Responds to HEC Rejoinder
Van der Graaf Accelerator HEC is buying at Rs 400 Million
Buying Fantastically Expensive Scientific Junk
Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy
July 16: Dr Sohail Naqvi’s response (SAT, 15 July 2005)
to my article (SAT, 7 July 2005) is worthy of remark only because
it evades key issues and makes implausible excuses for the HEC’s
blunders and squandering of public money.
Naqvi justifies purchase of an obsolete Van de Graaf accelerator
worth nearly 400 million rupees for “teaching and general
research for which purpose it was, and remains, a very useful
machine”. Really, for “general research”? It
is amazing that he can talk of “general research”
in an age of extreme precision and specialization.
science cannot be done in the HEC way: buying fantastically expensive
scientific junk without any credible plans for utilization in
research. It is shocking that no meeting of potential users of
this large-scale project was called, as is the normal practice
in the rest of the world. And no one will have a clue of what
to do when this machine finally arrives in Pakistan.
ask any scientist in the field what a Van de Graaf machine is
good for. In the 21st century it simply cannot be used for meaningful
scientific work anywhere, much less for research in nuclear or
particle physics where at least a million times more energy is
needed. These machines have been superseded decades earlier by
much better technology. Researchers in materials science and condensed
matter physics also have little use for this machine. Searching
on Google, I discovered that all US universities (Caltech, Rice,
Carnegie-Mellon,...) which had Van de Graaf machines demolished
them years – if not decades – ago. Even the buildings
housing them have been torn down.
Naqvi needs to know that the academic world – not to mention
that in India – will laugh at Pakistan for wanting to order
this dinosaur. The czars of the HEC are exposing their scientific
underbellies by making such decisions. This money – which
will create no scientific research of any worth – could
have been used for improving science education in Pakistani schools,
among other things.
Naqvi is correct that the PC-1 form requesting the accelerator
was sent by Prof. Riazuddin, director of the National Center for
Physics, which is located on the campus of QAU. He is the founder
of my department and is well-known internationally as a physicist.
By temperament he is a shy, soft-spoken man who avoids confrontation
at all cost.
how dare Dr. Naqvi allege that I think Prof. Riazuddin, and others,
are “fools and criminals”? Yes, I was shocked by the
allegation that he had signed a PC-1 for purchase of a Van de
Graaf and so I called him immediately to ask if it was true. Prof.
Riazuddin said without hesitation "mujh se baree ghultee
ho gaee" (I have committed a grave mistake), and then
quietly explained that he had been under severe pressure. He added
that in 2004, a little after he had made the mistake, he had spoken
privately to Dr. Atta and told him that a Van de Graaf would be
a big folly. But all this was to no avail.
HEC was determined to have the machine. In the matter of Dr. Saadia
Chishty and "Quranization Of Science Courses at the M.Sc
level": will Dr. Naqvi please tell us why Rs5.5 million were
awarded to a project which does not involve experiments, equipment,
surveys, or any major expenditure? One does not need to be a big
expert to know that something stinks here. I would also like to
know why the project title (approved in 2003-2004) on the HEC
website was changed the very next day after my article was published
in The News and SAT (7 July 2005). A Google cache stands
as proof of this embarrassing change.
my article on the HEC was published, I received the copy of a
letter signed by Professor Dr. Muhammad al-Ghazali, head of Islamic
Social Sciences Unit, Islamic Research Institute, International
Islamic University, Islamabad. This was an evaluation of Dr. Saadia
Khawar Khan Chishti’s work. Here are extracts from the 3-page
letter: "What has been done by the writer is just citing
certain verses ostensibly have reference to some of the natural
phenomena....to define a vision of scientific enterprise from
the perspective of Quranic ontological and epistemological is
something which is more than justified in the Islamic ethos.
to search for theories of Physics and Chemistry is quite a different
matter...The lady scholar has not shown any evidence about the
basics of Quranic scholarship…..Last but not least, the
undersigned failed to appreciate the rationality of the exorbitant
amount (Rs. 4,981,000/-) granted for a project that apparently
does not warrant any empirical investigation, laboratory experiment,
traveling or any other heavy expenditure. This is obviously an
extravagant utilization of public funds, if not sheer squandering.”
Ghazali then recommends, “following the Second Caliph Umar
(may Allah be pleased with him)”, that Chishty’s project
the envelope in which I received the letter quoted from above
carried no return address, I have no way of verifying whether
the above is genuine or otherwise. Perhaps Dr. Naqvi may want
Naqvi defends the grant of Rs5.3 million to Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman,
for a chemistry project at AIOU. I suppose loyalty to one’s
boss is a good thing. But Dr. Naqvi does not explain, however,
how a distance-learning institute can do cutting-edge scientific
research, especially since the principal investigator heads 3
other institutions (including the HEC), is principal investigator
as well as co-principal investigator of many other projects. And
all of this is while he is out of Pakistan much of the time.
is the second example of HEC bosses giving themselves fat grants.
I might add that a Google search reveals that Dr. Saadia Chishty
is a member of the HEC’s governing board! Dr. Naqvi stoutly
defends his implementation of the HEC "Best University Teacher
Award", wherein administrators were asked to nominate the
best. He says that the HEC could not possibly interview 250,000
so. But, as he knows, the administrators simply nominated themselves
as best teachers. This happened not once, but twice in a row.
So if this is how casually and ineffectively HEC programs are
implemented, then we are better off without them.
for the case of dozens of PhD students enrolled under one supervisor
at QAU: I certainly did not say that all were funded by the HEC
– they presumably have different funding sources. As of
February 2005, when I saw the figures, this was true. One also
knows from colleagues how many students are registered with which
supervisor. Dr. Naqvi tells us that the HEC supports up to 8 PhD
students per supervisor. True, but this too is a very large number.
relation to the disastrous "Physics Master Trainers"
program at QAU, Dr. Naqvi claims that "Dr Hoodbhoy asked
to be placed in charge of the program when it was first proposed".
This is false. There was a 5-person committee of which I was a
member, and my demand was that the program should not be handed
over to one particular member of the committee whose basic understanding
of physics is known to be notoriously weak. Other physicist members
supported my stand, but the HEC made its own choice.
do not know what blinders prevent Dr. Naqvi from seeing that the
program is a disgrace and a failure. But then this is typical
of his administrative style: make grand claims, throw away hundreds
of millions, and then blame someone else by saying that he was
not responsible for implementation of projects.
Naqvi asks why several professors from Austria, Germany, France,
etc are clamoring for more Pakistani students selected by the
HEC on the basis of “GRE-type” tests, whose quality
I have criticized. The answer is simple: it is because the HEC
pays a student’s total expenses and helps keep those foreign
professors and universities in business. Pakistani newspapers
are flooded by advertisements from every kind of foreign university
seeking to lure fee-paying Pakistani students.
foreign governments see this as a subsidy to their own universities.
Whatever the case, I am pleased that more Pakistanis are going
to these countries for higher education and I have congratulated
Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman more than once on this. However, a far better
crop of students could be sent if the HEC were to drop its present
test and have one of better quality and relevance.
indifference of the HEC to issues of quality is apparent in how
casually it has accepted fake degrees and fake universities. This
tightened up a little only after some months when Dr. Isa Daudpota
pointed out case after case in the national press – and
then documented them with evidence. Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, his boss,
terminated his job almost immediately.
it saddens me to see that Dr. Naqvi stoops to make numerous petty
personal attacks upon me: of my being on “extraordinary
leave” so that I could be paid at Rs 45,000 per hour of
lecturing, of attacking my research record, and of having set
out to defame the HEC for some dark reason.
will not bother to answer these except to wish that I could be
as rich as he alleges I am. Would he be so kind as to point out
where I can make that kind of hourly wage? If so I would certainly
seek to improve my personal finances. As for my research: good,
fair, or poor, some of it may be found at http://www.slac.stanford.edu/spires/find/hep/www?rawcmd=f+a+hoodbhoy
many others, I too had many hopes from the HEC in its early days
and not only wished it well, but also put in considerable effort
voluntarily to support it as my public duty. Sadly its performance
has disappointed not just me, but countless others. Unless its
all-powerful czars are made accountable, the rot will be unstoppable.
writer is Professor of Physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University,