Monday, October 19, 2009

The New Invisible College: Science for Development

The New Invisible College: Science for Development by Caroline S. Wagner. The Brookings Institution, 1775, Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20036, 2008. 157 pp. Price not mentioned.

Reviewed by Sujit Bhattacharya, Current Science, Vol. 97, No. 6, 25 September 2009

The central thesis/argument the book makes is that ‘Science operates at the global level as a Network – an Invisible College’. This, the author visualizes is fundamentally changing the structure of science in the 21st century. The rise of networked science makes knowledge creation more efficient and creates opportunities for developing countries to participate in global scientific activity and tap resources to solve local problems. But the author cautions that in order to take advantage of the networked structure, countries need to design new science policy framework that moves beyond national orientation. In advancing these arguments, the author uses both qualitative and quantitative perspectives.

Francis Fukuyama’s foreword provides a perfect setting for this book. He succinctly provides a glimpse of the changing landscape of science and articulates why this book is important. The book has three parts. Part 1 covers three themes: The emergence of the new invisible college (Chapter 1); The topology of science in the 21st century (Chapter 2); Network character of science (Chapter 3). Part II makes an analytical introspection of the network dynamics. Three themes cover this section. Tectonic shifts: The rise of global networks (Chapter 4); The virtual geography of knowledge (Chapter 5); Scientific capacity and infrastructure (Chapter 6). Part III dwells upon how the emerging configuration requires innovative policy framework and governance. These aspects are covered under the title ‘Governing the new invisible college’ (Chapter 7). Appendix explains the construction of the index used by the author to assess scientific capacity. For scholars, the Notes section in the end is a rich source of reference material.

To advance the different arguments, the author brings in concepts that span a wide disciplinary matrix; borrowing extensively from network theory and innovation studies. For a lay reader the concepts are introduced in a manner that can be easily assimilated. For example, the author uses the language of network theory to visualize the structure of invisible college (Chapter 3, Networked science). Using this world view, the author argues that invisible college is a complex adaptive open emergent system (p. 35). But to provide readers a deeper insight into the meaning of each of the concepts, she uses the metaphor of a forest. Later when other network concepts are introduced such as scale free network, power law that are common language in network theory but are esoteric concepts for others (p. 39); the author moves beyond the metaphor of forest to explain mathematical underpinning behind these concepts. This innovative style makes the arguments more compelling.


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