[Marxism] revival of science in Iran (Nature editorial)

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Wed Aug 16 13:20:07 MDT 2006

most of an editorial in the latest issue of Nature online ...

also, i've been interested in Ahmadinejad when he was a practicing civil
engineer. things i have found so far:

-- PhD civil engineering
-- in traffic and transport engineering (don't know yet what his thesis
was on)
-- straight A student
-- Revolutionary Guard funded his graduate program
-- started Iran Tunnel Society (some online have joked this is handy in
the event of US attack)
-- handled a 1997 earthquake, rebuilding houses faster than expected



Nature 442, 719-720(17 August 2006) | doi:10.1038/442719b; Published
online 16 August 2006
Revival in Iran

Whatever its motivation, Iran's support for education and science is to
be welcomed.


Omar Khayyam became the greatest astronomer and mathematician of his
age. He invented, for example, the Khayyam triangle — better known as
the Pascal triangle, after Blaise Pascal who described it hundreds of
years later. Khayyam also provided his country with a solar calendar,
more accurate than the gregorian calendar we use today. And he became
one of Persia's most popular poets.


Science regained its foothold during the 1970s, under the Shah, even
though his oppressive regime drove many intellectuals into exile. It
faltered at the start of the Islamic revolution in 1979, but gained
momentum in the 1990s when Iran became the most scientifically
productive country in the Middle East apart from Israel. About 4,000
papers from Iran were published in 2005, according to the Institute for
Scientific Information, compared with just over 500 in 1995. (Nature's
first all-Iranian research paper was published last week.)

Perhaps the rise of science relates to the importance that Iran's
government attaches to the development of nuclear technology. Many
regard Iran's interest in these technologies with extreme suspicion.
Nonetheless, Iran's embrace of science should be welcomed.

The educated young in Iran will still go their own individual ways,
usually for good, sometimes for bad. But there is once again the
opportunity for a privileged few to shine as scientists, if they can
cope with the low pay and poor infrastructure that prevail outside the
handful of elite institutions, and can sidestep the many problems caused
by US sanctions.

One practical advantage for science in Muslim countries is the lack of
direct interference of religious doctrine, such as exists in many
Christian countries. There has never, for example, been a debate about
darwinian evolution, and human embryonic stem-cell research is
constrained by humanistic rather than religious ethics. The Royan
Institute in Iran was the first in the Middle East to develop a human
embryonic stem-cell line, using spare embryos from its in vitro
fertilization programme.

The recent dramatic rise in scientific productivity coincided with the
relaxing of a stern Islamic regime under reformist president Mohammad
Khatami. When hard-line Islamist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected
president last year, some scientists felt nervous, especially, no doubt,
when he replaced the presidents of all the universities with worryingly
inexperienced people. But the regime has so far shown a strong
commitment to higher education. One of its first acts was to wipe out
the debts accrued by universities, where female students now outnumber
males, even in some areas of hard science. Ahmadinejad has also taken
significant steps to prepare for an expansion of university student
numbers. And he has not made cuts to research funds, which had increased
over the past decade.

But will he maintain growth, given other pressing priorities in today's
Iran? If not, many young scientists trained in the recent good years and
now undertaking postdoctoral research abroad will have no prospects if
they return home. An opportunity would be lost. So here's hoping that he
avoids the need for these lines of Khayyam as a lament:

Alas that spring should vanish with the rose
That youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!

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