Thursday, October 20, 2005

Earthquake scientist back in the Andaman Islands

Officialdom moves far more slowly than the media. That is unfortunate because after hanging around in New Dehli for three days Dr Roger Bilham, geophyiscist, decided last Saturday to head back to the Andaman Islands where his services were wanted.

Sadly, thanks to the publicity surrounding the case, Dr Bilham could probably have had a visa many times over for his post-earthquake studies in northern Pakistan. What is most interesting about the case is that it illustrates that science is widely viewed as something abstract and irrelevant to everyday life. What possible use could a geophysicist be? And its not just stressed out Pakistani visa officials in New Dehli that think that the aftermath of a disaster is "not a time for intellectual pursuits".

Is this just fear that scientists might get in the way in the face of a disaster? Or is science failing to convince the world that it has something to offer at times like these, that there might be something important we could learn? Because the time immediately after an earthquake, is also the time preceeding the next. Especially in this part of the world. A lost opportunity, sadly.

Anyway, while I was trying to whip up publicity for this I recorded a commentary on NPR. By the time it was broadcast, Dr Andaman was backin Port Blair. Listen.