Web Site to Help Bridge the e-Divide

Logging on. SciDev.Net's success will depend on researchers' access to it.

The Internet was heralded as the great democratizer. But in many developing countries, many researchers don't have computers, decent phone lines, or subscriptions to Web sites with the best data. Now a new site, officially launched in London today, aims to help bridge one gap with scientific news and information relevant to developing nations. The site is also intended to help foster scientific cooperation.

Journalists, scientists, and development agencies conceived the site, known as SciDev.Net, 3 years ago and drummed up funding from international bodies. On a budget of $2 million over the first two and a half years, a staff of six journalists and several foreign correspondents will provide daily news, alongside in-depth features by scientists and officials and a selection of articles contributed by Science and Nature. The site also features a database of scientific organizations, the first stage of a regional network of scientists designed to promote "north-south and south-south collaboration," says Mohamed Hassan, executive director of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in Trieste, Italy, which helped conceive SciDev.Net.

Part of SciDev.Net's mission will be to separate the wheat from the chaff: It is difficult to gauge the reliability of information on the Web, the organizers say, when many slick sites are actually promoting fallacies, such as that HIV does not cause AIDS. "Some of these sites that are trying to undermine scientific ideas are really very user-friendly," says David Dickson, SciDev.Net's director and former Nature news editor.

The site's success will depend on its intended audience gaining access to it. In India, for example, only the best Indian universities have reliable access to the Web. Several agencies are already hard at work providing access, some sponsoring telecenters in poorer countries, and some, like TWAS, developing networks of research academies and science ministries across the north-south divide. SciDev.Net is an important complement to these efforts because it brings marginalized researchers into the virtual world community of scientists, Hassan says. "This is really confidence building for scientists in the developing countries."

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