Originally Posted by Toramana
Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy speaks out for scientific rationality
The Higgs boson news exposes the "tragedy," he says, of religion-based scorn for a scientific achievement.
July 11, 2012
Published: July 11, 2012
By Steven T. Corneliussen
American physicists regularly address public science awareness, but for the MIT-educated Pakistani physicist and public intellectual Pervez Hoodbhoy—a longtime colleague of physicists worldwide—the recent Higgs boson news re-illuminated antiscience attitudes having a ferocity not regularly encountered in America.
Hoodbhoy writes frequently in major public forums in Pakistan, the US, and elsewhere. In Pakistan's Express Tribune on 27 May, he published "How to spot the crackpot—pseudoscience in Pakistan." He argued, "Quack science does not just cost money. It also confuses people, engages them in bizarre conspiracy theories, and decreases society's collective ability to act sensibly." Among the objects of his criticism were "a self-taught engineer [who] claims he can 'fix Pakistan's energy problem in 3 years' by splitting water to produce free electricity," a "Fellow of the Royal Society from Pakistan [who] published an article saying that the HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme) experiment in Alaska caused floods and earthquakes in Pakistan," and "hucksters who run companies which freely advertise 'magnetised water' for boosting crop yields and making mangoes taste better."
Some of that might call to mind some of what troubles American physicists about public science literacy. But Hoodbhoy was quoted extensively this week in an Associated Press article that the Guardian in the UK headlined "Higgs boson physicist shunned in Pakistan: Man whose work made discovery of elusive particle possible scorned in homeland because of his religious affiliation."
The scorned scientist is the late Nobel laureate Abdus Salam. The piece circulated worldwide, from Australia's media conglomerate News Limited to the Washington Post online. Here's how it began in the Guardian:
In what is perhaps a sign of the growing Islamic extremism in the country, Pakistan's only Nobel laureate, who helped develop the theoretical framework that led to the apparent discovery of the subatomic "God particle" last week, is being largely scorned in his homeland because of his religious affiliation.
Abdus Salam, who died in 1996, was once hailed as a national hero for his pioneering work in physics and his contribution to Pakistan's nuclear programme. Now his name is stricken from school textbooks because he was a member of the Ahmadi sect that has been persecuted by the government and targeted by Taliban militants, who view them as heretics.
The wire-service article quotes Hoodbhoy on the nature of Salam's scientific collaboration with Steven Weinberg (a Nobel laureate whose views on a scientific quackery incident Hoodbhoy had requested and reported in that Express Tribune piece). The article also includes this:
Officials at Quaid-i-Azam University had to cancel plans for Salam to lecture about his Nobel-winning theory when Islamist student activists threatened to break the physicist's legs, said his colleague Hoodbhoy.
"The way he has been treated is such a tragedy," said Hoodbhoy. "He went from someone who was revered in Pakistan, a national celebrity, to someone who could not set foot there. If he came, he would be insulted and could be hurt or even killed."
The president who honoured Salam would later go on to intensify persecution of Ahmadis.
Salam was targeted even after his death. His body was returned to Pakistan in 1996 after he died in Oxford, England, and was buried under a gravestone that read "First Muslim Nobel laureate," but a local magistrate ordered the word "Muslim" to be erased, said Hoodbhoy.
Hoodbhoy is not alone in Pakistan in speaking out about his country's memory of Salam. An Express Tribune commentary headlined "Higgs boson: Pakistan's contribution to a major breakthrough" began, "Few Pakistanis know what the Higgs boson is and even fewer realise that some of the earliest theoretical groundwork that led to this discovery was laid by Pakistan's only Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam." The closing paragraph merits quoting:
A Pakistani was at the fore of this frontier of discovery in the 1960s and 1970s. But rather than encourage and celebrate his magnificent achievement, he was maligned and sidelined for his faith. An ironic fact: most physicists are staunch atheists but Salam was one of the few firm believers in God.
Really sad, but what do you expect from Pakis...