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Serageldin Sees Role for Science in Battling Poverty in Developing Nations
Illustrating his talk with photographs that contrasted the worlds of poverty and hunger to those of power and wealth, Ismail Serageldin called on scientists in particular American scientists to bring the values of science to bear on the problems of developing nations.
"Science holds great promise in that it can help to feed the hungry, heal the sick, protect the environment, and give the joy of self-expression to many who would not otherwise have experienced it," Serageldin told an audience of several hundred people on Friday, 15 February, during his plenary lecture at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston. "But science can also increase the great divide."
He asked scientists in the north to "stretch out your hands to scientists in the south," noting that the demise of the Soviet Union had placed the United States in a unique and powerful position. And American science, he said, should take the lead in recasting the scientific enterprise so it addresses dramatic inequities between developed and developing countries.
“In a world with abundant food supplies, we have 700 million people who are malnourished,” said Serageldin, a former vice president with The World Bank who has headed the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and various other international non-governmental organizations He suggested that individuals should follow the lead of the abolishionists who worked tirelessly to end slavery. … “When people are dying of hunger, it is unconscionable and unacceptable we must commit ourselves to being modern abolitionists,” Serageldin told the audience of scientists and reporters. “Lincoln said a country divided cannot stand. I say, a world divided between rich and poor cannot stand.”
But money alone is not enough, said the former World Bank official who now heads Egypt's renowned library and cultural center, the Biblioteca Alexandrina. To acquire knowledge and the ability to create it themselves, Serageldin said, developing nations will need the help of scientists who are motivated by the values that are at the heart of their profession truth, honor, respect for creativity and imagination, and subversiveness, an attitude based on the understanding that no paradigm is sacred.
"These are also societal values that can transform society for the better," Serageldin said, suggesting that an international civic-minded spirit could transform the way institutions and nations behave. "We need not just new S&T (science and technology), we need relevant S&T; not just communications, but content; not just technology transfer, but technology that promotes the values of science."
In considering how to define the concept of sustainability, Serageldin said that he and his colleagues had decided that it meant "giving future generations as many opportunities, if not more, than we have ourselves." He described the four types of capital that make up a nation's worth as "man-made, human and social capital, and natural capital," and pointed out that most nations judge themselves only on their success at creating man-made capital.
"Human and social capital is where real wealth resides," Serageldin said. "In our people and in our communities."
He concluded his talk with words that brought the audience to its feet. "Scientists of the north cannot bypass the needs of many, and cannot allow that 80 percent of the world would remain consumers rather than creators of knowledge.... We should dare to dream and do our bit to make this a better world."