By Arab News
By Dr. Saleh Al-Alaiyan
Science journal published in its news focus on Dec. 9, 2011 that two Saudi institutions are aggressively acquiring the affiliations of overseas scientists with an eye on gaining visibility in research journals. They added that Science has learned of more than 60 top-ranked researchers from different scientific disciplines have recently signed a part-time employment arrangement with one of these two universities.
Saudi Arabia is a rich country and such behavior should not happen if we have qualified researchers. It is well known that if a country’s national income is high, its spending on scientific research is also expected to be high or adequate. This is called positive correlation between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Research and Development (R &D). Most of the Western industrialized countries fall in this category, while this relationship in the Arab countries is negative.
Over the last four decades, living standards in most Arab countries have risen, especially in countries with oil-based economies. The number of undergraduate and postgraduate institutions have also increased. This should have been accompanied by increases in scientific research output.
It is clear that Arab countries are lagging behind in scientific research. For example, in medical field, qualitative and quantitative evaluation of biomedical research publication is essential for monitoring and improving this activity in Arab countries, as stated by Hani TS Benamer (UK) and Omran Bakoush (Sweden) in their study that was published in BMC Medical Research Methodology 2009.
The quality and the quantity of biomedical publications are used to evaluate the scientific activities of universities and research centers. Published studies assessing biomedical research output of Arab countries have been mainly quantitative. However, in their study, they analyzed both the quantity and quality of biomedical publications of original research articles in Arab countries with high or middle income (World Bank classification), and compared 16 Arab countries with non-Arab Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Israel and Iran) of similar income.
The 16 Arab countries included in the study have a total population of 267.1 million and a GDP of $1082 billion. The other three Middle Eastern countries have 158.2 million inhabitants and a GDP of $749 billion. They found that the Arab countries produced 14,374 original biomedical publications during 2001-2005, which is less than 30 percent of those produced by the other three Middle Eastern countries (49,110 articles). They also found that Arab countries are lagging behind in publications in top medical journals, and citation frequencies (six-year impact factor and h-index). They also lag behind when the number of publications is normalized to population, GDP, and GDP/capita. Egypt and Saudi Arabia had the highest number of original research publications in the Arab world. Also, Kuwait was reported to have the largest number of publications when normalized to the population, and Jordan came first when its data were normalized to GDP.
Several studies discussed the reasons leading to the small number of medical research and biomedical publications in the Arab world such as lack of freedom, democracy and funding, as well as brain drain and the difficulty of publishing research of local interest in high impact journals.