November 19, 2010 07:24
North Korean scientists wrote a record number of papers for international scientific journals this year. Their enthusiasm was apparently undimmed by a botched currency reform late last year, tight international sanctions and a worsening food situation.
According to information provider Thomson Reuters who regularly reviews the state of scientific research, North Korean scientists submitted 26 papers, all of them co-authored, to Science Citation Index journals until November.
Since 1976, North Korean scientists have written a total of 143 papers for international journals, or a mere four per year on average. Between 1977 and 1981 there were none and only a few until the 1990s. But the number has risen conspicuously since 2004, with 11, the first two-digit figure, in 2005, 17 in 2007 and 2008, and 19 in 2009.
The 26 papers written this year cover a range of topics from optics, nanotechnology, hydromechanics, material science, and bioengineering to medicine, cosmology and mathematics. Three papers on optics are all directly or indirectly related to laser research.
Five or six papers are about nanotechnology, the hottest research topic in the world of science today. As if to reflect the food shortage in the North, one paper focuses on a method to increase the corn harvest using insects.
None of this year's papers were published in top-class journals such as Science or Nature, nor were any of them were written by North Korean scientists alone. Chinese scientists co-authored 14 papers, and scientists from Australia, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Switzerland and other countries 12.
Experts attribute the rapid increase to a new policy focus on science. Dr. Byun Sang-jung of the Institute for National Security Strategy said in a New Year’s message in 2000, the regime gave priority to three pillars -- ideology, the military, and science and technology. Already in 1998 the North formulated a five-year plan for science and technology development, laying the stress on investment and scientific exchanges with foreign countries. Even scientists of the U.S. are conducting joint research with North Korean scientists in electronics.
But the North's production of scientific papers could decline, some experts predict. Dr. Kim Jong-sun at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology said, "Most of the North's scientific papers published this year must got started in 2007, the last full year of the Roh Mu-hyun administration" when aid and exchanges were still in full swing.
"The North will likely produce a smaller number of scientific papers from next year, because the regime's science policy has reached limits now that inter-Korean exchanges are suspended," he added.
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