Friday, October 24, 2008

Science in the South

Science is carrying an interesting editorial this week by Mohamed Hassan, the executive director of the Third World Academy of Science, who argues that, while science has surged in parts of the South, it has stagnated elsewhere. The good news is that developing countries produce 20% of the articles published in international journals. The bad news is that a couple of countries - China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and Mexico - account for over half that proportion. Indeed, according to the figures Hassan quotes, sub-Saharan Africa generates just 1% of international journal articles.

There is certainly reason for hope, though. I have long thought that recent advances in information technology - especially "Web 2.0" innovations, but the 'basic' internet too - has made it possible to do cutting-edge science far away from traditional research and education centers in the developed world. Podcasts, blogs, online audio lectures, freely shared public talks, and other new developments allow for self-study of unprecedentedly quality and depth. And a movement to open access, together with RSS and free science news services, make it possible to keep abreast of the latest developments. Moreover, email and academics' generosity with their time and findings, make getting input from leading experts entirely feasible. (Of course, all of this depends on cheap and reliable internet access, but that's becoming more usual in Third World countries). Admittedly, there is good evidence that, in neuroscience research at least, there is still a very strong geographic concentration in a couple of locations in the rich world. But my own personal experience of doing and learning about science in a backwater - and that's what Durban is, no doubt - suggests that less capital intensive-research can flourish in the developing world.

While I'm yet to publish a paper in an international journal, that'll change soon(ish). Watch this space...


  1. It is reasonable that you are leaving social science and it is not very hard to find the reason in your post.
    A simple analysis will show that there is a strong coorelation between available of funding in S&T R&D in the emerging economies like BRIC, in comparison to the rest of the Southern countries.
    This is the key reason to drammatic growth of scholarly literature in those countries, not because of open access. Also the fact that most research institutions in BRIC have very robust and rich subscription or access to all the databases in the world. That makes for these countries open access irrelevant as far as growth of literature output is concerned.

  2. I don't think we necessarily disagree. Open access was only one part of my overall argument and I don't have a position on what caused the surge in research output from the South that Hassan mentions. My sole point was that recent developments on the web - including open access - has made it easier than ever to do quality research away from traditional research hubs.