Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Managing the Dynamic World and its Demands for Complexity: The Role of Youth Scientists

Professor M.U. Adikwu, FAS
Department of Pharmaceutics, Faculty of Pharmaceutical 
Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
(Being a paper delivered at the 1st Abuja Science, Technology and Innovation Promotion Confab for Young and Aspiring Scientists which held Wednesday November 6 2013 at the Abuja Chamber of Commerce hall, along Airport Road, Abuja.)
Every generation has its challenges. Many of the renowned scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries gained fame through their works that supported and improved the lives of the people of those periods. In fact, in their time, there were too many “the mechanism is not known”.  Of course they were few compared to what exists today.

In those periods, there was no HIV/AIDS. Resistance to anti-protozoal and antibacterial drugs was almost non-existent. There was no internet and communication was largely through snail mail. At a point, scientists thought that there was nothing to invent or discover that has not been invented or discovered. And many of the inventions and discoveries that won national and in
ternational prizes within those periods may not even receive a mention in today’s scientific world. 
The current youth is bedeviled with lots of challenges and societal stressors including a high burden of diseases. Currently, there are challenges of unemployment, environmental degradation, global warming with its attendant problems. There is the problem of intercultural, ethnic and inter-religious tension. There is also the issue of bombardment of technological gadgets. In a recent junk mail circulated globally, Albert Einstein was quoted as predicting that technology will produce a generation of fools and that that era is here. The Nigerian youth scientist must be careful amidst all these in making choices in an environment that is hostile.  There is also some level of moral decline where money is viewed above hard work and success that is not financially rewarding. All these challenges and stressors at home have led to human migration to certain environments with apparently better economic prospects and quality of life. This has led to untold hardships and sometimes death in attempts to get to the “new world”.
According to our ideas above, I have refereed to many of the issues as challenges. According to Jonas Salk, the inventor of the Salk poliomyelitis vaccine, whatever deserves to be changed is a challenge.  These changes can only come with the following issues in mind:
Ø Knowledge generation
Ø Creativity
Ø Mentoring
Ø Inspiration
Knowledge generation
For every scientist, the number one problem is knowledge generation. Knowledge is most effective when it is original. Most countries depend on “already-made” knowledge which may be alien to their system. This has been the bane of the educational system. Our curriculum, at all levels, is bloated with alien and western ideas that are based largely on western culture and environment. This has manifested in various areas in a marriage of behaviours and ideas that have not been too compatible. The western ideas may find ready use in their environment. For instance, if our curriculum from the time of independence till date focused on petroleum and its products, palm oil and its applications, groundnut, etc, Nigeria would have been a great nation today. That too should have spelt out some level of originality. Currently, many western ideas are failing and if the youths do not think deep, they may face a very grievous situation.   Many Latin American countries such as Brazil designed their curricula on the Amazonia (the Amazon forest and its products) and today, they have graduated from what used to be called the Third World countries now euphemistically called the Developing World or Emerging Economy.    
This is a term that is often applied in the field of arts. We often hear of creative arts. It was recently pointed out that just as we talk of creative arts, there is also the field of creative science and even creative social science. All that the person needs to possess is creative intelligence. A creative pharmacist will be able to bring better and more intelligent drugs to the market; a creative engineer will design better engines than those trained on the formal principles of engineering.   The field of creative sciences is one that is worth exploring by the youth scientist.
Creativity will offer a singular way of tackling youth unemployment in different ways. Interestingly, the only key to solving the problems of social ills such as unemployment, crime and poverty is to help the individual discover himself. As much as intellectualism tries to create solutions to the many problems that confront mankind daily, with the sole aim of making life easier and more comfortable to lead, it is imperative that we realize the wave of confounding data and flooding information that surround us daily. Information brings knowledge, and knowledge creates a sense of direction so that we may deduce two kinds of knowledge: dead knowledge and active knowledge. Dead knowledge is that quantum of information which may be considered irrelevant to our present existence and yet are existent while active knowledge are that quantum of information which are thoroughly relevant for our education, up-building, social development and inspires creativity.
In Nigeria, there are very few good mentors these days and there are few youths who would want to be mentored. Mentoring involves some level of training. Mentoring involves some level of learning. You do not just see a man on the street and because you like his style of living, you begin to claim he is your mentor. Mentor was the name of the teacher of the son of the Greek king in Odysseus. In Greek mythology, Mentor was the son of Heracles and Asopis. In his old age Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who placed Mentor and Odysseus' foster-brother Eumaeus in charge of his son Telemachus, and at Odysseus' palace, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. Mentoring is not just training but also a transfer of life. For the youth scientist, identifying the right mentor is a great way to the top.
Many people may not agree with this. Inspiration comes from either God or other spiritual sources. In the days of Erasmus, Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, George Frederic Handel, etc, the Western Intellectual Tradition was developed. The argument of the era was whether revelation was superior to reasoning or reasoning was superior to revelation. When Pythagoras discovered his theory, he sacrificed 21 cows to the muses, the gods of inspiration. The problem of inspiration is that it needs some level of discipline which some youths may not want to undergo.
In conclusion, I want to say that it is not how novel but how useful is the fundamental question. A scientific system that produces 100 papers in a year is more useful than one that produces 1000 papers, if most of the findings are hitting the market with more useful products than the second. The youth must be disciplined if they have to take their rightful place in the world of science. There is nothing that can be achieved without discipline and hard work. In fact, discipline itself is hard work.