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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 7, 2008

Science By Country

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Posted by Derek

Update: here's the map that I was imagining, thanks to Andy in the comments section. It's on the Worldmapper site linked to below, but I missed it while putting the post together. Most of my speculations turned out to be reasonable, although Venezuela (for one) looks a bit better than I thought it would, and Iran looks a bit worse. Africa and the Islamic world are, as hypothesized, almost invisible.

I’d like to see a map of the world with country size dependent on the number of scientific publications and patents – perhaps you’d want to use publications per capita, or per educated capita. That's a cartogram, and although there are plenty of interesting ones on the web, I haven't found that one yet. The US would loom large, that’s for sure. Japan might be the most oversized compared to its geography, although Singapore would also be a lot easier to pick out. Western Europe would expand to fill up a lot of space, with Germany, England, and France (among others) taking up proportionally more room inside the region and (perhaps) Spain and Portugal taking up somewhat less. Switzerland would swell dramatically.

South America would be dominated, I think, by Brazil, even more than it is on the map. You’d be able to find Argentina and Chile, but I think some other countries (like Venezuela) would dwindle in comparison. Africa, as it does so often in maps of this kind, would appear to have been terribly shrunk in all directions, with a few countries – Egypt, South Africa – partially resisting the effects. Moving on to Asia, India would appear even larger than it is, unless you went for the per-capita measurement to cut it back down a bit, and China would be a lot more noticeable than it was ten (or especially twenty) years ago.

Another region that would basically disappear would be the Middle East and most of the rest of the Islamic world. Iran would hang in there, smaller but recognizable, and you’d be able to find Pakistan, too. But the Arab countries (with the minor exception of Egypt) would nearly vanish. The figures from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (the multinational group involved) show that from 1995-2005, the Islamic countries contributed 2.5% of all the peer-reviewed scientific papers. That’s all the more interesting when you consider the amount of potential funding that washes around that part of the world.

This disconnect has been noticed by the region’s scientists, as well it might. The OIC has designated a committee of science ministers to help with a multiyear plan for modernizing things, but no one’s sure if any real money will be forthcoming. According to this Nature article (headlined "Broken Promises"), the OIC countries allocate less than 0.5% of their GDP to research and development. Most of the money promised just to fund that science committee never showed up. Lip service is, of course, a feature of politics (and politicians) everywhere, but I don't think I'm out of line if I suggest that it's very close to an art form in that part of the world.

And that's a very short-sighted approach. Many of these countries are sitting on huge amounts of money at the moment, which should be invested against the day that their oil runs out (or against the day that the world decides that it's not as desperate for oil as it once was). That latter day will, presumably, be hastened along by the countries who spend more on research. . .

Comments (21) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: General Scientific News


1. eugene on May 7, 2008 9:12 AM writes...

The problem with a lot of the Arab countries, is that the universities were historically dominated by religous, close-minded folks who didn't think much of investing in science. This is even the case in Egypt.
I read this about two years ago in a NYT article that I can't find right now... Science was tied up to the Koran, it was really ridiculous.

This wasn't the case in Iran, and a scientific tradition in chemistry had a chance to develop. I regularly read a paper or two from Iranian chemists in an ACS journal (not JACS, but not bad).

The best chance to break out in the Arab world, would have to be the UAE right now. Even though they are a dictatorship, they have 'enlightened monarchs'. There are now lots of foreign campi from prestigious universities. An Islamic art museum with pictures of Mohammed and naked women opened up in Qatar and when the monarch becomes enlightened to science, he's going to copy Singapore. Despite all the problems that remain unresolved, it's the place to be in the Middle East. They have definitely thought beyond oil. The rest of the places are utterly hopeless at this point. Including Egypt (which doesn't have much oil but in terms of science funding is hopeless). Hosni is not an enlightened monarch, he's just a big, short-sighted jerk.

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2. Rich Apodaca on May 7, 2008 10:51 AM writes...

Derek, interesting idea. For the cartogram's raw data, you might be able to use this NSF study:

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3. Andy on May 7, 2008 11:51 AM writes...

is this something like what you're looking for?

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4. Edgar on May 7, 2008 12:15 PM writes...

The reason Islamic(Arab) countries don't embrace science is because of their dependence on oil. They don't need to create a consumer based economy to pay for police/military/government because prosperity bubbles up from the ground. Contrary to the Bush admin, these places are feudal dictatorships or theocracies, not democracies. The name of the game is to stay in power, nothing more. No need to create an R&D infrastructure that is expensive and prone to competition. They already possess POSITIVE trade balances with the rest of the world . They have fiscal surpluses! The US has historically created things to export, and this has had a positive effect on our trade balances and currency.

Some dated numbers on consumer spending globally -

Considering the US R&D infrastructure is being destroyed (what 50,000 US scientists laid off in the last three years?) - I'm not sure why Derek is encouraging any country to follow this path. The costs in any developed country are far too high RELATIVE to Singapore, China or India. Hence you CANNOT compete because money will flow to the lowest cost region. A career in science in a first world country is suicidal.

The future model will be each country doing a small amount of R&D, with the lower cost third world countries having the bulk of the R&D. Countries with populations in the billions can churn out endless supplies of science graduates to continually undercut wages.

The only truly novel solution to the problem would be to dissolve national borders and allow the free flow of populations. This view is espoused by many prominent libertarian thinkers and dare I say it (democrats!).

It’s not all downside. The trick is to discover those companies which are most aggressively outsourcing or relocating to the third world. Train to become a good stock picker and you will have a sound retirement.

Lower costs = prosperity.

Embrace the future!

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5. aa on May 7, 2008 12:26 PM writes...

a recent funding announcement from the government (aka royal family) of saudi arabia:

and an article in Science about this:

5 million dollars over five years with essentially no strings attached, aside from a few weeks a year spent in SA... throwing around money is par for the course in that part of the world, so i guess it is hard to say how seriously to take their commitment to science. regardless, it can't be anything but a step forward and is certainly a boon to the 12 western profs who are raking in some serious $$$

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6. distantdiamond on May 7, 2008 12:45 PM writes...

Derek, I think you need to change your use of the name England to UK or Britain since I assume that's what you meant.

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7. Anonymous Researcher on May 7, 2008 1:04 PM writes...

There is one tiny country in the Middle East that does loom pretty large for its size in science: Israel. If the leadership in Israel's neighbors truly cared about their people and their futures they would redirect their energies away from trying to destroy Israel and instead channel their efforts toward emulating Israel.

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8. Wavefunction on May 7, 2008 3:22 PM writes...

There's some fancy royalty-named billion dollar scientific university being erected in Saudi Arabia. Interestingly they are apparently going to relax some of the strict totalitarian Islamic laws just around the campus. I wonder how it will turn out

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9. burt on May 7, 2008 3:32 PM writes...

"Interestingly they are apparently going to relax some of the strict totalitarian Islamic laws just around the campus. "

Who says men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses?

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10. Anonymous Researcher on May 7, 2008 4:26 PM writes...

burt on May 7, 2008 3:32 PM wrote:

> Who says men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses?

Well, this man did make a pass at a gal who wears glasses, and has been happily married to her for over 15 years :-)

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11. anon on May 7, 2008 5:33 PM writes...

In a conversation with a visiting academic who was working at a petroleum research school in Oman the woes of Arab world science seemed to stem from society (as the quote under the cartogram claims). In these oil rich countries the very rich became so by owning oil rather than working, so in order to emulate "success" you don't need to work. As we all know science is allot of hard work. These two facts don't seem to marry well at all!

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12. Anonymous Researcher on May 7, 2008 5:45 PM writes...

anon on May 7, 2008 5:33 PM wrote:

> ...In these oil rich countries the very rich became so by owning oil
> rather than working, so in order to emulate "success" you don't need to work...

My brother taught computer applications in the UAE some years ago, and said his students seemed obsessed with fancy cars: if he was teaching them to use Excel, they all made spreadsheets comparing cars, if he was teaching them to use databases, they all made databases about cars, etc. Most of the actual work done in the UAE is done by foreigners, not citizens.

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13. handles on May 7, 2008 6:01 PM writes...

The surprise for me on the map is what looks like New Caledonia, the yellow one off the east coast of Australia. 240,400 people in a land half the size of Taiwan (Wikipedia).

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14. handles on May 7, 2008 6:05 PM writes...

Oh, never mind, they are probably being counted as France

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15. Morten on May 8, 2008 12:47 AM writes...

I really wish that research map was available in a per capita version as well...

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16. PG on May 8, 2008 2:31 AM writes...

"Africa and the Islamic world are, as hypothesized, almost invisible."
Could you clarify what you mean by "Islamic world"? Isn't a good third of Africa part of it? Or are you talking about the most populous muslim countries, i.e. the ones south-east asia (like Indonesia)?
If we are to mix religion and geography, defining an Islamic world would probably be as difficult - and irrelevant - as defining the precise borders a Christian one.

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17. joe on May 8, 2008 2:53 AM writes...

Hi Derek, are you going to comment on J-P Garnier's paper on Big pharma R&D, which appears in the May issue of HBR

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18. Neetz on May 8, 2008 4:24 AM writes...

good one

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19. anon on May 9, 2008 2:53 AM writes...

I wonder what part of the funding/results is aimed at the war/defence industry?

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20. Scott S. on May 10, 2008 1:51 PM writes...

The accompanying spreadsheet linked at the map is quite illuminating though the fill color choice is a bit weird. You can save the spreadsheet and make all data in a black, and change the fill color to white. Looks nice.

Most papers per capita? Sweden, a small surprise. Most papers published by country, the USA, no surprise.

Thanks for linking to this. I've been looking for this data for a year.

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21. Jonadab the Unsightly One on May 26, 2008 10:20 AM writes...

Interesting stuff. The main surprise for me (after I got used to its not being corrected for population density, which really messes with certain countries, notably Canada, Russia, Japan, India) is that large bulge on the north coast of South America. Is that Venezuela? Wow, what a contrast from the other OPEC nations. Very interesting.

Also, Antarctica looks like it was copied and pasted from a normal geographic map; I know that there are science stations down there, but wouldn't the scientists technically be counted as living in the country they're from, since they don't reside down there permanently? Seems odd. (Hmmm... maybe it _was_ copied and pasted from a geographic map... but why? Shouldn't it just be invisible?)

The disappearing Arab world, and most of Africa, is no surprise at all to anyone who knows anything about world economics. (A society can't sustainably fund original scientific research if it doesn't have a functioning economy, and even if it _could_, it wouldn't be a priority.) The Arab world has the most severe, intractable, and prolonged case of Dutch Disease ever observed, and most of Africa is characterized by subsistence farming, not to mention political instability of such an order that makes the Balkans look like a pacifist utopia in comparison. In short, the euphemism "developing country" is a cruel irony in those parts of the world. Israel, and to a lesser extent South Africa and Egypt, are the only countries in the region that have experienced anything resembling real economic development in the last, what, ten centuries? A long time. So yeah, you aren't going to see a whole lot of chemistry research coming out of there.

I think it would be instructive to compare this map to the same thing done for GDP, and even more interesting to see both of them normalized for population density.

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