chapter  3
Understanding the practice of research
Pages 3

Research as a social activity needs to be recognized politically, since most of it is public or publicly funded. Before going any further, it is essential to remind readers that this is not a default proper to “poor” countries as is hinted in some international reports that underline with a suspicious insistence the low level of private funding. A majority of research has always been public, whereas development (or R&D) in firms is usually privately funded. In Europe, the share of publicly funded research is higher than in the United States. However, the extent of this varies from country to country. In the rest of the world, large variations also exist, but research is mainly funded and performed by public institutions. This is also the case in the Arab world. Most of the original and breakthrough research is public: infrastructural work and the surveillance economy that is needed to monitor local resources require levels of investment that no private firm is willing to fund (but will gladly share). Even the most profitable and commercial private firms developed new technologies that come directly as a result of public programs (Mazzucato 2013). These reminders are necessary because many voices call for a strong participation of the private sector; however, it is also necessary to keep in mind that the private sector will never fund the so-called basic research.11 Thus, politics, plain and common as they are, play an important role in the game. Jean-Jacques Salomon (2001) points out that it is not because it concerns science that science policy is any more “scientific” than other public policies. Indeed, science (and technology) policy is as messy as any other policy: it relies on political work, political alliances and the use of scientific activities as political resources. Failing to recognize this political nature of science policy comes from a bureaucratic vision on what science is about. There are two aspects that deserve our attention on this front: the political standing of science inside the state, and the relevance of the activity itself. Roland Waast (2006) urges us to examine the political position of science when he mentions the need for a “pact” that elites can establish between them and with the political personnel in order to develop research – a rather strange and remote activity that seems to be far away from everyday life. The political forces and the institutional structures within a country should reach an agreement. A country where internal disagreement is strong will be less prone to develop this inside-the-walls obscure activity that serves no immediate and visible purpose. Marcel Antonorsi-Blanco and Ignacio Avalos (1980) wrote some famous pages 35 years ago mentioning that science is interesting only when it allows one to inaugurate some libraries. Most importantly, Mouton and Waast (2009) have shown that the reasons why some middle-income countries actually give priority to research does not rely on GDP, investment or any other resource; rather, it depends upon a political choice. When research becomes part of the arsenal of wealth and power, then it is given some attention. Of course, that is an indication of which research areas will be favored by state policy, areas that will be shown in Chapter 2 when we study the development of specialization patterns for each Arabic country.