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Science-as-unusual in a post-COVID-19 pandemic world?

juliusmugwagwa14 May 2020

By Julius Mugwagwa, Carla-Leanne Washbourne, Remy Twiringiyimana and Anne Marie Kagwesage from the STECS Project Team, UCL & University of Rwanda

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic has exposed frailties in our health, social and economic systems. The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 at the end of 2019 and its rapid global spread to infect more than 4 million, causing nearly 300, 000 deaths to date, has been a perfect storm of human and physical factors. The outbreak has simultaneously tested various aspects of our deeply interconnected societies, resulting in delayed, sluggish, inadequate and at times impotent responses to the pandemic.

Coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – CG Illustration by Yuri Samoilov yuri.samoilov.online

If there is a silver lining that has visibly emerged from the pandemic, it is the important, yet often hidden role that different disciplines of science and engineering play in generating and providing tools for dealing with societal challenges. From provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), rapid development and supply of ventilators and drug therapies, to insights feeding into social distancing guidance and rapid response measures to keep communities fed – science and engineering inputs have been suddenly placed centre stage, for all to see and appreciate. From fields as diverse as epidemiology, behavioural science, chemistry, data science, molecular biology, pharmaceutical sciences, communication and civil, chemical and biomedical engineering, among thousands of others, the pandemic has provided a chance to see the great contributions that the millions of people working in these fields make to our lives.

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COVID-19: how much do local science system capabilities matter in Africa?

c.washbourne6 April 2020

By Julius Mugwagwa, Carla-Leanne Washbourne, Remy Twiringiyimana and Anne-Marie Kagwesage from the STECS Project Team, UCL & University of Rwanda

Science matters

Colleagues from UCL and the University of Rwanda are nearing the end of the STECS research project in which we were investigating and unpacking the role, relevance and contribution of African science councils in national development. The role of science in economic development is widely recognised across Africa, and is amply ingrained in continental agendas and programmes such as the African Union’s Agenda2063 and STISA-2024, as well as national institutions and resource deployments.

In order to strengthen the role and contribution that science can make to national, continental and global causes, the African Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) has been supporting science granting councils or national science councils in 15 sub-Saharan African countries through various capacity strengthening activities which include development and use of research management tools, use of innovation indicators, partnerships with the private sector and enhanced networking of country-level science granting councils. Challenges such as the current COVID-19 global health pandemic are presenting both challenges and opportunities for science communities globally.  In the African countries that were part of the STECS project, we have started to witness the role and location of the science community’s voice in public discourses on the pandemic. What remains unclear for us though is the science advice input behind the public health actions taking place in the countries.

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Science Advice: How to Navigate a Field Struggling with Diversity?

jenny.mcarthur13 June 2019

Dr Leonie Tanczer and Dr Jenny McArthur, lecturers for UCL STEaPP’s elective module on Science Advice for Policy, reflect on the contradictions of drawing from a Eurocentric discipline when teaching at London’s global university.

Science advice, the process by which governments take account of science, technology, and engineering expertise in decision making, favours the well-networked and influential few – the great and the good, as they like to say in the United Kingdom. At its core, science advice is about expertise, knowledge, and power. Advisors are often affiliated with prestigious universities, sit at the table with ministers and industry stakeholders, and count leading scientific experts as friends. Given these dynamics, if there is one discipline that should be at the forefront of critical reflection on its own biases and consideration of non-conforming voices, it should be Science Advice.

It’s becoming impossible to ignore the fact that many university syllabi, reading lists, and faculties have a diversity problem. Representation of scholars from the Global South is lacking. Academia isn’t inclusive when it comes to social categories such as gender and class. And too many disciplines perpetuate Western norms and expectations for public policy. If you don’t believe us, see here, here and here. Critiques from inside higher education raise questions over the way that universities reproduce colonial power relations, advanced by the movement to decolonise the curriculum. (more…)