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Sunday, July 24, 2011
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Science ...

Eapen, my friend from work, work hails from India. The other day, we were talking about, what else, the hot summer weather. I asked him if he experienced similar weather in India, and he said yes, even hotter. Then he offered some traditional Indian wisdom on what to do about it. The village wise men and women in India say that on a hot day, you should start a fire and heat up some water for tea or some other hot concoction. And yes, the inverse holds also – when the cold Arctic winds are blowing outside, open the fridge and pop the ice cube tray, load up a glass and then quaff down a tall frosty drink.

Why? Well, according to Eapen and his ancestors, sipping a cup of hot soup or whatnot opens up the skin pores, blood vessels and other body passage ways. This allows the blood and other body fluids to “radiate” more – i.e. they have more area for heat-exchange with the surrounding environment. And so, even if the drink makes you hotter at first, after a while you will feel cooler. By contrast, that bracing icy drink in February contracts the pores and vessels, keeping the body heat trapped within. So again, you get a short-term effect (feeling cooler), but over time you feel warmer.

Actually, Eapen is pretty much Americanized, and thus allowed that this might not always work for unbelieving US natives. However, he did point out that the American custom of eating ice cream on a hot day while imagining it to make you cooler was quite irrational. Perhaps your mouth and stomach feel cool for a few moments, but as soon as the fats and sugars start to metabolize, your body certainly heats up as the barrage of excess calories floods your system.

Actually, I had a science teacher in high school who also made this point. And no, he was not Indian; his last name was Williams. (Ah yes, Jim Williams from East Rutherford High School; he was definitely one of the better teachers, as he actually had a sense of humor. Except about ice cream in the summer.)

Going back to India but sticking with science, I have to take my hat off to that nation for its embrace of rationality and modern science. And it makes you wonder about India’s neighbors, the Islamic nations. During the Middle Ages they embraced science and abstract mathematics, but in modern times they clearly have not. I recently read an article on the New Atlantis web site explaining just how far the former “caliphate” nations have fallen in terms of science. The article is entitled “Why the Arab World Turned Away from Science”, by Hillel Ofek. I will offer a quote summarizing just how bad things are today for Muslim science:

Pakistani physicist Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy laid out the grim statistics in a 2007 Physics Today article: Muslim countries have nine scientists, engineers, and technicians per thousand people, compared with a world average of forty-one. In these nations, there are approximately 1,800 universities, but only 312 of those universities have scholars who have published journal articles . . .

There are roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, but only two scientists from Muslim countries have won Nobel Prizes in science (one for physics in 1979, the other for chemistry in 1999). Forty-six Muslim countries combined contribute just 1 percent of the world’s scientific literature; Spain and India each contribute more of the world’s scientific literature than those countries taken together . . . metrics on the Arab world tell the same story. Arabs comprise 5 percent of the world’s population, but publish just 1.1 percent of its books, according to the U.N.’s 2003 Arab Human Development Report.

Between 1980 and 2000, Korea granted 16,328 patents, while nine Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., granted a combined total of only 370, many of them registered by foreigners. A study in 1989 found that in one year, the United States published 10,481 scientific papers that were frequently cited, while the entire Arab world published only four . . . when Nature magazine published a sketch of science in the Arab world in 2002, its reporter identified just three scientific areas in which Islamic countries excel: desalination, falconry, and camel reproduction.

My goodness, no wonder their economies would be mostly dead-in-the-water without oil and gas (and actually are falling apart where recoverable hydrocarbons are declining or never were, e.g. Yemen and now Egypt). And with that, it’s not hard to understand why too many of their people live and think in such medieval terms. But does it have to be this way? A lot of Muslims live in India; about 177 million, or around 15% of India’s population. This is the second largest national Islamic population in the world, second only to Indonesia. I understand from Eapen and Raj (another good guy from work) that India’s Muslims are largely urban and have no trouble exploiting the growing opportunities for scientific and technical careers there (although some reports indicate that they are on average poorer and less educated than the Hindu majority). E.g., two of the very few non-western, non-petrodollar Muslim billionaires are from India.

So, let’s hope that the Islamic world can take a cue from what some of its own people are experiencing in India. Maybe India can help re-light the flame of techno-modernity for the Islamic world; that would bolster their own long-term security much more than another 20 nuclear bombers or missiles pointed at Pakistan. The “Arab Spring” showed that there is still an instinct for rationality and societal improvement within the Muslim world. If they could somehow re-enter the world’s high-tech economic mainstream, the crowds demanding elections and personal freedom might stand a better chance. A new flame could replace the dying torches of gas and oil wealth. And as Eapen would have it, that new flame could help warm their tea, thus helping them to stay cool despite the near-equatorial climates they are so used to!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:29 pm      

  1. Jim, As to the “heat” business: I have always heard that the “drink something hot” in the heat has to do with perspiring. One begins to sweat, the perspiration then evaporates, making one feel cooler. Same with eating very spicy foods: I know someone who enjoys spicy food–the “hotter” the better. His head (he’s bald) will actualloy perspire profusely. Thus again, the whole evaporation business. But I think this method of cooling oneself in the heat arises more from the southern countries in the West. Again, here, I guess It’s a matter of “to each his own.”

    As I read your summary of the Muslim countries and their lack of scholars these days, I tho’t of what I read the other day about Yemen: That the median age there is somewhere about 18-25. I was astonished. I wonder what the median age is in the rest of the Middle Eastern countries. If it is about the same, no wonder there are so few scholars. I wonder exactly what is the reason for the median age being so young? I can think of a lot of reasons, but not too many of them make much sense to me in this modern world: Have all the older people emigrated? Seems it would be the other way around, where the young ones were emigrating; so that reason doesn’t make much sense. Is their medical care so poor? Do only the very rich (which is obviously the top small layer of the society, I would think) have access to medical care, thus causing the poor to die young? Something seems misplaced there too.

    Perhaps this young median age has some connection to the lack of scholars and scholarship in Muslim countries. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 24, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

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