Science and the Developing World

February 26th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

At, David Dickson has a thoughtful editorial on how the scientific community and others advocating increased investments in S&T in the developing world should temper expectations on what these investments in alone can achieve. Here is an excerpt:

The current danger lies in promoting policies that see S&T as drivers of social progress and economic development, rather than components of innovation programmes in which other factors — from regulatory policy to education and training — are just as important.

The scientific community is particularly prone to this one-dimensional approach. Arguing that heavy investment in research and development is enough to promote economic growth naturally appeals to those keen to see scientific laboratories flourish across the developing world.

But experience has shown that such investment is only part of the solution. The real challenge lies in embedding science in all spheres of government policy, and introducing educational, regulatory and fiscal measures to enable innovation to flourish across the economy.

Until this happens, demands for more money for science will inevitably be seen as little more than self-interested pleading from the scientific community. [emphasis in original]

5 Responses to “Science and the Developing World”

  1. Don Thieme Says:

    I am surprised that this article, and the World Bank meeting that it reports about, did not discuss the significant role of weapons production and military applications in science and technology. This seems to be the initial “technology transfer” in many cases, and it is also one reason that the United Nations or the developed world often inhibit technology transfers or intervene to close down scientific laboratories.

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  3. Jim Clarke Says:

    This is a fine example of the ‘cart before the horse’. The problem with the economies in Third World Countries in not a shortage of capital, but a shortage of the economic freedom that grows capital. The economic environment is poisonous to social progress and development in these areas. Economist Walter Williams brings this point home in this article.

    One can not hang fruit on a dead tree and expect the tree to come back to life!

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  5. TokyoTom Says:

    Jim, you are exactly right. Most “developing” world elites govern for their own short-term benefit and are little interested in economic freedom, transparency and the rule of law (of course we see the same problem in the wealthy nations, to a disturbing extent).

    This is why climate change adaptation the developing world will require a difficult and cooperative international investment in improving national governance – and probably explains both why the developed nations prefer to focus on mitigation and why conservative appeals for “adaptation” in the poorer nations probably are less than half-hearted.

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  7. Jim Clarke Says:


    It is nice to share some common ground with you.

    One small point… I think you might be underestimating what ‘conservative appeals for adaptation’ really means. At the core of the call for adaptation is also the recognition that we must promote “economic freedom, transparency and the rule of law…” to make it all work. For the minority voicing this opinion, I do not think there is anything half-hearted about it.

    The real shame is the short-sightedness of the developing world elites. It will soon be impossible to maintain power by keeping the masses hungry and ignorant (I hope). It is in their best interest (and in fact, always has been) to promote the concepts of economic freedom, transparency and the rule of law in their own countries.

    Either way, there are interesting times ahead!

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  9. TokyoTom Says:

    Jim, your own views on adaptation might not be half-hearted, but please show me the conservatives lining up for the difficult task of straightening out governance in the third world.

    It has long been clear, as you have pointed out, that elites have been strangling economic growth and freedom in these countries for the purposes of maintaining their own dominance and prerogatives. In some ways, we’re not much better. Conservatives have long railed at “nation-building”, and can be stirred to intervene only if leaders trot out images of mushroom clouds or can otherwise paint a Manichaean struggle between good and evil. In other words, they fight the wrong battles abroad, to the benefit of domestic elites and statist corporations. Meanwhile our sprawling military empire continues its mindless growth.

    I am afraid I see most policy talk by conservatives about “adaptation” as being a way to avoid bitter medicine altogether, and not an embrace of the difficult tasks of adaptation abroad.