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.

Debate erupts over whether science journalists must have a background in science

September 20, 2012

David Dickson

David Dickson
Correspondent, SciDev.Net

Do science journalists need an educational background in science? The issue the invariably creates controversy whenever science journalists meet to discuss the quality of their profession. This week’s workshop in Addis Ababa has been no exception.

The spark that set off the debate was a recommendation from a survey of media coverage of science and technology in Africa carried out by the department of journalism and communication at Makerere University in Uganda, and sponsored by UNESCO.

According to Ivan Lukanda from Makerere, who presented the results of the survey to the workshop, “it is important for media organizations to invest in people with science and technology backgrounds rather than those with only journalistic knowledge and skills”.

Predictably, this did not go down too with some of the science journalists in the room. George Claassen, who is both a prominent South African science journalist and a lecturer in science journalism at Stellenbosch University, strongly contested the conclusion.

Some of the best science journalists he knew, he said, did not have a scientific background, but had picked up their knowledge of science through both personal and professional interest. “It’s the ability to ask the right question that counts,” he said.

Otula Owuor, editor and publisher of ScienceAfrica, based in Nairobi, Kenya, said that the idea that a science journalist needed a good scientific background was “outdated”.

He added that “a well-trained journalist who is interested in the issues that he or she is writing about will produce a good article”, regardless of their educational background.

Another protest came from Dino Onifade of Nigeria, publisher of the website, and president of the African Federation of Science Journalists.

Onifade — who started his career as a business journalist — argued a science journalist had to cover so many topics that training in one scientific discipline was of little value in writing about others. And he claimed that the Makerere researchers lacked empirical evidence to justify their recommendation on the need for a scientific background.

But Lukanda stuck to his guns. He pointed to a finding of the Makerere study that very few media houses invest in training their reporters to cover science and technology. As a result, most journalists did not feel confident writing about science, he said.

Indeed he quoted a conclusion of the study that “the lack of knowledge and skills among journalists explains the little and low quality of coverage offered to science and technology”. This one will clearly run and run, in Africa as elsewhere.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism 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.

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