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PROSPERITY: The country will use R&D to move strongly into biotechnology and nanotechnology
IT is increasingly recognised that innovation, underpinned by science and technology, is a major key to any country's economic prosperity and social well-being. Countries that spend less on research and development (R&D) risk relegation to the backwaters of under-development.
Global investment in R&D reached a reported US$1.1 trillion (RM3.3 trillion) in 2010. In addition to traditional heavyweights, like the United States, Japan, Germany and South Korea, serious R&D investments are on the rise in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Singapore and the developing country giants of Brazil, China and India.
Malaysia knows the impact of R&D on economic prosperity, exemplified by our highly successful rubber and oil palm industries. To reach new heights, the country now needs to expand its economic base beyond such primary commodities into emerging, knowledge-intensive sciences, like biotechnology and nanotechnology.
The government's New Economic Model, with its Economic and Government Transformation Programmes, introduced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak two years ago, needs to be complemented and sustained by an infusion of science and technology, which will come in large measure from our universities and research institutes.
One project underway by the National Science and Research Council is an assessment of the productivity and efficiency of our public research assets. How well are they able to pursue world-class research while meeting the educational and other demands placed on them?
And how well does our scientific research productivity measure up against countries of comparable means?
Relevant in this context is a landmark event in Washington on May 14 and 15 at which I had the honour of representing Malaysia: the inaugural meeting of the Global Research Council.
This new virtual body is envisioned as a permanent forum for interaction between the heads of research councils worldwide.
In a recent editorial in Science magazine, Dr Subra Suresh, director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), argues that the world has become so highly interconnected that local economic shifts hinge not only on long-term support for scientific research in each country, but also on creative global collaboration.
Cooperation requires new thinking and an auspicious environment in which to cultivate and fortify this synergy. What strategies will move us there?
The council makes an important contribution to bringing the world's research councils closer together, to the benefit of all.
Initiation of the Global Research Council takes place on the margins of Global Summit on Merit Review, organised by the NSF with the strong support of US President Barack Obama's Office of Science, Technology and Policy and the US State Department.
Funding agencies worldwide identify and support scientific research with public money, and they are publicly accountable for the results.
Rigorous and transparent scientific merit review helps ensure that government funds are spent on worthy projects.
The starting point for international scientific collaboration devoid of politics is the scientific merit review process. As aptly put by summit conveners: "The most fundamental barriers to bilateral and multilateral international collaborations are disparate standards for scientific merit review and differences in the infrastructures that ensure professional ethics and scientific integrity.
"These factors are further exacerbated by cultural differences that arise from the large range of social perspectives and stages of national development. In addition, given the volume and speed with which unvetted data and information are generated and disseminated, there has never been a greater urgency to develop shared principles to address the delicate balance between the openness of scientific information and rigorous merit review that is built on a strong ethical foundation."
A Statement of Principles for Scientific Merit Review developed by the conveners for at the Summit includes:
Collectively, reviewers should have the appropriate knowledge and expertise to assess the proposal both at the level of the broad context of the research field(s) to which it contributes and with respect to the specific objectives and methodology. Reviewers should be selected according to clear criteria.
Decisions must be based on clearly described rules, procedures and evaluation criteria that are published a priori. Applicants should receive appropriate feedback on the evaluation of their proposal.
Proposals must be assessed fairly and on their merit. Conflicts of interest must be declared and managed according to defined, published processes.
The review process should be consistent with the nature of the call, with the research area addressed, and in proportion to the investment and complexity of the work.
All proposals, including related data, intellectual property and other documents, must be treated in confidence by reviewers and organisations involved in the review process.
Integrity and Ethical Considerations
Ethics and integrity are paramount to the review process.
The concerns to be addressed in Washington are universal and this Statement of Principles will surely find support throughout the international scientific community.
No less important is the prospect of such a global process encouraging the wider participation of developing country scientists and researchers, including Malaysians into the mainstream of international scientific discourse. Too often we feel left behind and this initiative is a big step in that direction.