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Brain Drain tax would be 'preposterous'

The claim that individuals who were educated in India and migrated to other countries to earn a living should be taxed (see India plans to demand compensation for effect of brain drain , 20 May 1999) is preposterous.

Almost all of us have repatriated sums of hard-earned money in foreign exchange, which India desperately needs, to our families back home in India. It is several times more than the money spent on us by the state for our education. Most of us have invested in Indian banks, and it is unlikely that a large part of this money will ever be reclaimed to be repatriated to us in foreign currency. India has gained by the so-called 'brain drain'.

Furthermore India has, intentionally or unintentionally, encouraged the brain drain by educating people without a clear purpose or aim. Neither the government nor the private sector appears to have any use for most of us, the so-called 'educated' university graduates. The Indian government should analyse the logic of imposing a tax and how it intends to collect it before making any pronouncements before an international body.

Bharat Kishore

10 June 1999

GM crops and the Third World

In discussing the suitability of genetically modified (GM) crops for the 'Third World', the attitude of European scientists towards those of us who live in Africa remains condescending and patronising (see GM crops a 'moral imperative' for Third World , 3 June 1999).

It is interesting that the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, whose report is described in your news item, sees fit to proclaim on the ethical suitability of foisting GE foodstuffs upon us. It may be more ethical for African and Asians and South Americans to make the choice for themselves - and then invite you in if we wish.

It is interesting to note that interest being taken in the Third World at a time when political resistance to GM crops is spreading in the developed countries. Why are these developed countries promoting the benefits of GE for us? Is it altruistic, or is it being driven by commercial interest?

With the lack of self control shown by the biotech industry in the first world, it is disconcerting to ponder the prospect of their return to the shores of their past colonies, this time with fewer checks and balances than last time - and driven only by the profit motive.

The possibility of a slip in gene technology protocols in a continent with as wide a biodiversity as ours puts us at huge risk, and is chilling in its possible consequences. Christian Aid is correct in its grasp of facts (see Biotech not the answer to hunger, says UK charity , 13 Mayt 1999). There is plenty of food, but it is poorly distributed and stored.

Please do not call us call us 'Third Worlders'. We may call you in when you have tested your technology to our satisfaction in your own countries. But our moral imperative is to protect ourselves from the greed of strangers bearing gifts, yet again.

Glenn Ashton

10 June 1999

Bioethics and slowing down the world

Lee Silver (see Science won't wait for ethics, 19 May 1999) speculates wistfully on "bioethicists willing, and able, to ... come up with practical solutions". This would, of course, be very nice. But I have yet to encounter a work on ethics that addresses such matters objectively. In fairness, even in a scientific field, it is hard for ethicists to be scientific; not all issues lend themselves to appropriate and constructive falsification of ethical hypotheses. But to have a point, ethics should be sufficiently meaningful to matter, sufficiently constructive to be useful, and sufficiently sound to be formally defensible.

Ethics is essentially a discipline in applied philosophy. Together with disciplines such as applied mathematics and applied logic, the differences from their theoretical counterparts have been stewed to rags in thousands of futile debates, practically all of which missed the essential point: all are largely formal systems based on assumptions, axioms, principles or whatever their respective practitioners call them, and in the case of the "theoretical" versions, the selection of the axioms is arbitrary. One might regard an academic axiomatic structure as sound or unsound, interesting or negligible, relevant or useless. But one cannot assail it simply on the grounds of its selection of axioms. One can do little more than require that the axioms be consistent, or at least - if that is consistent with the objectives - paraconsistent.

The applied disciplines, on the other hand, have one extra inescapable constraint: they must not conflict with the nature of the universe to which they are applied. For instance, all non-trivial ethical structures I have seen depend on imperatives, and do not permit the derivation of an imperative without an (implicit or explicit) imperative in the premises. In the real world, such imperatives largely depend on the values of those subscribing to the ethical system in question. Also (unfortunately) in the real world one has to face the fact that one must routinely deal with formally invalid values, where zealots urge imperatives that are inconsistent with the values they claimed to have based them on.

Professor Somerville's wistful diagnosis (see Doing Science in 'Ethics Time', 29 April 1999) of the need for the world to slow down until ethicists can get back on board is as ethically questionable as it is unrealistic. Apart from commercial interests, there are plenty of values that would clash seriously with any slowdown, and there is precious little reason to believe that the outcome of any slowdown would have any major ethical benefit, practical or theoretical. Anyone doubting this needs to do a little homework on elementary moral philosophy; no really novel work is necessary.

Secondly, no slowdown is necessary for the purposes of establishing a sound ethical basis for competent constructors of ethical codes. Thirdly, the most serious problems appalling those who beg for a slowdown are problems of the clash of facts with wishful thinking and personal outrage, i.e. invalid value structures.

How many of such ethicists could even give a useful, sound definition of a "right"? This should, by now, be kindergarten curriculum. But it is still the stuff of passionate political mud-wrestling. For entertainment of that calibre, it is unreasonable to ask the real world to slow down.

Jon Richfield

3 June 1999

Science won't wait for ethics

You report, without critique, the opinion of Canadian bioethicist Margaret Sommerville that "science will need to wait and to help ethics to catch up" (see 'Doing Science in 'Ethics time', 29 April 1999). Any regular reader of Nature is sure to wonder on what planet Professor Sommerville has grown up. It is certainly not one on which science or private industry of any kind exist, for if it was, she would surely know the lunacy of her proposition.

We would all be better served by bioethicists willing, and able, to work within the realm of the modern-day market-oriented world to come up with practical solutions to bioethical problems.

Lee Silver
Department of Molecular Biology, and
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Princeton University Princeton, NJ 08544, USA

19 May 1999

Synergies in the communication of science

We were delighted to read of the proposal to establish an International Centre for Science Communication in London (see 19 April 1999). The proposed centre will be the first in the Northern Hemisphere to combine outreach activities with a graduate communication programme - our experience here in Australia has been that this is a successful combination which provides for enhanced international exchange.

Our own programmes, which extend both nationally and internationally, have indicated that many countries are facing the same problems of lack of uptake of research, lack of 'ownership' of science and, to varying degrees, public indifference. These problems can only be addressed by serious and properly funded research into the means of bringing science and the public closer together. This does not simply equate to more funding for science education but should be seen as a related but different issue.

We would agree wholeheartedly that synergy is operating in London - but would extend this synergy to a world-wide feeling that science is ready to move closer to its public. We should like to see greater recognition of local knowledge and traditions throughout our region, and it is to be hoped that the forthcoming World Conference on Science will formulate constructive recommendations on public awareness of science, especially taking note of the importance of multicultural views.

Susan Stockmayer (Deputy Director)
National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science
The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200 Australia

17 May 1999

Scientific opportunities for the Third World

In response the comments by Eduardo Martinez (see Boosting public understanding of science and technology in developing countries , 13 May 1999) on the gap between the dissemination and applications of present-day science in Third World countries and in the first world, one aspect that should be given more attention is the opportunities offered by modern computing resources.

Today, more than ever, such resources can help to bridge the gap between developed and 'emerging' societies. But this asset, which we have long had at our disposal, has been undervalued or too little exploited. By using informatics, advanced scientific and technological know-how can be brought into a country with only low or moderate financial resources. 'Package technology' can be implemented in a relatively short time, and its fruits collected quickly, thanks to modern computing and communications.

This contrast with the painstaking investments needed in the past to implement and evaluate the impact of a health intervention programme, to co-ordinate a public transportation system, to build a hydroelectric plant or to 'popularise' education.

Never before have we in developing nations been so close to bridging the frustrating development chasm. If we continue to lag in our understanding and use of science - and in making our own contribution to science - this is something that science itself may not be able to solve.

Jaime Amaya-Farfan, Brazil

19 May 1999

Africa's challenge for the 21st century

I agree with the comments of Ali Mazrui on Africa's needs to improve the cultural level of its inhabitants (see Linking modern science to African culture, 6 May 1999). Colonialism has left ethnic discrimination leading to forty years of cultural stagnation.

It is now very important for the all African countries to reverse the tendency to depend on the Northern countries for technological and scientific knowledge, and to rely on the capabilities of their inhabitants, and their trust in their own skills. Moreover, each government must show its genuine desire to persuade its citizens to meet the conditions for realizing that aim and to feel of value to their country. At the same time, these efforts will allow Northern countries to change the obsolete mentality of indifference, allowing them to invest capital intended to improve the local African economy by providing indispensable technological knowledge based on efficient structures.


6 May 1999

Lowering the barrier between scientists and the public

Science and technology do not take place in a vacuum. They are essentially systems of belief and practice devised by humans to serve their purposes. As such they are - and should be - integral parts of other practices that humans have devised to solve their problems and improve their lives. Science and technology are parts of human culture, and the case for the betterment of science and technology, and for a commitment to science, has to involve consideration of how science and technology relate to the system of culture and practices that surround them. Science and technology cannot be considered and supported apart from the other areas of human culture. If there is to be progress and 'commitment' to science, as expressed in the title of the World Conference on Science, there must also be the same for human culture as a whole.

Thus for science to fully realize its potential in solving the world's problems and improving peoples' lives, it must first be comprehended by the majority of the people making up the society and culture in which the scientific activities take place. Such comprehension needs not (and indeed cannot) be exhaustive; if it was, everyone would be professional scientists. But the public should be aware of the general direction, the aim, the overall content and the fruits of the scientific enterprise; more significantly they should be aware of how such enterprises relate to their lives, both in the present and in the future. Without such comprehension, an apparent wall will remain between scientists and other related 'knowledge workers' on the one hand, and the general public on the other.

Modern scientific activity would then become similar to the activities of the medieval scholar-monks, who lived in monasteries recording texts handed down by their predecessors, and producing textual commentaries on them. The public at that time was entirely ignorant of what took place inside those monasteries. The monks performed their 'services' of leading the public toward heaven, but that was only the 'fruits' that the public enjoyed. There was no participation by the public's part in how knowledge was going to be produced, shared and made use of. If scientists - and more importantly the general public - are not careful, what is happening inside the laboratories or offices of scientists, mathematicians and technologists might come to resemble the medieval monasteries. The promised 'commitment' to science for the next millennium should involve attempts to bring down this barrier between the professionals and the public.

Such a move naturally demands much from the public part. For they can no longer be passive recipients enjoying products brought to them by professional scientists and technologists. In the kind of society where science and technology are increasingly powerful, the stakes are too high for the public to be ignorant and idle. The world in the near future should be a place where there is increasing dialogue between the two sides. And these exchanges should be fully two-way. The public will naturally profit from the knowledge produced by the professionals, which they know will be beneficial to them and to the society as a whole. The professionals, on the other hand, will learn from the public that their activities must be related to the world outside, which can be very different from what is happening inside the labs.

After all they are also citizens of the state where they belong, members of the culture sharing the same history as other, non-professional members, and so on. Apart from learning the needs and problems affecting the public, scientists, by listening to the public on the matter of the latter's concern, will come to realize that they are a part of the general human endeavor and their visions should become part of the general human visions toward realizing the goals and values most cherished by the species. Most significantly, the debate on which goals are to be valued the most should not be the preserve of professionals only, for humans have to stay together on the same planet and share sufferings and aspirations together.

Soraj Hongladarom
Department of Philosophy
Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand

3 May 1999

Government support for popularizing science

I would like to draw your attention to the extremely encouraging response from the developing countries of the world for the popularization of science that was observed during the 2nd Science Centre World Congress (2SCWC), which was held at the Science City in Calcutta under the auspices of the National Council of Science Museums between 11 and 15 January 1999.

This movement would be able to proliferate extensively for the general benefit of humanity if governments were prepared to offer their intellectual and financial support. Given such support, the movement that has been started by different countries through various networks could eventually become a global movement.

The objective of encouraging the growth of scientific logic and temperament among all people will inevitably help to secure the progress of mankind.

Ingit K. Mukhopadhyay
Director General, National Council of Science Museums, India

25 March 1999

See also Asian states link to popularize science, 5 November 1998.

Science in Chile, the World Bank and the IMF

Felipe Cabello (see comments 15 February 1999, below) attacks the World Bank and the IMF for their support of the proposed Millennium Institutes in Chile. He argues that scientific endeavour will flourish under a different system, that the policies of the two international organizations generally mitigate against the development of science, and that "publicly funded policies to develop science and technology in Third World countries should not differ from those proved successful in industrialized countries".

His comments beg many questions, and his sweeping condemnation cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

A significant distinction must invariably be drawn between necessary and sufficient conditions for the success of any policy. It is clear from the experience of countries such as Japan and South Korea that the necessary conditions for the application of science can differ markedly from those required for the success of pure science.

The experience of those Western countries which, as UNESCO's World Science Report reveals, are primarily responsible for most of the world's scientific achievement, suggests the following minimum list of necessary conditions. Primus inter pares must surely be the rule of law, the sanctity of contract (not least in the honouring of loan obligations freely undertaken), freedom of the individual and the press, and a stable currency.

Also necessary is a culture which generally respects the endeavours of pure science and sustains a reasonably developed mechanism for ensuring the transformation - where relevant and appropriate - of scientific discovery, wherever it is made, into technological achievement, industrial performance and ultimately the broad standard of living of the people. The integrity of, and respect for, scientific education and judgment would come high on any list that ranks necessary conditions in some order of priority.

Since much of the above depends on the availability and distribution of economic resources, conditions which encourage saving and the accumulation and investment of capital will feature prominently in any list of necessary conditions. There are doubtless others whose claim for inclusion is supported by several centuries of scientific endeavour and experience in the West.

It is inconceivable that the World Bank and the IMF are wholly unaware of, or willfully disregard, these criteria. The UNESCO World Science Reports for 1996 and 1998 1998 provide dramatic evidence that science flourishes best when most of these conditions are observed most of the time - even if some good science may flourish when some of them are observed spasmodically, if at all.

The UNESCO data supports the view that there is a fairly convincing and complete correlation between the scale and character of a nation's science and the quality, stability, intelligence and continuity of its civil government and order. The IMF and World Bank cannot be blamed if these factors are high on the list of those that dominate their aid criteria.

If, however, the criteria are broadened to include the sufficient as well as necessary conditions of scientific endeavour and excellence, we enter the much more complex and controversial field of science policy. As innumerable studies and reports on this subject testify, there is some agreement on some aspects.

Some areas reveal profound disagreement and wide differences in practice in such matters as the division of support between the private and public sectors of the economy, the best methods of achieving the transfer of knowledge from research to development, the balance between R&D for civil and military purposes, and the extent to which what is generally understood as the objective of 'pure' science should be harnessed - if at all - to specific economic and social objectives.

Many criteria, inevitably, overlap. Some conflict, and some are interdependent. There is no universal agreement on the 'right' science policy, the 'right' percentage of a nation's resources which science should claim, the 'right' distribution of educational effort between science and other subjects, or the 'right' structure of national science policy or administration.

Moreover, what was possibly seen to be 'right' in the 1950s in such reports as that of Vannevar Bush will not necessarily be judged appropriate or relevant in the widely changed circumstances of the 1990s. It must also be clear to many, in an age in which nuclear physics, molecular biology, unprecedented communication technologies and genetic science are invading ever wider areas of public policies, that best practice - whatever it might be - will both vary and develop.

Oversimplification of immensely complex issues is more characteristic of those who seek certainty on which to base unavoidable political judgments and decisions than it is of scientists obedient to strict disciplines of reason, logic, evidence and peer review. The West has deployed vast resources via the World Bank and the IMF to restore, sustain and develop the economic systems which are a necessary, if not always a sufficient, condition of prosperity and social stability.

It is, to say the least, highly improbable that so much carefully judged effort on such a scale has been so misplaced and misguided that it should be regarded as inimical to the development of good science generally - or even specifically in Chile. The recent prominence of the General Pinochet saga has doubtless focussed attention on the faults and failings attributed to his regime. But those who seek to justify an unqualified condemnation of his policies, and to condemn the World Bank and the IMF in this context, must first answer the question whether scientific endeavour flourished more successfully under the Allende government or would have done so had his political objectives been achieved.

This is a hypothesis that cannot be proved or disproved without extending the debate far beyond the confines of those that are the proper preserve of a dispassionate scientific journal such as Nature. But the recent evidence of a dramatic impoverishment of both science and scientists in the former Soviet Union suggests that the policies of the World Bank and the IMF generally have much merit, and should not be criticised in the absence of a great deal more evidence than that which Mr Cabello appears to possess.

Sir Ian Lloyd

11 March 1999

'Top down' is not sustainable - or democratic

According to its draft program, the UNESCO/ICSU World Conference on Science will address some compelling science-and-society issues, ranging from sustainability to "science and democracy." But participation seems largely limited to government leaders and scientific workers. Is this the same tired, "top down" development approach many of us rejected decades ago? Where are the voices of community leaders, grassroots citizen groups, and ordinary individuals, especially those from the developing world itself? A conference like this cannot accommodate everyone, but seeing science and its role in development as a matter to be decided within the top echelons of the political and scientific elite seems neither very sustainable nor very democratic to me!

Susanna Hornig Priest

12 February 1999

Don't count on World Bank initiatives

18 February 1999 (see Nature, vol. 397, page 557)

As a Chilean scientist working overseas, I read with interest your articles of 24 December 1998 and 7 January 1999 about the initiatives of the World Bank to develop science and technology in Third World countries. These initiatives include lending funds to create élite centres called Millennium Institutes. Prototype institutes will be set up in Chile. I believe this is the wrong approach.

I collaborate with scientists in Third World countries and am familiar with the vagaries of the development of science in Latin America. I wish to put forward the dissenting notion that publicly funded policies to develop science and technology in Third World countries should not differ from those proven successful in industrialized countries. These include: a focus on funding innovative investigator-originated peer-reviewed research; transparency of all procedures and full public accountability of those involved in the funding process; and societal inputs to create economic and social conditions that ensure the availability of resources for the development of science and technology.

Third World countries need to narrow the knowledge gap that separates them from industrialized countries. But the creation of one or two élite Millennium Institutes in each country will do little to close that gap. In most Third World countries the technological and scientific gap has widened during the past 20 years, in part as a result of the economic and social engineering prescriptions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These prescriptions in general stimulate the creation of export economies based on unskilled labour, intensive exploitation of natural resources, and export of raw materials without industrial transformation and technological innovation. These prescriptions undercut the creation of market conditions basic to scientific and technological development.

In Chile, for example, recent economic growth has been based mainly on exporting minerals, fish and fish meal, timber and fruit, all products with little or no industrial transformations, that do not require technological innovation, and whose production has generated environmental degradation. The World Bank and the IMF foster policies that, under the guise of 'restructuring and modernization', shift government funds from activities essential for the development of science and technology, such as education and public health, towards servicing foreign debt. They further weaken a poor country's capacity to develop the scientific and technological bases needed for economic development.

In Chile, these policies have led to deterioration of the educational system and crumbling infrastructure. The increases in tuition fees that have resulted from World Bank and IMF-supported policies have excluded many talented individuals from the system. The same policies have caused teachers and scientists to live on the margins of poverty. The implementation of these economic policies in Chile was also accompanied by the destruction of democratic institutions and the abolition of human rights. The incomplete recovery of these institutions and human rights still scars and undermines scientific work.

In this context the creation of Millennium Institutes in Chile, and perhaps in other countries, appears to be more a cosmetic than a well designed initiative. This plan fails to address the economic and social foundations of the host of problems that hamper the development of education and science in Third World countries.

Another matter of concern is that the directors of these institutes will be selected by scientists from outside the country. In the case of Chile these institutes will be funded with loans that will eventually be paid by the Chilean treasury. It is therefore worrisome that the manner of selection will remove accountability from the Chilean scientific community and Chile's democratic processes. Despite the undermining of education, science and technology resulting from the policies of the Pinochet dictatorship, and from the relentless 'restructuring and modernization' induced by World Bank and IMF economic and social engineering, the Chilean scientific community within the country and in the diaspora has reached a stage that makes outside tutelage unnecessary.

Who is in a better position than Chilean scientists and politicians to determine whether the focus of the research is "of direct relevance to that country's needs"? As you note, "the Chilean government will not decide the disciplines in which the institutes will specialize", making it all the more necessary that the Chilean scientific community should make these decisions. The closing of the knowledge gap in Third World countries will require drastic modifications of present economic policies. The consensus to create these changes will require the participation of scientists and politicians in each country.

Felipe Cabello
New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York 10595

Guidelines for research partnerships: the Swiss experience

You recently reported on the growing knowledge gap between rich and poor nations (Nature 395, 529; 1998). We believe that genuine research partnerships with developing countries can help to reduce that gap. Building up and establishing research capacity in developing countries is required both by solidarity and commonsense. It is through participating in the creation of sustainable world-wide research partnerships that the research community can make its specific contribution to international solidarity.

In this context, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Swiss Commission for Research Partnership with Developing Countries (KFPE) has recently published a brochure called Guidelines for Research in Partnership with Developing Countries: 11 Principles which addresses not only scientists interested in collaboration with countries in the Third World, but also scientific institutions and decision makers in both the North and the South.

For each principle, the overall aim is outlined as an ideal, long-term goal, some practical suggestions are made for achieving this aim, and a checklist is provided as a working tool, for both applicants and funding agencies. To illustrate the principles, an appendix gives examples of 'research in partnership' and points out some obstacles frequently encountered in research co-operation with developing countries.

The 11 Principles are:

1. Decide on the objectives together
2. Build up mutual trust
3. Share information & develop networks
4. Share responsibility
5. Create transparency
6. Monitor and evaluate the collaboration
7. Disseminate the results
8. Apply the results
9. Share profits equitably
10. Increase research capacity
11. Build on the achievements

The foreword makes clear that, in their present form, the guidelines merely reflect the current state of the intensive worldwide discussion about research capacity building in developing countries, its importance and its urgency. In a more fundamental way, they also raise questions about the role of scientific research and its ability to work towards a more equitable, global and sustainable development.

The guidelines, which are available in English, French, German and Spanish, can be found on the KFPE Homepage (http://www.kfpe.unibe.ch) or may be obtained free-of-charge from the KFPE Secretariat (Bärenplatz 2, CH-3011 Berne, Switzerland).

Jon-Andri Lys

27 January 1999

Mainstream-periphery science communication

As a result primarily of the widespread use of citation indexes (CI), the so-called 'citation highway' has over the past few decades become an almost one-way street in science communication. The flow runs from mainstream science to science on the periphery, and not in the opposite direction. Even the status of scientists in peripheral scientific communities depends frequently on whether their papers are cited in the CI or not.

In addition, however, there is a 'capillary' system of science communication through the many secondary information services, or databases. The outcome of this is that papers published in the regular-CI journals, of which there are about 7000, also cite papers from those journals that are not recorded in CI. In 1996, for example, it has been estimated that between 50 and 70 per cent of all citations were actually to those 'extra-CI' journals.

There is obviously a 'missing link' needed to improve the flow of citation traffic in the other direction. I have therefore proposed setting up a regular annual 'Extra-CI' directory, which would indicate those publications from the Third World which have been considered to have some importance by having been cited through the regular CI-journals pool. A fuller description of this proposal can be found in Current Science (India), vol.75, No.4 (10 Sep 1998) and at http://www.cis.vt.edu/technoscience/97win/comm.htm.

Sinisa Maricic

28 January 1999

Closing the South to North knowledge gap
21 January 1999 (see Nature vol. 397, page 195; 1999)

The rising cost of journals and difficulties associated with hybrid journals limit access to knowledge by scientists in poorer countries (see Nature vol 395, page 739-740; 1999). The economic and technical difficulties that contribute to the North to South knowledge gap will not be resolved until alternative mechanisms for the distribution of information are developed and scientific societies take steps to revise the present tradition. Until then, scientists in developing nations will continue to be disenfranchised.

Although the North to South gap is widely acknowledged, the gap from the South to the North is less appreciated. Yet this deprives the global scientific community of much essential information from developing countries. It is caused by problems faced by publishers in these countries in meeting the costs of printing and distributing their peer-reviewed journals. Scientists in such regions have difficulty publishing in high profile journals. As Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, has said, "The invisibility to which mainstream science publishing condemns much Third World research thwarts the efforts of poor countries to strengthen their journals -- and the quality of research -- in regions that most need them".

Fortunately, electronic publishing can resolve many of these problems (see Briefing). The feasibility of this has been shown by organizations such as the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development and workshops organized by the British Council.

The EPT has facilitated the online publication of 16 peer-reviewed bioscience journals in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. With a small investment, publishers can readily learn to prepare their publications in web-compatible format and benefit from the increased visibility. The independence so gained allows developing countries to establish their own distribution sites, so strengthening their science base.

Thanks to online journals much previously unknown research now forms part of the international knowledge base. The heightened awareness that electronic distribution provides leads to renewed enthusiasm for publishing in local journals, and the sense of isolation often felt by the scientific community begins to diminish.

The gap from North to South will take time to close as new mechanisms are developed and attitudes change. The gap from South to North can be closed more swiftly since the technology is easy and low cost and, importantly, access to the Internet is not immediately essential if partnerships can be made with non-profit facilitating organizations and scientific societies.

Vanderlei Canhos, University of Campinas, Brazil
Leslie Chan, Bladen Library, University of Toronto, Canada
Frances Giaquinto,BioDiversity, Brunel Science Park, UK
Barbara Kirsop, EPT Secretariat, Bourne, PE10 0RS, UK
Anthony O'Donnell, University of Newcastle, UK
Judy Ugonna, British Council, Manchester M15 4AA, UK

Spending on military technology

Much of the research effort in the North is oriented towards sophisticated technological warfare, such as guided bombs, the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons, and solving the pollution problems caused by such technologies. People in the South could avoid these completely, and thereby gain competitive economic advantage over the North.

If the North feels impelled to squander the resources of the planet in this way, people in the South would be better off ignoring them, as they have their own pressing problems, for which the solutions are not as cost intensive. Sooner or later the ineffectiveness of this mode of competition with the South would dawn on the North, and a phase transition would take place.

I would not like to give the impression that I believe the North is causing all the woes of the South. The South has its weaknesses, which get inadvertently exploited by the North in the global economic struggle. But these weaknesses are not caused by the scarcity of scientific research in the South. Rather, they are due to the expenditure of resources on hardware for warfare which the South cannot afford.

Irshad Khan

14 January 1999

Will the Internet really bridge the gap?

The Internet is believed to be a medium for the exchange of scientific information. But what is available on the Internet is hardly knowledge; it is only indicative. No one actually wants to publish knowledge, and a great effort is required to actually repeat what is reported on the Internet. This itself is, of course, a good way to start. But will it help to actually bridge the 'knowledge gap'?

Vijay Ghate

13 January 1999

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