20 October 2007

Arab World Plans Large Science Infrastructure: What Are The Odds?

the Arab world has stagnated. Per capita income in Arab countries grew at an annual rate of just 0.5% during the last quarter century - less than half the global average. Despite being blessed with massive quantities of "black gold," Arabs have seen their average standard of living decline relative to the rest of the world. The combined GDP of all Arab countries ($531.2 billion) is today less than that of Spain (a country that Arabs once ruled).
SourceAccording to the best studies by intelligence researchers, the mean IQ for the arab world is near 85--exactly that of the african-american population in the US. While the Arab world reaps many billions of dollars yearly from oil and gas revenues, the scientific and educational levels of the Arab world are dismally low. Is it theoretically likely that a larger monetary investment in a Science Education/Research infrastructure could raise scientific achievement in the arab world up to western levels?
Earlier this year, the 22 nations of the Arab League approved a 10-year plan to boost scientific research. It calls for member states to raise their allocation to science twelvefold to 2.5 percent of GDP—more than the average 2.3 percent spent by developed nations.

...Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates recently launched a new pan-Arab foundation with a monumental endowment of $10 billion—one of the largest charitable donations in history. The foundation's stated mission is to "develop world-class knowledge" in the Arab region, and many are hoping it will foster broad-based scientific research.

...With a $1.5 billion annual allocation to science in a country with a population of less than a million, Qatar is intent on reform. Education City is Qatar's new university system—a 2,500-acre campus that is home to branches of five of the world's top universities, including Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. The Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) has enticed foreign labs and international companies by offering top-notch research facilities. The country is bringing in foreign expertise to achieve a long-term vision—to make Qatar a knowledge-based society. "QSTP is a 20-year program," says director Eulian Roberts, "but we're working hard now so that we can achieve a change in culture, a change in mentality."

Oman and Saudi Arabia plan to join Qatar and the Emirates in their aggressive thrust to build large new scientific infrastructures for education and research. We know that the Arab world is proficient at "bringing in foreign expertise." That is how the oil and gas fields were developed, how the modern urban infrastructures were constructed and maintained, how the entire Arab civilisation keeps from falling apart. But the key question that any knowledgeable person is forced to ask in connection with this new putsch for Arab science is: Where will they get all the promising young math, physics, chemistry, biology students?

Good science, math, and engineering students at the university level do not spring up from thin air. They come from good programs at lower levels of education. They come from families that typically encourage curious young minds to explore. Where will they find this type of family, this type of K-12 education and top notch undergrad training? In the muslim world--particularly the arab muslim world--curiosity is too often beaten out of young minds, and too many questions are forbidden to children and youth. Women are seen as second-rate minds and third-rate citizens, which eliminates half of youth intelligent enough to pursue a scientific career. Much of science conflicts with rigid Islamic teaching. Where will the religious police be during all of this buildup?

The chart above comparing a population with mean IQ of 85 with a population with a mean IQ of 100 (SD 15) indicates the relative portions of the two populations with enough intelligence for the different careers. While this type of chart has its limitations, it is useful as a broad guide.

Is this type of promotional thrust yet another example of "cargo cult science and education?" I suspect so. "If you build it, they will come . . ." If you build the huge and expensive universities and science/engineering labs, the students and professors will come, the researchers will come, the international regard for homegrown science and technology will come . . . or will it?

While the faculty and researchers for these new institutions can be imported from abroad, the students will have to come from home turf--if the program is to have any meaning at all. And once you do train world class Arab youth in science and technology, how do you keep them from emigrating to Europe and the Anglosphere? That is always a perennial problem for the third world.

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Blogger Will Brown said...

Actually, Arabs in particular, but all Muslims more generally, will have a problem with this project no matter what the choice of the students is upon graduation.

For such an atmosphere to exist in a sharia dominated society, the enclosure methodology familiar to ex-pats who have worked in Saudi Arabia will be the only practical means for a science-based environment to exist within such a country's borders. Without that physical exclusionary zone, the project will fail due to disruption of events and destruction of study materials by those who perceive such to be a threat to their beliefs.

Locals who graduate such an educational program will impose change upon their home society either by depriving it of their subsequent contributions or by those very contributions. Without doubt there are variations of degree, but I think this proposition comes down to this basic binary choice.

It would be sublimely ironic if the present war should find ultimate resolution through the societal reformation of the agressors.

Saturday, 20 October, 2007  
Blogger AntiCitizenOne said...

I wonder if the war in Iraq will breed a useful Arab?

If there is a genetic basis to radicalism then the elimination of so many young men before they have any children should hopefully have a positive evolutionary effect.

Sunday, 21 October, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

ACO: Whatever genetic basis there is for religious radicalism is probably too widespread to be practically eradicable. A more practical approach may be targeting radical religious clerics who act as focal points for radicalism.

Will: Right. Arab culture is far too brittle to be changed quickly. Perhaps more open, western-style education practises might encourage change from within, but I suspect that outwardly forced change is the only type of change that will truly take--just as so many other times in the past.

Tuesday, 23 October, 2007  

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