Scientists told to take part in decision-making

BANGALORE, JAN. 20. Scientists have a moral obligation to keep the rest of us informed about their work; they should also take the lead in starting a dialogue with society on all questions thrown up by their discoveries and inventions, the Minister of State for Information and Technology and Biotechnology, B.K.Chandrashekar, has said.

Speaking at an international conference on ``Demystifying Biotechnology -- The Value Differentiators'', Prof. Chandrashekar urged scientists to ``not react in anger or impatience,'' even though sometimes, those who raised the spectre of doom from new technology, did so in ignorance.

It was also important that scientists took part proactively in ensuring that the State's decision-making machinery -- the political establishment -- was kept abreast of technological advances. ``A scientific basis of decision making was required, wherein guidelines could be set to determine how technology was used, without blocking scientific research per se,'' he said.

The Chairperson and Managing Director, Biocon India, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who is also the Chairperson of the Confederation of Indian Industry's National Committee on Biotechnology, spelt out the single point objective of the conference -- to help venture capitalists make up their minds on why they should invest in biotechnology, particularly in Indian biotechnology.

She called for favourable fiscal and legislative policies to leverage India's potential to ``make biotechnology a serious business here'', tapping its biodiversity, rich gene pools, its strong agriculture-base and strengths in information technology.

Alfred R.Berkeley, Vice-Chairman, NASDAQ, cautioned that biotechnology today faced a similar euphoria that the dotcoms in the near forgettable past had created -- ``a promise of something new that would create immense wealth.'' But it was possible to develop successful business models that encouraged potential growth markets, as the U.S. had done with it the biotechnology industry, he said.

He went on to say that there were alternatives to traditional venture funding. The Community of Scientists (COS), a network of funding agencies, which had money for scientific research, was started in John Hopkins University 11 years ago, he said.

The network had over 20,000 members today. The database was accessible via a website, after a subscription fee was paid. ``We do a dating service, matching those with money for research to those who need money to do research.'' he said. Indian scientists should take advantage of this network. Even the Indian Government could get on the network and say what research it was willing to fund, he said.

Susan Kling Finston, Assistant Vice President, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, came out with a thinly veiled threat that India's position on compulsory licensing of drugs, and ``advocates of a go-slow approach especially after the Doha ministerial,'' would not go unchallenged.

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