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October 09, 2007


I agree that advocacy for the digital civilization of the future should be a top priority item in the follow-up to GRL2020.

As is evident from history, different parts of the world would adopt anything new - including digital litearcy - at different speeds. As I have said at the workshop we should make conscious efforts towrds inclusiveness. We shouldn't leave behind any country.

Bringing about digital civilization is not as easy as we may think. I speak from personal experience. I have been advocating open access (in India) for the past six or seven years. Apart from writing about the great advantages of OA in articles and in electronic discussion lists, I have also written hundreds (or even thousands) of mails to key researchers and policymakers including heads of government departments of science, technology, biotechnology, medical research, etc,; Presidents and Fellows of science academies, vice chancellors, professors, deans, librarians, and so on. I have conducted workshops with international faculty on electronic publishing and institutional archives. I have held sessions at the annual meetings of the Indian Science Congress Association. And yet there are only about thirty IRs in India today. The mere knowledge that OA is good and beneficial is probably not enough to goad people to action. Similar to the mere knowledge smoking is injurious to health is not enough in many cases to stop the habit.

If persuading folks to set up IRs - elementary stuff - is so difficult, imagine how difficult it would be to persuade them to set up the whole array of e-infrastrucure (for e-Science).

We need to win friends outside of science. Fortunately, development agencies such as IDRC, Canada, and GKP have come forward to support OA (and possibly e-infrastructure) initiatives in developing countries. And eminent scientists such as Prof. Bruce Alberts have pleaded for not only making the litearture easily accessible but also to provide high bandwidth Internet connections to scientists in poor countries (especially in Africa).

E-infrastructure has the tremendous potential to make the playing field level, and we should not miss the opportunity. We should plan our steps carefully so the advances we make reach the whole world in an inclusive manner.

About my observation that the discussions we hold in advanced countries are not having much of an impact in most parts of the developing world is no exaggeration. It is very true. I suggest two steps: We should work closely with scientific bodies such as TWAS, InterAcademy Council and InterAcademy Panel and keep them informed of our deliberations and views and suggest to them points of action. We should examine how best we can take efforts made in the advanced countries such as e-infrastructure, DRIVER, to the rest of the world at low cost.

The second step I suggest is that we should hold the next GRL2020 workshop in a developing country. Several venues can host it: Bibliotheca Alexandria (Ibrahim Serageldin), UNECA at Addis Ababa, Rio or Sao Paulo in Brazil. I would personally invite all of you to have the meeting at Chennai, India. Hotels here are modestly priced. And if we hold in December participants can get a taste of classical Indian music; there will be more than a thousand concerts in about three weeks! Chennai (or Madras) is also home to a well-known IIT, two of India's better-known universities, several research labs and of course, MSSRF, where I am a volunteer working in rural development. We could seek funding from Microsoft, European Union and NSF.

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