Thursday, June 30, 2005

President Bush Makes Major Policy Speach on G8 Summit and Progress in Africa

Read the speech here

President Bush today made a major policy speech, focusing on the upcoming G8 meeting in Scotland. Some key passages are quoted below:

"We seek progress in Africa and throughout the developing world because our interests are directly at stake. September the 11th, 2001, Americans found that instability and lawlessness in a distant country can bring danger to our own. In this new century, we are less threatened by fleets and armies than by small cells of men who operate in the shadows and exploit weakness and despair. The ultimate answer to those threats is to encourage prosperous, democratic and lawful societies that join us in overcoming the forces of terror -- allies that we're finding across the continent of Africa. We fight the war on terror with our power; we will win the war on terror with freedom and justice and hope."


"Economic aid that expects little will achieve little. Economic aid that expects much can help to change the world. Through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, established a year-and-a-half ago, America has begun awarding generous financial aid to countries that fight corruption, embrace democratic government, encourage free markets, and invest in the health and education of their people.

"Eight nations in Africa are now moving toward grants. In April, Madagascar became the first country to sign a compact that begins aid to vital development projects. In the last six weeks, the MCC board has approved three compacts, one with an African nation -- and I expect the MCC to move quickly in the future. Governments making the hard choices deserve our strong support. I call upon the United States Congress to fully support this initiative for new hope and progress across the developing world."


"The best way to help nations develop while limiting pollution and improving public health is to promote technologies for generating energy that are clean, affordable and secure. Some have suggested the best solution to environmental challenges and climate change is to oppose development and put the world on an energy diet. But at this moment, about two billion people have no access to any form of modern energy. Blocking that access would condemn them to permanent poverty, disease, high infant mortality, polluted water and polluted air.

"We're taking a better approach. In the last three years, the United States has launched a series of initiatives to help developing countries adopt new energy sources, from cleaner use of coal to hydrogen vehicles, to solar and wind power, to the production of clean-burning methane, to less-polluting power plants. And we continue to look for more opportunities to deepen our partnerships with developing nations. The whole world benefits when developing nations have the best and latest energy technologies."


"In 2001, I challenged the World Bank to give 50 percent of its aid to poor countries in grants instead of loans. And the bank has moved steadily closer to that goal. With the leadership of Great Britain and the United States, the G8 countries are urging cancellation of $40 billion in debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest nations, including 14 nations in Africa. (Applause.) Twenty more countries can qualify for this debt forgiveness in the future with good government and sound economic policies. We're determined not only to relieve debt, but to erase it, so nations in need can face the future with a clean slate."


"Overcoming extreme poverty will require greater trade. While aid and debt relief can create better conditions for development, it is trade that provides the engine for development................Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which has reduced barriers to trade, U.S. exports to sub-Sahara Africa increased 25 percent last year. And America's imports from AGOA countries rose 88 percent. Now we must take the next large step: expanding the entire global trading system through the Doha negotiations. The World Bank estimates that completing these negotiations could add $350 billion annually to developing countries' incomes, and lift 140 million people out of poverty. The Doha negotiations are the most practical and important anti-poverty initiative in the world, and we must bring them to a prompt and successful conclusion.


"Overcoming extreme poverty will require an atmosphere of peace, achieved in some cases by effective active military forces that can end terrible conflicts..........Over the next five years, America will provide training for more than 40,000 African peacekeepers as part of a broader initiative by the G8 countries. We will help African forces to preserve justice and order on the African continent.

"We're strongly committed to peace for all the peoples of Sudan. American mediation was critical to ending a 20-year civil war between north and south, and we're working to fully implement the comprehensive peace agreement signed last January. Yet the violence in Darfur region is clearly genocide. The human cost is beyond calculation. In the short-term, more troops are needed to protect the innocent, and nations of the African Union are stepping forward to provide them. By September, the African Union mission in Sudan will grow from 2,700 to 7,700 personnel. In a NATO operation next month, the United States military will airlift more than 1,000 Rwandan troops. We will support the construction of additional 16 base camps over the next two months, and we will provide communications and vehicle maintenance for the entire force."


"Overcoming extreme poverty will require humanitarian aid that focuses on results, not merely on inputs and other flawed measures of compassion. True compassion is measured by real improvements in the lives of men, women and children. And that is the goal and that is the focus of American policy.

"Aid from America will help avert a famine this year in the Horn of Africa. All told, nearly 60 percent of global food aid to the continent of Africa comes from the United States, and Americans are proud to give that aid.

"And since 2003, our country has undertaken a major effort against HIV/AIDS, the largest health initiative in history to combat a specific disease. Across Africa, we're working with local health officials to expand AIDS testing facilities, to train and support doctors and nurses and counselors, to upgrade clinics and hospitals, to care for children orphaned by AIDS, and to support pastors and priests and others who are teaching young people the values of respect and responsibility and prevention. We're making life-giving treatment possible for more than 230,000 adults and children in Africa. We're determined to reach our five-year goal of treating two million.

"This effort is succeeding because America is providing resources and Africans are providing leadership. Local health officials set the strategy and we're supporting them. We're also respecting the values and traditions of Africa. Uganda and other nations are applying a prevention strategy called ABC -- Abstinence, Be faithful in marriage, and Condoms. ABC is balanced, effective, and reflects the moral teachings of African cultures. And no one is helped when outsiders try to impose a lower standard of responsibility."


"This morning, I announced three additional initiatives to help Africans address urgent challenges. Across the continent, there is a deep need for the empowerment of women, and that begins with education. Educated young women have lower rates of HIV/AIDS, healthier families, and higher rates of education for their own children. Yet only half of the children complete primary education in Africa.

"Together with African leaders, we must work for the education of every African child. And to move closer to that goal, today, I proposed a double funding for America's African Education Initiative. (Applause.) In the next four years, we should provide $400 million to train half-a-million teachers, and provided scholarships for 300,000 young people, mostly girls. (Applause.) We hope other nations will join us. We must give more girls in Africa a real chance to avoid exploitation and to chart their own future.

"Another important aspect of empowerment and the fight against AIDS is the legal protection of women and girls against sexual violence and abuse. (Applause.) Many African nations have already taken steps to improve legal rights for women. South Africa, for example, has an innovative model to fight rape and domestic violence: special units in hospitals where victims can report crime and receive counseling and care, and special judges and prosecutors and police units to ensure that criminals are punished.

"Today, I announce a new effort to spread this approach more broadly on the continent. I ask Congress to provide $55 million over three years to promote women's justice and empowerment in four African nations, nations that can stand as examples of reform for others. I'll urge other G8 nations to join us in protecting the lives and the rights of women in Africa.

"African health officials have also told us of their continuing battle with malaria, which in some countries can cause more death than AIDS. Approximately 1 million last year alone died on the African continent because of malaria. And in the overwhelming majority of cases, the victims are less than five years old, their lives suddenly ended by nothing more than a mosquito bite. The toll of malaria is even more tragic because the disease, itself, is highly treatable and preventable. Yet this is also our opportunity, because we know that large-scale action can defeat this disease in whole regions. And the world must take action. (Applause.)

"Next week at the G8, I will urge developed countries and private foundations to join in a broad, aggressive campaign to cut the mortality rate for malaria across Africa in half. And our nation is prepared to lead. (Applause.) Next year, we will take comprehensive action in three countries -- Tanzania, Uganda and Angola -- to provide indoor spraying, long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, and effective new combination drugs to treat malaria. In addition, the Gates Foundation of Seattle is supporting a major effort to control malaria in Zambia. We've had a long tradition of public-private action. I'm grateful to have this strong partner in a good cause.

"America will bring this anti-malaria effort to at least four more highly endemic African countries in 2007, and at least to five more in 2008. In the next five years, with the approval of Congress, we'll spend more than $1.2 billion on this campaign.

"An effort on this scale must be phased in, to avoid shortages of supplies. Yet we intend this effort to eventually cover more than 175 million people in 15 or more nations. We want to reduce malaria mortality in target countries by half, and save hundreds of thousands of lives.

"I urge other wealthy nations and foundations to participate and expand this initiative to additional countries where the need is pressing. Together, we can live this threat and defeat this fear across the African continent."

Jeffrey Sachs' Latest Op. Ed Piece on US Aid to Africa

"Four Easy Pieces" - New York Times:

"AT a time when Africa could achieve so much success in escaping poverty, America's strategy for helping the continent is in a shambles."

Speech by Benjamin Franklin to the Constitutional Convention of 1787

American Rhetoric reprints the entire speech:

"I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them; for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"G77 developing countries pledge to promote science"

SciDev.Net article:

"A coalition of 132 developing countries known as the 'G77 and China' has approved an action plan that includes a framework for promoting science and technology in the South.

"The 'Doha Plan of Action' was approved at the coalition's second South Summit, held in Doha, Qatar on 12-16 June."

Monday, June 27, 2005

U.S. Support for AIDS Programs -- Benefits and the Downside

"America Giveth, America Taketh Away" - New York Times article: (Registration required.)

"Last week, the F.D.A. approved for overseas use two Indian-made generic versions of nevirapine, a standard ingredient in the triple cocktail, and a generic version of efavirenz, another widely used antiretroviral. That brings the number of approved generic antiretrovirals to seven. While none are yet in use in Washington's overseas programs, the approvals will eventually allow four times as many lives to be saved for the same amount of money."

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Cultural Diplomacy, Development of Culture, Culture for Development

Federico Mayor, the former Director General of UNESCO, said the following in a recent interview:
Q. UNESCO is the cultural and scientific wing of the United Nations—what do you see as its role in today’s embattled world?

A. During the time that I had the honor to run UNESCO, I was very little concerned with museums. I’m really only interested in human beings. Frankly, I deeply regret that the current UNESCO is making more noise about things like the looting of Iraq’s museums than about the number of people being killed in the conflict.

UNESCO’s work is to “construct in the minds of men the defenses of peace.” It is a mistake to exclude UNESCO from current world problems, as if its only competencies were art and museums; it is a way to silence major international institutions.

UNESCO is the conscience of the United Nations. Its charter states: “UNESCO must foster the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity.” When I heard about the looting in Iraq, my first comment was: “Shame on the invading countries, which did not place proper guards at the entrance of museums.” Frankly, for me the looting is a technical issue, and I never paid much attention to these things. Some years ago, someone told me: “Federico, [the Sphinx at] the Giza pyramids has a broken ear.” “Well,” I answered, “Don’t worry, we’ll put it back some day.” Fortunately, stones can be restored, and the end result is wonderful. But we cannot restore a lost human life.

I have great respect for Dr. Mayor, but this comment really annoyed me. I will address it in this posting. First, I think the criticism of museums is a cheap shot, and that museums can be great institutions, including great institutions for promoting the interests of the poor. Second, the concern for museums is no more representative of cultural programs than is the concern for astronomy representative of science programs, or are “gut” courses for intellectually challenged college athletes representative of education programs. They form one, responsible but small part of the UNESCO culture program.

Culture is more than Museums

I find that there is some lack of clarity as to the meaning of the term “culture”. It is often used in the context of high-culture, implying art and music, literature and drama. It can be used similarly in the context of popular-culture, which would include those elements, as well as computer games, television programs, etc. The term is used much more broadly in the context of “culture and development”. UNESCO’s Declaration on Cultural Diversity considers
“that culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.”

I think generally, a society’s science and technology are part of its culture in this context, and by extension, so too are the society’s other knowledge systems. Strengthening education in a society is then a critically important cultural intervention.

Culture and UNESCO

I recently attended a service honoring Jack Fobes, perhaps the most visible and prominent advocate of UNESCO in the United States during the last fifty years. Fobes knew UNESCO well, and saw its focuses of education, science, culture and communications as intimately connected, forming a synergistic cluster of critically important approaches to achieving UNESCO’s mission: “to build peace in the minds of men.”

I was especially intrigued by the following:
On the broader context, he indicated his overarching belief that UNESCO’s crisis had its origins in a crisis of civilizations, felt with special acuity in “that part of the UN system which deals with the heart, mind, conscience and learning capacities of human society.”

Remembering Jack Fobes, Richard Arndt, AAFU Link No.92, April-June 2005, page 13.

The following comments are based in part on my growing knowledge of UNESCO, and my thoughts about the role of UNESCO in the United Nations systems, and more generally in international development and international affairs.

Arndt’s Book

I have been reading Dick Arndt’s book, “The First Resort of Kings.” It passes that most important test of good books – making you think fresh thoughts. The book tells the history of U.S. cultural diplomacy in the 20th century.

The book is worth owning for the riff on embassy architecture alone. In the aftermath of World War II, the State Department embarked on a building program. At the time Washington was building neo-classical buildings of monstrous proportions, that would have been at home in Albert Speer’s Berlin. State, however, commissioned the best architectural firms in the U.S. to design its new buildings abroad, and used an advisory board of distinguished architects to help. The result was a series of distinguished buildings, their glass and steel construction representing the international style of the time, while their architects strove to build in references to U.S. and host country culture. The buildings were often beautiful in the day, and appeared as beacons in the night. The were located in prime real estate in city centers, and projected an image of a confident and open America.

Increasingly, since the 1990’s, caution has controlled U.S. embassy architecture. Embassies are built in the outskirts of capitals, separated from the street by vacant land, fortifications, and blank walls. They now appear as fortresses such as would be constructed by an imperial power to maintain control over areas populated by rebellious peoples. Arndt describes the change better than I can.

I am about one-third through the book, and here I am simply giving some of the reflections that it has occasioned in my mind related to the theme of this blog. The reflections

Cultural Diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy for the United States grew out of the experiences in World Wars I and II, and I suppose was based largely on the assumption that if peoples knew each other better, they would be less likely to go to war with each other. Perhaps the idea was even more simply, if people knew us better, they would be less likely to go to war with us. It is part of a touching faith, taught in U.S. schools during most of the 20th century, that the U.S. sought freedom and democracy for the peoples of the world, and that the people of other nations would be glad for the opportunities we provided.

During the cold war, facing nuclear destruction if a World War III were to break out between democratic and communist nations, U.S. cultural diplomacy must have been conditioned by efforts to contain Communism and to “win the hearts and minds” of peoples of countries likely to adopt a Communist form of government.

Today, the people of the United States are extremely concerned with terrorism, and thus likely to see cultural diplomacy in still another light. The emphasis in the short term is the relationship with militant Islam, and in the long term with modifying the conditions that produce and support a fringe of militant, anti-American Moslems. Perhaps there are larger fish to fry?

The means of U.S cultural diplomacy have included education, educational and cultural exchanges, language instruction, distribution of books in English, translation into local languages and distribution of books by U.S, authors and about the U.S., creation of libraries, and distribution of films, and radio and TV broadcast material. Whatever their objectives, these efforts have probably had a long term impact of helping the spread of English and familiarity with U.S. thought throughout the world.

Reading Arndt, it seemed to me that cultural diplomacy, as practiced by the United States, has been elitist. It has focused on an educated elite, and on a high-cultural elite. I suppose that such a focus is realistic, since the elites are so influential. Coopting the elite of a country to U.S. views is likely to influence the country’s national policies (although the case of Iran also illustrates the potential danger in focusing too much on an existing elite to the exclusion of those revolutionaries who will eventually overthrow the established order). Similarly, our elites are likely, when given the opportunity to work in another country, are likely to be .influential. Sending intellectuals, writers, and others who have achieved global status takes advantage of their legitimate intellectual authority.

Dealing with the cultures of entire populations of foreign nations is a longer term, more costly enterprise than has been envisioned for U.S. diplomacy, but seems to me to be necessary. Contrary to those who await the imminant "Second Coming", I think the U.S. must plan to live in the world for centuries to come, and we would be better able to do so were the peoples of all countries (including China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and other developing and transition nations) better educated and better disposed toward the United States.

I was impressed by how bilateral the thinking has been in U.S. cultural diplomacy. Many of our national concerns really deal with the relations among foreign nations themselves, and not their bilateral relations with us. Were Isreal and its Arab neighbors to understand each other better, U.S. interests in a large portion of the world would be advanced. Indeed, in the aftermath of World War II, the issue was not only mutual understanding between the Soviet Union and the United States. Mutual understand between the Soviet Union and its neighboring countries, including those of Western Europe should have been seen as important. Promoting such understanding via cultural diplomacy would have made sense, and in the immediate aftermath of the war, the United States had the resources to finance cultural diplomacy between (say) Western Europe and the Soviet Union.

I come from a Development background rather than a Diplomacy background. I am interested in the development of culture and the use of cultural change as a tool of economic and social development. I see diplomacy as an important tool for the promotion of development, as I see international development as both an intrinsic goal of U.S. foreign policy and an instrumental goal on the way to achieving other security, economic and political goals. These ideas too seems distant from those typical in the Department of State's view of cultural diplomacy.

Development of Culture

UNESCO maintains a “culture portal”. It is instructive to consider its facets, which I have divided into several categories:
Protection of Cultural Heritage: World Heritage, Tangible Heritage, Intangible Heritage, Cultural Diversity, Museums, Normative Action (with the exception of the Copyright Convention, the Conventions for which UNESCO is the guardian agency all deal with cultural heritage).
Intercultural Dialogue
Culture and Development
Economic Exploitation of Culture and Cultural Products: Cultural Industries, Cultural Tourism
Promotion of Living Culture: Arts and Creativity, Copyright.

First, contrary to the impression that might be left by Dr. Mayor’s comment, museums and protection of tangible cultural heritage represent a relatively small part of UNESCO’s cultural program.

Second, the emphasis on the preservation of cultural heritage is striking. These programs appear to be very much appreciated. Indeed I value them highly. I love historical places and historical objects, and I feel too many of them are threatened. Their preservation is important to me. While spending money on the preservation of such things might seem hard to justify in the face of the billions of people in the world living in crushing poverty, it is easy to justify as a use of the funds of rich countries and peoples – far better than their military expenditures, most of mass entertainment, cosmetics, etc.

But there is a more serious issue. We live in a time of relatively rapid change – technological, economic, social, political, and cultural. People find many of the changes are counter to deeply held values, and find that the values themselves are changing, often in ways that are threatening. Understanding and protecting ones cultural heritage helps to maintain the most important core values, and to control change to reduce the insults to such core values.

Third, there is relatively little emphasis in the UNESCO cultural program on the arts and creativity, and their protection through copyright. This too is an area that I personally value. Indeed, I suspect that this is what UNESCO refers to as “a jewel in the crown of development.” Again, while it may appear hard to justify funding the arts in competition with efforts to reduce the grinding poverty of millions, it is easy to justify funding UNESCO’s support for the arts in competition with the huge cultural expenditures of rich nations and peoples. UNESCO, as a result of decades of changes in international policy, now focuses primarily on programs that benefit the poor majority of the world's population, but it remains the only vehicle for multilateral action in some scientific and cultural areas of primary concern to rich nations.

Fourth, the economic exploitation of cultural products has a modest, but significant role in economic development. E-commerce in arts and crafts is increasingly attractive in the promotion of international trade. Tourism is also an important generator of hard currency for many nations, and cultural tourism offers great growth potential for many countries richer in culture than in money. Indeed, getting people to each others countries, if only as tourists, seems to offer opportunities to foster mutual understanding, and eventually to promote peace.

Finally, there is “Culture and Development”. The UNESCO website notes,
Development models produced since the 1970s have clearly failed, despite constant revision, to live up to the expectations they raised. Some would claim that this is because development has itself been defined far too exclusively in terms of tangibles, such as dams, factories, houses, food and water, although these are undeniably vital goods. UNESCO defends the case of indivisibility of culture and development, understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means of achieving a satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence. This development may be defined as that set of capacities that allows groups, communities and nations to define their futures in an integrated manner.

Culture for Development

Larry Harrison’s books (e.g. Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress and Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind) make the case that culture is a key determinant of the developmental success of nations. Thus Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola. Haiti, once the richest colony in America, is now one of the poorest nations. The Dominican Republic, while no model of development, has achieved much higher levels of social and economic development. It is hard to account for the differences, other than by the fact that the two peoples are different. The critical difference must be in their institutions and more generally, their cultures. These cause the differences in policies, and in turn the historical differences in development paths that have lead to such different social and economic outcomes today.

The “Culture for Development” movement (cf. UNESCO’s program, or the Development Gateway topic page) then focuses on how cultural changes can be promoted that will encourage faster, more equitable social and economic development, while preserving critical cultural values and preserving cultural diversity.

Global International Objectives

UNESCO is currently negotiating a Cultural Diversity Convention. It is based on the belief that cultural diversity has intrinsic value. I suppose that I share that belief, but for me it is a lesser value. Certainly there is more beauty in the world as there are more cultures producing it to their own esthetic standards. History suggests that cultural growth does not always come from the most advanced cultures; the contemporaneous imperial Chinese certainly would not have expected the peoples of Medieval Europe to develop a cultural innovation as important as modern science or the modern market economy. Thus we need the cultures that contain the seeds of future cultural advances, even though we may not be able to specify which they are among the many.

The major problems in the world are well known. They include poverty and disease. War threatens to increase both. So too does environmental degradation on a global scale. Environmental problems include the loss of biological diversity, which I value highly as an intrinsic as well as an instrumental value. I would be quite willing to give up some cultural diversity to reduce poverty, improve health, protect the environment, and prevent war.

Would I give up 1,000 of the worlds endangered languages if in the balance it would bring to one billion people living in extreme poverty into a more decent life? Like a shot! Would I give up ethnic costumes in exchange for the lives of the millions of children who die of preventable causes each year? Like a shot!

Means of Achieving The Priotity Objectives

The movement toward “knowledge and understanding for development” has been largely based on the assumption that the solution to these global problems lies in the minds of men – that people who think better, with more knowledge and understanding, will help their societies achieve these important goals. Knowledge and understanding are valuable as goals in themselves, and as means of achieving other goals.

In its more thoughtful incarnations, K&U4D recognizes that the ability of a society to apply knowledge and understanding to development depends not only on the levels of knowledge and understanding of its individuals, but on the institutions that affect the way that knowledge and understanding can be brought to bear on its problems.

I recently read the remark somewhere, I think in remarks by Paul Wolfowitz, that genocide when it occurs can always be traced to a gang of thugs who have seized control of the machinery of a state. I see some truth in the remark. But I would also note that the German people were among the most educated when their country committed genocide. The high level of knowledge and understanding in the general population, and the very high levels enjoyed by some in that society, did not keep the society from terrible mistakes – in large part because the institutions failed to bring that knowledge to bear.

Arndt points out that cultural diplomacy begins in U.S. experience with the teaching of language. I understand that some people think in images, but I personally think in words almost exclusively. In any case, I agree with a point that Arndt makes that the language one thinks in affects the way one thinks. Cultural diplomacy perhaps begins with assuring that one has a common language with those with whom one wants to conduct diplomacy. I suspect that speaking a common language does not necessarily lead to mutual understanding nor to peaceful relations between people, but it probably helps in those causes.

Let me also suggest that as people of a nation learn other languages, they learn new concepts, and new ways to thinking. These indeed eventually reflect back into their original languages. Languages change and grow to meet the needs of the concepts they handle. Moreover, as English has become the language of international commerce, science and technology, command of English has become necessary to participate fully in commerce and international knowledge systems.

While on the subject of learning, the classical education tradition stressed the trivium ("the three part curriculum": grammar, logic, rhetoric) and the quadrivium (the "four part curriculum": geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music). This was a curriculum that emphasized teaching one to think and communicate, not only to know and to understand. (Recall that in the classical tradition, astronomy was not only the study of facts about the heavens, but built on the belief that the stars could be used to help one to understand and predict events.)

John Dewey said it well:
Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only that particular thing that he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or the lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.

A recent book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson, suggests that games help develop analytic and other important thinking skills. Not news to anyone who was brought up on chess, go, or other analytic games. Incidentally, the book is much better than the title would suggest.

Two Cultures versus Consilience

C. P. Snow’s book, The Two Cultures, highlighted the existing gap between two cultures in modern Western society – that of those trained in science and technology versus that of those trained in humanities and the arts. This is a gap that UNESCO provides a tool to help breach or heal.

Ed Wilson’s much more recent book, Consilience : The Unity of Knowledge, is a broad study that encourages scholars to bridge the many gaps between and within the cultures of science, of the humanities and of the arts. (“Consilience” means "a jumping together, " in this case of the many branches of human knowledge).

Steven Johnson, in his book Everything Bad is Good for You, seeks to utilize a number of disciplines to understand the way in which new media are affecting culture and ultimately training people to think in new (and better) ways. Thus he draws on Narratology and Semiotics to analyze works in the media, Media Theory to analyze the platform, Economics to analyze market forces influencing media content, Sociology to analyze characteristics of the audience, and Neuroscience to discuss learning and motivation. (page 207) His text is an example of the benefits of Consilience!

The point here is that the divergence between science and culture is a problem, not just a fact of life. Increasingly, we need to find ways toward Consilience. There have been suggestions in the past that UNESCO’s tasks should be divided among U.N. agencies, even if it is necessary to create a new agency to do so. Such an approach would seem counterproductive to me. Indeed, I applaud current efforts to promote cross disciplinary programs in UNESCO to bridge the existing gaps among programs.

The Synergies Among UNESCO’s Programs

Thus UNESCO focuses on Education, Science, Culture and Communications. It does so reflecting the general view at the time of UNESCO’s founding that formal education was the keys to necessary cultural changes. Improving formal education systems was the most important way to mold men’s minds toward peace and toward developing positive change in societies. Not a bad view.

I have in this blog repeatedly stressed that scientific knowledge is of special value, given the utility of scientific institutions for validating and organizing knowledge and understanding. It deserves a special place in the pantheon of UNESCO concerns. UNESCO has quite properly stressed both social and physical sciences in its programs.

I note with some concern that UNESCO has not treated social sciences as I would most prefer. I think it imperative that nations build capacity in economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, the organizational sciences, etc. UNESCO has the legitimate authority to help in this effort, but does not seem to do so specifically.

UNESCO’s communication program has two different aspects: one seeks to promote openness (e.g. pressing for freedom of the press) while the other seeks to encourage the more rapid diffusion of communication technologies and development of information infrastructures. The communications program has in the past been the most controversial, and today lags the others in terms of resources.

One of the key findings of the social sciences is that different aspects of culture are interrelated. If you change scientific and educational institutions, other institutions are changed; and indeed, other cultural institutions will stop or transmute your efforts to change scientific and educational institutions. Moreover, the arts like museums can be powerful instruments for education. Essentially, UNESCO’s cultural programs completes the picture (although, it leaves UNESCO with the job of coordinating with WHO, FAO and other U.N. agencies, since all interact together through the “black box” of the cultures of the nations affected).

Thus the four programs are complementary in that they all focus on cultural change (in the broad sense), and specifically on changing the way in which people in societies think. The programs together promote what was called “modernization” in my youth. That is, they promote recourse to a broader exposure to information and ways of thinking, to more rational thought, to open discussion, to a more rapid and free flow of information.

The Humanities and Development

The “C” of UNESCO – culture - must include the “humanities.

What are the fields other than science that teach us about the world? History, philosophy, geography and area studies (e.g. American Studies, Asian Studies, African Studies) seem to be curricula fundamental to the understanding of the world. Indeed, while UNESCO has a program in philosophy, it does not seem to support programs in history or geography (not even in its Human and Social Sciences program).

Literature and theater (in all of its forms – live, film, television, radio) provide an attending public with models of how people behave and live. The higher the quality of the work, the greater the value of the information it makes available. And providing a body of works from many countries provides the public with accessible views of how people live and behave in other cultures and countries. How better might one learn to understand others, except by traveling and living in those cultures and countries. These media also provide the audience with insights into the operations of political, economic, social and cultural institutions. Making literature and theater available and accessible in the languages of the audience seems to have an important role in development.

Indeed, how better might one learn how to modify one’s own behavior so as to better promote economic, social and other kinds of development than through stories of others who have succeeded (or failed). The story-telling arts seem a critical complement to formal education if one seeks to promote cultural change conducive to development.

How about the other arts and sports? I don’t know. Teaching art and music in the schools achieves not only the nominal purposes, but improves student performance in other subjects. Representational art surely provides information, and for those who think in pictures it may be very useful. As the art of the Catholic Church (and Nazi and Socialist Realism) demonstrates, representational art is as often used for story telling and education (as well as propaganda). Surely music and sports exchanges have value in convincing people that other cultures and nations have things of value to which they can relate. The old dictum that “British wars were won on the playing fields of Eton” suggests that sports, like games of strategy, have lessons to teach relevant to solving the world’s problems and getting along with others.

The point of this riff is that focus on knowledge and understanding for development is fine, and that science and technology must be included in the effort, but a broader view is needed. Education is a key, but the education should be broad, including the humanities, games and sports. Language arts are also important, especially the teaching of English (to provide access to the best international sources of information and knowledge). And one must build institutional capacity to see that knowledge and understanding are brought to bear on the key issues and problems facing a country and the world.

Unidirectional, Bidirectional and/or Multidirectional

Cultural diplomacy, like development assistance, is often assumed to be unidirectional. In U.S. experience, the focus is too often we help them, we educate them, we inform them. Yet the reality is clearly that the people of the United States have as much or more to learn about and from other peoples as those peoples have to learn about and from us. Perhaps, as an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, it is easier for to see this. I don’t think I ever met a returned volunteer who did not recognize that he had learned more from the experience in the Peace Corps than he had been able to teach others.

I think part of the problem is that there are gradients in the many dimensions of international relations. Americans may often be dealing with cultures older and more complex than our own, with people who speak English less well and their own language better than we do, who are more or less educated and experienced in the world than we are. But America is almost always richer than the countries with which we are conducting cultural diplomacy and always with countries to which we provide development assistance. The unidirectional economic gradient, for a people who say “he who pays the piper calls the tune," leads naturally to a unidirectional mindset.

We think of foreign relations as binational, but often U.S. foreign policy is very much concerned with the relationships between and among other nations. Thus the relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors have been critically important to American foreign policy for half a century. In the 20th century, America was involved in World Wars that developed primarily out of the relationships among other nations. Global systems problems (such as the emergence of new infectious diseases on a global scale , or global environmental problems) are also to be solved largely by the collaborative efforts among other states.

Cultural diplomacy and development assistance have considerable power as tools for enhancing the relationships among other nations. My own experience in scientific diplomacy has focused often on building linkages between Israel and other nations to achieve U.S. long term objectives. The efforts to spread English have not only allowed others to communicate with us, but for other nations to communicate in English better among themselves. Arndt describes a USIA program that enabled Shiite Iran to share its dance traditions with peoples of other Sunni states, contributing to regional cultural relationships.

Cultural Diplomacy versus Cultural Development

The State Department and Arndt’s book focus on “diplomacy”, with the implication that the efforts described are intended primarily to promote U.S. interests abroad. My experience has been in “development”, with the implication that the efforts are intended primarily to promote the interests of the country in which they take place. Of course, U.S. bilateral foreign assistance is predicated on the idea that the development of poor nations is in the U.S. interest.

Americans have historically sought to help disadvantaged neighbors, and experience in the rebuilding of Europe after World War II demonstrated that the development of client states was very good for trade, for the economy of the United States, and for security. In some cases, and in some minds, development assistance programs have provided more immediate and tangible benefits for segments of the U.S. economy. More recently, it has become clear that through assistance to other nations, the United States can achieve national purposes, such as protection of U.S. citizens from disease and the long term domestic threats of other global problems.

Arndt is clear in differentiating the long and short term goals of cultural diplomacy, and in differentiating objectives of “information” and “cultural diplomacy” that had been mixed in the charter of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA). The more recent focus on “Public Diplomacy” has apparently deleted emphasis on cultural diplomacy altogether in favor of information, or indeed propaganda.

Arndt’s book makes clear that (whatever the objectives defined in the legislature and executive in Washington) USIA, USAID and the Peace Corps often collaborated in the field, and together they had a long term impact on the educational systems, language abilities and mutual understanding of nations.

To this mix, one might add multilateral diplomacy. As the United States seeks to change the way people outside its borders think, multilateral concerns must be considered. We have allies, and those allies share many of our objectives; they should share the costs, and (hard as it may be for some to believe) will often understand better how to achieve our common objectives that do we. Multilateral agencies, such as UNESCO and the international financial institutions, also share many of our goals. This should come as no surprise since the United States was instrumental in their founding and remains powerful in their governance. A focus of U.S. diplomacy should be to continue to assure that these multilateral organizations help achieve our common purposes.

Of course, it is always important to recognize that formal organizational goals and objectives are distinct and separate from the effects and impacts of an organization’s activities. People who work in organizations have their own objectives, and act accordingly. Those working in international relations don’t necessarily share the goals and objectives of their governmental decision makers. Moreover, activities often have unintended consequences – consequences unintended either by the individuals or the organizations carrying out those activities. “Cultural Diplomacy,” “Cultural Development,” "Culture for Development," and “Knowledge for Development” efforts may all contribute to helping the people oft the world deal more effectively with the fundamental problems facing our societies, whatever the intentionality. Indeed, men of good will should work together for the common welfare, overcoming the man-made institutional boundaries that appear to separate them.

Federico Mayor’s comment, which triggered this riff, implied a false contrast between the cultural programs of UNESCO and its educational, scientific, and communications programs. I would suggest that all four are complementary, and together can help to promote important and appropriate cultural change. The categories of cultural diplomacy, cultural development, and culture for development are also complementary.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Prescription for change |

Prescription for change |

The Economist of June 16th has published a survey on the pharmaceutical industry. (Subscription required.)

"Last year, health-care spending in America reached an estimated $1.8 trillion, more than 15% of GDP. Some $200 billion of that went on prescription drugs."

Thus, prescription drugs represent eleven percent of the total. You could cut drug costs in half, and only save about five percent of health costs. Indeed, a significant portion of prescription drug costs come from expenses that the industry makes to educate doctors in how to prescribe drugs, and patients in drug use.

"The global pharmaceutical industry consists of thousands of companies, including biotech firms, generic drugmakers, contract research organisations, wholesalers and retailers. On top of them all sits “Big Pharma”—a dozen or so multinational firms with headquarters in Europe or America (see table 1). Their sales account for roughly half of the world's $550 billion retail drug market. But the pharmaceutical industry is relatively fragmented, with the biggest company, Pfizer, holding less than 10% of the global market. "

But when you look at individual drugs, especially the blockbusters under patent protection, monopoly reigns.

"Although output has been falling, drug companies have been increasing their R&D spending by about 6% a year since 1995, according to the Centre for Medicines Research International (CMR), to a forecast total of $55 billion by the end of this year, three-fifths of which came from big drugmakers. Given that it takes an average of 12 years to develop a drug from start to finish—depending on the nature of the molecule and the disease it tackles—the drugs coming to market today reflect the investments, and the science, of a decade ago. The big question is whether today's investments will yield better returns in the future. To answer that, it is necessary to understand why the output of drug companies has been declining, and what can be done about it. "

"Striking it rich in drug R&D is a chancy business. Drugs fall by the wayside at every stage: for every 10,000 molecules screened, an average of 250 enter pre-clinical testing, ten make it through to clinical trials and only one is approved by the regulator."

Only a fraction of approved drugs make a profit for the company that developed, manufactures and distributes the drug. Only a small fraction reach the "blockbuster" ranks, but these tend to pay for the entire R&D process.

"The cost of drugmaking is also going up. A much-quoted figure for bringing a drug to market is $802m, calculated by Joseph DiMasi, an economist at the Tufts Centre for the Study of Drug Development. Mr DiMasi used confidential industry data from 1983 to 2000 for a selection of new drugs discovered and developed within big companies. The average out-of-pocket cost for these drugs was just over $400m; the rest represents the discounted opportunity cost of capital. Dr Paul at Eli Lilly says the cost of bringing a new drug to market has now risen to $1.5 billion; others put it even higher."

I don't know what this paragraph means. Do the numbers include amortized costs of the 10,000 molecules examined for every drug brought to market?

"ASK a big drug-company boss why he is in the business of making pharmaceuticals, and he will say he wants to “address unmet medical needs”. But not all medical needs are equally attractive. Most of the 7,500-plus medicines currently in development by biotech and pharmaceutical companies are for chronic diseases of the rich world. At the same time, some of humanity's nastiest afflictions get little attention. Tropical diseases, such as sleeping sickness or leishmaniasis, are a turn-off for drugmakers because they strike mainly in poor countries and offer little hope of an attractive return on investment. Of the 1,500 or so drugs launched over the past 30 years, fewer than 20 deal specifically with tropical disease."

Perhaps we need different public policies for the development of drugs needed for public health, versus that for drugs needed for treatment of individual patients. The lack of drugs for tropical diseases, and the lack of vaccine producers are scandals.

"it is not just poor countries that are missing out. For example, there is an urgent need for new antibiotics in industrialised countries as drug-resistant bacteria emerge. Yet antibiotic development—once the cornerstone of the drug industry—has fallen out of favour with Big Pharma firms because of scientific hurdles and regulatory requirements."

Again, maybe we need different policies for antibiotics and drugs that treat accute, infectious diseases, versus for drugs that treat chronic conditions and diseases.

"There are now about 20 such partnerships, focused on developing new drugs, vaccines or diagnostics for particular diseases of the developing world that will make them accessible to poor populations."

This is an important trend, and one hopes it will continue and expand. Indeed, new institutional mechanisms are required to develop, manufacture and distribute pharmaceuticals for developing nations. These partnerships are pathfinders for such institution building efforts. Read the article.

"The past decade has seen a massive rise in pharmaceutical marketing, to the point where a firm such as Novartis is spending around 33% of sales on promotion, compared with about 19% on R&D."

This seems to me to be a problem. Some such expense is appropriate, but marketing probably should not be nearly twice R&D! Again, maybe we need to institutionalize better ways to disseminate information on pharmaceuticals.

"Another sore point for the industry is direct-to-consumer advertising. Only America and New Zealand allow makers of prescription drugs to promote their wares directly to the public. In most other countries the practice is prohibited."

Same comment.

Given the high cost of drugs in the United States, "is the rest of the rich world free-riding on America? The answer depends on the type of drug and the particular supplier. Different Americans pay vastly different prices for their drugs. Some of the least well-off consumers, like the Falls, pay some of the highest prices because they do not come under the umbrella of a big employer or government agency that can negotiate discounts.

"On the whole, generic drugs are actually cheaper in America than in many parts of Europe........The price differentials that really agitate Americans are those on blockbuster patented medicines, for which they pay much more. But a recent survey conducted by Mr Kanavos of the top 50 branded drugs in ten industrial countries shows that the differentials between prices in America and other rich countries are narrowing. The ten oldest drugs, launched before 1988, are up to four times more expensive in America than elsewhere; the ten newest drugs, launched after 1997, are only twice the price."

So, yes, patients in the United States are paying more than their fare share of pharmaceutical development costs, and other rich countries should step up to the plate.

"India and China hold great pharmaceutical promise"

"Drugmakers might actually further their fortunes by teaching people when, and when not, to use their products. People who feel they are getting their money's worth tend to complain less about the bill. Other pharmaceutical companies have been working along similar lines."

Firms empowering patients with information is great. But you can't have it both ways. The education costs money, and it that money is considered "advertizing costs" you can't complain that advertizing costs are going up.

Recommendations for Enhancing the U.S. Visa System to Advance America's Scientific and Economic Competitiveness and National Security Interests

Statement of the Presidents of the National Academies:

"Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government put in place new safeguards in the nation's visa system that made it extremely challenging for bona fide international students, scholars, scientists, and engineers to enter this country. While intended to correct weaknesses exposed by the attacks, the changes proved to be significant barriers for legitimate travelers and created a misperception that these visitors were no longer welcome here."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Flu pandemic could kill half million in U.S.

Yahoo! News article:

"Half a million Americans could die and more than 2 million could end up in the hospital with serious complications if an even moderately severe strain of a pandemic flu hits, a report predicted on Friday.

"But the United States only has 965,256 staffed hospital beds, said the report from the Trust for America's Health."


UNCTAD press release:

"UNCTAD will set up a network of centres of excellence on science and technology in developing countries, to be funded initially by a US$ 500,000 grant from the government of Italy. The grant was announced in Geneva last week by Italian Ambassador Paolo Bruni at a meeting of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD).

"There are currently over 100 science and technology institutions in developing countries that can qualify as centres of excellence. Existing centres of excellence that have made a name for themselves as major sources and conduits for the diffusion of scientific knowledge, and that already possess adequate infrastructure and critical mass in their scientific and technological R&D work, will be selected for inclusion in the network. The idea is to turn them into regional hubs of learning that can pool resources with one another and conduct joint research in areas of importance to developing countries, such as health, agriculture and environment."

Water for life: Making it happen

WHOwebsite for the new report

Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

"Every day, diarrhoeal diseases from easily preventable causes claim the lives of approximately 5 000 people, most of them young children. Sufficient and better quality drinking water and basic sanitation can cut this toll dramatically, and simple, low-cost household water treatment has the potential to save further lives.

"As we enter the International Decade for Action Water for Life 2005–2015, this report makes clear that achieving the target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation will bring a payback worth many times the investment involved. It will also bring health, dignity and transformed lives to many millions of the world’s poorest people.The humanitarian case for action is blindingly apparent. The economic case is just as strong.

"Improved water and sanitation will speed the achievement of all eight MDGs, helping to: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.

"At US$11.3 billion a year, the dollar costs of achieving the MDG drinking water and sanitation target are affordable; the human costs of failing to do so are not.The International Decade for Action Water for Life provides the incentive for coordinated efforts to prevent the daily disaster of unnecessary deaths."

Better neighbors through science

Israel21c article: "

"Since the Oslo process - even during the tensest of times - scientific cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian academics has continued to take place. Both sides recognize that joint scholarship, particularly between Israeli and Palestinian scientists, can only provide benefit by moving their communities forward economically and intellectually, as well as advancing the cause of dialogue, mutual recognition, reconciliation and peace.

"But until now, joint scientific projects had very limited funding and lacked an umbrella organization to encourage and support them. A new major initiative to solve that problem and encourage such cooperation to grow was recently launched in the form of the Israel Palestinian Scientific Organization.

"The organization will allocate grants averaging $75,000 to selected projects proposed by joint Israeli-Palestinian teams doing scientific work."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Looted Art Said Used to Fund Terrorists

Guardian Unlimited article

"Wealthy art patrons are buying stolen artifacts from Iraq and inadvertently funding terrorist activity, the director of Iraq's national Museum said Thursday. Some of the objects are entering the U.S., he said..........`Rich people are buying stolen material,'' museum director Donny George told reporters. `Money is going to Iraq and they (terror groups) are buying weapons and ammunition to use against Iraqi police and American forces,'' he said.....

"A committee of experts gathered at UNESCO, the Paris-based U.N. cultural agency.

"Farhan al-Rawi urged UNESCO to help the Iraqi government transform 170 buildings - including Saddam's former palaces and other government buildings - into cultural centers, public libraries and tourist centers. Some are located in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the Iraqi government and U.S. Embassy.

"'Today, the Ministry of Culture is not in a position to recuperate and run the palaces,'' said Farhan al-Rawi, noting that guards outside the national museum were sometimes shot at.

"The committee praised efforts by several countries holding Iraqi treasures for safekeeping, including Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United States. But it said more cooperation was needed from Turkey and Iran, which were represented at the meeting.

"The cultural heritage committee, formed in September 2003, aims to distribute international aid to help protect Iraq's cultural treasures.

"It has received $3.5 million from direct contributions and $5.5 million from the United Nations, said UNESCO's deputy director-general for culture, Mounir Bouchenaki.

"UNESCO's World Monuments Fund this week placed the entire country of Iraq on the list of the world's most endangered cultural sites. It was the first time an entire country has been listed."

Fight isn't over, but polio on brink of eradication article:

"Wiping out polio is proving tougher than expected, but world health experts say the disease's demise is tantalizingly near.

"In 1988, there were 350,000 cases. This year, there are just over 500 cases. But this is no time to drop the guard, experts say.

"'As long as there is polio somewhere in the world, we've learned, it is just one traveler away from being anywhere in the world ... including here,' said Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'So it's very, very important that we stay the course and continue to do whatever it takes to eradicate this problem.'"

Aches and pains: Learning lessons from the influenza vaccine shortage article by Sheri Fink, MD, PhD

“As the US supply of influenza vaccine see-sawed from shortage to surplus this past year and flu experts again confronted warning signs of the next flu pandemic, AIDS vaccine experts might have considered taking notes. Experts say these unfortunate episodes provide valuable case studies highlighting the precarious nature of vaccine manufacturing, the difficulty of forecasting demand for biological products, and the challenges of ensuring an adequate supply. Many of the lessons flu experts are learning and the solutions they are proposing could apply to HIV/AIDS should an efficacious vaccine be developed……….

“From 1966 to 1977, half of all commercial vaccine manufacturers left the market. Now, only five manufacturers—GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Sanofi Pasteur, Wyeth and Chiron—produce all vaccines for the US market that are recommended for routine child and adult immunizations. As of 2003, eight important vaccines for US consumers were each made by a single company—measles/mumps/rubella, tetanus toxoid, tetanus/diphtheria, inactivated poliovirus, varicella, pneumococcal conjugate (PCV-7), meningococcal, and pneumococcal polysaccharide (adult). The reason companies are either leaving or reluctant to enter the vaccine market is no secret: vaccines are seen as a risky business…….

“According to results of a National Health Interview Survey, only 43 million vaccine doses would have been required in 2004-5 to vaccinate high-risk patients at the same rate these groups were vaccinated in the 2002-3 season. That year, a mere 64% of the over-65 population was vaccinated (compared with a target rate of 90%), and rates for other high-risk groups were even lower. While the CDC recommended that 185 million Americans in at-risk populations and other target groups get vaccinated in 2004-5, the US had planned for a supply of only 100 million vaccine doses……….

“At three eggs per influenza vaccine dose, producing for the US market requires hundreds of millions of eggs per year. In order to secure adequate supplies of eggs, manufacturers need to forecast yearly vaccine demand six to nine months in advance of each flu season. This makes it impossible to respond to emergencies.

“New influenza vaccines must be produced each year because the influenza virus, like HIV, quickly changes its genetic stripes. The influenza surface proteins hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA)—antigens targeted by traditional influenza vaccines—are constantly changing, a process known as antigenic drift. More marked and sudden genetic reassortment leads to new virus subtypes and the risk of pandemics and is known as antigenic shift……….

“For influenza, the emergence of a pandemic strain is considered inevitable and overdue. Avian H5N1 influenza virus first emerged in 1997 but has re-emerged in recent years and made its way through large regions of Asia. This viral strain is able sometimes to infect humans in contact with birds and cause a high mortality rate and, most worryingly, it seems to have been transmitted on rare occasion from human to human. Only the inefficiency of this transmission between humans seems to have prevented it from becoming a full-blown pandemic virus.

“In November 2004, the World Health Organization convened a two-day meeting of all major vaccine manufacturers to assess the status of vaccine preparedness for an influenza pandemic. The troubling conclusion was that should a pandemic strain emerge, companies wouldn’t be able to quickly produce vaccine for the commercial market. Even at full production levels, worldwide influenza vaccine manufacturing capacity totals only an estimated 300 million doses per year. “A new pandemic would show up the inadequacy of current facilities to produce enough vaccine for billions of people, and poor countries would be the first to suffer,” says Plotkin. Experts predict a flu pandemic could cause in excess of 200,000 deaths in the US alone.”

300 million doses won't go far distributed among six billion plus people. But, of course, the limited supply will be used primarily to protect high-risk people in rich countries, not to interrupt the pandemic! And so it goes!

How Technological Innovation induces Social Change: Television

Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter has a wonderful discussion of the way in which the development of ICT is affecting popular culture and ultimately people’s intelligence. The discussion of television is especially good. The following is based on his insights. (By the way, check out Johnson's blog. He writes well there too!)

Television of course is more than a half century old, and was revolutionized by the innovation of color TV. Audiences, already trained by their experiences with movies and radio, have also learned from their experience with television.

Technological innovation that spurred the development of cable networks changed television by greatly increasing the choice available to viewers. The large number of channels created a huge demand for content. Much of this was satisfied by recycling programs which were originally created for the major networks.

Inventions such as VCRs, TiVo, and DVDs allowed people not only to watch materials at times other than their original broadcasts, but also to replay materials. People started to watch the same programs many times, and to be able to analyze them in some depth.

The Internet, and especially the World Wide Web, allowed people to share experience with TV programs, and to develop elaborate tools to help understand programs.

The market changed. Profits came increasingly from syndication of programs and from sales of copies of programs to be played through home VCR and DVD players.

Johnson points out that audiences then demanded more complex shows and series, with more sophisticated narrative techniques and devices. Producers, in order to profit from the demand, began to produce more complex shows. Corporations began to market them via the broadcast networks, cable TV, and recordings.

The popular culture changed, with reality TV, complex dramas, and heavily nuanced and referential programs (like the Simpsons) replacing the earlier fare. Moreover, people talk about new things, not to mention that they communicate via the Internet in new ways about new things.

Of course, this chain of events depends on the intrinsic interest people have in seeing stories unfold in “living color”. It also depends on the willingness people have to deal with complex stories. But Johnson points out, that people have also learned the conventions of video story telling, and have learned through experience to deal with more complex narratives using fewer queues and signposts. Indeed, Johnson suggests that people in the audience have learned to learn in new ways and to learn more quickly. He suggests that this is part of the explanation of the Flynn effect – a long term increase in the measured IQ of the population in the United States.

Marshal McLuhan pointed out long ago that the more rapid rates of technological change we experience today (as compared with the past) makes it easier to perceive the social and psychological impacts of technological innovations. Johnson’s analysis of video games, television, and the Internet illustrates McLuhan’s point. Of course, once Johnson has shown the process, it is easier for the rest of us to see the trends.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Millennium Development Goals Report

This short readable report documents the unfortunate lack of success in achieving the goals set by the nations of the world for the reduction of poverty.

Science and Technology in Africa

Read the booklet

This is a somewhat dated, but still interesting overview of science and technology in Africa. Produced by UNESCO, the booklet emphasizes UNESCO's programs in Africa.

SciDev.Net Book Reviews

SciDev.Net Book Review home page

SciDev.Net draws on Nature and other journals for reviews of books relating to science and technology in and/or for developing nations.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Ireland: Their ICT Success Story

Summary: "Ireland's economic success has attracted international attention. During the 1990s, rapid output and employment growth helped reduce the gap in living standards with the rest of the European Union and an inflow of foreign direct investment, primarily from the United States, reduced the dependence on agriculture and low-productivity industries. Companies such as Apple Computer, IBM, Intel, Hewlett Packard, Dell and Microsoft have operations that take advantage of Ireland's capabilities."

Science, Technology, America, and the Global Economy -- STAGE

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars STAGE project website:

"The Woodrow Wilson Center has created a new program to explore paths for long-term growth in the United States and around the world. STAGE targets policies that foster sustained, sustainable, and equitable growth."

Science, Technology and Governance in Europe – the STAGE project

STAGE project website:

"STAGE was an eight country thematic network, funded by the European Commission under its Fifth Framework Programme, whose aims were to develop and refine a heuristic model of science and technology governance in Europe. Its approach has been one of iteration between, on the one hand, conceptual overview and synthesis, taking account of work under FP4, wherever possible parallel work under FP5 and the wider literature, and, on the other, 29 analytic case studies, based on existing research, of how policy cultures confront the governance of particular technologies, particularly in relation to wider public engagement."

Quotation from John Dewey

Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only that particular thing that he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or the lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.

John Dewey
Quoted in Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You.

"The 'Bad' Guy -- Steven Johnson Thinks Video Games And Violent TV Are Good for the Brain"

Washington Post article

The Washington Post today has an article on Steven Johnson and his new book. I have been reading the book, and find it stimulating while short and easy to read. Johnson's main points seem to be
1. That video games are helping to develop analytic skills for the people who play them, and
2. That television programming is becoming more complicated as viewers are learning better how to "read" the programs and to demand more interesting complexity.

Johnson seems not to have mastered conventional (non-computer) games like chess, go, and sukoku, nor does he seem to have read the artificial intelligence literature on the programs written to play these games. He seems to miss the point that rules for games without computers must be simple and explicit, since the players must agree and must implement "the physics" of the games themselves; computer games have computers with the game software to do that. But I suspect that good chess players develop analytic skills for setting short, medium and long term goals similar to those of good video game players, and that the two classes of gamers use search strategies and heurists in similar fashions. Johnson does not seem to understand that good chess players (human or machine) use the same kinds of techniques (strategies, tactics) for exploring their game's virtual world that describes for video game players exploring the video game virtual worlds.

On the other hand, Johnson makes the important point that playing computer games gives the player the opportunity to develop techniques for internalizing tacit knowledge about the "rules of the game" -- a skill that might easily be transferred to social, political and economic settings in the real world.

I was taken by Johnson's point that game player's often can not articulate some of the things they have obviously learned about their games.
In my experience, most gamers will be more inclined to show rather than tell the probing they've done; they'll have internalized flaws or patterns in the simulation without being fully aware of what they are doing. Certain strategies just feel right.

I suggest that this kind of learning of tacit knowledge and understanding is very important in the real world as well as in games. A lot of development knowledge and understanding can not be readily articulated -- strategies and tactics "just feel right". For those who have developed the right "feel" through years of development experience, the feelings should be trusted. Learning how to learn from experience "the feel of development situations" more quickly and better would be very valuable.

Expanding on the point, years ago Steve Lansing wrote about the rice culture in Bali, pointing out that people playing many different roles in the management of the irrigation system carried out roles that together made for high yields sustained over long periods. No one could adequately explain the operation of the entire system, nor why the various fuctions fit together so well. When the traditional managers were supplanted by experts from Java, the yields could not be sustained. While the new managers had more explicit, and indeed more "modern" technological knowledge, the new institutions failed to have the same tacit knowledge that had been embedded in the traditional system. It is important to recognize that institutions can learn how to operate efficiently and effectively, even though no one within or outside the institution can articulate the knowledge gained (and required) for sustainable efficient and effective operation of the systems managed by the institutions. This is true of formal organizations, and of less formally-organized institutions such as the systems of water temples in Bali.

I was also struck by Johnson's exposition on the growth of complexity in television programming over the last half century. He notes that popular programs now have more complex plots, following many threads during the course of a program. They demand more knowledge and attentiveness from the viewer, and offer more enjoyment to those who can find and appreciate subtle references not only to previous shows, but to icons from the more general popular culture.

I suspect that this is an example of a kind of trend that is common in developing audiences for media products. I suspect that after the invention of the printing press, as the audience for books became larger and more experienced in reading, the demand for book content changed, and readers sought more challenging materials. Radio programming probably followed a trend during the first half of the 20th century analogous to that of television programming in the second half of the century, as audiences learned to appreciate and demand more from the medium. The same is probably true of movies. As formal education expanded in the United States and Europe during the 19th and early 20th century, popular culture probably became more complex in response to the expansion of the audience educated to appreciate and demand such complexity. (There is probably a typology of countervailing trends, as a medium is supplanted in popular estime by a still newer, hotter medium, and settles into serving niche markets.)

Poor countries not only have fewer opportunities for their peoples for formal education, they have much less exposure to new media. The kids in the United States are growing up as the audience for complex TV, using video games of great complexity, and surfing the World Wide Web with their home and laptop computers, as well as benefiting from an increasingly complex educational system. Kids in poor countries don't have the same experiences. Will the U.S. kids be learning skills, which are not readily apparent nor often articulated, that are very beneficial in the information society of the future?

It has been suggested that a very important benefit of the formal education system developed in the past was the preparation of the work force for factory based mass production. This preparation included not only reading, writing and 'rithmatic skills needed on the factory floor, but the social attitudes and skills to participate in a factory workforce. Will there be a similar effect, in which the gameplayers and websurfers learn the attitudes and skills necessary to participate in the post-industrial workforce?

Democrats Block Vote On Bolton

Washington Post article:

"The Senate yesterday refused for a second time to confirm John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, prompting his supporters to urge President Bush to bypass Congress and give the controversial nominee a recess appointment, which would last 18 months...........

"Senator Pat Roberts (Republican of Kansas), a Bolton supporter, said a recess appointment 'would weaken not only Mr. Bolton but also the United States' because the international community would see the new ambassador as lacking bipartisan support."

The point is especially important, because it is the Congress, not the Executive Branch of Government that determines appropriations. Thus, if Bolton were to become U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, not only would he be an immediate "lame duck" (since the recess appointment would only last 18 months), but his ability to speak for the United States on budgetary matters would be severely compromised. The Congress would be seen as far more likely to fail to back up financial representations made by an Ambassador it failed to confirm, than one it had confirmed.

Development Gateway Award Nominations

Development Gateway Award website:

Six finalists have been chosen from a field of 135 nominations for the Development Gateway Award 2005. The $100,000 award, to be announced in September, will recognize one of the finalists for outstanding achievement in using information technology to improve the lives of people in developing countries.

"Working in all world regions, the nominees demonstrate the impact that technologies such as the Internet, satellite communications, smart cards, and others can have on development in various fields. For instance, Radio News Agency 68H, of Indonesia, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation have been active in relief and recovery after the Asian tsunami. ITC e-Choupal and MAP-IT are helping India's farmers improve their livelihoods. Other finalists include Modemmujer, of Mexico, for advancing women's rights in Latin America; and Prodem, for bringing banking to Bolivian villages." The finalists' stories are be shared on the Development Gateway.

Monday, June 20, 2005

:: World Refugee Day ::

UNHCR World Refugee Day website:

"The United Nations General Assembly designated 20 June 2000 as World Refugee Day to recognize and celebrate the contribution of refugees throughout the world. Since then, World Refugee Day has become an annual commemoration marked by a variety of events in over a hundred countries."

The State of Science and Technology Training Institutions in Africa and their role in Socio-economic development

Home - Africa Regional Conference of Vice Chancellors, Deans of Science Engineering and Technology

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Simple Models of Motivation Don't Help Understanding Complex Behavior

I heard Bruce Craig discussing his book on Harry Dexter White on CSPAN the other day. It made me think about categories and knowledge.

White was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the 1940’s. He played an important role in U.S. international economic policy, in the economic support of Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion of China, and in the creation of the World Bank and IMF. The question Craig addresses is whether White was also a Russian spy. That seems an factual question, but Craig suggests that it is actually more complicated. Thus, Craig suggests that under current U.S. laws, White could be convicted of espionage, but that under the U.S. laws that existed in his time, White would not have been guilty of espionage. Moreover, Craig suggests that while White appears to have passed information to the Soviet government and to have promoted U.S. policies sought by the Soviet government, he probably did not perceive himself to be an agent of the Soviet government.

One of the key questions for Craig is the intentions that motivated White’s actions. Clearly criminal intent is an important legal determinant of culpability. But how can we be sure of the intentions of another. Indeed, it seems likely that White was balancing many factors in making his decisions. How would one weigh the importance of each? Some were undoubtedly benign – helping win the war, implementing the policies of the Administrations he served, advancing the cause of peace, doing his job, advancing his career. Others may have been more suspect. How would one weigh the relative merit of the overall balance?

This brings to mind several recent news stories. Perhaps the most topical is that of the run-up to the war in Iraq. What were the motives of the key players in Washington and London? The disclosure of Mark Felt as "Deep Throat" in the Watergate affair has also raised considerable discussion about his motives. In both cases, the prevailing idea seems to be that there is a simple, overvailing motive that explains the decisions. (In these cases, a reading of Graham Allison's book on the Cuban Missle Crisis might be helpful. He explains that the model of an individual making rational decisions does not accurately reflect the way decisions grow out of bureaucratic and political processes.)

The Terri Schiavo case, more recently, revolved around a "fact", whether or not she was in a permanent vegitative state as defined by the law, and around the perceptions of the motivations of her family members, the medical community involved in her treatment, of advocacy groups seeking one or another disposition of her case, and of politicians. Knowledge was hard to come by, and understanding apparently even more scarce.

Thinking about the field of Knowledge for Development, I wonder if too simplistic a view of human motivation and actions is often a problem. We may come to know what someone has done, but we can only seek to understand why he has done it. Again, going back to a theme of some recent postings, “understanding for development” may be a more critical element than K4D.

Moreover, it may be useful to have a binary decision but it may be more useful to understand the complex spaces of the real and the mental world. Thus, I assume in the case of White, it is important to have a way to decide whether or not he broke the law. Even in that case, however, I would prefer to make the sentence for a crime when one is adjudicated to have occurred, determined by a judge and jury rather than set in stone by mandatory sentencing rules in the law. Ultimately, the understanding of human motivation is weakened by the assumption that people do something for a single reason, or even that they can fully articulate the motivation behind their complex behaviors.

Friday, June 17, 2005

U.S. Pressure Weakens G-8 Climate Plan

Washington Post article:

"Bush administration officials working behind the scenes have succeeded in weakening key sections of a proposal for joint action by the eight major industrialized nations to curb climate change."

Haggling Continues on Bolton Vote, Now Planned for Monday

New York Times article (Registration required.)

It seems clear to me that there are many people more qualified for the job of U.S. Representative to the UN than John Bolton. Indeed, there are a number in Washington, who are members of the Republican Party. Still, confirmation by the Senate has never made it a requirement that the nominee is the best qualified.

I suggest still that Mr. Bolton not be confirmed. I have no doubt that his career has the luster required for senior appointments, nor that he is a patriot who has dedicated his career to public service. But the quality of his advice to the President seems suspect, and that is a crucial determinant for the UN Rep. position. Moreover, his appointment would hand opponents of U.S. policies leverage in their opposition, while disarming potential supporters of those arguments made by the U.S. in the UN.

Head of Bush's African aid program steps down

Reuters AlertNet story:

"The head of President George W. Bush's much-touted program to aid poor countries will resign after the program came under fire for not providing assistance more quickly, officials said on Thursday.

"Paul Applegarth, chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, told Bush in a letter dated Wednesday that he planned to leave 'at a time of mutual convenience,' an official said."

Bush's good intentions get slashed

International Herald Tribune article:

"At a time when the United States is under intense international pressure to double aid to poor countries, President George W. Bush's signature foreign aid initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, stumbled this week.

"A House subcommittee on Thursday recommended almost halving the president's $3 billion request, citing the pressures of a tight budge"

Monday, June 13, 2005


The New Yorker book review of “Everything Bad Is Good for You” Steven Johnson :

"I.Q. scores showed a steady upward trajectory, rising by about three points per decade, which means that a person whose I.Q. placed him in the top ten per cent of the American population in 1920 would today fall in the bottom third. Some of that effect, no doubt, is a simple by-product of economic progress: in the surge of prosperity during the middle part of the last century, people in the West became better fed, better educated, and more familiar with things like I.Q. tests. But, even as that wave of change has subsided, test scores have continued to rise?not just in America but all over the developed world. What?s more, the increases have not been confined to children who go to enriched day-care centers and private schools. The middle part of the curve?the people who have supposedly been suffering from a deteriorating public-school system and a steady diet of lowest-common-denominator television and mindless pop music?has increased just as much."

Friday, June 10, 2005

125th Anniversary Essay Series: Global Voices of Science

Science website: Global Voices of Science (Subscriptin necessary.)

"During 2005, Science celebrates the 125th anniversary of the publication of its first issue with a special essay series, inviting researchers from around the world to provide a regional view of the scientific enterprise." Essays to date deal with South Africa, Mali, India, Brazil, Russia and Syria.

Quotations from Alfred the Great

The saddest thing about any man, is that he be ignorant, and the most exciting thing is that he knows.

It seems better to me that we should translate certain books which are most necessary for all men to know into the language that we can all understand, and also arrange that all the youth of free men now among the English people.....are able to read English writing as well.

Alfred the Great (9th century)
quoted in The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

How much do we want cultural diversity?

Would we prefer to have warlike cultures living beside more peaceful neighbors, or peaceful homogeneity?

Would we prefer to have economically exploitive and deceitful cultures in world markets trading with collaborative and honest cultures, or would we prefer more trustworthy homogeneity?

Would we prefer to have highly inequitable cultures with lots of poor living beside more egalitarian cultures with less poverty, or would we prefer not to have to guard borders against the massive immigration of the poor to more favored environments?

Would we prefer to have libertarian cultures weak on immunizations and preventive medicine living beside cultures that valued public health measures, or would we prefer a more disease free world?

Would we prefer to have cultures willing to pollute the air and water living beside cultures who protect the environment, or would we prefer homogeneously clean cultures and a clean environment?

Would we prefer cultures accepting coercive governments living side by side with cultures demanding democracy, or would we prefer cultural homogeneity fostering democratic institutions?

There is a saying that all happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I suspect that all developed nations are somewhat alike, and that there are a plethora of ways nations find to fail in development.

It may be that trends toward cultural convergence in many dimensions are needed if the peoples of the world are to advance the agenda of social, economic and political development. Cultural diversity is not a value for which I would willingly sacrifice sustainable peace and prosperity.

About Cultural Diversity

UNESCO's Cultural Diversity website

Culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs. UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity

Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, at the meeting of the U.S. National Commission on UNESCO Monday, emphasized the important difference between European and U.S. cultural policies.

European nationalism coalesced around culturally homogeneous peoples, and often emphasized common language and key cultural products such as literature or music that unified a people. Thus the nation of Italy was formed around Italian and the works of Dante, Verde and others. For these European nations, the preservation of national culture has value, and the value is not only that individuals place intrinsic value on their culture, but that common culture is a basis for national identity and cohesion. One can easily cite examples, such as that of the Basques in Spain or the Protestants in Ireland, of continuing conflict between ethnic minorities and majorities in the context of nation states. Europeans often complain about the intrusion of U.S. culture into their national cultures.

The United States has been regarded as a nation of immigrants. (Only recently has it sought to also incorporate minority ethnic groups of native Americans and Hispanics that lived on the land before the creation of the nation.) It has prospered by incorporating different ethnic groups into a unified nation state. U.S. citizens typically value cultural dynamism for itself, and have increasingly sought cultural pluralism within U.S. society.

The difference in attitudes toward cultural dynamism versus cultural continuity is exemplified by the existence of European national academies to protect the purity of national languages against the intrusion of foreign words versus the openness of American English to new words from whatever source.

Of course there are also economic values associated with cultural policies. If Francophone nations can exclude more American music, movies, and other cultural products in favor of products in French, then their cultural industries will make more money and there will be a less negative balance of payments in cultural products. This fact is not lost on those seeking profits in those national cultural industries.

The debate on cultural diversity thus involves cultural, political and economic values.

The Universal Declaration suggests a value for cultural diversity analogous to that for biological diversity. I think the analogy is not valid, but will not go into the matter here. I too value cultural diversity. The world is a richer and more interesting place for the diversity among its thousands of cultural groups.

I am writing this to point out, however, that cultural diversity is often a problem. It is a problem within nations, when cultural minorities feel that they must resort to violence against other minorities. Such a problem can lead to the violent destruction of the nation state, as occurred in the former Yugoslavia. Inter-cultural intolerance is sometimes used as an excuse for genocide, as has happened in the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Burundi. It has been the basis of wars between and among nations.

Cultural diversity also complicates development. In many nations, there are many minority languages and no single language in which all the citizens can communicate. That fact alone causes a host of (obvious) problems. Economies function best when there is trust among participants in the economies, and such trust is often hard to come by among the members of a multitude of small cultural groups, speaking different languages, within a single country.

Cultures change! I recall being impressed by the “traditional” clothes warn by a tribal group in Colombia until I learned that theirs was a new style, recently adopted from a different tribal group living in Ecuador (some hundred miles distant). It is not only hopeless, but often counterproductive to think that one can freeze a culture at a point of time. Maintaining traditional crops in the face of new crop diseases, or maintaining traditional health practices in the face of newly emergent diseases or new preventive and therapeutic technologies are obvious examples of the dangers of excessive cultural rigidity.

This is not to say that the preservation of cultural heritage is not important. I alao value continity in culture. Indeed, I would argue strongly that there is great value in allowing the members of a culture to apply their own values in the determination of the directions of cultural change. My Irish ancestry leads me to greatly distrust efforts from a foreign power to introduce cultural change for its own motives, as the British conquerors did to the Irish conquered. Indeed, I find many of the cultural intrusions promoted for commercial purposes to be objectionable (say through television advertising to children, as including many examples of especially obnoxious activities).

The question I would raise is how developing nations can foster some appropriate cultural changes that would help draw their ethnic minorities into more productive political and economic relationships and avoid the worst aspects of cultural clash and warfare? How can we promote cultural change that makes wars among nations less likely and less destructive?

As technology overcomes the tyranny of distance, and globalization increases, the interplay of cultures becomes more prevalent and indeed more inescapable. Indeed, cultural borrowing is critical to development. As Jared Diamond has pointed out (Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies), intercultural exchanges are the major source of progress, and cultural isolation is a key cause of underdevelopment.

The question is then how best to manage cultural change and cultural borrowing, not how to avoid it. How can cultures change so as to achieve universal goals, such as those the world sought to formalize in the Millennium Development Goals. How can cultures maintain their continuity so as to protect the values their members hold most dear? And how can peoples and nations best balance their efforts to assure cultural continuity with their efforts toward social and economic development and a peaceful world?