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Science and economic development

      A list of the highest scorers in scientific research papers reads as if it were the list of the world's most developed economies: In first place, the U.S.A., second Germany, third China, fourth, Japan and fifth the U.K. When it comes to gross domestic expenditure on research and development, according to the Scientific American, the list is similar: first, U.S.A., second, China, third, Japan, fourth, Germany and fifth, France.

     Significantly, South America practically does not appear in the figures. Brazil is in 24th place in research papers; Mexico 21st in expenditures.

     True, there might be questions raised concerning the criteria used in establishing the rankings; there might even be subtle forms of bias slanting the interpretation of the information. One might also question the ultimate aim of scientific investigation and its utility in furthering the social well-being of citizens in a country. Yet even the most untrained observer would clearly conclude that there is a direct relationship between the stress put on scientific investigation and economic and social organization.

       Most countries in what used to be called the "Third World" are too busy paying off debts and patching up enormous social deficits, dealing with gigantic gaps in income, finding solutions to ward off tomorrow's impending crisis, to put together coherent plans of development or find a budget to finance scientific research.

     One of the biggest sucess stories is Germany. How does scientific research aid economic development there? A key is the stress put on high technology along with the close collaboration between universities and research institutions and private business. Most German manufacturers have very ample budgets for research, which they frequently buy from others. For example, German companies go to universities to get solutions to specific problems.

     Another sucess story is China, a country that has been growing at around 10% per year. The country has gone into research in a big way: in 1978 the country had only 860,000 students in higher education; by 2011 that figure jumped ahead to 23 million. There are now 100 research universities in all fields, especially emphasizing science and engineering. It is bent on achieving global leadership in scientific investigation but must deal with a structural roadblock: while excellence at the top is moving ahead at great speed, a big gap persists with bottom end institutions where institutions still cater to mass enrollments.

    Other countries which have rapidly joined to rush for scientific research include South Korea and Turkey. Certainly one explanation for the jump forward is the process of globalization: in order to compete on world markets countries need improved products which can be produced faster, more efficiently and exported in the least possible time. Thanks to cybernetic technology it has become much easier to connect up with persons half way around the world, and knowledge is spreading faster than it ever has.

    Politically, the centers of world power comprehend that knowledge is power; however it is no longer possible to retain knowledge on an exclusive basis. If investigation in one country brings about the possibility of producing carbon derived products more economically that might well be used to give it a momentary economic advantage. But the "secret" will be short lived.

    The difficulties which developing countries in Latin America have with respect to scientific research are by no means limited to their budgets for science. Higher education needs to be reorganized in view of changing priorities in order to relate them to deveopment needs. The introduction of scientific thinking would certainly innovate bureaucratic structures; stimulus for creativity would introduce a healthy change in many segments of society banalized by routine ways of doing things.

    However, there is also a danger. Science and investigation can bring about fascinating results and can stimulate economic growth. However, the basis questions remain unsolved: what kind of development, for whom, and how can development be carried out without destroying the environment, without contaminating the air and the water, without leaving people to survive in a world of waste?


Miércoles, 26 de Diciembre de 2012 15:16 alfredo #. Revista (Magazine)

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