19. Data Sharing: Limits and Barriers and Initiatives to Overcome Them – An Introduction

Roger Pfister ICSU Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science, France, and Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, Switzerland

Discussing the limits and barriers to data sharing with developing countries is also about their access to information. This paper suggests that the situation is improving, albeit slowly. We will look at the developments in this area from a historical perspective. A review of the last few decades will allow seeing the current situation against that background.

Calls for a new information order

To locate the idea of information sharing in a historic perspective, we go back to the 1960s. Mention needs to be made of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in this regard. Established in 1961, the mission of this political organization was to pursue an independent policy based on coexistence between the two power blocks, East and West, dominating the Cold War era. NAM was basically the device of the developing world, because it comprised primarily countries from Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.

Following political independence, especially on the African continent, during the first part of the 1960s, members of the Non-Aligned Movement strived for economic and cultural liberation from the North, which could be seen as synonymous to the West in those days. For that purpose it propagated two initiatives during the first half of the 1970s, namely the New International Economic Order and the New International Information Order. To gain international attention and support for them, and by means of political lobbying, the latter was taken into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The reason for this move was that the number of developing countries had increased so much in that UN body that developing world demands could be pushed through rather easily. As a result, the Non-Aligned Movement succeeded at the UNESCO 19th General Conference in Nairobi in 1976. A resolution was adopted that called for the free flow of information. This was facilitated by the fact that the UNESCO Director-General at the time was Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow from Senegal. However, the two initiatives came to a standstill in the mid-1980s because political quarrels over the organization’s role in this field limited UNESCO’s possibilities. A crucial loss was when the United States, by far the largest sponsor, left the organization in 1984 over that issue.

Yet, the NAM’s demand for a New International Information Order had a sound basis. The notion of developing countries having been left out of the worldwide flow of information was based on realities that we would like to illustrate with some statistical data from the period before e-mail and Internet emerged as tools of communication and tools for exchanging information. These were the days when newspapers, television, and radio were the principal means for spreading information.

Indicators of information sharing

Figures on the number of daily newspapers available in the different world regions reveal that Africa had the fewest between 1980 and 1994, with no increase in the period under consideration, and that all developing areas fared much behind the developed Europe and North America (Table 19-1).

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