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Durban, Republic of South Africa, 11 July 1998
For example, revolutions in electronic communication, data access and networking, intelligently used and consistently supported (in an area where long-term maintenance is as vital as it is difficult), can dramatically reduce the geographical barriers, political barriers, isolation and fragmentation that have hampered DC scientists in the past. Today many chemists in developed countries prefer to do their literature searches automatically from their office PC, via the Internet, rather than scurrying about the subterranean caverns of their local university library, manually flipping the pages of dusty indices and bound journal volumes. Indeed, if they want to get fresher information, they will search their electronic bulletin boards, subspecialty networks and e-mail contacts, all of which transcend national boundaries. The same can now be done, with equal - indeed greater impact, in DCs, for what developed-country scientists do as a matter of convenience, scientists in DCs must do as a matter of necessity. The provision and maintenance of information technology infrastructure is a clear prerequisite for optimal benefit of this opportunity.
The keys are equipment (modest), training, initial contacts, functioning access to electronic networks, databases and publications, and long-term maintenance and support. "Long-term" is the most challenging operative phrase here. Progress by Brownian motion - short, random leaps - is slow at best. Research collaborations and equipment that disappear or fall into disuse every two to three years with the conclusion, successful or not, of yet another touted but effervescent short-term "initiative" can't replace lasting, long-term relationships. Similarly, interactive CD texts and simulations - on both the macroscopic, microscopic and molecular level - can revolutionize our ideas about intellectually stimulating, high-quality training and its near universal availability.
This picture of change and new opportunities for intervention and growth must, however, be balanced by an honest account of what has not changed in developing countries, or has changed more slowly. No organization, no matter how well-meaning, can overlook the crucial fact that research and development work - anything beyond communication and information exchange - is still very, very difficult in DCs. Broad generalizations will not suffice, because ultimate success is often in the details.
For example, a U.S. scientist may simply order advanced equipment and have it installed and running on the day of delivery a week later. A developing country scientist may have problems with locating and evaluating equipment, local currency controls and fluctuations, customs controls, uncertain or spotty delivery, "siphonage" of funds or other resources at various levels, institutional politics, training operators, maintaining contamination-free environments, obtaining high-grade supplies, water and electricity (of appropriate phase, voltage, stability, continuity, etc.), compatibility with domestic and international communications systems and existing equipment (often from a hodge-podge of donors of different nations and eras), and a host of other difficulties undreamed of by his OECD colleagues. As a friend of mine, who regularly visited both European expert meetings and remote LDC laboratories for the USAID, once wryly noted, "It is definitely easier doing research and development work in Switzerland."
Advanced technology will not obviate the need for more widespread and detailed understanding of :
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