Letter to the Editor

Not every Jim, Jack can pass judgment on work of researcher

Dear Sir,
HAVING read the public statement from the University of Zambia on the above-mentioned matter, I am appalled that every Jim and Jack or Jill and Jane Doe can pass judgment on the work of researchers in the manner they seem to have done in the Brian Mushimba case.
I have not read the statements the University of Zambia responded to but I am very worried that the discussion on the quality of Zambian education has degenerated into a free for all.
Since he is an engineer, it follows that the people most competent to comment on the quality of Dr. Mushimba’s research and scientific publications are his fellow engineers, and maybe experts in cognate disciplines like physics.
Any scientist who has a problem with Dr. Mushimba’s research is free to publish their own research findings for their peers to compare and debate. That is a regular day at the laboratory for people in this field; this is normal scientific work; nothing personal, and nothing political.
It is a sad reflection on the state of the Zambian academy that UNZA has found it fit to give rumour-mongers the respect they do not deserve by issuing this response to their unsubstantiated sniggers and disrespect. UNZA’s response while clearing the air, as it were, may well consolidate the view that Zambian degrees are not what they used to be, or that we academics are over-rated printers of certificates for sale.
We must defend academic freedom and we must respect the rules of peer review. Modern society thrives on specialisation and it is completely counter-productive for universities to be judged by pastors, spiritualists or Dr. Kadansa the town crier. Engineers must be evaluated by fellow engineers.
That is why the EIZ exists, to facilitate such professional exchanges. The rest of us can read research abstracts and follow their debates as educated and well informed outsiders. Thus we now understand that solid waste can be used as an alternative to coal based on Dr Mushimba’s research, beyond that it’s up to the specialists to do further calculations and turn the research findings into industrial options.
What is unacceptable is for Facebook fundis and general knowledge announcers to insinuate that the work of the University of Zambia is not up to their standards, or that UNZA, my alma mater, is no longer a reputable institution. Broadcasting such negative criticism outside the peer review context is just plain malicious.
OB Sichone

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