When accessing ‘orphan information’ becomes easy

12 September 2002 Want to know why improving rice yields reduces emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane? It suffices to consult SciDev.Net, a new free-access web portal dedicated to reporting and discussing aspects of science and technology relevant to sustainable development and the needs of developing countries.

Launched in December last year, SciDev.Net is sponsored by Nature and Science journals and by the Third World Academy of Sciences, with financial support from major funding agencies and foundations in the UK, Sweden, Canada, and USA.

Without SciDev.Net, it might be harder for the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines to make known this discovery about rice yields, despite the fact that it is of global interest. And it might be harder for developing countries to access this information.

The SciDev.Net initiative provides a mine of information on subjects as diverse as human cloning, science publishing, the ethics of research, brain drain, GM crops and food and gene patenting.

SciDev.Net meets one goal of the Science Agenda, which calls for initiatives to facilitate access to scientific information sources by scientists and institutions in the developing countries to be especially encouraged and supported (para.17) and to facilitate the publication and wider dissemination of the results of scientific research carried out in the developing countries (para.19).

The journal Nature has been a valuable partner in the World Conference on Science process. In November 1998, it published an Editorial on the WCS entitled Rewriting the rules for a post-cold war world. The article concluded that the Conference would be ‘a unique chance to reassess the dynamic of international scientific co-operation and address the challenges it currently faces’.

In January 1999, Nature launched a WCS website accessible through its Internet home page which had an estimated number of visits of over 100,000 per week. In March 1999, in response to demands by the scientific community, the Site was expanded into French. For the three months immediately preceding the Conference, Nature ran a weekly page of news about events associated with preparations for Budapest.

During the Conference itself, Nature not only provided a daily coverage of the event on its web site (http://www.nature.com/wcs/), thereby enabling a very wide public to follow closely the debates, but also printed and distributed a daily Conference newspaper.