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Malaysia's achievements in science and technology mean it will be the first Muslim nation to become a developed country, said its prime minister Abdullah Badawi last week.

The official Malaysian news agency Bernama reports that Badawi said he based his claim on information from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), whose 57 member nations are predominantly Muslim.

Malaysia aims to attain the status of a developed country by 2020.

Speaking on 11 September, Badawi said it was time for Muslims to stop depending on other nations' technologies and to start developing their own.

But a shortage of trained scientists threatens to derail Malaysia's technological ambitions.

According to William Miller of Stanford University in the United States, Malaysia needs to both hire foreign scientists and lure back home-grown researchers who have left the country.

Miller was addressing an international panel set up to advise Malaysia on high-tech research and development (R&D), on 12 September in Penang.

Bernama reports that former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad agreed that Malaysia should accept foreign scientists. "If we don't take them, others will," he said.

Mahathir also pointed out that those funding R&D must realise that failure rates can be as high as 90 per cent.

"R&D is not like doing business. There can be no projection on returns on investment. Much of the money would probably go down the drain," said Mahatir. "But if we can strike gold, then we will really make it."

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