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New Book Urges Governments to Listen to Scientists to Tackle Poverty

A compelling case for governments and universities to embrace new and sometimes risky scientific research was made at the launch of a ground-breaking book about international development. Professor Jeff Waage, Director of LIDC, and Professor Gordon Conway, of Imperial College London, challenged policy-makers worldwide to raise the profile of science and maximise the benefits of scientific progress for people living in poor countries. Their book Science and Innovation for Development  emphasises the potential of new technologies – Information and Communication Technology (ICT), nanotechnology and biotechnology – to reduce poverty. Its recommendations include better training for scientists, stronger science innovation systems in developing countries, and designing and delivering research for impact. Panellists also praised the book at the popular event on January 19 at the Wellcome Collection in London.
 
Importance of science
Conway, former chief scientist at the UK Department for International Development (DFID), said science and innovation are needed for economic growth, but have been neglected by governments. He added: “There is not enough action on the part of governments to make science and technology really work in the way it should. Far too often the mantra is if you get the governance right and macroeconomics right the science will follow. The wealth of the 21st century will come from science, technology and innovation.” Conway spoke of the need for a mixture of appropriate technologies which are sustainable, equitable and cheap. He cited the fight against malaria as an example of how different approaches -  artemisium treatment, insecticide treated bed nets and the development of vaccines - complement each other. During his presentation he called for more interdisciplinary working, and highlighted how DFID has become increasingly pro-science in the last five years, but urged the department and other policy-makers to go further.
 
New opportunities
Waage explained how science can improve education, equity and justice as well as other sectors already associated with science, namely agriculture, environment and health. He called for institutional improvements, a more scientific understanding of problems and identified a changing and more equal relationship between scientific research in developed and developing countries. Waage said: "We need support for new technologies and need to raise the profile of science for poverty reduction."
 
World-renowned development scholar Professor Calestous Juma, of Harvard University, also spoke at the launch and praised the book’s argument. He emphasised how knowledge expands exponentially and how mobile technology and broadband in particular are creating many opportunities in developing countries, especially the One Laptop Per Child initiative and mobile health devices, such as ultrasound scanners, which allow medical services to be taken to patients rather than vice versa. Juma called for universities to be more proactive and involved in helping turn scientific knowledge into products and services. He said: “You have to be prepared to take some risk, to do something new.”  Professor Anne Glover, Scotland’s chief scientist and Chair of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) added:  “Using science can make a real difference to people’s lives. This book is a blueprint for a whole range of stakeholders.”
 
Science and Innovation for Development is published by UKCDS in partnership with LIDC, with contributions from Imperial Colleges. The production of the publication was funded by DFID.

By Guy Collender, Senior Communciations Officer at LIDC