Al-Biruni (973-1046) on grant proposals

al-biruni

Al-Biruni on Afghan stamp, 1973.

Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1046) was a brilliant medieval man of science born in Khwarazm, Uzbekistan, and died in Ghazni, Afghanistan. Due to the many political turmoils of his time, he had to frequently migrate from city to city and each time, had to persuade princes and emperors to finance his numerous scientific expeditions and experiments, mostly pioneering works in the fields of astronomy and geography.

The way he worked with his sponsors might have been different from how the scientific research works today, but in general, the painful process of grant application has remained the same and a lot of scientists would say a similar thing about today’s funding agencies as the ‘sage’ in the following anecdote, quoted in Al-Biruni’s India, says about the medieval rich:

Once a sage was asked why scholars always flock to the doors of the rich, whilst the rich are not inclined to call at the doors of scholars. “The scholars”, he answered, “are well aware of the use of money, but the rich are ignorant of the nobility of science.”

In June 1974, UNESCO’s Courier magazine published an especial issue on Al-Biruni. The above quote was copied from there (available online).

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