. "10 Information Technology and Data in the Context of Developing Countries." Open Access and the Public Domain in Digital Data and Information for Science: Proceedings of an International Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
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Open Access and the Public Domain in Digital Data and Information for Science: Proceedings of an International Symposium
reason were marginalized. The data from these alternatives may still be relevant and in some cases more relevant in the particular context where the scientific knowledge will be used.
The institutionalized context within which scientific knowledge is produced can be very important. It is also very important to be able to relate whatever data, science, or knowledge you have with the prospective problem area where the knowledge will be used.
There is a considerable effort to emphasize the significance of science in developing countries. It is important to be able to unpack the black boxes of scientific data and be able to interpret them, understand their contextual nature, and make choices that are contextually appropriate. There is, however, something else that we tend to forget, which is the significance of scientists from developing countries being able to participate in the scientific debate worldwide.
I would like to share with you a very unpleasant experience I had as the editor of a special issue of a prestigious scientific journal. The special issue was supposed to cover the area of information systems in developing countries. I was an organizer of a conference in 2000 that was convened under the umbrella of the International Federation for Information Processing in the Developing Countries Group. For a number of years the federation had established a tradition of being quite open and inclusive in its participants. The conference organizing group considered it very important to have participants from all over the world to be able to exchange information.
The conference was successful and it was decided that a special issue with the best papers presented would be produced. The papers chosen were from authors from both industrialized and developing countries and went through peer-review processes. Unfortunately, two colleagues from developing countries were not able to include their papers in the special issue. Why? Scientific processes are very much institutionalized; there are rituals of writing, referencing, and arguing that are very much a part of our academia. Developing countries very often do not have the capacity to take part and prove their point as competently in these rituals as peer reviewers would like to see. In the end the special issue had only authors from industrialized countries. One lesson to be learned from this is that we should develop the institutions of science in a broad-minded way and perhaps be prepared to change our rituals in order to accommodate more voices.
THE NEED FOR ANALYTICAL CAPABILITIES
There is also the problem of data acquiring objectivity and universal truth status. There are philosophers and sociologists of science who have argued about the quality of scientific knowledge—that it might be reassessed, that alternative knowledge within science might prevail. Yet, the current perception of scientific knowledge is that it tends to take for granted such knowledge as universal truth. Not only is scientific knowledge not universal truth, but it hides power. By that I do not mean the rather clichéd view that knowledge is power; I mean the opposite. What we take as scientific knowledge, as prevailing truth, is very much an output of the dynamics of power, as I think my example illustrated. My colleagues from developing countries, not having mastered the conventions of writing their ideas in a way that is acceptable within the current norms of the scientific community, lost their voice. Their points simply were not included in a special issue on the very topic of information technology and development.
I would like to argue for the need to develop analytical capacities to be able to interpret data and make critical judgments about the validity of data in specific contexts. This is not a trivial issue. You should be able to unpack what is already black-boxed and have the ability to argue for your choices, often against the prevailing legitimate practice.
There is also the need to juxtapose alternative context-specific knowledge. For some time there has been a debate within development studies about the relative status of scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge, an unfortunate dichotomy. It is very important to accommodate alternative knowledge within one’s own epistemology and underlying values.
Again, this requires an ability to examine the reified notion of data and information and develop critical judgment about what is relevant, beneficial, and feasible. The development of policies that give a voice to the public and consider their own judgments of issues of relevance to their lives is weak in developing countries.