x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

What chance of a science revolution?

What chance is there of a return to the “Golden Age” of Arab-Islamic science in our lifetimes?

The “Golden Age” of Arabic-Islamic science introduced a steady flow of innovations.

The House of Wisdom, established in Baghdad in 1004 CE, served as an academic institution. It spurred the invention of trigonometry, advances in astronomy allowing for more accurate predictions of the moon’s cycles and many other discoveries. Biomedical science also underwent profound changes influencing both medical practice and education.

But what chance is there of a return to the “Golden Age” in our lifetimes? What chance too that the UAE reaches its stated aim of being a knowledge-based economy by 2030?

The UAE is aiming to achieve this latter goal by supporting young talent and encouraging scientific research. As The National reported yesterday, November’s Abu Dhabi Science Festival will help to promote the love of science among children and youth by hosting a range of games, shows and interactive displays. The festival, organised by the Technology Development Committee (TDC) and the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), will be staged on Yas Island and at the Corniche, along with some other parts in the country.

This is a great start, although academics believe a lot of work still needs to be done to encourage a deep culture of scientific research.

Generally, the region invests far too little into research when compared to other parts of the world. It also lacks a “pan-national monitor” that could oversee the credibility of data and research and the dissemination of scientific innovation within it, according to the Arab Knowledge Report 2009, published by the United Nations Development Programme in collaboration with the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.

There are, however, some points of light. The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is a good example. Students are currently working on more than 300 research projects. But for their work to bear fruit, they will undoubtedly need more funding, from both public and private sector sources, and they will need to work in an environment that encourages unfettered thinking and inquisitive minds.

Science is a long-term investment. There are no quick returns, some lines of inquiry will lead to nothing, others will produce extraordinary results. Those were the rules in the “Golden Age”, they remain so today.