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“It defies the laws of thermodynamics,” says Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy in a measured baritone – neither defensive, nor aggressive – as he talks in a television show about a car reportedly powered by water. He takes great pains to explain, without changing the pitch and the tone of his voice, as to what the laws of thermodynamics are and how Agha Waqar, the inventor of the so-called water car, vainly claims to have challenged them. A little later in the discussion, tempers are fraying and the argument is subsumed under a cacophony of accusations and counter-accusations. “Agha Waqar is a fraud; he must be arrested and tried for hoodwinking people with his water car that simply cannot be,” Hoodbhoy is able to convey these words across the audience above the noise  — his voice raised and agitated and his tone clearly belligerent.

This is quintessential Hoodbhoy — a scientist by training, a polemicist and activist by choice. As he can alternate between the two within minutes – sometimes in the same minute – he either evokes homage or elicits hatred, depending on who is talking about which side of his personality.

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