'Davos of Science' comes to Middle East for the first time

Jordan to host thousands of scientists at Dead Sea conference

A picture taken December 18, 2014 shows a Saudi staff working at Ahmed Khalaf’s laboratory in King Fahad hospital in Riyadh. Ahmed Khalaf's Stability Laboratory, as of August 2014, became the first private lab accredited by Saudi Arabia's Food and Drug Authority to test pharmaceuticals, along with other products. AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE

A forum described as the biggest science event in the world takes place in the Middle East for the first time this week as thousands of researchers and policymakers gather to share ideas under the theme of Science for Peace.

The World Science Forum by the Dead Sea in Jordan will grapple with issues such as the brain drain of scientific talent from the region, the role of women scientists, food security, water scarcity and ensuring that refugee scientists can fulfil their potential.

Almost 3,000 scientists, among them a number of Nobel Laureates, will take part in the forum, which is billed as the Davos of Science.

Organisers have said the event can showcase Arab scientific achievements as a way of linking the region to its past, which included periods when the Muslim world was at the forefront of scientific innovation.

Subjects under discussion will include how artificial intelligence can prevent the spread of extremist content online, the risks that water shortages in the Middle East pose to the region’s stability, science’s role in achieving development goals and how to ensure equitable access to natural resources.

The forum, which runs from Tuesday to Friday, is chaired by Jordan’s Princess Sumaya, who told media earlier this year that it would help to “start a movement that will leave a lasting legacy for our nation and our people”.

“We want the world to know that we are connected to scientific research and thought processes around the globe, through our triumphant diaspora scientists and through our networked young researchers and engineers here at home,” she said.


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Currently the Arab world lags behind many developed countries in terms of spending on research and development, although in most Gulf countries expenditure is increasing.

According to figures published by the World Bank, in 2015 2.23 per cent of global GDP was spent on research and development, up from 1.97 per cent in 1996.

In many developed countries the figure is higher, with Germany recording expenditure of 2.88 per cent of GDP in 2015, Japan 3.28 per cent, South Korea 4.23 per cent and the United States 2.79 per cent.

In the UAE, research and development spending was 0.87 per cent of GDP in 2015, which is almost double the figure of just four years earlier, when it was 0.48 per cent.

Oman also nearly doubled spending between 2011 and 2015, while Saudi Arabia’s spending increased more than ten-fold between 2003 and 2013, reaching 0.82 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Jordan recorded a figure of 0.44 per cent in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, but the country’s significance as a centre for research has recently increased thanks to the opening, in May this year, of the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) facility.

It is a particle-accelerator centre that can be used for research into fields ranging from materials science to cancer biology.

It is the Middle East’s first synchrotron light source and several countries in the region are members of the facility, among them Iran and the Palestinian Authority, while Kuwait has observer status.

Held every two years, the WSF is hosted this time by the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan, which said in a statement released previously that the event would, for the first time, “have an Arab and Middle Eastern focus”.

Partner organisations include UNESCO and the Hungarian Academy of Science, with the event having originated in Hungary.

The eighth forum of its kind, the 2017 WSF is being held to coincide with Jordan’s 'Year of Science' and is organised under the patronage of King Abdullah II of Jordan.