Rebuilding the Muslim House of Wisdom
Although governments across the Muslim world are increasing their science budgets sharply, throwing money at the problem is no panacea. The entire research environment needs to be addressed, particularly the need to nurture the intellectual freedom and skepticism on which scientific progress depends.
GUILDFORD – Muslim governments know that economic growth, military power, and national security benefit greatly from technological advances. Many of them have sharply increased funding for science and education in recent years. And yet, in the view of many – especially in the West – the Muslim world still seems to prefer to remain disengaged from modern science.
These skeptics are not entirely wrong. Muslim-majority countries spend, on average, less than 0.5% of their GDP on research and development, compared with five times that in the advanced economies. They also have fewer than ten scientists, engineers, and technicians per thousand residents, compared to the global average of 40 – and 140 in the developed world. And even these figures tend to understate the problem, which is less about spending money or employing researchers than about the basic quality of the science being produced.
To be sure, one should not be overly hasty in singling out Muslim countries for criticism; even in the supposedly “enlightened” West, an alarmingly high proportion of the population regards science with suspicion or fear. And yet, in many parts of the Muslim world, science faces a unique challenge; it is seen as a secular – if not atheist – Western construct.