It is misleading to compare the research in African Arabian countries as they lack resources
BY DR WAEL MY MOHAMED
Once upon time, I asked Prof M Farag, a colleague and a friend to nominate me for a The World Academy of Science (TWAS) fellowship.
He refused and told me my H-index was low and far off the mark away and I should forget about it until my index becomes 50. This made me ask myself: Is it a shame to have a lower H-index in academia?
(The H-index captures research output based on the total number of publications and the total number of citations to those works, providing a focused snapshot of an individual’s research performance. For example, if a researcher has 15 papers, each of which has at least 15 citations, the H-index is 15).
Being a physician neuroscientist from the African-Arab (Afrabia) region, I do not contribute too much as western fellows to the neuroscience field. However, it is unfair to blame me for this regression. When you ask any neuroscientist in the Afrabia diaspora for scientific research, you are really asking an infant to participate in a marathon race.
It is very unfair for us to hold the neuroscientists accountable for greater than their size and for reasons related to the failure of the educational and research system as a whole. In the US for instance, there are more than 4,000 universities, but the number of universities that publish scientific research do not exceed 800 universities. Therefore, more than 3,000 universities issue bachelor’s degrees only and do not issue postgraduate degrees or scientific research.
Do you know the reason? It is because these universities do not have the foundation and the infrastructure with which they can demand the teaching members to conduct scientific research and publish scientific papers.
If we compare with the Afrabia world, we find that in most Arab countries the best universities do not possess the capabilities and infrastructure mainly for scientific research and are like US universities that cannot publish scientific research.
Afrabia neuroscientists are facing many challenges specially in infrastructure for scientific research including:
1. Researcher salaries: Unfortunately, the vast majority of neuroscientists in the Afrabia world receive shameful salaries. The cost of living is not sufficient for one person to live alone what more a neuroscientist who has a family and children.
In Western universities famous for publishing scientific research, researchers are considered fetching among the highest salaries in society, and they have plenty of benefits related to health, education for their children and government facilities.
This does not include the large amount of teaching responsibilities on the neuroscience faculty in Afrabia region. If a professor in an Afrabia university is forced to teach two or three courses per semester, how do you expect him/her to have time to follow up on international research, conduct research and supervise postgraduate students?
2. Number of postgraduate students: In the Arab world, the number of students who do scientific research is very small. The professor can hardly find a single student to work with him/her to conduct research and write scientific articles, and thus the professor is forced to work himself/herself in the laboratory. This is certainly very difficult for a professor with a large teaching volume.
On the other hand, in research universities in the US, the professor does not work himself/herself in the laboratory and does not enter the laboratory in the first place, and has many postgraduate researchers and postdocs work in the laboratory to conduct research.
3. Physical and moral stimulation: In the Arab world, there is no material motivation for a neuroscientist to do scientific research, but that neuroscientist will still make a special effort although without any compensation. However, in the US, the professor who publishes scientific research gets great privileges such as a much higher salary, a larger laboratory space, a larger number of students, as well as awards from their university, government awards, and awards from various US companies.
4. Availability of technical and technological capabilities: US research universities contain enormous technical capabilities so that in most cases the researcher does not need to send samples here and there to reach a specific device, but rather there are hundreds or thousands of devices in the same university for research. Moreover, there are many technicians available who are ready to help.
In the Afrabia world, the researcher has to beg here and there until reaching a specific device that is often outside the university. In most cases, the researcher does not find the dozens of devices he/she needs in the university or outside the university.
Even if the device is found inside the university, in many cases there will be a problem with the device as it would not have been well maintained, and the researcher must wait many years to be able to analyse samples or obtain results. In US research universities, the researcher gets the materials needed within a day or two, no matter how high the price is, while in the Afrabia the researcher has to wait for months or even years.
5. Financial support for research: In the US, there are many forms of financial support that are available for funding the research. There are thousands of government grants that go to universities and thousands of grants that come from US companies that all go to faculty members to hire PhD students and Postdoc and conduct scientific research.
You can imagine the situation in the Afrabia, where neither the government, the private sector or the university itself gives support. So where does the researcher get the money needed to conduct research?
6. Bodies that help establish, support and develop start-ups: In the US, every university contains a specialised body that helps the researcher to protect property rights and establish start-up companies if he/she has financially useful research results. This is in addition to the several governmental agencies that help researchers throughout the US providing the possibilities for establishing start-up companies and the presence of thousands of businessmen and institutions.
The private sector provides grants and huge financial support to researchers who want to establish start-up companies based on their research results, and thus more than a 100,000 start-up companies are established annually based on scientific research results from universities in the US.
Dilemma to strike a balance
In the Arab world, do we have bodies in or outside the universities to help the researcher and provide financial, legal and logistical support so that the results of our research are transformed into material benefit?
You can imagine with these big problems and factors in the Arab world, how do you ask neuroscientists to publish annually research papers in journals with a high impact factor? The infrastructure for scientific research in the Afrabia is actually zero or below zero.
This will reflect on the H-index of Afrabia neuroscientists. Some of us are fragile and do not follow research ethics and try to increase our H-index without following ethical standards like fabricating data, betraying their research mates, falsifying research results, etc.
At the end of the day, we need to strive for ethical perfection in our research and also strengthen our bond with our research fellows. It is a dilemma to get a balance between your H-index and your ethics.
So, which is better; to have good ethics or to have a high H-index? And what will you do if you were in the shoes of Prof Farag? — The Health
Dr Wael MY Mohamed is with the Department of Basic Medical Science, Kulliyyah of Medicine, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).