Scotland's Enlightenment Spirit

by endlesspsych

By Keir Liddle

It’s easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking about Scotland and being Scottish – our sporting teams seem to pale in comparison to those of our neighbours, our health is among the poorest in Western Europe and as for the weather… well that’s why we’re all ginger isn’t it?

But when you think about it for a country of a mere 5 million we don’t do all that badly – particularly when it comes to science and research.

This January the Scottish government published the report: “International Comparative Performance of Scotland’s Research Base“.

The report shows that Scotlands research base continues to be one of the best in the world when compared with the 26 comparator countries which are responsible for around 95 per cent of the world’s top research. It contains details of research carried out by our universities, the NHS and by industry and it reports really quite favourably on our wee nation’s scientific output.

Allowing for Scotland’s economic output only the impact of Scotlands research, as measured by citations per paper, is well above the global average and has risen by 21% in recent years!  Only the Swiss rank above us – and while they have cheese and Cuckoo clocks we have whisky and the deep-fried pizza… make of that what you will.

Scotland has a higher ratio of researchers amongst its R&D personnel than the comparator group average and these researchers are highly productive in terms of citations per researcher.  We are ranked third in the world after Switzerland and the Netherlands and ahead of all the G8 countries.  Our research strengths are spread across a range of disciplines: physical sciences achieved the highest citation impact followed by the biological sciences.   Clinical, mathematics, health and medicine, and environment research also impact well above world average.  We have 1665 papers among the worlds most highly-cited 1% by impact with an average impact of 158.5 citations per paper.  This makes Scotland 14th by number of scientific publications but 4th by the impact our publications have!  Our share (1.88% of world) compares well with our average share of the world resources (1.1%).

All of which is perhaps unsurprising given the roll call of genius and discovery that can be attributed to Scotland:  James Watt and the Steam Engine, Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin, John Napier and the invention of Logarithms and James Clerk Maxwell the physicist whose picture hung on Einstein’s wall to name but a hand-full of Scotland’s honour roll.

But it’s not just in the labs that the spirit of Hume and the Enlightenment lives on!  It’s in the pubs as well according to this BBC news article.

Science and critical thinking can be seen as exclusive and elitist. But now a new group is aiming to bring scepticism to the masses across Scotland.

The article details the efforts of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Skeptics groups to bring critical thinking, debunking and skepticism to the masses with a lager shandy and a twist of lime:  details of these groups (and others) can be found to the events page.

So while it may be tempting to adopt the persona or attitude of the dour Scot to the outside world, it seems in terms of science and skepticism – well to borrow an old advertising slogan: the lion goes from strength to strength.