Sunday, February 29, 2004

Improvements Needed to Reduce Time Taken to Adjudicate Visas for Science Students and Scholars

GAO HIghlight

The average time to get a visa for entry into the United States for visiting scientists appears to be about three months according to this study. (I assume that many scientists can't wait that long, or simply don't apply.)

The reference above is a short report of a U.S. Government Accounting Office study on the delays involved for scientists and science students in getting U.S. visas. The study is part of the reponse to growing concern about the lack of welcome for foreign scientists and engineers shown by the United States since 9/11.

The full 56 page report in PDF format is found here.

Beware 'Sound Science.' It's Doublespeak for Trouble

Beware 'Sound Science.' It's Doublespeak for Trouble

Chris Mooney contributes this piece to the Outlook (opinion) section of today's Washington Post. It is stll another comment on the way the political process is seeking to coopt scientific knowledge for political purposes, rather than base political positions on the best available scientific and technological knowledge.

Bush Ejects Two From Bioethics Council

Bush Ejects Two From Bioethics Council

The Washington Post notes that in the extension of the life of the White House Bioethics Council, two members who "had been among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells" were dropped, replaced by individuals whose views seem more in line with the Administration.

It seems to me that the government is better advised obtaining the spectrum of views on an issue, than simply appointing those with whom it agrees as advisors.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Building A Better World: A New Global Development Strategy to End Extreme Poverty

Building A Better World: A New Global Development Strategy to End Extreme Poverty

This is a policy paper promulgated in January 2004 by the Seatle Initiative for Global Development. The organization combines enough public figures to get a hearing in Washington. It acknowledges contributions from Nancy Birdsall, Sheila Herrling, Carol Lancaster, and John Sewell -- some of the most thoughtful development leaders. Further contributions were made by Megan Bowman and the Seattle Initiative members.

Development Gateway

Development Gateway

This development information online portal, by far the largest of those I know about, is run by a non-profit Foundation funded by a large number of donors.

Reagan Approved Plan to Sabotage Soviets (

Reagan Approved Plan to Sabotage Soviets (

This is an interesting story of the impact of false technological information fed to foreign spies.

Eldis - Gateway to Development Information

Eldis - Gateway to Development Information Home page

This is an international development online information portal funded by Sida, NORAD and DFID, and hosted by IDS.

Dev-Zone - The Development Resource Centre

Dev-Zone - The Development Resource Centre is New Zealand's international development online information portal.

Virtual Library on International Development

Virtual Library on International Development

This is a website maintained by the Canadian International Development Information Center.

Science, Technology and Innovation for the 21st Century

Science, Technology and Innovation for the 21st Century was the theme of the Meeting of the OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy at Ministerial Level held 29-30 January 2004. The Final Communique is now available on the Committee's website.

Multiculturalism: The kindness of strangers?

Multiculturalism: The kindness of strangers? in the Economist this week suggests that England is still dealing with the urge to throw out the immigrant. Shakespeare's text, quoted yesterday, still applies in England, as elsewhere.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Senators’ Stocks Beat the Market by 12 Percent

Senators’ Stocks Beat the Market by 12 Percent

Lead: "US senators' personal stock portfolios outperformed the market by an average of 12 per cent a year in the five years to 1998, according to a new study. 'The results clearly support the notion that members of the Senate trade with a substantial informational advantage over ordinary investors,' says the author of the report, Professor Alan Ziobrowski of the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University."
By FT.COM, New York Times, February 24, 2004.

This says something about control of knowledge, and the misuse of knowledge that might be used for development. (I am pretty sure it doesn't say that Senators are smarter than other investors.)

Sir Thomas More by William Shakespeare

Sir Thomas More by William Shakespeare

From Act II, Scene 4:

In this scene, attributed to William Shakespear, Sir Thomas More serving as an undersheriff of London meets with Londoners arrested for rioting against foreigners.

Alas, poor things, what is it you have got,
Although we grant you get the thing you seek?

Marry, the removing of the strangers, which cannot choose but
much advantage the poor handicrafts of the city.

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I'll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

More says later to the crowe, if they be banished:

Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.
(emphasis mine.)

This passage struck me as little known, but worthy of attention now in the United States.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Capacity building 'key to successful collaboration' says Capacity building 'key to successful collaboration'

Developing Countries Access to Scientific Knowledge: Quantifying the Digital Divide

Developing Countries Access to Scientific Knowledge: Quantifying the Digital Divide

The papers from this conference can be downloaded in PDF format from the website, the presentations in PPT or HTML, and the videos of the sessions can also be downloaded in video streaming format.

Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

This is an NSF report. PDF file, 280 pages. Report of a workshop from 2001.

NSF Fact Sheet: Nanotechnology

NSF - OLPA - Fact Sheet: Nanotechnology

Some interesting links as well as the fact sheet.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

If It's Nano, It's BIG

"If It's Nano, It's BIG" is published by the Washington Post ( It focuses on the stock market values for companies working in the nanotech field. Still, it is a convenient starting place to add nanotech to the concerns of this blog.

Every once in a while there is an important technological advance. Information and computer technology has perhaps been the most important in the last few decades. Now we have the digital divide. Biotechnology is potentially extremely important, and we are seeing major controversies, including refusal of food that could feed hungry people in Africa because the varieties provided contain recombinant genes.

Nanotechnology seems potentially another important technology. Lets hope people in developing nations get a head start thinking about the social and economic implications of this technology.

Millennium Challenge Account

New System Begins Rerouting U.S. Aid for Poor Countries

This New York Times article describes the new mechanism established by the Bush Administration for the delivery of U.S. bilateral development assistance.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Toward Country Led Development

Toward Country Led Development is the report of a multi-donor evaluation of the "Comprehensive Development Framework."

Launched by the World Bank in 1999, the CDF is based on four key principles: a long-term, holistic development framework; results orientation; country ownership; and country-led partnership. The CDF was intended to be a new way of doing business in international development. To grossly oversimplify, countries would take the lead in making national development plans that went beyond annual budget exercises. Donors would work with the host country stakeholders, and would collaboratively support the plans so created.

This study in five countries which experimented with CDF and one which did not, looks at the success of the process. The website gives a very nice 45 minute streaming video, as well as the report and a precis.

This is a very interesting effort! As one might expect, it is too early to fully evaluation the CDF approach, but it is clear that it has not been fully implemented in any of the countries, but in any case there seems to be evidence of some value for development.

The evaluation effort itself was very large, and unprecedented in its willingness to subject many donor agencies to the outside scrutiny of an independent group.

USAID - Knowledge for Development Home

USAID - Knowledge for Development Home

Friday, February 20, 2004

Intentional Human Dosing Studies for EPA Regulatory Purposes: Scientific and Ethical Issues

National Academies Press: "Intentional Human Dosing Studies for EPA Regulatory Purposes: Scientific and Ethical Issues"

This new report from the National Research Council is drawing press attention today.

Currently U.S. standards for pesticide dosages are 100 to 1000 times less than the toxic level in animals, as determined from animal testing. Were the pesticides to be tested in humans, a safety factor of ten -- imposed for possible response differences between species -- could be reduced or eliminated. This reduction could make it possible to use some pesticides in some applications that are unacceptable under current regulations. The question is, is testing in humans ever justified for pesticides.

This seems to me to be a K4D-related ethical question. Is it ethically acceptable to obtain certain kinds of knowledge that may be useful for development if doing so puts volunteers at risk, and if those volunteers will not personally benefit substantially and directly from the knowledge gained.

Certainly there are far too many historical examples of researchers, carried away with their enthusiasm for their work, imposing on or allowing research subjects to undergo undue risks. Regulation plays an important role in protecting against such excesses.

The real question in this case, however, is whether people with free will fully informed of the risks that they will undergo, who volunteer to be subjects to such research should be allowed to do so. Protection could clearly be provided against undue influence on such people (such as monetary enticements for the poor, or job pressures for employees of companies selling or testing the pesticides).

One important criterion for the ethical conduct of research is that the potential benefits to the persons tested should be commensurate with the risks that the person is asked to take. Thus it is considered unethical to test new drugs on poor African populations who would not be able to afford them, in order to obtain data to use in licensing the drugs for sale to patients in rich countries. With pesticide testing, there is some question as to what the benefits might be.

I would suggest that many people are altruistic. They feel good doing something that benefits others. I can well imagine people I know volunteering to test safety levels for pesticides that could help in the control of Tsetse flies or the carriers of river blindness, simply because they would like to help reduce the disease burden in Africa and help open lands to productive agriculture. Do the benefits from acting altruistically count?

Enhancing Research Capacity in Developing Countries

Enhancing Research Capacity in Developing Countries

This is an evaluation of the Danish foreign assistance agency's program to support research capacity development in poor countries.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Scientists Say Bush Administration Distorts Facts

JAMES GLANZ published this article in the New York Times about a report charging the Bush Administration with failing to use scientific finding appropriately. Dr. John H. Marburger III, science adviser to President Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House is also sourced defending the Administration.

Guy Gugliotta and Rick Weiss have a similar article in the Washington Post.

One of the reports mentioned in these articles is a new publication of the National Research Council: "Implementing Climate and Global Change Research: A Review of the Final U.S. Climate Change Science Program Strategic Plan". The NRC summarizes this as follows:

"The federal government should implement its revised strategic plan for climate change research as soon as possible, says a new report from the National Academies' Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. The committee that wrote the report said the plan is "much improved," broader in scope and more ambitious than a previously reviewed draft, but commitments to fund many of the newly proposed activities are lacking."

The Union of Concerned Scientists website contains links to both the analysis cited in the articles linked above, and the signup point for scientists to add their names to the petition. It seems to be getting a lot of visitors at the moment, and the response is slow.

The issue of use of scientific knowledge in government policy making, regulation, and management is clearly central to our topic of Knowledge for Development. It adds to the challenge to see how controversial the issues are even in an "advanced, scientifically developed" nation such as the United States.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

A Challenge to the World's Scientists

A Challenge to the World's Scientists

Kofi Annan's editorial in Science Magazine. The website has links to related materials.

And a follow on editorial in this week's edition: "Science for All Nations"

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Information Society and Sustainalbe Development: Exploring Linkages

Information Society and Sustainalbe Development: Exploring Linkages

This is a publication of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, prepared for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSIS), and treating the role of ICT and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

UNESCO Communication and Information Portal

UNESCO Communication and Information Program Portal

This is a major site for ICT information within the donor community, and I believe it is very widely used in developing nations. Note its specific portals:
- Libraries Portal;
- Archives Portal;
- Free Software Portal; and
- Information Society Observatory.

UNESCO Social and Human Sciences Portal

SHS UNESCO Social and Human Sciences

The themes of UNESCO's SHS program are:
- Ethics;
- Human Rights;
- Philosophy;
- Prospective Studies; and
- Social Transformations.

UNESCO Natural Sciences Portal

UNESCO Natural Sciences Portal

I want to point to some of the interesting UNESCO websites. This is the Natual Science webpage. It focuses on the following thematic areas:
- Fresh Water;
- People and Nature;
- Oceans;
- Earth Sciences;
- Basic & Engineering Sciences;
- Coastal Regions & Small Islands; and
- Science Policy.
It Intergovernmental & International Programs are:
- International Geological Correlation Program (IGCP);
- International Hydrological Programme (IHP);
- Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC);
- Man and the Biosphere (MAB); and
- United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP).

Friday, February 13, 2004

Sixth Meeting of the UN ICT Task Force, 25-27 March 2004, UN Headquarters

Sixth Meeting of the UN ICT Task Force, 25-27 March 2004, UN Headquarters

During the first two days of the meeting, the discussion will be held in a format of a Global Forum on the subject of Internet governance.

Academies call for two global science funds

Academies call for two global science funds

This SciDev.Net article reports that representatives of the world's leading academies of sciences met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annanfor and called for two new global funds to enhance science and technology capacity in developing countries, describing such capacity building as "a necessity and not a luxury".

The Global Institutional Fund (GIF), would provide long-term core funding to about 20 national or regional centres of excellence, operating either independently or within 'developing-world networks'.

The Global Programme Fund, would run a competitive grants system to support peer-reviewed research within centres of excellence in developing nations.

Human embryos cloned

The Scientist :: Human embryos cloned

This report from the Scientist marks a great technological achievement, bringing human cloning success up to levels previously seen only in livestock.

Wook Suk Hwang and Shin Yong Moon of Seoul National University in Korea did the research, marking a great stride for Korean research capacity.

The research is medically important, since it suggests that cloning and human stem cell production are closer than had been thought. Stem cell research holds great promise in for a number of ailments.

The achievement should serve as a “wake-up call” to the United States. “The work should have been done in the US, it should have been published by researchers in the US first,” Michael D. West, president and chief executive officer of Advanced Cell Technology, told The Scientist. “It wasn't.”

The field is underfunded because of the Bush administration's strong position against cloning. Government oposition to cloning research has dramatically contracted the amount of such work being done in the United States.

Translate American Political Philosophy Classics into Arabic

Juan Cole points out that there is far too little of the world literature underlying democracy available in Arabic in the Middle East. He proposes to do something about it! Read his plan, and if you feel it in your heart, help out!

Wednesday, February 11, 2004



After five and a half years of outstanding service in what must be a very difficult and demanding job, Rita Colwell's departure from the top job at the National Science Foundation can not be a surprise.

The event does provide an opportunity to praise and thank her. Dr. Colwell has been a champion of science and the application of scientific knowledge to development in the United States and abroad for many years. Her fundamental research on cholera gave her an understanding of poverty and poor countries that is very rare in the United States, and much rarer still in the higher levels of government. Hers is a unique ability to understand the concept of knowledge for development, and to bring that knowledge to effective policy making and administration.

2004 Interactive Knowledge Assessment Methodology

2004 Interactive Knowledge Assessment Methodology

The World Bank team working on Knowledge for Development has revamped its assessment methodology and provided a nifty new set of tools. You can compare countries and regions in terms of readiness to participate in the knowledge society, and you can trace progress over time.

Political Patterns on the WWW

Political Patterns on the WWW

This map shows linkage among popular books, established by joint purchases reported from online book sellers. It suggests that liberals read liberal books, conservatives read conservative books, and few books are read by both liberals and conservatives.

Do you suppose there is "liberal knowledge" and "conservative knowledge".

Failure of US Public Diplomacy in the Middle East

"Failure of US Public Diplomacy in the Middle East":

Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog posts this comment on February 11.

"Jesse Helms did irreparable damage when he succeeded in rolling the United States Information Agency into the State Department. State is always short on funds, and then security had to be beefed up at the embassies, and the USIA got starved. USIA used to have American libraries in the major cities of the Middle East. They were all closed and the books remaindered. Even the libraries that had existed were flawed, since they were English-only."

Read the entire entry -- it deserves it. His comment in turn was triggered by Forfeiting the War of Ideas by Michael Pan and Jeremy Weinstein.

I find my colleagues interested in science for development often think "science" and "natural science" are synonyms. The importance of social science for international development can not be overestimated. Economics, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Organizational Sciences are all critical. The USIA libraries were often seen as cultural entities, but bringing international thought to developing countries is not just cultural. The value of libraries that make the best in philosophy, history and the social sciences available should be recognized.

For many years, USAID had a program to translate textbooks into Spanish. It was run out of Mexico City, and had a considerable impact in making college texts available in Spanish in Latin America. I was most aware of the engineering texts. While, in my experience, college engineering students in Latin America have all studied English, they have seldom mastered it. It is hard enough learning scientific and engineering materials when they are in your own language, much less in a foreign language you have not fully mastered. So this program really did a lot for education. But it was always under fire in the bureaucracy. Its only defense was that it did a lot for the long term development of Latin American nations. It did not, however, provide short term political benefits. Nor did it directly subsidize the poor.

I would suggest that this is a program that should be revisited. The technology has changed, and one could reduce the costs greatly from those of the 1970's. Machine assisted translation would drop translation costs greatly, perhaps to the point that volunteers would step in to do the translations. E-publishing via the Internet would drop those costs as well. I recall that a book publishing program that I monitored for USAID in the old days had a cost of something like US$1.25 each simply for packing books and mailing them abroad.

It would be a great investment for the U.S. government to make serious content available in Arabic, Spanish, French, Chinese, Hindi and other languages. The Internet does reach a lot of developing and transition countries. However, some of the countries that most need the content, censor the Internet. The government could also create cyber-libraries, with on-demand publishing to replace the lost USIA libraries. Wouldn't that be great!

The Great Arc

The Great Arc

In April 1802, Colonel William Lambton (who, with George Everest, has been recognized as the man that made the arc possible) made plans to survey an arc covering a degree of latitude along a longitude in the middle of peninsular India. The over 2,400km of inch-perfect survey was successfully completed, and still remains one of the greatest human endeavours ever undertaken. Read about it here.

We perhaps underestimate the importance of maps as the basis of knowledge of our environment.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

World Bank B-SPAN Video Broadcasts

Welcome to B-SPAN Homepage

This is an interesting site, where development leaders are shown in video streaming Internet broadcasts. I think you need a lot of interest or you need broadband to follow these broadcasts.

Dialogue on Agriculture Science and Technology

Dialogue on Agriculture Science and Technology

This is a World Bank press release on the effort now beginning to build the support needed to carry out the assessment mentioned in the last blog entry.

International Assessment of Agriculural Science & Technology

International Assessment of Agriculural Science & Technology

This World Bank managed website calls for a massive international assessment of agricultural science and technology. I suspect that without serious changes in the support for agricultural R&R, the world is in for serious problems in the next 50 and 100 years. The program described here already represents a "consultative process was a resounding success: approximately 800 stakeholders from 108 countries (representatives from governments, UN agencies, scientific institutions, private sector, foundations, NGOs, producers and consumers)"

Read the final report of the steering committee.

Grad Students Uniting Against Bush Science Policy describes itself as run by "a group of scientists (graduate students, post-docs, faculty and others) trying to voice our growing concern that the Bush administration misuses science in environmental policymaking." The site is seeking signatures for a statement "that President Bush's policies will cause and exacerbate damage to the natural systems on which we all depend."

This is a nice example of scientists using the Internet to promote the proper use of scientific knowledge in government. I would love to see it replicated in other countries. | Outsourcing to India

The Economist report on the Nasscom meeting in Mumbai, celebrating the growth of India's software and outsourcing industries. The article also notes the first signs of U.S. protectionism.

"Outsourcing to India" | Innovation in Japan

"Innovation in Japan" in this weeks Economist gives another example of government doublespeak. Japanese politicians are seeking to reduce inventor's rights to benefit from their patents "for the purpose of securing R&D incentives for the inventors." Like the American politicians promoting "sound science", they are apparently acting in the interests of the big corporations.

Monday, February 09, 2004

"Evaluating Capacity Development: Experiences from Research and Development Organizations around the World"

"Evaluating Capacity Development: Experiences from Research and Development Organizations around the World"

Summary: "The perspective that informs this important book is that every evaluation of a capacity development effort should itself contribute to the capacity development effort and ultimately to the organization’s performance. This is a revolutionary idea in evaluation. With the idea have come the questions: Can it be done? And, if it is done, what will be the consequences? This book elucidates and deepens the idea, shows it can be done, and examines the consequences, both intended and unintended, of engaging in capacity development evaluation. "Chapter 6 outlines approaches and methods for evaluating organizational capacity development. It discusses the importance of evaluation principles as well as issues related to the preparation and the carrying out of evaluations. Guidelines are presented for dealing with these issues." D. Horton, A. Alexaki, S. Bennett-Lartey, K.N. Brice, D. Campilan, F. Carden, J. de Souza Silva, L.T. Duong, I. Khadar, A. Maestrey Boza, I. Kayes Muniruzzaman, J. Perez, M. Somarriba Chang, R. Vernooy, and J. Watts. 2003. CTA and the International Service for National Agricultural Research.

Public Value Mapping for Scientific Research

Public Value Mapping for Scientific Research

Volume 2 in a two volume report: "Knowledge Flows and Knowledge Collectives: Understanding The Role of Science and Technology Policies in Development". Following the introduction, the volume has sections titled: "Public Value Mapping of Science Outcomes: Theory and Method," "Public Value Mapping Breast Cancer Case Studies," "Public Value Mapping in a Developing Country Context." CSPO (various), Center for Science, Policy, & Outcomes (CSPO), 2003. (PDF, 186 pages)

A Project for the Global Inclusion Program of the Rockefeller Foundation.

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

Knowledge Flows, Innovation, and Learning in Developing Countries

Includes: Synthesis Report on the Findings of a Project for the Global Inclusion Program of the Rockefeller Foundation, June 2003.

Volume 1 in a two volume report: "Knowledge Flows and Knowledge Collectives: Understanding The Role of Science and Technology Policies in Development". Following the introduction, the volume has sections titled: "National Innovation Systems Overview and Country Cases," "Recent Changes in Patent Policy and the "Privatization" of Knowledge: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Developing Countries," "Can PPPs in Health cope with social needs?" "The Role of Knowledge Flows in Bridging North-South Technological Divides," and "Black Star: Ghana, Information Technology and Development in Africa." CSPO (various), Center for Science, Policy, & Outcomes (CSPO), 2003. (PDF, 186 pages)

Linking Lawmakers, Scientific Knowledge (

Linking Lawmakers, Scientific Knowledge (

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is going to step in, with support from the MacArthur Foundation and provide advice to the Congress. The National Academies are a major source of such advice, but their rules are such that the turn around time for responses is long. The Office of Technology Assessment in theory could have provided this service when it was operating, but my experience was that it too took its time. This seems to me a very good thing for the U.S. public.

InterAcademy Council : Inventing a Better Future

Inventing a Better Future is a new report by a very distinguished panel, calling for "a global movement to build science and technology capacities in all nations."

It is a product of and published by the InterAcademy Council.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Carter Center Blog

Carter Center

Nobel Prize winner and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is maintaining a blog on the Carter Center website, chronicling his and Rosslyn Carter's current trip to Africa.

Wired News: Stacking the Deck Against Science

Wired News: Stacking the Deck Against Science

More about doublespeak from Wired magazine.

Chris C Mooney: Conservative Lysenkoism Redux

Chris C Mooney

On Thursday, February 05, 2004, Chris Mooney did a bit on his blog on the Hourse Committee on Resources "sound science" hearing. It sounds like doublespeak. Under the guise of "sound science" some Republicans are seeking to make it harder to get scientific knowledge into the regulatory process. Sounds like the elimination of the Office of Technology Policy, when S&T viewpoints that some politicians didn't want to hear was eliminated from the legislative process in the name of economy.

Mooney quotes Rep. Jim Gibbons, of Nevada, called government science an "oxymoron". I suggest that Rep. Gibbons visit the Smithsonian, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or any of the other agencies that do good science. I am sure their legislative affairs offices would be pleased to help him learn about their programs.

Nat'l Academies Press: The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State

Nat'l Academies Press: The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State

This report from 1999 again recommended strengthening S&T in foreign policy. This has been an issue for a long time! You can read the book in the Academies clunky format for free, or you can purchase it for downloading in PDF format.

Science, Technology and Health Issues and U.S. Foreign Policy

Report on Policy Seminar for Senate Science and Technology Caucus

This is a brief report of a policy seminar for the Senate S&T caucus held in 2001. The three speakers mention the report linked to the next blog, and the increasing need for foreign policy to be made on the basis of good science.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

The Price of Loyalty: The Bush Files

The Price of Loyalty: The Bush Files

Ron Suskind, co-author of "the Price of Loyalty" with Paul O'Neill is starting to post on the Interent the 19,000 documents that were released from the Department of the Treasury to O'Neill.

This site will almost certainly provide a lot of insights into the way knowledge has been used in the U.S. Government, and especially in the Bush Administration.

Business, Science Clash at Medical Journal (

Business, Science Clash at Medical Journal (

When the advertizing department of a medical journal can block publication of an editorial challenging the nature of use of a pharmaceutical product in a serious medical situation, there is a threat to the flow of important knowledge and understanding.

Clark Papers Talk Politics And War (

Clark Papers Talk Politics And War (

R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post provides this article today beginning disclosures from papers Wesley Clark has provided to the Post. They will perhaps provide insights into the way knowledge was used in the policy process in Kosovo, and in the Clinton White House.

Beltway Bloggers (

Beltway Bloggers (

Ellen McCarthy of the Washington Post provides this article today on the blogging community developing around Washington D.C.

Assassinations Tear Into Iraq?s Educated Class

Assassinations Tear Into Iraq?s Educated Class

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN in today's New York Times writes about what may be an organized campaign to assassinate Iraq's doctors, lawyers and judges, and indeed its professional class. I can certainly see why the professionals are perceived to be a threat to the half-educated thugs who too often ran the country in the past and want to run it again. But I don't see much economic nor social progress for a country that kills off its professional class.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Asia Times - Overseas labor: mother's milk for poor nations

Asia Times - Overseas labor: mother's milk for poor nations

"In 2001, according to the World Bank, remittance receipts from overseas workers amounted to US$72.3 billion across the globe, vastly higher than total official figures and representing an impressive 1.3 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP). Even the World Bank's figure is almost certainly low."

Thursday, February 05, 2004

A Figure of Merit for Development Portals

This note discusses a class of indicators that might be useful for monitoring the performance of development portals such as the Development Gateway and County Gateways. I just posted it to the Monitoring and Evaluation of ICT Projects website, following up on a much earlier posting on this blog.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

FDA Links Antidepressants, Youth Suicide Risk (

This article notes that hundreds of thousands of prescriptions are written each year in the United States antidepresants for children in the United States, although clinical trials for many of the drugs have not been done in children. The result seems to be a rash of suicides. The drugs may not be safe in children.

Similarly, some years ago it became apparent that there was a gender bias in the selection of subjects for drug trials, and that drugs not being equally safe and efficacious in men and women, women were suffering.

Unless the genome and proteome research gives us much better tools to extrapolate medical research results from one group to another, there will remain a need to see that pharmaceuticals work in the people they are to serve. (I am tempted to say, all pharmaceutical knowledge is importantly local knowledge.)

FDA Links Antidepressants, Youth Suicide Risk (

OECD Work on Spam

OECD Work on Spam

Summary: "Spam undermines user trust online, reduces firm productivity, and increases costs for Internet service providers. Spam implicates data privacy and consumer protection laws, and spreads computer viruses. A variety of measures and initiatives have been undertaken to address spam by OECD countries, but it is recognised that no single approach will likely succeed without close international co-ordination." This website provides information on the Brussels Workshop on spam held 2-3 February 2004, including the background paper for the workshop.

The Washington Post atricle "There's No Spam Like American Spam" discusses the problem of lack of effective U.S. regulation of spam, mentioning the OECD meeting.

Interim Constitution of Iraq January 2004 draft

Interim Constitution of Iraq January 2004 draft with comments by Nathan J. Brown.

Monday, February 02, 2004


This is old ground, but I was thinking again about these definitions.

Data of course is what we get back by the carload from sensors that seem to be everywhere.

Information, according to the old information theory texts, is data which reduces uncertainty. In Baysian statistical terms, one has a defined set of alternatives with a distribution across them, specifying the a priori probability that each is true. Data arrives, and one calculates the a posteriori probability distribution. If the data do in fact change the probability distribution, then they contained information. Indeed, information theorists define the amount of information as exactly the change in the average uncertainty before and after the data arrived.

An interesting aspect of this idea is that the data provides information relevant to a specific question. So the same datum may provide different amounts of data to different people, depending on the use to which they put it. (Say that someone buys a set of books bound in green leather. That datum might well provide critical information the an interior decorator. It would be of very little value in describing what the person would learn from the books.)

In any case, one aspect of the transformation of data to information is that the user has to define the way the data is to be used before it becomes information.

What then is knowledge. I fear this discussion is bound by my language. Were I writing and thinking in Spanish, I would be making distinctions between the verbs “conocer” and “saber”, distinctions that don’t exist in English. But that’s life!

Knowledge seems to me to be embodied information. I feel quite uncomfortable saying that data flowing around in cyberspace is “knowledge”. Long ago in this blog I did a riff on the embodiment of information in people, machines, organizations, and other institutions. I feel comfortable defining information embodied in people as “knowledge”.

Sometimes a small group of people work in such a way that no one person has all the knowledge needed to carry out the work of the group, but at least one person in the group has each piece of that necessary knowledge. When things mesh, the group carries out its work effectively, because each piece of work falls to a person or people with the knowledge required to carry it out. I feel comfortable saying that the group knows something – that is, that a group of people can collectively internalize information and transform it into a body of knowledge that none of its members holds individually.

I am not sure that I want to use the word “knowledge” to describe the information embodied in a machine, or in the processes of a large formal organization, or in a still larger social institution such as a market or a nation. But on the other hand, I don’t have an alternative word either.

How about “understanding”? I guess “understanding” in my mind is more about how things work, and “knowledge” is about what things are. I use the phrase “scientific knowledge and understanding” fairly frequently, and it seems to me that it makes sense to do so. One can know what a star is, and understand the processes that fuel a star. One can know the components of an ecosystem, and begin to understand how it works – how the ecological balance among its components is achieved. One can know people (and address them by name), and one can understand people (and predict how they will act).

But, as James Fallows pointed out in his Atlantic Monthly piece, “Blind Into Baghdad” (not yet available on the web), there was a lot of knowledge and understanding organized by the U.S. Government about Iraq prior to the war. Arguably enough knowledge and understanding was mobilized to have accurately predicted many of the problems that actually arose – problems that could have been avoided with appropriate action. But, and this is my point, there is a gap between knowledge and understanding versus knowledge-based and understanding-based action.

In some fields I think the term “knowledge-based” is gaining currency. Thus we hear of knowledge-based medicine, knowledge-based agriculture, and knowledge-based government services. Interestingly, I think these phrases tend to mean medical, agricultural and governmental interventions based on scientific knowledge and understanding – meaning knowledge and understanding of an especially valued kind.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the knowledge and understanding gained from the most effective processes were more often translated into action?

So much for now.

Rage Expressed on the Internet in China

In December, the Chinese driver of a BMW sports car was given a suspended sentence for plowing into a crowd after "a brush with a tractor", killing a woman and injuring twelve other people. According to this article, "the ruling has triggered one of the biggest outpourings of internet rage ever seen in China. One of the country's most popular web portals,, received some 200,000 postings on the subject in ten days." This outpouring was possible in part because some 80 million people in China are now regular internet users, nearly 35% more than in 2002. The article goes on to consider the effect of such Internet-based concerns with judicial findings, and the reform of the Chinese judiciary system. Knowledge in cyberspace confronts legal knowledge. | Articles by Subject | China

"The Trouble with Cheap Drugs" | The pharmaceutical industry discusses the larger effects of European efforts to bargan down the prices of drugs, suggesting that as a result the development of new pharmaceuticals is moving to the United States, and that the financial savings on prescription drugs may be more than offset by the economic costs of the movement of the industry.

Interesting tid bits:

"A decade ago, Europe and America each spent roughly $10 billion a year on drug R&D. Now, America spends almost $30 billion annually, and Europe a little more than $20 billion. A growing number of firms now base their R&D efforts in America."

"America created 42% more high-value pharmaceutical jobs in 1999-2001, and the trend is continuing. In 1992 the global drugs industry made profits of $60 billion, less than half of which were in America. In 2002, industry profits were $121 billion— 60% generated in America."

Pakistan Scientist Admits Selling Nuclear Secrets

Yahoo! News/Reuters reporter Mike Collett-White provides this follow-up on the case against Abdul Qadeer Khan, adviser to Pakistan's prime minister, who is accused of selling nuclear secrets on the black market.

Yahoo! News - Pakistan Scientist Admits Selling Nuclear Secrets

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Pakistan Fires Top Nuclear Scientist (

Pakistan Fires Top Nuclear Scientist (

This is a story that completes the negative trifecta of today's postings. Pakistan spent an inordinate amount of money, given its development problems, on nuclear weapons technology. Then its most respected scientist appears to have stolen and sold that technology on the black market to Iran, Lybia, and North Korea (another negative trifecta!).

This is a story about a developing nation succeeding in getting knowledge, but of the wrong kind, and misusing it! So much for "K4D".

A Flawed Argument In the Case for War (

A Flawed Argument In the Case for War (

Still another of these stories. In this case, the Bush Administration told itself that Iraq was involved with unmanned arial vehicles that could deliver chemical and biological weapons, even under certain conditions to the United States. Turns out that the Air Force was right that these drones were reconnaisance not weapons delivery devices, Iraq didn't have the weapons, and they didn't have the software to target the United States.

The latter part of that tale is worth note. It seems that there was a report that the Iraqi government was making a big push to get navigational software. Turns out that an Australian firm had offered it software that it did not buy, which had the mapping accuracy of perhaps the existing mapping systems for comsumer use.

These stories give me pause. Even the richest country in the world doesn't seem able to get information on so important a matter, when a nation run by what one of these authors termed "semi-literate thugs" plays "keep away". And the Fallows' article suggests that even when it has the information, the United States was unable to turn it into knowledge, and use that knowledge to guide government policy. What are the chances that poor countries will do better?

"Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong"

This is one of many articles questioning the knowledge the U.S. government thought it had before going to war with Iraq last year, as compared with the knowledge the author thinks it has now. Kenneth M. Pollack was one of the hawks and was in the Clinton Administration's National Security Council.

What seems to emerge is a history in which U.S. intelligence was always wrong about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD): believing there were fewer WMD than was the case in the 1980's and early 1990's, and more WMD than there were thereafter. Indeed Pollack attributes some of the later errors as a reacion to some of the earlier ones -- the "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me" syndrome.

He does raise the issue of (subtle and perhaps not inappropriate) pressures on the intelligence community from the Bush Administration to see WDM in Iraq.

The Atlantic | January/February 2004 | Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong | Pollack

Also published in the January/February 2004 ediition of the Atlantic Monthly is the following (which does not appear to be available yet online):

"Blind Into Baghdad"
The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a debacle not because the government did no planning but because a vast amount of expert planning was willfully ignored by the people in charge. The inside story of a historic failure
by James Fallows