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Perils of ignoring research

March 15, 2008: ONE of the reasons why we as a nation are not taken with due seriousness by the international community is our inability to contribute much, if anything, to humanity's march towards a better tomorrow. While we enjoy the bounties of multifarious research that is carried out across the globe, we rather sadly remain part of the 'other' world that has proved itself incapable of making a contribution to science and technology. For reasons that are not totally incomprehensible, this 'other' world is largely considered to be an entity with parasitic tendencies to latch on to the 'functional' world for which it has become a sort of excess baggage to carry along. Even worse is the fact that we do not actually deserve to carry this unflattering tag. Pakistanis are enterprising people and the country does have the resources, both natural and financial, to indulge in meaningful research that will ultimately resolve many of our problems.

One can but hope that the new government, whenever it takes over the reins of the country, will pay due heed to the call of Allama Iqbal Open University's vice-chancellor who certainly hit the nail on the head when he said nations cannot survive without focusing on research activities, especially in the field of science. Certain initiatives taken by the Higher Education Commission, the Punjab Education Foundation and such other bodies are, indeed, praiseworthy. Also worthy of mention is the case of the Ministry of Science and Technology which decided not just to revamp itself, but also put in place a full-fledged commission to expedite research undertakings and to find local markets for their output. But the need cannot be denied of a thread that should run through and link all these scattered initiatives to have a realistic hope of a comprehensive change in the status quo. Moreover, the importance of promoting education in a big way cannot be over-emphasised. In a country where only a small ratio of children complete their schooling - most of it of poor quality - and fewer still go to institutions of higher education, how can science and research make any headway?

Also in need of urgent transformation is the national psyche which over the years has been tranquillised with tales recounting the laurels of Muslim scientists of mediaeval ages who had a profound influence on European renaissance. Their achievements were obviously impressive. But there are enough grounds to question why the glorious tradition of scientific research came to a grinding halt. Inquiry is the key to research. If people - including students at all levels - are not encouraged to question the veracity of the 'facts' doled out to them and express dissenting opinions, a culture that embraces science will be missing from our society. Dawn
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