World Science Forum: how did it do?

November 22, 2011

Yuan Tseh Lee (with microphone): 'this forum has been very successful in many ways' (Credit: Flickr/gedankenstuecke)

The World Science Forum has been held every two years, since 2003, in Budapest, Hungary, but now it will alternate between Hungary and other countries, starting with Brazil in 2013.

Aloizio Mercadante science and technology minister of Brazil, called the forum “one of the most important scientific events in the world”. He announced the theme of the next forum to be ‘Science for Global Development’ and promised regional preparatory meetings ahead of the forum.

Indian science and technology minister, Vilasrao Deshmuk, invited the forum to India in 2017.

Yuan Tseh Lee, president of the International Council for Science (ICSU), said that “forum has been very successful in many ways”. Despite numerous presentations, discussions and different views, he said, “we did come up with some common agreements and common views”.

Alice Abreu, professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said this forum was better than the previous one, but still lacked time for discussions. This was also a general feeling among the other participants I talked to.

Zaid Naffa, honorary consul from Jordan, said that line-ups of 5-6 speakers in two hour blocks were not a friendly enough format for the politicians and diplomats, who need shorter presentations and more opportunity to ask questions.

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

Declaration calls for better international collaboration and capacity building

November 22, 2011

"These are difficult times"

The World Science Forum culminated with the endorsement of a declaration calling for improved international collaboration in science and the breaking down of knowledge divides.

The declaration says that changes in science over the last decade signify “a new milestone in the history of science” and “a new era of global science”.

It makes five key recommendations including improved dialogue with society; promotion of international collaboration in science; and more collaborative policies to overcome the knowledge divide.

It calls for a universal ethical code of conduct on the freedoms and responsibilities of researchers that wants to see adopted by national legislations. It also calls for the strengthening of capacity building, including expanding participation of women in science and science policymaking and institutionalising the scientific advisory process within national parliaments and governments.

Yuan Tseh Lee, president of the International Council for Science (ICSU) said the declaration “touched upon many important things, but the most important thing is we all seem to be willing and committed to establish sustainable, equitable and just human civilisation” in what is a “very difficult time”.

Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith, chair of the UK’s Royal Society Advisory Group, who gave a lecture on international collaboration at the forum, told SciDev.Net the declaration was “good”. “It has all the right things; the need to cooperate better and work across boundaries and by working together we can better solve problems”.

But some scientists said that the recommendations of  were not strong enough.

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

G77’s COSTIS – a long time coming and where is it going?

November 22, 2011

Shanghai: venue for COSTIS' first meeting (Flickr/Keith Marshall)

More than a decade after it was initiated, and six years since its launch in 2006,the Group of 77 (G77) countries’ COSTIS (Consortium for Science, Technology and Innovation for the South) will finally hold its first general meeting in Shangai, China in 2012.

A COSTIS-organised meeting on South-South cooperation in science and technology for development was one of a few side events at the 5th World Science Forum, held in Budapest, Hungary last week (17-19 November).

Gretchen Kalonji, assistant director general for Natural Science at UNESCO and Katalin Bogyay, president of the General Conference of UNESCO, both expressed their support for COSTIS and expressed willingness to work together, as some of the aims of the two organisations are closely aligned.

Kalonji urged COSTIS to form a steering committee to ease UNESCO’s collaboration with it.

But neither of the UNESCO representatives stayed for the rest of the brainstorming meeting.

The meeting itself seemed weak in several respects. Although it is a consortium of 77 countries, there were no more than a dozen countries represented by some 20-30 attendees. Some of them did not even know what COSTIS, or indeed the G77 were, or how COSTIS is meant to work.

Others questioned how it differed from TWAS (the Academy of Science for the Developing World). And some, like a delegate from Madagascar, urged the participants to start informal collaborations there and then – by exchanging contact details and possible areas or research collaboration – instead of waiting for high level groups such as G77 to help them do so.

The brainstorming was equally weak, with many of the delegates simply presenting their institutions, or praising their successful science (like the Iranian delegation) in one-way lectures, rather than trying to creatively engage with others and highlight new possibilities for collaboration.

At the end of the meeting, a brief declaration was passed around. A couple of delegates made short comments and attempted to raise some issues with it, but they were advised to e-mail any comments, as the meeting was about to close.

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

The right to travel: a passport for progress

November 20, 2011
A plane

With a passport, science students are a step closer to international collaboration (Credit: Flickr/Nir Sinay)

Getting science students their diplomas proves they are educated, but without a passport they will lack the opportunity to broaden their horizons through international travel and opportunities to work or to continue their education abroad. Indeed, one of the key recommendations coming out of the World Science Forum this week (17-19 November) is the need for more and better international collaboration in science.

So the Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology launched a ‘Passports for progress’ initiative at the forum.

The academy is an international organisation founded by the alumni of the prestigious Fulbright Exchange Program – there are around 300,000 alumni worldwide and several academy delegates attended the forum, including those from Bangladesh, Barbados, Costa Rica, Gaza, Honduras, India, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, and Zimbabwe.

Eric Howard, executive director of the academy, told SciDev.Net the initiative will start will the US students, funding their passports (around US$135 each) but will also be expanded to other countries.

Of course, some western countries have complicated visa requirements but there are other countries they can travel to.

Romain Murenzi, president of TWAS (the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World), told SciDev.Net that there is scope for much more collaboration (and science diplomacy) among developing countries, such as the countries of East Africa.

But overbearing immigration bureaucracy and regulatory hurdles may still hamper free scientific exchange.

One of the key recommendations the forum participants agreed upon to promote international collaboration in science is: “The free co-operation and movement of scientists should be promoted by the elimination of harmful bureaucracy and false regulation and by providing the funds to further international co-operation.”

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net 

The long shadow of UNESCO funding cuts

November 20, 2011
Aloizio Mercadante

Brazil's science minister urged support for UNESCO (Credit: Flickr/Agência de Notícias do Acre)

The sudden blow to UNESCO’s budget, following the US freeze on its funding for the organisation after it voted to admit Palestine at its general assembly last month (31 October), cast a shadow over the World Science Forum, which is co-organised by UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

The Brazilian science and technology minister, Aloizio Mercadante, welcomed Palestine’s admission to UNESCO in his plenary lecture yesterday (19 November) and invited the world’s governments to ‘re-invigorate their support for UNESCO’.

There is no organisation like it, he said, that puts so much effort into, and has so much capacity to promote, multilateral science collaborations. He called for involvement of all countries in truly multilateral science collaborations for the benefit of all, not just the interests of individual states being imposed on the international community, hinting presumably at the United States.

Gretchen Kalonji, UNESCO’s assistant secretary-general for Natural Science, said in her plenary lecture that “Despite the fact that UNESCO is going through some challenging times I can personally guarantee that we will re-double our efforts in connections between science and society”.

William Colglazier, science and technology adviser to US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, told SciDev.Net: “Because of congressional legislation the executive branch almost had no choice, so I know the State Department was trying to head it off, because whatever we might feel about trying to help the Palestinians in terms of science – back when I was at the American Academy of Science we had a number of joint projects between Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian scientists – but the worry was there would be, because of the existing law, no choice for the US government but to cut off funds and that was gonna’ have a lot of negative repercussions.”

“I think there was a great sadness at what that impact would be of the sort the symbolic decision that was made,” he said.

“I don’t know what the potential over time is to try and change it. But I certainly think the impacts on UNESCO are unfortunate.”

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

Arab debates: is well-funded science the same as useful science?

November 19, 2011

What have high literacy rates done for Sri Lanka?

“It’s not only important to do good science, it’s important to have science for development,” Zou’bi [see previous blog post] told the World Science Forum in Budapest.

“Our politicians in many Arab countries invest in science and expect societies to improve. They don’t realise that there is a value chain: it’s a complete set of procedures that have to go in tandem to really uplift the state of society in terms of socio-economic advancement, or have a positive impact on society.

“Otherwise we end up with the ‘Sri Lanka syndrome’, where you have a very high rate of literacy in the country, but no real impact on the socio-economic welfare of the population.”

Khaled Tougan, director of CRDF Global in Jordan, said that research should look at what the people in Arab countries need. For example, in Egypt there is a need for new jobs, so parliamentarians should focus on creating new entrepreneurial opportunities, promoting innovation and commercialisation of ideas.

This is already happening in some of the Arab countries that have avoided the protests – research is looking into what people want from the government. We need to have more bridges between scientists and parliamentarians so the focus in policy plans and budgets can be on the issues that affect people in these countries, such as food, water and energy security, he said, and added that Arab governments should also address the low proportion of investment in science.

Gretchen Kalonji, assistant director general for Natural Sciences at UNESCO said the issue is of “historic importance” and added that “scientists and parliamentarians working together is something that has to be increased”. She said that UNESCO is committed to engaging with science parliamentarian committees throughout the world and “to work together so we can collectively learn how to be more effective”.

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


Is Arab democracy essential for quality Arab science?

November 19, 2011

KAUST: an example of successful top-down science

There was lively debate, at a special session on the governance of science within parliaments at the World Science Forum yesterday (19 November), on whether democracy is essential for science to flourish in Muslim countries.

Scientists and parliamentarians attending the session, co-organised by UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and ISESCO (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), heard that there was a correlation between the levels of human rights indicators and science, technology and innovation indicators in Muslim countries.

Levels of investment in science are much higher in relatively democratic Malaysia and Turkey, compared with those in Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, said Adnan Badran, president of Al-Petra University in Jordan.

But this was challenged by the chair of the session, Mustapha El Tayeb, president of Future University in Sudan, who said that Tunisia, where the Arab democracy movement started, already had, before the revolution, one of the highest investments in science in the region.

Badran replied that statistics without analysis can be misleading, and that in countries such as Tunisia, high investment in science can happen with a top down approach – which prioritises what the government needs and wants to do, not people or the scientists.

“The right political environment is needed to unleash the minds towards the unknown – this is research,” Badran said. He added that research and development need freedom of expression, the ability to talk, speak out, and think freely to fulfil its full potential.

Moneef Zou’bi, director-general of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences, from Jordan, said the Arab spring was a “failure of politics” and their “top down approach” to policymaking. But he admitted there were exceptions, where top-down initiatives have been successful, such as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, and Education City in Qatar.

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


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