Archive for October, 2008

h1

The basic sciences award

October 20, 2008

This year, Professor Zuhair Amr won the distinguished researcher award in the field of basic sciences (biology, geology and environmental sciences).Professor Amr is a biologist who works at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. He has an impressive CV, with a large volume of research on Jordanian fauna. I first mentioned his work when I was stung by a scorpion, and a paper which he co-authored helped me learn more about scorpions in Jordan.

Besides scorpions, Professor Amr has worked on butterflies, hyenas, birds, rodents, jungle cat among things. He has also worked on human health issues, such as the problem of head lice

The study and documentation of biodiversity and habitat characteristics is of vital importance to our environment. Many people sense that this biodiversity is being lost as urbanization, hunting, and pesticides are altering our ecosystem and the diversity it once supported.  This work provides a good base towards better management and conservation of our natural environment, and I believe that the judges made an excellent choice in awarding Professor Amr.

h1

Distinguished research and researchers

October 20, 2008

The ministry of higher education and scientific research has announced the winners of this year’s distinguished research and distinguished researchers awards. While having such awards is an important step in celebrating and rewarding our scientists and researchers, it is unfortunate that none of the media outlets is bothering to explain what the awards are for, specifically. The value of the awards is in publicizing achievements, and not specific names.  Thus, lack of publicity on the achievements diminishes the value.

In this and the next few posts, I will explore some of the achievements of this year’s winners.

h1

Quarryscapes

October 10, 2008

As I mentioned yesterday, tomorrow I am going to Aswan to attend a workshop. This workshop is related to a project I am involved in titled “Quarryscapes”. The European Union funded Quarryscapes project started in 2005 and is now almost finished. Our meeting in Aswan is the final one of this project.

The project is basically an effort to study and raise awareness about ancient quarries in the eastern Mediterranean area. In this context, we in Jordan studied ancient Bronze aged quarries in the Jafr area, Nabatean quarries in Petra and Roman quarries in Jerash. In the upcoming meeting, I will present some of our work in Jerash.

Most people who are impressed by ancient monuments give little thought to where the stones that were used were brought from. When one thinks about it, it is obvious that the sources of stone are integral components of the archaeological context, and helps to understand more on the story of how the site was built.

The presentation I am planning to present on Jerash includes maps of the most important remaining quarry sites, the geological context, the most interesting features and the threats that these sites face. Unfortunately, there is little awareness about this issue, and for the most part, these sites are unprotected. Jordanian law does not extend protection to these quarries. Protection and proper presentation of these sites will add both depth and texture to the tourists’ experience. Moreover, it is an important component of our heritage that we should strive to bequeath to future generations.

The sites show tool marks, evidence of the techniques used for stone extraction, and unfinished columns. In the case of Jerash, there is a striking landscape as well. Here are some pictures that will help explain what I mean.

See you when I get back.

h1

Upcoming conferences

October 9, 2008

There are a couple of potentially interesting conferences scheduled over the next couple of weeks. Yarmouk University is organizing a symposium on the peaceful use of nuclear energy (October 14-16). I would like to attend, but I am scheduled to go to a meeting in Aswan next week (more on that later). There are a number of questions that I would like to ask, given the chance. The keynote address to by given by Khaled Toukan should be very informative.

The following week has an international congress on biodiversity scheduled in Aqaba (October 20-23). This will probably be very interesting as well. Loss in biodiversity is rarely given enough play in Jordan, despite it being a significant problem.

Anyway, if anybody attends and would like to give me some highlights, they are most welcome.

h1

Conspiracy theories

October 3, 2008

Arabs and Jordanians love conspiracy theories, to the point where it sometimes becomes self destructive. What can science do to explain this?

Today, an article in Science explores why people create mental patterns where none exist in reality. This is done through experiments using volunteers who are asked to describe fuzzy images. When the volunteers were asked to visualize events where they had no control of the situation, they tended to see patterns in the images at higher frequencies than when they visualized situations where they had full control. According to the results of the study, “Participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies,and developing superstitions”.

Sounds familiar. It seems that perceived loss of control is the reason why we latch on to conspiracy theories. I would like to see studies which explore whether the development of “illusory correlations” is detrimental to people who want to gain more control over the events that surround them. It is a shame that more substantial research in the behavioral sciences in Jordan is not focused on how to overcome the forces that disempower us.

On the other hand, it has been said that “just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t after me”. But even so, we should do a better job in understanding the forces that hold us back.