Science for development | Sunday Observer

Science for development

Science is all about having an open mind to question what we see around us and find answers.
Science is all about having an open mind to question what we see around us and find answers.

Science can be a force for good as well as bad things. Science gave us penicillin but it also gave us guns. And some things can be used for good deeds and bad deeds – nuclear power, for instance, can be used to power our homes or kill millions in a matter of seconds. Many goods and materials initially designed for military use have since filtered down civilians, with completely different applications. A prime example is the Internet itself – which was a military computer communications network 50 years ago, but is now available to anyone with a laptop or tablet.

But now there is a movement to ensure that science is used only to benefit humankind to live better, peaceful and contended lives. Celebrated every November 10 (today), World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the significant role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. It also underlines the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives.

By linking science more closely with society, World Science Day for Peace and Development aims at ensuring that citizens are kept informed of developments in science. It also underscores the role scientists play in broadening our understanding of the fragile planet we call home and in making our societies more sustainable.

The Day offers the opportunity to mobilize all actors around the topic of science for peace and development – from government officials to the media to students.

The objective of Science Day for Peace and Development are to: Strengthen public awareness on the role of science for peaceful and sustainable societies; promote national and international solidarity for shared science between countries; renew national and international commitment for the use of science for the benefit of societies; draw attention to the challenges faced by science and raising support for the scientific endeavour.

The 2019 Theme is ‘Open science, leaving no one behind.’

Open Science is not only an issue of science being open to the research community, as in ‘open access’ and ‘open data’ but refers to a science open to society.

Despite the progress made in recent years, we still witness great disparities across and within different regions and countries when it comes to accessing Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and enjoying their benefits. To address these disparities and close the existing STI gaps, Open Science is an important step in the right direction.

Open communication of the scientific data, results, hypotheses and opinions, lie at the very heart of scientific process. In this context, Open Science is the growing global movement to make scientific research and data accessible to all.

Open Science has the potential to significantly increase scientific collaboration and discovery and to facilitate the adoption of the well‐adapted technologies. According to the UN, it can be a game changer for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly, in Africa, developing countries, and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The world has to embrace open science as a tool for making science more accessible, scientific process more inclusive and the outputs of science more readily available for all. This is one more way in which our world has been divided over North-South lines.

For example, one needs hundreds of dollars for online access to articles in the world’s leading science journals. This may hinder efforts by Third World scientists to forge ahead with their research activities.

Science is universal – there should be no barrier to cooperation among the world’s scientists on matters ranging from Climate Change to Agriculture.

Scientists from developing countries must be given more opportunities to attend events in developed nations and network with professionals in those countries. Unfortunately, many developed countries have refused visas to prominent scientists from developing countries to attend these networking opportunities. This should not be the case. Technology transfer is another way in which the North can help the South to prosper.

As they say, this is an area we should ‘catch them young.’ Governments around the world must emphasize the teaching of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in schools and universities.

More girls should be encouraged to take up these subjects, since the number of women engaged in these sectors, especially, at a more senior level is rather low. Unfortunately, there is a wrong notion that some, if not all, of the STEM subjects can be boring. Science can be fun and entertaining – there are many videos on the Internet on teaching science subjects in a fun way.

We have seen plenty of school-age inventors in Sri Lanka, whose work must be encouraged and possibly commercialized with the support of established companies. They have the potential to become great scientists and inventors in the future. It is also vital for our universities to place greater emphasis on research.

One cannot underestimate the importance of Research and Development (R&D) in today’s world. There should be better linkages between industry and universities to ramp up research activity, with a view to commercializing some research applications.

There should be more science programs on the electronic media to popularize science and technology. Many ordinary people have no positive understanding of science. Without a proper grounding in science, they usually fall prey to various superstitions that can end up ruining their lives.

They would not fall victim to these if they had a better understanding of science. Actually, before the teledramas took over the prime time viewing belts, there were quite a few educational programs on local television which remained very popular. Such programs (dubbed/subtitled in Sinhala and Tamil of which the original content is foreign) must be revived for the benefit of both children and adults.

Our scientific institutions and universities should have ‘open days’ where the public will be able to visit them and learn about what goes on behind the (usually) closed doors. Colombo’s natural history museum should be expanded to include a bigger science-oriented section, with emphasis on phenomena such as Climate Change.

In the alternative, a separate science experience centre, like those found in many other cities, can be built in Colombo. This would be a major tourist attraction.

Science is a great leveller that should be accessible to all. There are still many things we do not know about our world and other worlds out there. Science needs more young people who can answer those questions in the future.

Science is all about having an open mind to question what we see around us and find answers. It will continue to expand the horizons of humankind as long as it survives, on this planet or on another one.