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January 30, 2005
Welcome to the World, I Hope
Although I generally don't comment on current political events here, I wanted to congratulate the Iraqis who voted in their election this weekend. From a scientist's point of view, it would be a fine thing if they (and the other countries in the region) could have their affairs in good enough order to join the research efforts that are going on in so many other countries.
You don't necessarily have to be a rich country to do some useful science, if you pick your targets well. Cuba, of all places, seems to have a pretty respectable expertise in biotech and vaccines. And (to be frank) the position of many Middle Eastern countries in the rankings of world science isn't due to lack of money. The Gulf States, for example, could bankroll some serious projects - but, for the most part, they don't. (I'm not going to comment on the large physics engineering project that seems to be underway in Iran!)
I'm showing my biases here, because I think that scientific research is one of the greatest endeavors of the human race. The more hands and minds we have working on the big problems, the better the chances of solutions. But the Middle East (broadly defined, and with the conspicuous exception of Israel) is a desert for science. Most of the countries in that part of the world are hardly visible in the scientific literature - in this PDF article, you'll see that this entire region (along with Africa) is completely ignored. In my field, I see occasional papers from Egypt and Iran, but that's just about it.
There are plenty of competent (and potentially competent) people in these countries - just look at what some of them have accomplished as expatriates. The social, economic, and educational problems in these countries are (among other things) a tremendous waste of human potential. We need it, they need it, and I hope that eventually it finds an outlet.
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