Wednesday, 21 February 2007

AAAS DAY 4: IN PURSUIT OF COOPERATION

BY JOHN THOMPSON, STEPS Centre member

AAAS Day 4: Sunday 18 Feb 2007

One of the highlights of the entire conference was an evening plenary lecture by Mohamed Hassan, Executive Director of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (formerly the Third World Academy of Sciences) and a member of the STEPS International Advisory Panel. You can watch a RealPlayer video of Mohamed giving his lecture at http://www.aaas.org/meetings/Annual_Meeting/2007_San_Fran/lectures/hassan/hassan.ram
Mohamed’s talk was a wide-ranging examination of “International Cooperation in Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being”, which covered several challenges:
1. Disparities in science, technology and innovations capacity – both North-South and South-South
2. Global sustainability issues
3. Brain drains – again both North-South and South-South
4. International circulation of scientists
5. Access to scientific information

On capacity, Hassan used shares of published articles in peer-reviewed journals to illustrate disparities between countries. He observed that there are growing divisions at three levels, the rich North (including Australia and New Zealand), a middle-income South (including China, India, Brazil, South Africa etc.) that contribute 22% of all publications and the 77 countries who lag behind in S&T and only contribute only 3% of publications. A challenge for international cooperation is how to help reduce these disparities, especially the group of 77.

On opportunities, Hassan outlined new developments in four areas:
1. Cutting-edge technologies (ICTs, biotech, nanotech)
2. Natural resources and biodiversity
3. Renewed commitments to STI in Africa
4. Greater commitment by the G-8 countries and China to support STI investments in developing countries

He went on to describe several examples of international cooperation, from improvements in higher education (through the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa and establishment of networks of the scientific academies) to establishment of centres of excellence (drawing on lessons from the CGIAR) and networks of Third World scientific academies. On this latter point, Hassan observed, “The scientific academies are waking up now and realising they must do something for society and not just act as private clubs.”

In concluding, Hassan noted that many developing countries are waking up to the fact that “investing in science is not a luxury”. He pointed to countries like Nigeria, which is setting up its own National Science Foundation and Rwanda, which expects to increase expenditure on STI to 3% of GDP in the next five years. But these and other countries cannot do it alone. His key message was that “chances have never been brighter” for developing countries to increase their capacities in science and technology, but they can’t do it alone. They will need considerable support from scientific organisations like AAAS and research centres like STEPS to make it happen.


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