By Ismail Serageldin
Africa produces less science than it could. Its home-grown innovations are not being nurtured by governments. Bottom-up initiatives are needed. We must use new technologies to empower those promoting science in the poorest countries. I am involved in two such projects.
One is the Science Supercourse, a collection of more than 170,000 PowerPoint lectures available for free on the Internet (see go.nature.com/hlksfr). The project is the brainchild of Ron Laporte, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the Library of Alexandria. It is supervised by Laporte along with Gil Omenn, a biomedical scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; Vint Cerf, vice-president at Google in Mountain View, California; and myself.
Our lectures — designed by Nobel laureates as well as young assistant professors — distil the latest knowledge in a field in an accessible way. In epidemiology and public health alone, some 60,000 people have used them to reach 1 million students in more than 170 countries.
The second project — a virtual help desk for researchers using the Supercourse — is still in gestation. Overseen by the same team, it will give researchers in developing countries, particularly in Africa, guidance on research methods and statistics so that they can conduct, evaluate and publish research in international journals. By assisting scientists at the outset and during analysis, such a programme could markedly improve productivity.
Although the private sector has used help desks for decades, the concept has not, to our knowledge, been used to provide external support to individual scientists in their research. Learning from private industry, we intend to begin with a prototype in epidemiology and health, and later expand to other disciplines.
We have already collected and placed in the Supercourse repository many lectures and books as well as software related to research methods and statistics (see go.nature.com/oqfrzg). We invite scientists to add materials and to use what is available.
Director, Library of Alexandria, Egypt
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