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English and Scientific Research: Some Reflections

 – Deepak Subedi

When I was asked to contribute an article on the importance of English language for scientific research, I felt I got an opportunity to express my gratitude to the language which gave me an enormous access to good books written by scholars around the world. Without the knowledge of English, I would have to rely on books written only in our native language, which would have certainly narrowed my thinking. My simple understanding is that our ability to think is proportional to the number of good books we read. Also, it is generally accepted that knowledge is for the brain as is food for the body, and that a person with knowledge of different languages has greater vision and wider horizon.

I was motivated to learn English by my revered father since my childhood. Although my father himself never had formal education, he had gained some practice of spoken English during his service in Indian army. He had a strong desire to educate his children in English medium. I think this might have been due to the influence of British officers in India. He used to tell me fascinating stories about the additional benefits he used to receive in the army unlike his colleagues by virtue of his knowledge of English, although limited. Even with this limitation, he was supposed to be superior to others, and was assigned some official tasks during the war time which avoided the risk of being deployed to the front.

In spite of a moderate income,  my father always stressed on educating children in good schools. Although our family was based on a village, my father settled in the town only to provide us good education with additional tuition in English.  So far as I remember, he was the first person in our town to arrange tuition in English from the primary level. It was during this time that I met my most favorite teacher of English, Balkrishna Shrama, who inspired me to learn. He was a noble teacher with amazing skills of delivering spellbinding lectures. With his guidance, I experienced the joy of learning new words in English and writing them nicely in four-lined papers.  Since then, I started learning English spontaneously.

I realized the real importance of knowing English when I joined I. Sc. in Amrit Science Campus in 1989. All our subjects were taught in English. Had I been poor in English, I would have certainly been discouraged from studying science.  The knowledge of English helped me in learning the major subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. I had a huge advantage over my classmates with a weaker background of English. Meanwhile, some of our teachers had just returned from US with terribly twisted tongue, and many of our friends who were from remote areas of Nepal got frustrated with the US-style pronunciation. Students who had their schooling in English medium had no difficulty in grasping the lectures in the major subjects.

Well, these were some of my recollections about my background in the English language. Let me discuss a little about the importance of the use of English in the field of science.

In 1931 Vladimir N. Ipatieff, a Russian-American chemist, had begun to take lessons in English at the age of sixty-four. He was already a well-known scientist but had to learn English in that age in order to continue his research in the USA. He probably was under the influence of the “publish or perish” dictum so common in the field of research. But his story simply highlights the necessity of knowing a language of wide international readership in order to popularize researches in science.

Michael Faraday said that any researcher has to follow three major steps: “work, analyze and publish.” All the three parts are equally important. However, the importance of the language appears in the third part — publishing. The real output of any scientific research is measured by its impact, hence the level of international journals is determined by their impact factor. How many people cited our papers is more important than how many papers we wrote. To make our papers accessible to a large number of readers, we have to publish our results in a language understood by a large population.  Thus one has to publish his/her findings in English.

Most of the world’s leading scientific journals are published in English. It has been reported that researchers from non-English speaking countries have to spend a significant portion of their time in getting their reports and research papers translated/written in English. This obviously steals their precious time from laboratory work. For example, in Japan English is becoming the language of basic science resulting in the gradual disappearance of  publications in Japanese. RIKEN, one of Japan’s most comprehensive groups of research facilities, has claimed that its scientists published about 2000 original reports in English in 2005, but only 174 in Japanese. One report shows that editing companies in Japan charge researchers $ 500 to $ 800 per manuscript. Language training can cost $2000 for a ten-week course. These costs are additional burdens and slow down scientific activities in laboratory.

In fact, this should not have been the period for spending so much time for writing the paper alone. Had their schooling been in English, as that of ours, the researchers could have devoted more time for their experiments than exercising for language. In this respect, we should feel fortunate; we learned basic sciences in English medium at school and the university. In several international conferences and seminars, I have observed the difficulty faced by scientists from the countries which are quite developed in science and technology but are non-native English users. In spite of their good research results, they are sometimes nervous during presentations due to the difficulty in expressing their ideas clearly in English.  On the other hand, researchers who studied their courses in English are more confident in presentations even if the merit of their research work is not of high standard.

Another case where proficiency in English plays a vital role is in the preparation of research grants proposals. Even a promising project proposal may be rejected because of the lack of logical reasoning. It may be argued why a researcher should worry about English when one can easily consult with professional editors to prepare a proposal. But the fact is that professional editors may not know the technical ideas of the project, and that sometimes this joint venture may lead to negative results. Considering the growing need of disseminating research results to a wider population, many Asian and European countries, which used to teach science courses in their own native languages, are gradually adopting English as the language of science.

Summing up, today no discipline can function in isolation. Since a large number of interdisciplinary subjects like environmental science, biotechnology, biomedical engineering, engineering physics etc. are emerging, people of different areas of expertise have to work together. Professionals from different disciplines find English quite comfortable to communicate among themselves. Also, professionals in the discipline of English language must also constantly update themselves because the world is changing rapidly due to the advancement in science and technology.  For the survival in this competitive and rapidly advancing world, everyone has to be able to grasp the new challenges and opportunities. Due to the latest advancement in information technology, specially with the introduction of internet services and cellular phones, the world has become like a village. Whoever gets the latest information at the earliest will come ahead and those who miss will certainly lag behind. In which language this communication is being made in a broad scale? Of course, English.

[Courtesy: http://neltachoutari.wordpress.com May 2010]

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in EXPRESSIONS, Reflections

 

ईन्जिनियरिङ्गको अड्कल र साहित्यको कल्पना

– नवराज खतिवडा

ईन्जिनियरिङग विषय लिई चार वर्षे स्नातक तहको अध्ययन गर्ने प्रथम वर्षका विद्यार्थीलाई आन्तरिक परीक्षामा मैले सोधेको एक प्रश्न यस्तो थियो ।

“ तिम्रो टाउको जत्रो ढुंगाको तौल अन्दाजी कति होला ?“

विद्यार्थीहरुले यो प्रश्नको उत्तर विभिन्न किसिमले दिए । टाउको जत्रो ढुँगाको तौल १-२ किलोग्रामदेखि २५-३० किलोग्रामसम्म हुन सक्ने उनीहरुको अनुमान थियो । कसैले त त्यो उत्तर कसरी आयो भनेर हिसाब समेत गरेका थिए । त्यस मध्ये एकजना उत्तरदाताले प्रस्तुत गरेको तर्कले मेरो ध्यानाकर्षण गर्‍यो । त्यो तर्कमा गहनता मात्र थिएन, त्यहाँ अडकलसँग जोडिएको रोचक अन्तरवस्तु समेत थियो । त्यही तर्कलाई केन्द्रविन्दुमा राखेर यो लेखको रचना समेत भयो ।

“टाउको र भकुण्डोको आयतन लगभग बराबर हुन्छ । अन्तर्राष्‍ट्रिय मान्यताको भकुण्डोको व्यास २० सेन्टिमीटर जति हुन्छ । सुत्र प्रयोग गर्दा यत्रो गोलो वस्तुको आयतन ५ लिटर जति निस्कन्छ । एक लिटर पानीको तौल एक किलोग्राम हुने र पानीभन्दा ढुँगा दुई गुणा जति गह्रौँ हुने भएकोले टाउको जत्रो ढुँगाको तौल १० किलोग्रामको आसपासमा हुन्छ।“

यसरी खोजमूलक र सही उत्तर लेख्ने ती विद्यार्थीलाई मैले उत्कृष्ट अंक दिँए । उत्तर पुस्तिकामा “अति राम्रो” भनेर स्यावासी समेत लेखेँ । यो रोचक उत्तरको प्रसँग एक दुई जना समकक्षी साथीहरुलाई पनि सुनाएँ । उनीहरुले पनि “सिर्जनात्मक उत्तर” भन्ने प्रतिकृया दिए । ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग विषयको मूलाधार भनेको विज्ञान नै हो । चार वर्षे स्नातक तहको अध्ययनमा पहिलो दुई वर्ष त धेरै जसो भौतिक शास्त्र, रसायन शास्त्र र गणित कै पढाइ हुन्छ । यसकारण विद्यार्थीको उत्तर यथार्थको नजिक भएता पनि त्यस तर्कमा विज्ञानकै अँश अधिक हुनु अस्वभाविक थिएन । त्यही सेमेष्टरका विद्यार्थीको एक कक्षामा केही हप्ता अघि विज्ञान र ईन्जिनियरिङ्गको फरक बुझाउनका लागि मैले एउटा रित्तो कपको प्रयोग गरेको थिँए । मैले रित्तो कप उनीहरुलाई देखाएर सोधेको थिएँ ।

“यो कप भरि छ कि खाली ? ”

आश्चर्य भयो ! उनीहरुको मत बाझियो । आधा जतिले त्यसमा हावा भएकाले “भरी” भनेका थिए । “खाली” भन्नेहरुले कपको काम तरल पदार्थ बोक्ने भएकाले हावाले भरिनुको कुनै अर्थ नभएको भन्ने जवाफ दिएका थिए । वैज्ञानिक हिसाबमा हावाले भरिनुको अर्थ भएता पनि व्यवहारिक हिसावमा थिएन । यसकारण उही तथ्यलाई विज्ञान र ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग वा अर्थशास्त्रले फरक फरक तरिकाले परिभाषित गर्न सक्छन भनेर विद्यार्थीलाई बुझाउन कपको उदाहरण सफल भएको थियो । आफ्नो अघि आईलागेको प्राविधिक समस्यालाई चिर्ने कार्यको प्रस्थान विन्दु हुन्छ- त्यस समस्याको आकार अनुमान । आकार अनुमान गर्नको लागि समस्यासँग जोडिएको भौतिक स्वरुपको मापन गर्नु पर्ने हुन्छ । उदाहरणको लागि पहाडको उचाइ, नदीको वहाव या कुनै पाईपको मोटाइ नै अन्दाज गर्ने कुरालाई लिन सकिन्छ । यसकारण एउटा ईन्जिनियरले फित्ताले ननापी वा तराजुमा नजोखी वा कुनै हिसाब नगरिकन वस्तुको आकार या तौल अनुमान गर्न सक्नुपर्छ । विद्यार्थी जीवनमा जसले यो काम निमेषभरमा नै गर्न सक्ने दक्षता हासिल गर्छ त्यसको “अन्दाज कौशलता” विशिष्ट हुन सक्छ । यही चुरोको सेरोफेरोमा मेरो मनमा एक गहन प्रश्न उब्जियो । भकुण्डोको आयतनसँग तुलना गरी पानीको घनत्वको तथ्यलाई प्रयोग गरी ढुँगोको तौल अन्दाज गर्ने तरिका वैज्ञानिक त अवश्य भयो तर के यो व्यावहारिक पनि भयो त ?  म चिन्तनको दायरालाई फराकिलो पार्न थाल्छु । विद्यार्थीहरुले समस्या समाधानका अरु तरिकाको पनि कल्पना गरेका थिए । केहीले आफ्नो शरिरको वजनको आधारमा टाउकोको तौल अनुमान गरेका थिए । केहीले ईँटा, फर्सी या तरबुजाको तौलसँग तुलना गरी ढुँगाको तौल अन्दाज गरेका थिए ।

दिइएको परिस्थितिमा वा समस्या सिर्जिएको स्थानको वरिपरि साधन र श्रोतको उपलब्धता सिमित हुनसक्छ । कतिपय अवस्थामा हातमा फित्ता वा साथमा क्यालकुलेटर समेत नहुन सक्छ । फेरि अरुले सामान्य दिमागमात्र प्रयोग गरी दिन सक्ने समाधानमा आफूले स्केल या क्यालकुलेटर खोज्दा हाँस्यपात्र पनि बन्न सकिन्छ । यस्तो बेला तन्काउन मिल्ने वा थप्दै जान सकिने वा एउटा धारको सट्टामा अर्को फेर्न सकिने भनेको चिन्तन वा कल्पना नै हो । समस्या सानै भएपनि त्यसलाई चिर्न ज्ञानको अथाह भण्डार प्रयोग गर्न सकिन्छ । विभिन्न तरिकाले सोच्न सकिन्छ । यसकारण कुनै समस्यालाई पर्गेल्नका लागि कत्रो फैलावाट भएको वा कति गहन कल्पना शक्ति खर्च गर्ने भन्ने सवाल महत्वपूर्ण हुन आउँछ ।

ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग विधामा त कल्पना शक्तिको नै विशिष्ट स्थान छ । सामान्य अन्दाज गर्ने देखि लिएर वृहत संरचना समेतको नक्शा वा नमूना कल्पनाशक्तिले नै बन्छ । जसरी वास्तविक अनुहार क्यामेराले खिचेको तस्विरमा हुबहु बनेर निस्कन्छ, त्यसरी नै कागजमा कोरिएको नक्शा निर्माण पश्चात वास्तविक संरचनामा परिणत  हुन्छ । यसकारण केको आधारमा कल्पना गर्ने ? कुन विधि अपनाउने ? उत्तर कसरी पस्कने ? अर्थात् विद्यार्थीको कल्पना वा पूर्वानुमान गर्ने क्षमता कसरी अभिवृद्धि गर्ने ? स्वभाविक प्रश्नहरु उब्जिएका छन् ।

महाकवि लक्ष्मीप्रसाद देवकोटाले कल्पना शीर्षकको निबन्धमा लेखेका छन् – ……उस (कल्पना) लाई वस्तुको उपस्थितिको जरुरतै छैन, स्मृतिपटमा परेको छाया जगाएर ऊ अनुपस्थित वस्तुहरुको सूक्ष्म स्वरुप सत्यप्रदर्शन गर्दछ । ………..हामी कल्पनाद्वारा आँखा चिम्ली चिम्ली वाह्य संसारका वस्तु र तिनका सम्बन्धहरु भेट्टाउन सक्छौँ  ।………..

यसरी साहित्यको कल्पना र ईन्जिनियरिङ्गको अडकलबाजीमा समानता पाइन्छ । महाकविले लेखे जस्तै आफ्नो अघि अनुपस्थित वस्तुहरुको लम्बाइ, चौडाइ, उचाइ वा गोलाइको अनुमान गर्ने सिलसिलामा सर्वप्रथम मष्तिष्कले त्यो वस्तुको छायाँको परिकल्पना गर्दछ । समस्या त्यसबेला सिर्जना हुन्छ जव मष्तिष्कले वस्तुको छायाँको कल्पना गर्न सक्दैन । किनभने त्यहाँ तिखो दृष्टि नहुन सक्छ । या कल्पना गर्नेले कुनै आधारशिला नै फेला पार्दैन । बोधो दृष्टिकोणले निशाना लाग्दैन । सही अडकल आउँदैन । त्यसकारण बोधो दृष्टिलाई तिक्ष्ण बनाउने अर्थात् आफ्नो अडकलवाजी लाई सत्यताको नजिक पुर्‍यउने कौशलता सिर्जना गर्नु विशेषगरी ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग पढ्ने विद्यार्थीका लागि अपरिहार्य हुन आँउछ ।

केही समय अघि मेरा एक मित्रको कारमा हामी धुलिखेलबाट काठमाण्डौँतिर गइरहेका थियौ । केही समय अघि देखि परेको घनघोर पानी अझै थामिएको थिएन । हामी अकस्मात रोकियौँ । हाम्रो अघि लगभग १०० मिटर जति सडकमा फैलिएको पानीको दह थियो । ठूला गाडी त पाङ्ग्रा अग्लो भएको कारणले पानी मिचेर पास भएका थिए । तर हामीले आँट गरेनौँ । मैले वायाँतिर एक लेनको सडकलाई आफ्नो बाटो बनाएर उर्ली उर्ली बगेको पानीलाई नियालेँ । लगभग घुँडा-घुँडा आउने पानी थियो । मैले सडकको चौडाइ, पानीको औसत गहिराइ र भेलको गति अन्दाज गरी जल प्रवाहको परिमाण अनुमान गरेँ । यस विषयमा मेरा मित्रको पनि विचार जान्ने ईच्छा भयो र वहाँलाई सोधेँ ।

“ यो पानीको वहाव कति होला ? “

वहाँले वडो सामान्य र सहज हिसावमा उत्तर दिनु भयो ।

“मेरो विचारमा १.५ देखि ३ घनमिटर प्रति सेकेण्डको वीचमा हुनुपर्छ ।”

म दङ्गदास परेँ । यसका दुई कारण थिए । पहिलो: मेरो अनुमान वहाँको उत्तरसँग ठ्याक्कै मिलेको थियो । दोस्रो: वहाँको सपाट उत्तरमा जुन ओज र आत्मविश्वास थियो त्यो स्मरणीय र अतुलनीय थियो । वहाँले त्यो उत्तर दिँदा कत्तिवेर पनि नअलमलिईकन दिनु भएको थियो । मैले अर्थशास्त्रमा नोबेल पुरस्कार जित्ने अध्येता डेनियल कानेम्यानले लेखेको “थिङ्कीङ्ग फास्ट एण्ड स्लो” भन्ने पुस्तकको प्रसँग सम्झिएँ । पुस्तकमा उनले कुनै आकस्मिक परिस्थितिमा हामी कसरी विचार गर्दछौ भन्ने कुराको विश्लेषण गरेका छन् । डेनियलले परिस्थिति र सोच्ने व्यक्तिको क्षमता अनुरुप दुईवटा सोच-प्रणालीले काम गर्ने उल्लेख गरेका छन् । प्रणाली-१ ले कुनै पनि प्रश्नको सपाट जवाफ निमेषभरमा नै दिन सक्छ । तर कठिन सवाल (जस्तै: १७ × २४) को सही जवाफ दिनका लागि प्रणाली-२ को जरुरी पर्दछ । मलाई भलपानीको वहावलाई आँकलन गर्न केही वेर लागेको थियो तर मेरा मित्रले शायद प्रणाली-१ प्रयोग गरेर सपाट उत्तर दिएका थिए । मष्तिष्कले प्रणाली-२ को प्रयोग विशेष अवस्थामा मात्र गर्दछ । यसको निचोड निस्कियो — मित्रको बगेको पानीसँग सम्बन्धित अनुभव यथेष्ट छ ।

टाउको वरावरको ढुँगाको तौल आँकलन गर्दा मष्तिष्कले आयतन मात्र मिल्ने भकुण्डो स्मरण गर्छ कि तौल र आयतन दुवै मिल्ने फर्सी या तरबुजा स्मरण गर्छ त ? यो कुरा समस्यालाई मष्तिष्कले कसरी आफूले जानेको प्रसँग या अनुभुतिसँग तुलना गर्दछ भन्ने कुरामा भर पर्दछ । अर्कोतर्फ फुटबल खेलको अनुभव अधिक भएको तर फर्सी कहिले पनि नतौलेको व्यक्ति भए उस्को ध्यान फुटबलतिर जानु  स्वभाविक नै हो । अर्थात् देवकोटाले उल्लेख गरे जस्तो प्रश्न ‘मष्तिष्कले कल्पना गर्ने छायाँको स्वरुप र आकार कस्तो हुन्छ भन्ने” हो ।  यसकारण ईन्जिनियरिङ्ग विधामा कुनै समस्यालाई सपाट र सही उत्तर दिनका लागि त्यो समस्यासँग मिल्ने पृष्ठभूमि या प्रसंग निमेषभरमा नै जोड्न सक्नु पर्छ । डेनियलको विश्लेषण अनुसार कहिलेकाहीँ मष्तिष्कले गलत वा अप्रासंगिक उत्तर पनि दिनसक्छ । यसका मुख्यतया तीन कारण हुन्छन् । पहिलो: पृष्ठभूमि या आधारभूत दायरालाई महत्व नदिई प्रश्नलाई अति हलुका तवरमा लिनु । दोस्रो: उत्तर प्राप्त गर्न अल्छि गर्नु । र तेश्रो उत्तरलाई पन्छाउनु या प्रश्न नै गलत छ भन्नेतिर मन लैजानु । विद्यार्थीहरुले उत्तर लेख्न नसक्नु वा गलत उत्तर दिनुको मूल कारक यिनै हुन् । तर सही अन्दाज या पूर्वानुमान गर्नका लागि उपलब्ध विकल्पहरुलाई कुनै नजिरसँग या आधारसँग तुलना गर्न जरुरी छ । आफ्नो अन्तस्करणमा उत्पन्न भएको अड्कललाई पाए सम्मका तथ्यहरुले प्रमाणित गर्नु पनि जरुरी हुन आउँछ ।

दक्ष ईन्जिनियर बन्नका लागि पहिलो शर्त हुन्छ- कुनै परिमाणको व्यावहारिक वा अर्थपूर्ण अन्दाज गर्न सक्नु । विद्यार्थीहरुको पूर्वानुमान गर्ने क्षमता अभिवृद्धि गर्दा सिर्जना भएका यी प्रसंगहरुले हाम्रो शिक्षा प्रणालीमा कस्ता कस्ता अनुमान गर्ने तौर तरिका सिकाउने गरिएको छ र त्यसको व्यवहारिक उपयोग कस्तो रहेको छ भन्ने विषयहरुको उठान गरेका छन् । आशा गरौँ यस विषयमा विद्वत वर्गको थप ध्यानाकर्षण हुनेछ ।

[साभार: http://nawarajkhatiwada.blogspot.com/%5D

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in EXPRESSIONS

 

Dancing in the Rice Paddies

Ananda Kafle

Like in the past, this year too, National Paddy Day was celebrated on June 29. Party leaders, government officials, journalists, celebrities and common people went to rural farms, smeared mud on their clothes, brandished spades, held aloft bunches of paddy seedlings and smiled widely for the camera. Moreover, some of them even played music, danced and had a sort of a party. Rice transplantation photographs received much space in newspapers and on television. Some of these celebrators are trying to mimic traditional rice planting practices. In reality, things have changed. The interest of people towards rice cultivation itself has decreased. Shortages of fertilisers and good quality seeds, lack of irrigation facilities, the labour intensive nature of rice farming and meager productivity are some factors that have discouraged peasants from continuing this occupation. Shortage of labour is another hurdle. Nepal’s villages are being evacuated of youths. Instead of being engaged in low-paying seasonal employment, many have chosen to move abroad. Their dependents in the country are either physically unable to work in the fields or prefer to live on remittance rather than do tedious peasantry. Until a few decades ago, the domestic production of rice used to be sufficient for the country’s food needs. Now, a large portion of the demand is being fulfilled by imported grain. Flat lands in the Tarai, regarded as the grain basket of the country, frequently turn barren due to inadequate rain and other adversities. Lack of awareness on the proper use of chemical fertilisers has led to degraded productivity of the soil, which has further increased the need for chemical supplements. Invading insects and weeds have developed resistance due to excessive use of insecticides, and this has made the crops more vulnerable to diseases. Waters from big rivers like the Koshi are drained directly to India across farmlands in the bordering Tarai. Unfair treaties prevent Nepali farmers from irrigating their fields with this water. In some districts, several hectares of cultivable fields have been submerged and made unfit for farming due to embankments and riverbed structures constructed by the southern neighbour. Despite many big rivers flowing through irrigable landscapes in the Tarai, peasants are compelled to wait for the rains to plough their fields. Marking National Paddy Day is not enough to encourage farmers to produce more rice. If the government was concerned about the issue in a real sense, the issues stated above need attention. Farmers should be given greater respect so that more youths are motivated to join them. Otherwise, such celebrations will not bring any change other than providing elites with an opportunity to show off their farming hobby.

(Earlier published in The Kathmandu Post, 9 July  2014)

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in EXPRESSIONS