Monday, December 24, 2007

American Scientists Visit Iran

Science magazine this week reports on the visit by an American delegation, led by Norm Neureiter of the AAAS, to Iran. Neureiter
recalls a reception that few would have predicted: When Nobel laureate Joseph H. Taylor of Princeton spoke at Sharif University of Technology, students jammed the hall and treated him like a celebrity. Former President Mohammad Khatami had a cordial visit with the Americans. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to arrange a meeting, but Putin's visit made that impossible. And the Iranian news media covered the tour extensively.

"It was phenomenally favorable, from the first day," Neureiter said in an interview. "It's amazing how popular Americans are in Iran. Intuitively, you would think it would be just the opposite."

The October visit offered clear proof that the science communities of the two countries share a reservoir of common interest and good will that could support a more constructive overall relationship, he said. This month's U.S. intelligence conclusion that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is a "remarkable development," he added, "but there are still many issues of contention between the U.S. and Iran. What we are proposing is greater engagement at the people level despite the political problems."
Comment: Congratulations to Neureiter and the delegation for taking a politive step.

The reception does not surprise me. Scientists all over the world often have more in common with scientists from other countries than with politicians in their own country. Iran and Iranians clearly value science, and the scientific community could have been (and was) expected to welcome a visit of a team of distinguished scientists as helping to overcome their own isolation and gain them a useful visibility.

Iran is no more homogeneous than any other country. While there are reactionary people who feel their theocracy is incompatible with modernization, there are others who strongly support modernization and especially the potential for science and technology to make the lives of Iranians better.

As in so many countries in the past, scientific cooperation and exchanges may keep Iranian-American channels of communication open while the political channels are clogged.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure there are any "reactionaries" in Iran who are opposed to scientific progress. The most conservative religious Muslim holds conservative social values, yes, but has no particular opposition to science. Islam doesn't have the same contentious relation with science as Christianity. They don't believe the earth is flat or that the sun revolves around the moon, etc. In fact in modern Iran it is easier to perform genetic experiments than it is in the US because the use of stem cells has been religiously permitted and Iran has a quite advanced genetics institute. Google it.

John Daly said...

Thanks to cy for the useful comment. I am not an expert on Islam, but I have certainly met and worked with many Muslim scientists who find no conflict between their religion and their careers.

I suppose that among the 65 million Iranians there are not only modernizers and reactionaries, but right wing nuts, as there are among 300 million Americans.

The United States certainly has its own problems with reactionaries who attribute anti-scientific attitudes to their religious beliefs, especially in areas such as evolution and stem cell research.

Naj said...

In the Islamic republic of Iran one grows up with such proverbs:

-Science is better than wealth
-Seek knowledge from cradle to grave

On the new bills printed RECENTLY, it reads a quote from prophet mohammad:

"Elme, agar dar soraya ham bashad, mardani az sarzamine pars be an dast khahand yaft": Science, even if be in Mars, The are Persian men who will reach it.

Iranians take deep (even religious) pride in their scientific leadership during the middle ages of Europe. Avecina, Biruni, Razi, Attar are saint-like scientists of the 10-11 century.

the are NO REACTIONARIES in Iran, as far as science is concerned.

Stem cell therapies are ACTIVELY administered in Iran.

The are Islamic FATWAS in Iran that allow abortion if the health of mother or child is in question.

On top of the black board, in any school you go, you will read :"Science is Prayer".

John Daly said...

Thanks to Naj for an informative comment. I don't understand Farsi, so I can only accept her translation.

It is nice to see an Iranian woman asserting her views in a comment on this blog!

I wish I could say that there were no reactionaries in the United States as far as science is concerned. Indeed, I wish I could say that there were no reactionaries in the White House as far as science is concerned. Perhaps after the next election!