Sunday, January 30, 2005

Socially relevant science

Science must step up fight against poverty
New approach needed in Africa (Cape Times)

    ... And scientists have been able to resist pressure to make their work relevant to social needs, using the argument (inherited from colonialist predecessors) that academic excellence is the only criterion that really counts.

    All too often, those from the developed world who seek to boost science in the poorer parts of the world, are tempted do so in ways that encourage such forms of thinking.

    The idea they present is that since science and technology are seen as the driving motors of both social and economic progress, both should be nurtured in the way that they are - or rather, have traditionally been - in those countries that have trodden this path successfully in the past.

    But this approach pays insufficient attention to several factors that make African states today different from those of, say, Europe, or even East Asia, in the 20th century.

    One is the way that globalisation has transformed the whole international research enterprise.

    A second is the evolution that has taken place within science itself, so that the boundaries between pure and applied research in fields such as genomics or nanotechnology are now virtually non-existent.

    And a third is the fact that since the spending power of those most in need of the fruits of modern science and technology is virtually negligible, market forces cannot be relied upon to exert the "pull through" from the laboratory that they have done elsewhere.

    None of these factors are unfamiliar to those who have been looking recently at the way forward for Africa. More here

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