A research centre in every science centre?

June 15, 2011

Ever thought about science museums and science centres having their own dedicated research centres? No, me neither. But that was the suggestion of Leo Tan Wee Hin, president of the Singapore National Academy of Sciences, in the science communication session this morning.

The Singapore Science Centre

The Singapore Science Centre: home to research? (Credit: Flickr/Eugene Phoen)

He thinks it’s a missed opportunity that science centres, academies and universities get involved in informal science learning for the public but then don’t do any research into its effectiveness. After all, he said, these people are trained scientists, so they’re well-placed to carry out rigorous research into the impact of their activities.

“We’ll spend money on a pretty science centre but not on its results,” he said. “Most of the staff in science centres have PhDs, there is immense scope for the emerging field of informal science learning.”

Few developing countries have science centres, and their science academies, societies and universities are under-resourced. But they are an important mode of science communication in those countries that do have successful organisations. If countries heeded Tan’s words as they developed, perhaps this could be their chance to get in on the field and define its focus while it is still young.

Katherine Nightingale, South-East Asia news editor, SciDev.Net

Namibia science academy takes shape

November 9, 2010

Elmo Thomas, on the left.

Efforts to set up a Namibian academy of natural and social sciences started in earnest this year.

Elmo Thomas, deputy director in the Namibian ministry responsible for science and technology policy development, told me that a steering committee is busy working on the structure of the academy. The steering committee includes academics, higher education officials and other stakeholders.

“Obviously one of our first priorities is to promote networking, within Namibia and the world at large,” said Thomas.

He said the process to establish the academy will go through three phases: the first being the ground work, the second being the establishment of the academy and the third getting it working on projects. He hopes that the first phase will be completed early next year.

For him, the ASADI meeting is a learning experience. “At this meeting we have academies at various stages of development, academies that are two and those that are five years old – it is an opportunity to learn.”

Namibia’s academy may be some time to come – a similar initiative in Ethiopia launched in April this year took almost two years to get off the ground from concept to execution.

The Namibian project is being supported by the Germany Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Sciences of South Africa, the Namibian government and the Network of African Science Academies.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

Minority report

October 19, 2010

Women in a lab (Flickr/Argonne National Laboratory)

At the registration counter for the 21st General Meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), in Hyderabad, India, this morning, a young volunteer mistakenly assumed that I must have come as a delegate’s spouse.

This reminded me of one of my favourite anecdotes about a French teenager’s description of a science academy as a club of old gentlemen. French physicist and former co-chair of the InterAcademy Panel, the global network of science academies, Yves Quéré wrote in Nature that the teenager unwittingly zeroed in on three problematic features of science academies: few women, few young people and their modus operandi being akin to private clubs.

Shrugging sniggers from men, I will focus on the first point: few women. At this meeting women participants form about a tenth of the entire meeting. This, some women participants assured me, is a generous estimate.

A 2004 report on science careers of Indian women, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, says women form less than 5 per cent of fellows of each of the three major science academies in India: Indian National Science Academy, Indian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

This seems reflective of the more general gender malaise. A 2006 report of the InterAcademy Council says 95 per cent of science academy members world over are men.

In the United States, the proportion of women scientists in the National Academy of Sciences is around seven per cent, and in the UK’s Royal Society only 4.5 per cent.

Recent years have seen repeated calls for more incentives for women in research.

I must say the Philippines is refreshingly ahead of India on this front. The National Academy of Science and Technology in the Philippines has had a woman head for at least two terms.

“Academies must set an example for all of the world to see of welcoming women scientists and engineers to their ranks and treating them as full partners with men,” the IAC report said four years ago.

I am not confident that the academies have taken this seriously yet.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

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