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Encroachment on Scientific Space

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#1 [Permalink] Posted on 28th July 2017 15:49
I have been saying for some time that if you do not defend your life space then the world will start encroaching upon it. The encroachment will be on theological, scientific, technological, economic, business, industrial, trade, commercial, political and military space. I call it the encroachment theory. The encroachment can be at global level and it can be at local level. My interest is in global encroachmen and the encroachment in India. In this thread I intend to talk about encroachhment on our scientific space, what is its meaning and what are its implications and how does it effect Muslim Ummah and what remedies we can adopt to protect it.
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#2 [Permalink] Posted on 28th July 2017 15:56
A facebook Post on Mariam Mirzakhani


Apropos the recent tragedy associated with the untimely demise of Maryam Mirzakhani, aged 40, mother of a six year old, winner of International Mathematics Olympiads, student at Harvard, Professor at Stanford, first and thus far only woman winner of the coveted Fields Medal, it is interesting to see how many different kinds of political forces wish to appropriate her legacy.

These include a link I saw on an Indian feminist web-site, an article in the Dawn of Karachi, yet another web-site where she was to become an icon for women of colo(u)r. All very interesting. But all these are highly paradoxical. Of course, if the life of one human being is to inspire many, no one would complain. But, sadly there are many misconceptions underlying these appropriations.


Firstly, it is a completely wrong notion to think that only highly accomplished persons can and should be inspirational role models. The reason for this is that a person such as Mirzakhani is far far away from the mean of a Gaussian, probably a freak of nature in her gifts, and only time will be the judge of this. Such extreme outliers are not and cannot be real role models. They may set a standard, but these standards are impossible for normal mortals to reach. In fact, such romantic stories actually mislead young people about what the nature of the scientific enterprise is. It is not about inspired geniuses, but more about those who slog very hard, and think hard, and collaborate hard and a confluence of factors that make one a successful scientist. Most readers are certainly not going to be in that league anyway.

Secondly, there is a mis-conception that just because women have to wear by law a Hijab in Iran that there are particularly oppressed. All statistics of Universities, etc., show that a healthy fraction of the student body are women. The problem is the western media which tries to treat the `Islamic world' as a unitary whole, and transposes their view of what life is like in such countries on to them. The power of this media propaganda is so powerful that it blinds the reader. Iran is a proud old civilization where learning and education have in the past flourished where even today there is a great love for learning. It is no surprise that girls are encouraged to get into education.

Indeed, if Indian feminist web-sites want to have her as a role model, why not? But there is little in common between Mirzakhani's legacy and that of Indian women. Besides, there are a large number of Indian women in higher education and in the sciences and mathematics and applied sciences and engineering.

There are plenty of Indian women in the IT sector and their situation is quite different from that of women in Pakistan. It is nice to see that Pakistan media wants to see something good in an Iranian person, and why should they not? Let Mirzakhani be a universal role model.

And finally, her appropriation as a woman of colo(u)r is probably the one that is closest to being absurd. Women of colo(u)r were known, to my knowledge in Apartheid South Africa. I rarely see such references in the present era. Besides, what can possibly be in common with African American women, or African African women, or let us say African South American women, many of who are even today born into a life of poverty in `inner cities' and have little access to higher education and good schools, and someone like Mirzakhani who comes from a relatively well off, well educated family background in Iran?

Strange are the ways of the modern world. And yet, if her life is inspirational, let it be so, but without attaching needless political and other kinds of baggage. Let us admire her for what she really was -- a deep and profound mathematician, a wizard of mathematics, highly creative and technically powerful. Let us admire her for the mathematician she was, irrespective of her gender and creed.

Kiranjeet Chaturvedi : About Iran though.... after the Revolution there was a very dark phase for women and many others.

Rahul Siddharthan : «more about those who slog very hard, and think hard, and collaborate hard and a confluence of factors that make one a successful scientist.»
Why do you think those things did not apply to Mirzakhani? From whatever I have read, they did. And they're necessary. The idea that "geniuses" are born that way and can just coast afterwards is dangerous.

Balasubramanian Ananthanarayan : OK, granted.

Bindu A.Bambah: We build images out of snow and weep to see them melt. it's the Marie Curie phenomenon again an anomaly. I did a project with my women's study research student of scientific role models for women. Besides Marie Curie, Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams appeared on the list. Maybe Rosalind Franklin. The fact is Indian women of science do not like to be role models for younger women . they want obsequience as much as the Male. And why should we not have the same vanity as that of a male scientist? The goal is that a day will come when we don't have to qualify the gender of a good scientist. How that will happen is that we increase numbers, distributions will automatically work out!

Rahul Siddharthan: I am actually troubled by many other things you write, but unsure whether to get into a discussion on this. (For example, the distinction between empoverished "inner city" versus "relatively well off" minorities/women. There is lots of evidence that discrimination doesn't depend on economic status and applies even at the CV level based just on the name of the applicant.) But anyway -- if Indian or Pakistani women see her and get inspired, what's wrong with that? Really confused by the rant.

Balasubramanian Ananthanarayan : Actually, I am confused by all these articles who want MM to be a role model, when she actually is not a role model, per se. Indian women have been around in the sciences for a very long time...it is not the absence of role models that is the problems that face them. It may be a bit different in Pakistan. Even in this case, MM does not come from the same milieu...that is why I am puzzled. In a generalized sense, I view someone with the achievements of MM as a beacon for everyone...and that is somehow my point. As for discrimination, I do not see how the presence of role models actual mitigates those issues...they see quite independent to me.

Rahul Siddharthan: As you yourself say, there are nowhere near enough Indian women at the top levels of Indian science. Or women globally for that matter. A woman winning the Fields is definitely inspirational (and not at all routine, as per evidence!) and suggests to girls that they could do it too. Girls from non-first-world countries in particular. As for discrimination, the barriers are removed and attitudes altered by seeing success stories, not by preaching or legislating. So celebrating successful women/minorities is extremely relevant.

Balasubramanian Ananthanarayan : If this post, in a roundabout manner brings clarity to the issue, nothing could make me happier. It would be good to see an independent summary of such ideas.

Bindu A.Bambah : You two men battle out what we women need to do as usual? Chances are we will not listen. So yell your hearts out . Tata

Balasubramanian Ananthanarayan : Why not you also write? And many more of your friends?

Dinesh Srivastava : This discussion has become too serious. In an ideal world one would not have discussed whether Mirzakhani was a woman or a man.
As far as appropriation is concerned there is a very amusing story about appropriation:- Prof. Bindu A.Bambah definitely knows and others will also know that Noorjehan is credited with discovery of itr (attar or rose oil). What is amusing is that Iranians claim that it was a discovery of Iran. Simple reason- Noorjehan was Iranian by birth. It is a different thing that her father came from a noble but very poor family from Iran and was coming to India to try his luck in the court of Akbar. Noorjehan was born along the route in Afghanistan. Assuming that he could not feed one more mouth he left her to die on a snow-covered rock. Going ahead he reached the hut of some Sufi (?) saint who advised him to fetch the girl as she was sure to bring him great luck.
Thus the powerful future empress was saved and then Iranians used her parentage to lay a claim to discovery of attar...


Bindu A.Bambah: She also discovered the art and science of extracting cashmere wool and weaving cashmere shawls! The type that are so fine they go through a ring Quite a prolific woman!

Dinesh Srivastava : This I did not know. Reference please so that I can include it in my talks..

Shyam Sundar Vembar : Anant, here is my submission in response to your opinion. I do not necessarily disagree with your view. However, there is another prism through which we can - and should - look at the appropriation of Mirzakhani by various people. Groups, especially those that are disadvantaged in any way (or believe themselves to be so) would look to appropriate and hold up as a role model anyone prominent who belongs to that group, no matter that the achievements of this person may not be in any way related to her being a member of this group. No matter too whether the person being appropriated even considers herself to be a part of that group or not. It gives the members of this group a rallying point to gather around, an example to aspire to, a life to be extolled. Such appropriation gives the group a figurehead, a kind of shorthand to communication, to self worth and a sense of affirmation of their own identity. I see this largely as a positive move ....and objecting to it is merely an intellectual quibble.

Balasubramanian Ananthanarayan : gosh...so much wisdom! Bow to superior knowledge...

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