It’s time to foster Africa’s science revolution

28Jan 2020
The Guardian
It’s time to foster Africa’s science revolution

A scientist is someone who conducts scientific research to advance knowledge in an area of interest.

In classical antiquity, there was no real ancient analog of a modern scientist. Instead, philosophers engaged in the philosophical study of nature called natural philosophy, a precursor of natural science.  It was not until the 19th century that the term scientist came into regular use after it was coined by the theologian, philosopher, and historian of science William Whewell in 1833, to describe the noted polymath Mary Somerville.  

In modern times, many scientists have advanced degrees  in an area of science and pursue careers in various sectors of the economy such as academia, industry, government, and nonprofit environments. 

The roles of "scientists", and their predecessors before the emergence of modern scientific disciplines, have evolved considerably over time. Scientists of different eras (and before them, natural philosophers, mathematicians, natural historians, natural theologians, engineers, and others who contributed to the development of science) have had widely different places in society, and the social norms, ethical values, and epistemic virtues associated with scientists—and expected of them—have changed over time as well. Accordingly, many different historical figures can be identified as early scientists, depending on which characteristics of modern science are taken to be essential.

Some historians point to the Scientific Revolution that began in 16th century as the period when science in a recognizably modern form developed. It wasn't until the 19th century that sufficient socioeconomic changes occurred for scientists to emerge as a major profession. 

THE computer models which scientists use to project future shifts in climate have mainly been developed by scientists outside of Africa.

Scientists therefore have limited understanding of how these tools represent the conditions that are unique to different regions on the African continent.

A new network of climate scientists in Africa and the United Kingdom hopes to address this, by fast-tracking model development which will improve the understanding of how these tools represent climate processes in African regions. These researchers will collaborate through the Climate Model Evaluation Hub for Africa.

The ultimate goal of this work is to give policy makers in Africa improved climate information, which can better support them in their regions in order to respond to changing climatic conditions resulting from human-driven carbon emissions and rising global temperatures.

The collaboration will allow them to work together to test how the digital simulation models represent African climate.

The idea of creating this network to help improve climate model analysis for Africa was led by Dr Cath Senior at the Met Office, and emerged after a few years of conceptualising the initiative, explains Dr Rachel James, who is the Co-Investigator and coordination lead for LaunchPAD. This evolved from collaborative work under the IMPALA research consortium that is part of Future Climate for Africa (FCFA).

The Climate Model Evaluation Hub is designed to be a longer-term initiative. As this short first phase of funding approaches its end in August 2020, the team will host a workshop with the wider African climate science community to create a strategy for the next phase of the hub.

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