Volume 11, No. 1, April 2001
and Technology in the Colonial to Post-Colonial Transition
Roy HW Johnston
Colonial science in Ireland in the 19th century produced world-figures in physics like Hamilton, Fitzgerald, Preston, and emigrants of note like Tyndall and Kelvin. Boole, of Booleran Algebra fame, which is at the root of computing, was a mathematics professor in Cork University. FW Gossett, who invented Ďstudentís t-test' in statistics, pioneered the systematic use of statistics in agricultural experimentation, primarily to ensure quality control on the supply side for barley to brew Guinness.
The transition to quasi-independence after 1921, however, saw a decline in scientific development, and the native administration did not wake up to the importance of science until the 1950s, when they put some funding into agricultural science. It was only after a scathing report by the OECD in 1964 on the general state of science in national economic development that they set up the National Science Council in 1969.
Since then there has been an increasing realization of the importance of pure science, applied science and their interactions with each other and with industry, to the extent that they are now regarded as being essential to Irelandís prosperity.
We are trying to use the Web as a means of setting up a knowledge-base which would enable global access to the historical experience of Ireland, and allow others to network with 'fringe' countries like Ireland, in the analysis of the role of science in national economic and cultural development.
The STEP group interested in 'science and technology and the European periphery' has been in existence for some years, and has organised some conferences. So the intellectual base for such a global network exists. What we envision is the development of a well-indexed virtual library or knowledge-base to enable the experience of what may be called 'science and government' or 'the politics of science' in post-colonial fringe situations to be analysed, strengthened, exchanged and built upon. A related issue is the question of 'science and culture': what if there are any cultural blocks standing in the way of the rational use of scientific knowledge in the service of emerging nations?
As a small beginning we are developing a website which gives access to published books and papers, initially simply by author and title within several domains, then with abstracts, reviews, and then eventually for key books and papers which are out of print, to do virtual reprints. Currently on the prototype website we have some hundreds of books and papers, relating to the history of science in Ireland, with particular reference to its social, political and economic interactions, and to key people who constitute national scientific role-models.
We would be interested in communicating with people who might be interested to network in a project like this, with a view to identifying a suitable funding source, so as to do the job effectively. Up to now it has been a labour of love in marginal time by a handful of people.
What we need to develop is an accessible knowledge base, in depth, suitable to serve as a serious distance-learning resource for students of development economics, government advisers, trainee teachers, and political activists.
The temporary URL of our prototype site will be made available to respondents expressing a serious interest. The site is not yet public. One book however does exist which is web-accessible at the level of an abstract per chapter, with one complete sample chapter, and it can be ordered. Called "Prometheus's Fire", it is a multi-author history of technical education in Ireland, edited by Norman McMillan. (http://www.tyndallpublications.com)
To get the flavour of current Irish science, the readers can access http://www.irishscientist.ie, which is a virtual publication of the 1999 Irish Scientists yearbook; the 2000 version is currently in gestation and should be accessible shortly. This site conveys the existence of a vibrant science community well adapted to a rapidly growing small-nation economy.