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SCIENCE, THE THIRD WORLD, AND SOCIAL CHANGE: A RESPONSE TO "SCIENCE FOR THE THIRD WORLD" HARRY B. BURKE* In the preceding paper, Martinez-Palomo is expressing the views of many of the world's educated people. But are the social benefits of Nobel-Prize quality basic science research likely to be as significant as he anticipates? His assumption that basic science can be readily translated into higher living standards is highly questionable; basic science rarely provides direct concrete benefits, and it is very expensive. Basic science can, ofcourse, be the precursor of technologic advances, but even these benefits are seldom immediate. Martinez-Palomo never makes it clear how a large basic-science enterprise could promote rapid economic development in a Third World nation. Indeed, the reverse would be more likely, because the allocation of scarce economic and human resources to basic science would divert needed resources from the nation's productive economy. Moreover, the rapid introduction of the advanced technologic developments derived from basic-science research has been shown to be more disruptive than helpful for Third World nations. During the 1960s and 1970s, the technology of the industrialized world was imported by Iran, Nigeria, and other nations, utilizing the immense funds available from oil sales. One result was the mass migration of people from the agricultural countryside to the city. The cities could not accommodate the huge influx of people; the result was the breakdown of the social fabric of the society. Countries that had been net exporters of food now cannot feed themselves. Countries that had zero population growth suddenly have burgeoning populations without the social means to stop their Malthusian destiny. Thus, in the unlikely event that Martinez-Palomo's proposal for a basic-science buildup in Third World nations would result in rapid technologic events, the *Fourth-year medical student, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago. Address : 6044 South Ingleside, Chicago, Illinois 60637.© 1987 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/87/3004-0543$01.00 558 I Harry B. Burke ¦ Third World and Social Change recent Third World experience with rapid technologic change suggests that social disintegration rather than social revival would result. As the concrete benefits of basic-science programs for industrial growth seem to fade under this close examination, we are left with the intangible attributes of his proposal—the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, the "ennoblement" of society, the power that accompanies knowledge, and the capacity for obtaining new understanding of our world. These achievements would not come easily, and there is the hazard of widening the social gap between the intelligentsia and the masses. The fundamental problem preventing the immediate development of basic-science research in Third World nations is obviously the lack of indigenous economic resources. By definition, underdeveloped nations are poor, too poor to carry out full-scale, state-of-the-art basic-science research. Such research requires a vast infrastructure ofeducation, communication , transportation, and so on, and the capital requirements are staggering. Should a nation attempt to finance this research internally, the money would have to come from other areas of the economy, thus lowering the standard of living for the rest of the nation. Clearly, Martinez -Palomo's essay appears to be a plea for this financial aid, a plea for the United States and other Western nations to pay for this research. If so, it is a plea that is almost certainly going to be ignored. There is little public support in industrialized nations for redistributing their wealth to Third World nations for this or any other purpose. There is also little support in Western scientific communities, since their financial resources are already being cut back. Further, it is unrealistic to expect a Third World nation, usually with relatively limited natural resources, to accomplish in one or two generations what has taken hundreds of years and an industrial revolution to accomplish in Western civilization. The inability of the Soviet Union, with its abundant natural resources, to match Western science (except in a few areas) should make this point most eloquently. Moreover, the danger of attempting to "force" modernization on the society is epitomized by the fall of the monarchy in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 558-560
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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