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AFRIK-IT  April 1998

AFRIK-IT April 1998

Subject:

Subbiah Arunachalam & Negroponte

From:

Clinton Jones <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Thu, 30 Apr 1998 15:31:53 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (122 lines)

Below is an article I received via TAD, I am unsure of the attribution
because I am sure I have read it before, I at least have read Negroponte's
opinions on the widening of the gap between the haves and have nots, I
believe in an article in WIRED from 1996 or 1997, at any rate, the URL for
TAD is at the bottom of the document. I hope you find the article useful and
apologise for crosspostings.

Perhaps my main comment would be, that having worked in a medical
environment I can support the comment on TB and malaria, having worked
in a laboratory environment our cash cows were serological testing for
venereal test and TB culturing and fluorescent screenings. The
histopathology was very interesting, very expensive and very nice but by
far a small component of the work that is being done and needs to be done
in developing world areas like Africa (If feel sure that Dr Lisse will have a
comment :))

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The internet and the developing world
Richard Smith talked to India's premier information scientist, Subbiah
Arunachalam, about whether the internet will solve the information
problems of the developing world
Subbiah Arunachalam, India's most distinguished information scientist, is
a gentle fellow with a gift for controversy. When the New York Times
covered a speech in 1982 by India's prime minister, Indira Gandhi, it
quoted extensively from an article that Professor Arunachalam had written
entitled, "Why is Indian science mediocre?"--just at the time that Mrs
Gandhi was telling the world that India would soon catch up with the
advanced countries with the quality of its scientific research. She was of
course wrong.
Now Professor Arunachalam has been asked to go to Germany to debate
with
Nicholas Negroponte, the guru of the digital age, on whether the digital
revolution will solve the information problems of the developing world.
Professor Negroponte thinks it will. Professor Arunachalam says it might
eventually, but first it will increase the gulf between the haves and the
have nots.
Professor Arunachalam, who shares his time between the Indian Institute of
Technology in Madras and the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, has
also
made himself unpopular with those running research in India by pointing
out that much Indian medical research is not relevant to the needs of the
country. The major health problems faced by India are diarrhoeal diseases,
diseases of children, infectious diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis,
while Indian researchers are mainly active in general medicine,
pharmacology, tropical medicine, neurosciences, radiology, and oncology
(National Medical Journal of India 1998;11:27-34, and Current Science
1997;72:912-22). At least two funding agencies have responded by turning
down his requests for research grants.=A0 In particular, his request for
funds to set up an Observatory for Science and Technology in India has
been turned down. But many Indian scientists agree with him.
Professor Arunachalam became an information scientist when he switched
from being a "not so successful chemist." It was while he was a student of
the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, that he discovered that he had
a flair for finding information that others could not find. "The tall man
in the library will help you," researchers would say. And the two years
that he worked for the Indian Academy of Sciences--1973 to 1975, as editor
of publications and secretary--gave him ample opportunities to watch men
who managed Indian science from close quarters. His new found interests
led him to science writing and scientometrics.
Researchers and doctors in India are, he says, deprived of information:
"There are some universities in the developed world that receive not less
than 50000-60000 journals. No academic or research library in India
receives more than 2100, and most receive only a few hundred. So access
to
information is a major problem in India. And for individual doctors it's
even worse. Honest doctors have so many patients to treat that they have
little time to do research or read. Other doctors are more interested in
making money than reading. Many doctors are happy with the free
pamphlets
that drug companies give them."
So will access to electronic information help? "Probably not yet in India
because very few doctors have access to the internet or email. And often
medically trained people are not good with communication technology and
computers. They take time to learn. Very few doctors use computers. Plus
they have not been made aware of the benefits of using computers."
Of course, there are agencies in Mumbai, Professor Arunachalam points
out,
which use new technologies to provide information to doctors, but their
clients are mostly pharmaceutical companies. The internet may eventually
be a great equaliser for research scientists around the world, but in the
early days, says Professor Arunachalam, it will widen the gap.
Many researchers in India cannot access the technology for various
reasons. "The government is not making it easily available. The telecom
regulating agency and the only internet service provider do not get along
well with each other. Cost is another factor. Telephone lines are very
poor and connections are not stable. This means that even those who have
access to the internet must spend hours downloading material that would
take only minutes for those in the developed world with the best access."
"But," Professor Arunachalam continues, "it's not just a matter of
resources. India has enough resources to provide access in the major
cities where higher education institutions and major research laboratories
are located. But it takes time. That's what makes us third world. The
major difference between the first and the third world is the time it
takes to transfer something from the realm of possibility to reality."
There are examples of where new technology has been introduced quickly
to
India--for instance, the green revolution and the installing of telephone
lines to make long distance and international calls in small towns and
villages throughout India. "But," says Professor Arunachalam, "they are
far too few."
"The internet will grow in India, but I'm concerned that my countrymen are
taking too long to recognise its importance. Many scientific journals now
are purely electronic, and many Indian researchers simply cannot get
access to them."
 http://www.saide.org.za/tel/Homepage.htm






Clinton Jones AMIAP
PO Box 12292, Centrahil, 6006
South Africa
Tel/Fax +27.(041).532067

[log in to unmask]
http://www.teleworker.co.za/clinton/

"...the general trend of a new technology is to start out as a military or industrial use and then trickle (or crash) down to consumer and niche uses..."

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