In my search for good science blogs and science communication efforts in the Arab world, I ran over the past few years into a few really interesting things that people are doing, and have always been keen to highlight them here. Recently, we had a blog post about the first students science magazine in the Arab world – which should be launching online next month – and another on a Syrian researcher who has set up a YouTube channel to communicate science in a simple, easy to understand manner for the public.
Hot on their heals, and working tirelessly since almost a year ago, is Scientific Saudi – which started as a Facebook page by 25-year-old medical student Muath Alduhishy and expanded today into a six-member team covering most of the other social networks. I caught up with Muath to chat about Scientific Saudi, how it started and where they hope to take it in the future.
1) How did the idea for Scientific Saudi come about and how long have you been online?
The idea of Scientific Saudi started over a year ago, when I noticed the high prevalence of English-speaking scientific groups in the social media, namely Facebook, while I couldn’t find any in the Arabic-speaking world of Facebook.
However, there are plenty of pseudoscientific groups, which in lieu of providing updated, credible and verified scientific articles and news, they broadcast common factoids that have been circulating the internet since its establishment or, in other cases, they are religious-oriented groups that uses science as a means to support their spiritual believes.
I couldn’t find any credible Arabic-speaking group that’s passionate to communicate science purely for the sake of educating and informing people about the astonishing and mind-blowing advances and breakthroughs that happen every day in the research centres and universities, as it was the case with the numerous English-speaking scientific groups that I’ve come across, albeit I did found a couple of amazing Arabic scientific groups later on, but they are extremely scarce and have negligible impact in terms of the quantity of fans.
At this moment, I realised that it’s my duty to bridge the gap, or at least to attempt to do so, due to the fact that I have always been passionate about science and I’ve been nurturing my passion for years through listening to scientific shows and podcasts and subscribing to scientific publications, such as your sister science publication Scientific American, hence the name Scientific Saudi.
I started the group by myself as a Facebook page at the end of July 2012. It was just an ad hoc step. I had no grand plan or long-term strategy at that time. I had this idea for a while so I wanted to do something about it. From the first day, I made a pledge to myself to distinguish my page by not publishing anything without a credible, and, where possible, peer-reviewed reference, and to preserve the intellectual rights of any materials or persons presented in the group. I know it seemed a bit extreme and overly ideal commitment, especially that I publish new posts every day, but I did strictly adhere to it and still do, with a few exceptions. Also, I request from every contributor to adhere to this golden rule of mine.
Today, we have pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as well as an official website. We have over 30,000 followers in the aforementioned social networking websites, which is still a considerably scant number compared to the overwhelmingly ubiquitous religious, celebrities and trivia pages.
2) What are your plans to expand on what you have right now?
We are currently in the phase of expansion and development, which means focusing on increasing our impact and spreading further out. We are being gradually recognized in the world of social media as it’s evident in your reach to us. Also, we are interested in collaborating the efforts with other scientific groups and with individuals who share the same passion as us. You can read more about our goals as well as our mission and message here http://www.scientificsaudi.com/about-16051606-160615811606.html
3) I see the website is updated rather irregularly and not very often. Why is that?
From our experience so far, you cannot have a large number of visitors to the website, enough to make it worthwhile to regularly maintain and update it, without a high number of fans and good marketing of the group in the first place. We have two websites, the former beta website (http://scientificsaudi.wix.com/home) and the official one (www.scientificsaudi.com), and we used to update the latter one on a daily basis since its launch at the end of January 2013.
By time, we discovered that it is considerably time-consuming effort to regularly maintain the website. We only got a few hundred visitors in the first month, while our impact in the social media reaches tens of thousands a month. So we are currently concentrating all our efforts in social media for the time being, to expand our audience and to publicise our group further.
However, the website is currently indispensable to our group since it identifies us and allows us to collect and manage our intellectual work. Besides, we have plans to regularly update and keep up the website in the future when our impact is considerably higher.
4) How do you choose the topics you highlight on your page?
Currently, there’s no strict scheme of publication. We post variable scientific news and information on daily basis, most of them concerning newly published research papers. Occasionally, we post scientific infographics and resources that demonstrate fascinating information about different scientific topics. More importantly, we try to raise the public awareness about the scientific methodology and some of the major scientific theories, such as the evolution and big bang theories. Many of the major theories of science are either unbeknownst to people in the region or have been inaccurately presented to them or even, in extreme cases, mutilated by pseudoscientists, who are driven by their personal agenda, to make these theories look irrational and offensive.
Moreover, we have several correspondents who occasionally write for us about different fields of science, such as physics and astronomy. Also, we highly encourage and support any scientific endeavours in the region, and we have multiple collaboration with different Arabic scientific groups and individuals to publish their intellectual work on our pages.
5) I see you have several articles on Darwin and evolution – topics that are often thorny in the Arab world, and might be especially so in Saudi Arabia. How do you handle these topics? And has there ever been a backlash against you for your coverage of these topics?
This is a good question, I have to say. However, before I answer it, you should know that we are committed to not discuss religion or politics in our published work, which is really an unprecedented proposition in the Arabic-speaking world. Most of the Arabic scientific speakers and communicators, albeit they are few, have strong religious tendencies.
I, myself, have no problem with that at all, but the problem is that many of them handle scientific theories that might contradict with their religious views with an unscientific mentality. I was listening the other day to a highly regarded scientific communicator in the Islamic world talking about Darwin’s evolution theory as if it was a ‘conspiracy’ to dehumanise people, and that it has no plausible scientific basis. He clearly has no clue how significant is the evidence that supports this theory, or at least he appears so.
Now to answer your question, yes, we do care greatly about scientifically and objectively explaining such major theories that shaped our current knowledge of the world. Darwin’s theory of evolution, in particular, is supported by a significant amount of evidence from different fields of science, and that’s what we care about here as a scientific group. Of course this means we will deal with a backlash from some of our readers, and we did, but we are still willing to answer every inquiry they have about such theories without judgment or reject. In fact, we have witnessed people who strongly disbelieve that humans have ever passed the stratosphere, others think that the big bang theory is just an absurd lie, and some who think that stem cells technology is a myth. If we are afraid of any backlash in the group, then we should quit science.
However, it should be noted that if an opponent of any theory of science brought a plausible scientific evidence against it, then we are willing to adopt the evidence without hesitation. In short, science is our language in this group.