Urenio Watch Watch: Knowledge Economy

UNESCO Science Report 2005

Remarkable growth in a small number of emerging Asian economies, led by China, is challenging the leadership of North America, Europe and Japan in research and development (R&D), according to the newly published UNESCO Science Report 2005.

The report, written by an international team of independent experts, analyses the development of science and technology around the world, with a wealth of data that is both quantitative and qualitative.

The report says that

the most remarkable trend is to be found in Asia, where gross expenditure on R&D has grown from a world share of 27.9% in 1997 to 31.5% in 2002.

This dynamism is largely driven by China where, in 2002, there were more researchers than in Japan, 810,000 and 646,500 respectively.

In his foreword to the report, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura welcomes the arrival of new players on the global science scene. Noting the growing role of newly industrialized Asian countries, he nevertheless cautions that

with hundreds of millions of Asian children still living in poverty, the benefits of R&D are still not reaching large segments of the population who are deprived of such basics as good nutrition, access to safe water, sanitation and shelter.

Global trends affecting science and technology worldwide are highlighted in the report’s comprehensive introduction. One of these new trends is the ability of a small number of new players to make their mark on science and research. Turkey is included in this group alongside the newly industrialized countries of Asia, and a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The report postulates that science and technology are the driving force behind economic and social progress.

Globalization is shown to offer new opportunities through increased international cooperation. This is “not only helping countries to catch up, but is also becoming indispensable to the very exercise of science.” But globalization is also bringing new challenges and greater competition. The report furthermore takes stock of challenges relating to new areas of research, for instance the controversy surrounding the question of patenting genes.

The report is divided into regional chapters that also profile selected countries within those regions. Moreover, three chapters provide in-depth case studies on the USA, the Russian Federation and Japan.

By examining trends at the national, regional and international levels, the report allows for a better identification of the forces at play and areas of concern. Some universal factors emerge. One concerns the importance of the private sector in sustaining R&D. But the report cautions that such funding is inevitably oriented towards short- and medium-term applications seeking rapid returns on investment. This is why basic research everywhere needs to rely on consistent public funding and why a strong national policy remains essential to maintaining a coherent national science sector.

The UNESCO Science Report 2005 is the fourth in a series and follows on the World Science Report 1998, published by UNESCO ahead of the World Conference on Science (Budapest 1999).