Not every country needs a nanotechnology program now

Here’s yet another new national effort in nanotechnology — Kazakstan wants to get in on the action in nanotech:

President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced the spending increase on October 13 at a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the country’s Academy of Sciences. Funding will increase by a factor of 25 over the next five years, to reach an annual total of 2.7 billion US dollars.

He also said five scientific centres would be set up to focus on the key areas of nanotechnology, biotechnology, nuclear technology, space and energy.

But there are problems:

Andrei Chebotarev, who heads a research centre called Alternativa, says that Kazak science has become increasingly uncoordinated since the Academy of Sciences ceased to function as the sector’s lead agency. “I believe science has lost some kind of common coordinating centre, resulting in a situation where there are no shared standards or methods for developing the sciences to a deeper, theoretical level,” he said.

Tynysbek Kalmenov, director of the Centre for Physics and Mathematics, takes a different view, arguing that the main obstacle to progress is the shortage of good scientists. Any good research institution needed a world-class figure at its head, he said, adding, “I doubt there’s a scientist in the country who fits that description.”

Another issue highlighted by NBCentralAsia’s interviewees is the need to ensure the substantial amounts of money available are actually spent on what they are intended for. Although the government plans to set up a special coordinating agency to monitor the funding flow, there are concerns that pseudo-academic institutions will spring up and siphon off large sums of money.

Wikipedia claims:

The country has enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000, partly due to its large oil, gas, and mineral reserves.
But, democracy has not improved much since 1991. An article from World War 3 web site says “In July 2000, Kazakhstan’s parliament passed a law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime powers and privileges, including access to future presidents, immunity from criminal prosecution, and influence over domestic and foreign policy. Critics say he has become a de facto “president for life.” (Central Asia-Caucasus Institute briefing, July 5, 2000, [3]). Over the course of his ten years in power, Nazarbayev has repeatedly censored the press through arbitrary use of “slander” laws (RFE Newsline, April 12, 1996), blocked access to opposition web sites (Nov. 9, 1999), banned the Wahhabi religious sect (Sept. 5, 1998), drawn criticism from Amnesty International for excessive executions following specious trials (March 21, 1996) and harsh prison conditions (Aug. 13, 1996), and refused demands that the governors of Kazakhstan’s 14 oblasts be elected, rather than appointed by the president (April 7, 2000).”

We here at Nanodot and Foresight normally favor nanotech research, but in this case, perhaps the country involved would do better to work on its other problems first. —Christine

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