Category Archives: KUFIT MAG
– 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]
– Hem Raj Kafle
Some of our undergraduates show remarkable philosophical leaning when they are allowed to discuss life. The discussion sometimes involves such meaningful questions, directed to the teacher: “When do you think an academic will go out of use? Can a person remain spirited forever? Isn’t there the possibility of one’s sudden disappearance because more vibrant persons come to displace/replace?”
These questions must make a high-spirited person hold his breath for some time to envision his own future, with a feeling of slight pinch to his current usability. He should rather start with this thesis: “When I degenerate, I will disappear. To exist I should know the tricks of scooping butter with a crooked finger.” Well, it is tricky to try to find the number of such thinkers. My assumption is that there are many under our noses. To mention some universal symptoms of atrophying is my purpose here.
I think the first striking symptom is the reluctance to being receptive. This is when a person begins to set limits to learning and teaching, which is to say, he develops a sustained sense of fullness and saturation to the extent of intolerance towards productive criticism, and displeasure for the emergence of competent young successors. The second symptom is the fear of failure and bitterness. One’s intellectual erosion begins with the urge to avoid challenges when one has accumulated absurd experiences so much into believing that the world conspires against good people and life itself is deceptive. But one who fears challenges will hardly teach others the remedies against hardships. And one who always falls probably fails to tell others how to rise permanently.
Perhaps the most remarkable symptom of erosion comes with the feeling of surrender when there still is a chance to confront for a good cause. I believe each learned person should develop the quality of leadership with minimum sense of positive dominance over ignorance. Someone has rightly said, “When my father stopped shouting at me, he lost his world” meaning that a powerful, competent hand is always welcome in guiding a productive individual. Let alone sharing personal experiences, when a more matured generation begins to fear or lose control over less matured generation even in necessary cases, the channels for transmitting established socio-cultural values will gradually disappear. Each generation should develop as much the power of dominance and guidance as the readiness for reception and expansion of knowledge and values.
The old practically do not avoid being sociable and sharing experiences, but if they do, they will only contribute to backwardness or possible stagnation. One who has lived an individualistic life, cut off from empathetic relatives during life’s most receiving phase, would finally regret saying, “I wish I could relive my elders’ lives in a new context. If only I had ever asked them how hard it was to live their times.”
People once venerated might go out of use when they literally begin to show signs of disappearance from the mainstream. Appearance is not the matter of age but of intellectual energy. Neither does it have anything to do with the matter of physical presence but of leaving a legacy. Those who resign from the desire to become heritage allow others to lose sight of them. Visibility remains so long as others see you in terms of social presence and achievements.
An intellectual invites his own disappearance when he only revels in the past achievements but does not add any at present while competitors have already achieved newer heights. Successful people are usually narcissistic to the extent of gradual exclusion from the majority. But they can save themselves from disappearing by transferring their achievements to upcoming generation of competitors. If human beings had the rigidity of keeping all their skills and subsequent achievements to themselves, and if they had inability to learn these from others, all of us would still be living primitively.
The power to command respect is an important quality to check early atrophying. The respect should come with being able to become a convergence point for the majority in matters of leadership and knowledge. I believe a leader or a knowledgeable person has to be useful in the local level. Some competent people are out of use for their craze for telescopic usability, which means the ambition for a higher level, probably international, exposure without sufficient commitment to their lived surroundings.
Finally, I would exemplify three kinds of people who would rise in momentary limelight, but gradually fade away because of certain hamartia. The first type plants a tree, works hard till it grows and bears fruits, but finally, reveling on the fruits and gentle breeze atop, becomes too lazy to pluck weeds and shun insects. He rather expects someone to attend the tree merely for the sake of shade and wind-blown fruits.
Someone recently told me of a second type in an interesting metaphor about the relationship between legs and the chest. He said, “The legs move and hold the body, but the chest receives the medal.” I think, this hints at the Shakespearean sense of “bubble reputation” that someone in a leadership enjoys till the subordinates agree to work hard for him. When the legs choose not to move, perhaps because the chest cannot sustain the glory of the medals or aims to climb too high to notice the pains below, the “bubbles” begin to burst into oblivion. The chest will begin to pant in helplessness.
A third type presents a somehow oxymoronic appearance. He boasts of having got very wide eyes after having “borne a thousand blows of life,” but the vision is too clear ahead to miss seeing the filth under his feet. The filth ultimately travels to his kitchen, bedroom and worship. This happens repeatedly. He is busy cleaning the filth indoors, and ultimately becomes invisible.
– Pushpa Raj Adhikary
Former Dean and Controller of Examinations
We human beings live in a planetary system of a star which we call the Sun. Our sun is just one of the minor stars in the cluster of about 250 billion stars called the Milky Way. We live far from the bright and densely populated nucleus of the Milky Way. Earth is one of the nine planets which surround the Sun, and continuously revolves around the Sun in more or less a fixed path known as its orbit. The earth is surrounded by a gaseous ocean. We live on the bottom of this rather opaque gaseous ocean. The earth is also one of the billions of other planets in the universe, nothing more than a tiny speck of dust in the vast galactic island. What can we hope to learn of this universe from our galactic backwoods?
In our short history of the existence on earth we had hardly had time enough to take stock of our immediate surroundings. We have just begun to know and understand ourselves. Thousands of years of human civilization are but a fleeting instance as compared with the periods of time in which matter evolves on the universal scale. Less than 500 years have passed since man first proved that this planet is a globe by circumnavigating it. A century has passed since we discovered, at first by speculative reasoning, some of the laws connecting space, time, and motion. We have just begun to probe the secrets of the structure of the matter. Our knowledge of the universe is scanty indeed and we still have a lot more to learn. But we are inquisitive, have learned things step by step and continue to learn many more things about our universe by the same way and in course of time will unravel more mysteries of the universe.
Apart from the terrestrial landscape of mountains, valleys, flat plain, dense forest and oceans, man has been looking up at the twinkling dots in the sky for thousands of years. Some have compared these twinkling dots, known as stars, the twinkling eyes of the universe looking down on earth. Stars appear after the Sunset and must have looked very mysterious objects for early human beings. Beginning with idle stargazing, it has now turned to systematic observations, first with naked eyes, then with the simplest of instruments, and today with the help of giant telescope with lenses several feet in diameter and other sophisticated instruments. Now we can distinguish planets and stars.
In addition, we have identified various other objects scattered around the vast void of the universe. There are very big clusters of stars like our Milky Way. These clusters of stars are known as galaxies. The galaxies have hundreds of solar systems like ours. There are huge objects made of a gaseous material known as nebulae. Some objects are not visible to us but we feel their presence by detecting the noises they emit. These noises are known as radio waves and are detected and analyzed to understand about these noisy objects. We can measure how big a star is, how far one star is from another, and measure the distance of the farthest nebulae. So the old saying “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are” is no longer true. Today we can say “Twinkle, twinkle little star, we know exactly what you are”. Stars are no wonders today and neither are they little. Other stars are several thousands to even hundreds of millions larger than our sun and are made of materials in plasma state.
The earth is surrounded by an ocean of colorless gases which we call air. Air mainly contains nitrogen and oxygen along with different other gases in traces. This air covering of our planet earth is known as the atmosphere and is spread up to 3,000 kilometers altitude above the earth. Clouds are usually observed at an altitude of about 80 kilometres. Somewhat higher, between 100 and 120 kilometres, meteors appear as shooting stars. A flying meteor is a complex phenomenon involving the interaction of a fast moving body carrying an electrical charge with the Surrounding air. Atmosphere gradually becomes less and less dense depending on the distance from the surface of the earth. Some strange lights (Northern and Southern lights) called Aurora Polaris occur in the uppermost layers of the atmosphere as high as 1,200 kilometres.
At an altitude of 3,000 kilometres above the surface of the earth, just outside the edge of the atmosphere, electrically charged particles from the outer space counter us. Earth is a huge magnet and its magnetic influence spreads in the surrounding space known as magnetic field. The charge particles which come from outer space towards earth are trapped by the earth’s electromagnetic field. They spiral along the earth forming three radiation belts. A disturbance in this belt causes disturbances in our radio, television and other means of communication.
From the surface of the earth we see the sky is blue and the stars twinkle. These phenomena do occur due to the earth’s atmosphere. So, how does the sky look when we watch it beyond the atmosphere? Astronauts and space travelers tell us that the sky looks totally dark and stars no longer twinkle. Rather they look like dull light-emitting objects. If we recall back, on March 18, 1965 an earth man named Alexei Leonov, citizen of the then Soviet Socialist Republic, first encountered the vast void of the universe face to face. Leonov became the first person from the planet earth to push himself away from his spaceship Voskhod 2 to drift out into the bottomless void known as space. Leonov was connected with a rope-like chord to keep from losing himself in the strange, weird void surrounding him.
Man is inquisitive by nature. As soon as we discover a new law of nature, we try to exploit it for our own ends. Having discovered the secret of lightning bolts we use it to produce electric light. By learning the laws of river flow we dug irrigation canals. We have harnessed the power of nuclear fission of uranium and will soon learn to tame the thermonuclear reaction which heats the sun and stars. No sooner do we discover the laws of the universe than we surely put them to work and make them serve us. We have understood the terrestrial laws and phenomena and made them serve us. So we can hope that by becoming the master of the universe one day we may be able to reconstruct the planetary systems, move stars about and regulate their brightness at our will.
So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. – Albert Einstein
Men of the sociological tribe rarely visit the land of the physicists and have little idea what they do over there. If the sociologists were to step into the building occupied by the English department, they would encounter the cold stares if not the slingshots of the hostile natives … the disciplines exist as separate estates, with distinctive subcultures. (p. 23)
We all want to make our lives more meaningful tomorrow than they are today. This is our ideal. That ideal can be understood as truth for scientists and as an ideal place for geographers, as a good society for social scientists in general, and as a good life for the people in humanities. Because this ideal is to be achieved in the future, it is open-ended, and it requires the use of intuition and imagination. Again, I want to say that intuition and imagination know no disciplinary boundaries. (Shin, “Confessions”)
- Becher, T. (1989). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
- Frank, R. (1988). ‘Interdisciplinarity’: The first half century. In E.G. Stanley and T.F. Hoad (Eds.), Words: For Robert Burchfield’s sixty-fifth birthday (pp. 91–101). Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.
- Lattuca, L. R. (2001). Creating interdisciplinarity. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
- Moran, J. (2002). Interdisciplinarity. New York: Routledge.
- Nissani, Moti. Interdisciplinarity: What, where, why? Retrieved October 25, 2005 from http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/2030/ispessay.htm .
- Shin, Un-chol. Confessions of an Interdisciplinarian. Retrieved October 25, 2005 from http://www.humanities.eku.edu/interdisciplinarian.htm .