A decade back, Goldemberg wrote about the flawed vision of the technical elite of developing countries; their fancy view of themselves, what they achieved (and did not) and the irrelevance of what they pushed for.
Their approaches were distanced from the local problems, wrecked the environment (social, political and natural), pushed the poor further down and successfully set up nonsensical specialization centers. All this was and is done with the complete confidence that their actions will never be scrutinized and held accountable. In fact this group demands respect that they have been able to promote narrow irrelevant science and technology. Hiding behind qualifications and training used largely to extend kinship base in the establishments that were set up, they deserve the sycophancy they seek.
Here is the article from the series ‘Essay on Science and Society’, in the Science Journal written in 1998.
What Is the Role of Science in Developing Countries?
After the Second World War, a small technical elite arose in developing countries such as India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Iraq who had been educated as scientists in the industrialized world. They thought that by pushing for Manhattan project-type enterprises in nuclear energy, electronics, pharmaceuticals, or space research they could leapfrog the dismally low level of development of their countries. India, for example, started a nuclear energy program that mobilized thousands of technicians and cost hundreds of millions of dollars but failed to meet power demands.
What my scientist colleagues and national leaders alike failed to understand was that development does not necessarily coincide with the possession of nuclear weapons or the capability to launch satellites. Rather, it requires modern agriculture, industrial systems, and education. The technical elite naïvely believed that spin-offs from their nuclear energy or space programs would somehow convert their countries to 20th-century industrialized states. Instead, there were heavy economic and political costs. In India, for example, such programs led to the development of nuclear weapons–which only encouraged Pakistan to do the same–while many basic human needs such as health and education were not given the support needed.
In my view, this scenario means that we in developing countries should not expect to follow the research model that led to the scientific enterprise of the United States and elsewhere. Rather, we need to adapt and develop technologies appropriate to our local circumstances, help strengthen education, and expand our roles as advisers in both government and industry. In this way, we can prevent the brain-drain that results when scientists are not in touch with the problems of their home countries or when they face indifference–and poor financial support–from their governments.
Three models for the relationship between science and development.
In Brazil, the use of ethanol as fuel is one example of how this approach can work.1 By encouraging the wide use of ethanol produced from sugarcane–a traditional crop in the country–as fuel to replace gasoline, the government of Brazil was able replace half of the gasoline used by automobiles in the country (about 200,000 barrels of ethanol per day) with a renewable energy source. In so doing, Brazil became a pioneer in an area that had been neglected by industrialized countries. The entire technology, from the agricultural to the industrial phase, was developed or improved upon by local scientists and technologists. I and other Brazilian scientists first had to convince the government that this approach was technically feasible, even though it had been ignored in industrialized countries. To do this, we had to address questions regarding motor technology, environmental concerns, and the trade-off between raising crops for food versus fuel.
In general, the misconceptions held by the technical elite are derived from an idea cherished by many in the developing world that pure research leads to technological development and then to products that open new markets or conquer existing ones (see figure, model A). This naïve “linear theory” or “cradle-to-grave” approach to science and development served as the blueprint for the establishment of the National Science Foundation in the United States and was widely copied throughout the world.2 But that model fails to stress the interaction that should occur among the phases. As one moves from pure research to technological development and then to production and marketing, unanticipated problems arise that require reexamination and adaptation at the earlier stages.
More realistic are models B and C.3 Model B corresponds, generally speaking, to present practices in the United States, where some overlap exists between the successive stages. Model C illustrates the Japanese practice of having the three phases completely superimposed. These are the more realistic models that developing countries should follow. In models B and C, practical needs–that is, demand–influence supply, namely, the type of pure research that is done. For example, after solid-state devices such as transistors made possible the expansion of switchboarding in telephone services, industrial laboratories such as Bell Laboratories lavishly financed solid-state physics. In developing countries, government goals and the “demand side” pull are often lacking. As a result, universities and research centers have become isolated from the rest of the country in an ivory tower, more connected to research centers in Europe or the United States than to the obvious needs of industry, agriculture, and education in their own countries. Science and technology budgets receive little support from the private sector and instead depend on the national treasury.4 Heavy government bureaucracies wind up cultivating whatever science and technology is fashionable in the developed countries, waiting indefinitely for the time when such competence would trigger development in a manner that resembles the wait for Godot in Beckett’s play. More.