Reprinted below in full, an interview with Dr Qasim Mehdi on research in Pakistan, from DAWN Sci-tech World January 26, 2008 . This is the second part of a series of reprints on research and education in Pakistan.
â€˜The problem with people here is that they neither work, nor let others workâ€™ – Dr Qasim Mehdi
DR Qasim Mehdi has directed research at Oxford University, UK, The Free University of Berlin, Germany and Stanford University, USA. He is the only Pakistani scientist to have won three internationally competitive research awards from the Wellcome Trust, UK. His researches include the discovery of several new genetic loci responsible for night blindness (retinitis pigmentosa) in Pakistani families and of other new genes responsible for non-syndromic deafness, cataract, keratoconous, Leber congenital amaurosis and microphthalmia in the country.
Sci-tech World caught up with the scientist to discuss the various issues regarding research and development in Pakistan. Excerpts from the interviewâ€¦
What exactly are the problems plaguing the field of research and development in Pakistan?
Lack of education is one of the major factors. With education comes the process of freedom of thought and expression. It makes one ponder on questions that have not been answered, and thus the quest for knowledge begins. In fact, when I was at Oxford University, I would come across school-children discussing and asking each other question that even PhD level students do not ponder over here. And despite our constant criticism of Europe, we cannot ignore the fact that the West is way ahead in the race for advancement in science and technology.
Is lack of education the only reason behind such state of affairs?
No, lack of hard work and discipline also contributes. When nations work hard they take pride in what they do and feel ashamed when they go wrong. It is a matter of vision. People here have an attention span of not more than 10 seconds, and they prefer taking everything easy and making a quick buck without putting much effort in their work.
What is happening at the moment in the field of research?
Quite a lot. The present government has put a lot of emphasis on education and more money is now pouring in this field than ever before. You may hear people, who criticise Higher Education Commission for their research grants, but these people do not come up with solutions themselves; rather, they just want to be part of the blame game.
Do you see the output to all these funds being invested in research?
It will take its due time. Things here are in a state of inertia. Scholars, rather than spending time in coming up with new discoveries, prefer giving lectures in 10 colleges or universities. They do not encourage the young generation that is willing to go beyond the stereotypes.
The crux of the problem is that for 60 years we have been building our foundations on sand. The West has taken from us everything that we had in terms of our knowledge, and what we get from them is something that we fail to comprehend and apply in our environment
What is your latest research built around?
We are working on genes and what can be done so that the future generations can avoid from the suffering of hereditary diseases.
Actually, it is quite an elaborate and vast subject. To put briefly, biotechnology is a misnomer for product and profit. It has been in use since time immemorial and has been used in making cheese, yoghurt and wine. But with the passage of time, the field has expanded. Now scientists are working on sequence of protein and DNA. This sequence can help scientists analyse diseases and how they can be avoided from being passed on. It will also help them in finding out how they can affect production of various products as well.
Have you met with any difficulty while carrying out your work?
The problem with people here is that they neither work, nor let others work. There is such a mess of lobby system here, but I have managed to stay clear. I prefer to be known as someone who minds his own business, and therefore, I manage to get work done.
Photo credit: Furhan Hussain