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Monday, February 8, 2010

Science and Islam: Feb 8 2010

By al-Din on February 8, 2010 11:38 AM

Salam Tun,

Science, professionalism, and frauds

The practice of normal science or textbook science will not bring us to the frontier of technology. There are two prerequisites to enable non-normal (new) science to bloom, firstly knowledge and secondly the climate that allows constant disproving of hypothesis/ideas/findings to test their robustness and hence improve upon them.

Science is not the ultimate truth. We are using science to get closer to the truth. That is the dogma of science and a paradigm that scientists have to reconcile with. To quote Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Atas in his book Islam and the Philosophy of Science stated that “For every truth there is a limit that is true to that truth; the knowledge of that limit is wisdom”. The ultimate truth belongs to the Almighty and His revelations.

In our quest towards scientific advancement we must work on the basis of truth and reject the untruth. This etiquette on truth has been expounded more than 2000 years ago by Aristotle (384-322BC), a Greek philosopher “To be acceptable as scientific knowledge a truth must be a deduction from other truths”. Truth leads to a climate of trust and accountability towards research and public beneficiaries.

Advancement in science is essential for national security. In our case, the priority is the advancement of science aimed at abundance in food supply. Often said it is a national agenda or policy but we have failed to make it a reality especially in rice production. The country’s system of rice production must jettison itself to be self-sufficient and not at the current 60% self-sufficiency. The country needs to study and revamp the whole array of factors influencing our staple food supply chain – land, water, research, technology, processing, marketing, laws and regulation, and enforcement.

The very basic tenet of science as exemplified in testing a hypothesis follows standard experimental procedures. Thus, there are not that many shortcuts towards excellence in science. Suffice to say that the road towards excellence and leadership in science is long and arduous. To be a scientist, one has to go through the grinds of a sound training obtained from established institution with well-known academicians. Equiped with a strong foundation a scientist is likely to contribute towards high throughput of quality research, technology generation and paper writing.

The hue and cry sometimes ago was that many professors and dons do not publish enough to meet their ranks (The Star, 21 Nov 2007). Whom to blame? The system or the so-called professors? To them the institution is a springboard for self-gain. Yes, scientists must write. Research results must be put in black and white and get published in acceptable publications so that new information can be disseminated and put to good use for the general public.

Writing sharpens the mind and the thought processes. It is not an easy task. It is an art. As in any work of art, practice makes perfect. It was noted that Abraham Lincoln once rewrote a letter a hundred times and yet did not send it for some reasons or another.

Improvement in writing comes gradually and seldom by leaps and bounds. It involves mental preparation beforehand – much reading and thinking about the subject matter over and over. The hardest act is to get into the physical commitment – getting glued to the chair and face the computer for hours on end, key in the data and the correct words, and out comes the draft paper! Usually, there is strong challenge or motivational force that moves us to write, be it to complete a thesis, for seminar presentation, or promotional inducement etc. Over time one gets the knack of writing and then it becomes a joy of doing it for whatever purpose. After a piece of good work is done (well), one tends to look back and in bewilderment say how in the world I could write that blurb!

A scientist is a professional that adds new knowledge to an existing pool of scientific knowledge. The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defined professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person. Thus, it is an encompassing word that conjures elusiveness as the wind to grapple with. It has something to do with the fabric of an individual’s conduct – education, training, attitudes, habits, interests, use and abuse of knowledge/power, et cetera, et cetera.

It has been said that man is an egoistic animal. Then, is ego a problem in science? A big dose of it, yes. A big ego acts as a shield or mental block to knowledge, enquiries, and curiosities. Prolonged overdose of ego works strangely on the mind and personality leading to dire consequences on science and professionalism. As result of knowledge withdrawal over time the negative effect would be a feeling of inadequacy and insecurity. The person develops into a know-all buffoon and higher-than-thou attitude. An insecure person in a position of leadership is dangerous for the organisation for insecurity breeds insecurity being proven so for umpteenth of times.

Being human we need to guard truth, trust and accountability with appropriate systems of check and countercheck, reward and sanction. Reward and recognition should be due when it is due. If the yardstick is the number of papers published so be it.

Is the academia free of frauds or corrupt practices? Surely not. Of greater concern in academia is perhaps the corruption of minds. As expected among the milieu of the academicians there are some who thrive and hide using gameplans and corrupt practices such as politicking, rumour mongering, and character assassination. Their moral conduct questionable. Along the way the minds of students and (young) academicians got waylaid as to the correct principles, ethics, and fine values of education and research.

Who are these people who resort to fraud to achieve their ends? They are the mediocre and deficient in output but ambitious. They exploit students to do research and publish papers. Oftentimes they take the limelight by presenting the papers as their own work ie. plagiarism (refer to Sunday Straits Times, 10 Nov 1996). They use all means of influence within and outside the university to gain positions and promotions. They are to be seen to have the connections and unceremoniously drop in names of VIPs during casual conversations. Per chance they are in position of authority that is when they become dangerous and suppressive of threats real or imagined. They will find faults and use veiled threats and make people insecure.

If we allow those who commit frauds of science to go unpunished then the institution will suffer the tragedy of the commons. Meaning, that one additional fraud does not make any difference. Add one more, one more, and more, the cumulative effect of which would be tragedy beyond repair.

People come and go but the institution stays. The institution or organization should in fact gets stronger from day to day. Hence, an institution must devise effective means to weed out frauds and pretenders who corrupt science and the minds of others. Otherwise, it is easy to aim and claim that we are world class.

http://www.sustainable living institute (SAVE)

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