Monday, August 07, 2017

World Science Forum in Jordan this year

by Salman Hameed

Jordan has been making some waves in the science world. I think the Jordan-based multi-country collaborative effort of the synchrotron particle accelerator (SESAME) is outstanding and may end up being quite fruitful to all the countries involved. The country is also hosting the World Science Forum this year. These kinds of events are rarely that productive, as the focus is usually on the parading guests. Nevertheless, this week's Nature has an article on Jordan with relation to WSF:
When the World Science Forum kicks off on the shore of the Dead Sea in November, it will be the latest jewel in the crown for one of Jordan’s biggest champions of science. Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan successfully lured the high-profile biennial conference to the Middle East for the first time — part of Jordan’s ongoing push to transform itself into a regional research powerhouse. The country hopes to emphasize the power of science to transcend politics and war in the increasingly volatile Middle East.  
It’s a tall order, but there are signs that these efforts are beginning to pay off for Jordan, which created its first national science fund in 2005. In February, the country cemented plans for a reticular-chemistry foundry, the world’s first. And in May, the Middle East’s first synchrotron, SESAME, opened near Amman with the backing of seven nations and the Palestinian Authority.  
Jordan’s leaders see science, engineering and technology as an engine of economic growth for their 71-year-old country, which lacks the oil resources of many neighbouring states. The nation’s political stability and central location have aided these ambitions. So has its diplomacy: Jordan is one of the only places in the Middle East where scientists from Israel and Arab countries can meet. “We are all in the region facing issues with energy, water and the environment,” El Hassan says. “A bird with avian flu does not know whether there is a peace accord between Israel and Jordan, it just flies across the border.”
Now of course, one of the immediate issue that comes to mind is that of the monarchy (and yes, there are good and bad monarchies - nevertheless, the issue of appointing family members may still be problematic for genuine development. See also Trump!). However, I was struck by this very sensible way of boosting research funds by the Jordanian government:
To help build research capacity, the government set up the Jordanian Scientific Research Support Fund in 2005. The fund was initially supported by a law that required all companies in Jordan to pay 1% of their profits into the fund. By 2012, when that statute was overturned, the fund had acquired US$85 million. It is now kept afloat by Jordan’s universities, which must spend 3% of their annual budgets on research or contributions to the fund. Between 2008 and 2016, the foundation gave a total of $35 million to 325 projects, mainly in the medical, pharmaceutical and agricultural sciences. 

The goal of hosting the World Science Forum is to bring attention to science in Jordan. Hope that spurs further development. 

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