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Science and Technology and the Future Development of Societies: International Workshop Proceedings Trends in Basic Sciences in Contemporary Iran: Growth and Structure of Mainstream Basic Sciences SHAPOUR ETEMAD Iranian Institute of Philosophy YOUSEF SOBOUTI Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences Iran’s scientific production faced a crisis about a quarter of a century ago at the time of the revolution of 1979. The eight-year Iran-Iraq war aggravated the situation. As a result, the country experienced grave brain drain for almost a decade. However, in recent years Iran’s scientific production has gained momentum. We will try to describe the dynamics and the cognitive structure of this recent growth in Iran’s scientific production. We have chosen the international Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) database for the worldwide bibliometric information of scientific papers. The journal set of this database has been expanding over the years—from 2,000 in the 1970s to 3,000 in the 1980s and to about 5,500 in the 1990s. The use of this database for studying science in developing countries is often met with reservations. For our purposes, however, it is accurate enough and serves to make comparative studies. In particular, the ISI data have provided us with sensible and sensitive information to assess the severe migration of scientists from Iran after the revolution and during the subsequent Iran-Iraq war. The scientific production of Iran, presently, is almost 50 times that in 1985, the lowest of the last 30 years. The data sample is statistically large enough to draw meaningful conclusions. The procedure was as follows: For the period 1980–2005, the data pertaining to Iran were downloaded. Research articles, review papers, letters, and notes are, by expert opinion, the four indicators of scientific achievements. These items were retrieved from the downloaded data and analyzed. To obtain the cognitive structure, we have adopted different classification schemes for different resolution powers. For science in general, we have used Popesceau’s classification. For discussing basic sciences proper we have used the Kirchhof–Piaget system. The latter is a comprehen-
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Science and Technology and the Future Development of Societies: International Workshop Proceedings sive scheme, but it has minimal resolution for most of the disciplines of basic sciences. Figure 1 is a plot of the number of ISI papers produced annually by the research community of Iran. It reflects the fact that the scientific activity of Iran has gone through substantial changes during the past four decades. If we take 1970 as our point of departure, we observe that in light of the 1973 world crisis and a noticeable increase in the country’s income as a result of the increase in oil prices, Iran’s performance reached a peak at the time of the revolution, 1979. Then, as a consequence of the Iran-Iraq war and the revolution, science production experienced a collapse. The performance in 1985 was reduced to almost one-fourth of the peak year, 1978–1979. However, when one looks at the structure of the data (not presented here), one observes that the brain drain was predominantly confined to the fields of clinical medicine (the migration of specialists was mainly to North America). Therefore, when in 1988 the Graduate Study Bill (GSB) was put into action to internalize and expand the education at graduate levels, the decision was timely. The various departments of basic and engineering sciences were ready for the task. From Figure 1 we see that this decision bore fruit almost immediately. The scientific production of the country began to rise after a decade of decline and stagnation. The growth was sixfold one decade after the GSB and 40-fold by 2005. There are, however, certain instabilities, and the dynamism is somewhat FIGURE 1 Scientific profile of Iran in the world mainstream research science (1970–2005), number of annually published ISI papers.
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Science and Technology and the Future Development of Societies: International Workshop Proceedings staggering. Before 1979, the structure of Iran’s science, like that of the rest of the world, was dominated by medicine. This pattern has changed. Presently, chemistry is in the lead; notably, it is the aspect of chemistry with no significant connection to the oil industry (the major source of income of the country). Another example is the case of life sciences. In spite of considerable support by policy makers, only in 2005 does one observe a detectable growth in this field, which is, of course, welcome news. These aspects are reflected in Figure 2. Figure 3 reflects the structure of science in 2005. For the first time in a decade, medicine takes the lead over chemistry (see also Figure 2). The world trend for publication ratios of chemistry to physics is between 2.5–2.8, and chemistry to mathematics is 3.5–4. These ratios in Figure 3 are 1.8 and 3.5, respectively. The better performance of physics should be attributed to the creation of the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in Tehran in 1988 and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences (IASBS) in Zanjan in 1990. The former is a research center and the latter a graduate school dedicated to teaching and research in basic sciences. As an indication of the research performance of the universities, Figures 4a, 4b, and 4c show the annual ISI publications of the top 10 universities per faculty member. The reason for the disproportionately better performance of IASBS resides in its dedication to graduate education. This feature at the same time demonstrates the importance of the role of graduate students, the younger generation, in the scientific development of the country. FIGURE 2 Medicine and chemistry in Iran (1975–2005), number of annually published ISI papers.
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Science and Technology and the Future Development of Societies: International Workshop Proceedings FIGURE 3 Structure of science in Iran (2005), number of annually published ISI papers. FIGURE 4a Research performance of top 10 universities of Iran, annual ISI papers per faculty member, 2002.
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Science and Technology and the Future Development of Societies: International Workshop Proceedings FIGURE 4b Research performance of top 10 universities of Iran, annual ISI papers per faculty member, 2003. Figure 5 gives Iran’s performance in basic sciences over the period 2001–2005. The doubling time in some cases is even shorter than five years. This raises the hope that Iran seems to have reached the threshold of self-sustainability and is capable of creating its own knowledge that leads to intensive industries and businesses. Nevertheless, Iran’s position compared with that of South Korea and Turkey shows that the country has a long road ahead. In 2005, Iran’s scientific production was behind that of Turkey by a factor of 3 and behind that of South Korea by a factor of 5.5. Turkey and Iran have considerable demographic indices in common. Comparison with South Korea becomes meaningful if one considers that both are among the emerging nations on the world scene of science and technology.
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Science and Technology and the Future Development of Societies: International Workshop Proceedings FIGURE 4c Research performance of top 10 universities of Iran, annual ISI papers per faculty member, 2004. FIGURE 5 Basic science in Iran (2001–2005), number of annually published ISI papers.
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Science and Technology and the Future Development of Societies: International Workshop Proceedings ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The data in the text and graphs are from the publications of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, Office of Evaluation of Research Performances. The valuable assistance of Ms. Anahita Ashnaie and Ms. Akram Salehi in processing the data is gratefully acknowledged.