Science Academies in Africa

April 26th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Gates Foundation is giving $20 million “over the next ten years to promote better decision-making on science-related issues in Africa, particularly those concerning human health.” The Gates Foundation has partnered with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to develop similar academies in Africa.

David Dickson writes, “The grant is a welcome one.” But he also observes, “If there is a concern about the role of academies, however, it relates not so much to what they do, as to how they do it. An academy is, by its nature, an elite; individuals are elected solely on the judgement that their competence places them at the top of their profession. And this gives them, almost by definition, a power and influence in the political sphere that is denied to many of their colleagues… But elites can also become self-serving, and in the process lose contact with the wider societies in which they are embedded. Some may end up defending the privileges of their members; this has, for example, frequently been one of the criticisms aimed at Soviet-style academies that dominated Eastern Europe for the second half of the 20th century. Others can fall prey to overstating the case for s!
cience as the basis of social policy, rather than as merely one component, however essential.”

Bruce Alberts the President of the U.S. notes of the grant, “Understanding the critical importance of basing decisions on sound science and incorporating it into the policy-making process could be an important step forward for many African nations.”

This initiative will be worth following, evaluating, and learning from. Anyone need a dissertation topic?

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