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Iran and Global scientific collaboration in the 21st century

Knowledge-networks-nations-iThe number of publications from Iran has grown from just 736 in 1996 to 13,238 in 2008 — making it the fastest growing country in terms of numbers of scientific publications in the world. In August 2009, Iran announced a ‘comprehensive plan for science’ focused on higher education and stronger links between industry and academia.

The establishment of a US$2.5 million centre for nanotechnology research is one of the products of this plan. Other commitments include boosting R&D investment to 4% of GDP (0.59% of GDP in 2006), and increasing education to 7% of GDP by 2030 (5.49% of GDP in 2007)

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Science is a global enterprise. Today there are over 7 million researchers around the world, drawing on a combined international R&D spend of over US$1000 billion, and reading and publishing in around 25,000 separate scientific journals per year.

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These researchers collaborate with each other, motivated by wishing to work with the very best people and facilities in the world, and by curiosity, seeking new knowledge to advance their field or to tackle specific problems.

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Science in 2011 is increasingly global, the rise of China has been especially notable, overtaking Japan and Europe in terms of its publication output in recent years.

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The scientific world is becoming increasingly interconnected, with international collaboration on the rise. Today over 35% of articles published in international journals are internationally collaborative, up from 25% 15 years ago.

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The growth of international collaboration is common to all countries. However, while the USA, Europe and Japan are demonstrating a growing propensity to collaborate with global partners, China, Turkey and Iran are proportionally decreasing their collaborations.

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Science is essential for addressing global challenges, but it cannot do so in isolation

Despite political tensions between the USA and Iran, scientific collaboration has proven surprisingly resilient. Between the periods 1996 to 2002 to 2004 to 2008, co-authored papers between these two countries increased from just 388 papers to 1,831 papers, an increase of 472%.

Following the Iranian elections in June 2009, Iranian scientists called out to the international research community to ‘do everything possible to promote continued contact with colleagues in Iran, if only to promote détente between Iran and the West when relations are contentious.

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Such pleas reflect the potential of international collaboration to help repair fractious relations, or at least to maintain channels of communication. A distinct benefit of scientific collaboration is that it can act as a bridge to communities where political ties are weaker.

One example of this bridge-building is the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) under construction in Jordan. Modelled on CERN in Europe, SESAME is a partnership between Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. Synchrotrons are large and relatively expensive facilities, so pooling regional resources is the obvious way to construct SESAME, which has the potential not only to build scientific capacity in the region but also to foster collaboration.

The countries showing the fastest rate of growth in publication output and those rising up the global league tables as collaborative hubs show strong trends of growth in mobile phone usage and in internet penetration. Internet growth in Iran, for example, has grown 13,000% since the turn of the century (albeit from a starting point of only 250,000 users). Internet use in China has grown over 1,800% in the same period (from 22.5 million users to 420 million) and in Tunisia, penetration has grown 3,600% (from 100,000 users to 3.6 million).

Recommendations

1. Support for international science should be maintained and strengthened

2. Internationally collaborative science should be encouraged, supported and facilitated

3. National and international strategies for science are required to address global challenges

4. International capacity building is crucial to ensure that the impacts of scientific research are shared globally

5. Better indicators are required in order to properly evaluate global science

Source: The Royal Society, complete pdf

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