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LAHORE: Eminent mathematician Prof Dr A.D Raza Chaudhry has taken a strong exception to the trend of “trivializing research” in mathematics and other scientific disciplines which is fast gaining ground in Pakistan.

“Speedy publication of relatively trivial and often scarcely referred to research articles in mathematics and probably in most other academic disciplines in journals with so called ‘high impact factor’ has set this rather dangerous trend (of research) in Pakistan and numerous developing countries.

“As a consequence, even our PhD students no longer understand the meaning of real research in mathematics in particular and other scientific disciplines in general,” maintains Dr Chaudhry who had been the founding director-general of Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences (ASSMS) of the Government College University, Lahore.

Dr Chaudhry was on a visit to Pakistan before resuming his research commitments in some European universities and the Central Washington University, where he has been an emeritus professor.

“Such journals usually publish quite superficial research, sometimes after getting negligible article processing fee, according to page-charge.

They even ask the authors, directly or indirectly, to include extended bibliographies in their papers, obviously meant to boost the impact factor of the journal. This is a trend that may, in the long run, be a threat to the global research community, substituting ‘good research’ by ‘popular research.’

However, the most dangerous part of the system or real threat is something more fundamental, associated with this kind of research publications,” he says.

Like many other developing countries, the Pakistan government has taken certain steps to encourage research in mathematics and other scientific disciplines by giving awards, prizes and various financial incentives to researchers.

However, government bodies in these states do not know how to evaluate the quality of research and have found a very easy way out. They just add up to impact factors of the publications of the researchers applying for some national award or prize. The persons with highest sums of impact factors are declared winners.

“This process provides strong encouragement for publishing a large number of trivial papers in journals with positive impact factor. There are examples of young researchers publishing 30-50 papers a year.

During the past decades, the research performance in such countries has taken a very different meaning, a meaning that honors triviality, mediocrity and non-creativity.

“As a result, even for our PhD students and young scholars research now is reduced to being able to publish a new ‘research article’ by simply making trivial changes in some parameters of a previously written paper.

If the Pakistani criteria for honoring the research performance had been applied globally, then most of the field medalists and Abel laureates would never have got any award,” he says.

In order to take the country’s mathematical community on track of quality research and to encourage the individuals who have dedicated their lives to serious research in mathematics, creation of the Abdus Salam Shield of Honor (ASSH) in April 2015 was an initiative of the National Mathematical Society of Pakistan.

The first Shield of Honor goes to Prof Hassan Azad, a Pakistani national. The evaluation committee, chaired by Prof Cedric Villani (field medalist), comprised Prof Juergen Herzog, Prof Stefano Luzzatto and Prof Ioan Tomescu.

We like it or not, choice of winner by this committee has made two things very clear: the most capable and serious researchers may not get any recognition or prize in Pakistan and that there are people who have received all kinds of national awards and honors in Pakistan but in reality they do not deserve any recognition at all if weighed on international scale. This is happening simply for a lack of actual evaluation of research quality.

The main research interest of the first recipient of ASSH, Prof Hassan Azad is Lie groups and algebraic groups and algorithms related to these fields.

He also likes to think about topics of undergraduate mathematics. Currently, he is working on real algebraic groups and constructive procedures for computing their invariants, with a view towards their applications in symmetry methods in differential equations.

Prof Cedric Villani wrote in the final report of the committee: “It was our unanimous vote, independently of each other that Hassan Azad is the most deserving candidate. He did not sacrifice the quality for the quantity, and published excellent international journals. This is exactly the kind of example that we wish to promote.”

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2016