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Iran has the world's fastest-growing scientific output, measured by the number of peer-reviewed papers published in international journals, according to a report published this week (28 March).

The number of papers rose from 736 in 1996 to 13,238 in 2008, says the UK's Royal Society's report 'Knowledge, Networks and Nations'.

Iran's scientific collaboration with the United States is also on the rise, despite tensions over its nuclear programme, reports The Financial Times. The number of research papers resulting from US–Iranian collaboration has risen more than fivefold — to 1,600 — over the past 12 years.

Under Iran's 'comprehensive plan for science', the country plans to be spending four per cent of GDP on research and development (R&D) by 2030.

The report also singles out Tunisia, where R&D spending increased from just 0.03 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1996 to 1.25 per cent in 2009. The country aims to increase pharmaceutical exports five-fold within five years, so its research priorities are life science and medicine.

Chris Llewellyn Smith, chair of the study team and a visiting professor of physics at Oxford University, said he would expect the recent overthrow of Arab presidents, such as Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, to be a good influence on science in the region, although the report itself did not address this issue.

The report highlighted the rise of scientific prowess in emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India, with China's publication output predicted to overtake that of the United States within two years.

"A number of countries are challenging the traditional scientific superpowers," Llewellyn Smith told The Financial Times. "Collectively, these smaller countries will have a big impact."

The report also documents a rising volume of research: seven million researchers are now spending US$1,000 billion a year — 45 per cent more than in 2002.

Link to full article in The Financial Times

Link to full 'Knowledge, Networks and Nations' report