Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Making One World of Science"

Source: Mohamed H. A. Hassan, Editorial, Science 24 October 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5901, p. 505.The global scientific community is divided
into three worlds: the North, the surging South, and the stagnant South. The global community now faces the critical challenge of preventing lagging countries from falling even farther behind.

The United States continues to dominate global science. In 2007, U.S. scientists published nearly 30% of the articles appearing in international peer-reviewed scientific journals, which is comparable to the percentage a quarter-century ago. But China, responsible for less than 1% of publications in 1983, has recently surpassed the United Kingdom and Japan to become the world's second leading nation in scientific publications. China now accounts for more than 8% of the world's total, whereas India and Brazil produce about 2.5 and 2%, respectively, of the world's scientific articles. All told, scientists in developing countries generate about 20% of the articles published in peer-reviewed international journals.

It is gratifying to see such progress made by the surging South. But we cannot ignore the fact that these advances have been largely limited to just a few countries. The top five performers (China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and Mexico) contribute well over half of the scientific publications from the South. By contrast, sub-Saharan Africa, a region of 48 countries, produces just 1% of the world's scientific publications.
Comment: Investment in science in the scientifically stagnent South does not look like a paying proposition for the national governments in those countries, since it is high risk and long term. On the other hand, that investment is not a high priority for donor agencies. Many don't fund science as a priority and are not staffed to do so. The international financial institutions (such as the World Bank or the Inter American Development Bank) do not have many science projects in the scientifically stagnent countries because such projects would be too small to justify their high project development and oversight calls. The effort to create a mechanism funded by the rich countries but under the management of the larger community of nations, under the United Nations system, has failed due to the unwillingness of the major donors to fund such an effort. So the editorial is right on target, but fails to suggest a way to finance the long term capacity building effort that is needed. JAD

No comments: