For Colombians, science is important but distant
[BOGOTA] Colombians consider science important, but feel it has little to do with their lives, according to a survey by the Colombian Association for the Advancement of Science and the Colombian Institute for the Development of Science and Technology.
The survey, whose results were presented in Bogota on 17 November, sought opinions of more than 4,000 people in four sectors of Colombian society: university faculty, schoolteachers (not only of science), business people and the general public.
Across the four groups, those surveyed said they think science and technology are poorly developed because the activities have a low profile in the country. Another reason, they said, is inadequate government funding.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, university professors and teachers surveyed thought the government should spend more money on science, and that universities should teach more science and technology.
While those questioned considered research to be a respectable job, they tended to think scientists in Colombia devote their lives to research largely because that is what interests them, rather than because they think it could help solve some of the problems facing the country.
Business people and teachers said they felt that governments of rich countries supported the development of science, whereas university professors thought big multinational companies did so.
Thirty-one per cent of the business community said their interest in investing in science and technology had increased in recent years. But 45 per cent of those asked said they were neither more nor less interested than they had been — a reflection of low private sector participation in research and development in Colombia.
Many members of the public said they never read science magazines (47 per cent) or listen to science programmes on radio (79 per cent). In contrast, 32 per cent said they watched science programmes on television if they found something interesting, and a further 28 per cent said they watched science programmes regularly. They tended to prefer programmes on foreign channels such as Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet to those made in Colombia.
Jesús Martin Barbero, who founded the communication department at the Valle University in Cali and is now a consultant, says that although the survey had some limitations because of the way questions were designed, its findings are worrying.
He says the survey highlights the lack of public interest in and debate about how scientific and technological research are used — or not used — in Colombia.
The survey also concluded that Colombians feel that while there is limited activity in many fields of science and technology in Colombia, there has been no real development and the sector is still at an 'embryonic' stage.
This view echoes that of people surveyed in Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Uruguay in 2002 and 2003 by the Argentina-based Network on Science and Technology Indicators.
The Colombian survey was conducted at a cost of 100 million pesos (US$40,000) between February and April 2004.