I came across (via Twitter) this article in Nature magazine about scientists in Egypt and their response to the current protests, ‘Deep fury’ of Egyptian scientists,
As the protests against President Hosni Mubarak gather pace across Egypt, the growing possibility of regime change is inspiring hope among many sectors of the population. The swelling number of protestors has seen academics add their voices to the call for change (see ‘Scientists join protests on streets of Cairo to call for political reform’).
The article goes on to recount a Q & A (Questions and Answers) session with Michael Harms of the German Academic Exchange Service offering his view from Cairo,
How would you describe Egyptian science?
There are many problems. Universities are critically under-funded and academic salaries are so low that most scientists need second jobs to be able to make a living. [emphasis mine] Tourist guides earn more money than most scientists. You just can’t expect world-class research under these circumstances. Also, Egypt has no large research facilities, such as particle accelerators. Some 750,000 students graduate each year and flood the labour market, yet few find suitable jobs – one reason for the current wave of protests.
But there are some good scientists here, particularly those who have been able to study and work abroad for a while. The Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education has started some promising initiatives. For example, in 2007 it created the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), a Western-style funding agency. And Egypt is quite strong in renewable energies and, at least in some universities, in cancer research and pharmaceutical research.
(Harms has more interesting comments in the article.) I must say the bit about needing 2nd jobs was an eye-opener for me.
There’s been some talk about the role that social media may or may not played in the civil unrest in Tunisia and Egypt. Jenara Nerenberg in her article, Iran Tech Expo Features Nuclear Might, Doubts, Concerns, for Fast Company, highlights comments from a Nobel Laureate who has no doubts that social media played a role in those countries and suggests the same could occur in Iran.
In fact, Iran is holding a five-day technology fair (starting this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011) boasting its accomplishments. It has held such fairs before but for the first time Iran is holding its fair in another country, Syria. From Nerenberg’s Feb. 3, 2011 article,
“Technological achievements” appears to be handy code words for nuclear achievements, based on recent reports and statements. [sic] But rockets, satellites, nanotechnology, and aerospace technology are all expected to be exhibited.
The event also comes at a time when there is growing use of consumer technology for political purposes, as seen in the case of Tunisia and Egypt. Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, in reference to recent events in those two countries, said, “I can tell you that thanks to technology dictators can’t get a good night’s sleep. As to what is going to happen in the future it is too early to say. But I can say the people in Iran are extremely unhappy with the current situation. Iran is like the fire underneath the ashes and the ashes can suddenly make way for the fire at the slightest event.”
I present these two bits because they point to the fact that science and technology are deeply entwined in society and have social impacts that we don’t always understand very well. There have been social uprising and revolutions that owed nothing to “consumer technology”. There are many questions to be asked including, does scientific or technological change somehow foment social unrest? Perhaps we should be calling on the philosophers.
Tags: 'Deep fury' of Egyptian scientists, Egypt, German Academic Exchange Service, Hosni Mubarak, Iran, Iran Tech Expo Features Nuclear Might Doubts Concerns, Jenara Nerenberg, Michael Harms, science, Shirin Ebadi, Syria