The UNESCO Science Report was first published in 1993. It’s updated every five years to investigate emerging trends in science, technology and innovation throughout the world.
The most recent version was just released on November 10th this year as part of World Science Day for Peace and Development. The theme for this year’s day was “Science for a Sustainable Future: Celebrating the UNESCO Science Report.”
The key message of the report is that more research will lead to more effective and sustainable development.
Three major global trends were uncovered in the 2015 Science Report.
Global spending on research and development has grown faster than the global economy
Despite the financial instability throughout the world in the past few years, countries have invested in research and development (R&D). This suggests a positive outlook that investment in science will bring future results.
Much of this investment is being spearheaded by the private sector. Many high-income countries, such as Australia, Canada and the USA, have cut back on public funding and maintained or increased private sector funding.
In these countries, the focus of scientific discovery has shifted from basic research to “relevant” or big science. This research typically looks at solving immediate industry needs or challenges.
However, basic research is extremely important in order to discover new possibilities in science. The discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953 was made through basic research and has since laid the groundwork for the modern study of genetics.
Billionaires from wealthy countries have also increased their contributions for R&D in both for profit and non-profit organizations. Critics suggest this skews research towards the narrow interests of a few wealthy patrons.
This is not entirely ungrounded. There are many examples of philanthropists starting foundations based on their personal interests, such as when Eric and Wendy Schimidt were inspired to start the Schmidt Ocean Institute after a diving trip in the Caribbean.
In contrast, lower income countries have increased public funding of research and development. For instance, Ethiopia increased their Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD) from 0.24 percent in 2009 to 0.61 percent in 2013, with similar increases in Malawi and Uganda.
Countries in Africa and beyond are realizing that sustainable and effective development requires greater investment in science, technology and innovation (STI).
The North-South divide in research and innovation is narrowing
The North-South divide is a term UNESCO uses to express the difference between high-income and low-income countries. Higher income countries tend to be in the northern hemisphere, whereas many lower income countries are in the southern hemisphere.
Typically, higher income countries have led the way in research and innovation. But many lower income countries are catching up in important ways.
According to a survey of innovation conducted by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, innovative discoveries tend to be clustered in research hotspots throughout the world, such as in coastal regions of China or in the Brazilian State of Sao Paolo.
Innovation is developing globally as many countries are trying to reduce their reliance on raw materials and extractive industries and support their citizens to create local, knowledge-based economies.
Iran’s expansion of nanotechnology is an example of this trend. Iran founded the Nanotechnology Initiative Council (NIC) in 2002.
Due to NIC’s efforts, Iran ranked seventh in the world in 2014 for the amount of research papers they published related to nanotechnology, which is the study and development of microscopic devices.
In the past decade, 143 nanotech companies have been established in eight different industries in Iran, such as the health care, agriculture and automotive industries.
The number of scientists is increasing, and they’re becoming more mobile
Since 2007, the number of researchers has risen by 21 percent. Today, there are 7.8 million researchers worldwide. There has also been an explosion of scientific publications.
Unfortunately, women still constitute a minority in the research world. A mere 28 percent of global researchers are women. Although, a growing number of countries are putting policies in place to deal with this inequality.
For instance, some Arab States now have more women than men studying natural sciences, health and agriculture at university. One in three researchers in the Arab States is a woman (37 percent). This is higher than the European Union at 33 percent women researchers. Saudi Arabia also has plans to create 500 vocational training schools to reduce its dependence on foreign workers, half of which will train teenage girls.
Another factor that’s fueling the increase in scientists worldwide is the globalization of universities themselves. Online courses are allowing them to expand their services and presence throughout the world. This will only increase as the digital revolution continues and technology becomes more mobile.
The reaction to a very real crisis in Pakistan showed the potential of mobile technology and teamwork in action. In 2011, the largest Pakistani province, Punjab, had an unprecedented dengue fever epidemic. Over 21,000 citizens were infected, resulting in 325 deaths. Authorities were rapidly overwhelmed, unable to track the outbreak and effectively control it.
The Punjab Information Technology Board offered to help. A team led by Professor Umar Saif, a former academic from the University of Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, designed a smartphone application to track the epidemic.
The app was installed on 15,000 low-cost Android phones and given to government officials in charge of managing the outbreak. They were able to track their control efforts and create a Google Maps-based dashboard, freely available to the public online. This helped to locate outbreak hot spots and share this information with those at risk.
The project enabled the authorities to control the spread of the disease. The number of confirmed cases fell to 234 in 2012, with no fatalities.
Source: www.care2.com, Zoe Blarowski