

Comments
Señor Græd at December 8, 2003 12:51 PM [permalink]:

Thanks, Yaser, for the new post(ing), but first of all I see a gap here. In the first line of your post(ing) you mention "skilled workers", but then you completely focus on scientists. Second, I'd also like to take issue with a generalization that lies in your treatment of the subject. Plain and simple: Iran does *not* need pure scientists at all for making "progress" in any reasonable sense of the word. This said, an accumulation of applied scientists in and of itself will not help Iran either. The kind of science and skills that Iran *needs* in order to better the life of the common folks there should first be identified and then worked on, rather than falling victim to the lure of the arguemtns that use the word "science" in order to justify funding any kind of research that if we're lucky will result in publishing papers in prestigious foreign journals without any impact whatsoever on solving Iran's much more urgent problems.

Check this out! at December 8, 2003 04:22 PM [permalink]:

LINK

Pouria at December 8, 2003 05:14 PM [permalink]:

"the emigration of scientists and skilled workers, also known as brain drain, has become a crucial barrier against the rapid growth of Iran. Every year, a considerable number of Iranians who could participate significantly in the development of their home country leave Iran permanently "
Rapid growth of what? Do you mean economic growth? Scientific growth? The reason they leave is that they cannot participate 'signigicantly' in the development (growth) of Iran. Thus, loss of growth is the reason they leave. Their leaving is not in itself the barier to growth. At most it aggrevates this situation.

"The approach that the Iranian government has taken toward this issue is quite sad and disappointing."
It is not only the approach that is sad and disappointing - the very government is sad and disappointing!

"They neither have any estimate of how extensive the problem is, nor a clear understanding of the problem and its possible solutions"
Again this relates to generally poor governance. As for solutions, that would most likely involve in a lot of people with vested interests (whether economic, political, religious, etc) having to give up a lot. They are obviously not willing to do that, so the matter of a solution is moot.

"It would be a big mistake if we think that the brain drain problem can be solved without taking care of the other problems of the society."
This is a good point, that is why talking of a solution to this problem specifically is moot.

Granted, as you said, that there is no viable long term solution, the diaspora option seems to be a good cure for some of the symptoms of this problem if not a cure for the problem itself. I'm looking forward to reading (or hearing) the rest of your proposal.

yaser at December 8, 2003 07:53 PM [permalink]:

Senor Grad,
I agree that I have only focused on scientists rather the skilled workers. This is mainly because of my own background the proposal which is for a scientific network. You are probably right that our country needs more of skilled workers than scientists ( esp pure scientists). However, now that there are many Iranian scientists abroad, why not taking advantage of them? It is also important that scientific developement of the country would inevitably influences on the other aspects of the society and will not be limited to publishing some papers in some prestigious journals.

Your comments is absolutely valid by saying that policymakers of the country should give priority to certain sciences (or technology) to the other. This could be a subject for another post.

yaser at December 8, 2003 08:03 PM [permalink]:

Pouria,

"Thus, loss of growth is the reason they leave. "
It is a two sided thing. The loss of growth is both the reason and the consequence of brain drain. It is actually a cascaded effect. My sentence should not imply that if they stay we would have rapid growth.

"the very government is sad and disappointing"
This is a political statement and doesn't fit in this certain post:)

Agree with the rest of your comments.

Ordak D. Coward at December 9, 2003 12:47 PM [permalink]:

A few points on Yaser's article:

- A few years ago, the top three countries with their scholars going back to their home were Japan, S. Korea and Brazil. (and Iran, India and China the bottom three) I assume we can attribute the indutrial and economic conditions of S. Korea and Japan as the main factor. However, I believe, in case of Brazil, the issue is a cultural one, having spoken to a few Brazilians about their plans after their stay in school in US, most of them wanted to return to their country because they did not have fun here. I believe Brazil is not the only country like this, but I do not have any other examples myself.

- If you believe that science shall not recognize national borders, then you probably agree that encouraging scientific cooperation based on national origins is a little awkward. Most likely, the results will be medicore. To produce scientific results -- besides cash and facilities -- you need hard work, collaboration, and ideas. Not having seen the proposal of NIAA yet, I assume it only concentrates on providing a collaborative environment among "Iranian academics abroad". I beleive it is too restricted. You need to bridge the gap between those inside the Iranian borders and outside. At the same time, not focusing on a single subject area is another shortcoming.

- Around five or six years ago there was a one (or more ) day conference in US by Iranians working in telecommunications and computer networks. I cannot find a reference to it on the Internet, but probably talking to the organizers of those events may give you a better idea.

mammad at December 9, 2003 02:36 PM [permalink]:

Ordak don't go too far ;-)
Sept.2003 @ MIT
http://www.siliconiran.com/events/itf2003/index.shtml

but I think what yaser is talking about is more "scientific" than telecom industry.

Ordak D. Coward at December 9, 2003 03:06 PM [permalink]:

Mammad,
Thanks for the link, but the conference I had in mind had more of an academic aspect to it than the Industrial/Entrepreneurship aspect of SiliconIran's .

Rouzbeh at December 9, 2003 03:38 PM [permalink]:

Thanks Yasser for starting the debate on such an important issue. I have been thinking about this ossue for qutie some time and have some suggestion for such an organization that should be founded some day. I will write more about this in a comment on your second post.

Señor Græd at December 10, 2003 06:40 PM [permalink]:

I am tired of writing long comments, so I'll try my best to be brief here. Also, I have already started not reading the comments that are not addressed to me! Yaser: I do appreciate the fact that you feel responsible and want to do something for Iran. In fact, I sympathize with you and admire you for that. But, first of all, I checked your background (Yes, I have access to FBI files. Just kidding.) and it seems to me that you are too capable to want to be confined to your background. So I can't accept the excuses such as since I don't know much about anything else, then I should be concerned only about what my background ordains me to do. Secondly, one should ask oneself: What *is* the goal of such a network? Because this is the kind of argument that I have heard before, but I don't buy anymore: "It is also important that scientific developement of the country would inevitably influences on the other aspects of the society and will not be limited to publishing some papers in some prestigious journals." Let me just ask: HOW?

Señor Græd at December 10, 2003 07:25 PM [permalink]:

Okay, I did say that I'm tired (that I am), but then again, you know...

Uneven development. I've heard this term and you may have heard it too. This is one thing our country suffers from. Example: Bulgaria, among the poorest and most un-liveable countries in Europe today, is the winner of the International Mathematical Olympiad of 2003, followed by China and the US. What can we conclude from this success about these countries? Bulgarians are pretty smart, China has a huge population, and the US has a good educational system. Right? Not quite. It is a fallacy to think if Bulgaria does well in a certain area, then it will "inevitably" do well in other areas.

I don't believe the problem with Iran is a lack of expert forces as much as it is the *mismatch* between what the society needs and what our scientists have to offer. It seems to me that a large number of our educated elites find it beneath themselves to come down from the high towers of academia and get their hands dirty in something useful. The exaplanation for this tendency is simple: they are the products of the very educational system that indoctrinates such values in the minds of the students, a sick, if I may say so, educational system that rewards the students for being unpractical nerds. In other words, the value-system of the educational system self-perpetuates.

Iranians are a highly class-conscious people and have a deeply hierarchical mentality which manifests itself even in educational milieux. What is ignored and sacrificed here is the real needs of the country. I think we should create and develop, first and foremost, an educational system that addresses the needs of our own society. If it is feasible to benefit from the fruit of others' research, our educational system should ideally train individuals who would simply fill the gap between the research and its applications, because who else would benefit from a research beside those who know how to put it to good use? In other words, by pure research alone, you'll be adding to a treasure that you yourself won't know how to take advantage of, and what a waste would that be!

Ordak D. Coward at December 11, 2003 02:12 AM [permalink]:

Extreme Sarcasm On
Señor Græd: Haven't you noticed that Yaser's proposal will lead to realization of the Iranian Dream? Networking Iranian academics will eventually lead to more Iranian academics leaving Iran, which as you said is any Iranian's dream
Extreme Sarcasm Off

I shall disagree with Señor Græd's implied suggestion that Yaser should do things not in his background. It seeme to me that Señor Græd is suggesting that just because Yaser is capable of doing certain things much better than most people, Yaser should start doing those things. Not knowing what these things are, I shall refer to it as 'thing'. Well, I think Yaser should only focus on the one thing that he does best compared to all other people doing that thing.

I have a few issues with what Señor Græd promotes. Assuming he is studying in a certain purely theoretical field, having realized that his potentials could have vested better by other means, he has come to the conclusion that pure science is not needed for Iran. Well, his conclusion and only the concluding part is right on the point. What he misses to understand (or at least communicate with [me]) is that many other applied sciences or industrial know how or (social sciences, business skills, and on and on) could be labeled the same way -- not needed for Iran; not a top priority, and so on --. The problem in my opinion is not that say, certain people focus on theoretical physics while they could have become successful leaders in many other needed areas. Nor that the resources given to such a person will be wasted as they could have been used to, say, train 100 skilled workers instead. It may sound stupid but the real problem is that we do not know what the problem is. And, I do not think that it is possible to understand the problem anyway. So, most problem-oriented approaches -- where we focus on one problem and try to fix it -- are going to fail anyway, as there are so many of these minor problems, that we are destined to fail in orchestrating an effort to solve them at the same time. This is the chaos that Iranian society has been in as long as I remember. We tend to a fix a perceived problem by introducing another problem. We swing from Moarchy to Theocracy. The government swings between left and right wing. Once financial growth is the trend, another time political openness, and other ideas swing in and out without having a lasting effect on the society. For a while, we introduce Tarh-e-Kaad in Iranian high-schools, a few years later International Olympiads come into play. Instead of trying to remove our weaknesses in the programs, we instead change them to another one, as we are under the false belief that two contradicting paradigms cannot work side by side.

To make this short, we do not need to prioritize resources to 'urgent problems'. A problem is a problem and remains to be solved. The urgency shall not be in allocationg the best minds (read resources) to solve the problems. Rather, it should be in motivating people and all people included to solve any problem they are capable of.

yaser at December 11, 2003 09:38 AM [permalink]:

I will reply to some of the comments in my next post. Just one point in response to senor grad
We "already" have many Iranian scientists abroad. It doesn't really need too much money or efforts to make a network among them with the goal of helping Iran. Regardless of what is the priority, why not doing that? We are not talking about a multi-bilion project to worry about whether it is the right place to invest or not. Many points raised by Senor Grad are all valid points. What I don't understand is why we can't we work on a network at the same time that some other people hopefully are thinking about other issues.

yahya at December 11, 2003 11:19 AM [permalink]:

I suggest establishing a website to coordinate workshops and seminars in Iran by students who visit Iran during summer or breaks. The website can be persian to be more accessible to people in Iran. We only need contacts in major universities in Iran.

Señor Græd at December 11, 2003 02:14 PM [permalink]:

Ordak D. Coward's well-crafted counter-comment poses a challenge and I shall deal with it (i.e., examine it, and if necessary AND possible, also provide a reply, or a rebuttal!) later on, when I have more time and more peace of mind.

I also would like to strengthen my polemic by adding the sentence "This cycle must be broken." at the end of one of my paragraphs in a comment above ending with one of my favorite words: self-perpetuating. :-)

As for Yaser's response: You have successfully evaded from answering two main questions. I hope to see them addressed in your next post(ing). 1. How does proliferation of pure science alone help improve other sectors of the society? 2. What is or will be the goal of such a network? In other words, when you mention "helping Iran" as a goal, how exactly can this "help" be materialized?

Another flaw in Yaser's approach, that is to some extent dealt with in Ordak's comment above, lies in the word "hopefully" when he says: "What I don't understand is why we can't we work on a network at the same time that some other people hopefully are thinking about other issues." I think his blind relying on others is what will lead to uneven development.

More later.

Kaveh Kh. at December 11, 2003 03:11 PM [permalink]:

Yahya, I am sure the editors at freethoughts will spare us some space and bandwidth for that website!

Señor Græd at December 11, 2003 04:05 PM [permalink]:

Partial response to Ordak D. Coward's comment:

Thank you for the sarcastic introduction of your comment. Well, I don't think Iranians who leave Iran would care that much about whether they'd be of help to Iran's progress (whatever that term means) while living abroad. I mean, that wouldn't be such a big a factor in their making up their mind about whether to leave Iran or continue to live in Iran. So that network wouldn't have a considerable effect on Iranians' leaving Iran, because they leave mainly to "save" themselves.

I have also failed to question the feasibility of such a network and how effective that could be, but I guess I'm waiting to see more articulation on the exact goal and function of such a netwrok.

About what Yaser Kerachian, or other Yasers out there, should or should not do, I could hardly have any say. But let me make it clear that I did not suggest that they should stop doing physics (or whatever they've chosen to do) and instead start studies in the history of medieval Islam, or in what ways the Enlightenment affected the American educational system. Not necessarily, at least. I said they should preferably try not be "confined" to their background. That they should perhaps try to go beyond the invisible boundaries that the indoctrinations of our sick educational system has laid down for them.

This of course by no means implies that I myself have been successful in freeing myself from the kind of mentality and set of attitudes that has been shaped and hardened in my mind during years of Iranian-type schooling. Far from it indeed. Neither do I honestly think, mind you, that I would be able to achieve more had I started on a different path. That would be a non-verifiable claim at best, and a disingenuous one at worst, not to mention that there is really not much to be gained in focussing on my life history and psychoanalysing my personality (that a certain YaYa once attempted, as you witnessed yourself).

My personal disappointments are one thing; the arguments that I offer another. And I think it would be wrong to try to trace the source of my malcontentedness, rather than dealing with my words head-on and for whatever they're worth.

Now I shall leave you with these thoughts, but I'll hopefully be back soon. (I'm not even done with Ordak's second paragraph yet!)

Señor Græd at December 11, 2003 04:56 PM [permalink]:
Part of Ordak D. Coward's comment (where s/he talks about the "problem") is harder to tackle, perhaps because it's kind of incoherent or even nonsensical, but I shall try my best. In any case, I appreciate his (or, as unlikely as it is, her) taking time to write the detailed comment. -Not knowing what these things are, I shall refer to it as 'thing'. Which is a very good *thing* to do! I don't know what they are either. I don't have a list of Iran's priorities in mind. That would require research carried out by individuals who are not themselves, for example, physicists, because it is conceivable that physicists would think (or in any case, would claim) that what Iran needed most of all is funding research on physics. -Well, I think Yaser should only focus on the one thing that he does best compared to all other people doing that thing. I could agree with that, assuming that somebody knows in an a priori fashion exactly what it is that Yaser can do best compared to others. What I am trying to say is, the very fact that the best talents are attracted to certain fields rather than the others is caused by the priorities that are set by the dominant attitudes which are in turn formed by the unhealthy educational system that Iran is inflicted with. This should remind you of the cycle I was referring to. How can we possibly know that a person whom I'd call X (rather than Y!) would not grow to be best among her/his contemporaries in an altogether different set of intellectual skills, if X was placed from the beginning in another educational context, for example, one that placed a lot more importance on humanities than on pure science? -It may sound stupid but the real problem is that we do not know what the problem is. And, I do not think that it is possible to understand the problem anyway. So, most problem-oriented approaches -- where we focus on one problem and try to fix it -- are going to fail anyway, as there are so many of these minor problems, that we are destined to fail in orchestrating an effort to solve them at the same time. These sentences strike me as strange coming from a well-informed and thoughtful Ordak. "Problem-oriented approach" sounds like a mouthful, but there is no alternative approach is you want to solve a problem, or at least none that I am aware of! I agree that our main problem may well be that we have not really succeeded in pinpointing the Iran's problem. (I have personally inclined toward the belief, insufficiently substantiated as it may be, that education, in a broad sense, is the key; the problem lies, ultimately, in our educational system and the solution is also, and therefore, in correcting the educational system.) -... and other ideas swing in and out without having a lasting effect on the society. I agree! So maybe *that* is the Problem. No? - ... we are under the false belief that two contradicting paradigms cannot work side by side. I would like to second that as well. Reminds me also of a quotation by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I happened upon recently: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today." :-) -The urgency shall not be in allocationg the best minds ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Babak S at December 12, 2003 02:28 PM [permalink]:

Señor Græd asks: "How does proliferation of pure science alone help improve other sectors of the society?" I shall try to provide an answer form my own biased point of view. I'd like however to emphasise that the adverb "alone" in Señor Græd's question is not what I intend to justify, but even accepting it hypothetically, I shall argue that the proliferation of pure sciences alone helps improve things in a much better way than the proliferation of, say, social sciences alone.

And the answer is in fact not vey long or complicated. It lies within the worldview of pure sciences. Pure sciences are problem-specific and a lot less ambiguous in their solutions than most other fields of human quest for knowledge. Aren't these exactly what Señor Græd thinks, based on his comments, should remedy Iran's problems.

Suppose we have two political scientists, two philosophers, and two pure scientists, and we are to decide which group to choose to write a curriculum for our schools. Each choice will sacrifice to some extent the share of other fields than the ones our group specialises in, but thinking of which one would leave the whole curriculum better off, my bias is, on what I said in the previous paragrpah, towards the pure scientists. Of course, the ideal situation is to have Education Curriculum experts along with the poiltical, economic, pure, etc. scietists and philosophers to do the job as a team. I hope that ideals do not dilute the intention of my example.

PS. In a comment after the one I was replying to, our Señor Græd says: "[I]t is conceivable that physicists would think (or in any case, would claim) that what Iran needed most of all is funding research on physics." Let me express my disagreement, as a junior member of the community Señor Græd is referring to. That is, in case physicists are in charge of something, they wouldn't necessarily push selfishly for more dough in their own plates. In fact, there is a living example right now in Iran: The research deputy minister of technology and research (formerly, higher education) is Dr. Reza Mansouri, a physicist/cosmologist. Iran's output in "science" has increased radically in his term (I'm tentatively attributing this increase to him), most strikingly in Chemistry, with "pharmacology, mathematics, and engineering" following. I don't have the statistics in other fields at the moment.

Señor Græd at December 12, 2003 04:31 PM [permalink]:
When I first saw Babak's name in the comments' column a few minutes ago, I felt both happy and alarmed! I was happy to have him back to FToI discussions after a long break (I admit that I myself need a long break from FToI) and I was alarmed because I was sure that in taking up the challenge he had some important things to say to refute part of my otherwise ignored comments. First of all, I appreciate the fact that not only Babak S is aware of his bias, but also in the benfit of fairness, stresses on his being biased. In a long comment a while ago, when I was describing what I thought "freedom" means, I had said to become free onee should bare oneself of all bias (or something to that effect) and see the things the way they "really" are. I now admit that it is impossible to see things the way they "really" are. Humans' understanding of how things are is nothing but *contingent* on his life experiences. That is to say it is only within a certain context that a text (in a very broad sense of the word) can be interpreted and made sense of. Or at least that's what I would like to believe until I find some strong edivence against this idea. Let's first deal with the less important part of Babak's comment, that is, his last paragraph. I am truly glad to see that Iran is doing well in the region in terms of science (and I believe we've been doing very well, *compared to other countries in the Middle East*, in terms of democratic ideals too). This is quite heart-warming. Babak writes: "That is, in case physicists are in charge of something, they wouldn't necessarily push selfishly for more dough in their own plates." Not *necessarily*, I very much agree. Maybe that's why I used the word "conceivable", meaning it could very well happen. Not only because they make a living out of doing physics (let's for the moment stick to the physicists' example, although this can be said about experts in other areas of knowledge), BUT because they'd most probably have a narrow vision --call it "bias", if you want to-- of what "progress" means and what makes it possible. What I am fiercely against, and what I believe has caused "uneven development" is the unbalanced emphasis on pure science at the expense of humanities. Which brings us nicely to the conent of the main part of Babak's comment. First of all, Babak fails to provide an answer to the question that he claims to want to answer. He drifts into comparing pure science to social science, and I even don't find myself in complete agreement with him there. More precisely, I think social sciences (and more generally, Humanities) *alone* can lead to "better" results, as far as the overall welfare of the people is concerned, than pure sciences *alone*. I do certainly agree that Humanities are much more prone to degenerating to stupid nonsense than exact sciences are, and I suppose that is one reason why many of us are first attracted to the latter. 2+2 is always and anywhere 4. But alas, there is no avoiding the non-exact nature of the Humanities if we are after a substantial, as opposed to superficial, change. Let me give an imaginary example. Abdol-Karim Soroush has been a prolific source of new ideas (or at least ideas that are new to us, Iranians) during the recent years. Needless to say, I've not followed but a small percentage of his intellectual products. But in any case, I presume there is enough material there to allow one to make a couple of courses out of it to be taught, discussed, and cri ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Babak S at December 12, 2003 05:44 PM [permalink]:

Señor Græd, my perception was that you thought Iran's problems should be remedied via some problem-specific approach. This is one major difference, in my opinion, between pure sciences and social sciences/humanities, and hence my concluding question in paragraph two of my previous comment.

The problem-specific nature of pure sciences is their strong as well as weak point. It results, on the one hand, in their overall and somewhat universal success, and on the other, in their limited applicability. The latter is why humanities are generally thought to be outside the reach of pure (or natural) sciences. However, the history of mankind, I dare say, was fundamentally changed when people started thinking about the world in the way that now constitutes the basis of pure sciences, and finally stepped out of the cycles of the kind of endless debates such as how many angels were enough to keep a stone on its path.

This difference of mentality is still kept alive to some extent and largely practised by pure scientists. I do not mean at all that social scientists or philosophers and their likes are the same as what they were in the dark ages, but as you said it yourself, they are somehow "much more prone to degenerating to stupid nonsense."

This pronness to cycles of useless thoughts (as an instance of nonsense) is perhaps even more dangerous in Iran due to our recent and not too recent thinkers' tendency to produce such products (in my opinion, even including Dr. Soroush), and also the degree of influence of religious centers and seminaries such as Qom's Hôze, etc. on the humanities. That's why I think we must not discount the importance of pure sciences, not because of their (technological) use but exactly because of their social role. A physicist's training does not need to be revealed in the form of numbers and equations, but even in the form of methods of problem-solving and shaping socio-econmoic debates. Again going back to history, Galileo's importance is not just because he thought the earth was going around the sun or discovered Jupiter's moons, but since he changed the way people looked at the world around them.

I'd like to emphasise that I do not see this reduced ambiguity and "exactness" the same as "2+2 is always and anywhere 4." In fact, as I'm sure you know, many physical/scientific theories have changed radically, or to be more precise completed in quite unforeseen and radically differing manners with the original one. Even Newton's grand theory of motion had to be corrected. So, I do not think "2+2 is always and everywhere 4," so to speak. This exactness/rigour is a kind of traditional/mathematical residue that is not the essence of pure sciences, as I understand them.

I conclude by a general remark regarding the issue of bias. I do agree that biases, perhaps most of the time, screen the truth. Neverheless, the truth is best seen by those who are biased to seeing it best. Why should then some people miss the point all the time, while others (with no intention of specific labeling or finger pointing) are most of the time right on the point? Truth is usually just barely thick enough to be seen in the spectrum of all non-truth, and that's exactly why seeing/finding it is so hard.

Señor Græd at December 12, 2003 07:00 PM [permalink]:
Okay, this is getting interesting. Thanks, Babak, first of all, for taking time to communicate your perceptions with me (and other readers here). Let me take care of your last paragraph (your general remarks) by saying that I don't have anything to say about it, simply because I find it hard to comprehend. ("[T]he truth is best seen by those who are biased to seeing it best"? Hmmm!) I guess the root of the problem here is our different experiences of a couple of things, among them the branch of "knowledge" that is generally referred to as Humanities. We seem to have different understanding of what this term signifies. (More elaboration below) I'm also not quite sure about what you mean by "problem-specific", but in any case I don't think it is only (empirical and mathematical) science that formulates a problem and strives to solve it. Philosophy provides a good counter-example. Even political science can pose some serious problems. Ethics is full of problems to the rim. Et cetera, et cetera. If, however, by "problem-specific" you mean science has, by and large, proved more successful in sloving its problems, of course I agree with you. But the problems that science is capable of tackling are, as you rightly pointed out, limited in scope. Okay, knowing when we will have an earthquake next time will be pretty useful, but knowing about when a certain star far away from our galaxy will go dark forever is not going to help solve our social (and *human*) problems. What I said in response to Ordak D. Coward was targetted at part of his comment about we not knowing what the problem is and our never being able to find out what it is blah blah blah and also his usage of big terms such as "problem-oriented". (What does "problem-specifc" mean, by the way?) As I'm scrolling down your comment I see you have written: "The problem-specific nature of pure sciences is their strong as well as weak point. It results, on the one hand, in their overall and somewhat universal success, and on the other, in their limited applicability." Very well put! I couldn't have said it better myself. Time to mention some points that I agree on with you (and I apologize right here for the lack of connectedness between my paragraphs): I agree that the new science, especially the Newtonian mechanics and later the Darwinian theory of evolution of species, was instrumental in changing the worldview of the Western man. I believe it was the success of the methods of science (in particular the Newtonian mechanics) that fueled debates in areas as far as philosophy and theology. (Newton's rival claimant to the invention of Calculus, Leibniz, was so fascinated by mechanical computing that he said he dreamt of the day when whenever two philosophers have a disagreement, they could sit down and "calculate" the answer. Alas, we've since learned that the human world doesn't quite work that way!) This is very well articulated on in many books, so I'll spare you *my* version of the story. I also agree that it was science that put an end to a lot of misunderstanding and superstitions. This is not my concern, however. I am by no means suggesting to stop teaching Physics I and Physics II and even a lot more in Iranian universities, but note that even I with my very limited background in physics can understand (or at least I think I do) why Newtonian mechanics changed the world in ways way more far-reaching than just helping us build projectiles and kill other huamns more effectively. M ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Ordak D. Coward at December 12, 2003 09:37 PM [permalink]:

Señor Græd, the correct expression for an Ordak's blabbering is 'Quack Quack Quack.'

- For a teacher that teaches Physics with a substantial understanding of the field you usually need a line of teachers up to a physicist who has hands-on experience on scientfic discovery (empirical, theoretical) on a problem without cheating by reading a book. In other words, you need some of those useless (in your opionion) experts, not that you need their research result, but you need their experience in doing the research; unless you believe (hope this does not count as psychoanalysis) that just knowing the facts currently gathered under Physics is enough for a Physics course.

Señor Græd at December 14, 2003 01:51 PM [permalink]:

Ordak D. Coward,

Thanks for a nice articulation on the dogma that has been consistently shoved down our throats. But I'm afraid I don't find your argument (if it can be called so) strong enough, because, for example, in order to be a great teacher of high-school geometry, you really don't need to have added something to the body of knowledge known as Euclidean Geometry. (In fact most "researchers" are awful expositors.) I believe same goes for Newtonian Mechanics and the rest of the pure science. Understanding something well and being able to transfer that understanding to the next generation has very little to do with being (or knowing in person) a successful researcher. :-)

Ordak D. Coward at December 14, 2003 02:34 PM [permalink]:

Señor Græd, so is it justified to assume "that you believe that just knowing the facts currently gathered under Physics is enough for a Physics course?" If yes, I have no further comments on this topic.

Señor Græd at December 14, 2003 03:42 PM [permalink]:

Excellent question, ODC! Which means I don't know the answer. The way you ask the question ("[Is] just knowing the facts currently gathered under Physics ... enough for a Physics course?"), the answer seems to be a "No". I have to think more before answering your question. Especially when those physics courses in question are claimed to benefit the Iranians/Iran in one way or another.

Ordak D. Coward at December 14, 2003 03:47 PM [permalink]:

I finally found the conference I mentioned in one of the previous comments. It was called Third Iranian Academic Association Annual Conference and was held in NYC in Sep. 1998. It seems that IAA, was a semi-active organization, holding conferences almost every year:

1997, NYC - Science & Technology in Medicine and Engineering
1998, NYC - Computers and Communication
1999, NYC - Oil, Petrochemicals, Energy & the Environment
2001, Isfahan - Technology and Urban Development

Their current website does not have any useful information.

Señor Græd at December 14, 2003 07:43 PM [permalink]:
It usually takes me a while to notice the proverbial forest; I only see the trees first, then slowly gain perspective. I think I now see the essence of Babak S’s argument. An argument, by the way, which itself more belongs to the realm of Humanities rather than Science, as almost all comments in this forum, Free Thoughts on Iran, do. Babak, it now seems to me, invokes the example of Newton’s grand theory of motion to illustrate how a scientific advance (and in Newton’s case, a scientific revolution) can affect the way the universe and the world are perceived by the members of the human race. Babak also seems to point to scientific thought and method as *the* right way to tackle problems; or at least problems that can be hoped to be finally solved. I do not agree with this premise. I think what I would loosely call the “scientific method” works fine in the narrow domain of Science, but it by no means render us independent [What is a good English equivalent for BI-NIAZ?!] of non-scientific debates for settling (and solving) our problems. I do however agree with the occasional role of pure science in changing, sometimes quite drastically, the world the way we had perceived before. Perhaps Newton’s work provides the best example. If we can call Darwin and Freud scientists (they may not be technically considered scientist), too, these fellows also greatly affected the Western thought, too. But what about Einstein (and other early 20th century physicists)? Einstein is the quintessential contemporary scientist, but his grand theories of Relativity, properly understood by just a dire minority, have not affected the general understanding of the world. The impact of the modern physicists has been rather “tool-ish”. They provided the intellectual means for making the bomb, for example, but at the end, it is politicians who decide when to use what and how, and it is the non-scientific thought that shapes the theoretical basis of politicians’ action. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine that I mentioned in a previous comment, and other founders of democracies, provide illuminating examples on how socio-philosophical thought (Humanities) provided a moral and intellectual framework for subsequent action by political activists which can lead to progress of a society. So I tend to believe that the *direct* impact of science in society (not through the tools that it helps provide), its “social role”, has diminished over the centuries since the time of Galileo and Newton and we cannot reasonably appeal to their examples for justifying pure science. To sum it up, I agree that being familiar with the scientific method as well as “analytical” thinking are critical to the issue of progress, but I do not find a close relationship between this premise and the intended conclusion that advancing the frontiers of pure science will have an impact for the progress of the society that is not negligible. I see an irony here: It was once the emergence of Reason that led to the prominence of Science which overrode the nonsensical brand of “knowledge” that was held so dear by the orthodoxy. It seems to me that Science itself has given birth to certain widely held, however weakly justified, dogmas that are hard to penetrate by means of Reason alone. (I am of course referring to the dogma of “More pure science leads to progress”.) Part of this resistance, as I hinted before, has to do with the self-preservation value of this belief for a community (of theoretical ph ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Señor Græd at December 15, 2003 11:00 AM [permalink]:

Ordak D. Coward wrote yesterday: "Señor Græd, so is it justified to assume "that you believe that just knowing the facts currently gathered under Physics is enough for a Physics course?"". Could you please rephrase your question, Ordak? I still have a hard time formulating a reply to that, but in any case the following sentences may help clarify my position a little bit.

"Physics" is hard to define. I suppose it was in this very forum that somebody once said Physics is simply what physicits are engaged with, which is kind of a circular, but a practical definition for the subject. One reason why it is hard to define Physics (and many other subjects) in precise terms is the constant growth/evolution that it goes through, as Babak S pointed out, where he said the constancy, in his opinion, is but a residual/mathematical feature of Physics.

But for teaching a Physics course, you don't -and you shouldn't- worry about the slow changes that the body of knowledge known as Physics is going through at that moment that you are writing formulas on the board. So in that sense, yes, the facts gathered in textbooks provide enough stuff to be taught. But they are not usually "enough", in the sense that, to say the least, some human being who has understood them well should teach that stuff. This person may be quite well-versed in Newtonian theory without having the slightest clue about what subjects are hip and hot in the world research. The students of this person can make great engineers or even become physicists themselves.

But I stop here and wait to hear from you about what you exactly mean by that question.

Ordak D. Coward at December 15, 2003 12:10 PM [permalink]:

Señor Græd, you answered my question. As I said before, I have no further comments.

Señor Græd at December 15, 2003 01:23 PM [permalink]:

Okay, then.

Somayeh Sadat at December 17, 2003 09:47 AM [permalink]:

senor grad: regarding your December 10, 2003 07:25 PM comment (that's the only way to point to one of your many comments!):

I agree that uneven development is indeed a problem in Iran, as in everywhere else, but maybe to a higher degree in Iran. But "even" development is something you can only find on paper. Even in one's personal life, you usually use your talent in specific areas and make progress in those specific areas, then you go back and try to balance your development and put some time and effort for your weak points. In my view, "uneven" developmen is the only "feasible" way of development, unless you have some outside help which can guide and support you through an "even" development.
I still have to wait and see what Yaser writes as his proposal, but I think if we have the strong point of high educated Iranians abroad, we can use it to accelarate the development, first in an uneven way, then hopefully in an even way.

PS: I really didn't get time to continue reading the messages, so if other people also discussed these issues, forgive me.

Señor Græd at December 17, 2003 10:49 AM [permalink]:

Somayeh:

I would like to take this opportunity to say that I later regretted having written part of what I wrote here. Too bad you can't edit or take back what you once write here! On second reading (or third, or fourth) some of my comments sound to me like I am bashing (pure) science. Perhaps all I should have said was: If pure science is to be able to help Iran's progress, it cannot possibly achieve this noble goal without a mediator that links it, one way or another, with the needs (from economical to cultural) of the society at large.

My experience is there's a strong tradition of putting down the non-pure kind of science in our institutes of higher education, and as much as I enjoy doing something that has no applications in real life, I find the *condecsending* attitude harmful for Iran's progress. I myself have little or no talent or patience for doing useful things, but we're talking about the progress here. Right?

Babak S at December 17, 2003 04:17 PM [permalink]:

Dear Señor Græd,

With your last comment in mind, I want to briefly repeat my view regarding the role of pure science, hopeful that we are reaching some mutual agreement.

Pure science is of course a part of the socity as a whole. In saying all that I have said in my previous comments, I did not mean that scientists should run things in any broad sense of the word, and I guess they are neither interested, nor able in terms of their free time and expertise to do so. However, I regard (pure) science as occupying a central position in the way towards and within the modern society--modern as understood in its Descartian sense. Historically it led the way out of the dark ages, and it continues to contibute to a very large extent to the fast-paced changing face of our society. But it only is effectual and makes sense in connection with other parts of the society, here most notably the social sciences and humanities.

Back to our discussion's main motivation: how does all this apply to Iran? Iran's dilemma of progress is, as I understand it, double-edged. In the historic context, I believe Iran's progress means transition from a traditional/agricultural society to a modern/industrialized one. With this transition, ideas of freedom and democracy take root and grow naturally. In this sense, it's the scientific "way of thinking" that is very much important, not its technological role. The scientific worldview is lacking in the Iranian society perception in general and Iranian political figures in particular, and without it I'm afraid achieveing a stable modern society is impossible. On the other hand, Iran's society (and its progress) has to cope with the first-world technological advances. It cannot wait for a sequence of ".../Copernicus/Kepler/Galileo/Newton/..." to make this transition. In this context, scientists play yet another role, that is producing native up-to-date science that helps Iranian nation obtain and build the necessary technological tools for a modern society, that otherwise will cost a lot to obtain from abraod and also will bring with it a staggering dependence on foreign resources.

To wrap up, I believe the necessary content for an un/even developement originates mainly from science but its actual naturalization and path is made by social sciences/humanities.

By the way, Thomas Jefferson, as far as I understand, is a modern man, keen on things very close to science, although he was by profession a lawyer and a politician. He provides a good example of what I called above a political figure with scietific worldview (have a look, say, at this).

Señor Græd at December 17, 2003 05:16 PM [permalink]:

I don't know much about Thomas Jefferson really; I just wanted to throw in some names. (I think I read a little about him in the book by Clarence Karier that I mentioned in another comment, and that added to my admiration of him.) I now agree with most of what you are saying. Science, for reasons that you've mentioned, is indispensable, but far from sufficient, for development. This I believe is a fact that is easily missed by many Iranian scientists and policy-makers. What I'd like to see (because I find it necessary for an even progress of Iran) is an increase in the value of the humanities and social sciences in the eye of the Iranians. I don't think I am a person who could ever be a social scientist, a historian, or things of that sort myself, but I would like to see more talented Iranians enter the field of humanities and receive the respect they deserve for having chosen to do so, because with all its vulnerability to bullsh*t, it can be more challenging to be good at a humanities field than at rigorous science. Also, in order to have a scientific/modern/Cartesian worldview one need not be an expert in a branch of pure science (Thomas Jefferson wasn't one), so I suppose there must be other ways for infusing enough "modernity" into the minds of our leaders!

Any suggestions?!

P.S. I apologize for failing to address Somayeh's comment above in an adequate way.

Señor Græd at December 18, 2003 06:11 PM [permalink]:

Somayeh,

I agree with what you say. "Even development" is always hard to achieve. But it is *impossible* to achieve when we fail to assess the value and the particular functions of the elements that are all necessary for a well-rounded development. I still think it is wrong to believe that with enough number of good scientists we will automatically be on the road to progress. This is not to belittle the importance of science, however. Rather, it should serve as reminder to us to keep things in perspective, to constantly strive to achieve a better evaluation of the role and place of different elements that are needed for an "even progress", which is in my opinion the only kind of progress, regardless of the role that we ourselves may be playing. It is only then that Iranians can harmoniously work together to make progress possible.

After all, for a car to move it needs an engine, some wheels, and something that connects the engine to the wheels. If the engine and the wheels each think that they would be enough to make the car move forward and start arguing about it, then the car will never get a chance to move.

Somayeh Sadat at December 20, 2003 12:14 PM [permalink]:

Senor Grad;

I never said that : "with enough number of good scientists we will automatically be on the road to progress" !

I agree that we should "keep things in perspective, to constantly strive to achieve a better evaluation of the role and place of different elements that are needed for an "even progress" ". However, if "even development" is not "feasible" at this point, knowing the elements doesn't help to make it feasible. But I can't agree more that we should try to understand the elements anyways.

If I can make my point clear this time: All I am saying is that although science is not enough, and although we suffer from "uneven development", it doesn't harm to go ahead in science. After all, these people outside Iran are less likely to help the country in any other way (and probably they can't even if they want) so let's use them in this direction. It doesn't lead to an "even development" in the first step, and I don't say it does "necessarily" lead to "even development" later, but I say hopefully it will. And even if it doesn't, we don't lose anything by being more developed in science. So there are basically two choices: use the scientists outside Iran and not to use them. None of the options necessarily lead to an "even" development, but the first option at least leads to an "uneven development" which may or may not later turn to an even development, but the second option doesn't lead to any kind of development. I would go for the first option

Señor Græd at December 20, 2003 03:46 PM [permalink]:

Somayeh wrote: "After all, these people outside Iran are less likely to help the country in any other way ..."

Good point. And I agree with the rest of your paragraph.

majid javanmardi at December 25, 2003 02:05 AM [permalink]:

[ Comment Removed: violating rule 2 of the Comment Policy]