Reaching-out to Decision-Makers on Science Matters: Islamic World Academy of Sciences as an example
Islamic World Academy of Sciences
This overview paper addresses policy and decision-makers/politicians rather than scientists. As such, it highlights some of the major challenges that will be witnessed by humanity in the Twenty-First Century. The possible role that is/could be played by academies of sciences, and the Islamic World Academy of Sciences in particular, in realizing socioeconomic advancement through scientific and technological means, in their respective catchment areas, is also outlined.
Divides between countries, regions, and civilizations have existed since the dawn of time. Socioeconomic or development divides too have always existed between countries and regions. As long as 2000 years ago, the world was divided up into empires; the Persian and Roman empires, and to the east there was China. Islam was founded in Mecca around 610 AD. Within 150 years, the new Islamic state stretched from the Himalayas in the East to the Pyrenees in Europe. The Islamic civilisation bloomed between 750 and 1258 AD, in terms of science and technology output among other feats, with a South-North divide in terms of scientific advancement appearing between the Islamic state and the rest of the then world, especially Europe. The flow of knowledge and science through Muslim Spain to Europe (i.e. South-North) contributed to the renaissance in Europe that started around 1500.
That turning point marked the start of the slow decline of the scientific enterprise in the South. Two hundred years ago, the industrial revolution was underway in Europe, and yet another phase in the progress of science and technology in the world. The twentieth century was marked by three world wars: the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939- 1945), and the Third World War -the Cold War (1945-1990). The first two wars saw the defeat of a Western power, namely Germany, at the hands of a diverse alliance of powers, whilst the third saw the defeat of the Eastern Block at the hands of America and Europe (Figure 1).
The Contemporary Divide
The First World is made up mostly of the English-speaking world and Europe. Apart from Australia, most of the countries that belong to the economic or industrialized North actually lie north of the equator (World Bank Web Site).
The South is made up of the countries of South America, Africa, Middle East, South and South East Asia including China and India (Figure 2). Needless to say, most of the 57 Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) countries lie in the South.
THE INTERNATIONAL S&T SYSTEM
Some of the landmarks/players
After the end of World War II, policy-makers in Europe and the US realized that science and technology (S&T) programs had had a profound impact on the outcome of the War, and wanted to put such benefits to civilian/societal benefit, as well as to stay ahead in the 20th Century’s Third World War--The Cold War. The end of World War II also witnessed the creation of a number of international organizations founded to help with reconstruction activities after the war which left Europe almost completely destroyed, many countries bankrupt, and most of the countries of the South eager to gain political independence.
Apart from the United Nations and its various off-shoot organizations, a number of regional political groupings were founded. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was, for example, launched in 1969 after the arson attack at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (Organization of the Islamic Conference).
Some of the players that were/are part of the international S&T system are:
1964: International Centre for Theoretical Nuclear Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy;
1981: Organization of the Islamic Conference Committee on Scientific and Technological Co-operation (COMSTECH), Pakistan;
1983: Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS);
1986: Islamic Academy of Sciences (IAS), Amman, Jordan;
Other International Players
The United Nations, which was created in 1945, developed an elaborate set of organizations over the years, with science and technology forming part of the mandate of almost every UN body. The science and technology programs of UNESCO, UNDP, FAO, and WHO, form a large portion of international activities in S&T.
Academies of Sciences: General
Academies of sciences play a vital role as science advisors to the political leaderships of their “catchment areas,” in both developed and developing countries. Worldwide, there exist around 90 national, regional and international academies of sciences according to the InterAcademy Panel, IAP, (InterAcademy Panel). However, despite the existence of many academies of sciences in the Islamic world, the understanding of the term ‘academy of sciences’ is still lacking. People’s reaction is often nonchalant when the explanation is given that an academy of sciences is a Science Policy Research Centre or Think Tank where science and scientific issues are debated and studied. Put simply, an academy of sciences is the science advisor to the leadership in the catchment area in which it operates.
Academies of sciences are mostly national non-governmental agencies the aim of which is to provide advice to governments on science and technology matters. The Islamic Academy of
Sciences (IAS) came into being in 1986. The Summit Conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which was held in Casablanca in 1984 approved the founding of the Academy, and mandated it as the Think Tank of OIC-member countries. The IAS was relaunched as the Islamic World Academy of Sciences in March 2005.
Is Science Useful?
Science remains the most successful means of knowledge creation (Clegg, 2003). The value of science and science capacity as a means to achieve socio-economic development and attain economic might has been proven beyond doubt, especially since the end of World War II. The rise of the economic power of the United States, Germany, Japan, and other OECD countries can be inextricably linked to S&T advancement.
Moreover, the rise of the Pacific Rim Tigers can also be attributed to scientific and technological advancement. Having said that, it is probably worthwhile to highlight some pointers as to how advancement in S&T has been achieved. In other words, the success of such countries may be credited to there:
Their will to advance
Education, education and education* (Blair, 1997)
Building up their capacity including S&T capacity
Implementation of sound S&T policies
Increased regional, North-South, South-South co-operation
Needless to say that science and scientific activities are probably the only sure means through which humanity can overcome its twenty first century challenges.
MAIN GLOBAL CHALLENGES AT THE TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM
What Are the Challenges?
The world, shaped as it is today by the progress in science and technology, is marked by the emergence of new, increasingly complex societal forms: a networked, self-managing society. This growing complexity is also a feature of the developing regions, where a series of problems have become increasingly acute: poverty; lack of access to drinking water to health care and to education; pollution; deforestation; desertification; exploitation of children; migration; armed conflict; illiteracy; isolation; marginalization and North-South disequilibria in the use of science and technological know-how, are all factors of instability that threaten the world.
The twenty first century will see problems of a magnitude not experienced by humankind in the past. Population growth is the main driver. Population growth invariably leads to food and water insecurity, an uncertain energy outlook, the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as environmental degradation. Outlined below are challenges related to food and water that will face our world in the twenty-first century, including OIC-Member countries.
According to the Population Reference Bureau (2004), world population stands at over 6.134 billion at present (May 2004), with Asia’s share mounting to 60% (Figure 3) (Population Reference Bureau, 2004). Population factors have an impact on many facets of life. The need for health care preoccupies the political leaders of the North whose populations are “aging,” while the need for classrooms, employment opportunities, and housing, preoccupies the leaders of the countries of the South. The high-fertility countries in the Middle East and Africa with large proportions of young adults and children are examples. Populations of the North are relatively old.
A population’s age structure affects how that population lives. Developing countries (of the South) have relatively young populations while most developed countries have old or “aging” populations. In many developing countries, 40 percent or more of the population is under age 15, while 4 percent is 65 or older. In all but a few developed countries, on the other hand, less than 25 percent of the population is under the age of 15 and more than 10 percent is 65 or older.
Countries of the South can implement joint programs to gradually limit the high rate of population increase in their countries. As many developing nations share the same religious and cultural heritage with their neighbors, they may be able to learn from each other’s experiences in limiting population increase, as that is normally a factor adversely affecting economic growth.
The population of OIC-member countries is over 1,300 million. Populous OIC-member countries in Asia include: Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. In Africa OIC countries include Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Algeria.
Worldwide, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 842 million people were undernourished in 1999-2001. This includes 10 million in industrialized countries, 34 million in countries in transition and 798 million in developing countries. According to the FAO’s annual report The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003, hunger is on the rise again after falling steadily during the first half of the 1990s. FAO's latest estimates signal a setback in the war against hunger (FAO, 2003).
Figure 4 shows arable land ratios worldwide. It can be noted that in a number of OIC countries including Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Yemen, Oman and Malaysia, the situation is critical.
Given the rate at which hunger has declined since 1990 on average, the World Food Summit goal of reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015 cannot be reached. The goal can, according to the FAO, only be reached if the recent trend of increasing numbers is reversed. Only 19 countries, including China, succeeded in reducing the number of undernourished throughout the 1990s, says the report. Twenty-two countries, including Bangladesh and Mozambique, succeeded in turning the tide against hunger. In 17 other countries; among them India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan, however, the number of undernourished people, which had been falling, began to rise.
Many parts of the world suffer from water scarcity. This is not only due to the low rates of precipitation they receive, but also due to the increase in demand on water resources for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses. Central and northern China, northwest and southern India, parts of Pakistan, North Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula as well as the Gulf states, are areas with serious water deficits.
Oil rich countries in the Middle East have adopted water desalination as the main means of supplementing their fresh water budgets, while other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, with no oil resources, are struggling to make ends meet. Jordan is one of the world’s ten most poor in water resources.
Population growth, pollution and climate change, all accelerating, are likely to combine to produce a drastic decline in water supply in the coming decades, according to the World Water Development Report published in late 2003 (United Nations, 2003).
Faced with inertia at the leadership level and a world population not fully aware of the scale of the problem, the global water crisis will reach unprecedented heights in the years ahead, the report says, with growing per capita scarcity in many parts of the developing world. And that means hunger, disease and death.
A big difficulty with water is that, at least in the rich North, it is largely taken for granted. After all, it is the most widely occurring substance; whilst in the arid and semi-arid countries of the South, it is a matter of critical importance.
Regional co-operation in water matters is imperative if countries are to try to achieve some level of water security (Ergin, et al., 1994)
Figure 5 shows the freshwater resources map of the world in 2000. It shows how critical the water resources problem is in most Arab and many OIC countries. Only Indonesia and Malaysia (OIC countries) are in the green in terms of water resources.
OIC-COUNTRIES: PLAIN TRUTHS AND DIFFICULT CHOICES
OIC Countries’ Difficulties in Brief
In most Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Countries, expenditures on science R&D are low: estimated at less than 0.2%, in marked contrast to that in many European countries (Zou’bi, 2003). This low level of investment has also been highlighted in the first Arab Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Program in 2002 (UNDP, 2002). The Report also reiterates that Internet penetration rates are also low; estimated at 0.6% (Zou’bi, 2001). Flowing from this low investment level, the science output is similarly very low. Only about 2% of the world’s science citations originate from these countries and only about 1% of mainstream journal articles. Other statistics reinforce this analysis, with approximately 226 scientists/engineers per million population, in stark contrast to the approximately 7000 per million in Japan, for example.
In terms of university education, there are 550 universities in the 57 OIC-Member Countries, most of which are of low standard. This contrasts with the over 1000 universities in Japan. The science and technology budgets of all the 550 universities together amounts to only half of that of the National University of Singapore. Moreover, according to the 2004 study of the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, no university from any OIC country was ranked amongst the world’s top 500 universities (2004).
The GDP statistics are equally sobering. The total GDP of 57 Islamic countries is less than half that of Germany and less than a quarter that of Japan.
The First Bottom Line: Global Challenges Are OIC Challenges
Notwithstanding some success stories, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) countries faces an unprecedented socio-economic development challenge. It is imperative for the science community in these countries to reach out and convince the political leadership, as well as the public at large, of the value of science as a way to realize national development targets.
Academies of Sciences: The Heritage I
Some academies in the developing world – for example, in Brazil and Malaysia – owe their success to strong and sustained financial support from the government matched by the government’s willingness to detach itself from influencing academy affairs. Such a strategy has allowed these academies to enjoy both adequate levels of funding and independence.
Academies prosper in such an open environment while governments benefit from the objective and unbiased advice they receive from expert institutions that they fund but not control.
In many OIC-countries today, academies are weak institutions. That, however, was not always the case. Indeed the Arab word, majma, meaning assembly, dates back to the 7th century. Moreover, Al-Ghazali’s Nizamiyah Academy in Baghdad, catering to all fields of knowledge, including science, was one of the world’s most renowned seats of learning at the turn of the first
millennium. That is some 400 years before the creation of the West’s first science academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, in Italy (Zou’bi, 2003).
A common feature of all the world’s science academies is to seek economic and social advancements through wise application of science and technology. To fully realize this goal, academy representatives must get their message across to both public officials and the public at large.
The Second Bottom Line: The Heritage II
In the Islamic world, knowledge-based institutions, which date back to the earliest days of the Islamic religion, constituted one of the major defining elements of Muslim society during its ‘golden age’ – a time when Muslim culture dominated the world and stood at the forefront of progress and development. Put so laconically by no other than Carly Fiorina, CEO, Hewlett Packard, 2001, who said:
“There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world. A super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins. This civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration. When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. The civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600” (Ergin and Zou’bi, 2002).
OIC-COUNTRIES OWN SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT GOALS: VISION 1441
In October 2003, the Government of Malaysia as Chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hosted the 10th OIC Summit in Putrajaya, Malaysia. The Summit was preceded by the OIC Conference on Science and Technology for Industrial Development in Islamic Countries: Facing the Challenges of Globalisation, which declared Vision 1441 and its objectives as the guiding principles in steering OIC-member countries’ S&T efforts for the next two decades.
Vision 1441 (1441 is the Hijri year corresponding to the year 2020) encompasses three key S&T objectives (measurable targets) that OIC-member countries must try to achieve by that year, in their quest to realize socio-economic development. They are:
To achieve 14 percent of the world’s scientific output by the year 1441 H
To achieve the ratio of 1441 RSEs (researchers, scientists and engineers) per million population by 1441 H
To achieve investment in R&D of at least 1.4 percent of GDP
OIC member states are committed to become a community that values knowledge and is competent in utilizing and advancing S&T to enhance the socioeconomic well being of the Ummah.
Vision 1441 was then adopted by the 10th OIC Summit. Subsequent to that, a Task Force on Vision 1441 was formed by OIC Secretariat, in which the IAS is member. The Islamic World Academy of Sciences is committed to promoting Vision 1441, and contributing to the national strategies that may be derived from Vision 1441. Funding agencies, including the Islamic Development Bank, have expressed readiness to fund projects submitted by OIC-countries that are based on Vision 1441.
ISLAMIC WORLD ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (IAS)
Science academies today have a critical role to play as a strong public voice for the promotion of both scientific excellence and science-based development. The glorious history of academies in the Islamic world has been largely lost to history. For nearly 1000 years now, the concept of an assembly of intellectuals or a fellowship of scientists dedicated to the advancement of knowledge within their societies has remained relatively obscure, even among the political elite.
In response to the need for an international organization that can play such a role and cater for the needs of the Islamic scientific community, the Islamic Academy of Sciences (IAS) came into being as a non-political, non-governmental organization that represents Muslim scientists from various parts of the world.
The establishment of the Academy was recommended by the OIC Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Co-operation (COMSTECH), and approved by the Fourth Islamic Summit, Casablanca, 1984 (The Islamic Academy of Sciences, 1999). The Academy, which commenced its activities in 1986, is an independent body that enjoys international status comparable to learned bodies of similar nature in the world.
Mission and objectives
IAS’s mission is to provide a dynamic institutional organization that can assist in the utilization of Science and Technology for the general development of Islamic countries and humanity (The Islamic Academy of Sciences, 1999). The main objectives of the IAS are to:
Serve as a consultative organization of the Muslim Ummah and institutions of member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), on matters related to science and technology
Initiate scientific and technological programs and related activities in science and technology, and to encourage co-operation among research groups in the various Islamic countries on projects of common interest
Encourage and promote research on major problems of importance facing Islamic countries and to identify future technologies of relevance for possible adoption and utilization
Formulate standards of scientific performance and attainment, and to award prizes and honors for outstanding scientific achievements to individuals and to centers of excellence in all science and technology disciplines
The Academy has, since 1986, managed to achieve two primary objectives that form cornerstones in its mission to assist in the development effort within OIC-Member countries. As a policy-making body the Academy has been actively formulating and promoting science and technology policies that help countries streamline national development efforts. Secondly, the Academy has been able to directly implement important scientific programs that fall within its general mission, especially in the areas of the provision of experts to countries, publications, specialized training and information technology related activities (Figure 6).
The IAS has gradually built itself as an action-oriented institution of the Ummah utilizing most of its resources for activities that accelerate the pace of development in OIC-member countries. The core objective of all such activities has been to promote the science and technology sector in OIC and developing countries
Operating on a year to year basis, the Academy has been promoting joint Islamic action through its specialized scientific conferences; publishing a series of Conference Proceedings (Policy Documents); journals; books; newsletters; and establishing a quality medical journal that is of an international standard. The Academy also undertook a number of quality training programs and built its own site on the Internet. Figure 7 below sums up most of the activities of the IAS.
Over the years, the Academy has built up scientific relations with a number of international non-governmental organizations, as well as governments throughout the world. These include:
OIC Standing Committee for Scientific and Technological Co-operation (COMSTECH), Pakistan;
The Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Saudi Arabia;
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Egypt and France;
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), Morocco; and
The Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Italy.
These relations have helped the Academy to convene annual international conferences; each of which is held in a different country every year and supported by a number of international
agencies. The host country normally provides local accommodation and hospitality for the participants while the Academy and the other co-sponsors pay the other expenses including the publishing of proceedings. The host country is also expected to contribute to the scientific content of the conference. The conferences aim to provide OIC heads of state with a scientific roadmap for their national development in the context of the discussed topic.
Medical Journal of the IAS
The Journal of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences, which first appeared in August 1988, is a quality publication comparable to international scientific journals. The Journal has established itself as a major scientific publication in the Islamic world and has been granted an ISS number (ISSN 1016-3360). It is a forum for publishing research from scientists and technologists in developing countries.
In order to strengthen the Journal, and in response to the large number of medical articles that are normally sent to it, the IAS Council requested the Chief Editor to re-launch the IAS Journal as a primarily medical publication catering to the needs of medical scientists in the Islamic world and beyond. The re-launch was successfully completed in 2000. In 2000, the electronic version of the Medical Journal of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences was launched (Medical Journal of the Islamic Academy of Sciences).
In its efforts to disseminate scientific information, the Islamic World Academy of Sciences annually publishes the proceedings of the yearly conference it organizes; a process that was started with the publication of the proceedings of the Academy's Founding Conference. Such a process ensures that the papers that are presented at the conferences are made available to scientists and decision-makers that are concerned with Third world issues.
From 1988 to 1997, the Academy published seven books, which were the proceedings volumes of the annual Academy Conferences. During 2000, the Academy published the proceedings of its ninth Conference, Science and Technology Education for Development in the Islamic World, which was convened in Tehran, Iran during July 1999. That was followed by the proceedings book of the tenth Academy Conference, Information Technology for Development in the Islamic World, which was held in Tunisia in 2000. In 2004, the IAS published the proceedings volumes of its 2001 Biotechnology conference and its 2002 Materials Science conference (Figure 8).
A primary function of the Academy is to act as a Pan-Islamic affiliating body to the relevant international organizations. Muslim scholars can have a channel of communication, through the Academy, with many international academies of sciences and agencies. This helps the IAS to regularly identify specific international issues of importance and develop an understanding of the impact that such issues may have on countries of the South and the OIC in particular (Figure 9).
The IAS and Vision 1441
The Islamic World Academy of Sciences has, since it was founded in 1986, been lobbying for science and technology in decision-making circles, and has been energetically calling on OIC-Countries to develop and adopt long-term S&T policies. Moreover it has successfully attempted to secure all forms of support for the national science communities from the political leaderships in their countries. As the academy of sciences of the OIC, the IAS is keen to promote Vision 1441, and more importantly, to work to implement the strategies and secure the finances that OIC-Countries require to realize the targets stipulated in Vision 1441.
Realizing socio-economic development is the goal of governments and decision-makers. To convince decision-makers to pay more attention to and invest more in science and technology, lobbyists including academies of sciences and scientists must present a strong case for the positive impact of science and scientific advancement on society. They must provide historical and contemporary perspectives on how science can have a positive impact on the betterment of societies.
This paper does not address scientists or researchers. Rather, it is aimed at decision-makers and politicians in countries of both the South and the North. It aims to reiterate the value of science as a tool for development and advancement. It presents political decision-makers in both the North and the South with an overview of the problems the world is likely to face in the 21st century. It promulgates the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals and Vision 1441 as yardsticks for development.
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