Tag Archives: UNESCO Science Report; The Current Status of Science Around the World

UNESCO, science, and nanotechnology?

It’s funny how you can forget that acronyms are in fact abbreviations and that UNESCO, which I associate with children and culture [ETA Nov. 29, 2010: I appear to have briefly conflated this organization with UNICEF which focuses on children], stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. [emphasis mine] I was reminded of the science part of their mandate with the recent news of a new award. From the Nov. 4, 2010 news item on Azonano,

The first UNESCO Medals “For contributions to the development of nanoscience and nanotechnologies” were awarded on 2 November at Paris headquarters to two laureates: Russian Academician Zhores Ivanovich Alferov, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics; and Chunli Bai, Professor of Chemistry at the Laboratory of Molecular Nanostructure and Nanotechnology in Beijing and Executive Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The information (accompanied by a photograph featuring Irina Bokova [UNESCO Director-General] and Zhores Alferov [recipient able to attend in person])  is also available as a news item on the Nanowerk website. The reason this new medal/award has been established isn’t entirely clearly to me despite this description (from the news items),

The Medal was established at the initiative of the International Commission responsible for developing the Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies theme for the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS)* published by UNESCO and EOLSS Publishers. This initiative was supported by the Russian Federation’s Permanent Delegation to UNESCO. The EOLSS constitutes one of the world’s biggest web-based archives as a trans-disciplinary science base for sustainable development.

Yesterday (November 10, 2010), UNESCO released its UNESCO Science Report; The Current Status of Science Around the World for 2010. This is the fifth report in the series with the next most recent report in the series being released in 2005. From the UNESCO website page for the report,

Europe, Japan and the USA (the Triad) may still dominate research and development (R&D) but they are increasingly being challenged by the emerging economies and above all by China. This is just one of the findings of the UNESCO Science Report 2010, which is being launched at UNESCO headquarters in Paris today [Nov. 10, 2010].

Written by a team of independent experts who are each covering the country or region from which they hail, the UNESCO Science Report 2010 analyses the trends and developments that have shaped scientific research, innovation and higher education over the past five years, including the impact of the current global economic recession, which has hit the Triad harder than either Brazil, China or India. The report depicts an increasingly competitive environment, one in which the flow of information, knowledge, personnel and investment has become a two-way traffic. Both China and India, for instance, are using their newfound economic might to invest in high-tech companies in Europe and elsewhere to acquire technological expertise overnight. Other large emerging economies are also spending more on research and development than before, among them Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey.

If more countries are participating in science, we are also seeing a shift in global influence. China is a hair’s breadth away from counting more researchers than either the USA or the European Union, for instance, and now publishes more scientific articles than Japan.

Even countries with a lesser scientific capacity are finding that they can acquire, adopt and sometimes even transform existing technology and thereby ‘leapfrog’ over certain costly investments, such as infrastructure like land lines for telephones. Technological progress is allowing these countries to produce more knowledge and participate more actively than before in international networks and research partnerships with countries in both North and South. This trend is fostering a democratization of science worldwide. In turn, science diplomacy is becoming a key instrument of peace-building and sustainable development in international relations.

I found the report thanks to Jenara Nerenberg’s article, USA to Soon Trail Developing Countries in R&D, Asia on the Rise: UNESCO Report, on the Fast Company website,

The United States has decreased its research and development (R&D) prowess and is increasingly threatened by the scientific capabilities and innovations of developing countries like India and China, indicates a UNESCO report released today. The UNESCO Science Report reveals that Asia has increased its global share of R&D to 32%, up from 27% in 2002, and the global share of R&D out of the EU, Japan, and the U.S. combined has decreased from 83% to 76%, though they remain the leader in number of yearly patents initiated.

The news is in line with recent Fast Company reporting about the decline of America’s competitiveness and dwindling quality of math and science education, as well as emerging “South-South” collaborations between India and African nations, especially in infrastructure development and vaccine research.The changing trends point to the ever-increasing role of India and China and to some extent South Africa in providing the world with leading scientific and technological discoveries.

Canada is also covered in the report. The author, Paul Dufour, is a Canadian science policy expert as per this contributor biography on The Mark website,

Mr. Dufour was most recently based at Natural Resources Canada, on executive interchange from the Canadian-based International Development Research Centre. He was previously the interim Executive Director at the former Office of the National Science Advisor in the federal Government advising on international S&T matters and broad questions of R&D directions for the country. He has a rich experience in addressing the interaction between science and international relations, especially in the context of research capacity with the developing world.

He has travelled extensively; he lectures regularly on science policy; he has authored numerous articles on international S&T relations and Canadian innovation policy. He is series co-editor of the Cartermill Guides to World Science and past North American editor to Outlook on Science Policy.

I have glanced through the report and it notes that Canada provides excellent support and gets correspondingly good results for academic science and that the practice of science research in the industrial sector is poorly supported by Canadian business interests (sometimes termed as a lack of business innovation). Happily, he does discuss the poverty of ‘science culture’  in Canada, albeit briefly,

Developing a science culture

In addition to the pursuit of priority-setting and the examination of its appropriate place in shaping future public policy and investment in innovation and R&D, other debates are emerging. These are centred on improving the science culture and outreach in the country, including by augmenting the participation of women and the Aboriginal population in the knowledge society (Dufour, 2009). Women account for 47% of the labour force and 57% of university graduates but only 20% of doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering. Some of the responsibility for Canada’s deteriorating appreciation of the value of knowledge centres on its lack of a science culture in its widest form, both in the political realm and among certain segments of the population and research community. There is an antagonism here between what some have termed a ‘politically clueless research community versus a scientifically illiterate political class’. A Science Media Centre has been proposed to improve science communication within the media. Efforts are also under way at various science centres and museums across the country to strengthen public understanding. Events include a National Science and Technology Week and a major physics festival organized by the Perimeter Institute. Some provinces, especially in Quebec, have long-standing traditions and tools in support of science outreach, given the promotion of science in the French language. Overall, however, the science culture gap remains. The scientific communities must share some of the responsibility for this. Often poorly organized, with limited means of outreach and inadequate communication tools, the research lobbies are increasingly faced with having to make a better case for why the future of the country lies with more, rather than less, research and technology – innovation in its broadest sense.

The private sector is also struggling to be more effective in articulating its own needs and concerns over the lack of necessary resources and strategic vision. (p. 74, print & PDF)

I have a few nits to pick but not the time to do it. If you are interested, this chapter on Canada’s science provides a good overview of the national situation and how that compares globally.