Saturday, April 30, 2005

"Reversing the Failures of Roll Bank Malaria"

The Lancet editorial

This Lancet editorial suggests that in spite of the high hopes of African and world leaders in 2000, the first five years of the Roll Back Malaria campaign have seen little progress.

Criticism of USAID's biotecnology in Agriculture Program

GRAIN Briefings: "USAID: Making the world hungry" :

I am linking to this paper in order to argue against it.

The report starts its history a little late. While I suspect Monsanto did contact Joel Cohen in 1990, but I asked the National Academy of Sciences to hold a meeting on biotechnology in development in 1982, and we began funding small projects in agriculture, health and biomass conversion in 1983. The idea was not to create opportunities for U.S. international business, but rather to help developing nations to create a capacity to deal with a technology that was clearly going to be important, that had risks associated, and that was likely to be beneficial.

The paper focuses on agricultural biotech, and USAID does have a big program in the area. But I think that there is probably more work going on applying biotech in medical research.

The paper is, of course, written by people who don't like biotech. It quotes Cathy Ives, but does not mention that her laboratory was burned down by bio-terrorists. The intemporate criticism of biotech programs by the NGOs contributes both to the violence, and to the overly slow application of the technology.

(I helped bring Cathy both and Joel into USAID as AAAS fellows, and know them well. They are good people, and both devoted to the applications of science to improving the lives of poor people in developing nations.)

The problem of hunger is still primarily an economic problem. Biotechnology is increasingly a great tool for agricultural research, helping to develop technologies to increase agricultural productivity. If agricultural productivity goes up, farmers tend to have more money and live better. Food prices go down, and poor people who buy food, can buy more.

In an increasingly globalized world, the food supply is international, not just limited to the food that can be grown within a country or a region of a country. It is important that poor countries grow more and better food. But so too is it is important that safe food grown abroad can flow into poor countries without inappropriate trade barriers. Tanzania is a case in point, where a corrupt government would let people go hungry rather than allow the distribution of food (that is identical to that we are eating) citing (false) fears of biotechnology.

Of course, the only legitimate way for poor countries to determine if a food is safe is to have the expertise in the country to deal with the issues competently. The USAID biotechnology efforts over the past 20 or more years have tried to help poor countries develop this capacity.

Of course U.S, agricultural firms will benefit if developing nations make rational decisions to accept GM foods. The United States is a world leader in the applications of the technology. So what. That certainly was not the main motivation for the biotech programs in USAID!

Unfortunately, I see the pattern of slow application of biotechnology to development being repeated with nanotechnology, where uninformed critics are charging "grey-goo" fears, and delaying the development of capacity in the advanced developing nations to utilize the technology. At the same time, those with excessive fear of the technology would delay the development of capacity in poor nations to make the judgements on trade-offs between productivity and safety for themselves.

Bolton's Nomination Is Questioned by Another Powell Aide

The New York Times article (Registration required.)

"I don't know if he's incapable of negotiation, but he's unwilling," Ms. Jones is quoted as saying. A. Elizabeth Jones stepped down in February as assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. She also is quoted as having said she believed that "the fundamental problem," if Mr. Bolton were to become United Nations ambassador, would be a reluctance on his part to make the kinds of minor, symbolic concessions necessary to build consensus among other governments and maintain the American position.

Bringing this back to our theme of "Knowledge for Development", we know that "diplomatic knowledge" is negotiated. Having a person representing the United States in the U,N. Who is unwilling to negotiate would seem a major disadvantage to U.S. interests.

Moreover, the effectiveness of a representative in negotiating the diplomatic construction of knowledge depends in part on his personal "authority", in the sense that his representations appear authoritative to those with whom he negotiates. The authority of Bolton has been challenged repeatedly in the past weeks, in that he is charged with statements while representing the United States that are in fact not accurate statements of the Government's positions. His authority is also challenged by the number of senior officials who have publicly opposed his nomination, or spoken against it -- the authority we attribute to a person is largely derived from the authority others attribute to him publicly;

Thomas Friedman recently suggested that former President George H. W. Bush would be a better candidate for U.N. Ambassador. I suggest that this is true, and that it illustrates various aspects of authority. GHWB is a leader of global stature, whose name is known to all the diplomats at the United Nations. He would certainly be seen as well and accurately representing the Administration of his son. He is seen as an expert on the United Nations and its processes. And he is seen as a man who would honestly represent the positions of his government. Statements by GHWB, were he to be Ambassador to the United Nations, would be taken as much more authoritative than those made by John Bolton, were he to be Ambassador. Indeed, I think there are many other people for whom that could be said!

UN Meet to Seek Safer Ways to Kill Insect Pests

Yahoo! News article:

"A U.N. meeting next week will seek new ways to kill mosquitoes and termites as part of a plan to bolster a 2004 ban on use of a 'dirty dozen' toxic chemicals.

"Some pesticides on the blacklist of 12 industrial toxins are still in use to keep humanity's worst insect foes at bay even though they have been blamed for deaths, cancers or birth defects in humans and animals.
About 800 officials from around the world will meet in Punta del Este, Uruguay, on May 2-6 to narrow loopholes allowing legal exemptions to the ban on the so-called persistent organic pollutants (POPs)."

Friday, April 29, 2005

"Science and Governance: describing and typifying the scientific advice structure in the policy making process – a multi-national study"

Summary: "This report summarises the results of a project to identify and tipify the various structures through which scientific advice is incorporated into the policy process in the (EU) Member states, at EU level and in the US. The study encompassed the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Sweden. It also considered the case of the US, and the situation at EU level. The report of the project provides a general overview of the advisory systems in each of the countries studied and a more detailed study of the advisory processes involved in each of these countries for two issues in which scientific advice has formed a mayor input into policy considerations: the possible cloning of embryonic stem cells for use in research; and the health effects of electromagnetic fields." By Steven Glynn, Kieron Flanagan and Michael Keenan, PREST, University of Manchester, February 2001. (PDF, 215 pages.)

The Millennium Challenge Account Economics focus column:

"THE island republic of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, boasts exotic flora, endangered fauna and a rare distinction: it is the only country so far to get any money out of America's much-heralded Millennium Challenge Corporation.......

"The MCA offers a fresh approach to American giving. It takes its inspiration from a group of World Bank economists, principally Craig Burnside and David Dollar, who argued that aid only works in countries pursuing sound economic policies: their research concluded that if a poor country has high trade barriers, a misaligned exchange rate, unstable prices and weak public finances, it is infertile soil for aid......

"On April 26th, the Senate is due to begin hearings on the MCA. The initial goodwill the idea enjoyed is giving way to some scepticism. By the normal standards of aid money, cash has been awfully slow to flow out of the MCA."

Maurice Hilleman Obituary (Subscription required.)

"Identifying the problem, collecting data, finding a solution: Mr Hilleman developed some 40 vaccines, among them for measles, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, meningitis and pneumonia. He developed the one-shot vaccine that can prevent several diseases, such as MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). When in 1988 President Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, America's highest scientific honour, it was said that he had saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century. His peers said that he had done more for preventive medicine than anyone since Louis Pasteur.........

"Mr Hilleman's greatest contribution to a healthy world may have been his work on the safe mass production of vaccines that can be stored ready for use against the pandemics that since antiquity have regularly swept across continents, such as the 1918 flu outbreak that killed more than 20m people. In 1957, when flu swept through Hong Kong, Mr Hilleman identified the virus as a new form to which people had no natural immunity and passed on his findings to vaccine-makers. When the virus reached the United States a few months later 40m doses of vaccine were ready to limit its damage. Mr Hilleman established that the flu virus is constantly mutating, making it difficult to provide a reliable vaccine."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

OECD launches sites for each of its member countries on

OECD news release:

"Regular visits to one of these country Web sites will allow you to be kept informed of the latest news or events and the most recent OECD documents and publications on a given country.

"From one country site, you can widen your research and compare the results of a specific country with other OECD economies, thus, fully benefiting from the OECD?s comparative approach.

"To satisfy increasing demands, the Country Web sites also feature a statistical profile for each OECD country. Some 100 key statistical indicators are provided and users can compare the figures with those of the other member countries (see the table below).

"Finally, the Country Web sites propose several ways of navigation: by topic, in chronological order, by document category or by language."

Spitzer Sues Intermix Over 'Spyware'

Yahoo! News report:

"New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued a major Internet marketer Thursday, blaming it for secretly installing software that delivers nuisance pop-up advertisements and can slow and crash personal computers........

"Spitzer accuses Intermix of redirecting computer users to Web sites where ads get displayed, adding unnecessary toolbars to Web browsers and delivering unwanted ads that pop up on computer screens."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

World Nuclear University

World Nuclear University homepage

The Key to Our Energy Future

The The Washington Post article:

"In the current debate over the energy bill, one important factor is being all but ignored: A global renaissance in nuclear energy is gaining momentum, and it could have greater implications than any or all of the other proposed methods being discussed for dealing with our energy problems.

"Today some 440 civil nuclear reactors, in 30 countries comprising two-thirds of humankind, produce 16 percent of the world's electricity. Under current plans, these nations will construct several hundred more reactors by 2030."

I would guess that nuclear energy must play a part in long term energy policy, complementary to energy conservation and renewable energy. Still, when I think about the maintenance of infrastructure in African nations, not to mention Iraq, the dangers are considerable. A serious international training program seems prudent, and would seem to be urgent. Building the institution to train the cadre of workers will take a long time.

NAS Committee Drafts Rules on Ethics for Stem Cell Research

The New York Times article: (Registration required.)

"Citing a lack of leadership by the federal government, the National Academy of Sciences proposed ethical guidelines yesterday for research with human embryonic stem cells.

"Scientists have high hopes that research with those all-purpose cells, which develop into all the various tissues of the adult body, will lead to treatments for a wide variety of diseases by enabling them to grow new organs to replace damaged ones."

Friday, April 22, 2005

Declaration of Norms on Bioethics

An added comment to those made yesterday: Why are the norms limited "to decisions or practices made or carried out in the application of medicine, life and social sciences to individuals, families, groups and communities"?

Why not include the physical sciences and engineering? The development of nanotechnology suggests significant potential risks to human health may occur; why should the chemists, physicists, and metalurgists involved be involved in the consideration of bioethics?

Engineering includes many fields that would benefit from norms on bioethics, including human factors engineering.

'Little progress' in malaria war

BBC NEWS story

"Little progress has been made in the war on malaria because the global body launched to fight the disease in 1998 is failing, a medical journal says."

Happy Earth Day

Earthday Network Homepage

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Towards a declaration on universal norms on bioethics

UNESCO's Bioethics Declaration Website

UNESCO has undertake to draft a Declaration on Bioethics. "Since the 1970s, the field of bioethics has grown considerably. While it is true that bioethics today includes medical ethics issues, its originality lies in the fact that it goes much further than the various professional codes of ethics concerned. It entails reflection on societal changes and even on global balances brought about by scientific and technological developments. To the already difficult question posed by life sciences – How far can we go? – other queries must be added concerning the relationship between ethics, science and freedom."

The Director General has just published a report on progress to date in drafting the Declaration.

This blog has focused on Knowledge for Developmet. I support the expansion of scientific research for and in developing nations, and the building of capacity to do research and to utilize scientific and technological knowledge for development. There is reason for concern that in efforts to assure that research meets the highest ethical standards, there will be damage done to the scientific program. The issue with assuring the ethical conduct of research is always balancing the need to protect against the unethical against the need to conduct the research.

I am concerned that appropriate ethical safeguards be institutionalized in developing nations. This is important because it is right. But it is also important because there is nothing more dangerous to our efforts to strengthen research than to have unethical research practices discovered.

The State Department has the difficult job of representing the U.S. with its many divergent interests. The job is especially difficult when dealing with a complex subject such as bioethics. Certainly State should represent the scientific community, and the importance of doing research in developing nations. It should also represent the development community that wants to see capacity built in developing nations that will be used to combat poverty. It represents the environmental and public health communities that are worried about the threats to the biosphere created by unregulated research. State represents U.S. industry that wants its IPR protected, and it represents the animal welfare activists. Thus the State Department is faced with a double balancing act, seeking appropriate balance in the Declaration and appropriate balance in the factions it represents.

The draft Declaration

I am certainly not an expert on these matters. However, the draft Declaration looks problematical to me. Here are some personal comments.

What are the distinction made by philosophers between "human beings" and "human persons"? See, for example: Personhood Bibliography. One aspect of the distinction is that some would say that the rights of "human persons" do not apply to embryos and fetuses, while the rights of "human beings" do. Thus one aspect of the question is whether the Declaration applies to stem cell research, or indeed to research on human contraception.

A major problem with international medical research occurs when the needed conditions for the research occur in a country in which the population is unlikely to benefit from the research. Is the Declaration adequate to militate against such problems? Thus a lot of pharmaceutical testing is best done in places where the incidence and/or prevalence of the disease is high -- frequently poor countries. But often the populations in which the research is done will be too poor to buy the resulting drugs. How do you deal with the problem of peoples who will not benefit from the research bearing its risks?

I think of Carleton Gajdusek, who did his Nobel prize winning research on a brain disease, Kuru, studying a tribe of cannibals in New Guinea; that tribe will almost surely not benefit from the work, while the ultimate eventual beneficiaries of the work were likely to be Alzheimer's patients and potential victims of mad-cow disease in rich countries! Certainly there is an argument that research risks should be borne by the people who are likely to benefit from the research, but there is also an argument that research that may benefit millions should be done where it can done most easily and effectively. How does a Declaration deal with such complex issues?

Does the Declaration apply to human tissue? Laws in different countries differ on the legal requirements. I think some issues in this area are bioethical. Does a surgical patient have to provide informed consent before tissues removed during surgery are used in research? Who owns a tissue culture made using cells from a human subject? What rights does the subject have over the tissue culture.

There is a dispute about the ethical standards for treatment of DNA in efforts like the Human Genome project. The Declaration is not specific on the topic.

Another example: I think of bioethics in the context of science to include the ethical treatment of animals involved in the research. In the U.S. there are regulations on the housing of laboratory animals, on their treatment during the research (e.g. the use of anesthesia). There are in the U.S. different rules for the treatment of:
- livestock involved in veterinary research,
- laboratory animals, and
- wild animals involved in research done in the field.
The ethical treatment of animals is not addressed at all in the draft Declaration! A large number of Americans would not be satisfied with a Bioethics Declaration that did not deal with the ethical treatment of animals!

Article 10 – Informed Consent: Questions of informed consent get very tricky in practice. In some African societies, one has to get the consent of village or tribal leaders (as "concerned persons") to the treatment of a human subject. In some countries, only fathers and not mothers are allowed to give consent for treatment of minors.

Article 23 – Transnational Practices: The declaration says, probably naively, "When research is carried out in one country and funded partially or wholly by sources from one or more other countries, such research should be subjected to ethical review in all of the countries involved." I agree. But, what do you do in practice when the reviews disagree? In many countries in which the U.S. might wish to fund research, there are not adequate institutional mechanisms to assure informed consent -- do we impose ours on societies in which they may not be ethically complete?

Article 2 – Scope: Adding social science to the mix adds questions to the mix. The Association of Internet Researchers, for example, has spent years working out a code of ethics for the field. I am not sure that most people would see that as bioethics, but it is typical of the ethical concerns that one faces when gathering social science data from human subjects.

Here their be landmines! Remember that the U.S. policy on State Department approval for international research was created when Project Camelot blew up. Research funded by the U.S. Government on "internal war potentials" in Chile and other countries was considered highly unethical by some parties in those countries!

I am not sure what is involved in Article 15. "Responsibility towards the Biosphere". This seems to open the entire issue of containment of recombinant organisms. Do we want a UNESCO declaration to do so? If so, should it not be more specific and complete?

How about the containment of human pathogens? Is this covered? If so, is the Declaration sufficiently specific? How about animal pathogens? Crop pathogens? How about invasive species? Radiation? Hazardous chemicals? These are all topics that have been extensively regulated, and which require major institutional investments in developing nations. Are the covered, and if so, should there be more specificity?

What about environmental impact statements? U.S. regulations exempt small agricultural experiments? Is this allowed under the Declaration? What does it mean when the US subscribes to a (non-binding) UNESCO Declaration that seems to contradict some aspect of US practice?

I was responsible for research on civil engineering work during my time with USAID – underground dams, water catchment technologies, etc. We did some careful environmental reviews of these projects, but one would not usually think of that as "bioethics". Does such research fall under the terms of the Declaration?

What about Article 14 – "Sharing of Benefits a) Benefits resulting from scientific research and its applications shall be shared with society as a whole and within the international community, in particular with developing countries."

What does this mean in terms of intellectual property rights? Does the Declaration affect the sale of off-patent drugs for AIDS in Africa?

Is the U.S. National Commmision on UNESCO or State's Bureau of International Organization Affairs competent to deal with these issues?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Internet addresses: An online power struggle article (Subscription required.)

"IT IS not easy running the internet's address system. Since it was founded in 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a self-regulatory body, has been under constant fire from critics on all sides. As it held a public board meeting last week in Argentina, it found itself grappling controversially with two new disputes........

"The two controversies call into question whether ICANN, as a private-sector body with only light governmental representation, is up to the task of managing the internet's domain name system and whether the United Nations (UN) should take over—which it wants to do. The UN has set up a working group, due to report this summer, on the role that nations ought to play in managing the internet."

Third-world medicine article:

"THIS week, scientists from the Institute for OneWorld Health, the first not-for-profit pharmaceutical company in America, presented the results of a large clinical trial at the Third World Congress on Leishmaniasis in Palermo, Italy. Leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection transmitted by the bite of a sand fly. The trial shows that an antibiotic called paromomycin is effective for treating the most dangerous version of the disease, visceral leishmaniasis, which affects 1.5m people around the world and kills 200,000 of them every year. Those data are obviously important for medical reasons. But they are also important as a demonstration that the institute's novel approach to drug development is working. "

Developing-country health

Issues in S and T, Winter 2005, Forum

"Michael Csaszar and Bhavya Lal ('Improving Health in Developing Countries,' Issues, Fall 2004) have done a service by drawing attention to the need for more research on global health problems. The key issue is how to institutionalize appropriate health R&D financing."

See my contribution and those of others in this section of the Forum.

The Avian Flu is Spreading, and Still Threatens a Global Epidemic article (Subscription required.)

"Avian influenza -- bird flu -- is still spreading, despite frantic countermeasures since the current outbreak first began in late 2003. And as it spreads, so do fears that a human epidemic will emerge from it. These fears were hardly soothed, this week, by news that an American college had inadvertently dispatched thousands of samples of a deadly human flu virus to laboratories around the world."

In early April it claimed its 50th human victim; "it has affected 11 countries all the way from Japan to Indonesia, and caused the death or destruction of over 120m Asian birds."

Knowledge Management for Development :: Knowledge Sharing for Development

Knowledge Management for Development :: Knowledge Sharing for Development:

"KM for Development (KM4Dev) is a community of international development practitioners who are interested in knowledge management and knowledge sharing issues and approaches.

"Our main discussion forum is the KM4Dev mailing list , where the sharing of ideas and experiences take place. To join the KM4Dev mailing list you need to send a blank email to: "

Do you know what I know?

Developments article:

"Nine years ago the World Bank became the 'Knowledge Bank'. Ben Ramalingam asks, what does the 'knowledge for development' movement mean for those who receive aid. "

U.K. BIOETHICS: Divided Committee Urges Less Restriction on Embryo Research

Science news article -- Inman 308 (5718): 30 -- (Subscription required.)

"The United Kingdom has some of the least restrictive rules in Europe governing research on human embryos. But in a wide-ranging and controversial report* issued last week, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee argues that they should be relaxed even further: The report says the government should consider lifting the current absolute ban on research involving genetic modification of human embryos and the creation of chimeric human-animal embryos, and that it should even reopen debate on human reproductive cloning."

STEM CELLS: Restiveness Grows at NIH Over Bush Research Restrictions

Science news article: Holden 308 (5720): 334a (Subscription required.)

"Dissatisfaction within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is growing over the Bush Administration's restrictions on funding for work with human embryonic stem (ES) cells. Meanwhile, measures to loosen restrictions may finally make it to the floor this year in Congress."

Monday, April 18, 2005

Launch of World Development Indicators 2005 Report

World Bank News Release:

"Five years after the Millennium Declaration, many countries have made progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but many more lag behind. Faster progress is needed in reducing maternal and child deaths, boosting primary school enrolments, and removing obstacles to greater numbers of girls going to school, according to the World Bank's latest World Development Indicators (WDI) 2005.

"The Bank's annual compendium of economic, social, environmental, business, and technology indicators, the WDI, reports that only 33 countries are on track to reach the 2015 goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds from its 1990 level. Almost 11 million children in developing countries die before the age of five, most from causes that are readily preventable in rich countries. These include acute respiratory infection, diarrhea, measles and malaria, which together account for 48 percent of child deaths in the developing world."

World Bank Report Saw Strong Growth In Developing Countries in 2004

World Bank News Release:

"A new report says global economic growth reached 3.8 percent in 2004, with developing countries recording their fastest growth in more than a decade.

"The World Bank's annual Global Development Finance 2005 report says much of the momentum came from more rapid growth in the United States and China, along with a pickup in Latin America and Japan and a modest recovery in the European Union.
However the report says the global growth momentum has peaked. It warns developing countries may need to make adjustments because of the risks posed by ballooning global imbalances -- particularly the United States current account deficit."

BBC ON THIS DAY | 18 | 1955: Albert Einstein dies

BBC historical story

The 50th anniversary of the death of the great scientist!

Did you know that 18 April is World Heritage Day?

World Chronicle

World Chronicle website:

"WORLD CHRONICLE is an interview programme on global issues featuring experts and international personalities. This is a talk show where guests share their views on key issues facing the world and the UN."

The 900th broadcast is online now, and is an interesting discussion relating to the importance of the United Nations to the United States.

DAnniversary of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

Weird Words: Vellicate:

"Friday 15 April 2005 marked the 250th anniversary of the publication of Dr Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. "

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Report: Heritage Dossier is against the Sikh spirit!

The Panthic Weekly article:

"The five-member sub-committee constituted by the SGPC to review the dossier on Sri Harimandar Sahib sent to UNESCO, finally submitted its report this week. Speaking to mediapersons this Monday, Dr Jasbir Singh Sabar, a member of the the sub-committee, said that the document was against the very spirit of the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925, and denigrated the very authority of Sri Akaal Takht Sahib and other cherished Sikh institutions. Providing references from the 500-page dossier, Dr Sabar said that the contents were against the spirit of the Sikh prayer as well. 'The dossier seems to have been formulated under a 'deep-rooted' conspiracy,' he stated. Reportly, other members of the sub-committee, Prof Niranjan Singh Dhesi , Dr Darshan Singh and Dr Sarbjinder Singh agree with Dr Sabar."

InterAcademy Council Study of the UNESCO World Heritage sites

InterAcademy Council study homepage:

"The UNESCO, World Heritage Centre wishes to promote increased scientific research and scientific activities related to management at World Heritage sites. At their request, the InterAcademy Council will undertake a study to review the role of science at both World Heritage natural and mixed Sites. The study?s goal will be to outline opportunities to increase the involvement of science at the sites including opportunities to; i) bolster pure research, including the use of scientific information in identifying potential sites and designing nomination strategies; ii) increase sciences? role in applied activities related to site conservation and management, and iii) generate technical information to facilitate decision making by national policy makers on issues affecting World Heritage."

Controversies about the World Heritage Treaty

"WORLD HERITAGE 'PROTECTION': UNESCO's War Against National Sovereignty" appears to be representative of a number of things on the World Wide Web that are critical of the World Heritage Treaty and of UNESCO for its implementation. Some history might be helpful.

When there was a proposal in the 1990's to mine gold just outside Yellowstone, a UNESCO World Heritage Program team was invited to review the plans and panned them (no pun intended). In 1995, Yellowstone was declared a World Heritage Site in Danger, largely as a result of the potential environmental impact of the planned mine. The Clinton Administration eventually placed restrictions on a ring of land surrounding Yellowstone, killing the plans for the mine. The case is still cited by conservatives as interference in U.S. domestic affairs by an international organization, and the loss of 200 jobs and of revenues that resulted from not opening the mine is blamed upon foreign influence.

Yellowstone is one of 22 sites in the United States identified as World Heritage sites under the 1972 Treaty that the U.S. not only signed, but promoted. Russell Train is reputed to have played a critical role in its creation.

I have visited some of the cultural and natural treasures identified as World Heritage sites, and an happy that they are protected. As I value the existence and protection of the sites in other nations, so too do their citizens value the existence and protection of the sites in the United States. I can understand why some would object to foreigners looking over the shoulders of Americans and commenting on our protection of sites in our country, but it seems a small price to pay for the ability to protect sites all around the world. And indeed, I tend to agree that all the world has an interest in the protection of Yellowstone.

UNESCO designation of a site as deserving World Heritage recognition is valued for its tourist impact. There is a large amount of public interest in such sites, and in national efforts to get World Heritage recognition for cultural and natural sites. In some cases UNESCO makes grants to help protect such sites -- the grant program is small. Listing sites as endangered has on some occasions encouraged government action and enabled fund raising to preserve the site. UNESCO can in drastic circumstances remove a site from its list of 788 sites.

Countries of course retain sovereignty over the sites. The U.S. Government described the situation as follows: "by signing and ratifying the World Heritage Treaty, the United States accepted the obligation to respect the integrity of all sites that it voluntarily nominates and the World Heritage Committee subsequently designates. The United States exercises this treaty obligation by applying its own existing local, state, and federal laws and regulations, not by yielding sovereignty and becoming subject to United Nations laws or regulations."

The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act was proposed to require congressional approval to designate any federal land within U.S. borders as a United Nations World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve or Ramsar Site (wetland). (The UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program -- MAB -- has also been targeted by these critics. The Act was approved by the House in 1999 after a long battle, but did not become law; It has been reintroduced since that session.

Thus, the World Heritage Treaty has become a target for those who promote "American Exceptionalism". John Bolton is of course, the most visible proponent.

The listing of the Old City of Jerusalem as an endangered World Heritage site, done at the nomination of Jordan and without Israeli participation, has also raised particular ire in some parts.

The application for the designation of the Golden Temple in Amritsar is now raising some controversy, with the Sikh community opposing the Government of India's petition.

This is the UNESCO World Heritage Center website.

New Technology Enables Reading of Ancient Text -- Huge increase in knowledge of Greece and Rome expected

The Independent News story

Some 400,000 papyrus fragments were discovered in ancient dumps outside the Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus ("city of the sharp-nosed fish") in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. The original papyrus documents are decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time, and have in the past been unintelligible. "But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view."

"When it has all been read - mainly in Greek, but sometimes in Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian and early Persian - the new material will probably add up to around five million words." Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. It could easily double the surviving body of lesser work.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used the new techniques on the papyrus to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia.

Friday, April 15, 2005

UNESCO News Blogs

I have been working for several months now with two blogs that provide news about UNESCO's programs. Those interested in Knowledge for Development, the subject of this blog, also should be interested in UNESCO -- perhaps the U.N. agency most concerned with knowledge systems, be they educational, scientific, or cultural as well as with the role of communications media and technology in the dissemination of information.

Links to these blogs are provided in the right hand column and below.

UNESCO News: Education and Culture

UNESCO News: Science and Communications

Avian Flu - What we need to know

Avian Flu Blog

This blog seeks to provide information on the avian flu. Given the danger that would be posed by a pandemic flu, and the circulation of H5N1 vuruses in parts of Asia that might trigger such a pandemic, and even the danger to agriculture involved in eliminating poultry that might harbor the disease, such a news source seems useful to the public health community, the media and indeed to the general public. The blog is perhaps prototypical of a class of uses of simple technology that can be used easily and inexpensively to disseminate information important to developing nations, and indeed to the global population.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Carter: Rich States 'Don't Give a Damn' About Poor

Yahoo! News report:

"Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Thursday harshly criticized his own country and other wealthy states for being stingy with foreign aid and said in rich countries 'We really don't give a damn.' "

UN video game makes hunger point

BBC NEWS article describing the game:

"A video game which aims to teach children about global hunger has been released by the United Nations.

"Food Force is the brainchild of the World Food Programme (WFP), which last year fed more than 100 million people."

Disaster, Not Diplomacy (

Richard Cohan's article in today's Washington Post:

In June 2003, John Bolton went to Cernobbio, Italy "to talk to the Council for the United States and Italy. Afterward he took questions. Some of them were about weapons of mass destruction, which, you may remember, the Bush administration had claimed would be found in abundance in Iraq but which by then had not materialized.

"The literal facts did not in the least give Bolton pause. Weapons of mass destruction would be found, he insisted. Where? When? How come they had not yet been discovered? The questions were insistent, but they were coming, please remember, from Italians, whose government was one of the few in the world to actively support the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Bolton bristled. I have never seen such a performance by an American diplomat. He was dismissive. He was angry. He clearly thought the questioners had no right, no standing, no justification and no earthly reason to question the United States of America. The Bush administration had said that Iraq was lousy with WMD and Iraq therefore was lousy with WMD. Just you wait.

"This kind of ferocious certainty is commendable in pit bulls and other fighting animals, but it is something of a problem in a diplomat."

UNDL Foundation

UNDL Foundation website

The Universal Networking Language (UNL) is a machine language that is planned to serve as an intermediate language for machine translation between (and among) human languages. The project was initiated by the Institute of Advanced Studies of the UN University in 1996, and transferred to the UNDL Foundation after it was created in 2001. There is an international network of researchers developing software to translate to and from UNL. Country teams participating in the network include those from: Japan, China, Indonesia, India, Jordan, Russia, Italy, France, Spain and Brazil.

An article describing the effort to develop translators to and from Indian languages to UNL (supported by the Development Gateway Foundation) is:

"Multilingual Information Processing Through Universal Networking Language" by Pushpak Bhattacharyya.

See also his more popular PCQuest article : "Many Languages on the Net: What is Universal Networking Language and Multilingual Information Processing"

Science and technology for development: lessons learned from China and Japan

Download the HTML paper from the UNU-IAS website.

Abstract: "In today's economy, knowledge has become an increasingly important production factor. As World Bank's data show, a strong correlation is to be found between the percentage of GDP spent in research and development and GDP per capita. Science and technology (S&T) are critical for development: ignoring their importance is short-sighted -- it only makes the gap between the developed and the developing world larger. Luckily, there are signs that S&T is increasingly part of the agenda of both the international community and policy makers in developing countries."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Thoughts about John Bolton's Confirmation Hearing

New York Times article.

I recall once, years ago when John Bolton worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development, passing his office in the State Department. The building is solid and the door was closed, but I could hear him yelling for a considerable distance as I passed down the hall. I don't remember any other time in my 25 years with the U.S. government coming across so unpleasant a scene. I was not surprised to hear that he gained a reputation for intimidating people.

But I want to discuss for a moment the issue of knowledge for development in the context of the appointment of the U.S. Representative to the United Nations. First I was struck by the fact that the Senate Committee was concerned with "credibility" of Bolton as UN Rep, but I did not hear the word "veracity". It seems to me that the government should be most concerned that the US Rep speaks the truth to the nations gathered at the United Nations.

Bolton's was the highest official in the U.S. Department of State with specific responsibility for matters of arms control and disarmament at the time that Secretary Powell made representations to the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that later proved to be false. Does he not bear some responsibility for the lack of veracity of those statements?

The hearing yesterday suggested that Bolton had applied pressure on more than one occasion on intelligence analysts to make their analysis support his preconceptions. This of course diminishes the quality of the knowledge processes involved. If promoted to a still higher post in the U.S. foreign policy apparatus, one would worry that he would continue to try to undermine the knowledge processes, perhaps with more success than he apparently had in the past. Certainly I would hope that, at a minimum, the State Department and intelligence agencies would take special steps to assure he did not abuse intelligence analysts in the future.

It is importance to the United States that the international community give credence to the United States statements made at the United Nations. The credence will depend not only on the veracity of what is said, but on the arguments made about its veracity. Having a man in charge with a record of responsibility for misstatements and for pressuring people in his government to allow him to make statements which they believe to be inaccurate can only help those who would argue against the credibility of U.S. statements. Not a good outcome for the United States!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Judith Miller's UN Reporting | Russ Baker

The Nation's Commentary

This commentary in The Nation discusses the coverage of the UN (especially the Iraq Oil for Food scandle) by Judith Miller in the New York Times. It raises the issue of the Times continued reliance on Miller after her stories on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq proved to be problematic. It also questions the difference in tone between her coverage of the Volcker investigation as compared to other reporters and newspapers.

The article raises questions in my mind about the reliability of even the best newspapers as sources of knowledge for development. Yet all development decision makers depend to some extent on the papers.

Scientists protest Texaco statement

The Scientist article:

"They argue the company's public smear of epidemiology research was designed to influence a court case "

Malaria, Science, and Social Responsibility, Mar.28, 2005

The Scientist article (Mar.28, 2005)

"Jay Keasling, at the University of California, Berkeley; Amyris Biotechnologies, in Emeryville, Calif.; the Institute for OneWorld Health in San Francisco; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have formed a public-private partnership to produce a genetically engineered version of one of the world's most effective malaria drugs."

Friday, April 08, 2005

Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture

InterAcademy Council website for the book.

This report, published by the InterAcademy Council in June 2004, addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to boost agricultural productivity, profitability and sustainability to ensure that countries in Africa have access to enough safe and nutritious food. Issues discussed include food security in Africa; African agricultural production systems and productivity; science and technology options; building impact oriented research, knowledge and development institutions; and creating and retaining a new generation of agricultural scientists.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Counting immigrants and expatriates in OECD countries: a new perspective

Download the paper.

In July 2003 the OECD launched a data collection in collaboration with national statistical offices of OECD countries, to obtain statistics on the foreign-born population for each OECD country by country of birth and educational attainment. This report provides the results from that investigation.

Graduate emigration graphs: (Registration required.)

"Guyana loses a greater proportion of its high-skilled workforce to OECD countries than any other non-member nation, the OECD reports. It finds that 83% of the country's graduates now live in an OECD country. Size is the best predictor of emigration. Smaller countries, especially African and island nations, send a higher proportion of their graduates to the OECD. Big ones, such as Bangladesh, keep most of theirs."

IT Workforce in Ireland

IT Workforce online report in Ireland:

"Recognizing that the development of knowledge-based economies dependence on an adequate supply of people with relevant skills, the Irish Government has invested heavily in all levels of its domestic education system. The following data tables summarize Ireland?s workforce relative to its demographics, education, labor costs, productivity, supply, skills gap, and emigration/immigration. "

An Academic Question

The New York Times Opinion piece by Paul Krugman:

"It's a fact, documented by two recent studies, that registered Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives make up only a small minority of professors at elite universities. But what should we conclude from that?"

Krugman suggests that "one answer is self-selection - the same sort of self-selection that leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military. The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.

"But there's also, crucially, a values issue. In the 1970's, even Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan conceded that the Republican Party was the "party of ideas." Today, even Republicans like Representative Chris Shays concede that it has become the "party of theocracy..........

"Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party."

U.S. Drones Crowd Iraq's Skies to Fight Insurgents

The New York Times article: (registration required.)

"In the skies over Iraq, the number of remotely piloted aircraft - increasingly crucial tools in tracking insurgents, foiling roadside bombings, protecting convoys and launching missile attacks - has shot up to more than 700 now from just a handful four years ago, military officials say.

"As the American military continues to shift its emphasis to counterinsurgency and antiterrorism missions, the aircraft are in such demand that the Pentagon is poised to spend more than $13 billion on them through the end of the decade."

The article is interesting per se, but it is also suggestive of the potential for small, cheap, remotely controlled aircraft to be used in development programs in the future. For example, "the 4.5-pound Ravens that patrol 100 feet off the ground". These might be used for local remote sensing. Larger vehicles that can stay aloft at 10,000 feet for 24 hours at a time might contribute to mapping and environmental monitoring.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Giving by U.S. Foundations Hits Record $32.4 Billion in 2004

The New York Times article:

"An estimated $32.4 billion spilled out of the nation's roughly 66,000 independent, community and corporate foundations in 2004, compared with $30.3 billion in the prior year, a 4.1 percent increase when adjusted for inflation, according to estimates to be released today by the Foundation Center."

Interactive Map: The Geography of Technological Innovation and Achievement

Interactive Map:

This map, published by the United Nations Development Program in conjunction with its 2001 Human Development Report, shows the location of global hubs of technological innovation, and the estimated status of many nations in terms of capacity to innovate technologically.