Western school children don't realize that most of the basic math and science (chemistry and physics) found in science high school textbooks comes from Arabic (Middle East) scientists, discovered even before the dark ages in Europe. Scientists from the Middle East were once world leaders in most scientific inquiry and discovery. Today, the romantic and "almost backward wasteland" image from TV and Hollywood that most people have of a typical "middle east" country is one of sand, and caravans of camel transportation and not advanced science and technology. And this misperception isn't the worst of it.
While, the west is trying to further demonize the "Middle East" in all of the media, because of real and perceived terrorist threats, it's not an image that the Arabic world deserves, when it comes to science.
At this year's AAAS meetings in San Diego, we see an attempt to launch a S&T re-birth in a session called: "Re-emergence of Science, Technology and Education as Priorities in the Arab World".
Source: Science Metrix report called 30 Years in Science Secular Movements in Knowledge Creation. Countries with a Growth Index (GI) =1 are at the world average, so Israel (GI=0.94) (bottom of the curve in reddish-brown) and Iraq (GI=0.47) are falling behind the average world pace, while the rest (GI> 1.0) all grew faster then the world average. (ie Turkey with GI =5.47 or Iran with the best GI in the world of 11.07 or eleven times the world average.
On a whole the Middle East scientific output, while uneven across countries, grew four times faster than the average world level.
From a AAAS press release:
"Nanotechnology could aid the future of development of the Arab region," says Mohamed H.A. Hassan, executive director of TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world, and president of the
"The Arab region, home to some 300 million people, faces a host of daunting development challenges," Hassan notes. "Three of the most fundamental involve ensuring adequate supplies of water, energy and food." Advances in nanotechnology, he says, "could help achieve progress by helping to address each of these challenges."
For example, he notes that nano-filters could enhance the efficiency of desalinization plants, helping to ensure adequate supplies of water in the region. Similarly, nanotechnology could improve the capacity of solar panels. More abundant supplies of water and energy, Hassan adds, "would boost irrigation and help increase agricultural output."
But none of this is likely to take place, he cautions, "without a strong commitment to training the next generation of scientists." The Arab region has some inherent demographic advantages when seeking to address human resource issues related to scientific capacity building. "Sixty percent of the population is less than 25 years old," he says.
"Yet, the region has some glaring weaknesses as well," he says. "Arab countries spend just 0.3% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on science and technology, compared to 1% in a growing number of developing countries and 2% to 3% in many developed countries. Scientists in the region publish less than 1% of the world's peer-reviewed scientific articles.
Hassan points to some encouraging recent signs, however.
"A growing number of countries have invested in high-profile projects designed to quickly build scientific capacity in critical areas of science and technology." He cites, for example, the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) for post-graduate studies in
Saudi Arabiaand 's Science and Technology Park (QSTP). Qatar
But much more will need to be done, he says. To boost science, he calls on each Arab country "to create at least one world-class university" and "build at least one world-class state-of-the-art science centre."Hassan also believes the national merit-based academies in the region should become more engaged in their societies and stronger advocates for science education and science-based development.
He readily acknowledges that "with so many immediate challenges facing the region, it's difficult for governments to engage in long-term strategies for development." But he says that "unless countries within the Arab region make a sustained effort to build scientific capacity, they will find themselves unable to overcome the 'knowledge-deficit' obstacles that have impeded economic development for far too long."