Friday 25 September 2020

Research for whom? A Message to the Third World Scientists

The Developed World used to fund researchers and research groups in under-developed countries (UDCs) for the last five decades. I am also a beneficiary of such generosity of the West. The UDCs should be thankful to the developed countries for such gestures with goodwill. There is no argument about that.

However, there is a point of concern.

How many research groups in the UDCs that have been funded by the developed world are successful in getting a significant revenue to their respective countries through their research outputs?

If that number is noticeably high, then there would not be UDCs by now.

If you do a careful review of the research groups that have been established in UDCs for the last half a century, you may detect one obvious common factor among them. All those groups are excelling in basic research, the essential ingredient for the survival of applied research. However, they hardly step beyond the basic research.

Almost all these West-funded groups in UDCs have a link university in the country that funded the group. Whereas the research group in the UDC work hard to produce fundamental research outcomes, the link research group and many other research teams in the developed countries take the applied part of the research forward, which ends up at the commercial spheres.

Many researchers in UDCs would not like to voice regarding this situation, even if they understand this pattern. The simple reason is that they are the beneficiaries of many perks such as research funding (most often insignificant amounts compared to what the research groups in developed countries get for producing the same outputs), occasional foreign trips, conference attendance etc. Research papers, H-index, citations are the other bag of carrots that is thrown at them to work hard while keeping their mouths shut.

Japan escaped from this loop at a very early stage. South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore followed them a couple of decades later. In the last two decades Malaysia, Thailand and India have been making valiant efforts to break away from this trap.

I don't see any issue in starting and bringing up a research group in UDCs with the funding from the developed countries. However, at a certain stage, these groups need to be self-sufficient to stand on their own feet. In contrast, a vast majority of them are driven by a slave mentality, where they expect the masters to feed them forever. Most of these researchers think that their duty is to produce what their masters require.

During my almost ten year stay in Malaysia as a researcher and academic, I clearly noticed the change of mentality of the people there.

"Every dollar that the government throws on research should be converted into three dollars in terms of research outputs".

This message was there in between the line, in all grant announcements. The mindsets of researchers were impregnated with the note that the ultimatum of a research project is not a publication in a highly cited journal; not even getting IP rights; but to convert the outputs into commercialization.

Without this vision, researchers in UDCs will keep on moving in the same direction, where they are mere heavy-duty trucks that deliver goods to the factory. Their research will never make any noteworthy benefits to their own country.

Let's develop result-oriented researchers in UDCs who bring revenues to their own countries.

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