On Scientific Inquisition

We humans have always been guided by two fundamental systems: Faith and Science. Faith implores us to live life as it is and accept what comes in life as the will of God or fate. It has its own pros and cons, which I shall not discuss here. Science, on the other hand, urges us to transcend the boundaries that are created by our surrender to the fate. The advancement in medicine and technology is the result of inquisitive minds who studied the nature and imagined what else they could do with the knowledge they gained. They also disseminated the knowledge they obtained so that it would not be lost with time.

Suppression of knowledge and scientific inquisition in Europe during the Middle Age (5th to15th century) led to numerous wars, widespread famine and submission to fate. During this period in the history of humanity, also known as the Dark Age, several scientific discoveries are said to have lost. Scientists were termed “heretics” by the Church and were executed. The Renaissance Period, of which the Republic of Florence and Leonardo da Vinci are central, gave rise to art and through it, promotion of scientific discoveries, inventions and rediscoveries.

In the ancient Indian sub-continent (most of the times attributed to the Indus Valley Civilization), the Vedas and Upavedas, and later the Upanishads promoted the culture of scientific and logical discourse. Proverb such as Vaade Vaade Jaayate Tatwabodha (वादे वादे जायते तत्वबोध:), i.e. knowledge is gained through debates is alone sufficient to understand the importance of discourses in order to discover the truth of the world. The knowledge however came under the control of few people on the administration for centuries. The lack of effective dissemination of the ancient wisdom has created a lot of problems in the sub-continent.

Scientific discoveries have made things possible that were treated only as imagination in the past. The discovery of sea-routes brought people closer, the invention of aeroplane reduced the time for the journeys between different parts of the world, the invention of telegraph and telephone changed the way messages were shared. On the basic principles of navigation, aerodynamics and telecommunication, the humanity has moved from the Age of Cultivation to Age of Global Communication.

Not just that, humanity has also given up the instant submission to fate. In the Dark Age, Black Plague killed thousands of people in Europe. Venice, because of the lack of burial grounds, suffered the most. Instead of contemplating that the disease was spreading through the canals, they believed they were suffering the wrath of God and their loss was God’s will. In the modern age, humans do not readily submit to Faith when they encounter diseases. They investigate the disease, their causes and work on the vaccines and inoculation.

As students of Geology, a branch of science, we have gained some fundamental knowledge about the Earth and how it works during the four-year B.Sc. programme. We have learnt to observe the rocks and soils, to ask what they are and why they are there. We have familiarized ourselves with the Earth processes and the benefits and the problems they bring. We have studied about natural hazards and some ways to mitigate them. We can strive to learn more and publicize what we know. We can make the world a better place.

There is no doubt that the Earthquake of 2072 B.S. (2015) gave rise to a mass awareness about how that particular earthquake occurred. Some people used to say, with much politicisation, “There are two plates: Indian and Chinese. The Indian plate moves to the North to encroach the Chinese plate. Nepal is in middle. That was why the earthquake occurred.”

While I myself tried to remove politics whenever I could, there is a mass of people who believe the above statement to be true. They are right that Nepal lies in between two plates. But most of them are not aware what “plate” really is and that the Earth’s lithosphere is made of a number of plates. As a student of Geology, I feel that we have a lot to do to make the public aware of what the plates are and how they are formed.

We, ourselves however should be ready to face skepticism. Science is not a belief system. Whenever scientists come across hypotheses and theories, they first question, “Is it true? What are the evidences?” A hypothesis can become a major theory if evidences support it. The theory of Plate Tectonics is a common example. If the evidences from submarine navigation and Paleomagnetic studies had not been available, the theory would still have remained a hypothesis. Similarly, if a new hypothesis can challenge and prove that it is stronger than an existing theory, the existing theory, even if popular, will be discarded.

Many people put a blame upon science for the problems we’ve been facing. Sure, guns and bombs have been developed by science and are being used to inflict terrors. Nuclear weapons have threatened the existence of our dear home itself. The knowledge of making explosives and harnessing nuclear energy was not bad itself. Gunpowder and dynamite were used in construction works, and nuclear energy has become an important source of energy in many nations. That’s why I firmly believe that it’s not science that is faulty. The fault is on our crooked desire of using knowledge that we have.

In short, as a student of science, I appeal to everyone to gain right knowledge from the nature, from each other and from what our ancestors have passed on to us. I urge everyone to deliver the knowledge to the public and to the generations to come. Because only with the right knowledge, we the make the world a better place.

[The above article was intended to be the editorial for GEOWORLD Students’ Magazine, Vol. 8, 2017. It was heavily cut in the magazine for the sake of relevance and space]

बहत्तर सालको भुकम्प

गड्गड गड्गड गड्गडाउँदै

थर्थर थर्थर थर्थराउँदै

घरगोठ ढाल्दै, मान्छे मार्दै

मनहरूलाई कायल पार्दै

आयो

भोकमाथि शोक थपेर

शोकमाथि शोक थपेर
त्यो आएको दुई पल

कालको भोज थियो

प्रत्येक निमेषमा ऊ

अघाएको थियो

हरेकले उसलाई आँखाअघि

देखेको थियो

मान्छे कति निर्बल छ भन्दै

खित्का छाडेर हासेको थियो
पहाड बगे, फाँट फुटे

मन फाटे, आँसु बगे

उसले दिएको पीडाले

सबै निराश भए
भत्किए संरचना, भत्किए मन

राज्य निरीह देखियो

योजना लागू भएनन् 

एक जोडी कलाकारले

दिनरात जोडे केही मन

मनहरू बन्न अझै बाँकी नै छ

घरहरू बन्न अझै बाँकी नै छ

शिर सगरमाथाझैँ हुन अझै बाँकी छ

​An Open Letter to the Members of the Parliament and the Executive

Dear MPs, Prime Minister and Ministers,

I have written this letter on the occasion of Earthquake Safety Day to the most powerful and also the most responsible people of this country (each one of you) to remind you on an important matter related to the victims of the 2072 earthquake. Honestly, I don’t know if you think it’s important. I don’t even think I should tell you anything on this matter but I could not stop myself.

We (that includes you as well) all suffered the problems that came up after the earthquake on Baishakh 12, 2072. Some suffered more because they lived in the rural parts of the country. They lost their shelters, and relatives but they had not lost hopes. We believed we had a guardian. Poor, yes, but a guardian nonetheless, who would help us in making our homes as quickly as possible.

We had not known, however that our guardian did not feel our pains. How would you? You are living in air-conditioned houses and workplaces, you travel in air-conditioned vehicles. You have forgotten the cold we have to face every moment. You can never feel our sufferings.

However you may be: capable or incapable, rich or poor, we are dependent upon you. You have made us so by your political tricks and corruption. Some of the victims have money. They can build our homes and have built their homes. Some have not been able to build homes because you said, “You must build earthquake resistant homes for the safety of your future.” They agreed. They hoped you would provide them with technically skilled human resource or at least train us. They don’t understand what models of houses are earthquake resistant. You did not train them.

Most of the victims do not have a morsel to eat. Constructing a house is not possible without financial aid. You have set up a Commission for Reconstruction but you discuss over the Head of the commission. You do dirty politics in their name while the cold makes them shiver, suffer and suffocate. Children and elderlies have died with cold while you took time just to make mere regulations.

suntali
An integrated colony built by Dhurmus-Suntali Foundation at Giranchaur. Source: nepalaaja.com

You haven’t taken care of the victims who are close to the capital. I don’t expect you will do much for those in the rural.  But you’ve given word that you will look after us. One who cannot keep his word is not a man. However, noble hearts have done a lot without promising anything. You must have felt ashamed by what Dhurmus-Suntali have given for the victims: a beam of hope, a community to live with and a path for future. If all of you did a percentage of what Dhurmus-Suntali have done, their lives would have been five hundred percent better than what it is today.

The earthquake victims have been through a lot of troubles. I know you are busy in your power politics but I want you to manage some time supporting them, healing their wounds.

May the earthquake victims bless you for your future endeavors!

Ankit Dhakal “Sandeept”

सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

– सुबिक कार्की (इजिप्टबाट फर्केर) – गत वर्ष वैशाखको महाभूकम्पले नेपालका थुप्रै सम्पदा भत्किएका छन्। त्यसको पुननिर्माण अझै हुन सकेको छैन। सम्पदा संरक्षणको चिन्ता जागिरहेको बेला यहाँ म एउटा सम्पदा संरक्षणको अदभूत नमूना प्रस्तुत गर्दैछु। एघार देश भएर सुडानबाट इजिप्ट हुँदै भूमध्यसागरमा विसर्जन हुने संसारकै सबैभन्दा लामो नाइल नदीको इजिप्ट खण्डमा सन् १९५४ मा […]

via सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

Understanding Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability and Disaster- Through Football!

Last week I took a class of Engineering Geology (finally getting into something practically useful in the beginning of fourth year). I will give brief definitions and examples of the terms used. Then before you get bored, I will get into a funny way to remember the technical terms using football (soccer).

Prior to that class, I thought hazard and disaster were the same. However, technically, they are different. Let’s take a look at the definitions I studied.

Hazard: Probability of occurrence of an event or phenomenon which can damage lives and properties.

Disaster: The actual occurrence of a dangerous phenomenon which damages lives and property.

When seismologists say, “Nepal lies in a seismically active zone,” they are talking about the probable damages an earthquake can cause (hazard). When they talk about the damage caused by the earthquake in Nepal last year, they are saying something about disaster the earthquake brought up.

Let us also look at two more terms- risk and vulnerability.

Risk: The consequences in terms of “potential losses” for some particular cause, time and place. Specific risk is the product of hazard and vulnerability (Johnson and Degraff, 1988).

Vulnerability: The degree of risk a community is at due to various factors. For example, poor designing and construction of a house makes it vulnerable for a disaster and people living in it are at risk.

I am done with the definitions. Let’s use football- in particular, a famous footballer to understand the above defined terms. The footballer is (as you might already have realized) Eden Hazard.

E. Hazard is a hazard to his opponent team because he has the capacity to score a goal although he may not score in every match. In this match we are talking of, Hazard attacked several times but did not succeed. E. Hazard remained a hazard until 88th minute.

In the eighty-ninth minute of the match, when no goal has not yet occurred, E. Hazard gets a pass from his teammate and he dribbles ahead. His skill allows him to get through the defenders of opposition team. Their defence which had been vulnerable by previous attacks, is now exposed and is at a greater risk (due to the combined effects of Hazard and vulnerability) Hazard shoots and when the opponent goalkeeper cannot save the goal. Hazard has brought a disaster to his opposition. A draw would have made the opposition the league winner. But Hazard’s goal changes the equation. The other team is damaged psychologically.

Reduce Risk! Save Lives!!

Nepal Earthquake: The Geologists’ Role

Saturday, (April 25, 2015) Baishakh 12, 2072 B.S.

A date that will be remember forever by the people of Nepal. On this darkest Saturday, at 11:56 a.m., an earthquake of 7.6 local magnitude struck Barpak of Gorkha. The shocks were felt as far as Kanya Kumari, India in the south, Bangladesh in the east and Pakistan in the west. The earthquake affected districts mostly in the Hilly Region. About 10,000 people died. The destruction of properties and cultural heritages was huge but compared to what was previously imagined, Kathmandu was not affected much. Within a month, the capital city regained its economic activities.

Geologists had been warning of such a disaster for long. Unfortunately, the government did not give utmost importance to the matter, nor did the people think much about it. The earthquake of 1990 in Udaypur had affected the eastern region and the people there remembered the loss of lives and properties it had brought. The earthquake of Taplejung four years ago had shaken Kathmandu Valley as well, but neither the government nor the people had been careful in designing and constructing earthquake-resistant structures. A few Geologists saying from the background that there could be much bigger loss of lives and properties were unheard of. It was also a weakness in their part. I would never have known this had I not been a Geology student myself and by the time I knew, it had already been late. The disaster had already struck.

One month since the major shock, the Seismologists, who have branched off from mainstream Geologists, gave information to the public on earthquake like never before. People immediately caught up words like ‘plates’, ‘tectonics’, ‘faults’ and many other geological terms. It made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy in the sense had basic geology had become household terms (plates, for example) and sad in the sense that it did not happen prior to the earthquake. But, as i discovered later, the people gave credit to the newspapers and magazines as the source of this information. The Geologists of Nepal had failed again. They had been too late.

A problem I see with scientific researches worldwide is that they are complex and totally illogical to the common people. Scientific terms come up here and there, which off course cannot be ignored, but can be made simple through adequate explanations. Journals have always been vague and common people just ignore them. I think they should be able to understand them, interpret and use in their daily lives. Why not publish scientific works that include public interests in two bases- one for the academicians and the other for public? If such a system had existed, I believe that science could be much useful to people. I think the Geologists of Nepal would have got the credit they deserved.

As explorers of a mountainous country, Nepalese Geologists have a lot many works to do on floods, landslides, avalanches, glaciers and so on. And there are people who still ask, “What’s the scope?” I have nothing to say to them, literally!