Monday, March 29, 2010

Journal Nature starts up a Middle East portal

There are some really interesting efforts being made about the promotion of science in the Muslim world. US Science envoys for the Islamic world appointed by the Obama administration, the opening of several campuses of US universities (such as NYU-Abu Dhabi, Cornell-Qatar, etc), and even Saudi Arabia getting into the action with KAUST. Now the prestigious science journal, Nature, has started its Middle East edition. If utilized appropriately, this could end up as a fantastic effort!

Couple of quick comments that came to my mind while exploring their website. First, it is great that Nature is providing Arab translations for some of the articles. Second, it provides a selection of articles that are relevant for Middle East - such as papers about agriculture in dry climates, or about archaeology, etc. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it provides a sense of inclusion of Muslims into the world science community. Let us be realistic here. The contributions of Muslim countries to world scientific literature are negligible. Predictably, scientists from these countries feel left-out of conversations about much of ongoing research. Now, Nature-Middle East is not going to resolve this particular issue. However, it does represent an effort of the developed world to connect to the scientists working in the Middle East, and that by in itself may inspire some young minds.

Of course, much will depend on keeping the content relevant for a Muslim audience, and for establishing itself as the key place for scientific discussions in the Middle East - especially for the increasing numbers of educated middle-class Muslims. I hope they also stay away from the standard nostalgic narrative about medieval Muslim science (it gets tiring very quickly) - except for dealing with direct history of science. Here is the rationale for the establishment of this edition:

Nature Middle East has been created with an understanding of the potential of the Arab world to once again be an important centre of science. It covers a diverse group of 18 nations: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Nature Middle East is about recognizing the contribution of many different peoples working together, united by a common language.

Okay - so Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, etc. are left out. Apart from the language issues, I can see why Nature Middle East as a regional edition would be more feasible than say Nature Muslim - with an identification with a particular religion. This is also consistent with Nature's two other recent portals: Nature-India and Nature-China.

Nature Middle East is a comprehensive portal site for information on scientific and medical research in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, the research community and its activities. It is a site with a broad scope that caters for scientific and medical researchers at all levels, from students to post-doctoral fellows to principal investigators. Most importantly, Nature Middle East will be a unique online platform for the scientific and medical research community to connect, network and exchange information or ideas, to promote good science and stimulate research and debate.

Explore Nature Middle East here. You can also read the press release here.

2 comments:

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I am unsure I like this idea. What scientists (enthusiasts etc.) anywhere need is contact with all scientists and especially the ones who do the bulk of the present research. At this point this means the West and folks (of any national/ethnic origin) working in the West. Excessive localization cuts people off from valuable contact. What is excessive? I don't know.

I believe you are from Pakistan. Would you rather interact with people from Pakistan than from whatever it is that's the mainstream (or cutting edge) community? Why should a guy in Pakistan be any different? We have the means now for many kinds of communication to happen. I don't want young Turkish scientists to interact mainly with folks from the Turkic world and wouldn't want to see mechanisms that imply it is somehow what's expected of them. I'd much rather see them deal with whoever is doing whatever it is they are interested wherever and develop whatever skills they need (be they language skills or social) to do so.

There are valuable things (like attitudes, professional sub-cultures etc.) outside those concerning the subject matter (which understandably may have a local emphasis) to be acquired by exposure to people who are in an established/working research environment.

Salman Hameed said...

Bulent,

You've brought up a fascinating point - and I wholeheartedly agree with you. As far as I can tell, this Nature portal is mostly sifting through articles that are of relevance to issues in the Middle East and cataloging them there. In addition, it is providing translations of some of these articles in Arabic. It would be a problem if Nature-Midddle East was only publishing articles from those in the Middle East or only in Arabic. But that is not the case. In fact, by bringing articles from regular Nature, it may increase interest in the subject and may lead to more contact with scientists in other parts of the world.

But, yes, if the publication was limited to the Middle East, then I would have shared your concerns.