Vol 1 N° 4 [July–September 2003]



p 2 - What future for open science?

p 8 - Abdul Waheed Khan on why we need to move towards knowledge societies

p 9 - Deal clinched for UNESCO–IHE Institute for Water Education
p 10 -UNESCO creating facility to mediate water disputes
p 11 - UNESCO and WHO to join forces in combating emerging diseases
p 12 - Five outstanding women earn their just rewards

p 13 - Bringing a little sunshine to people’s lives
p 16 - Afghanistan on the (rocky) road

p 19 - Governing bodies
p 20 - Diary
p 20 - New releases

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'Thank you, Mr Berners-Lee'

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) had barely become public knowledge this year before scientists the world over were scrambling to identify the new ill. And it was thanks largely to the information and data exchanged via Internet that they were able to isolate the agent causing SARS in record time. The SARS outbreak has highlighted the key role Internet can play in a global health emergency. But ‘virtual’ scientific collaboration is nothing new. Ever since the World Wide Web was invented ten years ago, international scientific collaboration has grown tremendously.

In a shrinking world where air travel and the Web have made real and virtual nomads of us, major environmental and health problems have also become globe-trotters. Ensuring affordable high-speed Internet connections and equally affordable access to electronic scientific information and data for all the world's universities and research institutions has become indispensable for informed decision-making and knowledge production. The information society is here; what we need now are knowledge societies.

This will take political will, of course. The digital divide is alive and well. If Internet users are expected to double to close to 1 billion by 2005, according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2002, it is hard to see how the imbalance in favour of developed countries is going to be redressed in the foreseeable future without strong political motivation. Some 72% of Internet users still live in the high-income OECD countries which make up only 14% of the world's population. The World Summit on the Information Society being organized by ITU in co-operation with UNESCO and other UN agencies in December this year, with a second round in 2005, will need to tackle head-on the problem of inequitable access to telecommunications and the handicap this poses for global development.

The Intergovernmental Drafting Group is meeting at UNESCO Headquarters on 15–18 July to refine the working documents for the Draft Declaration of Principles and Draft Action Plan before the final preparatory meeting for the Summit in September. At this late stage, the documents are almost totally bereft of any reference to science, despite the fact that science is a prolific producer and user of information and knowledge.

A symposium organized by UNESCO and several science partners in March this year expressed concern at the growing restrictions in the digital environment on open access to publicly funded research. These concerns are discussed in the current issue.

Now, as we prepare for the World Summit on the Information Society, we might spare a thought for Tim Berners-Lee, the scientist who gave us the World Wide Web.

W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

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