Muslim nations’ impact on science is ‘modest but growing’
According to “Global science and the Muslim world: Overview of Muslim-majority country contributions to global science”, published in Scientometrics on 28 September, Muslim-majority systems only published 5.15% of all Web of Science (WoS) papers globally in the last three decades, although their combined population represents 14.16% of the world population.
The study, authored by Dr Yusuf Ikbal Oldac, research assistant professor at the school of graduate studies of the Institute of Policy Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, examined the quantity and scientific influence of papers published between 1990 and 2020 and provided a research-area-based analysis of trends in paper publications.
The 15 Muslim-majority countries studied include Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey.
The study notes that from the early 2010s, most of the selected Muslim-majority science systems started demonstrating research intensity (total publications divided by population) levels higher than the world average.
The study’s author indicates that the upward trend in the contribution of Muslims to world science – as revealed by the study’s findings – and combined with the significant proportion of Muslims making up the world’s population, reflects a promising picture for Muslim-majority science systems.
According to The Muslim 500, Muslims make up approximately a quarter of the world’s population.
Benefits of domestic collaboration
The 15 selected highest-publishing science systems had the highest levels of domestic collaboration in total and percentage calculations, which confirms the literature arguing that higher domestic collaboration is linked to having more established and larger science systems.
An analysis of subject areas among the 15 science systems found that they are generally more strongly invested in science, engineering and technology research areas, which is congruent with average values for research conducted worldwide. However, the selected systems have published consistently fewer papers in the humanities area when compared with the world average.
Among the 15 selected science systems, the study indicated that Turkey-based scientists have the highest number of WoS papers, while Iran has the fastest-growing system and Saudi Arabia-based scientists have published the highest number of internationally collaborated papers per year since 2012.
Among the selected science systems, Lebanon produced the highest percentage of papers in the humanities. This could be attributed to “a relatively freer and more democratic atmosphere compared with other systems, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia”, the paper noted, arguing that such findings were in line with studies that have indicated a link between humanities studies and democracy.
“Regarding scientific influence indicators, relatively smaller but well-funded science [systems], such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, come to the fore,” the study stated.
"The analysis results indicate that six science systems – in alphabetic order, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey – consistently differentiated themselves from others in area-based publication analyses and overall trends,” the study pointed out.
“Turkey and Iran seem to be the outliers among the selected systems because they had by far the largest number of papers in the WoS database between 1990 and 2020.”
Linking research to applications
Professor Atta-ur-Rahman, UNESCO Science Prize laureate and former coordinator general of the Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation of the 57-country Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes the 15 countries studied, told University World News the universities in the 15 Muslim-majority countries were, “with some exceptions”, weak in scientific research.
Atta-ur-Rahman, who was the former Pakistani federal minister of education, said: “They also generally suffer from a lack of realisation of the need to link research with practical applications in agriculture and industry.
“It is, therefore, important for universities to set up technology parks, integrate entrepreneurship courses in the curricula and encourage faculty members to work in industry.”
“It is important for leaders in OIC member states to invest in transitioning to a technology-driven knowledge economy by strengthening research and development in universities,” Atta-ur-Rahman said.
Investment in science
Abdellah Benahnia, a part-time international researcher and professor at the Superior Institutions of Science and Technology, an associate college of Cardiff Metropolitan University in Casablanca, Morocco, told University World News that no-one could, “historically speaking”, deny the valuable contribution of Muslim scientists to humankind around the world.
In fact, the presence of Muslim scientists and their contribution to the betterment of [human]kind never stopped.
“What the Muslim states need today (and perhaps more than ever) is sincere dedication and financial support to the scientific research field,” Benahnia said.
“It is high time to invest in research and appropriately reward scientists for their work. In parallel to that, Muslim states and governments must have clear research strategies and plans,” Benahnia said.
“They must definitely increase the budget for research purposes” and impose the integration of a module on “business and research ethics”, as well as “total quality factors” as a pre-requisite for better quality assurance of scientific research.
“There is still hope that our nations can advance in this field as long as qualified people and experts are hired,” Benahnia concluded.
Professor Hamed Ead, director of the Science Heritage Center at Cairo University in Egypt, told University World News: “I think the modest contribution of Muslim countries to global science is the result of each country’s different interest in the quality of research it supports.”
Ead added: “Muslim countries must establish scientific groupings between themselves and cooperate so that a process of integration between wealthy, low-population countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar, with densely populated countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, is carried out, and the scientific process is pushed forward, thereby increasing the rate of publications and establishing a knowledge-based economy.”
Moneef Zou’bi, emeritus director-general of the Jordan-based Islamic World Academy of Sciences and science advisor to the InterAction Council, said the “calamitous state of science in the Islamic world today is a direct result of the absence of some of the essential elements in OIC societies, including scientific culture, patronage and political support as well as openness and diversity”.
“With the 2030 Agenda [on Sustainable Development] as the platform, OIC decision-makers must champion the cause of science, technology and innovation and institute a roadmap of action to achieve the set goals,” Zou’bi told University World News.
He added: “For this to happen, national STI [science, technology and innovation] capacity is required to address the priorities symbolised by the Sustainable Development Goals.
“A radical change is required in STI policy whereby the pursuit of a knowledge economy is viewed as the best way to harness an effective growth engine.”
A focus on outputs
Zou’bi said: “To enhance the promising scientific influence of OIC countries within the international STI ecosystem, we need to become output- or outcome-focused and not only focus on STI inputs.
“Links have to be created between the market and knowledge generation hubs including universities and research centres as this is one of the greatest challenges facing OIC and developing countries.
“To further promote the development of local technology, OIC countries need to promote technological innovation in all areas and generate markets for new products and services within their societies and internationally.
“Engaging more female scientists [is necessary] if the sizeable women science community of the OIC is to better contribute to the development of our countries.”
Zou’bi also noted the importance of scientific and technological cooperation among developing and OIC countries. “OIC scientists, universities and countries benefit least from the silo mentality prevalent in the STI community in some OIC countries today,” he said.
The media also had a “considerable role” in promoting science and technology and scientists needed to communicate more readily with the general public, policy-makers and the media, he said.
“Science advisory structures can also play an important role and provide political leaders with advice on STI as and when requested,” Zou’bi said.
“Lastly, the stability, security and prosperity of OIC countries cannot only simply be a function of military expenditure (hardware) but long-term security and prosperity for all countries in the Islamic world can best be achieved by assuring at least food, water and energy security (software), combined with sustainable and equitable socio-economic development.
“Science and technology can achieve some of these goals, if not all.”