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Sunday, August 7, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The African “Nobel Prize”

"A Driver for Development?"

Authors:

Germinal G. Van (economist, statistician)

Jean Philippe S. Ado (lawyer, scholar)

Published:

2020 (Amazon)

Summary of book:

Van and Ado take an interdisciplinary approach to analyze the potential impact which an African Intellectual Prize (AIP) could have on the overall well-being of people living on the African continent. High achievement should be recognized. Prestigious prizes for achievement (like the Nobel Prize) help to encourage aspiring scholars to rigorously pursue breakthroughs in the prize categories. The funding awarded alongside the prizes also helps to fund further breakthroughs which compound the effect of the advancement of human well-being.

The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are of particular interest to the authors.

“Let us not forget that science is the basis of the development and emancipation of any modern society.”

Van, Ado p.141

This book has lots of data to back up its analysis, so for a full understanding of the empirical case for the AIP, one will need to read the book for themself.

For example, Figure 5.0 on page 114 shows data on the distribution of Nobel Prize laureates from each continent for each category (physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and economic sciences) since 1901. The data shows that Africa and Australia/Oceania are dramatically underrepresented in terms of Nobel laureates. Most of the African continent’s laureates were awarded in the peace category, not in the STEM categories.

“No Black African has ever won the Nobel Prize in these scientific fields [physics, chemistry, medicine, and (to a degree) economic sciences] regardless of the incredible intellectual Black Africans evolving in these four fields. By contrast, five White Africans have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine (2) and Chemistry (3)”

Van, Ado p.118

There are several contributing factors which are discussed to explain this disparity between Africa and the more developed nations in Europe and the Americas. Africa’s colonial history, low literacy rates, lack of educational resources, lack of exposure to the global community of fellow high achievers, and “many other issues” are some that are discussed (p.188).

Since the authors favor an accelerated cultivation and recognition of achievement in the African continent, they propose starting the African Intellectual Prize in the spirit of the Nobel Prize, but as an intermediate stepping stone to eventually gaining more Nobel laureates. As Africans gain regional recognition for their contributions to the world, they will receive more exposure to potentially be recognized at a global level.

The book also talks about the history and structure of the Nobel Prize and how it is self-sustaining through an investment fund which was started through its namesake benefactor, Alfred Nobel.

Achieving the authors’ goal of more Africans receiving the Nobel Prize (especially in the STEM fields) requires that the scientists of tomorrow have access to the educational and cultural resources today in order to efficiently climb to that level. Firstly, the longer illiteracy persists, the more human potential is wasted.

“The data showed that the countries that have a higher literacy rate and human development index do have a higher GDP per capita.”

VAN, ADO p.155

However, it must be understood that, “our results do not establish causation but a correlation since our study is an observational study rather than an experimental one.”

If I had to choose a paragraph to capture the essense of this book, it would be the following:

With the development of the African Intellectual Prize and the development of science, the scientists that are already settled in the continent would be less tempted to leave if government and private investors provide the infrastructure and resources necessary to improve the rigor of scientific inquiry in Africa. Lastly, we observed that more scientific inquiry leads to social development. This is a call on African governments to massively invest in education whether it is at the primary, secondary, or higher education level. Education is undeniably the key and the basis for any society to attain its full economic, political, and social development. And science is the engine that enables that attainment. With the use of science as the engine of our social development, we believe that Africa could move to a rapid industrialization of its industries and this industrialization will logically improve the living standard of the 1.2 million Africans currently living in the continent.

Van, Ado p.157

Finally, the AIP would have its own equivalents of the six Nobel categories, plus an additional three: “Mathematics, Computer Science, and History” (p.161).

My thoughts:

The authors’ commitment to empirical evidence is one element I thoroughly enjoyed about this book. While I personally am not an expert in the field of statistics, I am glad to at least be able to (so far as I am able) follow along with the data and the math used to analyze that data. As libertarians, it can sometimes be tempting to ignore data that we feel might reflect badly on our own beliefs. However, it is important to recognize that facts are facts, regardless of whether consequentialists may use those facts to promote support for certain policies.

Education, science, and economic development are extremely important factors in promoting the advancement of individuals and societies. However, it is often the question of “How?” that causes debates. While there are many potential ways to fund things like education, academic awards, and monetary prizes, not all of them are equal in nature.

The authors of this book appear to take an approach of supporting funding for these things through as many means as possible, regardless of whether it is state funding or private donations and investments. Quality education requires capital for books, computers, buildings, teachers, writing materials, and more. A lack of those elements can translate into a lack of competence. Obviously, if a place like much of Africa lacks funding for education, then more funding will almost certainly have an effect on outcomes, regardless of the source.

I personally see private involvement as morally preferable, since it lacks the element of coercion-based taxation which comes by default with any government involvement. However, if Van and Ado are able to successfully lobby African governments to financially support something like the AIP, scientific inquiry, or education, then I do not plan to oppose it. The end is good, even if the means are not my favorite. Plus, when put into the context of the world in general, state-funded education is often the norm, including in highly developed nations.

One other downside to state funding, however, is the fact that governments can use funding as a means of undue influence over the recipient. In the context of education, this basically means that state-supported centers of education are at increased risk of becoming indoctrination centers filled with state propaganda.

However, as long as a great emphasis is placed on objective, empirical science, there is a smaller amount of “wiggle room” for schools to preach collectivist propaganda. Newton’s laws of motion do not care about whether or not you are a libertarian or a statist.

However, at some point in a STEM professional’s development, issues surrounding ethics, politics, etc. will need to be discussed. Since issues like “Should you sacrifice one person to save five?” are inherently more subjective, these topics are at more risk of being used for propaganda.

This is one reason why it is important for us libertarians (whether out of Objectivist-style self-interest or out of altruism) to be personally involved with contributing to the education and development of the world. After all, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” If that tune is state propaganda, then I think we all know how most of the students will turn out politically.

To be clear, education does not necessarily need to come from formal institutions, but formal institutions can help provide a great degree of structured learning for those who need it.

As a professional in the field of software and IT, I am glad to see “Computer Science” represented in Van and Ado’s proposed prize categories. With things like the rise of the Internet, borderless communications, cryptocurrencies, and digital nomadism, it is now easier than ever for those in underdeveloped countries to have access to a world-class education and (as a result) financial freedom. All of this is reliant on computer science. Innovation is growing at an exponential rate, and the sooner more people are able to join the action and help drive that technological innovation, the better off we all can be.

Featured image by reteach92 from Pixabay.

Liberland congratulates Somaliland and Taiwan for exchanging representative offices.

Jonathan A. McCormick, Jr.https://obb.ll.land/
Techie. Entrepreneur. Free thinker. Senior International Correspondent for Liberland Press. Founder & CEO of Outsmart Big Brother, a Liberland limited company. https://obb.ll.land/

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