Middle East Revisited: Iran's Steep Climb

Featured Analyses, November/December 2010

Dawn sunlight hits the dunes of the of Al Batin near Liwa in the United Arab Emirates. REUTERS/Steve Crisp.
Dawn sunlight hits the dunes of the of Al Batin near Liwa in the United Arab Emirates. REUTERS/Steve Crisp.

When Science Watch last examined a selection of Middle Eastern nations seven years ago (14[6]:1-2, November/December 2003), Iran was in the midst of a distinct rise in its output of scientific publications, surpassing Saudi Arabia but still trailing Egypt. Since then, Iran’s annual publication count has increased sharply, markedly outstripping that of Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations whose output has risen more gradually in recent years.

To gauge the progress of the selected countries since the previous survey, Science Watch turned to Clarivate Analytics InCites™ Global Comparisons and its store of publication and citation statistics covering more than 170 countries.

graph 1
Annual Output in Science

Graph 2
Relative Impact, All Fields
View larger graphs in the tabs below.

The group of nations under scrutiny is largely the same as the 2003 survey—the three countries noted above, along with Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Kuwait, Oman, and Lebanon—with the addition of Cyprus this time in lieu of Iraq (with the latter having produced fewer than 1,000 papers during the period from 2005 to 2009, in contrast to Cyprus’s total of more than 2,100).

Consistent with the previous survey, the aim here was to examine a group of nations with roughly comparable scientific output. The region’s higher-producing nations, such as Turkey and, notably, Israel, were again left off.

As it happens, in recent years Iran has moved rapidly toward parity, in terms of scientific output, with Israel and Turkey. In fact, graph 1 (to the right), which tracks the year-by-year output of Clarivate Analytics-indexed papers from the five most-prolific nations in this survey, shows that Iran produced nearly 15,000 papers in 2009. This compares to Israel’s 2009 total of roughly 12,000 papers and Turkey’s total of around 22,000. Although Israel accounted for a greater number of papers during the collective five-year period from 2005 to 2009—approximately 58,000 compared to Iran’s 45,000—clearly Iran is ascendant in output.

Among the main fields of science, Iran is currently most concentrated in Engineering, as gauged by the nation’s percentage of Thomson Reuters-indexed papers in the field during 2005 to 2009—more than 7,500 papers, and 1.71% of the field. Not surprisingly, Iran’s growth in Engineering over the last decade, from 178 papers in 2000 to more than 2,600 in 2009, marks its greatest increase in any one field. Iran’s next-highest percentage is in Chemistry, at 1.68%, followed by Materials Science, at 1.19%.

The table below shows Iran and the other selected nations, listed alphabetically, and the fields to which each nation contributed its highest percentage of papers over the last five years. Iran, significantly, displays the largest percent share, in its chief field of Engineering, than do all the other listed nations in their respective fields. (In the 2003 survey, this distinction belonged to Egypt, in Materials Science.)

Field Concentration

Fields to which each of the selected Middle Eastern nations, listed alphabetically below, contributed its highest share of papers, based on percentage of Thomson Reuters-indexed papers published in each field between 2005 and 2009.

Country Field Papers 2005-2009 % of field
Cyprus Computer Science 176 0.13
Egypt Pharmacology & Toxicology 701 0.71
Iran Engineering 7,512 1.71
Jordan Environment/Ecology 236 0.16
Kuwait Engineering 596 0.14
Lebanon Clinical Medicine 1,099 0.10
Oman Geosciences 113 0.08
Saudi Arabia Mathematics 455 0.32
Syria Agricultural Sciences 151 0.13
United Arab Emirates Engineering 674 0.15
Source: InCites™ Global Comparisons, Thomson Reuters.

Graph 2 (to the right above) plots each country’s citations per paper (all fields, in a series of five-year overlapping periods) against the overall world average (expressed as 1.00).

As was the case in 2003, none of the nations has yet reached the world impact average, although progress is discernible: In the previous survey, which tracked impact from 1981 through 2002, the majority of the countries charted no higher than 0.4 of the world average, with many lingering in the region of 0.2. In the present graph, the trend for most is clearly toward 0.4 and above.

Most noticeable on the graph is Cyprus, whose initial impact spike is consistent with a nation progressing from a very low to a higher annual number of papers (as few as 20 per year in the late 1980s, to upwards of 600 in 2009). In the previous survey, small-producing Oman displayed a similar early surge in impact, which dipped and then leveled off as the country’s paper output grew. The present graph shows that Cyprus, too, is moving toward a more stable and representative performance in impact.

In the tab below labeled "Impact Leaders," the table highlights the nations whose impact compared most favorably to the world average in a selection of main fields over the last five years—among those nations that produced at least 100 papers in the given field during the period.

By this measure, some of the smaller-producing countries come to the fore. Syria-based authors, for example, contributed to 190 papers in Plant & Animal Science—far fewer than Egypt’s total of 943—but Syria’s papers were cited, on average, at 74% of the world baseline, compared to Egypt’s mark of 0.67. Egypt, meanwhile, put its overall higher output to good use, registering as the impact leader in four of the fields shown here.

In all, this group of nations has demonstrated progress and an-ever increasing presence in world science. But it’s clearly Iran that—quite apart from today’s headlines—shows itself to be the country to watch.

Click tabs above to view graphs and references from article text.

Annual Output in Science


Relative Impact, All Fields

Impact leaders

Fields to which each of the selected Middle Eastern nations, listed alphabetically below, contributed its highest share of papers, based on percentage of Clarivate Analytics-indexed papers published in each field between 2005 and 2009.

Field Country
Agricultural Sciences Syria
Biology/Biochemistry UAE
Chemistry Cyprus
Environment/Ecology Egypt
Engineering Cyprus
Geosciences Oman
Materials Science Egypt
Mathematics Egypt
Microbiology Saudi Arabia
Neuroscience Egypt
Pharmacology Saudi Arabia
Plant & Animal Science Syria
Physics Cyprus
Source: InCites™ Global Comparisons, Thomson Reuters

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