Marine Mineral Resources of Sri Lanka – Opportunities
Presentation by Saliya Wickramasuriya
Director General – PRDS
Presentation at a Seminar
National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka
SLFI, March 21, 2014
To see the full presentation, click Here
Impediments to Development of Science and Technology in Sri Lanka
Proceedings of an NASSL Workshop on held on 30 October 2004 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo.
- Introduction – Dr. U. Pethiyagoda
- Development of Science and Technology in South and South East Asia – A Comparative Review – Dr. K. A. de Alwis
- Politicians and Bureaucrats, Scientists and Technologists – Dr. W. W. D. Modder
- A Direction…. for Development – Dr. R. Wijewardene
Dr. U. Pethiyagoda
Scientific bodies – our Academy being no exception – do not tire of pointing out the close relationship between the state of development of a nation and its commitment to the support of Science and Technology. The corollary is that those who are under-developed have erred in their harnessing of this resource. Poor investment has to be a leading cause. Our current investment is acknowledged to compare very unfavourably with the accepted desirable norms. In this respect we also lag behind the performance of most of our neighbouring countries.
The topic that we are to address today is not a new one. In fact, it is one, which has been copiously written upon, discussed and debated in numerous fora. Scientists have often pondered on ways to make science most useful to people. We will most likely be hard put to say anything new that has not been recognized and said before. The common aim is to determine how to get science to work to better serve society. At a meeting held in New Delhi two years ago with this same objective, the issue was rather pithily and accurately expressed by Dr Ahmed. H. Zewail, Egypt’s first Nobel Laureate (in Physics) who asked, in his opening address, “India has a broad and sophisticated scientific community – but why is it that I cannot drink water from the tap?”
Our own apex body for S & T in this country, NASTEC, describes its Vision as “ …to enhance the well being and prosperity of Sri Lanka through the potential of Science and Technology” . This is clearly congruent with what we seek to deliberate upon today.
Adequate financial investment in scientific research is undoubtedly the first step in a chain of actions, which ultimately delivers benefits to society. But it still is only an initial step. A whole scientific culture should thread its way through the many stages that intervene between potential and realization. Issues of prioritisation, autonomy, quality, communication, synergies, collaboration and interaction between the various concerned sectors presents many facets that determine how the whole process moves forward and how well S & T deliver to the community.
It may be argued, with some merit, that a moderate degree of funding hardship may not be an unmixed curse. It could lead to a greater degree of innovation, better prioritisation, avoidance of the repetitive or superfluous, a greater awareness through reading the literature and enhanced competitiveness.
It is our concern that all is not well. That many weaknesses and gaps exist. That these need to be identified and remedial measures sought .The current Workshop had its genesis in this proposition and as a result of our deliberations, it is hoped that we will move some way towards improving or rectifying at least some of the more manageable deficiencies.
The present Workshop was a long time in coming – in fact, nearly eighteen months. Soon after the proposal was accepted in Council, our Membership was invited to make suggestions for matters that would be relevant. Many members responded enthusiastically and several valuable ideas were expressed. One was to avoid too ambitious a topic and thus lose acuity and focus, and the second was to turn the searchlight inward as well to obtain an objective assessment and to avoid our deliberations lapsing into a recitation of complaints.
It will be recalled that the first proposals for an event of this type, emerged at a time when some heat was generated by a series of perceived injustices that had been suffered by members of our scientific community and of the Academy. In this mood of gloom and discontent, the title suggested included the phrase “subversion of Science”. This created some problems. It implied malicious intent, sabotage by design and extraneous forces. Saner and cooler (but not necessarily timid) counsel prevailed and the present title with “impediments” evolved. This removes an element of personalized blame, the temptation to resort to a recitation of anecdotal woes and importantly, suggests that specific impediments may be identified for removal. Not all were happy with the change – fearing the loss of some pungency. However, it was agreed that it would be out of character for our Academy to be confrontational. Objectivity would demand that we direct our deliberations as much inwards as outwards.
The predominant underlying desire of the Academy is to be constructive and helpful. Our mandate declares this with clarity. In Sri Lanka’s context, Government remains the main patron and user of S & T. This identifies our main client. The most effective arms of government with intimate contact with the populace are the political and administrative segments of society. Communication and synergy with them is a paramount necessity. Support does not mean subservience, passive acquiescence or servility. It does mean balanced objectivity, avoidance of abrasiveness and a positive focus – I dare add, in both directions. It helps if the Academy speaks with one concerned voice.
There will undoubtedly be occasions where honest counsel of technology may conflict with the desires of Government. However, if true national interest were the concern, it is rare that reasoned and reasonable dissent need cause discord or offence. In socially important decisions with a large S & T component, certain intangibles of aesthetic, ethical, equity and humane values must be factored into the decision making process. It is not always possible to integrate all and painful choices may be necessary. This is where politicians and decision makers strongly need the strength of technical justification.
Uncritical acquiescence is a disservice and a surrender of just the qualities that are thought to endow the scientific community. Unfortunately, there are certain provisions in the rules of governance that seek to stifle disagreement and compel the breeding of “Yes men”. Such damaging provisions are bound to find mention in our deliberations and surely should bring forth suggestions which in fact, have already been endorsed. Apart from the peril of poor decisions, there is also the danger that the wrong signals may pass to the generation of developing scientific leadership. We shall thus be forever condemned.
As we today set out to measure the impact of S & T, we must logically address the means of doing so. Mention has been made of one possible index – that of quantum of investment. The influences of S & T are so wide and varied that no single such measure is likely to be adequate. Not infrequently encountered are such measures as ratios of scientists in the population, papers published in International Journals, citations, patents registered, Ph.D s produced, and products reaching the market. Resources invested are only the starting point from which proceed a myriad links and interconnections, which influence the ultimate efficiency of delivery.
The “scientific method” is implicitly, a desirable and logical style in the management and evaluation of information. If so, it deserves to be applied to many more facets of life than the narrow pursuit of science alone. This suggests the need for a pervasive culture which values precision and respect for authenticity. Education and the media are two sectors within which its relevance is most immediate. The evidence for such, in content and quality is weak. Mention is often made of the importance of “a political will” in the harnessing of Science. It may be preferred to refer to a pervasive scientific culture or ethos that should spread through all of society. In this, the role of education and the media are crucial.
The three Academicians who have consented to be our lead presenters today, address critical areas. Our concern that S & T have somehow failed to deliver adequately in our nation, immediately throws up the need to examine how our neighbours in broadly similar circumstances have addressed the concerned issues and perhaps delivered better than we have done. Dr Kingsley de Alwis with his wide and recent International experiences, is ideally equipped to do so. Dr Modder looks at how the administration has linked into the S & T system. His recent experience in a position where he could observe this interplay makes him an apt choice. Dr Wijewardena whose contribution to much of innovative engineering, agriculture and forestry are outstanding, will cast light on the extent to which scientific effort has reached fruition and the public’s perception of S & T.
The subjects of the concept papers provide a clue to the inspiration for the Workshop. A notion that our nation’s utilization of the potential for S & T falls behind that of our comparable neighbours. That the desired synergies between the technical, administrative and political segments of our society are short of the ideal and that the delivery of benefits and the popular perception of science is defective. I would draw attention to the fact that each speaker will not only deal with deficiencies but will also address the issue of proposals to improve the status quo.
What aim should a Workshop of this nature have? Who should it address? How can it make notice taken of it? What help can the Academy offer towards implementation? I believe that we do not have the answers yet and much will depend on the weightiness and direction of our deliberations. A document will doubtless be the immediate product – and we hope, not the only one. We must all endeavour to produce insights that are worthy of the Academy. Hopefully, proposals for positive, definitive and achievable goals will be forthcoming. It is all up to our Membership. Rapporteurs will endeavour to capture the essence of the discussions. Brevity and clarity are essential. Written comments would be most helpful..
The success of our meeting will depend upon the active participation of al. The field of Science and Technology is a vast one in respect of its relationships and influences on peoples’ lives. Much can be debated. Let us be focussed on identifying achievable means of removing blocks and improving social benefits within the resource constraints faced and the needs of our nation..