9 November 2013

TOWARDS A BETTER SCIENCE-DRIVEN SOCIETY (For World Science Day for Peace and Development)

            Guest Writer : John Oyewale

I am thinking of science (and inexorably of technology) and at once I am thinking of Archimedes, Avicenna, Dalton, Newton, Boyle, Lord Kelvin, Tesla, Edison, Mendeleev, Pasteur, Koch, Fleming, Harvey, Salk, Roentgen, Einstein, Sanger, the Curies, Sir Gurdon…we could go on and on. I am also thinking of the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the United States of America, the World Wars and their attendant atrocities, the post-WWII arms race, the first manned flights in the skies as well as into space, the discovery of everything from, say, antimalarial drugs to the metabolic pathways of the human body and to the Higgs-Boson particle, the lingering struggle with multi-drug resistance, the incredibly vast network of the information superhighway on which Bill Gates and the perspicacious ghost of Steve Jobs may be driving on, side by side with a Lagos highway beggar and an Ile-Ife market woman…

I should have brandished my credentials at first. But they are not to be brandished, I am afraid. For I am not a scientist, not yet - I cannot bring myself to think I am one, just as I find I cannot bring myself to think I am a writer. Or more clearly, I have just begun to learn to become a (biomedical) scientist in a respected Nigerian university, I would say. The reason why I cannot call myself a scientist is because I have not had what I believe is proper education in science. I have schooled in one of such tertiary institutions where students are a river bursting its banks, and a number of the lecturers are somewhere in between overwhelmed and apathetic, and lectures are often uneventful. And so, worse still, are experiments: the laboratories are bereft of (or have only a few of) certain essential equipment, and there are students who stumble about their final-year projects without a guide (the guides, lecturers, are often busy pursuing some other business), and tumble out of school like sodden spaghetti, impotent.

Image Credit: UN
 But the most valuable lesson I have learnt from those bleak times is that there are certain virtues without which even the faintest shaft of the lights of science cannot shine into and through you. Curiosity. Intuition. Tenacity. Many scientists in Africa may not be spoilt for choice in the matter of research grants (being spoilt for choice in this case is even a sort of an ideal in relatively more developed climes), and they may still have to keep grappling with monstrous institutionalized inadequacies. But these virtues are the basic guarantees, the cradles of science in the now-developed West to which, quite frankly, we as often as possible still ought to go in order to learn more, glean more knowledge. These virtues, and others like them, will help us as we come together in various conferences to share data, knowledge and innovations - in keeping with the World Science Day Theme for 2013 - about, say, the painfully recent spike in cholera incidences in certain parts of Nigeria (you must perforce think of water - its availability and state, pure or impure), the endemic malaria, the occasional growls of Ebola haemorrhagic and Lassa fevers, the ever-present weepy pall of HIV/AIDS. And they will be the last strings we may grasp and safely hold on to, thus to break our impending fall into the hungry flames of awful failure beneath us.

 John Oyewale, Nigerian, is currently pursuing his master's degree at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He very much enjoys reading novels, short stories and essays, and often fights for precious time to be alone in a place of his own.

1 comment:

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