Political freedom and science need each other to flourish

David Dickson

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net


We’re all well aware of the struggles for democracy that have erupted across the Middle East over the past few months. In some countries, such as Tunisia and Egypt, the struggle has already born fruit; in others, such as Libya, Syria and the Yemen, it remains bitter, and the outcome uncertain.

In situations where human life and political freedom are so much at stake, it might be argued that science, if seen only as an intellectual pursuit, is a low priority. In fact, the reverse is the case. As Alan Leshner of the AAAS, and Mohamed Hassan, formerly of the Academy of the Sciences of the Developing World, describe in a highly recommended blog posting, political freedom is essential for science to flourish. And in its turn, science is essential if democracy is to protect and improve human life.

In some countries, the struggle for democracy has already born fruit. Credit: Flickr/Messay Shoakena

But processes will only happen if the role that science can play in enabling sustainable economic and social development is brought to the attention of political leaders on the one hand, and the wider community on the other. Hence the importance of science journalism in getting the message across: the fight for a democratic world is also the fight for one in which science – and its applications to human welfare – can make its proper contribution to society.

I am therefore delighted – like Bothina Osama – to see the World Conference of Science Journalists taking part in the context of such a historical set of events. We have always seen our central task as being to put science at the heart of development. There could be no better place for doing this than the Arab world, and no better time than now. We look forwarding to an exciting and stimulating conference.

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