Friday, July 22, 2011

Latin America needs a 'big push' in S&T investment

I quote from an article by Francisco Sagasti in SciDev.Net: 

Latin America is a fertile land for creative policies for science and technology (S&T), but its achievements in this field are limited.
It invests just 0.6 per cent of GDP in research and development, about a third of the global average. It has 8.5 per cent of the world's population but accounts for only 3.5 per cent of the world's researchers, 4.9 per cent of the scientific publications and 0.2 per cent of patents.
Sagasti has played an important role in Latin American science policy, and indeed in science policy internationally, for decades. He writes from experience as well as from a policy analysis background. I certainly agree that Latin America has under performed in science and in technological innovation and improvement, and that in the coming century it should do better.

I am a Gringo, however, and am familiar with a government that has no explicit science and technology policy, but implements a number of instruments that influence investment and production of science and technology. The United States has a complex system in which federal and state governments, the higher education system, private industries and even civil society do and fund science, and innovate and improve technology as they use it.

I have lived in Chile and Colombia, in both places transferring technologies, and have worked in and out of almost all the other countries in the region. My experience suggests that there are fertile fields for technological innovators. I wonder, however, if my Latin colleagues and students lacked the brashness of us Gringos. The ideal is indeed that enemy of the good in technological work, and it is often important to just go ahead and do the best you can. Technology grows through people building marginally on the work of others.

I suspect that Sagasti and I agree that strengthening science and technology in Latin America involves both governmental policies and industrial efforts. The educational system is critically important, both to do science and technology and to prepare the workforce to work as productive scientists, engineers and technologists.

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