A Braindead Country Called Lebanon

Lebanese citizens of all social segments do not know about this unfortunate situation. In such a sombre reality, the mad economic and social policies no longer seem strange, nor does the delirious state of universities and the street. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Rasha Abouzaki

Published Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The myth of superiority clearly has a grip on the Lebanese. They presume that they are the masters of science, civilization, and progress. But looking beyond this “chauvinist” posture, we find a country barren of any institutions that encourage achievement.

The feebleness of Lebanese scientific research could be one of the reasons for Lebanese society’s ignorance of its own characteristics and inability to evaluate its reaction and realities, locally and internationally.

In practice, Lebanon does not create scientific minds in both the physical and social sciences. Its academic curricula shun all creative elements. And if a Lebanese manages to distinguish themselves in any way, he or she is picked up by any country in the world, except their own.

Not only is Lebanon unable to produce scientific minds, it is always keen to cast them outside its geographic borders on the rare occasion of something like this happening.

Once distinguished Lebanese scientists and thinkers are outside the country, you hear officials boast about “Lebanese talent in the Diaspora” followed by “the increase in remittances from expatriates which breathes life into the Lebanese economy...” Then, a round of applause.

Research Backwardness

Lebanon is no different than other Arab countries. One of the most repeated anecdotes is that the total number of books translated into Arabic from the time of Abbasid Caliph Al-Maamun (786-833 AD) until today is around 10,000 books, equivalent to what Spain translates in only one year (this has been refuted by an Al-Akhbar investigation.)

This indicator could be the gateway to understanding why Lebanon ignores a fundamental principle of the development of people and countries – scientific research.

Studies and articles around the world show that petroleum can no longer be considered a measure of a society’s development or prosperity. Poverty and wealth are no longer measured by what can be extracted from under the earth, but by what can be extracted from the mind.

Lebanese University graduate Rania Bou Kheir won the Francophone award for scientific research for the year 2010-2011. She explains that scientific research poses a real economic and social challenge around the world.

It is a basic condition for the continuity of universities and their academic standing. Research can change the realities of life in the country, particularly when sophisticated statistical models are used and shaped according to Lebanon’s particular circumstances.

It can range from construction to medicine, and the effects of any factor that impacts a particular human situation, such as divorce, murder, theft, and unemployment.

In a study on the reality of scientific research in Lebanon, Bou Kheir discovered that the amount of research produced by all governmental and non-governmental institutions combined, since their inception up until 2011, could be considered miniscule.

In all its years, the Lebanese University (LU) produced a mere 1,738 studies (published in newspapers, conferences, or books). Private universities, for their part, produced 9,303 published studies. Only 322 studies were published by governmental research centers, 66 by public hospitals, 4,522 by private hospitals, and 67 by private research institutions.

The study indicates that 71 percent of all peer reviewed research in Lebanon comes out of 4 of the 19 official universities and research institutions (11,363 studies). A mere 3 hospitals in the country produced 87 percent of medical peer reviewed research.

(Peer reviewed research are those that are judged by peers and published in specialized scientific publications. The reviewers are usually experienced researchers who are recognized for their academic qualifications.)

The amount of scientific research in universities increased slightly between 2007-2010, from 317 to 362 studies yearly. In official research centers, it increased from 34 to 69, and in hospitals from 788 to 1124 studies. The number actually decreased in private research institutions, from 8 in 2007 to just two in 2011!

It should be noted that the slight growth in university research is due to three universities – the rest have shown a sustained negative growth. As for hospitals, it is due to two institutions – the remainder were either stagnant or negative, although many of them are licensed as university hospitals.

What is more curious is the fact that the economics and business disciplines, in addition to arts and humanities in private universities, contain a total of 61,183 students. Only 0.9 percent and 0.5 percent respectively have their research published.

In engineering, the number of students is 13,136 – only 0.75 percent of their research is published. Similar numbers are found in information technology (0.9 percent of 11,807 students).

There are around 37,000 arts and humanities students in LU, none of their research gets published. While in environmental studies, the proportion reaches 14.9 percent out of 101 students.

Around 81 percent of all research conducted by universities and research centers is in physics, while health sciences reach 14 percent, and social sciences produce a mere 5 percent.

Up until 2011, only 1,308 out of 13,455 professors from all the universities had their work published, for a total of 1,134 studies.

Compared with other Arab countries, the American University of Beirut (AUB) is in 8th place, out of 118 universities in the category. LU is at number 37, St. Joseph University (USJ) at 65, the Lebanese American University (LAU) at 67, Balamand University at 95, and finally, the Beirut Arab University almost comes last at 116.

Nevertheless, Bou Kheir believes that Lebanon can attain internationally recognized positions in scientific research, but this is marred by blatant official and academic neglect.

Miniscule Spending

Compared to the rest of the world, Lebanon does not even reach three digits in any ranking. According to several studies in journals around the world between 1996 and 2008, AUB ranks 1,159th (out of 2,124 worldwide). Meanwhile, Cairo University, for example, ranks at 592.

Lebanon only publishes eight internationally recognized and indexed scientific journals, out of almost 56,000 journals published worldwide. The most recent report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the ranking of research centers in 127 countries, the only Arab country was Tunisia at 36. Lebanon was not even considered for the list.

Figures from the World Bank and the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) show that Lebanon spends 0.2 percent of its GDP on scientific research. The head of CNRS Mouin Hamzeh says there is no solid mechanism or standard to measure spending on scientific research in any country or internationally.

Regardless of the conflicting standards, the Arab world spends no more than 0.2 percent of its GDP on scientific research, according to the UNDP Arab Human Development Report in 2009. The report shows a wide discrepancy in spending among the 22 Arab countries.

With a total GDP estimated at $1,400 billion, these countries spend a paltry $2.8 billion on scientific research. This amounts to around $10 per Arab citizen a year. In Finland, a comparatively small country, the amount reaches $350, a spending of 3.8 percent of GDP on research.

Hamzeh maintains that Lebanon is no stranger to the Arab policy of meager spending on the development of minds. But he explains that the law establishing the CNRS in 1962, stipulates that its budget should not fall under 1 percent of the general budget.

In the last 50 years, the law was applied only once in the early 1960s by Fouad Chehab – then it was completely forgotten. At the beginning of the 1990s, an article was slipped into the budget proposal to change the wording of the law from “no less than 1 percent” to “no more than 1 percent.”

This meant that the total spending by the state on CNRS did not exceed 6 billion Lebanese Lira (LL) ($4 million) a year since 2002. This covers around 40 percent of expenses. The remaining is collected through contracts for scientific services for the public and private sectors, in addition to bilateral and international projects.

Hamzeh estimates the total spending on scientific research in Lebanon, in all public and private institutions, including industrial and agricultural research, does not exceed $3 billion a year. Half of this amount is spent on equipment and running costs for research and development projects. The other half is indirect expenses related to salaries of researchers.

Lebanese citizens of all social segments do not know about this unfortunate situation. In such a sombre reality, the mad economic and social policies no longer seem strange, nor does the delirious state of universities and the street.

A country that knows nothing about itself is a country out of its mind.


Israeli Supremacy

Israel published 16,826 pieces of research in 2011 alone, compared to 1,557 in Lebanon. Between 2007 and 2011, Lebanon published around 6,038 studies, while Israel published 81,800.

Palestinian researcher Khaled Saeed Rabaia indicates that Israel spends 4.7 percent of its GDP on scientific research, the highest rate worldwide.

In all their modern history, Arab countries patented a mere 836 inventions, only 5 percent of the patents registered in Israel.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

I believe the writer misses that Lebanon was occupied by two countries, Israel and Syria, up until 2005. I am not defending Lebanon's record, and I do think Lebanon should strive to do much better, not only in education but also in discrimination and human rights, but to compare Lebanon to Israel is a bit of a long stretch. That said, in the 80s, during the civil war, Lebanon still managed to hold the same level of university enrollment as Israel, still managed to keep a semi-functioning democracy, and, later, still managed to free itself from two ruthless occupiers intent, each in its own way, to destroy it. To add another perspective to the comparison, Lebanon doesn't run the longest occupation in modern history, hasn't gassed any other country, and isn't one of the worst offenders of international law and the United Nations charter. With that in mind, I would take Lebanon any day over Israel.

People, this country is doomed, nothing is more fakely pedant than a lebanese. Time to shut-up, get feet on the ground, and back to work in complete muteness for the next 10 years to recover the damage done.

Why so much negativism in the comments? How about we all start offering solutions, AND agreeing on them? for once please, no fights!
How about, each one of you start proposing ideas.
I suggest that the rare scientific researchers in Lebanon could (not should, I'm not imposing) start building an independent coalition that would work towards fighting this issue of lack of research (too big of an issue for me to define or summarize the whole problem here, and yes I used "fighting", let's fight what's killing our country and culture and ranking us so low on all these scales).
We need to start somewhere.

I agree though that there should be an active discussion. I usually refer to medical journals such as The NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, where there are always Lebanese names among the authors nearly in every issue.

I think it's pretty obvious that when basic needs like electricity and health not met due to corruption, spending on the arts and social sciences won't be a priority. This is true everywhere, not just in Lebanon.

Dear Al-Akhbar Mods,

Thanks for writing such an interesting piece that has inspired me to do a personal project of my own. I created an infographic using the numbers you posted, and cited you as main reference for the information.

It would be a pleasure if you could check it out and provide feedback. Sharing is welcome as well :)

Here's the link: http://nicolashayek.me/braindead-country/

As a foreign observer, I think the main reason behind the poor academic results in terms of academic publications lies not with the low preparation of students and researchers, but with the fact that in Lebanon studying is an insurance on the future, to find a job, succeed and pay back for expenses made towards university fees. Families don't make debts to send students to AUB and then see them living on research rather than a good job, in the absence of a social system that protects the poor and less wealthy. Considering the lack of public investment, offering private scholarships linked to research results could bridge the gap between these competing objectives.

I feel that so called journalists ripping off other people's personal blogs is also a kind of a brain dead activity, don't you think?

http://lebaneseexpatriate.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/lebanon-a-braindead-c...

Thank you,

S

PS: if you refuse to publish this comment, you'll look even more pathetic.

Hello Sam and the representatives of al-akhbar newspaper in english,

I am the author of the blog post referred to above and I acknowledge that I was inspired by this article to write my blog post.

I did tweak and add a personal touch, but clearly pointed out that this article is the source of my post.
--
Adel

Dear Sam,

This article that you link to was published a day after our article and clearly links back to our article as a reference.

Therefore your suggestion that we have "ripped off" the other blog appears completely baseless.

Yours

Al-Akhbar Moderator

I think why many find this article irritating is because it does what the Lebanese do best: Complain and do nothing.

I agree with some of the article but mostly it just piles on a lot of data offering nothing more than a shallow presentation.

I think it's pretty obvious that when basic needs like electricity and health not met due to corruption, spending on the arts and social sciences won't be a priority. This is true everywhere, not just in Lebanon.

There are plenty of brains out there... there's just no money. So they go elsewhere.

I do agree though that most Lebanese people have a superiority complex: We think we're so special because we survive wars and come out partying on the other side. We're so special because we find ways to outsmart laws and survive in the jungle that is Lebanon like it's an accomplishment. We're special because it's never our fault, it's everyone else's. We're special because people who lived here 10,000 years accomplished something.
Humility is a word missing from our dictionary.

It would be nice if for once we emerge from a crisis sober, humble, and aware that we are often wrong and really not very special at all.

@ wafaa, it s a common misconception that culture lags development while the truth is that it leads development. Societies that culturally do not value honesty and transparency are usually the ones with the worst development records. Never forget that at the end of the day money is just printed paper.

Regards

@ mark , how many countless time have you heard on TV, Lebanon being reffered to as the land of knowledge , land of culture , Land of art ,etc. Of course you'll hear references to "advanced civilizations". After all, we are not completly brain dead , only approaching the state. and maybe this article with its tone that so many of you found offensive is just a desperate wake up call.

@ Najib and supporters, humbleness is a vertue very often praised .However , being humble in thought is not exactly a good thing. The author clearly points out that the lack of investment in research is the issue to address in a very objective article where she only uses a slightly controversial title as well as an introductory paragraph to initiate initial interest in the article.

Most comments written in response to this article denounce the author's attitude.

Most probably because she successfully pointed out a harsh reality that we, lebanese people try to deny.

Regards

"They presume that they are the masters of science, civilization, and progress."

are you sure? do you have any evidence to support that claim? because i have evidence that points to the opposite: all lebanese speakers on tv keep referring to "advanced civilizations" when talking about what's wrong with lebanon.

so it's too bad that you based all your article on a myth.

Sensationalist title, irrelevant photo. Nagib's excellent comment explains further why this article is irritating.

"A country that knows nothing about itself, is a country out of its mind."

I like this sentence, but why the comma splice?

Also, the reason research is so behind can be traced to the fact that no one in Lebanon reads. There are no libraries. Creative thinking is discouraged because then you may actually learn to think differently than you've been told. Censorship is rampant. People think if they dress, drink, eat, and fornicate like Westerners, then they are civilized. Anyone with a trace of independent thought leaves eventually.

I am so glad I left. I hate it. I hate it.

the author does make a good point about Lebanon's disappointing commitment to higher education and to retaining its scholars. but the condescending tone and lack of explanation in the article in effect reproduces the very phenomenon of unjustified superiority that the author criticizes. perhaps, indeed, in her smug and brain-dead state, she doesn't see beyond her own superiority to actually analyze the roots of Lebanon's brain-drain and propose meaningful approaches to address it.

Not trying to defend the writer, but I think the purpose of the article was to present an observational study.
As a general rule, It is very hard and inappropriate in observational studies to talk about cause and effect! Associations can be researched.
I agree though that there should be an active discussion. I usually refer to medical journals such as The NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, where there are always Lebanese names among the authors nearly in every issue.

Could it be that scientific production is not part of our economy in the first place, and there is a ban on certain technologies, and not to mention logistic issues of gaining access to materials/chemicals/products...etc

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