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Not every country needs a nanotechnology program now

Here’s yet another new national effort in nanotechnology — Kazakstan wants to get in on the action in nanotech:

President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced the spending increase on October 13 at a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the country’s Academy of Sciences. Funding will increase by a factor of 25 over the next five years, to reach an annual total of 2.7 billion US dollars.

He also said five scientific centres would be set up to focus on the key areas of nanotechnology, biotechnology, nuclear technology, space and energy.

But there are problems:

Andrei Chebotarev, who heads a research centre called Alternativa, says that Kazak science has become increasingly uncoordinated since the Academy of Sciences ceased to function as the sector’s lead agency. “I believe science has lost some kind of common coordinating centre, resulting in a situation where there are no shared standards or methods for developing the sciences to a deeper, theoretical level,” he said.

Tynysbek Kalmenov, director of the Centre for Physics and Mathematics, takes a different view, arguing that the main obstacle to progress is the shortage of good scientists. Any good research institution needed a world-class figure at its head, he said, adding, “I doubt there’s a scientist in the country who fits that description.”

Another issue highlighted by NBCentralAsia’s interviewees is the need to ensure the substantial amounts of money available are actually spent on what they are intended for. Although the government plans to set up a special coordinating agency to monitor the funding flow, there are concerns that pseudo-academic institutions will spring up and siphon off large sums of money.

Wikipedia claims:

The country has enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000, partly due to its large oil, gas, and mineral reserves.
But, democracy has not improved much since 1991. An article from World War 3 web site says “In July 2000, Kazakhstan’s parliament passed a law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime powers and privileges, including access to future presidents, immunity from criminal prosecution, and influence over domestic and foreign policy. Critics say he has become a de facto “president for life.” (Central Asia-Caucasus Institute briefing, July 5, 2000, [3]). Over the course of his ten years in power, Nazarbayev has repeatedly censored the press through arbitrary use of “slander” laws (RFE Newsline, April 12, 1996), blocked access to opposition web sites (Nov. 9, 1999), banned the Wahhabi religious sect (Sept. 5, 1998), drawn criticism from Amnesty International for excessive executions following specious trials (March 21, 1996) and harsh prison conditions (Aug. 13, 1996), and refused demands that the governors of Kazakhstan’s 14 oblasts be elected, rather than appointed by the president (April 7, 2000).”

We here at Nanodot and Foresight normally favor nanotech research, but in this case, perhaps the country involved would do better to work on its other problems first. —Christine

3 Responses to “Not every country needs a nanotechnology program now”

  1. Mark Thompson Says:

    Dear Christine,

    I understand the point you are raising. However, development is not linear in terms of each country sorting out its basic economic and political problems before moving on to the next stage at which the US was at perhaps fifty or a hundred years ago. Due to the integrationist effects of globalisation, even poor countries have to incorporate the latest technologies in their economies in order to achieve competitiveness. So, even the so called Third World needs nanotechnology to the extent that such developments become mainstream in the global economy.


  2. Bob Kelly Says:

    While my statement shall sound alarmist, third world investment in nanotech is either an attempt to “jump ahead” in technology to be competitive in the future, or an attempt to effectively create the equavalent of a nuclear bomb that is below the UN radar.

    To the first point, ANY investment in technology will result in an economic boost. I’d like to give the leader for life the benefit of the doubt, but my cynicism believes that the money invested in nanotech will end up in his pockets rather than in any viable research that could further threaten the region.

  3. Mark Thompson Says:

    To illustrate my previous point. Let us suppose that nanotechnology becomes the main manufacturing technology which results in significant cost reductions. All manufacturers regardless of where they are located will have to adopt this technology in order to survive. Additionally, due to the disaggregation of production and outsourcing, all countries, whether developed or underdeveloped, will need to have the technology in place in order to capture some of the outsourcing business.

    Therefore, all countries should be developing expertise in nanotechnology. However, the danger is, unlike nuclear technology, nanotechnology has widespread manufacturing and health care uses in addition to its military applications. Consequently, one can never know for sure what secret applications are being developed.

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