African scientists to converge on Pretoria for international forum in December

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South Africa will next month host its first international science conference, showcasing homegrown research and innovation.

The South African Science Forum, which will be held at the CSIR international convention centre in Pretoria, aims to emulate the likes of the Euroscience Open Forum in Europe, the Japanese Science, Technology and Society Forum and the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the United States. It is free to attend the conference.

“We hope that the South African Science Forum will provide Africa with a platform for dynamic and robust debate on the interface between science and society,” science and technology minister Naledi Pandor said on Wednesday.

The 2015 event, themed ‘Igniting conversations about science’, “will bring together stakeholders – scientists, government officials, industry leaders, students and representatives from broader civil society – from our country and continent, and all over the world”, she said. “We want it to be a platform not only for African scientists to talk about their work – and there are many success stories to be told – but also for scientists and all spheres of society to engage on the interface between research and their needs.”

The department of science and technology, which is organising the event, has pulled diplomatic strings to bring some big names to the event – from African Union head Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to Prof Anil Gupta, grass-roots innovation expert – and delegates from more than 45 countries.

Daan du Toit, the deputy director-general for international co-operation and resources at the department, said: “Our goal… is to put science at the service of the country and discuss in an open forum how best to harness science for the benefit of society.

“It’s not a strict policy conference and neither is it a purely scientific conference, where scientists are speaking to themselves.”

He hoped that the forum would become an annual event on South Africa’s science, technology and innovation calendar.

There will be several parallel sessions, including: “responding to societal challenges”; “skills for the knowledge economy”; “showcasing South Africa’s best”; “African eyes on the sky”; “science agenda for Africa”; and “what does the scientist say”.

The range of topics will also vary dramatically. A session on the role of research and development in “water wars” will run concurrently with the “science of harm reduction: advice for healthy lifestyles”, while some panelists discuss “Open data in a big data world” and others the World Bank report into a decade of science, technology, engineering and maths in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The forum programme was designed to ignite vibrant discussion on the science and society interface,” Pandor said. “[It] is not the traditional, formal kind of conference, but a vibrant marketplace for the exchange of ideas, and where protocol will give way to challenging debate.”

[Image – CC 2.0 by Alejandro Hernandez]



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