Concert pitch, or how we came to tune (mostly) to A=440 Hz

Yesterday I stumbled onto another of these “A=432 Hz” advocacy pages: it got me thinking that “how did we get to A=440 Hz?” would be a good subject for a post. So here goes. TL;DR summary: there is neither conspiracy nor deep ‘harmony with the cosmos’: the standard came about for purely pragmatic reasons. Let me explain.

In antiquity and the Middle Ages, there were no absolute pitch standards. Sure, theoretical math about the construction of scales goes back all the way to the School of Pythagoras, but that concerns itself with relative pitch (intervals), not with an absolute reference pitch. Whichever fixed-pitch instrument was part of the ensemble would have dictated the reference pitch for the others — and since this was long before the era of mass manufacturing, those were all one-of-a-kind instruments.

The German composer and theoretician Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)
did mention that in his day, there was “chamber tuning” (Kammerton) and there was “choir tuning” (Chorton, which followed the church organ) and that those were a whole tone apart. So historical organs would give us a clue as to historical pitch, right?

Well… it was indeed so that the pipes for the lowest note of an organ “principal” stop were by convention made eight foot long. (Hence the practice of labeling organ stops, or later drawbars on a Hammond organ, by “foot”: 16’ will sound one octave below, 4’ one octave above, 5 1/3’ a fifth above,… the notes played on the keyboard.) So that would seem to impose standardization at least for church music, right?

Not quite. Whose foot are we talking? Each principality in those days had its own set of customary units. We do know that German Baroque organs that have been preserved are almost invariably sharp of modern concert pitch, typically by about a semitone, but sometimes as much as a whole tone. An even-tempered semitone, 2^(1/12)≈1.05946, up from A=440 Hz would be about 466 Hz, two semitones about A=494 Hz. A whole tone down from A=466 Hz would imply a chamber pitch somewhere around A=415 Hz, as favored today by many ‘historically informed performance’ ensembles — but this would not have been universal, and actual concert pitch may have been higher.

The first tuning fork wasn’t invented until 1711, by an English court musician (trumpeter) named John Shore. Tuning forks (or “pitchforks”, as Shore punningly called them) are small and portable, drift very little with temperature and over time, and yield a nearly pure sinusoidal sound (i.e. devoid of overtones).

One of Shore’s London customers was the great expat German composer Handel. Händel’s tuning fork has actually been preserved


and sounds at A=422.5 Hz. A number of other historical tuning forks have been preserved, e.g., those used by fortepiano (and later piano) manufacturers for initial setup and tuning. The record shows that pitch kept drifting up and up, as orchestras kept pursuing an ever brighter sound. (This is not mere psycho-suggestion, particularly for the string section: tuning string instruments higher means increasing the tension on the strings, leading to more overtones in the sound.) Two other developments took place in parallel: the opera genre became a mainstay of classical music throughout Europe, and as long-distance travel became more practical and affordable thanks to the Industrial Revolution, star opera singers would travel widely.

What this also meant, however, is that an opera diva could be traveling to a new city, and suddenly would be unable to hit the highest notes as the orchestra was tuning higher. The resulting protests led to a pushback against “pitch inflation”, and hence to efforts to arrive at a standard.

[[[sidebar: scientific tuning, a.k.a. Sauveur pitch, philosophical tuning, Verdi tuning.

The French courtier and physicist Joseph_Sauveur, who first coined the term “acoustics” for that subfield of physics, in 1713 proposed an absolute pitch standard based on the frequencies of all C’s being powers of two: middle C=256 Hz, C’=512 Hz, and so forth. In Pythagorean tuning, that implies A=256 x (27/16) = 432 Hz. [in 5-limit just intonation, that would be A=256 x (5/3) = 426.666… Hz; in 12-tone equal temperament A=256 x 2^(9/12)= 430.54 Hz.] This was considerably sharp of French Baroque practice and was hence not adopted by performers. A century and a half later, the composer Giuseppe Verdi tried to revive this proposal, at a time when orchestras routinely turned way sharp of this. In recent years, various mystical and numerological ideas have been attached to Sauveur pitch, which has led to some (usually nonclassical) musicians adopting it.]]]

In 1834, a German industrialist, inventor, and amateur acoustician named J. H. Scheibler  devised an array of tuning forks pitched at multiples of 4 Hz, permitting pitch measurements at 4 Hz resolution. (As Heinrich Hertz yet had to be born, the unit was of course not named “Hz.” but cycles per second, or Schwingungen pro Sekunde.) At an 1834 meeting in Stuttgart of the German Society of Natural Scientists and Physicians , Scheibler demonstrated the device, and a motion was adopted to use A=440 Hz as standard concert pitch (the first time that this proposal was made). As Scheibler had many contacts in the German-speaking music world, a number of musicians informally adopted his standard.

The trailblazer for standardization of measurement units in Europe was, of course, France, with its 1799 adoption of the metric system, which eventually became the standard for nearly the entire industrialized world as well as of the worldwide scientific community. (In 1875, seventeen countries would sign a metric system convention, which led to the creation of the International Bureau for Weights and Measures outside Paris.) In the same vein, the French government issued a ministerial decree in 1859 that mandated a “diapason normal” (standard tuning fork) throughout France at A=435 Hz: this compromise value had been recommended by an ad hoc commission advised by the likes of the composers Halévy, Meyerbeer, Auber, Ambroise Thomas and Rossini. A number of continental European countries adopted the French standard.

In Britain, on the other hand, attempts had been made to standardize to an A=452 Hz concert pitch (almost a quarter-tone sharp of modern concert pitch). Protests by singers led to the adoption of a modified French standard: concert hall organs were tuned at A=435 at about 15 degrees centigrade: assuming a thermal expansion coefficient of about 0.1% per degree Fahrenheit (actually, closer to 0.067%) of the air column in the  organ pipes, it was argued that pitch would drift up to about 439 Hz in a heated concert hall, and hence in 1896, A=439 Hz was adopted by the Royal Philharmonic as the “new philharmonic pitch”. The older standard was then being referred to as “old pitch” or “high pitch”.

Recording and broadcast technology gave a new impetus to international standardization. On June 11, 1925, the US recording industry adopted A=440 as a standard. and eventually, this revived “Stuttgart value” was agreed upon at the 1939 London meeting of the International Standards Association (the predecessor of today’s ISO). What tipped the scales for 440 Hz rather than 439 Hz was again a practical argument: the BBC’s engineers could generate a stable, invariant A=440 Hz from a 1 MHz quartz crystal oscillator through a combination of frequency division and multiplication circuits (divide by 1000, then by 25, then multiply by 11).  This was an impractical approach for 439, which is a prime number. Eventually, A=440±0.5 Hz would be enshrined as ISO standard 16.

Many symphony orchestras actually tune slightly higher, A=442 or 443 Hz: a list of reference pitches for orchestras worldwide can be found here (in German). The Berlin Philharmonic, in the halcyon days of Karajan, actually tuned to A=445, to revert to the more common 443 Hz under later conductors.

In the “historically informed performance” community, A=415 Hz is commonly used for Baroque music. Why that specific number? Again, a practical compromise: more or less in the ballpark of what was (German) Baroque practice, and exactly an even-tempered semitone down from A=440 Hz. This means that modern fixed-pitch instruments can still perform in an ensemble with period instruments: all that is required is transposing the former’s part down by a half-step.


Fair Use: what does it mean for writers and scholars?

Academics, writers, musicians, video producers, publishers, and other creative professionals have all heard of the “fair use doctrine”, that under certain circumstances allows us to quote copyrighted text, images, or sounds. But what is it, in plain English?

First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a legal professional — I have merely acquired a working knowledge of the concept through my day job — and nothing I write here should be taken as legal advise.

Second, while the concept existed in common law for a long time before that, “fair use” was officially enshrined as statutory law in 1976 as 17 U.S.C. § 107 

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

[Emphasis mine in the above.]

This four-part test was actually first formulated by US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845; “what’s in a name?”) in the ruling on Folsom v. Marsh: this case concerned somebody who had published his own two-volume condensation of a 12-volume biography of George Washington. SCOTUS decided that yes, such derivative works were within the rights of the original copyright owners (the plaintiff), and that Marsh, the defendant, had violated their copyright.

In plain English: Justice Story argued that by publishing an “all the good bits” abridgment, Marsh had greatly reduced the sales potential of the long original.

Let me illustrate the four-part test with a few concrete examples:

(1) Quoting another scholarly author’s argument in a scholarly work, with proper source attribution, and clearly marking it as a quotation rather than one’s own words: fair use, and common established practice.

  • typically, the works being quoted are noncommercial to begin with
  • typically, the quote is a very small percentage of the full paper or book
  • the “market value” of a scholarly paper is measured in citations, and your action will generally only increase those

(2) Quoting a phrase, quip, aphorism,… of another author in one’s novel, clearly marking it as a quote? Accepted practice. Typically, the quote is 0.00x % of the whole book, and this is actually a way of bringing tribute to the writer being name-checked.

(3) Quoting a few lines from a poem or song lyric in your fiction book? Aha, now this is another matter — because even a few lines constitute a nontrivial percentage of the original work, so this would fail the amount and substantiality test.

My editor taught me a serviceable workaround: paraphrasing the lyrics in my own words. It is the words that are subject to copyright, not the ideas conveyed in them. [Cf. the idea-expression divide in intellectual property law.]

And if the poem in question is in the public domain (e.g., Shakespeare, Tennyson,… or generally anything published before 1923) then of course no issue arises.

(3b) Quoting a picture or graph from one work in a scholarly work of yours? Well… as “masgramondou” put it, “one picture is worth a thousand words — assume the same holds for copyright purposes”. The way I think of it: the image is a complete unit unto itself, and it would be more akin to quoting an entire chapter or section of a written work (or an entire verse or chorus of a song lyric).

And so, where for a textual quotation source referencing would be adequate, one would have to apply for copyright permission to the original copyright holder. In practice this is less of an imposition than it seems: most scholarly publishers have a (semi)automated mechanism in place where one can apply online with full personal details, details of the work being quoted, details of the work it’s being quoted in (review articles are actually the most common scenario), and commercial or noncommercial character of the derived work. (The last time I needed such permission for a paper in my day job, it cost me $0 and all of two minutes.) The licensed picture is then almost invariably accompanied by a statement along the lines of “From H. Slowcoach and L. Tortuga, Journal of Chelonian Reproduction 12, 345 (1967). Copyright American Association for Herpetology. Reprinted with permission.”

(3c) Recycling somebody else’s artwork in your own commercial fiction book? Unless it’s in the public domain or you licensed it form the copyright holder, you are setting yourself up for litigation or at the very least “cease and desist” letters.

Stock photos are another matter. They are “works made for hire” from a copyright point of view: once you bought them, they are yours to use. Their use in book covers can entail other issues — such as when two authors use the same stock photo — that one may wish to avoid, but they are in a different realm than copyright infringement.

Coming back to scholarly nonfiction for a moment: The scientific world in recent years has seen the emergence of licensable image libraries (e.g., Springer Images). Particularly in the life sciences, where diagrams and elaborate artistic renderings are more common than straight plots or data visualization, such image libraries have their places, and can save money compared to hiring a skilled visual artist with the appropriate background.

(4) What about music?

• In a music-centric novel, describing musical compositions in great detail — short of actually including transcribed scores — is apparently fine.

• Using audio of a well-known popular song for an audio book or a book trailer in practice means licensing. It can get tiresome enough that people might instead hire a musician to compose something “in the style of [insert popular song]” and use that instead

• most classical compositions are in the public domain, but specific audio recordings (e.g. for use in an audiobook or book trailer) need to be licensed. As part of the “open culture movement”, there are artists that make their own recordings of classical pieces available under Creative Commons licenses: these may be a good alternative. Otherwise, you know what? Go to your local conservatory and offer to pay somebody to record the track for you.

(5) Reproductions of visual works of art

• What if I, say, wanted to use a digital image of a Renoir painting as a book cover? (Assume it’s a “literary fiction” book, since that’s what cover designers tell me such use would signal.) The copyright here applies to the photograph, strange as this might seem. Museums that allow downloading of digital images of their collection typically stipulate that such images are “for personal use only”. In some cases, if photography in the museum is permitted, one can legally visit the museum in person, take a picture (usually without a flash) and use that.

Speaking of book covers: who “owns” the copyright to a book cover? They are generally produced as “works for hire” by a cover designer, and whoever commissioned the work and paid for it owns the rights to the cover (typically: the publishing house, or the author if it is an indie publication). Recycling by somebody else as artwork for commercial publication projects without licensing or permission constitutes copyright infringement.

Very recently and importantly: Concerning the special case of “thumbnails” showing up in searches or use in product links, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in Perfect 10 v. Amazon  that these are a highly “transformative” use and that they are to be considered fair use. The ruling gave much weight to “the public interest” [in search engines etc.]. It also  held that hyperlinking to such images does not constitute “secondary copyright violation”.

(6) What about parody?

Parody (if clearly recognizable as such) is an affirmative defense: a landmark court case on the matter is Campbell vs. Acuff-Rose Music, a.k.a., the “Pretty Woman” case. It involved the rappers 2 Live Crew, fronted by Luther Campbell (stage name “Luke Skywalker”), who had recorded their own “version” of Roy Orbison’s classic song: they had kept only the iconic bass riff (which I presume they  programmed into a Roland TB-303) and chanted (I would not dignify their performance with the term ‘singing’) their own lyrics over it (which focused on such features of the woman as her derrière, hair in certain places, promiscuity—you get the drift). They had in fact approached the copyright owners (Acuff-Rose) for licensing the song for a parody but been told to take a hike, then recorded their own version anyway. The court found in their favor, ruling that parody was a “transformative” use [in the legal sense of the word] rather than a merely “derivative” one.

Marcel Duchamp’s parody of the Mona Lisa is often cited as a classic example of a transformative work

So for example, if I were to release an album and issue an ad with a picture of my own album cover, plus one of “St. Anger” by Metallica as “this is not what you will get”, I would be over the line — a picture is a complete unit, and promotional material is clearly not scholarship or commentary. If instead I drew a parody cover of a fictional album “St. Anal” by “Banalica”, I would probably be safe — but even then I might get legal advise first to be on the safe side.




  • there is a simple 4-factor test for “fair use”
  • in general, scholarly use is much more permissive than commercial use
  • anything quoted should be a trivially small percentage of the whole work, and in particular should not be a self-contained unit of the whole work
  • use should not detract from the commercial revenue potential of the original
  • there are commonly accepted usages; there are abusages that are manifestly illegal; and there is a gray zone in between when one might wish to get legal counsel, or at the very least err on the safe side.

Media companies tend to be very aggressive (often to the point of seeming absurdity) in asserting their rights: for noncommercial use, a recent development has been Lenz v. Universal Music. (a.k.a. the “dancing baby case”). The plaintiff, Stephanie Lenz, had posted a YouTube video (less than 30 seconds) of her baby dancing to the Prince tune “Let’s Go Crazy”. Universal Music sent a takedown notice under the DMCA: in response, Ms. Lenz sued Universal, and the case eventually reached the Ninth Circuit Court, which held for that

[copyright holders have a] “duty to consider — in good faith and prior to sending a takedown notification—whether allegedly infringing material constitutes fair use”.

This almost creates the legal situation that exists in Israel — where “shimush hogen” (fair use) is legally a right rather than an affirmative defense, and one can actually sue a company for not permitting fair use. However, to be clear: this does not mean that use that is obviously not fair in the legal sense of the word now magically has become so.


By way of dessert, here is a musical example of a “transformative work” I rather like. The original was a Rob Dougan track called “Clubbed to death” used in The Matrix soundtrack. It ironically itself starts off with a sample from an orchestral performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. I remember thinking “boring, but could be a good track to jam over” when I first heard it — then a guitarist named Tom Shapira recorded this amazing improvisation over it. Enjoy!



Climatologist Judith Curry saying farewell to academia

Judith Curry, the Georgia Tech climatology professor vilified by her peers for trying to have a meaningful dialogue with CAGW skeptics, is taking early retirement from academia to focus on a startup company dealing with long-term climate forecasting.

The moneygraf from her letter:
“[…] I started to realize that academia and universities nationwide were undergoing substantial changes. I came across a recent article that expresses part of what is wrong: Universities are becoming like mechanical nightingales.

“The reward system that is in place for university faculty members is becoming increasingly counterproductive to actually educating students to be able to think and cope in the real world, and in expanding the frontiers of knowledge in a meaningful way[…]”

It is always sad to see the departure of any academic who is truly committed to the spirit of free inquiry. Here’s wishing her the very best in her new venture and I hope to be hearing more of her!

Climate Etc.

by Judith Curry

Effective January 1, I have resigned my tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech.

View original post 1,620 more words

Religion as a “containment vessel” for irrationality

“buzzsawmonkey” at @corrcomm quotes his father, a scientist, on the irrational (see comment #16):

When I was young, I thought—we all thought—that science and rationality would triumphantly replace religion.  We were wrong, because man, while capable of rationality in certain areas, is not a rational animal.

There is no removing the non-rational from human beings—and if you try to do this, all you get is bad science, because the non-rational impulse will invade and corrupt the ability to think rationally.  It is the lack of a place and a control for non-rational thinking that creates false science like the hysteria over cancer from cell phones or power lines, or over global warming.

Human non-rationality is like a universal solvent, which dissolves whatever it touches.  The problem with a universal solvent is to find a vessel to contain and control it so it cannot do any harm. The only vessel that has proven itself capable of containing non-rationality over any period of time, and making it possible to control it so that it is not harmful, and even to harness it for useful ends, is religion.  Religion is not a perfect vessel; there are spills and breakages. But it is the only vessel which has been able to contain non-rationality and harness it for good.

Nail, meet hammer. I now see where buzz’s way with words comes from.

Jerry Pournelle on Japanese nuclear disaster

I have been too busy in real life to do more than post links to my twitter feed over the last week or so, and reports from Japan about the nuclear incident following the tragic earthquake (thus far the 5th most intense in documented history) and resulting tsunami were too conflicting and sensationalist to write about. Let me however give the word to the inimitable Jerry Pournelle (on what is arguably the original weblog, now in its 666th week):

We are now down to an absolute worst case of two Tsar Bomba fallout equivalent from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Note that we are talking about fallout only: there is no danger whatever of an actual nuclear explosion. The media are breathlessly telling of a nuclear cloud approaching the United States. NPR proclaims that no nukes is good nukes. The Union of Concerned Scientists will cheerfully furnish you with as gloomy a forecast as you’d like whether you ask for their view or not.

In fact the situation is slowly coming under control. Fukushima Daiichi sits on the coast amidst a scene of almost unimaginable destruction, in freezing weather, with high winds. Every road, water pipe, and power line is gone. Debris litters the passageways to the plant. Fukushima Daiichi was protected by a 20 foot sea wall. Most of the surrounding countryside wasn’t protected by a sea wall at all.

At reactor four the fuel rods were in a spent fuel pond: the reactor was shut down in December. The pond was on the roof of the reactor building, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and could withstand an 8.0 quake, and being on the roof had a really short path from the reactor to the storage pond. All was well, until the quake cracked the pool wall. Well, that’s all right, we pump in water. Only there’s no power because the reactors scrammed at the first large tremor. That’s all right, the diesels kick in and the water pumps start up. Only now there’s a tsunami. Well, that’s all right, there’s a twenty foot sea wall. Only the tsunami is 23 feet, and maybe there has been some subsidence of the land level due to the quake. Water rushes into the complex. Back at reactor 4: the water is flowing out of the spent fuel rod pool. The rods stand on end, 14 feet tall, with about 40 feet of water in the pool. The water is flowing out. Everyone is worrying more about the three reactors which are scrammed but which still contain the fuel rods. Those rods are really hot: they are full of just created fission products, some with half lives in minutes to hours so producing a lot of heat. Over in four all the really hot stuff — fission products — has decayed out. But the water is leaking. Temperatures are going up.

At some point the water in the four tank boils furiously near the zirconium rod containers. Superhot steam plus zirconium metal produces very fast rusting. This is also known as oxidation. Rapid oxidation is often called burning. The oxygen in the water is stripped off to become zirconium oxide. That leaves hydrogen (contaminated with some tritium since we still have neutrons and beta products coming from the radioactive decay of the fission byproducts). Hydrogen gets out into the room enclosing the spent fuel pool. It mixes with oxygen from the outside. It ignites. There is an explosion that blows off the roof of the rooftop spent fuel enclosure building. Water continues to leak from the pool.

The remedy is to get water into that pool, but we still don’t have much power for pumps, nor water supply, because we are still surrounded by devastation, and we still have the problem of the reactors that have just been scrammed and are really really hot because they have recently created fission products in them.

But we can call in helicopters to drop water into the now-exposed pool.  That ought to work only there is a 20 knot wind, so not all the water dropped can get into the pool, and much goes downwind in a televisible display plume.

And there we are. The good news is that the wind is blowing the results out to sea. The bad news is that a plume hundreds of miles long develops and in that plume are detectable — not dangerous but detectable — levels of radiation, and out there away from the destruction, not hampered by the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami, are a lot of  news people desperate for a story, and —   I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader. Detectible soon becomes potentially dangerous levels, and it’s hundreds and hundreds of miles, and a Union of Concerned Scientists expert will now tell you about it all.

I can’t say that this won’t be worse than Chernobyl, but so far we have no stories whatever of anyone off the plant site injured, which makes this a TMI story, not a Chernobyl story. And that’s the way things are at Noon on Thursday as best I can tell. Here’s the headline:

Japan nuclear crisis deepens as radiation keeps crews at bay

Race is on to restart cooling systems with emergency power after dropping water on damaged reactors has little effect

To the best of my knowledge the Japanese crews are winning the race. This will end up worse than TMI because many of those in the plant will be injured, and some may be killed: I understand that some workers have voluntarily exceeded their annual badge limits and by a lot because they thought their work was critical. At TMI there were no off site injuries, and the worst to the workers was that they exceeded their badge limits and were sent away. At Daiichi there have so far been no off site injuries, but some to many of the plant workers have exceeded their badge limits. In addition six or more have mechanical injuries, some from the hydrogen explosions, one from a heart attack. Pray for them.

Indeed. Jerry puts in a well-deserved plug to the MIT Nuclear Information Hub. weblog, which is now frequently updated with lots of relevant info. Get thee over there.

And just to give some perspective on the scale of the disaster caused by the tsunami, have a look at this video sent to me by Mrs. F2. At first the combination of new agey background music and what deceptively seems like shots of a peaceful tide rolling will throw you off, but as the images zoom in the devastation is revealed for what it is, and the continuing background music creates a chilling, Lalo Shifrin-esque emotional counterpoint.


Egypt: the view of Egyptian scientists

Michael Harms, director of the Cairo office of the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische AustauschDienst, i.e., German Academic Exchange Service), offers a view from the Egyptian capital in an interview with Nature magazine. (Hat tip: Mrs. F2; emphasis mine)

Where are you now?

My team, as well as 55 German DAAD fellows, have been camping here in the office since Friday. We’re located in the diplomatic quarter on the Zamalek Nile Island, just a few kilometers from Cairo’s main square downtown and the centre of the protests. The situation here is still very critical: there are armed guys patrolling the streets, and there are militia everywhere.

What is the mood among Egyptian academics?

They basically share the same views with the majority of the protesters: a deep fury about the Mubarak regime. Most intellectuals say the regime is unfair and corrupt. But nobody really has a program or a vision for the future, nor are there any common goals for the time to come.

The many academics I have spoken to do not think there is currently a political force which would be capable of unifying the country. Certainly they don’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood [a leading political opposition group] to do it. There is also a widespread feeling that Western-style democracy is not a panacea for Egypt. But few have a good idea of what a political system that would suit Egypt should look like.

How would you describe Egyptian science?

There are many problems. Universities are critically under-funded and academic salaries are so low that most scientists need second jobs to be able to make a living. Tourist guides earn more money than most scientists. You just can’t expect world-class research under these circumstances. […] Some 750,000 students graduate each year and flood the labor market, yet few find suitable jobs – one reason for the current wave of protests.

But there are some good scientists here, particularly those who have been able to study and work abroad for a while. The Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education has started some promising initiatives. For example, in 2007 it created the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), a Western-style funding agency. And Egypt is quite strong in renewable energies and, at least in some universities, in cancer research and pharmaceutical research.

Read the whole thing. And I cannot recommend this piece I linked yesterday enough: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution: An on-the-ground narrative by Sam Tadros