New horizons

Latin America sharpens focus on scientific research
New horizons

the future of science may not be as bleak in the developing world as is commonly perceived. In fact, scientific research witnessed a spectacular growth in several Latin American countries during the 1990s. This has been brought to light in a study entitled 'Science on the rise in developing countries'.

The paper, that appeared in PloS Biology (January 2004 issue), was authored by Milena Holmgren of Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and Stefan Schnitzer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, usa. According to it, scientific publications from South American countries recorded a whopping 170 per cent rise in the "1990s, against about 30 per cent achieved by Canada and the us ( see graph: More science)".

Also remarkable was the scientific productivity per investment in research of many Latin American countries. For instance, Uruguay, Chile, Panama and Cuba averaged 6.8, 5.3, 5.2 and 3.4 publications per million dollars of research and development investment, respectively. These figures are much higher than 1.5 of the us and 3.3 of Canada. Whenever the countries took up research on a priority basis on specific subjects, the results were excellent. Achievements by Brazil in renewable energy and by Cuba in biomedical sciences are best examples.

All the same, concern has been expressed by many leaders, including un Secretary General Kofi Annan. In his article in the journal Science , Annan observed: "Unbalanced distribution of scientific activity generates serious problems not only for the scientific community in the developing countries, but for development itself." The authors of the paper feel that despite positive signs, there is scope for improvement.

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