SA science leaps forward

2012-09-09 10:00
Charl Blignaut
After years of decline, South Africa’s scientific research output is up – and that has a lot to do with the policies of Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, according to Professor Anastassios Pouris.

In his report – titled Science in South Africa: The Dawn of a Renaissance? – the head of the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Technological Innovation says our global share of science publications “is on the verge of reaching the highest contribution ever”.

Our scientists published 7 468 research papers between 2000 and 2010 – almost doubling the previous decade’s output and placing us 33rd in the world, ahead of countries such as New Zealand, Argentina and Ireland.

South Africa is also leading the race in Africa, producing almost half the continent’s research papers.

Pouris told City Press that “for the first time in recorded history we were able to improve our position”.

He was full of praise for Pandor, who has been minister since 2009.

“She is the first-ever ANC minister of science and technology and has the credentials to convince others that funding needs to be pushed.”

Financial incentives for university researchers from the department of higher education have also helped.

With developments like the Square Kilometre Array, South Africa is showing particular strength in the field of space science and is also a leader in immunology, plant and animal sciences, and social sciences.

But, Pouris reveals in his report, we are falling behind in computer science, materials science, molecular biology and engineering.

He cautions that these are crucial for industrial growth. More facilities and more lecturers need to be developed at universities to increase the intake of students, he said.

A separate study of patents shows South Africa is responsible for 98% of Africa’s registered inventions.

The large mining industry means South Africa is third in the world in the science of extracting oil from coal and 12th in metallurgical processes, as well as in hydrocarbon-compound chemistry.

“Scientific innovation is really important. In most developing countries, as the research community grows we see the results in economic growth. We can prove that 70% to 80% of all economic growth depends on innovation,” said Pouris.