Thursday, March 31, 2005

Cellular Phones, Public Fears, and a Culture of Precaution - Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press webpage for the book

Publisher's Summary: "This is the first account of the health panic surrounding cellular phones that developed in the mid-1990s. Treating the issue as more ‘social construction’ than evident scientific problem, it tells the story of how this originally American anxiety diffused internationally, having an even bigger impact in countries such as Italy. Burgess highlights the contrasting reactions to the issue ranging from positive indifference in Finland to those such as the UK where precautionary measures were taken. These differences are located within the emergence of a precautionary culture driven by institutional insecurity that first appeared in the US and is now most evident in Europe. Anxieties about cell phone radiowaves are also situated historically in the very different reactions to technologies such as x-rays and in the more similar ‘microwave suspicions’ about television. In addition, Burgess outlines a history and sociology of what is, despite media-driven anxieties, a spectacularly successful device. • The first in-depth study on the subject • Based on entirely original comparative research • The subject of the book is the most popular communications technology of our time" By Adam Burgess, Cambridge University Press, 2003. The book is for sale in paper copy, but the table of contents and introductory chapter can be downloaded free from this site.

Anatomy of a techno-myth article: (Subscription required.)

"DO MOBILE phones cause explosions at petrol stations? That question has just been exhaustively answered by Adam Burgess, a researcher at the University of Kent, in England. Oddly, however, Dr Burgess is not a physicist, but a sociologist. For the concern rests not on scientific evidence of any danger, but is instead the result of sociological factors: it is an urban myth, supported and propagated by official sources, but no less a myth for that."

Urban myths are perhaps the worst case example of products of informal knowledge systems. It would be a shame if the dissemination of mobile phones were impeded by false beliefs of this kind. Equally, in poor nations, added costs of protection against unreal but imagined dangers are especially unfortunate.

"Punch-up over handouts" Economics focus: Subscription required.

"Rich countries are under pressure to end their farm subsidies. Might some poor countries be sorry to see them go?"

This month the World Trade Organisation (WTO) upheld its ruling that certain agricultural subsidies by the United States and other rich nations distorted trade and breached limits agreed in 1994. Consequently, there is likely to be a reduction in agricultural subsidies in the foreseeable future.

"Most poor countries are net importers of agricultural goods. A study in 1999 found that 33 of the 49 poorest countries import more farm goods than they export; 45 of them are net importers of food." These countries can expect, at least in the short run, that their import costs will go up, and for most, food costs will also go up. In the long run, poor countries may export more into world markets, but it seems likely that countries such as Argentina and Brazil will be the greatest beneficiaries among developing nations.

Subsistance farmers may notice little difference, but countries subsidizing urban consumption and the urban poor may face higher food costs!

Global dimming

BBC Online Program Followup

"Between the 1950s and the early 1990s the level of solar energy reaching the earth's surface had dropped 9% in Antarctica, 10% in the USA, by almost 30% in Russia. And by 16% in parts of the British Isles. This was a truly global phenomenon, and Gerry gave it a suitable name - Global Dimming."

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sachs' Reply to Easterly's Review Letter to the Editor from Sachs:

"When The Washington Post asked Easterly to review my knew it would get a polemic, not a review. True to form, Easterly provides a crude caricature of my ideas. Easterly asserts, as he has falsely done before in the New York Times, that I envision a vast central-planning apparatus led by the U.N. secretary general and legions of U.N. staff. What I actually say is that the specialized U.N. organizations like UNICEF can offer great expertise to poor countries, not that they should be central planners. I also say that the secretary general should help coordinate the efforts of U.N. agencies, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and donors. As the book makes utterly clear, poverty reduction must be managed by poor countries themselves, starting in the villages. "

William Easerly's review of Sachs' Book

"A Modest Proposal" - The review:

"Jeffrey D. Sachs's guided tour to the poorest regions of the Earth is enthralling and maddening at the same time -- enthralling, because his eloquence and compassion make you care about some very desperate people; maddening, because he offers solutions that range all the way from practical to absurd. It's a shame that Sachs's prescriptions are unconvincing because he is resoundingly right about the tragedy of world poverty. As he puts it, newspapers should (but don't) report every morning, 'More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty.' "

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time webpage for the book.

Jeffrey Sachs' new book on development and development assistance.

UN to set up science advisory mechanism

SciDev.Net article:

"Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, has announced plans to create a high-level advisory panel to help integrate science and technology into the development efforts of all the member organisations of the UN system.....

"Annan has also announced that he is to appoint a scientific advisor to provide 'strategic forward-looking' scientific advice on policy matters, with responsibility for 'mobilising scientific and technological expertise within the United Nations system and from the broader scientific and academic community'."

Monday, March 28, 2005

Censorship in the Science Museums

The New York Times Editorial (Registration required.)

"Big-screen Imax theaters typically offer lavish visual spectacles with bland and uplifting scripts. Their films are seldom the stuff of controversy. So it was a bit of a shock to learn, from an article by Cornelia Dean in The Times on March 19, that a dozen or so Imax theaters, mostly in the South, have been shying away from science documentaries that might offend Christian fundamentalists. Worse yet, some of those theaters are located in science centers or museums, the supposed expositors of scientific truth for public education."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hot air and global warming

The full Boston Globe article

"Earlier in the month, the former chief scientific adviser to the British government, Lord May of Oxford, bluntly compared Bush to a modern-day Nero. Last fall, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, ''If what the science tells about climate change is correct, then unabated it will result in catastrophic consequences for our world. The science almost certainly is correct.'

"At the recent London conference, Brown said, ''Environmental issues including climate change have traditionally been placed in a category separate from the economy and from economic policy. But this is no longer tenable. Across a range of environmental issues, from soil erosion to the depletion of marine stocks, from water scarcity to air pollution, it is clear now not just that economic activity is their cause, but that these problems in themselves threaten future economic activity and growth.'

"Nero and his fiddlers would hear none of that. Asked last month what the science was on global warming, Connaughton said on CNBC, ''There are many different views.'"

James L. Connaughton is the Chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality.

Friday, March 25, 2005

ICT for Capacity-Building: Critical Success Factors

Meeting website:

"UNESCO and the Club of Rome are co-organizing a three-day 'World Conference on Harnessing the Potential of ICT for Capacity Building' from 11 to 13 May at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. The event is one of UNESCO's thematic meetings in preparation for the second meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis, Tunisia, 16-18 November 2005)."

Social Transformation in the Information Society: UNESCO-CI

Download the book. :

This publication is part of a series the UNESCO is producing in support of the World Summit on the Information Society. Chapters are: "Introduction: opening and closing access pathways to your future;" "The information society and social transformation;" "ICTs and society: the evolution of different perspectives;" "Social change tied to technological choices;" "Inventing our futures: the social factors shaping outcomes of digital Innovation;" "Reconfiguring access in major economic, social, and political arenas;" and "Summary: policy for a connected world." By William Dutton, UNESCO, 2004. (PDF, 1.35 MB, 144 pages.)

Debate on Information Literacy at UNESCO

Debate on Information Literacy at UNESCO: UNESCO-CI:

"A debate on 'Information literacy", a basic skill empowering people to benefit fully from the Information Society, will be held on 5 April at UNESCO?s Headquarters in Paris. The one-day debate that is open to Permanent Delegations of UNESCO Members States, is part of the 8th meeting of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Council for the Information for All Programme."

New Vaccine in African Trials Said to Offer Hope Against Bacterium

The New York Times article: (Registration required.)

"No one expected so big a reduction in pneumonia, hospitalization and mortality,' Dr. Levine said. 'Most people don't know it, but pneumococcal disease kills more people every year than malaria. In this trial, we prevented one death for every 200 children we vaccinated. That's a whopping public-health contribution.'"

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Latin American science 'needs regional integration'

SciDev.Net article:

"Representatives of ten Latin American countries have issued a statement calling for greater regional integration of science policies and research activities."

The "Buenos Aires Statement' was announced at the end of the First Latin American Forum of Parliamentary Committees on Science and Technology, held 7-8 March in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Friday, March 18, 2005

OECD Science, Technology and Industry (STI) Outlook 2004

STI Outlook 2004 website:

"Science and technology contribute to innovation and industrial performance as never before. As the recent economic slowdown gives way to prospects of stronger economic growth across the OECD and competition from outside the OECD increases, renewed attention is being directed to ways of tapping into science, technology and innovation to achieve economic and societal objectives. What steps are countries taking to strengthen their capabilities in science, technology and innovation? How can governments best collaborate with business to create, diffuse, and exploit their intellectual assets in all sectors of an increasingly competitive, global economy?"

"Society of African Journal Editors Launched"

Sigma Xi reports: "The Rural Outreach Program (ROP) in Kenya and the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND) recently hosted the launch meeting of the Society of African Journal Editors (SAJE). In a two-day meeting in Nairobi last December, the group rectified the draft constitution, adopted a logo and developed a strategic plan. The organization’s mandate is to oversee scholarly publishing on the continent and facilitate and promote both human and institutional capacity-building initiatives."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wolfowitz tapped to lead World Bank

MSNBC article:

"President Bush on Wednesday tapped Defense Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who has been a lightning rod for criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other defense policies, to take over as head of the World Bank."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Digital Solidarity Fund

Digital Solidarity Fund website

The Digital Solidarity Fund went into operation yesterday. It is a result of the discussions that have taken place around the World Summit on the Information Society. The initial funding is from the City of Geneva and a number of national governments. It is hoped that a number of ICT firms will donate one percent of their funds to the Fund.

Monday, March 14, 2005

"Off Track" by Benjamin Wallace-Wells

Washington Monthly article:

"Whereas a decade ago the most creative, groundbreaking stuff came from Silicon Valley, now it all seemed to come from overseas. The plasma televisions were from Korea; the computer-like cell phones were from Finland; the feature-packed digital cameras were from Japan. "

"Science capacity 'imperative' for Africa's development"

SciDev.Net article

"The report — published in London this morning (11 March) — also says that "critically, [scientific skills] unlock the potential of innovation and technology to accelerate economic growth and enter the global economy".

"As a result, says the commission, specific action for strengthening science, engineering and technology capacity "is an imperative for Africa".

"Strengthening universities across the continent will be important in meeting this need, says the commission. In particular, it proposes that rich countries commit themselves to providing a combined sum of US$500 million a year over a ten-year period to this end (see Commission to seek US$5 billion for African universities)."

Fund for community computer projects launched in Geneva - UN

UN News Release:

"A 'Digital Solidarity Fund', a voluntary financing mechanism designed to provide community computers, was launched today in Geneva, with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcoming the initiative as contributing to the fight against poverty and bridging the information divide."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Technology, Innovation and Learning in Developing Economies

Conference website.

A joint conference of The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and The University of California, Berkeley.

April 21-23, 2005
Berkeley, California

UK and India to increase science cooperation

SciDev.Net article:

"India and the United Kingdom plan to increase collaboration in science and technology by setting up a joint science and innovation council, and conducting research together in areas of mutual interest."

“Science in the Information Society”

ICSU website providing links to the brochures

These four brochures were prepared by the International Council for Science (ICSU) in support of the "Science in the Information Society Workshop" held in Paris on 12 March 2003. The titles are: N°1. Universal access to scientific knowledge; N°2. Decision making and governance; N°3. Policy issues for scientific information; and N°4. Improving education and training. Each brochure is available at this website in Spanish and French as well as English. ICSU, 2003.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Bush Nominates Michael D. Griffin to Lead NASA

The New York Times article: (Registration required.)

"Dr. Griffin, who is head of the space department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., has held numerous posts in the aerospace industry and was president and chief operating officer of In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit investment organization sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency. He also served as the deputy for technology at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and worked on missile defense systems from 1986 to 1991."

Will people in other countries continue to believe NASA is a civilian organization?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Bayh-Dole: Almost 25

Kennedy 307 (5714): 1375 -- Science article: (Subscription required.)

"Now that we are firmly into 2005, the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act (hereafter, B-D) will soon graduate from adolescence to adulthood, having reached the quarter-century mark. This legislation has had a profound impact on science in the United States and, indirectly, in other nations as well. But the ratio of its benefits to its costs depends on one's view of what's important. To those who had worried about technology transfer, it's a huge success. To others, who expressed concern about university/corporate relations or mourn the enclosure of the scientific 'knowledge commons,' it looks more like a bad deal."

GLOBAL VOICES OF SCIENCE: India's R&D: Reaching for the Top

Mashelkar 307 (5714): 1415 -- Science article: (subscription required.)

"Signs are accumulating that India is on course to becoming one of the world's scientific and technological leaders. Rather than fleeing the country, often for good, more and more young scientists now are opting to stay or at least return to India. Not only are living conditions improving, but opportunities for exciting work are exploding owing to a growing roster of research and development (R&D) centers that multinational companies have been establishing there in recent years. Moreover, India's indigenous R&D culture is shifting from one of emulation to one of innovation across categories ranging from biopharmaceuticals to automotive engineering."

Malaria estimated at 515 million cases worldwide

Reuters AlertNet article:

"More than half a billion people, nearly double previous estimates, were affected by the deadliest form of malaria in 2002, scientists said on Wednesday. Most were in sub-Saharan Africa but nearly 25 percent occurred in southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. 'The disease burden is 515 million clinical attacks a year on the planet. That is quite substantial,' said Professor Bob Snow of the Kenyan Medical Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya."

The brain drain: Old myths, new realities

OECD Observer article:

"The United States is the main pole of attraction for foreign skilled workers; 40% of its foreign-born adult population have tertiary level education. Since the early 1990s, some 900 000 highly skilled professionals, mainly IT workers, from India, China, Russia and a few OECD countries (including Canada, the UK and Germany) have migrated to the United States under the H1B temporary visa programme. The United States also takes in 32% of all foreign students studying in the OECD countries. Indeed, higher education is an important channel for US firms recruiting highly skilled migrants; some 25% of H1B visa holders in 1999 were previously students enrolled at US universities."

Why it is hard to share the wealth

New Scientist article:

"Pareto showed that the distribution of wealth in Europe followed a simple power-law pattern, which essentially meant that the extremely rich hogged most of a nation's wealth." The Pareto Power law works for the highest income levels in many countries, with different parameters for different countries.

The exponential Boltzmann-Gibbs distribution has been shown to describe the distribution of wealth for the bottom 97 to 99 percent of the U.S. population. That function was developed in the context of describing the distribution of energies of particles in a gas. Its utility in describing wealth in a population is interpreted to suggest that wealth is determined by random processes of interactions among people. Further implications are that wealth distribution may be quite difficult to modify for the majority of the population within any society.

Africa report demands aid boost

BBC story with link to the fill Report:

"The UK-led Commission for Africa has urged wealthy nations to double their aid to the continent, raising it by £30bn ($50bn) a year over 10 years."

Sunday, March 06, 2005

More about Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”

“Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”

Diamond’s discussion focuses significantly on relatively small societies such as the Polynesian societies on small Pacific islands, the Anasazi, the ancient Maya, and the medieval Norse society of Greenland. His focus on these groups had the great benefit that their collapses were made intelligible in the space of a readable book.

In my previous posting I focused on institutions, emphasizing the unintended consequences that are emergent properties of people acting independently with incomplete information in complex institutional situations.

Diamond’s small societies are less complex institutionally than large societies. Indeed, I think Japan’s feudal society in the Tokugawa era was less complex institutionally than its modern society. In this respect I don’t mean to imply that the individual institutions were simpler. Kinship systems and clan institutions may well have been very complex – indeed more so than the family institutions in modern societies marked by nuclear family units.

I am simply suggesting that there are more institutions today, more individuals participating in these institutions, and that they form a more complex web than in the collapsed societies described by Diamond. To understand the point, consider the complexity of the institutional systems in China, India or the European Union – with many different cultures, speaking many languages, and therefore many different cultural institutions. Moreover, these are societies that include some one billion people each. There are city, county, state, national and supranational governments with their different political institutions. Societies are no longer composed mostly of subsistence farmers, but are divided into thousands of specialized trades, skills and professions – each marked by its own institutions. And so on, and so on!

The likelihood of unintended consequences emerging from the interplay of more people in the more complex set of institutions seems higher than for institutionally-simpler small societies.

On the other hand, as Diamond point out, people in modern societies have more and richer experience on which to predict the consequences of institutions and institutional changes. So to have modern societies evolved specialized occupations for professionals to study such matters, and have developed institutions to plan such change.

Here we have another race between:
· the increasing complexity of institutional webs and the increasing possibility of such webs producing serious, unintended consequences, versus
· the increasing power of modern institutions to understand complex situations and to intervene to assure that beneficial consequences accrue, negative consequences are reduced, and catastrophic consequences are avoided entirely.

Do Institutions Determine Whether Societies Collapse?

I have been reading Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” I recommend it highly. He has provided a number of case studies of how societies have failed and comparisons with societies that have sustained themselves in similar environments. The book provides a thoughtful, but reader-friendly assessment of the problem our modern and increasingly global society faces in avoiding collapse. How does the world society satisfy the demands of the poor, overcome the resistance of the rich, and keep environmental systems healthy enough for all? What topic could be more important?

As I have been reading the book I have been troubled by the subtitle, “How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” It suggests a rational actor theory as appropriate for modeling the behavior of societies. Diamond himself is far more thoughtful, suggesting both “top-down” and “bottoms-up” models for the way societies develop patterns of behavior that affect their environments. While the top-down model does focus on key influentials as "rational actors", the bottoms-up model is more like those from modern complexity theorists. Diamond also discusses the importance of institutions that force corporations to internalize the costs of environmental damage that they cause in their operations, and the socially responsible behavior of the corporations in markets that don’t reward bad behavior.

Still I find that he seems to under-represent the importance of institutions. There is an old, politically-incorrect joke:

Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian and it is all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, the police German and it is all organized by the Italians.

The joke is out of date (the stereotypes have changed), but it illustrates the point that it is often the institutions that determine the outcome.

Some societies have been pretty hellish – Nazi Germany, Rwanda and Burundi during their periods of genocide, southern Sudan more recently. Some societies have seemed pretty heavenly by comparison – Canadian and Scandinavian societies come to mind. Yet it doesn’t seem possible that babies born in Germany or Rwanda are more diabolical, nor that those born in Canada and Sweden more angelic than normal. It seems clear that it must be the institutions that form people’s views and behavioral patterns, and the institutions that influence the way they act.

Many years ago I worked in the field of neural modeling. The core question for the field was how could a nervous system, composed of stupid neurons, be so much smarter than those components. The answer was the co-evolution of the network structure and of neuron behavior. Another question was how could neurons, with only limited, local information and a limited behavioral repertory learn, and how did the collective learning of neurons result in the more complex learning of the brain. I regard neural modeling as one of the pioneering areas of complexity theory. (See, for example, Mitch Waldrop's book: "Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos".) Thinking about these issues affected my view of societies.

Ed Wilson’s book on sociobiology also influenced my thinking. Ant colonies of some species build huge structures which fulfill complex functions for the colonies. There are no ant architects. How do stupid ants build awe inspiring structures? Clearly the answer is based on the genetically determined behavior of the ants, their social interactions, and the cues they get from their environment and from the structures they are building. Again, complexity theory seems a means of approaching the behavior of simple beings that perform complex social tasks.

Of course people have vastly more complex behavioral repertories than neurons or ants. And of course humans are enormously more able to learn and modify their behavior than neurons or ants. Humans plan, and human social behavior is affected both by rational planning and emergent properties of complex social systems that are unplanned (and often poorly understood by society).

Culture is one of society’s ways of limiting the range of behavior. I suppose such limitations on behavior are necessary to the proper functioning of economic, political, and other institutions. And culture is imparted to our theoretical babies in hellish and heavenly societies by the institutions of those societies. This is the germ of common sense that underlies the bad joke about British, French, Germans, Italians and Swiss. And cultural change is why such a joke gets outdated. While there are examples of planned cultural change, I suspect that most frequently cultural change is an emergent property of complex processes by which those in a culture adapt to circumstances.

How do other institutions change behavior? Some examples:

Ev Rogers has compiled thousands of studies of innovations. His review of agricultural innovation seems to indicate that communities taken as a whole tend to make quite rational decisions on the adoption of new technologies. Successful innovations are adopted by most members within a few years of their adoption by the first trailbreakers; unsuccessful innovations disappear equally quickly from the farming community. Now I have taught decision making to U.S. college students, and have supervised economic surveys of farmers in developing countries, and I don’t believe that community learning like that studied by Rogers is based on sophisticated quantitative analysis. Farming communities have institutionalized means of disseminating useful innovations and avoiding the dissemination of harmful ones, and the community action is probably more rational than one might expect of the individual farmer. I suppose that the institutions in these farming communities are analogous to the structural determinants of neuronal network and ant colony behavior. I suppose the apparently rational community decision is more an emergent property of the individual decisions of the farmers, conditioned by their community institutions, rather than primarily the result of rational decision making.

Steve Lansing's anthropological work on the rice irrigation systems in Bali also influenced me. Irrigated rice farming had been run successfully for a millennium by the water temple priests. It involved some priests deciding when systems could be expanded, others allocating water among farmers served by a single temple, and others allocating water among subordinate temples. The priests for each water temple could explain their task, as could the individual farmers, but no one in the system could explain the workings of the entire system, much less why the overall management worked so well. When the central government technicians from Java took over the systems, huge insect-pest problems emerged with consequent major reductions in crop yields. Clearly the government irrigation experts had more knowledge about the building and operation of irrigation systems than did any comparable group of temple priests. The answer clearly was that the institutions that articulated the individual behaviors of the many participants in the traditional management of agriculture and irrigation in Bali had evolved to produce sustainable, high agricultural yields in ways that the individual Balinese (much less Javanese irrigation engineers) did not fully understand. Again the success of the traditional system was an emergent property of the complex behavior of large numbers of actors, each acting within the parameters of the traditional institutions.

Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize for his work, recognized that rational actor theories did not adequately represent decision making within the commercial firm nor other formal organizations. He destroyed the idea that senior managers made rational decisions that the rest of the employees simply implemented – that model simply did not reflect the real behavior of modern complex firms. Indeed decision making is distributed, with decisions often made by committees whose members have different objectives, and are based on incomplete information and limited rationality. In some organizations, such as medical practices, critical decisions are made at the point of intersection of employee and client (doctor and patient), in ways that are determined outside the organization itself (e.g. professionally defined standards of good medical practice). It is the structure of the organization and its institutionalized procedures, as well as the thoughts of its individual members, that determine how well the organization will work. Organizational learning is perhaps the best example of a process that must be understood through two models: that of rational planning by organizational leaders, and that of emergent properties of complex systems. Alfred Chandler and his colleagues have illuminated how formal organizations can evolve their information and decision making systems over time in order to handle the challenges of more complex social systems.

Nelson and Winters, among others, advanced the ideas of evolutionary economics. Their models and simulations have shown that firms using partial information together with market processes (the hidden hand) can result in industrial patterns of technological innovation that appear more rational that would be expected in light of the rationality of the individual decision makers in the firms (or government). They too have affected my thinking. While no one would challenge that business leaders are planning as rationally as they can for technological innovation, nor that there are not important differences among such leaders in their talents for planning, still the overall pattern of technological innovation in an industry must also be understood in terms of an emergent property from the institutions governing the industry.

Societies behave in ways determined not only by the rational planning of their most influential members, but by their institutions – cultural, economic, political, educational, scientific, technological, organizational, etc. Important results come as emergent properties of complex systems operating under the rules defined by these institutions, as well as from the conscious efforts of their influential members.

Diamond suggests that our evolving global society and its component national societies will have to abandon some values (and embrace others) if they are not to collapse. I think this is true. And I suspect that the changes in values will sometimes (most often?) be emergent properties of complex social processes, rather than conscious choices by the societies members.

I would also suggest that society will also have to abandon some institutions, modify others, and create some new institutions to survive. Of course we are doing so:
· The United States has an Environmental Protection Agency.
· Diamond points out that the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council have been created, and that they are modifying market institutions for forest and marine products.
· The Rio Sustainable Development Conference changed the way developing nations and donor agencies approach social and economic development as well as the environment.
These choices too can emerge from complex processes influenced by existing institutions, in ways the defy the control of individual “rational actors”. Thus the political process that resulted in the passage of EPA’s legislation, and that continues to modify EPA’s mission and effectiveness is very complex, and is one that various factions seek to control with varying levels of success (always less than complete).

Diamond points out that environmental change is accelerating, as are social changes needed to contain environmental threats. He sees a race as to whether environmental responsibility can grow sufficiently rapidly to avoid collapse. I would add that institutional change is also racing environmental threats, and that we fail to have the intellectual capital to fully plan the outcome, nor I fear to do it well. Collapse or survival are likely to emerge as largely unplanned and unforeseen consequences of complex processes guided by our ever-changing institutions.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Labeling to provide information on sustainable practices harvesing natural resources

How does a firm determine if the goods supplied by its input markets are produced in a sustainable manner? How does a consumer determine if the products he or she buys were produced from such raw materials? A new movement has sought to develop accreditation labeling to provide the needed knowledge.

The Forest Stewardship Council accredits forests that are well managed, and provides labeling for their products down the production chain. The Marine Stewardship Council does the same for fisheries and their products.

"EU investing for R&D advantage"

World Peace Herald article:

"The European Union is seeking to attract technical talent and research projects by increasing R&D funding, opening its facilities to outside researchers and easing entry for those adept at science and technology. The strategy is intended to seize an opportunity created by toughened U.S. border policies, flat federal science funding and White House restrictions on certain lines of research. "

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Science and Technology in U.S. Foreign Assistance: Interim Report to the Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development

Read the report for free from here.

Committee on Science and Technology to Support Foreign Assistance

Committee website:

"An NRC committee will assess the capabilities of AID to draw on the science and technology resources of the nation in designing and carrying out development assistance programs. It will also recommend steps that AID should consider in enhancing these capabilities. Special attention will be devoted to partnerships that involve AID together with international, regional, U.S. governmental, and private sector organizations in fields such as heath care, agriculture and nutrition, education and job creation, and energy and environment."

World Bank President - shining a spotlight on the selection of the tenth president

World Bank President website

A hotbed of rumors as to who will be the next President of the World Bank. Note also:

"We reported last week the claim by outgoing UNDP head Malloch Brown that his successor would be chosen in an open process. Now, however, three European countries are pushing their own candidates for this position third in the UN hierarchy. The names announced in press articles yesterday include Valerie Amos, Hilde Johnson and Jan Pronk. They are all current or former development ministers, in the UK, Norway and The Netherlands respectively."

USAID's Knowledge for Development Homepage

USAID - Knowledge for Development Home

The USAID K4D strategy statement is available online from this webpage.

"Science education gets double boost in Uganda"

SciDev.Net article:

"The Ugandan government has made science subjects compulsory for secondary school students, and said it will preferentially fund university students taking science courses. " / Business / Fiorina in the running to be World Bank chief

Boston Globe article:

"Carly Fiorina, the recently ousted chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co., is in the running to be the president of the World Bank, a Bush administration official said yesterday..........

"Other names floated for the World Bank job include: John Taylor, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for international affairs; Peter McPherson, former head of Michigan State University who served as Bush's point man on rebuilding Iraq's financial system; and Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency."

Peter McPherson did a great job during his eight years as Administrator of USAID, and his experience at MSU should give him the background to run an organization as large as the World Bank. It would be nice to see a former Peace Corps Volunteer, with the idealism that implies, running the World Bank!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Wolfowitz on shortlist for World Bank top post article: (Without comment!)

"Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy secretary of defence, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace James Wolfensohn as the president of the World Bank.

"Mr Wolfowitz is one of a small number of people being considered for the US nomination, administration insiders said."

"To know science is to love it: Bolstering support for the field remains a thorny problem."

Nature news article

"An analysis of studies in 40 countries around the globe proves a long-standing assumption: that the more a person knows about science, the more he or she tends to support scientific endeavours."

"Will USAID come in from the cold?"

SciDev.Net editorial:

"As aid organisations around the world increase the emphasis on science and technology within their assistance programmes, the US Agency for International Development needs to take its own steps in the same direction."