By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Comstech is the Organization of Islamic Countries' highest scientific body. It has received millions of dollars from OIC countries, including Pakistan. Comstech's opulent headquarters are located on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. It has been headed by Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman since 1996. Although its performance has been consistently mediocre, the organization has now descended to an all-time low.
Recently Dr. Rahman published an eye-popping article entitled "HAARP" (Dawn, 17-10-2010). The article claims that a physics research project, based in Alaska, may have been used by the United States to trigger earthquakes globally, and could also have caused the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. Dr. Rahman concludes with a chilling question: "Is the HAARP then, a harmless research tool - or a weapon of mass destruction far more lethal than nuclear weapons? We may never know."
Given Dr. Rahman's prominent place in Pakistani science, and that he is Fellow of the Royal Society, one must consider seriously his claim that HAARP can cause earthquakes and floods. But even the briefest examination makes clear his claims make no scientific sense.
HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. Its website states it is a research program run by the University of Alaska in collaboration with various US colleges and universities. If HAARP is a secret military project conceived by evil and diabolical minds, it is hard to see why visitors, including foreign nationals, are said to be allowed on site. The website says that the last open house was on July 17, 2010.
At least on the face of things, HAARP does not have the trappings of an American secret weapons facility. (Google Earth, which I used, blacks these out.) Readers will see a field of antennas, as well as some cars and two ordinary looking buildings. No security barriers are visible. This does not appear to be a classified project.
But, of course, appearances can be deceptive. So let us simply use common sense and physics. Assume therefore that the power of the transmitters is many times that declared on the website (3.6MW). This may mean HAARP could potentially disrupt radio communications during war, or blind incoming missiles. But science cannot accept Dr. Rahman's claim that "It (HAARP) may also affect plate tectonics causing earthquakes, floods through torrential rains and trigger tsunamis."
Does the good doctor believe in magic and demons? How else can massive tectonic plates be moved by radio waves? Will HAARP tickle a sleeping subterranean monster that awakes and sets off earthquakes? This kind of thinking was what irate and ignorant village mullahs used after the 2005 Pakistani earthquake. They blamed cable television, after which followers smashed thousands of television sets.
Weather change simply cannot be caused by HAARP's radio waves. The effects of a puny 3.6MW radio transmitter on the ionosphere can only be detected with sensitive instruments. Even these are almost completely washed out by a constant stream of charged particles from the sun that hit the earth during daytime. To see HAARP's effects would be like trying to see a candle a mile away in blazing sunlight.
Today, even the most powerful lasers and radios are millions of times weaker than needed to heat sizeable portions of the ionosphere. (Of course, producing hotspots in tiny volumes anywhere is not a problem, but these have zero effect on the weather or earthquakes.) Perhaps in some future century a laser might be able to do this job.
Dr. Rahman says he is uncertain if HAARP could equal a nuclear weapon or perhaps be even more destructive. But if it is actually the super-weapon that he alleges, then the laws of physics will have to be overturned. Physicists will have the sad task of unlearning all that they know and burning their useless books. With a heavy heart, I shall return all my physics degrees.
Scientists sometimes disagree - this is how scientific disputes are resolved. But it is worth asking if at least some genuine scientists support Dr. Rahman's claims. He provides no examples. Instead, he quotes President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who accused the US of causing the Haiti earthquake. While I admire Chavez for standing up to political bullying by the US, I am not sure he knows anything about plate tectonics. In fact, his claim caused seismologists to crack up with laughter.
Dr. Rahman also quotes a 1999 committee of the European Union Parliament that called for HAARP to be examined by an international independent body. I do not know if any of the committee members were scientists. But 11 years later, the EU has not called for further investigation, nor alleged that HAARP has caused natural disasters.
The good doctor enthusiastically endorses the statements of Dr. Nick Begich, one of HAARP's most vocal critics, and refers to him reverentially as a scientist. But Begich's website says that he obtained a doctorate in traditional medicine from The Open International University for Complementary Medicines in 1994. In other words Begich is not a scientist, but a homeopath who obtained a mail order degree.
Yet another quoted "authority" is the arch conspiracy theorist, Michel Chossudovsky, a retired professor of economics in Ottawa. In Dr. Rahman's pantheon of "experts", none has published a scientific paper in a reputable science journal that demonstrates a connection between ionospheric physics and any weather or subterranean phenomenon. In short, Dr. Rahman's claims about HAARP are based on pseudo-science promoted by conspiracy theorists who blame America for all grief in the world.
Once science loses its objectivity and becomes enslaved to any kind of ideology or political opinion, it becomes useless. Quack science does not just cost money. It also confuses people, engages them in bizarre conspiracy theories, and decreases society's collective ability to make sensible decisions. One must therefore seriously question whether a pseudoscience organization like Comstech deserves lavish funding from poor Pakistanis. We have better things to spend our money on. As for the world of science: it will not even notice Comstech's demise.
Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy is chair and professor in the department of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he has taught for 38 years.
Source: Dawn, Pakistan
Mr Manzurul Haque writes:
" Muslims should learn to accept exceptions in exceptional cases. If Dr. Abdus Salam was not flaunting his Ahmadi ideology on his sleeve to the detriment of Islam, he should not have been asked further leading questions. Indeed his religious faith should never have been a subject of discussion unless he himself wanted to."
He should first of all tell us what is the detriment "Islam" suffered by Dr Abdus Salaam being an Ahmadi Muslim.
Secondly Dr Abdus Salaam never failed to answer any questions posed to him about his religious beliefs.
If the good man, Manzurul Haque knowas about any he should tell us.
Thirdly, If for example any shia scientist of scholar in Pakistan is not recognised because of the belief he practises and preaches,then is it justifiable to say that this is the "Islamic" thing to do??
We have not seen the writings of Dr. Rahman to place the same in context. But if what Pervez Hoodbhoy has said is true, then it calls for taking a serious note by the scientific community.
I did not know of an organization like Comstech. The name is a bit bizarre and sounds like a combination of comedy and technology. Science has perhaps been used as a hyphen. But ideally this should not have been located in Pakistan, because Muslim Scientists and Engineers of India are practically excluded from it. Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt or even Bangladesh would have been a better place. I remember to have read an article of Dr. Abdus Salam calling for the establishment of ‘a commonwealth of Muslim scientists’. He had quite clear ideas on the proposed commonwealth about over two decades back. I think the Muslims, the world over should try to reach that goal. Young Muslim scientists can take up this job of organizing right in the earnest. The treatment given to Western scientists by Western society is reflected in the book ‘The Genius and the Goddess’ where the female protagonist eventually settles for the older genius because of his physics and not physique.
Muslims should learn to accept exceptions in exceptional cases. If Dr. Abdus Salam was not flaunting his Ahmadi ideology on his sleeve to the detriment of Islam, he should not have been asked further leading questions. Indeed his religious faith should never have been a subject of discussion unless he himself wanted to.
Coming back to the organization of OIC, I am of the view that the organization should have a branch at least in another country where Indian Muslim Scientists and Engineers can fully participate and help create a commonwealth. If in the pursuit of Science, a person loses his /her basic faith in God, and should he /she so desire, he/she should be mandatorily given a safe anonymous exit of his /her choice. It should never lead to propaganda of any kind.
Co-opted members of other faiths should be involved in the research and interaction aspects of the organization, because basic science is ideologically neutral.
Those scientists who change over to Islam should not only be accepted but should be given leading role because their desire to contribute to the Muslim community may be very high.
All these suggestions have been given in the interest of humanity and the universal utility of science, because a believing Muslim is expected to work with greater single-mindedness and an organization soaked in Islamic rules of behaviour may be very congenial for the single-minded pursuit of one’s aims of bringing glory to humanity through benevolent applications of science in keeping with Islamic faith.
About Dr. Rahman’s thesis, on the face of it, such remote possibility does appear to be physically impossible if not for its impact then for its preciseness. Electromagnetic waves of high wavelength hitting ionosphere and returning to exact locations of glaciers in Pakistan and not hitting elsewhere and then be able to heat up so much as to lead to floods in a particular direction seems impossible (human activities on Siachen is a more likely cause). But there can be legitimate general assumption that some experiments at the high end in the electromagnetic/laser, nuclear (including particle Physics) and biological spheres might be going on under the guidance of World Powers, which are extremely detrimental to humanity in more ways than one. After all when seated at the pinnacle of the State Power, the individual movers and shakers have no incentive to please any other Power (as non-believers) to mould their thinking into working for a humanitarian world (Hollywood do-good films are not a sufficient motivation for adult scientists as we all know). Who can explain the bizarre viral diseases cropping up every now and then? And of course who can explain the bizarre behaviour of world climate, of late? (By the way, can powerful electromagnetic waves or laser beams be reflected back by radars placed on the artificial satellites? Are these artificial satellites operating under international monitoring?)
Let conscientious scientists reflect and give us a good answer!
Dr. Abdus Salaam was never given public acknowledgment in Pakistan because he was an Ahmadi Muslim who struggled to improve the standards of scientific education and research in Pakistan and in Muslim countries.
To this day he is the only Nobel Laureate Pakistan has produced.
On his part, Dr. Salaam never disowned Pakistan. In fact, he wore Pakistan sherwani, pagri and khussay when he accepted his Nobel prize. A son of Jhang Pakistan he was humble yet proud of his identity. Let us hope Pakistan produce many more like him or better than him!
I am not suprised.A country that can put down its only Noble Laurette in Science because of his rlegion, can also fall for absurdities propelled by the power of religion.
We Muslims do need to acknowledge and guard against our tendency to fall prey to pseudo-science and conspiracy theories. Prof Hoodbhoy's lone voice of reason in the Pakistani wilderness springs from his deep commitment both to truth and to his country. I hope and pray that no harm comes to him.