Developing countries are investing in science and technology, but what about the social sciences?

16 May 2013

It is always heartening to read about a developing country government investing in the production of high quality knowledge and education. Chile’s recent efforts in promoting networks between its think tanks and their foreign peers focused on science and technology is certainly a model that other countries (and international agencies like the TTI, the Think Tank Fund and others) would do good to follow.

Another country that has joined Chile’s initiative, albeit in a different way, is Costa Rica: in April it received a loan of $35 million dollars from the Inter-American Development Bank destined towards the creation of graduate scholarships in the areas of science and technology; attracting foreign experts in said areas; and workshops for around 300 Costa Rican professionals. A percentage of the loan will also be invested in corporate innovation. This initiative is part of the National Science, Technology and Innovation Plan for 2011-2014, which has a strong focus on developing technology in order to attract foreign investment.

This can be a step towards further improving tertiary education and building a knowledge-based economy, certainly important for think tanks as most of them obtain their staff from universities and local professionals.  What is worrying, however, is this apparent trend among Latin American countries to invest heavily in innovation and research in science and technology, and not doing the same for the social sciences. Peru, for instance, has a state –funded scholarship program for those secondary school students living below the poverty line who want to go to university. But there’s a catch: they must study something related to science and technology if they want to be eligible for the scholarship.

It is understandable that developing countries want to focus on the “hard sciences” – they bring investors and stimulate the economy. Nevertheless, let us hope that they understand that science does not cure all evils. It would be interesting to see them investing in knowledge that can very well make science work better, particularly when taking into account that social and economic policy and politics can help create the right environment for scientific innovation by delivering said innovations to the public and to the private sector.