2,500-year-old lady with
Interview with Esmaeil Mirfakhraei
February 7, 2005
Esmaeil Mirfakhraei, the man who introduced
many Iranians to the world of science through his TV program,
sat down for an interview during a visit to Australia. Mirfakhraei
graduated from Tehran University in the field of biology and
University, where he
with a B.A.
in radio and television studies and a M.A. in educational communication.
He began his career as a TV producer and host for "Science" (Danesh).
He has made more than 500 TV programs. Mirfakhraei continues
to lecture at various institutions and takes active part at film festivals
both as a documentary maker or as member of the judging committee.
Lots of Iranians are familiar with your voice from
the popular "Science" program back in the 1970s. You are something
in Iran. How do you reflect on your life having lived and worked
under two different systems of governments?
I tried to find myself an appropriate position for being forcefully
removed after the revolution from Iranian Radio-TV. I spent
a couple of years in the US and Australia hoping to continue my
career in a different land. But finally I decided to return to
a free-lance documentary filmmaker, without being attached
to any government organization.
I was more appreciated by the old
regime; after all they helped me to become a TV producer and presenter.
The new system could not take advantage of educated and experienced
people like myself. So, independently, I did a couple of TV series
on science after the revolution.
programs were received warmly by the viewers. However, this still
lead to any contract assignment by the country's Radio-TV
industry. So my connection with them has always remained lukewarm
and tenuous which is a shame in a way.
How do you review your career as a producer of scientific
It used to be interesting. But at the moment I cannot evaluate
the effect on the Iranian people. Because first
of all, the new generation of Iranians are so busy with their day
today social obligations that scientific matters are not high on
their list of interest, understandably. Although many young students
are still interested in science, their interests are either
superficial or if genuine, wanes with lack of support, feedback
and proper infrastructures to make our young scientific talents
to flourish. We always have talents in Iran and the
sad thing about it is that they never enough support. I remember
this was not the case when I worked for Radio-TV in the 70s when
was taken very seriously.
How strong is your commitment to the scientific world,
which is ever flourishing in the West?
I think I always have a sense of appreciation toward West due
to their technical achievements but I never forget that the idea
of scientific realism started in the East by the people like Ibn
Sina (Avizenna) and Razi and this has been transferred to the West
by the likes of Thomas Aquinas.
Has the direction of science gone through changes after
I think it is becoming more a practical tool for business,
either in the form of political issues or in the form of salesmanship
promote certain educational and scientific products. Unfortunately
we are not in any way pioneers in any scientific field.
With your qualifications and experience you could
have easily gone overseas to live and work, as so many people
have. What has kept you in Iran?
I always hoped to do something for my society which suffers
from lack of knowledge and education. I spent a year teaching at
Central Connecticut University in the U.S. Then I worked in the
local radio station in Australia. But none of them made
me happy because I knew they have many people like me to do
the job. So
I was just a person who filled the position and they were
not specially interested in me.
Once the head of an American university
told me "We'll get a H1 visa for you not because of your
qualifications but because you are one of the few people who
accepted our conditions." They offered a salary lower than
standard and I accepted that teaching job just for a few months
because I needed
the visa. How could I have stayed there for long when my heart
was not in it?
In 1984 I decided to return to my country Iran.
Although I was not welcomed by Iranian Radio-TV, I think the
people of Iran are always supportive of people like me and what
made me stay here so far is because of the people and nothing
What do you think about the current scientific community
I divide them in two groups: one just take science as a device
of official and political achievements, and the other group is
really devoted to science and doing their own research and teaching
or privately. The latter group have nothing to do with the
political establishment. Generally speaking our last generation
of scientists were
a different breed. They looked at science as a tradition that grew
out of their land. They looked at themselves as people with serious
responsibility before their country and people. In a way they were
nationalist scientists concerned about the place of their country
in the world.
How important is science for a developing nation?
I believe in the world today a country cannot develop without
scientific methodology. Science, let's not forget, is only a tool,
not a way of salvation. But nevertheless a very pivotal tool. Without
it the very survival of a nation becomes doubtful. Science
is in everything, in a plane that takes us across continents, in
electricity that lights up our rooms, or in a simple boat that
people ride for leisure across a lake. Only foolish people deny
the importance of science in a society.
Science once played an important part in medieval Persia,
with personalities like, Ibn Sina and Razi. Why do you think
has not followed in Iran?
After the Industrial Revolution in the West, science became popular
as means for the betterment of peoples lives. So
governments and private corporations spent money to further
develop science. And with the effort of scientists, the scientific
method of thinking was built in the social
structure. But in Iran, we followed the opposite path. Day by
day we kept
our distance from practical science, due to ignorant
rulers and their fanaticism.
Do the radio and television stations in Iran provide
programs on latest scientific discoveries, for instance in the
of genetics, cloning or
Yes, but just as news items and with no detaiuled explanation,
because usually they themselves do not understand the concept of
All scientific discoveries have certain social and political ramifications
but at the moment our nation seems to be exempt of all these responsibilities
that face the civilised world. It seems to be easier this way.
Let's be a child forever and just play with our toys while
the rest of the world faces up to to real challenges and
grows stronger as a result.
Have you personally been challenged by science? Do you
see a conflict between science and faith?
Yes, but I think when we are speaking of science we should
keep religion at the personal level. History has shown that science
and religion can work together. Issac Newton was a very religious
man. Einstein believed in God. So was Averros, Sina, Biruni etc...
Once professor Abdus Salam, a Pakistani Noble prize winner
in physics told me, "I am a religious person but I see religion
as a romantic motivator when working on science." He
also believed some of his achievements in unified field theory
came as an intuition from somewhere! I think this was his brain
working automatically after 23 years of concentration on one subject.
So I seriously think that religion is a personal matter but science
and its outcome belongs to humanity. Only a person without sound
ethics would say that he or she does not need science when our
existence without science would be chaotic and harmful to ourselves,
our fellow human beings and to the universe as a whole. We
need more than ever to bring science and ethics closer together
in order to find the true purpose of science which was always to
Are you happy with your achievements?
Yes, but I have to be honest and tell you the truth that
I still can do more for Iran, But it seems the responsible organizations
like Iranian Radio-TV do not care about quality, rather they
are just concerned with the quantity of their programs.
So for now
I pass my time following sports, which I love and enjoy very
much, and doing general readings. If this situation continues much
longer I will consider returning to Australia and accept my new life as
a retired person, ridding my bike around.
Just to remind you my
age: I am 58 and once I was forced to retire by the Iranian
Radio-TV at the age of 30!! So retiring twice in one life time
is interesting! But I still feel that I have a lot to give to
the land and people that I love so much.
What is your message
for the Iranians living outside of Iran?
not forget your country. Iran at the moment is like an old
person afflicted with Alzheimer's. Nevertheless Iran is our
country and our mother. History
has shown that this 2,500-year-old lady sometimes gets
sick but never