TWAS meeting ends on a high note

September 21, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

The TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) conference finished today, Bai Chunli, its next president and the president of Chinese Academy of Sciences, working hard to make it a success. Bai told me, smiling, that he was very excited about the conference, so he never felt tired.

“I’m satisfied with the conference, because the meeting has completed all the programmes we have arranged for it,” Bai said at the closing ceremony of TWAS 12th today.

Before closing the conference, he expressed his thanks to all the participants and speakers for their participation and contributions.

In particular, he expressed his heartfelt appreciation to the Tianjin Municipal People’s Government and TWAS Secretariat.  Without their full-support and hard work, the conference would not have been such a big success, he said.

The conference saw TWAS changing its name to The World Academy of Sciences; and pledges of US$1.5 million to TWAS from the Chinese president.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

TWAS and the future of developing world science

September 20, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

Academician M.H.A. Hassan, the former director of the TWAS, made a speech during the Abdus Salam Medal Lecture yesterday that delegates are still talking about.

Hassan spoke about TWAS and the future of science in the developing world, and said that the organisation’s strategic aims should be promoting international co-operation and global partnerships.

He took session participants through TWAS’s major events from 1983-2012, its strategic aims and programmes; its future directions; and its global challenges.

Some of the organisation’s achievements include rewarding outstanding scientists in developing countries; supporting young scientists and research groups in S&T-lagging countries; promoting South-South exchanges and postgraduate education; and promoting information dissemination and the exchange of best practices.

Currently, the organisation has 1,028 members from 91 countries. Promoting the pursuit of scientific excellence and fostering the next generation of leaders in STI in developing countries has been at the core of TWAS operation for the past three decades, Hassan said.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

TWAS changes its name, again

September 19, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

During breakfast this morning, it was announced that TWAS — which was originally known as the Third World Academy of Sciences and changed its name to the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in 2004 — will henceforth been known as The World Academy of Sciences.

“All members of TWAS support the new change,” said Zhang Kan, former director of the Institute of Psychology, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), who attended a closed session at the TWAS conference yesterday.

He added that, in addition to supporting the change of name, TWAS members were eager to discuss the implications of the change. For example, Zhang said that the new name now means that TWAS welcomes members from developed countries.

TWAS fellows at the meeting in Tianjin (Credit:TWAS)

Currently, there are just over 1,000 TWAS members, 85 per cent of them from developing countries (developed country scientists may join as ‘associate fellows’) and Zhang expects this figure to rise as members from developed countries start joining.

“Global collaboration is very important for scientific research,” he said.

He gave the example of the Jiaolong, China’s manned deep-diving submersible. The vessel is the world’s first manned vehicle designed to reach a depth of 7,000 metres below sea level. It can be used in 99.8 per cent of the world’s seas. ” There are many other such examples, which show that research in developing countries is of an excellent standard,” he said.

Mohammed Hassan, the former director of TWAS, said that the strategic aims of the organisation should include promoting international cooperation and global partnerships.

Hu Jintao, the President of China, pledged US$1.5 million to TWAS to further boost scientific research in developing countries during yesterday’s keynote speech.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

China sets its eyes on lunar exploration

September 19, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

A session this morning on ‘Advances in China’s Lunar Exploration’ was introduced by China’s chief lunar exploration scientist and pioneer in astro-chemistry, Ouyang Zi-Yuan, also known as the ‘Father of Chang’E’ (Chinese unmanned lunar probe).

I have interviewed him many times in the past decade and found him to be a very nice, patient scientist. At the meeting he introduced the long-term plans for China’s lunar mission, Chang’E-1 and its scientific results, and Chang’E-2.

He also talked about some of the science behind China’s future lunar exploration.

Ouyang said that China’s unmanned lunar exploration programme has three steps: orbiting the moon (which took place in 2007); soft-landing on the moon (planned to take place between 2010 and 2013); and a mission to bring back samples from the Moon (planned for some time between 2015 and 2017).

Chang’e-2 (Wikimedia Commons/spacebabe)

Chang’E-1, the lunar orbiter mission, was successfully launched as scheduled on October 24, 2007. Its main objective was to detect and study scientific questions relating to the whole moon. It carried out topographical studies of the entire lunar surface. These led to the production of a three-dimensional map of lunar resources; the analysis of the distribution and abundance of major elements and minerals on the lunar surface; a survey of the moon’s ‘brightness temperature’ and other properties and a calculation of the thickness of the lunar regolith (material covering solid rock). The mission also probed the space environment around the moon.

Ouyang said that after launch, the Chang’E-1 orbiter took 13 days and 14 hours to complete its mission, clocking up a total flight distance of 2,090,000 km.

China’s lunar exploration in coming years will start around 2013 with the Chang’E-3, which will be a landing and roving exploration mission.

Ouyang said that the implementation of lunar orbiting, the lunar surface landing and rover exploration and the lunar sample return would all help to accumulate experience and to develop new technology for future manned lunar landing and lunar base construction.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

Science for future economic development

September 18, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

“The world is likely to be increasingly inflicted with poverty, hunger, disease, conflicts, violence, and economic uncertainty,” Atta-ur-Rahman, former science and technology minister of Pakistan, said in a speech at the TWAS meeting today. “And universities can play a key role in facing these challenges through the application of science, technology and innovation — new technologies.”

Classrooms should be transformed from “teaching”  to “learning” environments — a paradigm shift that has already begun, according to Rahman. “Students will be required to study all aspects of a particular topic before coming to class. They will then have discussion sessions in the class rooms with teachers — a change from ‘teaching to tutoring'”

The universities of tomorrow will be ranked not just on the basis of research and PhD output but also by their contributions to socio-economic development, he said.

“Let us join hands and work together to improve educational standards.”

While this provides great opportunity, it also poses challenges, particularly around quality, access and relevance.

“In this fast changing world, developing countries need to invest in science, technology and innovation in order to rid themselves of poverty and hunger and stand with dignity in the comity of nations,” Rahman told SciDev.Net.

Through harnessing scientific research one can increase the yields of agricultural crops and make them resistant to disease. It is also possible to use deserts for growing certain crops as fodder for animals, he said. “So in order to get rid of poverty and hunger the developing countries must invest in education and in innovation/entrepreneurship.”

“In order to promote innovation we must train our students to think in a problem-solving manner, and link research with industrial and agricultural development. For this it is important to establish technology parks, have venture capital funds and promote private sector research and development. It is only through such measures that the process of socio-economic development can be promoted,” Rahman said.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place between 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

President Hu Jintao makes surprise visit to TWAS meeting

September 18, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, surprised attendees with an appearance at the opening ceremony of the conference this afternoon in the Tianjin Great Hall. He presented several TWAS prizes to scientists from the developing world, including the TWAS Regional Prizes in Building Scientific Institutions; the Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize; and first ever TWAS-Celso Furtado Prize in Social Sciences.

Hu told the meeting that “China will help developing countries build science research equipment and technology demonstration platform”.

One of the winners, Jason Yi-Bing Lin, senior vice-president of National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan told me: “I’m inspired by the President of China, Hu, presenting me [with my certificate] and I’ll continue to work hard”. He said that the TWAS 23rd General Meeting has been very inspiring so far, and will help promote the cooperation of scientists from different developing countries.

TWAS meeting (Credit: Li Jiao)

Another winner, Valakunja Nagaraja — from the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore — said he was surprised to accept his certificate from the president and shake hands with him. “I was very excited,” he said.

Samar Hasnain from Pakistan, who has been a member of TWAS for almost twenty years, said the fact that “Hu attended the meeting seems [to imply that the] Chinese government pays great attention to developing countries’ cooperation and especially pays great attention to science research”.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

TWAS elects new president

September 18, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

Bai Chunli, the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), was elected today as the next president of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) and will take up his position in January 2013.

Bai is a well-known chemist and leading nanoscientist, and was appointed executive vice-president of CAS in 2004. He has also served as Vice-President of the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), president of the Graduate University of CAS (GUCAS), director of the Academic Division of Chemistry, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Presidium of the Academic Divisions of CAS.

Bai Chunli (Credit:TWAS)

Academicians from more than seventy countries gathered today at the TWAS meeting, and many were excited to be here.  Atta-ur-Rahman, former science and technology minister of Pakistan, told me during a break that “this conference brings together the leading scientists from developing countries and opens opportunities for cooperation amongst them. It also allowed them to learn from others’ experiences.”

On a personal note, I felt very embarrassed today. It turns out that I am not actually allowed to attend the closed sessions at the conference. But that won’t stop me reporting from the public parts of this meeting, so keep reading!

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

Will the president of Chinese Academy of Science become the next president of TWAS?

September 17, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

Welcome to my blog from the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World’s (TWAS) 12th General Conference and 23rd General meeting, taking place in Tianjin, China, this week!

Academicians discussed who will be next president of TWAS during today’s dinner, and Li Desheng — a 90-year-old member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and TWAS — told me he believes that Bai Chunli, president of CAS, will be the next TWAS president.

Many Chinese members agree. Tomorrow morning the result will be announced.

I’m very lucky to be allowed attend the sessions ‘shaded in dark’ on the programme — closed sessions for members only — tomorrow morning because I was selected as a member of TWAS.

Tianjin, China (Credit: Flickr/~MVI~ sleepless in bangkok)

So tomorrow I’ll let you know who the next president will be, and well as information from the closed sessions, including the speech named ‘Science, technology and innovation for sustainable socio-economic development’ by Atta-ur-Rahman, former Pakistan minister for science and technology, and ‘Science for development’ by S. Ting.

I will be filing several reports each day on this blog.

The conference looks so interesting! I’ll keep you updated.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

Kenya hopes to host Africa’s first World Conference of Science Journalism

August 22, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Kenya’s science journalism body, the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) will bid to host the 2016 World Conference of Science Journalism (WCSJ), in partnership with the African Federation of Science Journalists.

The body will be seeking support from WCSJ affiliate bodies in its bid to host the event in Kenya. If successful, this would be the first time the conference is staged in Africa.

MESHA Kenya chair Violet Otindo told delegates at the official opening of the African Science Journalist Conference (ASJC) on Tuesday night that the experiences gained from hosting the first ever ASJC had given them enough courage to bid for the global event.

“The fact that we have successfully hosted the ASJC event, the first ever on the African continent, has given us enough confidence to bid for the world event,” she said. “We do not feel the event will be any different from what we are hosting today – the only difference is that the world conference will be much bigger,” she added.

Press conference in Kenya. Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat, flickr

Kenya’s minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Margaret Kamar, said the Kenyan government will support Kenya’s bid to host the event, saying that such a move would put the country and Africa’s science journalism on the world map.

“I’m assuring you of my personal and government support in seeking to host the event, and indeed we will support you in whichever way we can,” said the minister when she officially opened the ASJC in Kenya’s Rift Valley town of Nakuru.

With over 100 journalists present, enthusiasm for the bid spread quickly. Former BBC Africa editor and Knight Journalism fellow Joseph Warungu said that Africa must not again miss the chance to host the event.

“We feel the 2011 WCSJ was a missed opportunity for Africa and this time we must make sure we succeed,” he said.

The last WCSJ event was staged in Doha, Qatar after it was moved from Cairo, Egypt at the last minute following political upheavals in the north African country. Next year’s conference will be hosted by Finland.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

Research needs “radical transformation”

August 21, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

A radical transformation in the way research is carried out by universities and institutions is needed to improve the use of evidence by policymakers in the global North and South. This is what John Young, director of impact assessment, partnerships and RAPID at the Overseas Development Institute, UK, argued on the first day of the International Conference on Research for Development.

Young’s talk, on enabling research in global transformation, focused on influencing policy on what he refers to as ‘wicked problems’. These are global challenges that are difficult to define, multi-causal, socially complex and experience chronic policy failures. Needless to say, perhaps the most pressing wicked problem of our time is climate change. And as we have seen, despite the urgency of the problem and its prominence in research and political limelight, collective political action has been, and still is, lacking.


Policymakers do not use evidence to inform decision making for a number of reasons, Young explained. These can be neatly summarised as (quoting British politician Vince Cable): speed, superficiality, spin, secrecy and scientific illiteracy among policy makers.

He urged the need to recognise that policymaking involves a range of factors other than evidence, such as economic, social and political factors, resource limitations and increasing pressure from NGOs, and called the process “chaotic”. To appreciate the reality of this complex situation, he suggested a shift from using the phrase evidence-based policy to evidence-important policy.

While it is quite easy to become discouraged and complacent about these challenges, Young explained that research carried out in the right way can be hugely influential.

But how?

Young argued that research requires a radical transformation. As it stands, classical research takes too long, is expensive and focuses on academic questions and not practical solutions.

So first of all, evidence needs to be relevant. The key to this is a transdisciplinary approach, focusing on practical solutions. Researchers can no longer work alone; it is crucial to build a coalition for change with individuals and organisations not necessarily from the research community.

Collaboration of Indonesian women. Photo credit: vredeseilanden, Flickr

For this, researchers need to become good communicators and networkers. It is important to understand what the policy issues are and how these are likely to change what research is carried out. Incentives for researchers also need to be reconsidered, as publishing in peer-reviewed journals is not relevant or timely for transdisciplinary work.

Innovative communication and advocacy work is needed to improve access to research for policymakers. Demand for research can be created by presenting information in a policy-friendly way: focusing on what is known about the issue, how strong the evidence is and the likely effects of new legislation. Simplicity is key.

The importance of think tanks should not be underestimated, Young explained. Many carry out research, and have extensive policy and public affairs programmes. There is an increasing number of think tanks in the global South with strong networks of key actors, and this is crucial to influencing policy.

Young referred to exciting projects such as the Indonesia Knowledge Initiative and the Climate Development Knowledge Network that aim to improve the use of research in policy by working on capacity development with researchers and policymakers. These programmes are needed in developing and emerging countries for a vibrant knowledge economy and research to influence policy and practice.

More information on ODI’s work, and its various tools for researchers using evidence to shape policy making can be found here.

Do you have any advice or tips on how to make research more policy friendly or successful examples on the uptake of research into legislation? If so, please leave a comment below.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.

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