Monday, April 12, 2010


I thought I'd give some comments on Enric Mitjana's presentation - "e-Infrastructures as enablers of the 'fifth freedom' "

First, some background and context on why this would be interesting to me, a South African. As most people would know, South Africa was for a very long time a country which was completely excluded from global activities. Trade, sport, travel, politics - all aspects of public and private life were impacted by the sanctions imposed on South Africa which were aimed at ending the racist regime in force at the time. Of course, this had a very big impact on South African research, and more to the point, South African researchers. To a large degree, South African researchers at universities in South Africa were forced to develop personal contacts and collaborations. Of course, this is a generalisation, but to a large extent this mode of collaboration has endured in South Africa into the era of freedom which started in 1994.

The deployment of SAGrid has as one of its fundamental aims the realisation of transparency between local infrastructures and those abroad. The idea promulgated by myself as coordinator, and strongly embraced by the directors of the resource providers, is that transparent access across boundaries (institutional or national) to e-Infrastructures and the services provided by them would accelerate the usage of these by South African researchers : catapulting them ahead, allowing them to join international collaborations, share data, etc.

We can draw two analogies, perhaps, here between technical freedom and political freedom on the one hand and scientific and economic freedom on the other hand. In 1994 South Africa voted in its first non-racial elections, brought Nelson Mandela to power, celebrated their freedom and becaome the toast of the civilised world. Everything became possible, since we were free. By analogy (and it's admittedly a very tenuous one !) SAGrid in 2009 deployed an interoperable infrastructure, and "everything became possible" : all EGEE VO's are in principle supported on our infrastructure.

However there is the second analogy to draw : economic / scientific freedom. The political freedom brought by the democratic revolution has not yet implied true freedom to the citizens of our nation, due to the large disparities in society. Overwhelmingly, these are economic disparities. In this analogy, we are still seeing that scientists in South Africa are not yet truly free since there is a huge scientific disparity - some research is collaborative, but most is still focussed inwardly and not able or willing to adapt to a connected, collaborative world.

Clearly this is not the end of the story and there are many good counter examples. We aim to expand this list while here at EGEE-UF and keep working towards the "freedom" of our scientists.

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