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The Dilemma of Science

The Dilemma of Science provides a different set of insights from those found in most books on science and development. These insights stem from the background and experience of the two authors, a natural and a social scientist both living and working in Jamaica. Their circumstances inevitably colour their perspective throughout the book.

The senior author is Dr Arnoldo Ventura who, in addition to being science adviser to the Jamaican Prime Minister, has also played distinguished roles on a number of international science and technology advisory boards. A former member of the Commonwealth Science Council, Ventura has also served as Jamaican delegate to the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, of which he is currently chairman.

The book is designed to appeal to scientists and non-scientists alike. Indeed, one of its objectives is to help promote a dialogue between scientists and other professionals, especially economists. The authors frequently stress that the lack of such a dialogue is one of the reasons that the economic and social benefits of science have not been realised to their fullest extent. They do not, however, limit their analysis to economics; there are interesting chapters on science and culture, and science and ethics.

Ventura and coauthor Angela Ramsay start their book by posing a question that has troubled many a politician and thinker before them. Why, when science and technology have helped create so much wealth in the world, have they had so little impact on reducing poverty? Unfortunately, they fail to answer the question, which thus remains one of the dilemmas of science! The authors do make some progress, though. They analyse the causes of poverty, and give some examples that show where there have been successful attempts to apply science and technology to the solution of these problems.

In chapters on science education, investment in science and technology, the management of technological innovations, the environment, culture and ethics, the authors assess both the positive and negative contributions of science and technology in each sphere, providing many examples of both. A concern with poverty is a recurring theme throughout. The book is also refreshing in that it presents a balanced view of the contributions (and limitations) of the public and private sectors. It offers useful insights, too, on the role of multinational corporations in the transfer of technology, innovation, environmental protection and ethical considerations.

In short, this is a balanced and readable book. Despite the growing gap between the scientific and technological strengths of developed and developing countries, I finished reading The Dilemma of Science feeling more optimistic about the potential role of science and technology in solving the dilemmas of development. Although it was written from the perspective of a small island nation, there are messages and lessons for developing countries, and developed ones too.

A shortcoming of the book is the lack of continuity between chapters: it reads as though each had been based on a separate paper or report. It also lacks a concluding chapter to integrate the component pieces. Nevertheless, it is well worth reading, especially by economists and other professionals.

Geoffrey Oldham is former director of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom, and chair of the trustees of SciDev.Net.