Food For Thought


Food For Thought

  Women and Science for a New Citizenship in the Mediterranean


by Pietro Greco, Science Writer, Fondazione IDIS – Città della Scienza


Of course there are many problems that still need to be resolved. And there are just as many, as Nobel prize winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz would say, “broken promises”. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that science is changing the world, and the world of science, is changing.

The new “knowledge economy” has produced an enormous amount of wealth which has become the driving force behind business and services. This type of economy has taken off because of its scientific grounds. In fact, it was created on the capacity of scientific research to continually produce new knowledge and on the capacity of the technological system to systematically use new scientific knowledge to continually renew products and processes.

In the last twenty to thirty years, the knowledge economy has confirmed the existence of “emerging economies” and hundreds of millions of people throughout the world have succeeded in abandoning conditions of poverty and deprivation. Unfortunately, many – too many- disparities still remain between, and within, nations. Even still, science has undoubtedly contributed to changing the world.

However, the world of science is changing as well. The amount of money the planet invests in scientific and technological research has reached an unprecedented level- 2% of the planet’s gross world product. More than 7 million people engage professionally in scientific research, twice as many than at the end of the 19th century. There are more scientists in the world today than the sum of all scientists in the entire history of humanity.

This enormous increase in the number of people dedicated to research poses a great opportunity, for two reasons in particular. Firstly, researchers are no longer concentrated within only a few European countries and North America, as was the case ten years ago. Today they are spread more evenly throughout the world, Asia having the greatest number of scientists today.

Secondly, an increasing number of women have become involved in scientific activities. There is still much work to be done in bringing about greater gender equality, yet the presence of women in scientific research today is unparalleled in history. The presence of women, in fact, presents an extraordinary opportunity, not only in quantitative terms (allowing for twice as many “masterminds” in the world), but also in qualitative terms. Women open up new spaces for research, not alternatives, but additional spaces with respect to the views traditionally explored by male scientists.

The Mediterranean, with all its bordering countries, is a part of this “scientific renaissance”.  New scientific forces are emerging and Turkey is a prime example. Yet from the very north to the very south of every country, women are taking on leading roles for the first time.

There is, thus, a lot to hope for and we must not downplay the presence of problems, even serious ones that require some reflection.

First of all, even though the Mediterranean area is incredibly dynamic and even holds the origins of science in the Hellenistic period nearly 2,500 years ago, the Mediterranean is barely able to keep up with the rest of the world.       Secondly, glass ceilings, even in the Mediterranean, all too often impede women from equal access and embarking on a career in science.  Thirdly, science has a great and undeniably progressive role in society in general, and within the Mediterranean. Yet all too often, knowledge is used to exclude, rather than socially include.

Finally, the cultural approach of the Mediterranean basin has sometimes been defined, in the words of the American anthropologist Christopher P. Toumey, as “banal” because it is intrinsically “pragmatist” and treats science simply as a resource for consumer products. This interpretation of science does not require a strong epistemological basis, but merely a collection of facts. It does not require critical judgment or choice, but delegates the solution of practical, methodological and, above all, theoretical problems to experts while, as Toumey says, “conjuring scientific symbols rather than leading to the understanding of content”.

This is thus a task, for reasons of sensitivity and tradition, that could involve researchers from countries that border the Mediterranean, having them participate in the creation of an extended system of new civil rights (often defined as scientific citizenship) that regard research and technological innovation as building blocks for peace, democratic development and social inclusion.

Many of the accounts introduced in this issue of our newsletter do not only demonstrate that this task can be carried out, but that many researchers in the Mediterranean basin have already begun doing so and have obtained real and encouraging results.



Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone