Wednesday, July 30, 2003


“Half of what one learns in medical school is not true,” according to rumor. The problem is, no one knows which half is true and which is not. So today, medical students (if they are lucky) are taught to be open to new knowledge and to reject existing knowledge as better scientific evidence and theory accumulate.

There is an old debate about when in history a visit to the doctor changed from being more likely to do the patient harm, to being more likely to help the patient – a medical tipping point or divide. The estimates I have seen range over the first half of the 20th century. There is enough medically caused illness to have a word for the situation: “iatrogenic”!

An interesting thing about medical knowledge is that some of the “untrue knowledge” can be useful. The “placebo effect” is well known – people often get better when given sugar pills (or placebos) when they believe them to be medicine. Tell someone he is getting a sugar pill that will do no good, and it will do no good; lie and say it is a medication that often helps conditions like those of the patient, and the patient may benefit.

I seems to me that Knowledge for Development practice has to be based on recognition that a lot of knowledge is not true. In areas like medicine, engineering, agronomy, etc. I think it is probably important to develop knowledge systems that allow for application of the best available knowledge, but also a continuing process of improvement of knowledge – of substitution of knowledge that is more true for knowledge that is less true.

Sometimes it is most important to provide systems for the timely construction of truth. The Garbage Can theories of management would suggest that it is important for organizations to develop a consensus around which action can be programmed, than it is to achieve more fundamental epistemological values. Courts in the United States hold that the innocence of a person convicted of a crime is not sufficient basis for appeal, only failure in the fairness of the process by which the conviction was arrived upon qualifies. Certainly the knowledge processes in legislative bodies seem more focused on decision making than upon achieving truth.

I have been reading Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology by Clifford Geertz. It includes a chapter about charisma, and the extremes to which kings went to establish the (false) knowledge in the people that they ruled that their monarchy was somehow inevitable. His examples are drawn from before the age of mass transportation and mass media, and he describes monarchs traveling for large chunks of time with enormous retinues to impress the people.

His examples bring to mind the Saddam in Iraq, who used so many means to convince the people that he was special. The Iranian monarchy sought to link themselves with thousands of years of history to show that they were somehow entitled to rule Iran. The British brought in descendants of the Profit when they organized TransJordan and Iraq after World War I, seeking similar legitimacy.

But as a Yank, I have always wondered why the British put up with the monarchy there. (Bob Hope said his family was English, they were too poor to be British.) Would anyone agree to give a German immigrant family that had renamed itself Windsor the lands and properties it now holds, and the income it still receives, to do what the British Royals do? The idea of the divine right of kings ought long ago to have been tossed on the dump heap of history.

So how does a society decide when some political knowledge is wrong, and when knowledge is not only wrong but so costly that it should be corrected in the public domain. I think the United States should be making such a political decision soon.

When the Bush Administration took the U.S. to war in Iraq, it did so on the basis of two assertions: that the Iraqis had, or were soon to have weapons of mass destruction, and that the Iraqi Government was dealing with International Terrorists. It went to war over the opposition of many Americans and many foreign governments.

A critical issue is timing. I think it is agreed that the Iraqi Government had failed in its obligation to demonstrate that it had destroyed any weapons of mass destruction that it had developed, and its obligation to show it did not possess such weapons. I think it is clear that the United Nations and other international institutions were not effective in enforcing those obligations. Was there a threat so eminent that the United States could not wait for new institutions to evolve, or for the major powers to achieve consensus about war.

Frankly, I think that if a President of the United States had reason to believe that a foreign government was providing or was about to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists in order that those weapons would be used against the United States, it would be appropriate to regard that as an act of war, and intervene militarily.

But some of the assertions made by the Administration, and indeed by the President in the most formal of possible situations seem not to have been true. The search for weapons of mass destruction has been unsuccessful to date, and the public has not seen any evidence that the Iraqi Government was supporting Al Qaeda. If the Administration could not distinguish true from false information on so important an issue, perhaps it should be replaced. If the Administration deliberately provided false or misleading information to enable it to take the United States to war, I would think it definitely should be replaced.

The U.S. presidential elections will be held in 2004. It will be interesting to see if better evidence accrues in the next year on Iraqi weapons programs and Iraqi support for terrorism. If it does, I wonder whether the electorate will care? If the situation remains opaque for Americans, as I suspect it will, I wonder what the result will be.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Workshop on IT & Sustainable Development
I mentioned attending this workshop a while ago. Here is the highlight on the ICT for Development Topic page of the Development Gateway on the Workshop. It is quite complete, with streaming videos, presentations, and papers.

It is estimated that at least 3.3 million people have died in the last five years in the war in the Congo. This corresponds to 1,000 times as many as died in the World Trade Center in 9/11. The article notes that we in developed nations seem best to understand this African tragedy when compared to our much less grave problem with international terrorism. (The same could be said about AIDS, or indeed about the general level of mortality in developing countries from preventable causes.)

“'Never Again,' Now in the Congo”
Article by Jocelyn Hellig, Forward, July 18, 2003.


How much of underdevelopment should be blamed on rich countries, and to what degree should developing nations take the responsibility? Clearly colonialism and the policies of richer countries have contributed greatly to the underdevelopment of the South, but I tend to stress the need for developing nations to take charge of their own futures. Good policies, good institutions, and investments in health and education of the people seem to me to be fundamental to development, and developing countries should lead in creating these conditions for themselves.

Still, seeing these two reports this morning made me think.

I think that it is clearly true that agricultural protectionist policies of Europe and Japan (agricultural subsidies, trade barriers) are having a grave negative impact on developing nations’ economies, and that the barriers to use of genetically modified crops are more the result of this protectionism than of any rational assessment of their risks.

The Use Of Genetically Modified Crops In Developing Countries
This is an update of an earlier report by a panel of experts convened by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. It makes the case that ethically, developing countries must be allowed to utilize biotechnology to increase agricultural productivity in order to improve food security. While the report recognizes the importance of appropriate regulatory regimes, it also notes that trade barriers imposed by developed countries on imports of recombinant materials should be changed.

War costs a lot in development terms, and I recently read that one in eight countries is currently at war. Rich countries profit most from the export of arms, and the international arms trade is not a help for development.

Small Arms Survey
The 2003 edition of the Small Arms Survey presents the most complete assessment of the spread of small arms around the world and their effect on society. Stressing the link between small arms and global development, it includes special chapters examining the role of small arms in Africa (Congo), the Arab world (Yemen) and the former-Soviet Union (Georgia).

How do these reports relate to the topic of this blog, “Knowledge for Development”? Well, the controversy over biotechnology is clearly limiting the application of advancing knowledge from the biological sciences to improving agricultural productivity and food security in developing nations. Moreover, good reports like these, making vetted knowledge widely available on important development issues is a good step forward!

Wednesday, July 23, 2003


The Internet under Surveillance: Obstacles to the free flow of information online
From the Summary: "The phrase "freedom of speech" is often used to characterize a key element of democratic societies : open communication and especially open government. But freedom of speech is less than half of the equation. It is also vital that citizens have the freedom to hear and see. It is the latter area in which many governments have intervened in an attempt to prevent citizens from gaining access to information that their governments wish to withhold from them.....In this 21st century information age, Internauts have significant responsibilities. They must guard against abusive censorship and counteract misinformation. They must take responsibility for thoughtful use of the Internet and the World Wide Web and all of the information services and appliances yet to come. Free flow of information has a price and responsible Internauts will shoulder the burden of paying it." By Vint Cerf, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS, 2003. (PDF, 2.5 Mo)


I have been wanting to mention some things that have been published recently in the Economist magazine, that would be of interest to the readers of the Blog. (The links work if you are a subscriber):

The new geography of the IT industry
First there was the fad for crediting Silicon Valley for everything good. Then people noticed that there were centers of excellence in many other places where great ICT work was being done. This three page article updates those views, suggesting that emphasis is moving to implementation and away from innovation. Thus geographic attention in the ICT sector is moving to places where efficient production and distribution of good quality ICT goods and services is taking place. Jul 17th 2003

Technology Quarterly
Included in this section of the June 21, 2003 issue are: “Coming soon to a laptop near you” (about better, cheaper display technology); “Storing e-text for centuries” (about the danger of losing all that good stuff in digital form, and what can be done about it); “The smoother, the faster” (speeding up information transmission over the Internet); “Getting cars to talk back” (ICT improves diagnostics for your car); “Building a better bug-trap” (Can software facilitate the production of more bug free software?); “Spare parts for the brain” (plugging in chip protheses); “Spread betting” (How CDMA became the world standard for mobile telephony); “Grokking the infoviz” (visualization software); “The sentient office is coming”.

I like the idea that Hedy Lamarr, the beautiful movie star of the 1940’s and 50’s, held a key patent for spread spectrum technology. It was apparently her contribution to the World War II war effort. As words are attached to different notes in a song, messages can be attached to different frequencies in radio transmission. See what you learn reading the Economist!

Freeing the airwaves
The May 29, 2003 issue had this essay on the controversy over regulation of spectrum that is used for computer communication in technologies like Wi-Fi.

That issue also had a brief note on a research result published in Nature that suggests that experienced video game players have improved visual perception as compared with non-players! Go Nintendo!

Tuesday, July 22, 2003


Dava Sobel’s book, “Longitude” was a great introduction to the importance of exact knowledge of the time of day. For anyone reading this who did not read the book (hard to imagine), lots of lives were lost a sea in the 18th century because ship crews didn’t know exactly where they were after long sea voyages. Latitude was relatively easy to calculate from celestial observations, but longitude had to be calculated from the time at which celestial events occurred. Unfortunately clocks were not good enough to accurately measure time, especially when subjected to the harsh conditions on sea voyages in the ships of the time. Sobel tells the story of how the first marine chronographs were created to solve the problem.

At the beginning of the 19th century, overland travel was slow, and information traveled with people. On land there was no apparent need for clocks in different towns to be synchronized accurately, (except perhaps for the port towns). Then came the railroad. Two trains traveling in different directions on the same track had to keep schedules so that they didn’t try to occupy the same piece of track at the same time. Towns along the railroad had to keep the same time. In the United States, the U.S. Naval Observatory took on the responsibility of setting the standard time in the country.

(As an aside, I have always wanted to, but never have visited the old Naval Observatory, although I have worked within walking distance for many years. It sits near the State Department, on a site overlooking the Potomac river, not far from the National Academy of Science’s main building. Many of the great astronomical discoveries of the 19th century were made there, and one would think it would be a major tourist attraction for a certain kind of “knowledge geek”, but it seems almost totally ignored.)

In the middle ages in Europe, church bells calling people to prayer served for scheduling purposes, as did calls to prayer in the Moslem world. The 19th century saw the development of mass production. In the home craft shop, scheduling was easy, and people tended not to work fixed schedules. The factory introduced the need for people to work fixed shifts to attend to the machines. The industrialization of office work, that stemmed from the need to coordinate national businesses (built on the technological foundations of mass production and mass transportation) contributed to the scheduling of work. (Indeed, for Americans and many Europeans, one of the more difficult aspects of working in developing nations comes from the different cultural expectations about time and scheduling; perhaps poor countries, lacking the centuries of experience with industrial schedules have not made the same cultural changes vis a vis timekeeping as have OECD countries.)

As the 19th century progressed, clocks were standardized by signals sent via telegraph. By the 20th century, more accurate time was sent nationwide by radio from the standard clocks in Washington.

Today’s Washington Post has an article by Monte Reel describing the master timekeeper in the United States. Still in the Naval Observatory, the function is the responsibility 27 scientists who monitor 50 atomic clocks. The average time of those clocks is used to synchronize 12 atomic clocks located across the country. Every month, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sevres, France compares the U.S. time with that from 50 other national timekeepers, and sets “Universal Time”, the global standard. Accuracy is measured in hundreds of a trillionth of a second per day!

Why is the accuracy so important? Certainly some of the applications are military, smart bombs and missiles depend on global positioning data, which in turn depends on accurate time measurements. But GPS has lots of important civilian applications as well. Cell phones send packets of data that are time stamped, and the time stamps have to be consistent and accurate. Packet switching networks also depend on time stamps on the packets, and one assumes that the time stamps also have to be accurate.

This blog is about “knowledge for development”. The point of today’s entry is that knowledge of things often taken for granted, like the exact time, is important for a knowledge society. While most of use could not care less if our watches are off by a minute or two, and indeed many deliberately keep their watches inaccurate, modern society includes activities that depend on widely shared knowledge of time with accuracy better than a billionth of a second per day!

In the United States and Europe, very highly specialized teams of experts operate expensive equipment to assure this accuracy. Poor countries don’t have the capacity, and indeed some regions of significant geographical size don’t have such facilities.

In short, it is dangerous to extrapolate from everyday experience in thinking about the knowledge society. Timekeeping has become ever more accurate and important in the last three centuries. Most of us operate our quotidian lives on 19th century time, but 21st century economies are based on widely shared knowledge of time accurate to billionths of a second per day!

Monday, July 21, 2003


A new highlight on this topic was published today on the Development Gateway's ICT for Development Topic page. Check it out!
(And the Pat Daly that edited the highlight is my wife!)

This is the website of the ITDG providing technology briefs. It is a very good source of AT materials.

Sunday, July 20, 2003


The Center for Science Policy and Outcomes
This is the website of a project of Columbia University.

It has the following report available from its home page:

Knowledge Flows and Knowledge Collectives: Understanding the Role of Science and Technology Policies in Development

It also has links to:

Living with the Genie
Resources on the topics: Values in Science and Technology; Citizen Scientists; The Current State of S&T Policy; Possible Negative Impacts of Science and Technology; Science and International Governance; and Who Owns Science?

Note especially this report:

Black Star: Ghana, Information Technology and Development in Africa
This paper deals generally with technology transfer to Ghana (and Africa), and provides case study material on the experience of an unnamed American Information Services company investing in that country and a Ghanaian software company, "Soft". Telecommunications experience is also discussed. A chapter deals with human resource constraints, and another with elite behavior, By G. Pascal Zachary, Columbia University's Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes. Undated, but apparently 2003. (PDF, 52 pages)

CyberAtlas Big Picture Page
Provides these links on servers.

Server Watch
This is a website with a lot of information on servers, including tutorials and news.

Here are some sources of its server statistics links:

Netcraft Web Server Survey
This is a survey of Web Server software usage on Internet connected computers. Netcraft collects and collates as many hostnames providing an http service as it can find, and systematically polls each one with an HTTP request for the server name.

Security Space Web Server Survey
This is a survey of Web Server software usage on the Internet broken down by 86 domains. Security Space estimates that even though there are almost 20 million Web sites, nearly 90 percent are "orphans" to which no other sites link. Security Space's Web server survey includes only those servers referenced on other sites.

Web Server Survey
This is Security Space's survey of servers by domain. Domains with more than 1,000 servers are identified, showing many developing and transition countries have significant numbers of servers with country specific domain names.

Saturday, July 19, 2003


I have come across a few more major publications that should be in the toolbox of development professionals.

World Resources 2002-2004: Decisions for the Earth: Balance, voice, and power
This year’s version of the annual report produced by the World Resources Institute. It “focuses on the importance of good environmental governance,” according to the website, and explores “how citizens, government managers, and business owners can foster better environmental decisions -- decisions that meet the needs of both ecosystems and people with equity and balance.”

State of World Population 2002: People, Poverty and Possibilities
From the Introduction: “Attacking poverty directly-as a matter of human rights, to accelerate development and to reduce inequality within and among nations-has become an urgent global priority. World leaders have agreed on a variety of new initiatives, including the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This year's State of World Population report is a contribution to the discussion and a guide to action. UNFPA, 2002.

World Development Report 2003: Sustainable Development in a Dynamic World: Transforming Institutions, Growth, and Quality of Life
The WDR is a major annual report of the World Bank. This year’s “Report examines, over a 50 year period, the relationship between competing policy objectives of reducing poverty, maintaining growth, improving social cohesion, and protecting the environment. The World Development Report 2003 emphasizes that many good policies have been identified but not implemented due to distributional issues and barriers to developing better institutions. The Report reviews institutional innovations that might help overcome these barriers and stresses that ensuring economic growth and improved management of the planet's ecosystem requires a reduction in poverty and inequality at all levels: local, national, and international. As in previous editions, the World Development Report 2003 contains an appendix of selected indicators from the World Development Indicators.”

World Disaster Report 2002
“Does development expose more people to disasters? What is the cost of failing to prepare? The tenth edition of the World Disasters Report argues that risk reduction is an essential condition for sustainable development. It examines preparedness and mitigation initiatives from disaster-prone countries across the globe. And it discusses who should take responsibility for protecting vulnerable populations from disaster, and how.” The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2002.

The World's Water: 2002-2003
This Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources was written by Peter H. Gleick with William C.G. Burns, Elizabeth L. Chalecki, Michael Cohen, Katherine Kao Cushing, Amar S. Mann, Rachel Reyes, Gary H. Wolff, Arlene K. Wong. (Island Press, July 23 2002, Paper $32.50) The website provides an overview, the introduction, Chapter One and Chapter 5, as well as a "Water Brief".

Human Development Report 2003
Subtitled "Millennium Development Goals: A compact among nations to end human poverty", this is the most recent version of a major annual report by the United Nations Development Program.

The Importance of Timely Economic Information
This interview stresses the need to monitor poverty locally as well as nationally. Timely information allows monitoring of the poverty effects of economic programs and more effective advocacy for the poor. The IDRC interview is with Dr Celia Reyes, director of the Micro Impacts of Macroeconomic Adjustment Policies (MIMAP) project in the Philippines.

It is to be found on a dossier on the MIMAP project by Michelle Hibler, provided by the IDRC, January 10, 2003.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003


I admit to not posting to the blog for a few days because we have two new cats, really kittens, in the household. They are as cute as you would expect, and I have been playing with them.

They were obtained from the local Humane Society office, where they had been given up by their previous owners. In the past, we had a cat that lived with us for 19 years until she died. She was a gift when we lived in Colombia. I got to thinking about the difference in the two experiences.

The local Humane Society office handles more than 9,000 animals per year. I know this because the Society’s monthly magazine had the data. When I lived in Cali, I was working on a model of the dog population ( modeling rabies) and had to get information on the number of dogs picked up by the city. I found more information available on entering the Society’s office here as a casual visitor than was kept by the government offices in Cali.

My wife and I were struck by how outmoded the computer system seemed in the Humane Society office here. Of course years ago when we lived in Cali there were no personal computers. But I suspect it is a rare office in Colombia that is as automated as the Humane Society here, no matter that this office’s equipment could be better.

The computer showed that the cats had been immunized against feline distemper and other diseases (the younger kitten still has a course of rabies vaccines to complete, given her age.) Both passed tests for feline immunodeficiency syndrome. Both had flee baths to assure that they were cleared of flees, and had been tested for worms. Among the terms of acceptance of the cats, we had to take them to a veterinarian for a complete physical exam. We took a printout of the medical records and immunization schedule to the vet.

Consider this experience from the point of view of Knowledge for Development. First acquiring a new pet I had many details on its health and immune status. Moreover, the county in which I live has a computer base with fairly comprehensive data each year on 9,000 animals, including wildlife, stray animals, feral members of domestic species, and domestic pets. The costs of the tests were certainly in the hundreds of dollars!

In Colombia I never had as much information on the health of our pet, and I am sure that there were no comparable sources of zoonotic data; what was available was primarily limited to rabies.

In thinking about cats, we found a nice website, one of many that describe different breeds. Since the three human members of this household all have PCs connected by wireless to a broadband connection to the web, there was a lot of information shared.

We found large stores here completely devoted to providing supplies for the pet owner, with staff interested and willing to provide information, and with book departments with useful texts on cats, dogs, etc. As we went further into the process of acquiring the cats, people started giving us booklets and pamphlets on cats and cat care. We also found magazines for cat owners and aficianados at the vets’ and the Human Society Office; these are widely sold. As a result there was no need to go to one of the 25 branch offices of the county library, but I am confident they all have a large section of books on house cats. Nor have we yet hit the large local bookstores, which also have large cat sections.

The cats were temporarily licensed, and have temporary tags. The applications for this year’s license were filed for one, and will be filed for the second when its rabies immunization is completed. Thus the local government will also have records of the existence and location of the cats. We could have had chips inserted under the skins of the cats with detailed information, but chose not to do so.

In short, there is a wealth of information available on cats and cat care, cat likes and dislikes. There are many breeds of cats available, and there is information on the suitability of different breeds for different people. Government and civil society have information on our cats. Their health information is more complete than that for many (most?) human babies in poor countries.

The cost of obtaining, storing and using this information is quite large, but is taken for granted. The average household income in the county in the year 2,000 was $74,280; we can afford it. Of course, this county has a highly educated population that demands information. 30.6 percent of the people have graduate degrees here; 59.2 percent college degrees. (It took my less than five minutes to find income and education statistics for the country on the web.)

When we lived in Colombia there was a shortage of cats. Apparently they were being killed by DDT that was used to control the mosquitoes that would otherwise have transmitted malaria. We were told that the price of a healthy cat in 1972 was US$25-50! The cats were crucial to keeping down rodents in a city with so good a climate that even the most expensive houses were open to the air. People were interested in the health of the animals.

However, the information available on cats, and the ability of the average person to use that information (were it to be available) were vastly different in Colombia than here in our part of suburban Washington. (Colombians probably had more experience with livestock animals than Washingtonians, and a lot with domestic dogs and cats, but relatively little “book-learning”.) I suspect the life expectancy of cats here is several times that in Colombia.

Cats are an interesting example, just because they are so unimportant in the larger picture. No one is concerned about the cat divide. But the disparity in knowledge about cats must be paralleled in almost every field one could imagine. The United States is a relatively knowledge intensive society, and the gap between it and traditional societies is truly immense.


Just as an aside, there is a vast medical literature from the 18th and 19th centuries relating to or utilizing “cat units”. At the time, herbal remedies were the stock and trade of the apothecary. The problem with mixing a herbal remedy is that herbs are not standardized. Depending on the soils in which they are grown, the weather conditions, the degree to which the plants receive direct sunlight, etc., the concentration of active ingredients can vary greatly from plant to plant. So every pharmacy had a stock of animals in the back room to test each batch of remedies as it was produced. Apparently these were usually “stray” cats; the profession had decided that testing on dogs would create too much ill will. So the cat unit was the amount just adequate to kill half of the cats on which a concoction was tested. One would then prescribe a human dose in terms of “cat units”. Perhaps that is where the saying comes from – “there is more than one way to kill a cat”.

Saturday, July 12, 2003


In the News Scan section of the August, 2003 issue of Scientific American there is an article titled “Hot Words” (by David Appell -- not yet posted on the web) about the battle going on in the climatology community. It seems that a recent article in Climate Research suggests that 50 year long anomalies are regular occurrences in the climate record, and that recent warming trends may be just such an anomaly. Apparently this claim is being very strongly refuted by other climatologists.

What caught my attention was the final comment:

“’You’d be challenged, I’d bet, to find someone who supports the Kyoto Protocol and also thinks that this paper is good science, or someone who thinks the paper is bad science and is opposed to Kyoto,’ predicts Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado.”

There is a saying: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Thus scientists may be expected to view new publications through the lens of their scientific positions. Still, it is too bad when political views determine a scientists opinion of a piece of meta-analysis of scientific literature, or when the political processes can not get a fair read of the state of scientific consensus on a point of fact underlying public policy.

I have suggested that knowledge provided by the scientific community should be given special value in policy processes, given the nature of scientific epistemological processes. If the validity of an assertion is warranted by data, repeatedly verified under controlled conditions, and by peer review to assure that it is consistent with theory and other observations, there is a certain credibility. Many of the assertions made in public debate on climate policy seem to be less credible, having less credible epistemological processes for their warrants.

Kuhn has suggested that it is seldom the weight of evidence that sways opinion of scientists vis a vis paradigm changing analyses. In the case of anthropogenic climate change, the paradigm seems much less mature than that of say planetary astronomy or common mechanics. The massive release of greenhouse gasses is after all relative recent (in terms of the centuries of development of other scientific fields), and the development of significant bodies of relevant data from remote sensing and paleo-climatology has occurred over only the past decade or two. If there are serious debates over the key issues in planetology and cosmology, which should be more mature fields, perhaps we should expect them in climatology.

It may also be that there is so much as stake, that the danger of waiting for scientific consensus before influencing policy is not acceptable to most citizen-scientists.

Putting diplomats from poor countries, especially small poor countries in this debate seems especially cruel. OECD country diplomats negotiating climate treaties at least can draw on strong, multifaceted scientific communities for support, and on institutions such as national academies of science and offices of technology assessment in evaluating negotiating positions and crafting arguments and refutations. My observation is that most small, poor countries don’t have the scientific capacity to do this well, nor the institutional mechanisms to bring what scientific capacity they do have effectively to the assistance of their diplomats.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003


Information and communication technologies for development in Africa
This book from the Acacia Project provides information from studies of early community ICT projects in Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda.


I have been writing an essay on the effect of ICT on the empowerment or women. It is one of a series I am working on dealing with ICT and the Millennium Development Goals. I thought some of the links I found might be of interest.

Development Gateway Feature and Key Issue

Empowering Women Through ICT

ICT and Gender Resources on the ICT4D page of the Development Gateway Portal

Key papers

Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals

Engendering Development

Engendering ICTs Study

WSIS Gender Caucus paper

Synthesis Paper from the INSTRAW Virtual Seminar Series on Gender and ICTs

Useful websites:

Gender and the Digital Divide Series World Bank

ELDIS: ICT and Gender Page

UNIFEM (which has added “Information and Communications Technologies” as one of its emerging areas of work)

Other Useful Papers:

Exploring The Gender Impact of The World Links Program

Time for Equality at Work (Especially part 2)

The information technology revolution: Widening or bridging gender gaps?

Gender, ICTs and Agriculture

The Southern African Gender And Media Baseline Study

The Price of 'Man' and 'Woman': A Hedonic Pricing Model of Avatar Attributes in a Synthethic World


Information and communication technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women (online discussion)

Women in development Statistics

Tuesday, July 08, 2003


I mentioned last week that I attended a meeting on this topic. Click here for the presentations (and for streaming audio of Q&As from the meeting.

Monday, July 07, 2003


New Mexico magazine’s August edition has an article by Gaye Brown de Alverez titled “Buyer Beware” that started me thinking. (Sorry, this issue is not posted yet on the website.) I want to blog for a bit about the knowledge component of crafts. If you doubt that there is one, try sometime to make a pot as good as those from New Mexico, or a Navajo rug, or a squash blossom necklace—it takes skill and understanding. And consider how much knowledge in needed of the culture to make an original piece that would be taken by other artisans to be Navajo or Hopi.

The article deals with native American jewelry and Navajo weaving, and the introduction of low cost craftwork, and Asian imports copying original native American designs.

A market has been developed over the decades for jewelry created by Navajo, Hopi and other native America tribal jewelry makers. Collectors have been known to pay very high prices for very fine one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. There is a fairly large number of craft jewelry items sold. Now Thai and Philippine craftshops are replicating designs from books and magazines for export to the U.S.

The article points out that in the U.S. Southwest, one can go to craft shops and buy silver conchos, attach them to a leather belt, and have a crafted, silver, concho belt. Moreover, a native American can go to the same craft shop, but the same conchos, make the belt, and sell you a native-American, crafted, silver, concho belt. There is nothing wrong with either course. But such a belt should not be confused with a belt made from hand-crafted silver conchos, and well hand-crafted silver conchos are expensive.

Why are the collectors items expensive? Part of the value comes from the opportunity cost of the labor of the craft people. Since salaries are more expensive in the U.S. than in Asia, the cost of American hand crafts will be higher. Part of the value comes from the merchandizing, and the Santa Fe fine jewelry shops probably need to and can charge a lot for selling the collectable jewelry that they sell.

Part of the value resides in the designs of the individual pieces. The best native American jewelry makers do a wonderful job extrapolating from their cultural history and the designs of others to develop their own new designs. Indeed there are major competitions that identify the best new craft pieces each year. Their designs are informed by their craft skills, and their knowledge of what can be fabricated. Many of the designs in pottery were specifically drawn from archaeological studies, replicating designs of ancestors that had been lost for centuries.

In principle, jewelry designs can be protected by design patents in the U.S., and indeed such patents have been issued. They are relatively expensive as compared with the prices of crafted pieces of jewelry, and enforcing a jewelry design patent would probably be too expensive for someone who found that a unique piece had been copied.

The article points out that Asian manufacture jewelry is marked with the country of origin, and there is nothing illegal in making jewelry that is inspired by native American designs, or indeed in copying designs that are not patented. If Asian jewelry is sold fraudulently as having been made by native Americans, that would be in contravention of the U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (and possibly other laws.)

But the more practical question is what about just offering Asian jewelry crafted to simulate native American styles? It certainly seems likely that there are Thai and Philippine crafts people who have skills and artistic abilities comparable to those of native Americans. Consumers may wish to buy finely crafted products, with designs that they find pleasing, at prices less than would be found for native American pieces. And indeed, I don’t know that U.S. crafts people deserve protection from foreign competitors who work equally well but cheaper.

Still it feels wrong to sell Asian copies of native American jewelry! Certainly on the one hand, I would like to help keep native American cultures alive, including the tradition of hand crafted work that has developed over the past century. I certainly think that someone who creates a specific design deserves some kind of payment from those who copy it to sell the copies commercially, and the current intellectual property rights systems don’t seem to provide such protection.

While the problem is being felt now by native American crafts people, it is likely to be felt by others. I doubt that Egyptian crafts people received benefits from the sales of “Egyptian pattern jewelry” that has been so popular over the last century. As Thailand develops, will we find cheap rip-offs of Thai jewelry from other, poorer Asian countries?

I’ve got to say that it also seems strange to me that given the wonderful cultural history of Asian crafts, there would not be a better market for authentic examples from its own traditions than for copies of native American cultural objects.

This is a blog entry without answers, but pondering a question.

Sunday, July 06, 2003


This is a really interesting demonstration that game players have a cultural preference for male rather than female avatars, and are willing to pay more than 10 percent more for a male than female with exactly the same abilities!

The Price of 'Man' and 'Woman': A Hedonic Pricing Model of Avatar Attributes in a Synthethic World
Abstract: “This paper explores a unique new source of social valuation: a market for bodies. The internet hosts a number of large synthetic worlds which users can visit by piloting a computergenerated body, known as an avatar. Avatars can have an asset value, in that users can spend time to increase their skills; these asset values can be directly observed in online markets. Auction data for avatars from the synthetic fantasy world of EverQuest are used here to explore a number of questions, especially those involving the relative value of male and female avatars. In EverQuest, about 20 percent of the avatar population is female, and there are no sex-based differences in avatar capabilities. Many avatars (about one-fourth to onefifth of the population) are cross-gendered, being piloted by a person of the opposite sex. Nonetheless, relations between avatars are gender-based, and include chivalry, dating, and sex. Female avatars tend to be concentrated in highly sexualized Human and Elven races, with very few being present among such aesthetically-challenged races as Ogres and Trolls. Hedonic analysis of the auction price data suggests that gender labels are a less important determinant of avatar values than the "level," a game-design metric that indicates the overall capabilities of the avatar. Thus, ability seems more important than sex in determining the value of a body. Nonetheless, among comparable avatars, females do sell at a significant price discount. The average avatar price is 333 dollar; the price discount for females is 40 to 55 dollar, depending on methods. The discount may stem from a number of causes, including discrimination in Earth society, the maleness of the EverQuest player base, or differences in well-being related to male and female courtship roles. We do know, however, that these differences cannot be caused by sex-based differences in the abilities of the body, since in the fantasy world of Norrath, there are none.” by Edward Castronova, June 2003. (Link to PDF file of 45 pages.)

Castronova, an Economics professor at California State University at Fullerton, is currently the 12th most frequently downloaded author on the SSRN database which publishes papers by professional economists. Several of his papers exploring virtual economies can be found here.

Saturday, July 05, 2003


Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Small Enterprise in Development (ICTSME)
This project of the Institute for Development Policy and Management of the University of Manchester has published a "Handbook for Enterprise Support Agency Staff" (in English, French and Spanish) and a "Handbook for Entrepreneurs" (in English, French and Spanish, and Arabic). The website also provides Project reports, conceptual papers, and other materials.

"Women’s views and voices are grossly under-represented in the media," according to this study. "Women constituted 17 percent of known news sources in the media monitored in the study.....Women constitute 52 percent of the population in Southern Africa." "The study covered 114 out of the 317 print and electronic media in the 12 countries covered, or 36 percent of the media in these countries, during September 2002." THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN GENDER AND MEDIA BASELINE STUDY is provided by the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA).

"The Virtual University Models and messages: Lessons from case studies"
From the Introduction: "One of the ways of examining change in higher education is to put a number of institutions under a microscope by means of case studies, and this has proved a fruitful approach. The cases selected for study represent a range of - although not all - institutional models, and diverse - although not all - geographic regions. The task of each author was to tell the story of the institution and to illuminate the main policy, planning and management challenges, and finally, to convey a message to the reader with the lessons learned. The case studies are the heart of this publication and they were designed to speak for themselves. Taken together, the case study chapters outlined below put forward a rich and diversified description of the virtual university. They outline the changing landscape of a global marketplace of higher education." Three initial chapters focus on: the main trends that impinge on higher education; the challenges and opportunities facing the university; and the impact of borderless education." Case studies were: UNITAR, Malaysia; Campus Numérique Francophone de Dakar, Sénégal; Universidad Virtual de Quilmes, Argentina; USQOnline, Australia; Athabasca University, Canada; African Virtual University/Kenyatta University, Kenya; L'Université Virtuelle en Pays de la Loire, France; and NetVarsity, India. Susan D'Antoni, editor, 2003. The study was released by IIEP UNESCO.

Friday, July 04, 2003


The 4th of July is Independence Day in the USA, and may it be a happy day for any readers out there.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and for some reason the anniversary started me thinking about the rule of 72. As you will remember, the rate of economic growth times the period needed to double income equals 72.

Thus, if per capita GDP grows at an average of:
· one percent per year, per capita GDP doubles every 72 years;
· two percent per year, per capita GDP doubles every 36 years;
· three percent per year, per capita GDP doubles every 28 years.

The miracle of compounding means that over a period of 216 years, just under the lifetime of the United States, if per capita GDP grows at an average of:
· one percent per year, per capita GDP increases by a factor of 8;
· two percent per year, per capita GDP increases by a factor of 64;
· three percent per year, per capita GDP increases by a factor of 512.

Clearly, increasing annual per capita economic growth by one or two percent per year, and sustaining that increase for long periods of time is the key to economic development. All you need it save a little more, study a little more, organize a little better, and do things a little better. Eliminating impediments which cut into a country’s GDP by even a small amount may be significant steps in promoting long term growth. But the general agreement seems to be that organizing better and working smarter is even more important than strengthening physical and human capital for long term growth.

I have lived and worked most of my life in the world's richest countries. I am pretty sure we are nowhere near the frontiers of organizing as well as we might or working as smart as we could.

Failing to use a portion of a country’s human resources would appear likely to cut back on the rate of per capita growth. Clearly the very young and the very old don’t participate in the workforce. But many countries leave much more of the population out of the workforce. But it seems that most developed countries look back on their demographic transitions, when dependency ratios declined and more of the population was in the workforce as critical times in their development takeoff.

In countries with lots of people who can't find jobs, and lots of people who can't find jobs that fully occupy their time or abilities, I suspect the problem gets harder. Those who are working have not only to keep everyone else going, but the full burden of saving, educating themselves, reorganizing and doing things better falls on them too. There are limits! Poor countries often have a lot of unemployment and of underemployment. Putting people to work seems the obvious first step for them.

Poor health causes workers to miss days of work, and to work less efficiently when they are at work, and rates of illness are high in developing nations. The consequence of a history of poor nutrition and poor health is often physical disability, and rates of physical disability are high in developing nations. Disabilities that are technologically compensated in the developed world, such as poor eyesight or hearing, are often uncompensated in poor countries.

Accidents are a bigger problem than is commonly recognized. I remember a study some years ago that put the annual cost of vehicular accidents in Costa Rica at more than three percent of GDP.

Prejudice in countries limits the economic participations of the victims of that prejudice. If one looks at caste prejudice in India, tribal prejudice in Africa, or ethnic prejudices in other nations, it seems likely that these may reduce GDP significantly.

Gender discrimination limits the economic contributions of women in all countries, and limits that contribution greatly in some. Bernard Lewis in his books "What Went Wrong? : The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East" and "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror" hypothesizes that the limited economic roles possible for women in Islamic society is a significant factor in the lagging development of Islamic countries.

The Washington Post today features an article on the World Bank’s efforts to reduce corruption in developing nations. I can easily imagine crime and corruption as easily causing a few percentage point reduction in GDP.

And of course, this explains why good policies and good institutions, maintained over time, result in rich countries!

I have been creating a “Key Issue” on Blogging for Development on the Development Gateway ICT for Development Topic page. There are now some 50 or so entries, including introductory material on blogging, websites with blogging statistics, sites where you can blog, blog directories, and blogs dealing with ICT for development and related topics.

There are now millions of active blogs. They are by bloggers from many countries. I was surprised to learn that there were tens of thousands of blogs in Portuguese and Polish, although some 60 percent appear to be in English.

I made a few postings in January on blogs, but here are a few more that seem to me to be especially interesting to the readers of this one.

Knowledge for Development
Barbara Fillip’s blog with “ideas and resources related to Knowledge for Development's key areas of activity.”

This blog is "an exploration of issues surrounding technology and the digital divide from a perspective that we call Zero Cost Computing." It appears to be maintained by Jason Nolan and Julia Dicum, and archives go back to October 2002.

Riptari Filter
Peter Thomas' blog "pondering the internet's role in globalization." Archives to January 2003. The home page has links to other related blogs and to useful websites.

m u l · t i · p l i c · i · t y - (ict4dev)
“on the uses of information and communication technologies to improve the opportunities of the masses” by Tomas B. Krag.

I think it previously cited:

NGO Knowledge Map
This blog collects knowledge on the world of non-government organizations (NGOs). Specific themes: to improve the world by mapping the NGO world. This is a knowledge mapping and sharing endeavour. By Olaf Brugman.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


There seem to be a lot of people out there who feel that trust in virtual communities is a problem because of lack of face to face (f2f) contact. I suspect that may be true in places like chat rooms, in which people are anonymous and strangers.

I participate in a number of online communities, such as the Association for Internet Research and DC ICT in Africa listserve. I am a co-editor of the ICT for Development Topic for the Development Gateway. In communities like these, I wonder if the Internet doesn't allow more validation of trustworthiness than in f2f.

I visit the websites of the people who form the core community of practice in these online groups, and check on some of their blogs. As a result, I know job histories and I know the institutions that have warranted the work of the key members. I find that I correspond by email with colleagues about other colleagues and their credibility.

In f2f situations I don't have nearly as much background on people.

Eszter Hargittai got me to thinking about this subject when I read the paper she and her co-authors published: The Social Implications of the Internet in the 2001 Annual Review of Sociology. It mentions the E-Bay approaches to warranting those engaging in transactions. I find E-Bay great since it provides extensive feedback on the transactions people have made in its auctions. I check these transaction histories, including for those selling, and for those bidding against me. I look not only on the ratings, but on the specific items bought and sold. And I don’t buy from people who don’t have track records. has a different approach to warranting books. It posts published reviews of many books, and encourages customers to publish reviews, providing an easy feedback mechanism allowing other customers to grade those reviews. The Amazon customer also has, in addition to the information on the publisher and provided by the publisher, information on other publications by the authors/editors, and information on the popularity of the publication. Browsing the Internet bookstore seems to put more information about the credibility of books at the customer’s fingertips than browsing the shelves of traditional bookstores.

Scientific and technological journals warrant the credibility of the information the publish through a peer review process, supported by the policy of retracting articles which are successfully challenged. More fundamentally perhaps, their standards require assertions to be supported by systematic observations, and to be justified in terms of accepted bodies of theory.

There is of course a whole literature on the difference between information and knowledge. I personally tend to focus on one difference—that knowledge is internalized within people (and perhaps groups of people) while information is external. “I know” but information can be in bits or bytes, or on the printed page.

Surely another dimension of “knowing” is the degree of certainty that can be assigned to the validity and accuracy of assertions. I think that:
· an assertion made in a good scientific journal is more credible than one made extemporaneously in a scientific meeting;
· an assertion on the quality of merchandise by a seller with thousands of satisfied customer responses logged more credible than an assertion by new E-Bay vendor or one shielding his identity; and
· an assertion made by a book from a major publisher with a large readership and strong review comments more credible than that by a book from an unknown publisher that is not positively reviewed.
I may really feel that I know something that I feel is fully supported by the scientific community on the basis of evidence, but that I only suspect something to be true that I read in a chat room or heard in a conversation.

So validation of assertions is critical to knowledge. In some respects, as described above, some communities on the Internet are already rather good in validation of information. It probably would be a good idea to focus still more on such issues, especially for those who like me help edit a portal serving a development community.

How can we improve feedback from users to better calibrate the validity, accuracy, and timeliness of the information we provide? How can we assure that the descriptions of the resources we provide include the key data (such as author, place published, date of publication) to establish credibility of the resource. How can we assure that the biographical information provided by community members is adequate to judge their knowledge credentials? That it is true? How do we assure that the overall credibility of the portfolio of resources provided by the portal is high enough to engender the confidence of its users? How does one weed out resources that are no longer sufficiently credible and timely? How does one find new credible resources sufficiently quickly that they meet the users needs for timeliness?