16 April 2011
This is an exciting time for science and human rights. The economic, political, medical, and social challenges affecting countries across the world increasingly demand global solutions. The toll on society of the credit crunch that began in America and Europe in 2008 and the ecological pressures resulting from climate change increasingly demand empirically tested, technical knowledge. We need to know more about safe and sustainable ways of energy production, more about communicable diseases and public health, and more about creating strong multi-cultural communities, to name just a few of the roles of science in society. And these roles need to be taken up by the global community of scientists if they are to be successful.
The globalization of science today is still growing and is shown by the emergence of new countries on the map of academic productivity. Earlier this year, the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s prestigious academic association, released a report Knowledge, Networks, and Nations which showed the remarkable strides by developing countries in catching up with big academic powerhouses of the world like the United States. Not surprisingly, China is one of the new players – it has seen its publication output go from 4.4% to 10.2% of the global output. India, Brazil, Iran, and Turkey have all seen huge bounds forward. The report's 5 big recommendations all focused on ways of further promoting international science.
As hopeful as these developments are, there are also instances of science being crushed by the effects of political, economic, and social strife. In Nature magazine on April 14 Deborah-Fay Ndhlovu recounts this state of affairs currently ongoing in Sudan where universities have had to uproot as a result of the new territorial division of the country into a north and south Sudan. Public spending on research in the country in 2009 amounted to just 0.29% of GDP and scientists there are worried that the disruption will only compound this dearth. In a previous episode of relocation in 1989, classes took place in tents for years before department buildings were completed. Chances for a different pattern this time look unlikely when less than 20% of the promised government funding for staff and relocation expenses has been forthcoming.
It is interesting to look at this state of affairs alongside Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which states the human right to the benefits of technological and scientific progress, and the conservation, development, and diffusion of science and culture. Sudan is just one example showing the inequalities that exist between countries, and the challenges that face the international scientific community as it endeavors to create more connectivity and capacity building.