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Measuring Scientific Progress in the Muslim World—Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy Does the Math

May 18, 2011

How does Muslim scientific research measure up to Western performance? A Muslim professor takes a look.

I have learned a lot from reading Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy’s article in Physics Today, “Science and the Islamic World—the Quest for Rapprochement.” You can read it here.[1] “Muslims bristle at any hint that Islam and science may be at odds,” Hoodbhoy writes, “or that some underlying conflict between Islam and science may account for the slowness of progress.” Well, Hoodbhoy asks his fellow Muslims, how are we doing as scientists? In order to demonstrate that his concern is based on facts, Professor Hoodbhoy does a lot of counting. A whole lot of counting in order to find out the truth. “I will quantitatively assess the current state of science in Muslim countries,” he writes.

Figure 1 shows the output of the seven most scientifically productive Muslim countries for physics papers, over the period from 1 January 1997 to 28 February 2007, together with the total number of publications in all scientific fields.

Physics papers Physics citations All science papers All science citations
Malaysia 690 1,685 11,287 40,925
Pakistan 846 2,952 7,934 26,958
Saudi Arabia 836 2,220 14,538 49,654
Morroco 1,518 5,332 9,979 35,011
Iran 2,408 9,385 25,400 76,467
Egypt 3,064 11,211 26,276 90,056
Turkey 5,036 21,798 88,438 299,808
Brazil 18,571 104,245 128,687 642,745
India 26,241 136,993 202,727 794,946
China 75,318 298,227 431,859 1,637,287
USA 201,062 2,332,789 2,732,816 35,678,385

Figure 1. The Seven Most Scientifically Productive Islamic Countries as of Early 2007, compared against a selection of other non-Islamic societies

Malaysia tops the list, but, as Hoodbhoy points out, it also has the largest non-Muslim population (40% are Chinese and other non-Muslims. Malaysia also out produces its near neighbor Indonesia in every scientific field). Moreover, Hoodbhoy informs the reader, “Forty-six Muslim countries contributed 1.17% of the world’s scientific literature, whereas 1.66% came from India alone and 1.48% from Spain.

Twenty Arab countries contributed 0.55% compared with 0.89% by Israel alone.” That is grim, Hoodbhoy writes, but “the situation may be even grimmer than the publication numbers suggest. Pressure to publish anything promotes copying; very little is original. For instance, the number of papers published by Iranian scientists tripled in five years, from 1,040 papers in 1998 to 3,277 in 2003. However, Hoodbhoy writes, “Many scientific papers that were claimed as original had actually been published twice and sometimes thrice with identical or near identical contents by the same authors. Others were plagiarized papers that could have been easily detected by any reasonable careful referee.”

Another measurement of a country’s contribution to science is demonstrated by the number patents issued. “The 57 Islamic countries produce negligibly few patents,” Hoodbhoy writes. “According to official statistics, Pakistan has produced only eight patents in the past 43 years.” There are 1800 universities in the 57 Muslim countries of the world; none of them were ranked in the top 500 in a study undertaken by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. “This state of affairs,” Hoodbhoy writes, “led the director general of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) to issue an appeal for at least 20 OIC universities to be sufficiently elevated in quality to make the top 500 list. No action plan was specified, nor was the term ‘quality’ defined.”Obviously, Professor Hoodbhoy has tried to support his opinions with data. What is your reaction? What are your thoughts?


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