Dedicated to Rafael Sorkin:
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1. The Physics of Underdevelopment and the Underdevelopment of Physics John Stachel
Center for Einstein Studies, Boston University
A Talk Given at the 1st Congress for African Physics Students,
Abuja, Nigeria, November 15, 2005
2. Dedicated to Rafael Sorkin: “A Luta Continua”
3. Albert Einstein Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest for all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods--in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse for mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
4. Kwasi Wiredu - How not to compare African thought with Western thought [T]he march of modernization is destined to lead to the universalization of philosophy everywhere in the world. [A]ll peoples who have made any breakthrough in the quest for modernization have done so by going beyond folk thinking. It is unlikely to be otherwise in Africa….[T]he process of sifting the elements of our traditional thought and culture calls for a good measure of analytical circumspection lest we exchange the good as well as the bad in our traditional ways of life for dubious cultural imports.
5. What Can I Do In This Talk? As an aged white male physics professor from the United States, I can not & I will not attempt to tell you how to solve your problems as young African physics students
I shall discuss what I believe to be some problems that confront all of us, as physicists and above all as human beings, in today’s global society
I shall quote some discussions by Africans of African problems, from which I have been learning & that, to me, seem important for you to consider
6. First Universal Lesson The best way to learn about something is to teach it to others
Don’t be afraid to teach a new subject– it provides a unique opportunity to learn
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes– others are usually only too glad to correct them
(I hope you will do me that kindness!)
7. We Are All Students: “I am still learning” (Goya)
8. Second Universal Lesson It is only slowly becoming general knowledge that the entire globalized economic structure is undergoing a radical transformation-- the doubling of the global labor force-- that will confront all countries of the world, the so-called developed, developing, and under-developed, with radically new challenges
9. China, India and the Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization? Richard Freeman (Harvard) The global economic community, and economic policymakers in governments and global institutions alike, has yet to fully understand the most fundamental economic development in this era of globalization– the doubling of the global labor force.
10. Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization?– Richard Freeman (cont’d) The entry of China, India and the former Soviet bloc to the global capitalist economy is a turning point in economic history.
In 1980, the global workforce consisted of workers in the advanced countries, parts of Africa and most of Latin America. Approximately 960 million persons worked in these economies.
Population growth– largely in the poorer countries– increased the number employed in these economies to about 1.46 billion workers by 2000.
11. Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization?– Richard Freeman (cont’d) But in the 1980s and 1990s, workers from China, India and the former Soviet bloc entered the global labor pool. Of course, these workers had existed before then. The difference, though, was that their economies suddenly joined the global system of production and consumption.
In 2000, these countries contributed 1.47 billion workers to the global labor pool– effectively doubling the size of the world’s now connected workforce.
12. Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization?– Richard Freeman (cont’d) These new entrants to the global economy brought little capital with them…. A decline in the global capital/labor ratio shifts the balance of power in markets away from wages paid to workers and towards capital, as more workers compete for working with that capital….
The capital/labor ratio is the critical determinant of the wages paid to workers and of the rewards to capital.
13. Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization?– Richard Freeman (cont’d) Having twice as many workers and nearly the same amount of capital places great pressures on labor markets throughout the world. The pressure will affect workers in developing countries who had traditionally participated in the global economy, as well as workers in advanced countries.
Countries that had hoped to grow through exports of low-wage goods must look for new sectors in which to advance– if they are to make it in the global economy.
14. Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization?– Richard Freeman (cont’d) In advanced countries, real wages and/or employment are likely to grow more slowly than in years past.
In developing countries that have traditionally been part of the global economy, manufacturing jobs are at risk. They are likely to see a shift in labor to the informal sector with rising poverty, as indeed has occurred in many countries.
15. Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization?– Richard Freeman (cont’d) So far, the World Bank and the IMF have tended to blame economic problems on insufficient labor flexibility, or fiscally irresponsible governments with excessive expenditures on social safety nets, as well as on government interventions in markets.
Instead of seeking to protect capital, the World Bank and the IMF need to help countries to develop policies to minimize the costs of adjustment to workers during what is likely to be a long transition.
16. Doubling of the Global Labor Force: who pays the price for globalization?– Richard Freeman (cont’d) The world needs a new model of globalization and new policies that put upfront the well-being of workers around the world. They will be on the short end of the stick for a long time to come.
17. What are the Implications for Science and Technology? Remember, under capitalism,
a new technology is introduced,
not to save labor or improve the quality of human life,
but to increase profits.
If it is more profitable to exploit labor more intensively, a new technology will not be introduced
18. Implications for Science and Technology (cont’d) Remember, most scientists, including physicists, are destined to remain scientific workers, not scientific entrepreneurs.
There needs to be a serious rethinking of many traditional economic arguments for the development of physics, including technological determinism.
19. “Regional SAIP Meetings on the Future of Physics in SA,” P.A. Whitelock “We believe that science and technology are key to development in Africa and that physics, which provides the foundation of so much else, has a special role to play in this development.”
-- cited in the Report of the International Panel, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, April 2004
20. Report, International Panel, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, 2004 In particular, physics often acts as a lead science– not only are the physics developments of today the technology of tomorrow, but, inter alia, it also plays the role of the canary in the mine. Thus, if physics gets seriously ill, it is a warning that science and technology as a whole, and hence the growth of a knowledge-based economy, are in grave danger.
-- Preamble to the Executive Summary
22. What is the Canary Telling Us? Is this absence of funding simply due to negligence, ignorance, ill will and/or prejudice?
Or is it a symptom of deep, long range economic trends?
23. Are Such Arguments for Physics Still Valid One must think carefully about the utility of such arguments for the development of physics.
It is not clear that they will prevail just because they would lead to an improvement in the quality of human life in this or that country
If the capitalist path of global development continues to prevail everywhere, it is the laws of capital’s logic that will decide where and how such development takes place
25. A Crucial Question So this question seems to me crucial:
Will it be possible for any country or bloc of countries to break free– totally or partially-- from the profit logic of capitalist development,
not to move backwards to a pre-capitalist system,
but to move forward to a post-capitalist system , which will utilize the accomplishments of capitalism to make possible development based on the logic of human needs and their maximum possible fulfillment?
26. No Easy Answer Such a break with the logic of capital in favor of a logic of human needs will certainly not be easy to accomplish
I know a bit about one such attempt from personal acquaintance with
29. Western governments, and the international agencies they controlled, argued for the adoption of their own agenda. The ANC leadership abandoned the Merg report, with its emphasis on a low-key welfare state achieved by directing resources, such as pension funds, into such objectives as a large-scale housebuilding programme. But subsequent developments have demonstrated that a great opportunity was lost.
30. The Struggle Goes On Nevertheless, I believe that the acute crises inherent in the logic of capitalist development and the chronic misery it generates make it certain that such attempts will continue.
In countries that have preserved strong pre-capitalist social relations, there may well be traditions of solidarity and mutual aid that can help such attempts to succeed.
31. Africa But now let me return to Africa, and what I have been learning from Africans about African problems in general and African physics in particular
32. K.S. Allotey, Pres. SAPAM, Chair CSIR, Accra, Ghana, “Physics in Africa” (2002) In 1996 there were about 155 universities in Africa: most of them have Physics degree programs.
University Physics education in Africa consists mainly of undergraduate, specialist training, service courses, teacher training and graduate study.
A typical undergraduate course for a B. Sc. Degree takes four years after high school
33. K. S. Allotey--Physics in Africa (cont’d) In the Anglophone system …three types of graduate study in physics. One calendar year degree, MSc., Master of Philosophy, Mphil (at least one year afterMSc) and the PhD. (at least two years after MSc. or at least one year after Mphil.
In the Francophone countries …Diplome d’Étude Approfonde (DEA) a year after the Maitrise and Doctorate-3 cycle two or three years later. One could also get Doctorate-État after some years, say between four and five years after.
34. ”Promoting Physics & Development in Africa”*- Edmund Zingu, Academic V.P. , Mangosuthu Technikon, Durban, SA; V.P., IUPAP Significant differences exist among the countries of
the whole of median Africa (sometimes called sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa
and South Africa
*Physics Today, January 2004
36. The IPPS A particularly valuable contribution to the development of physics in Africa has been the work of the International Programme in the Physical Sciences (IPPS), based in Uppsala, Sweden. The IPPS has worked mainly in East Africa (from Ethiopia to Mozambique, and particularly in Tanzania) and have provided equipment, arranged for academic staff to obtain higher degrees through study in Sweden, and generally contributed to capacity building.
Report, International Panel, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, 2004
38. Report, International Panel, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, 2004 South Africa can make a significant contribution to the development of science and technology on the African continent. Valuable associates in such activities are the American Physical Society’s (APS’s) Task Force on Collaboration with Africa and the National Society of Black Physicists, a grouping of the African diaspora in the USA, both of whom are strongly supportive of efforts to develop Africa, an particularly African physics.
39. Scope of My Talk In addition to some problems of universal significance,
I shall concentrate on sources from
My major source for Nigeria is:
40. Under-Developing Nigeria: The Conspiracy of Science and Society
Professor Oyewale Tomori, FAS
Quarterly Public Lecture Series
The Nigerian Academy of Science
On Saturday, 19th January, 2002
42. Under-Developing Nigeria: Introduction
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion I declare that science; scientists and society have all conspired to under develop our beloved country. …
43. Expectations of Nigerian Society from Science & Technology What does society expect from science and her scientists? It is to be provided with opportunities to take advantage of scientific and technological innovation, particularly in energy, communications, and information technology. The society expects its scientists to transform the elegant models and theories of development into practical solutions for their daily existence. The society wants science and the scientists to adapt the theory of relativity into something practical, relating to their daily needs.
44. Already Done! And probably even fewer people realize that the commonly used touring, hiking and sailing tool, the GPS (Geographic Positioning System), requires, to provide accurate positioning, Einstein’s arcane general theory of relativity.
-- Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, April 2004
46. Tomori on The African Scientist The African scientist is a talented expert who has become largely irrelevant to the needs and aspirations of his society. … Be he a doctor or an engineer, he is well versed in techniques and methodology of science, but not in its adaptation for the needs of the society that paid for his education and training. He is measured against a “global standard” that hardly addresses the situation in his society.
47. Where is SHE? When referring to African scientists, Prof. Tomori regularly speaks of “he.”
Does this represent just an insensitive use of language, or is it a marker for the absence of adequate representation of half the population?
48. Tomori on The African Scientist (cont’d) He struggles vainly to catch up with the world of technology, getting farther and farther away from his society; becoming an alien to their yearnings, aspirations and hopes. As gigantic technological strides are taken in other parts of the world, the African scientist must decide whether to run a race in pursuit of the other world and away from his society.
49. Tomori on The African Scientist (cont’d) In the end, he succumbs or he is forced to crawl in an unending and unequal race after his counterparts from the western world. In the process, the African society suffers, deprived of the expertise of indigenous scientists. Back home, the situation is worsened by a government, which prefers and would rather depend on foreign expertise and consultants.
50. Tomori on The African Scientist (cont’d) Disdained, disregarded, discarded and without the facility, or funds to perform effectively, the African scientist becomes a piece of costly but counterfeit ornament, hanging in no man’s land, a special one way ticket, non-reroutable, non-refundable, and non-transferable.
51. Tomori on The African Scientist (cont’d) Disdained, disregarded, discarded and without the facility, or funds to perform effectively, the African scientist becomes a piece of costly but counterfeit ornament, hanging in no man’s land, a special one way ticket, non-reroutable, non-refundable, and non-transferable.
52. “In Nigeria” … 217 of 1000 children die before they reach the age of one year, and 230 of 1000 children die, yes, die before they can start primary schools. … up to 1,716 of our mothers out of 100,000 die from a disease called childbirth!
53. “In 21st Century Africa” 5 million children die in the first month of life. A quarter of a million of our children were sent to fight the politicians’ wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo. Through the assistance of HIV/AIDS, we produce 600,000 orphans in Africa.
54. “In 21st Century Africa” Our governments say we are poor, and they are mortgaging our future to international lending agencies. Yet for the people of Angola, the government expenses on defense and weapons of war is 273 times more than the expense on health and education combined. Our own [Nigerian] government only spends 63 times more …And yet we say we are poor!
--- Oyewale Tomori
55. Everyone Wants to be a Pioneer By Mercy Ette, Newswatch Special Correspondent Monday, November 01, 2004 Tomori: The health situation in Africa is terribly overwhelming. The introduction of HIV/AIDS in the last 10-20 years is taking a toll especially in Southern Africa. The health situation in Africa when you look at it is about simple, basic things that could be done. For a long time health practitioners have forgotten that health is linked to so many things - education, water, clean environment. But people seem to focus mainly on specific fields. We don't look at health in its totality.
56. Everyone Wants to be a Pioneer (cont’d) If we don't see the human being as a whole, we will not make any meaningful changes. … as I said, health is not just about what medication you get in hospital, it is about education, water supply, good roads. It is about training people to drive well. If they drive well they won't have too many accidents. If you have good water supply, then you won't have parasitic diseases, if people keep their environment clean then they will not have mosquitoes giving them malaria.
57. Everyone Wants to be a Pioneer (cont’d) If you look at most African countries, there are just about three ministries that are important - the president's office, finance and defense. Other ministries are not taken seriously and this is obvious when you look at the people who are in charge. …But basically most African countries do not really bother about health. Take our country, we would rather build a stadium in Abuja, than improve a hospital or to vaccinate children. When you see the priorities of many African countries you know where they place health is not something to be happy about.
58. Clearly. Health Must Be A First Priority Every scientist, regardless of his/her field of specialization, is a citizen and as such must make public health a priority
To talk to people about the great role our science of physics can play in their lives, without recognizing that they are often starving or literally sick unto death, is not humanism but alienation from humanity
59. “This was a social problem” The following words were spoken by Professor Tomori in the context of public health problems, but I believe they contain important lessons for us all as physicists
60. Everyone Wants to be a Pioneer (cont’d)
“When the whole issue of AIDS started in Nigeria, there were so many committees of hematologists, virologists. This was a social problem and yet sociologists were not involved. It was seen purely as a scientific problem and expert committees were set up to do surveillance.
61. Everyone Wants to be a Pioneer (cont’d) AIDS is more of a social problem than scientific, we forgot that aspect and even the messages we were giving out were wrong and therefore people did not think there was a problem for them. It was an opportunity for scientists to make money and most of the expert committees were working for themselves and not really to help people.”
62. Everyone Wants to be a Pioneer (cont’d) “All of us are involved but the government has not done enough, and we scientists have not related our activities to the needs of the people. Many people are making money, from the charlatan to the vaccine discoverer to the press and even to the scientists. We are making money out of HIV to the detriment of the people. Maybe these are hard words to say but when you really look at it, that is exactly what we are doing and it is the people who are suffering.”
64. Report, International Panel, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, 2004 In Sachs’s classification of technological regions … into “innovators” (10 patents or more per million of inhabitants), “technology adopters” and the “technologically excluded”, South Africa is observed to belong to the middle group
South Africa is in the middle of the pack. Will it move up to join the innovators, or down to the technologically marginalised countries?
65. Report, International Panel, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, 2004 Given these data [on R&D spending per unit of GDP], the answer to the question above may be “SA is stagnating in terms of R&D investment, and it is likely that its national wealth and human development will remain stagnant unless action is taken.”
66. “Stars of the South,” Michael Cherry, Nature 3 November 2005 The problem with astronomy in South Africa, as in so many other areas, originates in the education system. The post-apartheid government has been fairly unsuccessful at improving the maths and science education of black Africans since it took office in 1994. In 2002, for example, the number of black school-leavers who had maths grades good enough to study science was the same as it was in 1991 … So far, the country as a whole has produced only three black and two mixed race PhD astronomers.
67. Clifford Nxomani, former head of the South Africa Large Telescope Science (SALT) Foundation agrees that the problem starts at the grassroots level. He recalls his shock at the low standard of facilities at Sutherland High School, especially as during the apartheid era it was a white school. “In the Northern Cape, everyone is poor-- whether you are black or white,” he says.
68. Professor Sarah Howie, the youngest-ever winner of South Africa’s science Oscar, the 2005 National Science and Technology Forum award. Author of English Language and Other Factors Influencing Grade Eight Pupils’ Achievement in Mathematics “
The most significant factor in learning science and maths isn’t whether the learners are rich or poor. It’s whether they are fluent in English"
69. Sarah Howie (cont’d) Some countries, like Botswana, throw their learners into an English-language environment from their very first day at school. Other countries, like Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, teach in Arabic and only near the end of their schooling, when a minority are preparing for university, switch to the dominant language – in North Africa’s case, French. Some countries successfully mix and match. Malaysia and Singapore churn out world-class students who have learnt everything in a second language.
70. Sarah Howie (cont’d) South Africa mixes both systems but unlike the Asian giants, it doesn't seem to be working for us.
We do a bit of both styles, and it’s not working. Let’s stop sitting on the fence and make a hard decision. We must either shore up the mother tongue teaching of maths and sciences, or switch completely to English if we want to succeed."
71. Language and/or Culture? Is the problem primarily the language of instruction in science, particularly physics?
Is it also– and maybe primarily– a question of the cultural presuppositions that go along with the use of an alien language: alien concepts, examples based on alien techniques, problems assuming familiarity with alien ideas, etc?
72. Conclusion I am finally coming to the end, having more raised questions than provided answers
I conclude by again citing Professor Tomori on Nigeria, for I believe his comments to be of far wider, perhaps of universal, applicability
73. “The Way Forward for Nigerian Scientists”-- Tomori First the Nigerian scientists must be seen by the society as part of the society.
Second, we should be asking the right questions relating to the problems of our society, based on our intimacy and identification with the society
Third, we need to focus on research activities in the direction of the questions we have asked.
And fourthly, the Nigerian scientist, in collaboration with the government must seek relevance in serving and meeting the identified needs of the society.
74. “The Way Forward for Nigerian Scientists”-- Tomori Currently, whether trained at home or abroad, the Nigerian scientist seeks to advance science and scientific knowledge primarily from a global perspective. Thinking globally, he often does not or cannot act locally. He serves the scientific community responsible for his training and which provides the instruments of his trade. Rarely breaking away from the tradition of his apprenticeship, he is detached from the needs of the society responsible for funding his training.
75. “The Way Forward for Nigerian Scientists”-- Tomori The society, finding him irrelevant to its day-to-day problems, discards the scientist, who in turn seeks relevance in foreign countries where he is appreciated for his “global” skills. We need to end the isolation of our universities and research centers from the rest of the country and society. We need to get our universities and research centres out of the ivory towers, which are more connected to research centres in Europe or the United States. We need to get them to focus on the obvious needs of industry, agriculture, and education in our country.
76. “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” We used to hear this saying a lot in the United States in the `60s and ‘70s.
Unfortunately, we hear it very little these days although we need it more than ever.
I would maintain it is of universal human applicability. We must all keep asking:
ARE WE PART OF THE SOLUTION OR
ARE WE PART OF THE PROBLEM?