Home News Science&Tech What’s behind the unexpected high Saudi Arabia standing in science?

What’s behind the unexpected high Saudi Arabia standing in science?

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Particularly handsome of Saudi Arabia: in the ranking of leading scientific countries, based on cited articles, it has nestled above such recognized academic strongholds as the Netherlands and Switzerland. Remarkable, because academic freedom, like other freedoms, is not really held in high esteem.

The position is therefore not based on own merit. Saudi Arabia is paying foreign scholars a substantial amount to list King Saud University as the first affiliate, even before the actual employer. Two Dutch professors also accepted the offer, this newspaper discovered. In this way, the Saudi university gets points that actually go to another country, and it rises in the global scientific esteem in an unheard-of way.

This desire for recognition does not stand alone. Sport and culture are also two dimensions in which Saudi Arabia tries to profile itself socially. With an abundance of oil dollars, the sheikhs lure men like Christiano Ronaldo and Jean Nouvel to the Arabian Peninsula to display their footballing and Architectural Arts.

The Saudis are aware that their oil reserves are finite and that their future should be less fossil. With his’ Vision 2030′, de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) is trying to tap into new sources of income, including tourism. To this end, the country must be radically modernized, with sport, culture and science being essential signs.

A great honor, of course, for the Westerners who have to help with it and who can also make big money with it. Among other things, the Saudis are investing 20 billion euros in the development of a valley of the Arts, a piece of world heritage desert where eight to nine museums are to be built to make it a tourist status object. The Pompidou Centre has already been closed. Nouvel carves out a hotel in the rocks. In particular, the French are trying to increase their (cultural) sphere of influence.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia is still the country where women are disadvantaged, where dozens of public executions are carried out every year, the country that even the critic Jamal Khashoggi, who fled abroad, left to pieces in an embassy. Although MBS allowed a little more freedom in recent years – women are now also allowed to drive and travel alone – sports, art and science are still flags on a dictatorial mud boat.

The fact that athletes and artists lend themselves to it is one thing – there is at least something of added value in return. But that scientists let themselves be used to smear this academic lipstick on a pig is one step lower. They allow themselves to be paid to falsify reality. In doing so, they are part of the fakery inherent in dictatorships, and which also includes the denial with which MBS exonerated itself of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia’s modernization efforts may be a prelude to an actual Arab enlightenment, or to an enlightened despotism. But as long as it resorts to manipulation and forgery, it deserves neither respect nor the benefit of doubt.

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