Big in Tehran

Richard Jones discussed Iran’s rapidly growing output of scientific publications over at Soft Machines, and wonders whether this will be sustained “in the light of recent political developments.”

By coincidence we spent a lot of time with members of the Iranian nanotechnology community over the past few weeks, and the answer is probaby yes, it will be sustained.

Iran is neither a small country (our flights to Bombay usually spend a third of the time crossing Iran) nor a poor one, with over 100 universities. It also has a large and well funded nanotechnology program, with a venture capital fund, an incubator and a dozen companies already up and running (and partly subsidised through the nanotech program).

The political situation was of course raised, with the general conclusion that just because the president has a certain view foreign policy it doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the entire population. This is equally true of the US and the UK as events in Iraq demonstrated.

Comments 4

  1. Nano Guru

    Well said! One has to remember that Iran used to be a huge country called “Persia,” before the Brits divvied it up into many fractions (and shafted most of the “persians” – installing a boy king, getting very favorable oil contracts, etc.) that currently form many monarchical/dictatorial states! As a matter of fact, Persia contributed much to the ancient science and technological developments (at least comparable to many other civilizations).

  2. Tim Harper

    The Iranians are looking to catch up in a number of areas of technology, nanotech is just one out of many. A policy of engagement is always better than one of mutual hostility, especially at the scientific level.

    While there are export restrictions on a number of goods (which can be routineley circumvented by ordering through third countries, restricting access to knowledge as basic as nanotech is a tricky issue, as 99.9% of the end uses can be beneficial and information is hard to control.

  3. Richard Jones

    Tim, everything you say is true, and to this one could add that the Iranian system is probably considerably more pluralistic than the west gives credit for. And yet…. If you talk to recent Iranian emigres, it’s the erosion of this pluralism by the current regime, rather than its foreign policy, that underlies their unhappiness. One reads of recent politically motivated dismissals and hirings in Iranian universities. I don’t need to tell you that it’s not money, venture capitalists, or equipment, that are the primary determinants of scientific success, but talent, and scientific talent is very footloose in today’s world. It wouldn’t take very many top quality Iranian scientists finding the cultural climate uncongenial, and getting a (readily available) position in the West, to change the picture for the worse. But I don’t disagree with you that engagement is better than the alternative.

  4. Tim Harper

    Richard, given the number of Iranian scientists I come across, this is probably already happening. Whether this is as a result of politics or better research funding is difficult to deconvolute.

    I should mention that every time the government changes in Spain there are changes in the academic world, so political interference is rife in Europe as well.

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