The image of polymath scientists that exists in our minds from al-Farabi [Alpharabius] to Ibn Sinna [Avicenna] and Ibn Rushd [Averroes] and others still govern the way that we view many of our contemporary scientists like Ahmed Zewail, Mohamed ElBaradei, Farouk El-Baz, and others. There is a widespread belief that these scientists who have excelled in their specialist field can also excel in other fields such as politics, media, philosophy, management, literature, and other areas of contemporary knowledge. However we are being unfair to these scientists when we deal with them according to this traditional view, especially when we discover that these contemporary scientists operate at an ordinary and average level with regards to general issues outside of their particular field of specialization. All of those who listened to great Arab scientist Dr. Ahmed Zewail speak at the Arab Media Forum that we held recently in Dubai and gave him a round of applause were reacting to his scientific reputation. As for his speech, which included a host of observations, statistics, and analysis about the media and its future, this was a speech that despite being well-delivered and received did not add anything new or important to the audience. Those who realized the importance of Dr. Zewail appearing as a guest of honor at a forum which is not linked to his scientific interests and specialization were not disappointed, however the question remains did this speech open the eyes of those who believe that Ahmed Zewail is a polymath and knows everything?
This issue was tackled by the writer Mohammed al-Adadi, in the e-journal “Illaf” in an article entitled “Ahmed Zewail: Stay at Caltech.” In this article, al-Adadi described how the Arab media rushed to praise Dr. Zewail after he won the Nobel Prize in 1999, and that after this “the ma appeared as a middle-rate journalist commenting on scientific, social, and intellectual issues that concern the Arab world.”
I presume that al-Adadi agrees with me, and that this is not Dr. Zewail’s fault, but rather it is the fault of the Arab media that deals with these figures in a non-realistic manner. This problem does not apply to Dr. Zewail alone, but also to former Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, and world renowned geologist Dr. Farouk El-Baz. Both of whom were relentlessly questioned by the media on a wide range of topics including [religious] doctrinal issues and even the traffic system. The media figures who asked them their opinions on such issues should realize that they may be more informed than Dr. El-Baz and ElBaradei on certain worldly issues.
However this not in any way detract from the international stature of these exceptional Arab figures, and their place in our thoughts and hearts. I hope that their biographies and successes be available to our young aspiring generations to serve as a shining example to motivate them towards achieving successes of their own.