On Islam and Nobel Prizes

From The Economist:

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79.

They are comparing “Muslims” with “Jews.” Muslims are followers of the religious component of Islamic culture. Islam is primarily a culture, the religious component of which is also called Islam. However, the “Jews” referred to here are not necessarily followers of Judaism.

Rather they are people with some Hebrew descent and often with a lot of European descent as well. Aren’t many Muslim Arabs also of Hebrew ancestry? Why not include them in calculations for “Jews” as well?

Additionally, the “Jews” are living in rich, Westernized non-Jewish countries. Science generally requires economic prosperity, low to moderate social stratification and national peace. Does this describe the typical country in the Islamic world?

The 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference spend a puny 0.81% of GDP on research and development, about a third of the world average. America, which has the world’s biggest science budget, spends 2.9%; Israel lavishes 4.4%.

But would Israel be able to spend 4.4% if it did not receive an estimated cumulative amount of US foreign aid valued at $114 billion? While Egypt also gets $2 billion/year in US aid, it is evident that this did not find its way into the general population and academia. And isn’t the American economy financed by loans from China and Japan so that once can argue that American science is also financed by China and Japan?

MAIN POINT: While indeed the Islamic world has problems with low scientific output, comparisons to “Jews,” “America” and “Israel” are in and of themselves, unscientific.

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