For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.
— THE EDITORS
Analyzing Visual Images
This month’s activities focus on the edges of photos—not only how photographers fill the “frame,” but also how they make photos “end.” It is part of
how photographers and magazine designers decide what to include, what not to include. What are the effects of their choices?
First, look at the left photograph of the blue whale’s flukes. The photo looks almost abstract, as if an artist made it up to create an interesting shape. But it’s actually a
representation of part of a whale. How does a photographer make such an image as compelling to look at as this one? Let’s focus on the arrangement of the image in the frame. First, look at
the foreground of the photo. The whale’s flukes are there, breaking the plane of the water. Although this is a photo and not a movie, how does the image convey movement? Then look back into
the photo. Behind the flukes are two horizontal lines. Notice that they break the picture into thirds. The front two-thirds shows water. What is behind the water? What is behind that? What do these
layers of background add to the photo? Finally, look at the right and left edges of the photo. Why do you think the photographer cropped the photo to have those edges? Imagine if she had pulled the
lens back. How would the picture have been different?
Now look at the photo on the right from “Healing South Central.” Consider its edges. What defines the left edge? The bottom or front edge? The right edge? Why do you think the
photographer chose to frame the photo this way? Why do you think each element is included? Why does the “frame” take up so much of the photo’s space? What is contained within the
borders that have been created by the images on the edges of the photograph? Why do you think the people in the center of the photo are so small, compared to the overall size of the photograph?
Imagine the photo with the people filling more of the frame. How would it be different? What would be lost?
A large part of this issue of Saudi Aramco World focuses on Muslim contributions to science. In the activities that follow, you’ll have a chance to think about what science is, and
what things outside science shape it.
What is science? What assumptions do you hold about it?
For many of us, science is a subject you first study in school. As you get older, your studies tend to focus on one particular kind, or “field,” of science, such as biology or chemistry
or physics. What unites these different fields? Use a search engine to find definitions of the word very expe Which definition or definitions seem most related to what you’ve studied
and to what you think of as science? With a group, write your own one-paragraph definition of science. Your paragraph might include a dictionary-type definition, as well as examples of what
is—and is not—science. Compare your paragraph with other groups’ paragraphs. Revise your definition in light of new ideas you have received from your classmates.
With your definition in mind, now think about your assumptions about science. For example, maybe you assume that because science deals with facts, it is always right. Maybe you assume
that science is a good way to learn how to solve big problems, like global warming or curing cancer. (Hint: Many assumptions seem so obvious you may not feel they are worth writing down.
That’s why they are assumptions!) Now, you might wonder why we should bother identifying assumptions about science. Here’s why: Because those assumptions will affect how you understand
and think about what you will be reading. If you know your assumptions, you will be clearer about which ideas you’re reading make sense to you, and which you find challenging —or
downright wrong—and why. With your group, then, list your assumptions about science. How many can you come up with? Keep your list handy as you work with the articles in this issue.
What factors affect scientific research?
Scientific research is affected by all kinds of things you might not think of. These include economics, politics and culture—three very abstract terms that deserve to be looked at to see what
sense we can make of them.
Economics = money: Who pays for science? Who gives scientists money to do experiments, to read about things and to travel to look at things? It’s fun to imagine
“mad scientists” who never comb their hair sitting in basement laboratories surrounded by steaming concoctions on Bunsen burners. But real scientists have to think about things like:
How will they pay the rent on their office-building lab space? And who’s going to be sure they’ve got enough test tubes, telescopes and all the other equipment they need to do their
experiments? (A lot of it is very expensive!)
Read “Rediscovering Arabic Science.” Highlight the parts that address the issue of funding scientific research. Who paid for scientific research at the various times described in the
article? What do historians today say about that funding?
Scientific research is big business today, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Who funds scientific research today? Do some research of your own to find out, and identify at least four
different major sources of funding. Hints: Cast a wide net. Look at both public (government) and private (business) researchers and funders. And define scientific research broadly, including
mathematics, medical research and research that leads to technological innovation. With your group, discuss how the different sources of funding for research might affect what research gets done
and what doesn’t. For example, als (also called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) has been called an “orphan disease,” because not enough people suffer from it for
pharmaceutical companies to invest large sums in research to find cures.
Now look back at the assumptions you listed about science. How does what you’ve just done relate to those assumptions? Do funding issues surprise you? Do they fit neatly with your
assumptions about scientific research? Or do they contradict them? Write an informal response to the questions above. You’ll return to them later.
Politics is more than elections: What does scientific research have to do with politics? Consider this quote from the article: Islamic science ultimately went into an
irreversible decline with the eclipse of Arab political and economic power, marked in the West by the fall of Granada in 1492.” Find evidence in the article that supports the idea that the
heyday of Arabic science coincided with the height of Islamic political power. Why do you think political power and scientific expansion are often connected? In addition to the examples in
“Rediscovering Arabic Science,” think about another example: the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960’s. What was the scientific research that the
two superpowers were pursuing? Why was it only those two countries that pursued it, and not others? Jot down a few ideas about the relationship between political power and scientific research.
A key part of culture is language: In which language(s) are different kinds of information expressed? Think, for example, about traveling in the world today. In a majority
of places, it’s possible to get by speaking only English. That’s because relatively recently people all over the world have begun to learn and use English. As a class, discuss why
that’s the case. What would it mean if a different language was spoken across most of the world? What about a world with no dominant or common language?
What is the language used in scientific research? If you have studied genus and species names (e.g., Homo sapiens), you know that they’re in Latin. Hypothesize why that’s the
way it is. Now read “The Language”, which reports that for several centuries, the language of scientific research was Arabic. What does that fact reveal about scientific
research, as well as political and economic power, at that time? Look back at what you wrote about how economics and politics relate to scientific research. Add culture to your analysis. Draft an
outline of an essay that answers the question, “How do economics, politics and culture affect scientific research?” Exchange outlines with another student. Discuss each other’s
work, and advise each other about how to improve the outlines. Then write the essay.
Why is it important to know the history of science?
So far you have looked at what shapes scientific research. Now step back and think about what historians know about scientific research that was done in the past. One of the main points of
“Rediscovering Arabic Science” is that many people who study the history of science don’t know about the contributions that came from the Arab and Muslim worlds. How does
something like that happen? Why does it matter? Find two reasons in the story. Then make a chart or timeline that shows some major Muslim contributions to the various fields of scientific research
identified in the article. Add, in a different color, any later theories that were developed as a result of these scientific findings. Looking at your chart or timeline, and at the article, think
about why it’s worth telling the stories of the scientists whose stories have been lost, and the discoveries they made. Make a persuasive presentation advocating that this “lost chapter
of history” be included in your school’s curriculum. Make your presentation in whatever format you’d like.
Why is it important to know the geography of science?
Lines of Transmission” reports on how scientific ideas “migrated” from one area to another, and from one scientist to another. Read the article, which describes
the transmission of science from Muslim lands to Europe as “an ongoing, fluid exchange.” What does that mean? Write an explanation, including what characterizes a “fluid”
exchange. Use examples from the article to support your point of view.
The next question: Why does it matter? Why might it be useful to know the information presented in “Lines of Transmission”? Think about what you’ve learned about what science
is, and about the process of scientific development. What, if anything, does adding geography contribute to your knowledge? Either write an answer to the question, or hold a class debate about the
value of knowing how scientific thinking migrated around the world. Then discuss how it is migrating around the world today. What are today’s “lines of transmission”—and where are they?
What does the history of scientific research show us?
Look back at your list of assumptions about science. Do you have any that relate to the idea that science is always right, or that scientific thought develops in a straight line of progress from
the “ignorant” past to the “enlightened” present? If so, what about scientific theories that turn out to be wrong? As you see in the article, science is at best a
stop-and-go process riddled with errors! Find a part of “Rediscovering Arabic Science” that describes a scientist’s mistakes. What caused him to make those mistakes? Find places
that describe scientific findings that were lost of ignored. (Look in “Lines of Transmission” as well as the main article.) Add the mistakes and the ignored material to your timeline.
What does discovering errors and omissions do to your assumptions about science? Write a final statement in which you reflect on what you thought about science when you began these activities, and
how your ideas have, or have not, changed.
||Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.