Vision VS Degree

By Shiraz Paracha

Several of my juniors have authored books. Many of them are scholars, intellectuals and writers now. Well, after 28 years of professional experience and observations, I still feel like a student who is in the dark and lives under the fear of not knowing. Honestly speaking, every day, I learn how little I know and how ignorant I have been. Learning is in fact learning about the gaps in one’s knowledge.
Life surprises me every minute. I sit back and think how much we miss out by not knowing, by not questioning and by keeping our minds closed. Perhaps for the above reasons, I hesitate to write a book or books though I may have some interesting stories to tell.
In my view, serious book writing needs sound knowledge and deeper understanding, and objective research about issues/topics/subjects. Often when I start reading a book after few pages or chapters, authors seem repetitive, biased or factually wrong, particularly in books related to history, current affairs and other social science subjects.
Based on my 15 years of direct work experience with PhD journalists and academics from the U.S, Britain and other countries, I can say that in many cases a PhD in social science subjects neither adds to the knowledge of person himself nor to the collective human knowledge. Generally PhD research work around are not en-rooted in creativity, rather these works are collection of information from bibliography and jumbled up computerized data. All research must connect researcher with life but I observe that research is nothing more but dead statistics. There aren’t many scholars like Noam Chomsky but there are many mediocre crammers.
I went to three universities–one Pakistani and two British—but I understood stark realities of life during my imprisonment at Peshawar Central jail in 1984-1986. Street men study life from a very close and real angle. They have been my teachers. People with golden spoon in their mouths belonging to affluent upper society don’t face challenges as down trodden classes face gravity of life. Apart from this individual struggle, collective national struggle for high goals and participation there in teaches anybody how to conquer helplessness and fear. Collective resistance against oppressive and dominant irrationality is also a great teacher.
In 1995, I had written a newspaper article entitled “Ignorant PhDs” when a group of Peshawar University PhD professors had launched a campaign against the installment of “un-Islamic” satellite dish antennas at some residences in the campus. The professors were also fighting over house allotments etc. After the publication of my article, a delegation of agitated professors had met the editor of daily Pakistan to lodge a complaint against me. Later a couple of professor, who had led that campaign, went on to become Vice Chancellors of Peshawar University.
Now the situation is even worse. A large number of people don’t do PhD to create new knowledge or learn something new. They do PhD because it helps them get promoted to the next grade. The quality of research is poor, especially in social science subjects. Universities are producing an army of unemployed and copy paste PhD scholars.
Scholarship is not the repetition of the known knowledge; it is a step forward in search of new horizons. We need scientists in physical and biological sciences, engineers who can help build latest infrastructure and bring technological revolution. We need inventors, masters in applied sciences and crafts. Innovation and creativity leads to scientific, industrial and technological revolution.
In social science subjects we need daring minds who can think rationally, who can challenge orthodoxy and taboos by objective research. We need scholars who can offer out of the box solutions for the social ills. Our scholars must critically review those practices which are imposed upon us in the name of state, religion, culture, tradition.
If not, mediocre people will monopolize knowledge and vision and we will be left at the mercy of people with big degrees and tunnel vision. It is an irony that we have produced thousands of PhDs but wisdom stays with street men, farmers, grandmothers, and in many cases with housewives.

  • Rashid Bajwa

    well said.. there are many like you and me thinking the same way.. it’s a good step towards awareness.. i can only say people need to know the difference between information and knowledge as knowledge is the true understanding of the information…..

  • BJK

    Very nice article!

    ‘I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’ (Isaac Newton)

  • tajender

    Perhaps you’re still not convinced about vultures. If they disappeared, would anyone really miss them?

    This white-rumped vulture died of diclofenac poisoning (Credit: Chris Gomersall/NPL)

    The unequivocal answer to this question comes from India, where cattle have been widely treated with an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac. This drug has effectively poisoned vultures that dined out on the cattle’s remains.

    Between 1992 and 2007, the population of oriental white-rumped vultures is estimated to have declined by 99.9%. Long-billed vultures and slender-billed vultures suffered a similar fate.

    In the absence of vultures, there was a build-up of carcasses. These posed a significant risk to human health, as they both harboured deadly diseases like anthrax and contaminated water sources.

    The decaying cattle remains also resulted in an explosion of the feral dog population, rising from around 20 million to 30 million in the course of a decade. It’s been estimated that the ensuing increase in rabies cases cost over $30 billion.

  • Paracha sb , you have summed up PhD ‘syndrome’succinctly, I totally agree with your thoughts. Having helped more than 500 PhD scholars placements in the UK Universities in diverse disciplines I suppose I can claim to know something about PhD Research. It’s not a true PhD if no new knowledge is created. An old academic joke is still valid, ‘ if you copy and paste from one source it’s plagiarism and if you copy from one hundred it’s research’!