Friday, April 30, 2004

Henry Louis Mencken said:

Henry Louis Mencken quotations and quotes:

"I believe it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant."

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Visa Applications for US schooling hit low

The Washington Post publishes a small edition called the Express. An article on page 10 notes the fall in applications for student visas, and the likely dire consequences for the U.S. education system.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Edict Limits U.S. Speakers at Bangkok Conference

Edict Limits U.S. Speakers at Bangkok Conference: (Science -- Couzin 304 (5670): 499a)

"The decision to restrict the number of government travelers to 50 'was as a result of the treatment the Secretary received in Barcelona and HHS opinion that this meeting is of questionable scientific value.' During a talk in Barcelona, Thompson was heckled by hundreds of AIDS activists."

Which is more important, revenge for the Secretary's hurt feelings or a catastrophy killing people by the millions? Now we know!

HHS Withholds Funds for Global Health Meeting (

HHS Withholds Funds for Global Health Meeting(

"Conservative activists, however, took credit last night for persuading the administration to abandon a conference the federal government has supported for 30 years. "

Monday, April 26, 2004 | Business innovation | Business innovation: "Rather than chasing wonder new products, big companies should focus on making lots of small improvements"

Interesting article in the Economist, for those who can read it online (subscription required).

One suspects that as the nature of economies change and industries mature, the nature of innovation will also change. Thus, perhaps service innovation is growing with the increase in services while manufacturing innovation declines in importance with the decline in relative importance of manufacturing. Agricultural technology is quite mature, and continues to improve through modest technological innovations rather than dramatic introduction of new crops.

Still, I would not count out innovations in information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and from the advances in cognitive science quite yet.

Scholars, Hucksters, Copycats and Frauds (

Scholars, Hucksters, Copycats and Frauds ( (Stephen Gillers.)

"Scholars who lend their names and titles to ghostwritten op-eds that are meant to advance the commercial or political interests of others betray the public trust. Their conduct deceives the newspaper that publishes the op-ed and its readers -- but worse, it threatens our faith in the educational enterprise. This is the academic equivalent of turning back a used car's odometer, but the potential harm is greater. We know to be careful when buying a used car. We are encouraged to trust scholars, but won't for long if they become shills for private interests."

This is a comment related to another piece in the Opinions section of Sunday's Washington Post titled ""How Original . . .These Scholars Shared a Ghost. Who Knew?"" by William M. Adler. Adler tracked down the PR firm that wrote pieces that were submitted by professors to the editorial pages of their local newspapers.

Still a third piece, "One Campaign's Generous Help" (apparently by the Post's editors) describes how the Bush campaign is automating the job of people who wish to send the words of others to local papers as if they were their own.

What an Unnecessary Disaster (

What an Unnecessary Disaster (

"There is no one simple solution to the malaria crisis in Africa, but there certainly is a better solution than the one being offered by Western aid agencies today. Malaria can be combated effectively; all it takes is the will to do so. Let's hope that WHO and its partner agencies find that will soon, so that my friend Jocky's African brothers to the north can see their grandchildren grow up, too. "

Spotlight: Malaria in Africa | CDC Malaria

Spotlight: Malaria in Africa | CDC Malaria: "Each year, April 25 is Africa Malaria Day. On that day in 2000, heads of state and representatives from 44 African countries met in Abuja, Nigeria, and signed a declaration committing their countries to halve malaria deaths in Africa by 2010. Africa Malaria Day serves to raise the world's awareness of this severe but preventable health problem."

Accelerating Quality Improvement in Health Care

Accelerating Quality Improvement in Health Care

Proceedings of a conference subtitled: "Strategies to Speed the Diffusion of Evidence-Based Innovations".

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Nazi Science Reminds Us That Knowledge Can Be Misused

This Washington Post article is occasioned by the opening of a new show at the holocaust Museum. The show focuses on the way in which scientists subjected themselves to Nazi ideology, the ways the ideology affected their science, and the way in which they and their science were used to promote the political agenda of the Nazis. It also suggests that the phenomenon may be universal.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Institute for OneWorld Health: A Nonprofit Pharmaceutical Company

Institute for OneWorld Health: A Nonprofit Pharmaceutical Company:

"Infectious disease remains the leading cause of mortality in the developing world. OneWorld Health's mission is to develop safe, effective and affordable new medicines for people afflicted with infectious diseases in the developing world."

This is a non-profit pharmaceutical company, functioning in part through the efforts of a network of volunteer pharmaceutical scientists. It provides a new model, contrasting with and complementing that of for-profit drug firms, which I hope will prove effective in developing new products for the poor in developing nations.

Law of the Sea Treaty Ratification Again Blocked by U.S. Congress

Asia Times - News and analysis from throughout Southeast Asia:

"Continuing a standoff that has existed since the treaty was enacted in 1982, the United States Senate again declined to debate a Foreign Relations Committee resolution, backed by the administration of President George W Bush, that might have led to recognition of the world's most ambitious forum for conflict resolution."

Going the Refurbished Route (

Going the Refurbished Route (

"IBM spokesman Tim Ohsann, in describing the care that's taken with refurbished hardware at the company's Raleigh, N.C., facility, suggested that all of this extra attention means that refurbished machines are more reliable than new ones."

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Trout-Protection Data Questioned (

Trout-Protection Data Questioned (

"Instead, in releasing the report on bull trout and their vast habitat in four states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made public only those parts of an analysis that detailed the costs of saving the fish.

"They were put at $230 million to $300 million over 10 years, adversely affecting hydropower, logging and highway construction.

"Gone from the published analysis, which was written for the Fish and Wildlife Service by a Missoula, Mont., consulting firm called Bioeconomics Inc., were 55 pages that detailed the benefits of protecting bull trout.

"Estimated at $215 million over 20 to 30 years, they include revenue from sport fishing, reduced drinking water costs and increased water for irrigation farmers, especially late in the summer when streams run low."

More on how the U.S. Government (under the Bush Administration) deals with knowledge. I would be the first to admit that the Government has a long history of poor estimates of benefits from water projects (See Porter's "Trust in Numbers"). But eliminating estimates of relatively well measured benefits from analyses does not seem to be the way to improve the situation.

Here is the Alliance for the Wild Rockies release on the issue.

Friday, April 16, 2004

OMB Modifies Peer-Review Proposal (

OMB Modifies Peer-Review Proposal (

"The guidelines set minimum standards for how scientific information is to be 'peer reviewed' before it is released by federal entities. They apply to all 'influential' scientific information -- defined as information likely to have an impact on public policies or private industry decisions. And the guidelines insist on higher levels of review and scientific certainty for 'highly influential scientific assessments,' summaries of technical knowledge used to support regulations whose impact is expected to exceed $500 million a year."

George Orwell coined the term "doublespeak" in his novel, "1984". The word sprang to mind in connection with the previous draft of this regulation, which was to "welcome industry representatives on peer-review panels while restricting participation by academic experts who had been recipients of federal grant money." The regulated were seen as the "peers" of those doing the research on which the regulations were to be based. "Peer review" was to be applied to a process designed to reduce the flow of information derived from scientific research, not improve that flow. Indeed, the term "sound science" appears similarly to be used to describe processes which would reduce the use of results of scientific research in public decision making (leaving such processes more open to "information" derived from non-scientific processes).

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Forest Service Photos Raise Flap (

Forest Service Photos Raise Flap (

"The U.S. Forest Service has been accused of misrepresenting forest conditions by using misleading photographs in a brochure that urges more logging to prevent wildfires in the Sierra Nevada."

Interesting example of disinformation in the form of a photograph. K4D doesn't always come in the forms of words, tables, or graphs. So too, disinformation can come in varied forms.

Scalia Apologizes for Erasure of Reporters' Tapes of Speech (

Scalia Apologizes for Erasure of Reporters' Tapes of Speech (

A little off the subject of K4D, but this story did raise the question in my mind of the rights of speakers to restrict members of their audience from recording speeches for their own use. I don't know where in US law such a right might be given.

I note in the New York Times' version of the story, Justice Scalia is quoted stating that he does not have the authority to give orders to U.S. Marshals acting as his security force.

Seizing the Benefits of ICT in a Digital Economy

Seizing the Benefits of ICT in a Digital Economy:

"Seizing the Benefits of ICT in a Digital Economy revisits ICT's contribution to economic performance using new and more recent data to assess the degree to which the findings that appeared valid at the end of 2000 remain intact. This new report also examines whether the policy conclusions from the previous OECD work require adjustment in the current economic environment, and what measures OECD governments should take to seize the benefits of ICT."

The Economic Impact of ICT: Measurement, Evidence and Implications

The Economic Impact of ICT: Measurement, Evidence and Implications: "The Economic Impact of ICT: Measurement, Evidence and Implications"

"The bulk of the book is devoted to nine studies of OECD countries that were presented at an OECD workshop on ICT and Business Performance in December 2002. These studies are all based on detailed firm-level data and were prepared by researchers and statisticians across OECD countries. They use a broad range of approaches and all provide new insights in the impacts of ICT and the conditions under which ICT can improve performance. The three other main chapters of the book are based on available OECD data. They examine differences in ICT diffusion across OECD countries, the impacts of ICT investment, and the contribution of ICT-using and ICT-producing sectors to overall economic performance."

Friday, April 09, 2004 | By invitation: Martin Ravallion | By invitation: Martin Ravallion:

There is an argument as to the right way to measure poverty. In a previous Economist article, data published by Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University was presented as challenging the poverty estimates of the World Bank.

Mr. Sala-i-Martin uses GDP from national accounts to measure average per capita income, and uses household survey findings to estimate how that average per capita income is distributed across households. GDP includes much more than household consumption; private investment and government spending, for example, are included in GDP. The World Bank's numbers are based on actual surveys of household incomes; they do not include allowances for investment and government spending; they typically include only the most basic food and other consumption needs. Mr Sala-i-Martin's poverty lines should therefore be higher than those of the Bank. The number of people living below a given dollar value of GDP per capita will necessarily be lower than the number of people living below the same dollar value of household income.

I am sure that Mr. Sala-i-Martin and Mr. Martin Ravallion (writing for the World Bank) would agree that whatever the uncertainty in the data, the number of people living in abject poverty is too large, and that neither would want to bring up their own family on $2 per person per day of household income. | Science and the Bush administration | Science and the Bush administration:

"There is a widespread feeling among scientists that Mr Bush is ignoring scientific results and opinions he does not like in other areas, too. In August 2003 the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform made claims similar to those of the UCS report. But it also observed widespread scientific unease about the feasibility of the missile-defence systems proposed by the administration. This report has gone unanswered by Dr Marburger, as has a report made in July 2003 by the American Physical Society (APS), a professional organisation for physicists in America. The APS report concluded that boost-phase missile defence, one element of the system planned by the Bush administration, would be ineffective."

The Bush Administration Proclaims Its S&T Accomplishmnets

This White House Office of Science and Technology Policy publication is pretty slick!

The Internet in developing nations

The Internet in developing nations:

The "Grand Challenge: Connecting every village in the rural developing world to the Internet using a strategy similar to that used in building the NSFNet. We speculate on wireless technologies that might play a role in working toward that goal: Terrestrial, high?altitude platform, and satellite. We conclude with a brief discussion of alternative Grand Challenges and a call for action."

Thanks to Larry Press for this article in First Monday.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

FCC Backs Nextel's Plan For Airwaves (

FCC Backs Nextel's Plan For Airwaves (

"A majority of commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission have voted to support a plan that provides Nextel Communications Inc. valuable new spectrum in exchange for clearing up interference problems with public safety communications, although Nextel would have to pay $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion more than it has proposed, according to FCC sources."

"Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association vehemently opposed Nextel's plan, calling the spectrum exchange a "giveaway" worth as much as $7 billion to Nextel. Those groups have threatened a legal challenge to any plan that gives Nextel a license at the high frequency without an auction, citing the FCC's decade-old policy of auctioning off spectrum to the highest bidder."

Compromise May Restrict 'Morning-After' Pill (

Compromise May Restrict 'Morning-After' Pill (

"The distributor of the emergency contraceptive 'Plan B' and the government are discussing a compromise that would place some restrictions on proposed over-the-counter sales of the 'morning-after' pill -- an outcome that critics say would be based more on election-year politics than on science.

"Although a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 23 to 4 in December in favor of making the drug available on drugstore shelves, the proposed compromise would ignore important elements of that recommendation, said several people familiar with the negotiations but not allowed to speak on the record. "

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

WHO: Road safety: a public health issue

WHO: Road safety: a public health issue:

"1.2 million people are killed on roads every year and up to 50 million more are injured," according to this World Health Organization report. "These casualties of the road will increase if action is not taken."

There is also an article dealing with this study in today's Washington Post.

The cost of traffic accidents in monitary terms is also very large, representing in some cases several percent of GDP. Reduction of accident rates could have an impact on the rate of economic growth of developing nations.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Coalition Expands AIDS Drug Plan (

Coalition Expands AIDS Drug Plan (

"The groups that negotiated the agreement -- the World Bank, the Global Fund, UNICEF and the Clinton Foundation -- combine for the first time some of the largest funding agencies with those that have the best public health expertise, including WHO. Missing, however, was one prominent funder: the U.S. government, which has its own plan to help AIDS patients in poor countries. The $15 billion U.S. plan seeks to buy medicines involving multiple combinations of pills from Western pharmaceutical companies that hold patents on the drugs, while yesterday's deal will rely on fixed-dose medicines made in India and South Africa, which combine three drugs in one pill."

Saturday, April 03, 2004 | Research and development | Research and development:

"By the crude measure of patents earned by the Indian subsidiaries of multinational firms (see chart), a significant amount of innovation now stems from India. Last year, Intel's Indian subsidiary " | Face value | Face value:

"Today, the edge that a computer system can give a firm is fleeting at best. IT, in other words, has now joined history's other revolutionary technologies by becoming an infrastructure, not a differentiator. In that sense, and from the point of view of individual firms, “IT no longer matters.”"

Science Not Being Distorted, White House Aide Says (

Science Not Being Distorted, White House Aide Says (
: "In a statement released with a 17-page, point-by-point rebuttal, John H. Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the response aimed to 'correct errors, distortions and misunderstandings' in the Feb. 18 report of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)."

Without comment.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Aljazeera.Net - Iraqi intellectuals flee 'death squads'

Aljazeera.Net - Iraqi intellectuals flee 'death squads':

"Media reports suggest that more than 3000 Iraqi academics and high-profile professionals have left Iraq recently, not to mention the thousands of Iraqis who are travelling out of the country every day in search of work and safety."

I don't vouch for this, but the story is from Aljazeera.