Today in AgBioView - April 8, 2002:
* Science journal disowns GM essay
* RE: GM wheat in India
* BT seed used in India
* Organic food -- healthy, or just for the wealthy?
* India takes baby steps to GM crops, Greens fume
* World Poverty and Hunger--the Challenge for Science
Science journal disowns GM essay
The Weekend Australian
April 6, 2002, Saturday
By Mark Henderson
BRITAIN'S leading scientific journal has disowned a paper it published
questioning the environmental safety of genetically modified crops, in an
unprecedented step that weakens the scientific case against the
Nature, one of the world's most prestigious peer-reviewed journals,
admitted on Thursday it had been wrong to publish flawed research that
claimed to prove that genes from GM maize had accidentally crossed into a
traditional variety in Mexico.
The move is thought to be the first in the magazine's 133-year history. It
followed protests by more than 100 leading biologists, who spotted
mistakes in the research by two American scientists, and attacked Nature
for giving respectability to inaccurate results that were certain to
The study, by David Quist and Ignacio Chapela of the University of
California, Berkeley, was seized on by opponents of GM crops when it was
published last November. The authors claimed it was the best evidence yet
for GM contamination of wild plants.
Campaigners renewed calls for an international ban on growing GM crops
outside. Dr Quist said the work showed "the benefits of these crops don't
outweigh the enormous risks to food security".
Serious concerns about the findings, however, were raised almost
immediately when a Mexican group found it could not repeat the experiment,
and several researchers questioned the techniques used and the
interpretation of the results.
An online petition gathered more than 100 signatures from leading
biologists, and the influential Klaus Ammann, director of the Berne
Botanical Garden in Switzerland, accused Nature of acting like a
"boulevarde science journal" by publishing the paper.
After studying the criticisms of the paper and obtaining new information
from its authors, Philip Campbell, the editor of Nature, agreed on
Thursday that it should never have passed its process of peer review. Two
refutations of the research, one by Berkeley colleagues of Dr Quist and Dr
Chapela, have been published on the magazine's website.
"In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has
concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the
publication of the original paper," Dr Campbell said.
Subject: RE: GM wheat in India
Date: Sun, 7 Apr 2002 08:30:39 +0200
You are right. There is no GM wheat anywhere in India or for that matter
in the world that has been approved for commercial cultivation or large
scale cultivation. Journalists confuse the public by ignorantly mixing up
hybrid varieties with modern day GMO as both are genetically altered
either by classical breeding techniques or by rDNA technology. I have
always protested that the modern day GMO is a misnomer. Instead, it
should be refereed to as GEO as almost everything we are and grow and eat
are genetically modified one way or another. May be, it is too late to
change the world as it has started equating GMO with GEO.
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: BT seed used in India
Date: Sat, 6 Apr 2002 13:46:43 -0600
When I farmed cotton I planted 6 to 9 pounds of seed to the acre depending
on size to get cotton stalks 4 inches apart on 40 inch rows. The plant
spacing of cotton has very little relation to yields. Four inches between
plants was mainly to make mechanical harvesting and weed control in the
row easier. Before mechanical harvesting it was not uncommon to see 8 and
10 inch spacing between plants.
Much of India plants on cotton on a checker board pattern with plants 1
meter apart. That comes to less than 2 ounces of seed per acre for a
perfect stand. They probably plant twice that much and then kill the extra
plants to assure a good stand and transplant seedlings in to barren spots.
But that is still a lot less seed than is use in most places. Places that
use mechanical harvesters plat 20 to 60 times as much seed per acre as the
do in parts of India.
I am sure Monsanto and it's partner in India have a substantial amount of
seed in the warehouse in India ready to go. If not processed cotton seeds
germination percentage remains usable for several years and it is not
expensive to store. I would be very surprised if with all the money and
effort that has gone into promoting BT cotton in India that they aren't
ready to take advantage of the market.
Gordon Couger www.couger.com/gcouger
Organic food -- healthy, or just for the wealthy?
By Kimberly Burnell
April 7, 2002
LONDON - Organic fruit, delivered right to the doorstep. That is what
Gabriel Gould prefers, and he is willing to pay for it. Failing that, the
26-year-old computer technician is willing to spend the extra money at the
supermarket to buy organic food.
"Organic produce is consistently better," Gould said.
"Theoretically the food is free of pesticides, and you are generally
supporting family farms instead of agro-business. And more often than not
it is locally grown and seasonal, so it is more tasty."
Gould is one of a growing number of shoppers buying into the organic
trend, and supermarkets across Britain are counting on more like him as
they expand their organic offerings.
But how many shoppers really know what they are getting, and why are they
willing to pay the price for organic produce?
A straw poll at two central London supermarkets showed that Gould and
others who buy organic can generally give clear reasons for their
preferences -- but what they believe about the organic ideal is not always
For instance, some trace amounts of approved pesticides can be used on
organic products. And about three-quarters of organic food in Britain is
not local but imported to meet growing demand.
"The demand for organic food is increasing by about one third every year,
so it is still a very buoyant market," said Sue Flook, spokeswoman for the
Soil Association, Britain's largest certifying body for organic produce.
A GROWING MARKET
The big supermarket chains agree.
"(The market for organic) has gone up dramatically," said Jonathan Church,
spokesman for the Tesco supermarket chain.
"We launched our range back in 1997 with just a couple of hundred
products, and now we have 1,100, and that is all in response to
So what does organic mean? In Britain, the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs sets the rules.
Anyone involved in producing organic food must register with an approved
certification organisation, which will inspect the grower at least once a
"(Buying organic) means you are supporting a system of farming that
respects the environment, and you are buying food with proven health
benefits," Flook said.
"So organic farming aims to avoid the use of artificial pesticides and
fertilisers, and no herbicides are permitted."
Instead, organic farmers rotate crops to maintain soil fertility and seek
to keep their animals healthy without routinely using antibiotics.
"There are some instances when we do allow certain sprays to be used on
crops, but we do not encourage routine use, and there are only about seven
artificial inputs that we do allow under organic standards," Flook said.
To ensure the purity of organic farming, the organic lobby has been
fighting to keep genetically modified crops well away from their fields.
And according to a European Union report obtained by Reuters last month,
there is a risk to farms certified as GM-free. Some GM crops are highly
likely to crossbreed with organic or wild plants, the report said.
For some consumers, all the effort of keeping organic food distinct is
worth it for the flavour.
But not all shoppers think organic food tastes better, and for many, the
organic label is just too expensive.
"I think it is incredibly overpriced and a consumer rip-off," said London
shopper Steven Castledine.
BUT IS IT GOOD FOR YOU?
Church said Tesco was working to bring organic prices down, but admitted
the food did tend to cost more.
"Customers recognise that organic products are more expensive to produce,
more labour-intensive, and therefore they do expect to pay a higher
price," he said.
And the organic lobby says there is evidence that such practices give
organic food health benefits over conventionally farmed produce.
For instance, in March the New Scientist magazine reported that
researchers had found organic soup had almost six times as much salicylic
acid -- which helps to prevent hardening of the arteries and bowel cancer
-- as regular soup.
People who buy organic food tend to think it is the healthier option.
"I feel it is supposed to be better and good for me," said Maureen Roberts
of London, who buys organic food occasionally, if the price is right.
But official organisations have held back from endorsing such beliefs.
The food department does not make any claims for organic nutritional
superiority. "However, there is evidence for the environmental benefits
from organic production," a department spokesman said.
The Foods Standards Agency said it thought people should have the organic
option, but there was not enough evidence to say that organic foods were
significantly safer or more nutritious than conventional farm products.
"As far as we are concerned, a vegetable is a vegetable and a fruit is a
fruit," an agency spokeswoman said.
"There might be different growing methods using different things in the
growing process, but the end result is the same."
And many shoppers remain sceptical.
"I never buy organic because I think the (price) mark-up is ridiculous,
and I do not think it is that much better for the environment," said Freya
Koepping, visiting London from Germany.
"I think it is a marketing ploy and just a craze. We have been eating the
same food for thousands of years."
India takes baby steps to GM crops, Greens fume
April 8, 2002
BOMBAY - India's path-breaking move to allow commercial production of
genetically modified (GM) cotton hybrids has raised prospects for other
transgenic crops even though it could be years before most win approval,
In a nation of over a billion people, GM technology offers India the tool
to boost abysmally low farm yields, raising hopes for more such crops like
potato, tomato, rice and mustard.
But the technique is strongly opposed by environmentalists and some farm
groups who fear its effects on health and the environment.
Only research projects were allowed before the government's decision last
week which followed more than five years of extensive lab and field
"We have allowed lab or field trials for nine GM crops," said P K Ghosh,
adviser to the the federal Department of Biotechnology.
It will take as long as five years to win approval for commercial planting
since most of the research for the other crops are in the early stages and
must pass lengthy tests, he said.
The earliest to get off the blocks is likely to be mustard, whose oil is
the most widely used in the preparation of food in northern India.
Delhi-based Proagro PGS India Ltd, part of Aventis SA's Aventis
Cropscience unit, plans to seek government approval later this year to
commercially produce GM mustard.
"We have been working on genetically modified mustard hybrid for the past
six years," said Paresh Verma, director (research) of Proagro Seed Company
Ltd, another firm focusing on research. "We are seeing 25 to 30 percent
Traders say the gene-alteres Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) cotton is
expected to raise the yields by controlling bollworm, responsible for over
80 percent of pest attacks on Indian cotton.
The average yield of cotton in India, the third largest producer in the
world, is about half the global average of over 600 kg (1,320 lbs) per
hectare, despite having the largest area under cotton cultivation of
nearly nine million hectares (22 million acres).
"The Bt cotton will break the yield barrier of about 300 kg per hectare in
India," said Suresh Kotak, president of the East India Cotton Association.
India has allowed production of three GM cotton hybrids, developed by the
Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) in collaboration with U.S.
bio-technology giant Monsanto Co
Farm scientists say yields of Bt cotton could rise 15 to 30 percent.
Traders forecast output may touch about 20 million bales (of 170 kg each)
in three to four years from nearly 16 million bales now. But the results
may not be visible in the coming season beginning in May as Mahyco is
unlikely to meet a spurt in seed demand.
"Mahyco had permission for limited seed production last year," said a
spokeswoman of the Indian arm of Monsanto, adding that total seed
available with the company would be sufficient only for 100,000 acres.
Mahyco, in which Monsanto has a 26 percent stake, started field trials of
its Bt cotton in 1996/97.
"In the coming three years, I don't see another bio-tech crop from
Monsanto reaching commercial stage in India," the Monsanto spokeswoman
GREENS SEE RED
While government officials and the industry hailed the decision to permit
GM cotton, environmentalists slammed the move.
"The government has ignored some of the most serious problems of Bt cotton
in its attempts to rush this product to the market," said Ganesh Nochur,
campaign director of Greenpeace India.
A spokeswoman for the Centre for Science and Environment said: "Concerns
relating to genetic contamination and health hazards should have been
properly investigated before granting the approval."
Delhi-based non-governmental group Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Ecology, said Bt cotton produced a toxin that triggered a
rapid emergence of resistance in bollworm.
"Instead of the plant being resistant, the bollworm becomes resistant to
Bt toxin," it said.
But farm activist Sharad Joshi said the lobby of "pesticide makers and
pseudo-scientists" had deprived Indian farmers for at least seven years in
getting access to the GM technology.
"If it is dangerous, we can go back. But there is no point in closing the
doors on the new technology."
World Poverty and Hunger--the Challenge for Science
Science magazine, Volume 296, Number 5565
By Ismail Serageldin*
April 5, 2002
See the PDF with illustrations (199 kb):
We are living in the age of science. There are more scientists alive and
practicing today than in all the previous periods of history combined.
Science permeates the cultural outlook of our societies and the worldview
of more people than ever before. Science has contributed to enormous
achievements in human welfare. Thanks to numerous scientific advances, we
are now moving to the third global revolution, a new world that has never
been more promising, or more perilous.
The first of the great global revolutions was the agrarian revolution that
settled people in small communities and launched civilizations. By the
banks of the Nile and along other great rivers of the world, our ancestors
established the foundations of organized society and fashioned the wise
constraints that make people free. They created the wonders of the ancient
world. Even today, it is the surpluses produced by farmers that make city
The second great global revolution, the industrial revolution, was the
harbinger of enormous change in production methods, and in the
relationship of people to the final product on which they labored. The
artisan became a worker; processes of production and specialization led to
an enormous burst of output, bringing big improvements for much of
humanity during the next two centuries.
The Third Global Revolution
Our world is undergoing a third transformation, one so profound that its
contours can only be dimly perceived, its driving forces barely
understood, and its momentous consequences hardly imagined. Indeed, it
provokes fear as much as it seduces the imagination.
Driven by ever more powerful computers and ever-faster communications, the
digital language of bits and bytes allows us to merge the realms of words,
music, image, and data as never before. It creates new industries; the old
disappear. With the click of a mouse and the flight of an electron,
billions of dollars move across the globe. The Internet has revolutionized
the very meaning of time and space. Currently, there are about 2 billion
pages on the Internet, which will increase to 8 billion pages by 2005.
Will these be the forces of homogenization or of diversity? Will they be
used to crush the weak or to afford them new opportunities?
From informatics to biology, the revolution continues. We have decoded the
DNA blueprint of life, are learning to manage the deployment and
expression of genes, are mobilizing bacteria to do our work, and are
manipulating the very building blocks of life. Our new capacities pose new
and profound ethical and safety issues. Unlike the past, the new issues of
proprietary science will also complicate our future.
The Paradox of Our Times
Consider the paradox of our times. We live in a world of plenty, of
dazzling scientific advances and technological breakthroughs. Yet our
times are marred by conflict, violence, economic uncertainty, and tragic
poverty. A sense of insecurity pervades even the most affluent societies.
Nations are looking inward, and the rich turn their backs on the poor.
Even though we may have pushed back the specter of a nuclear holocaust,
other challenges that are just as serious and as daunting loom ahead:
globalization, environmental pollution, poverty, and hunger.
Much has been done to make the world a better place. The 20th century was
one of struggle for emancipation. The colonies were liberated; many women
got the franchise; and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and
nonconformists were acknowledged to have political and civil rights
arising from their common humanity. There have been many socioeconomic
improvements over the last 40 years: developing countries have doubled
school enrollments, halved infant mortality and adult illiteracy, and
extended life expectancy at birth by 20 years. Despite these advances,
much remains to be done. A global developmental agenda demands our efforts
and our solidarity.
… 1.2 billion people live on less than a dollar per day.
… 1 billion people do not have access to clean water.
… More than 2 billion people have no access to adequate sanitation.
… 1.3 billion people, mostly in cities in the developing world, are
breathing air below the standards considered acceptable by the World
… 700 million people, mostly women and children, suffer from indoor air
pollution due to biomass-burning stoves, equivalent to smoking three packs
of cigarettes per day.
… Hundreds of millions of poor farmers have difficulty maintaining the
fertility of soils from which they eke out a meager living.
To this stock of problems, we can now add a slew of new challenges. The
human population is increasing by 80 million persons a year, mostly in the
poorest countries. Dramatic overconsumption and waste in wealthy nations
and population pressure in poor countries are putting enormous pressures
on the ecosystems on which we all depend.
The world's marine fisheries are grossly overexploited. Soils are eroding.
Water is becoming scarcer. Deforestation is continuing. We must redouble
our efforts to address the global challenges of desertification, climate
change, and biodiversity. Agriculture must be transformed to promote
sustainable food security for the billions of hungry people in the world.
The challenges of urban poverty and environmental destruction are
unprecedented, and will only increase with the urban populations of
developing nations expected to treble over the next two generations. In
the 47 "least developed" countries of the world, 10% of the world's
population subsists on less than 0.5% of the world's income. Some 40,000
people die from hunger-related causes every day. One sixth or more of the
human family lives a marginalized existence. Therein lies the challenge
before us. Will we accept such human degradation as inevitable? Or will we
strive to help the less fortunate? Will we regard ourselves as no longer
responsible for future generations, or will we try to act as true stewards
of Earth? It is not resources that are lacking; it is the will to harness
them. Indeed, the world has never been richer, and the future promises
A Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor
It is inconceivable that there should be some 800 million persons going
hungry in a world that has the resources to provide for that most basic of
all human needs. In the 19th century, some people looked at the condition
of slavery and said that it was monstrous and unconscionable--that it must
be abolished. They were known as the abolitionists. They did not argue
from economic self-interest but from moral outrage. Today the condition of
hunger in a world of plenty is equally monstrous and unconscionable and
must be abolished. We must become the "new abolitionists." We must, with
the same zeal and moral outrage, attack the complacency that would turn a
blind eye to this silent holocaust, which claims tens of thousands of
hunger-related deaths every day.
Addressing the American people, Abraham Lincoln said that a house divided
cannot stand; a nation cannot live half slave and half free. Today, I say
that a world divided cannot stand; humanity cannot survive partly rich and
Despite our enormous productivity, the undeniable benefits of
globalization and trade, and the amazing achievements recorded on the
social indicators for most of Earth's people, there has been an alarming
rise in inequality both between and within countries.
The top 20% of the world's population consumes 85% of the world's income,
the remaining 80% live on 15%, with the bottom 20% living on 1.3% of the
world's income. And these disparities are growing. A generation ago,
people in the top 20% were 30 times as rich as those in the bottom 20%.
Now, they are more than 70 times as rich, yet will not give 0.3% of their
income for the poorer 80% of humanity. The richest three persons on the
planet have more wealth than the combined GDP of the 47 poorest countries.
The richest 15 persons have more wealth than the combined GDP of all of
sub-Saharan Africa with its 550 million people!
If indeed we are moving toward a knowledge-based society, then
connectivity and the preparation of human capital and its deployment will
be the key to enabling poor developing countries to improve their
situation. Yet, here too, the figures are troubling. There is a vast and
growing gap in the production and availability of scientists and engineers
between the wealthy Northern Hemisphere and the poorer Southern
Hemisphere. Whereas the United States and Japan have about 70 researchers
and engineers per 10,000 population, and China can claim six, the poorest
developing countries in Africa have fewer than one (see the first figure,
below). In 2000, telephone lines per thousand persons numbered 567 in
high-income countries, and 145 and 37 in middle- and low-income countries,
respectively (see the second figure, below). At the turn of the
millennium, personal computers per 10,000 persons stood at 1800 for the
rich, 230 for middle-income countries, and only one for the poor. The rich
account for 88% of all Internet connections, yet constitute only 15% of
the world's population.
The future does not look any more promising. Tertiary school enrollments
in 1980 in the low-, middle-, and high-income countries stood at 4, 11,
and 34%, respectively (see the first figure, below). By 1996, these
figures stood at 5, 15, and 58%, respectively. There are a few exceptions,
such as the Republic of Korea and Singapore, which have joined the
high-income enrollment statistics (see the second figure, below). Such
quantitative indicators do not take into account the enormous
differentials in quality of education, especially at the primary and
What Science Can Do
It is against this backdrop that we must address how science can meet
head-on the challenge of world poverty and hunger.
On the positive side, science can help to feed the hungry, heal the sick,
protect the environment, provide dignity in work, and create space for the
joy of self-expression. Yet, on the negative side, lack of opportunity to
master science and the new technologies will accentuate the divide between
rich and poor. On an average per capita basis, the rich countries have
about 40 times the income levels of the poor, but they invest 220 times as
much in research.
To these troubling trends we must add the special challenge of dealing
with the emergence of private sector-driven science, which increasingly
poses the problem of how to protect intellectual property rights without
impeding free access to research tools and the equitable sharing of
benefits with the poor who cannot afford to pay. The power of patents and
intellectual property regimes to mobilize private sector funding in
research is clear. In 1999, one corporation, IBM, had more patents (2756)
than 134 countries combined (2643). In the new biological sciences this is
even more true. Patents are taken out not just on finished products, but
also on processes and intermediate inputs. And even though there is a
research exemption, it does not hold for products of research that have
wide applicability and could be marketed. This issue will lead us to a
world of scientific apartheid unless it is addressed in an imaginative way
that does not stifle innovation or prevent the flow of private capital
However, it is much more than a matter of money. Never before has the need
for the scientific enterprise in developing countries or its potential for
success been greater. And yet as that enterprise reveals the marvels of
genes and the secrets of atoms, many in the developing world are looking
with suspicion on the new, and are trying to erect barriers to limit where
minds may range.
The Values of Science
There is a central core of universal values that any truly modern society
must possess, and that science promotes. These are rationality,
creativity, the search for truth, adherence to codes of behavior, and a
certain constructive subversiveness.
The physicist, biologist, and writer Jacob Bronowski (1) defined science
as "the organization of our knowledge in such a way that it commands more
of the hidden potential in nature." Science goes far beyond the
utilitarian application of knowledge; it impacts an entire world outlook,
from cosmology to what makes us human. Values are not rules. They are, in
Bronowski's words, "those deeper illuminations in whose light justice and
injustice, good and evil, means and ends are seen in fearful sharpness of
Science values originality as a mark of great achievement. But originality
is a corollary of independence, of dissent against the received wisdom. It
requires the challenge of the established order, the right to be heard
however outlandish the assertion, subject only to the test of rigorous
method. Independence, originality, and therefore dissent--these are the
hallmarks of the progress of contemporary civilization. It is well
established that effective pursuit of science requires the protection of
independence. Without independence of inquiry, there can be no true
scientific research. The safeguards that independence requires are
obvious: free inquiry, free thought, free speech, tolerance, and the
willingness to arbitrate disputes on the basis of evidence. These are
societal values worth defending, not just to promote the pursuit of
science, but to yield a more tolerant society that adapts to change and
embraces the new.
Can such ideas resonate in a society wracked by poverty and hunger, riven
by civil strife and worried about fiscal crisis? I can already hear the
naysayers, and their emphasis on pragmatism, realism, and the urgent. But
they are wrong. Science does have the capacity to capture the imagination
and to move the emotions. We must see science as an integral part of our
culture, which informs our worldview and affects our behavior. Even more,
science is itself a culture of global dimensions, or at least a cultural
current that affects strongly the society where it flourishes. It brings
imagination and vision to bear on concrete problems and theoretical
speculation. The poet William Blake said, "What is now proved was once
only imagin'd." Imagination and vision are at the very heart of the
Setting the Agenda
For science to realize its full promise and become the primary force for
change in the world, it requires that scientists work to
… engage scientific research in the pressing issues of our time
… abolish hunger and reduce poverty
… promote a scientific outlook and the values of science
… build real partnerships with the scientists in the South.
It is inconceivable that of the 1233 drugs that have been approved in the
last decade, only 11 were for treating tropical diseases, and of these,
half were intended for livestock, not humans. It is inconceivable that
many of the persistent issues of child nutrition that could be tackled by
changing the nutritional content of crops are receiving so little
attention. We need more examples like Quality Protein Maize (QPM) and
vitamin-A rice (Golden Rice).
We need to engage in real collaboration between centers in the North and
South, and to engage scientists in the South in common research endeavors.
Only by joint efforts will the values of science be strengthened and the
scientific outlook promoted in societies where strong currents of
obscurantism and xenophobia vie with rationality and tolerance for the
hearts and minds of people. These efforts also need to involve the public,
for only by such involvement do institutions flourish. Robert Putnam's
pioneering work in Italy in the 1990s showed how institutional performance
dramatically improves with greater civic involvement and support (2).
Such joint efforts require addressing the many issues that govern the
practice of science in developing countries, from policy to institutions
to human resources to finance. In order to promote true partnerships
between the North and South, we will have to think beyond occasional
intergovernmental protocols. We need to bring together the public and
private sectors, government and civil society, national and international
community groups and foundations, all forged into true and caring
Implementing this agenda will mean
… not just new science and technology, but also relevant science and
… not just communications, but also content
… not just technology transfer, but also real collaborations that promote
the values of science and the scientific outlook.
This last point emphasizes process as much as outcome, for the process
itself promotes fundamental ethical values that are at the heart of what
good science is all about. In the words of Bronowski, "Those who think
that science is ethically neutral confuse the findings of science, which
are, with the activity of science which is not."
The Way Forward
Clearly it is essential to fully integrate the international scientific
community, without which there can be no effective practice of science.
But scientists' voices must be heard loudly and clearly in the national
discourse of their own societies. This absence not only severs science
from its salutary effect on the modernization of societies, but also
undermines the public support necessary for its pursuit.
To the members of the scientific community in the industrialized world I
say: You cannot let the talents of 80% of humanity flourish only if they
leave their native lands or remove themselves from their societies. You
must extend additional efforts to reach them and assist in the
strengthening of the scientific enterprise in the South.
To the members of the scientific community in the developing world I say:
We are at a crossroads. Either we are going to reassert the importance of
science and the scientific outlook, or we are going to witness our
societies increasingly marginalized in the world of the information age.
The scientific communities of the developing world either will become more
and more detached from their own societies, or will reassert the links of
the scientific outlook and its values in the mainstream of the
modernization efforts of their changing societies. They must by their
engagement help to create the "space of freedom" that is necessary for
civilized constructive social discourse, and essential for the practice of
science. This commitment is the only way to create centers of excellence
in the developing world and to ensure that the benefits of progress accrue
to all the poor and the marginalized. It is these "values of science" that
can unleash the full measure of their talent and their genius. All of
that, however, requires liberating the mind from the tyranny of
intolerance, bigotry, and fear, and opening the doors to free inquiry,
tolerance, and imagination.
With centers of excellence in the developing world, there can be real
partnerships between North and South. The promise of science can be
fulfilled to make the new century one free of hunger and of absolute
poverty, accurately described as a condition beneath any definition of
human decency. All of that, however, requires our joint commitment as
scientists to work for the benefit of the entire human family, not just
the privileged minority who are lucky enough to live in the most advanced
industrial societies. These tasks are enormous. But the longest journey
starts with a single step. So let us start. If not us, who? If not now,
J. Bronowski, Science and Human Values (Harper and Row, New York, 1956).
R. D. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy
(Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 1993).
*The author is Director of the Library of Alexandria, Bibliotheca
Alexandrina, Shatby, Alexandria 21526, Egypt. E-mail: