Monday, November 28, 2005

"WHO's Flu Strike Force Plans for the Worst Case"

Read the full article by David Brwn in today's Washington Post.

"Governments need to decide beforehand what to tell their citizens about how to protect themselves; whether to ban gatherings or travel; how to ration hospital beds and medical equipment; and how to dispose of a potentially large number of bodies.

"About 60 percent of nations have pandemic plans. The U.S. government released its 396-page document, with more details to come, this month."

Sense About Science

Go to the organization's website.

Promoting an evidence-based approach to scientific issues.

Sense About Science is an independent charitable trust seeking to respond to the misrepresentation of science and scientific evidence on issues that matter to society. It does this by promoting respect for evidence and by urging scientists to engage actively with a wide range of groups, particularly when debates are controversial or difficult.

Current and future projects focus on:
* Understanding the peer review process for scientific research results. The discussion paper a Working Party, 'Peer Review and the Acceptance of New Scientific Ideas' (June 2004) is available in printed form or as a pdf, as is a 'Short Guide to Peer Review'.
* The Voice of Young Science: introducing younger scientists, in the early stages of their careers, to the media.
* 'State of the Debate' briefings on: endocrine disruption; childhood nutrition; radiodiagnostics; and public-good plant breeding.
* A review of precautionary governance and its implications for the evidence-based approach.
* Sense About Science also currently promotes engagement with evidence and scientific research in relation to: nuclear power and waste; public fear of chemicals; stem cell research; genetic modification; mobile phone emissions; the combined Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine; the use of animals in scientific procedures; and assessments of public attitudes to new technologies.

The $100 dollar computer for developing nations

The Simputer

There has recently been a spate of publicity (e.g. the Christian Science Monitor) for the MIT designed laptop announced at the World Summit on the Information Society.

The idea of a low cost computer for developing nations is not new. We have been posting resources on the ICT for Development community page of the Development Gateway for some time on the Simputer and other efforts to develop low-cost computers. The Simputer has been a disappointment, but I recently read that it is to deliver a large number machines to the Indian army.

A good article on the past problems experience in Brazilian initiatives is provided by Paulo Rebelo on CNET But Brazil has just created a program combining low cost hardware, open source software, easy and cheap credit, and commercial distribution to put 500,000 low-cost computers in people's hands in the next six months. The Brazilian machines are to be priced at no more than US$ 440, which is competitive due to the high costs of imported computers in Brazil. iT is a computer produced at very low cost by, which the project leaders plan to give away (using subsidies one presumes).

In the United States, Wal-Mart offered a $400 computer retail as a "door buster" on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, and traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year). Dell is currently selling entry-level PCs for $299; Gateway for 349.99. The Personal Internet Communicator is a bare bones PC which, without monitor, I found for sale at $129 at Radio Shack. Thin client systems, which seem to me to be an interesting alternative for school use, are advertised for under $200.

Reconditioned computers are available for less. The Computers for Schools association and the Computers for Schools program (in the United States and Canada respectively) seem to be successful in refurbishing donated computers and giving them to schools, bringing the cost way down. The approach has been extended to Latin America and the Caribbean via Computadoras para Comunidades

Now a number of companies have seized on the commercial opportunity offered by low price computers and the opening of new markets. They seem to be developing even more innovative ideas for low cost computers. The Microsoft x-Box 360 seems to be quite a powerful PC, selling for $300 as announced. (Clock speed 3.2GHz, 512 MB of RAM, 20 GB hard drive, Internet enabled, HD display capacity). Nintendo's gameboys should also illustrate what could be done in creating an affordable e-learning device to reach the huge potential market. The new Gamboy micro sells for about $100.

The Fly Pentop Computer seems especially interesting, abandoning the PC metaphore in favor of the paper and pencil metaphor. This cute gadget, costing $100 plus $35 for software) would seem to open new fields for educational computing.

The inclusion of people concerned with pedagogy, and not just engineers, seems to me very important in projects intended to put computers in schools. The MIT team includes Symore Papert, a trail-blazing educator. I would love to see a breakthrough in the way technology is used to enable kids (and adults) to learn.

Most ICT is commercialized for markets in rich countries. The trade-off between cost and powerful features tends to be made in favor of features. For niche markets, lower cost devices with fewer features find a place.

Moore's law continues to operate, and the power of microchips continues to increase as the price continues to decline. The PC's continue to decline in price, and continue to become more affordable in developing nations.

On the one hand, many teams are recognizing that the computer market in developing countries is potentially huge, and almost unserved. On the other hand, many projects have failed to develop a low cost computer on anything like the schedule they proposed.

I suggest the computer that finally reaches a mass market of the poor in developing nations will be different than that reaching the mass market in rich countries. Lower cost devices with free software and simpler features are likely to be involved, as compared with the market preferences in the U.S. and Europe. I suspect that it will be teams in Asia who first develop products to successfully tap that market.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"The Latest on Scientific Advisory Committees"

Read the full posting on Chris Mooney's blog.

"The Bush administration has done it again. They have a doctor with ties to Focus on the Family sitting on something called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is, of course, the scientific advisory committee that makes recommendations concerning the use of vaccines, including the forthcoming HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine."


Photo by Ziz from Flickr
Read the seven articles that make up the survey in the October 22-28th 2005 edition of the Economist. (Subscription necessary.)


"The role of intellectual property is changing from that of an asset used by businesses for their own purposes to that of an input for webs of innovation among clusters of firms. Intellectual property is moving from enabling a transfer of knowledge to creating a market for it. It is providing liquidity for innovation.......These days, companies are using intellectual property to provide legal certainty for their development community. Be it through licensing agreements, patent pools or a commons for open-source, innovations are increasingly being shared." (Emphasis added.)


"It may be better to limit rather than expand the scope, duration and protection provided by intellectual property. But there is no way of being sure without serious economic study. Inexcusably, that has been lacking. Intellectual-property policies are often made without a proper basis, and strongly influenced by private lobbying. A first step towards a more coherent policy is the Adelphi Charter issued earlier this month by a prominent group of intellectual-property experts organised by the Royal Society of Arts in London. One of its merits is to lay down a public-interest test for governments to use before expanding intellectual-property rights. The default option, it says, should be to leave well alone, and the burden of proof should be on the advocates of change."


"IBM alone now earns over $1 billion annually from its intellectual-property portfolio. HP's revenue from licensing has quadrupled in less than three years, to over $200m this year. Microsoft is on course to file 3,000 patents this year, when in 1990 it received a mere five. Earlier this year it set up an entirely new corporate division to exchange its technology for cash or equity in start-up firms. Nokia has recently started licensing its technology to other firms and plans to do more. And some companies, such as ARM, a British firm that designs the blueprints for microchips used in wireless devices, do little other than create and sell intellectual property."


"In principle, patents open up innovations in two ways. First, they confer only temporary rights; once patents expire or are abandoned, the intellectual property they are designed to protect passes into the public domain. Second, they require the details of the invention to be disclosed so they can be replicated. This permits follow-on innovation, which is essential for industrial progress.

"More recently, as the patent system has evolved, it has been seen to provide other benefits. It leads to a degree of economic specialisation that makes business more efficient. Patents are transferable assets, and by the early 20th century they had made it possible to separate the person who makes an invention from the one who commercialises it. This recognised the fact that someone who is good at coming up with ideas is not necessarily the best person to bring those ideas to market.

"Such specialisation is now so common that it is taken for granted. Semiconductors, the silicon chips that power digital devices, are typically designed by specialist firms that are good at engineering, but physically produced by other firms whose expertise lies in manufacturing. As the patent system has matured and licensing has become much more widespread, these transfers are turning business relationships on their head. Some economists argue that the growth of patent transactions is establishing a proper 'market for technology'."


"The technology industry faces the question of whether today's abundance of patents, rather than lubricating the gears of innovation, may be clogging them up. Already, businesses are having to negotiate with other firms in order to do basic things such as reading files from different proprietary formats; and the design of new technology products now involves lawyers as well as engineers. The proliferation of patents might prove a serious encumbrance to businesses, just as travellers along the Rhine in medieval Europe were slowed down by having to pay a toll at every castle.

"James Boyle, a legal scholar at Duke Law School in North Carolina, claims that the current increase in intellectual-property rights represents nothing less than a second 'enclosure movement'. In the first enclosures, in 18th- and 19th-century Britain, the commons—open fields used by many, belonging to all, owned by none—were fenced in, and nearly all land became private property. By analogy, the granting of property rights on ideas, to the extent it is happening today, is plundering the intellectual commons of our public domain.

"Others see the expansion of intellectual-property rights as hugely beneficial, leading not only to more innovation but to more openness."


"Nokia has over 12,000 existing patents globally, and 10,000 innovations in the process of being patented. It files around 1,500 applications a year. IBM has around 40,000 patents and is granted 3,000 more every year, which has made it the number one recipient at America's patent office for the past 12 years. HP last year ranked fourth in America, with 1,783 patents; worldwide, it holds around 25,000. Microsoft has recently sprinted into the market, with around 10,000 applications pending.

"Patents have grown in parallel with an increase in spending on research and development. One rule of thumb is that tech companies file almost two patents for every $1m they spend on R& the end of the 1990s firms were able to obtain more than twice as many software patents for every R&D dollar they spent than at the start of the decade."

"Despite this proliferation, numerous economic studies show that only about 5% of patents end up having any value, and that a small handful of those account for most of the income received from patents. Moreover, according to a study by America's National Bureau for Economic Research in 2000, patents were less effective in protecting innovation than things like secrecy, speed to market and complementary manufacturing, sales or service."


"Intellectual Ventures represents a radically new business model for technology—a cross between a venture-capital fund, a law firm and an R&D lab. It wants to finance inventors to do what they do best—invent—and obtain patents on those technologies. Then it wants to license those innovations to the world (and pursue infringers with razor-fanged determination).......Already a gaggle of firms with fancy names such as iPotential, ipValue, and ThinkFire are making a business of patent transactions, and hedge funds are acquiring patent portfolios."


"IBM......pledged 500 of its existing software patents to the open-source community, to be placed into a patent “commons” that allows open-source software developers to use the innovations and build upon them without risk of infringement......Nokia said it would not assert its patents against the inner code of Linux, a popular open-source computer operating system. In June, Red Hat, a big Linux distributor, said that it, too, would contribute to a patent commons. In September, Computer Associates donated 14 patents for free use by the open-source community. Open Source Development Labs, an industry forum, has offered to act as a repository for patent-commons projects......Sun Microsystems.....(has) made its Solaris operating system open-source.

"The trend towards open software code is an example of a bigger development in the technology industry: a new approach towards collaboration and “open innovation” that at times seems to work around the traditional intellectual-property system, and at times is directly fostered by it......

"How do IBM, Sun and others make money on open-source? The answer varies from company to company, but has to do with standards, interfaces and something the techies call “ecosystems” (that is, a community of third-party developers and service businesses that contribute to, and enhance the value of, the underlying product)......By giving up proprietary lock-in, firms can reap the advantages of open-source that accrue not just to one company but to all firms industry-wide. They can sell software that works on Linux, and they can count on a far wider ecosystem of developers and service companies to improve the software that benefits both them and their customers."


"For the moment, both (India and China) are better known as places where intellectual property needs special protection. As a strategy for economic development, nabbing someone else's patents is nothing new. Immediately after America's declaration of independence, its government made it official policy to steal inventions from Europe, expediting the country's rise as an industrial power in the 19th century, notes Doron Ben-Atar of Fordham University in New York. Yet in India and China, the pressure for respecting intellectual property more is now beginning to come from domestic businesses.

"It will be a long, uncomfortable process, but again there are precedents. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, which started off by competing mainly on cheap labour, ended up challenging the West's biggest technology companies. Taiwan now makes the vast majority of the world's computer components, and its companies own a plethora of patents. South Korea's Samsung became one of the top ten recipients of patents granted by America's patent office in the 1990s, and still is. Japan earns the largest number of patents at the same office after America itself."

Final comment

The articles together describe a rapidly changing institutionalization of intellectual property in ICT industries. On the one hand, (much appreciated by the Economist) market institutions are evolving to commercialize intellectual property. On the other hand, civil society institutions are evolving promoting open source intellectual property. Knowledge once held by the firm through trade secrets is increasingly being shared. It will be interesting to see how the institutions continue to evolve, and whether they will do so in ways to enhance and promote innovation and technological progress.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future

Go to the National Academy Press website for this 2005 report.

Description: "In a world where advanced knowledge is widespread and low-cost labor is readily available, U.S. advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology have begun to erode. A comprehensive and coordinated federal effort is urgently needed to bolster U.S. competitiveness and pre-eminence in these areas. This congressionally requested report by a pre-eminent committee makes four recommendations along with 20 implementation actions that federal policy-makers should take to create high-quality jobs and focus new science and technology efforts on meeting the nation's needs, especially in the area of clean, affordable energy:
1) Increase America's talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education;
2) Sustain and strengthen the nation's commitment to long-term basic research;
3) Develop, recruit, and retain top students, scientists, and engineers from both the U.S. and abroad; and
4) Ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world for innovation.
Some actions will involve changing existing laws, while others will require financial support that would come from reallocating existing budgets or increasing them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Does the 'New Economy' Measure up to the Great Inventions of the Past?"

Go to the website.

This paper by Robert J. Gordon, published in 2000, has become a classic. The paper raised "doubts about the validity of this comparison (of the New Economy -- the Internet and the accompanying acceleration of technical change in computers and telecommunications) with the Great Inventions of the past. It dissects the recent productivity revival and separates the revival of 1.35 percentage points (comparing 1995-99 with 1972-95) into 0.54 of an unsustainable cyclical effect and 0.81 points of acceleration in trend growth. The entire trend acceleration is attributed to faster multi-factor productivity (MFP) growth in the durable manufacturing sector, consisting of computers, peripherals, telecommunications, and other types of durables. There is no revival of productivity growth in the 88 percent of the private economy lying outside of durables; in fact when the contribution of massive investment in computers in the nondurable economy is subtracted, MFP growth outside of durables has actually decelerated." (Quoted from the abstract.)

The paper is available on the IDEAS database. What makes the webpage especially valuable, however, is that it has links to eleven papers on the database that Gordon referenced in the paper, and to 56 papers in the database that in turn have referenced this paper. Thus the webpage serves as a good introduction to a stream of economic analysis on the impact of ICTs.

Open Educational Resources

Go to the new Development Gateway portal.

The Development Gateway (DG) has opened a new facet describing and providing links to open educational resources. It invites people to join as members of the community forming around this topic.

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research.

The new DG community page provides a clearinghouse for a wide range of OERs including Learning Content, Tools, and Implementation Resources. Content for this site will be aggregated by the African Virtual University and Utah State University's Center for Open and Sustainable Learning. The site is new, and its resource base is planned to grow,

Learning Subjects and related materials for this site are to be classified using the Dutch Basic Classification™.

Record number of new HIV cases in '05

UNAIDS Annual Report
Read the full Reuters/Yahoo! News article by Kamil Zaheer.

"Almost 5 million people were infected by HIV globally in 2005, the highest jump since the first reported case in 1981 and taking the number living with the virus to a record 40.3 million, the United Nations said on Monday.

"The 4.9 million new infections were fueled by the epidemic's continuing rampage in sub-Saharan Africa and a spike in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the UNAIDS body said in its annual report."

Monday, November 21, 2005

"AVIAN INFLUENZA: Pandemic Skeptics Warn Against Crying Wolf"

Read the full article by Dennis Normile in Science. (Subscription required.)

"Just as the threat of an influenza pandemic is finally being taken seriously by governments around the world, a small but increasingly visible number of scientists are questioning how great the danger really is. They acknowledge that another flu pandemic is inevitable--at least three major and several minor pandemics occurred in the last century--and they believe preparing for it is wise. But they are asking: Is the H5N1 virus now circulating in Asia really the one to watch? How soon will the next pandemic occur? And will it trigger a wave of mortality, as did the 1918 flu, or a just small ripple in the annual influenza death toll? If no serious pandemic emerges in the next few years, they warn, the current hype could backfire, undermining public support for efforts to prepare for an eventual pandemic, including developing and stockpiling better flu vaccines and drugs."

Some further excerpts:

"No H5 flu subtype has ever caused a human pandemic........Although human infections with H5, H7, and H9 subtypes have been documented.......these viruses have never been known to pass efficiently among humans. 'That doesn't mean they never will.....although H5N1 has been circulating widely among poultry for at least 8 years, it has not shown any signs of jumping more easily from chickens to humans or of spreading among humans."

"The six pandemics that have occurred since the late 1800s were caused by just three subtypes, which reappear in a repeating pattern: H2, H3, then H1. Roughly 68 years separated the reappearance of each subtype."

"Although the historical data are interesting......they simply aren't conclusive enough to rule an H5N1 pandemic in or out. 'We don't know what viruses circulated in the past [among humans], except for the most recent 150 years,' What's more, H5N1 is shattering historical precedents. Never before has a virus so highly lethal for poultry become so widespread and continued in circulation for such a long time. And with the virus continuing to spread......There are so many gaps in what is known about how virulence and pathogenicity evolve, 'there is no scientific basis to predict anything'........'We, as scientists, need to do a good job of something slightly tricky here, which is to convey that our predictions are probabilistic.'"

"Despite their differences over H5N1, flu experts on both sides of the debate agree that preparing for a pandemic is essential. Palese (Peter Palese, a virologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City) says he strongly supports the pandemic preparedness plan recently announced by the U.S. government. Ewald (Paul Ewald, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Louisville, Kentucky) is in favor of tracking H5N1 and vaccinating exposed populations if the virus shows any tendency toward passing from human to human. 'This could provide an effective barrier to evolutionary increases in transmissibility,' he says. The plan is also similar to one of the strategies being pursued by WHO.

"Offit (Paul Offit, an immunologist and virologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) hopes the concerns about H5N1 will lead to efforts to strengthen the U.S. infrastructure for vaccine development and production, which he says has deteriorated over the last 50 years. He thinks the message scientists should be sending 'is not that we're going to protect you from the bird flu pandemic, but that we're going to be protecting you from a pandemic which may be 20 years from now.'"


The analysis here is not probablistic, but one of decision making under conditions of uncertainty. With so much unknown, and so little historical record, accurate estimates of probabilities are not possible. We know that as of now, we can not prevent a flu pandemic if a really dangerous virus evolves and if the conditions are propitious for its spread. There is sufficient historical experience to know that a flu pandemic can kill millions of people, and indeed tens of millions.

There are "no regrets" actions that can be taken, and indeed should be taken. These are actions that will be important if a pandemic virus arrives, but will also be useful even if a pandemic does not happen now. These include research on the flu, development of vaccines and antiflu drugs, improving vaccine production process technology, planning for control of viral respiratory epidemics, and building the capacity of epidemiological surveillance systems.

The hard part is deciding how much effort and money to put into efforts that will be wasted if not needed. Different approaches will have different costs and different payoffs (if and when a pandemic does occur, depending on how serious the threat turns out to be -- potentially killing hundreds of thousand, millions, or tens of millions). Experts, with both theoretical knowledge and practical experience in viral disease control, should help prioritize such efforts, and help develop an appropriate portfolio of actions for public health agencies to implement.

The U.S. government "cried wolf" about the swine flu in 1976. If it does so again in 2005 about the avian flu, over-reacting to a threat that never materializes, it will be that much harder in the future to mobilize against future threats. And, unless there is unexpectedly rapid and extensive progress on the research front, a flu pandemic will almost surely occur at some future time!

Science and Technology on the Development Gateway

Go to the Knowledge Economy community page on the Development Gateway.

There is no specific community formed by the Development Gateway around the topic of Science and Technology for Development. However, a portion of the Knowledge Economy (KE) community is related to the subject. In particular, there are two relevant "key issues" defined for the KE community:
* Science and Technology, with 289 resources, and

* Research and Development (R&D), with 138 resources.

There are also community pages devoted to specific technologies and their impact on development, such as:
* Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Development,

* Nanotechnology for Development, and

* Space Applications for Development.

The Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) topic page focuses on ICT projects, but also includes some resources relating to M&E of R&D.

"Asian publications on GM plant science are soaring"

Read the full article in SciDev.Net.

"In 2003, Asia matched Western Europe and North America in the number of papers published on the genetic modification of plants, according to a report in the November issue of Nature Biotechnology.

"By analysing publications from 1973-2003 in two major databases — the ISI Web of Science and CAB Abstracts — Philippe Vain of the UK-based John Innes Centre, concluded that: 'Currently, only the impact (the number of citations) differentiates the output of North America, Western Europe and Asia'.

"The study showed that while publications on both applications of 'transgenic' techniques and their use in developing new genetically modified (GM) crops are increasing, papers describing new technologies for such research have not increased significantly since 1995."


Clearly, there is a need to assure that food and feed is safe. Equally clearly, meeting the food needs of the coming century will require major increases in agriculutral productivity, and GM crops are perhaps the most promising way to obtain those increases in productivity. Unfortunately, unreasonable fear and fear mongering are militating against critically important research in developed countries -- if there is no market for GM foods and feeds, farmers won't grow them, and corporations won't invest in them. The developing nations of Asia, with both scientific capacity and pressing problems of feeding their huge and increasingly affluent populations, are taking up some of the slack. But it would be great to see more R&D in the developed nations as well, and thus to see the total global R&D program on genetic modification of crop grow.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Scientific American: Special Issue -- "Crossroads for Planet Earth"

Read the special issue of Scientific American online.

Every year America's premier magazine about science publishes a special edition in September on a single theme. In 2005, the theme deals with the rapid global changes we face today. Articles are: "Can Extreme Poverty Be Eliminated?" by Jeffrey D. Sachs; "The Climax of Humanity" by George Musser; "Human Population Grows Up" by Joel E. Cohen; "Public Health in Transition" by Barry R. Bloom; "Sustaining the Variety of Life" by Stuart L. Pimm and Clinton Jenkins; "More Profit with Less Carbon" by Amory B. Lovins; "The Big Potential of Small Farms" by Paul Polak; "How Should We Set Priorities?" by W. Wayt Gibbs; and "Economics in a Full World" by Herman E. Daly. The entire issue is online.

Workshop on International Scientific and Technological Co-operation for Sustainable Development

Go to the Workshop website.

21-22 November 2005
Pilanesberg National Park (near Johannesburg)
South Africa
Organised by the Government of South Africa and the OECD

The workshop has two main objectives:

• To identify good practices in international science and technology co-operation, especially between OECD and developing countries, aiming at fostering capacity-building in science and technology, at facilitating effective diffusion of scientific knowledge and technology transfer, and at developing knowledge infrastructure and networks, in order to meet sustainable development objectives at national and global levels. Such good practices include highlighting concrete and efficient solutions that have been implemented in the areas of water and energy.

• To consider possible indicators of good practices in international science and technology co-operation for sustainable development and methodologies to evaluate international science and technology co-operation initiatives.

Participants: Government policy makers in science and technology, academic experts, from OECD and non-Member countries; businesses involved in relevant activities in the developed and developing countries, representatives of other inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations.

"Infection: The usual suspects"

Read the full article in the Economist. (Subscription required.)

"Science has thus far counted 1,400 pathogens that affect humans. Mark Woolhouse and Sonya Gowtage-Sequeria from the University of Edinburgh have surveyed these and found that 13% are regarded as emerging (such as SARS or HIV) or re-emerging (such as tuberculosis, West Nile virus or malaria). Furthermore, the number of new pathogens emerging seems to be on the increase."

One or two new human pathogens are discovered each year. Some no doubt are discovered due to better surveillance. Some are transitory, to emerge and quickly disappear. But there may be changes in human ecology that promote the emergence of new diseases.

Most new diseases come from animals. As populations increase, and as more people live in close proximity to more livestock, there are more possibilities of transfer of diseases from livestock to man. Similarly, as agriculture extends ever further, more people are coming into more contact with more wildlife, and thus exposed to new animal pathogens. Moreover, more crowded conditions and more rapid transportation allows diseases that might once have infected a single person and never been diagnosed, to infect a group, spread and come to the attention of the public health officials.

"If many of the factors responsible for the emergence of new diseases—such as international travel, intensification of agriculture and urbanisation—are likely to continue, how is the world to respond to the threat of new diseases? The answer seems to be to spend more money on animal and human health, as well as on the monitoring and surveillance of pathogens. With the world an increasingly connected place, achieving high standards in these areas would be a global public good."

I would also recommend "Preparing for a Pandemic" (of Avian flu) by W. Wayt Gibbs and Christine Soares in the November 2005 edition of Scientific American.

"A new vaccine shows promising results"

Read the full article in the Economist. (Subscription required.)

"Experimental tests on 1,442 children living in Mozambique now indicate that an effective vaccine might be possible. The children were given three shots of a candidate vaccine in 2003, at which time they were between one and four years old. Some 18 months later, the cases of life-threatening malaria in these children were halved and, overall, clinical cases were cut by 35%. The results—which are similar to those reported at the six-month stage and suggest that the vaccine does not become less effective over time—were presented at the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria's conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and published online in a British medical journal, the Lancet, on November 15th."

The December issue of Scientific American (now available on the newstands, but not on the Internet until next month) has a good article, "Tackling Malaria" by Claire Panosian Dunavan. She describes the magnitude of the malaria problem, and advocates a multifaceted approach, eventually using drugs, pesticides, bed nets, enrionmental cleanup, and engineering to fight malaria.

VP’s Modest Proposal

I was visited by the shade of Jonathan Swift the other day, and he asked me to blog the following interview. The interview is with an anonymous White House source, identified only by the initials “VP”. It deals with a new proposal circulating in the highest echelons of the Administration. The source has asked for his name to be withheld because he is too modest to seek credit for the idea.

JS: Tell me about your proposal.

VP: It is really quite simple. We solve two problems at once, that of the Al Qaeda prisoners and that of feeding the people dispossessed by the recent hurricanes. We simply butcher the prisoners, and feed the meat to the hurricane victims.

JS: But….

VP: I know what you are going to say. You are going to ask, isn’t that too expensive? First, nothing is too expensive in the defense of liberty! And in fact, Halliburton officials tell me that they can deliver the meat at only $100 a pound. We can easily afford that by cutting back on food stamps, school feeding programs, welfare and a few other programs we don’t like anyway.

JS: Doesn’t that run against the Geneva Convention.

VP: No you don’t understand. The Geneva Convention is just concerned with the treatment of prisoners of war. It doesn’t cover meat packing plants at all. We would no longer be troubled by Red Cross inspectors and others of their ilk. The inspections woud be done by the Department of Agriculture, and we can control them!

JS: But…

VP: I know what you are going to say. Wouldn’t that run against our objective of getting more information out of the prisoners. Not at all! Torture wasn’t working all that well anyway. But threatening prisoners with slaughter, rendering their flesh, and eventual cannibalism would really get their attention!

JS: What about the military response:

VP: Rummy tells me that he has just the boy to set up the program. If we train the soldiers right, they will do their duty. And if there is any unfortunate publicity, the way there was with Abu Ghraib, we can blame the problems on a few low ranking reservists. That always works!

JS: Wouldn’t the people displaced by Katrina and Rita object to eating human flesh?

VP: We'll have Karen Hughes to explain to them their patriotic duty. They are real patriots down there! One of the ideas we have been kicking around is to give the meat a good name. For example, we talk about pork, not pig meat, and beef, not cow meat. We could call it Americana! That would be patriotic!

JS: Isn’t it very unhealthy to eat human flesh? Aren’t you likely to find all the diseases that humans experience in the meat from these people from war zones?

VP: Another advantage! We have too many hurricane refugees (woops, survivors). If a few thousand get sick and die, well George isn’t too happy spending all that money on poor folk down there anyway.

JS: There are hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the hurricanes, and only a few hundred prisoners.

VP: Of course, we would have to collect a lot more suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. But we are finding more every day! There are not only the prisoners in Guantanamo, but those in Abu Ghraib and the other prisons in Iraq. Then there are the suspects from Afghanistan, The CIA can provide more. We could capture a lot more suspects if we needed to. In fact, I think we can produce so much Americana that we can export the stuff.

JS: Do you have any last words for our readers?

VP: The only thing I am worried about is if those Democrats start playing politics with this idea they way they did with the way we explained the wars, and the planning for the wars, and the support for the troops. They even made us fire Brownie because of the fuss the liberal media made about a few thousand people in the Super Dome. But I am sure that any real patriot will get behind this idea.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

After the World Summit on the Information Society

The World Summit on the Information Society is finally over. Another good thing is that it has engendered public discussion on information and communications technology for development. Unfortunately, most of that discussion seems to have centered on the role of ICANN in the governance of the Internet, and on “A Laptop for Every Child”. Unfortunately, the key issues that should have been and sometimes were discussed at the Summit have been largely overlooked by the media.

The industrial revolution, which still has not reached all of the world’s population, transformed society by substituting power from engines for animal power, and by mechanizing tasks that previously had been done by hand. It marked the emergence of manufacturing industries over extractive industries as the drivers of development. It profoundly changed the nature of society.

The information revolution, which is just beginning to affect most of the world, transforms society by enabling affordable communication at a distance, and by automating tasks previously done in the minds of men – calculation, storage and retrieval of information, etc. It marks the emergence of service industries over manufacturing industries as the drivers of development. It will profoundly change the nature of society.

The age of the printing press, beginning in the 1450’s, was advanced by the industrial revolution allowing printed material to be produced in greater and greater amounts, more and more cheaply, and distributed more widely and economically. The age of the microchip, beginning five centuries later, is extending all of these benefits. The growth of knowledge in the age of the printing press has been exponential, and it seems likely that the age of the microchip will allow that exponential growth to continue. Knowledge is now the driving force not only of the economies of rich countries, but increasingly of social and political development.

100 years from now, WSIS might be seen as a benchmark, as the first time the global community met to formally recognize the information revolution and information society. Of course, we barely recognize that we are at the beginning of such a transition, and we can not begin to predict its eventual ramifications. No wonder the participants at WSIS focused on small steps for men, rather than the giant step for mankind.

ICT and Poverty

The information society, as seen today by poor people in poor countries, is more a matter of radio and mobile phones than of computers and the Internet, although you would not appreciate the fact from the media coverage of WSIS. I do not belittle radio and telephones; they are a huge advance!

The unseen action of ICT on poverty is still more important. The extractive industries, agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, become more efficient as ICT is applied. Indeed, extractive industries benefit that we hardly consider as such, such as the “water industry”. Manufacturing too is transformed, albeit not at the level of the micro-enterprise in poor countries, by the application of ICT, from the design of plant and equipment, to the management of the process, to the marketing of goods. Transportation too becomes more efficient, as ICT is applied to the design and manufacture of vehicles of all kinds, to their operation, and to their management. Services, including governance, financial, health and educational services are perhaps even more able to achieve efficiency and coverage gains than the extractive and manufacturing industries. The transformation of economies by ICT is not accomplished by giving every poor person a computer, but rather by appropriate investments in technology where they will have the highest benefit-to-cost ratio. In societies with pro-poor policies, the rising tide of economic growth does in fact raise all boats including those of the poor. And indeed, I suggest, proper applications of ICT for development make those pro-poor policies more likely and more effective.

A $100 laptop

MIT’s media genius has grabbed the headlines, but in spite of the slogan “one laptop for every child”, MIT will be lucky to sell a million laptops in the next few years. MIT’s proposal is not only to revolutionize the market for educational computers in poor countries, but also to revolutionize educational software, and – perhaps more importantly – to revolutionize the pedagogy that surrounds the use of ICT in education and, still more generally, pedagogy itself. MIT will be lucky to produce any significant advances in e-learning in the next few years, much less to convince large numbers of teachers to utilize them.

But what happens if a million $100 laptops are put into place that would not otherwise be there? They would probably go to places with some economic possibilities, and would probably go to train kids who would eventually join an intellectual elite. They would probably go to places with educational administrators more adventurous than most, and indeed to classrooms with teachers more adventurous than most. The introduction of exciting new equipment and exciting new teaching methods and aids would be likely to improve the learning environment immeasurably. Getting a million kids into such an environment, and enabling them to join an intellectual elite in their nations after such an experience seems a great accomplishment to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Annan presents prototype $100 laptop at World Summit on Information Society"

Read the entire MIT press release.

"U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan unveiled the first working prototype of the $100 laptop Nov. 16 at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia."

I heard a radio program broadcasting a discussion of whether developing nations really need a cheap laptop, or whether there isn't some better way to spend scarce resources than buying computers for school childred. It seems to me that this is the old question, "what good is a baby". Babies grow up. Computer prices come down, and become more affordable in developing nations.

The MIT effort is just one of several to develop an ultra-low cost computer for developing country markets. Eventually someone will probably do it. It might well be a firm looking for a cheap commodity computer for a rich country market that stumbles into a mass developing country market.

I frankly don't think Nicolas Negroponte and Symore Papert, whose names seem to be associated with this project, are likely commercial entrepreneurs. I recall that they created the "World Center" in Paris some two decades ago to promote the dissemination of personal computers to developing nations. It went out of business after a few years. I don't know, but I somehow doubt that they will succeed in creating a $100 million per year business selling cheap computers to the education market in developing nations. But I don't really care.

These are two of the most creative guys anywhere. The MIT Media Lab has triggered many, many innovators in new directions. Papert has influenced a generation or two of people involved in creating the technology to enable e-learning. They lead, and others will follow.

The telephone has been around a lot longer than the computer, and it still has not reached the full developing country population. But the creation of modular phones has suddenly and dramatically increased the rate of penetration of the phone network into poor nations. Eventually something similar will happen for the computer and the Internet.

I did my first computer programming in 1958. It was not much before that that the president of IBM famously estimated that the total market for computers might be four or five machines. We must already have a global computing network vastly more powerful that would have been the case had every person in the world obtained a 1950's technology computer. The power of the global computer network in 2050 is far beyond my comprehension or ability to predict.

The first investments in a revolutionary technology may not be very attractive in terms of returns in the short run. But they are necessary if a country or society is to learn to use the technology. There is already much more computer capacity installed in developing nations than I could have imagined when I first went to transfer the technology to Chile in 1965. The developing world is learning to utilize a network that will (in historical terms) be ready for use in the blink of an eye!

"Schools Cheer Rise in Foreign Students"

Read Yudhijit Bhattacharjee's full article in Science. (Subscription necessary.)

"The number of foreign students enrolling in U.S. graduate programs has gone up this fall for the first time since 2001. Educators attribute the 1% increase over last year, documented in a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), to improvements in visa processing and see it as the reversal of a trend that began after the 2001 terrorist attacks. But they remain concerned that the United States may still be losing its attractiveness as a destination for students from around the world......

"The number of students from China and India--the two largest sending countries--has risen by 3%, and enrollments from the Middle East are up by 11%. Engineering enrollments, a top draw among international students, are up 3%, and the physical sciences recorded a 1% rise."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"Sum of knowledge"

Go to the OECD Observer story.

"The latest comparable data for the OECD comes from 2000, when average (OECD national) investment in knowledge came to 4.8% of GDP. Sweden spent the most on knowledge, with 7.2% of GDP, followed by the US (6.8%) and Finland (6.2%). Overall, the ratio is 2.8 percentage points higher in the US than in the EU. Investment in knowledge was lowest (below 2.5% of GDP) in southern and central Europe, and Mexico.

"Most OECD countries have increased spending in their knowledge base, the Scoreboard reports. In the 1990s, Denmark, Ireland, Finland and Sweden increased it by more than 7.5% annually, far above their increase in gross fixed capital formation, though this item grew more rapidly than knowledge investment in Australia, Canada and the US. For most countries, increases in software expenditure were the major source of increased investment in knowledge."

OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2005

"Development aid record"

Read the full report from the Development Section of the OECD Observer.

"On the assumption that OECD donors deliver on their various public statements since Monterrey in 2002, the latest simulation by OECD experts completed just before the September summit indicates that their Official Development Assistance (ODA) will increase by about $50 billion. This would take ODA from a little under $80 billion in 2004 to approaching $130 billion in 2010, with a doubling of aid for Africa. All of this amounts to the largest expansion in ODA as measured by the OECD since the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) was formed in 1960, even if at 0.36% of OECD DAC gross national income by 2010, it remains below the 0.50% achieved in the early years of the Committee’s existence."

"Do you Floss?"

Lawrence Lessig's review of Steven Weber’s The Success of Open Source and Eric von Hippel’s Democratising Innovation in The London Review of Books. (Vol. 27 No. 16 dated 18 August 2005, subscription required to read online.)

"Both books address similar questions: how come these (user supplied innovation) economies actually function? How do we understand them? How could we improve them? And both make it clear that we all – citizens, businesses and governments – lose if we ignore the wealth these economies create.......

"The core of Weber’s analysis.......addresses two fundamental questions: first, what motivates those who contribute to this sharing economy? And, second, given the complexity of large software projects, how are their contributions successfully combined?......

"Most developers, Weber observes, code (free, libre, open source software) FLOSS projects to fix a problem they are themselves experiencing.......A programmer at a major bank, for example, might have discovered a problem with the way a program handles many simultaneous users. That programmer then ‘opens the hood’ (to borrow again from Raymond) to investigate the problem. If the coder fixes it, he has served his own private need – either for himself, or for the company he works for. That service needs no explanation from the perspective of the (quid pro quo) qpq economy. The puzzle is, why does he then release his fix to others for free? Why, after expending private resources, would he not demand further compensation first?

"The answer has something to do with the individuals concerned, and something to do with the nature of software. It’s ordinarily hard to understand why anyone would give away something of value, but that’s because usually, giving it away means having less yourself. But software in particular, and knowledge in general, is not like food: when I reveal to you how best to install Word on your computer, I don’t lose that ability myself.......Weber points to some familiar reasons – the kudos, for example, that flows to a programmer from others in his community – but he adds another that is often missed. It’s not just that code is non-rival; it’s that code in particular, and (at least some) knowledge in general, is, as Weber calls it, ‘anti-rival’. I am not only not harmed when you share an anti-rival good: I benefit..........

"The real difficulty with FLOSS economies, however, is to understand the way contributions are co-ordinated. For not only are the contributors spread across the world, the project to which they are contributing is insanely complex........Weber’s answer is that a combination of norms and technology replaces the ability to issue commands........The norms are many, and familiar: they concern who leads a project, how decisions get made, ‘technical rationality’ (meaning practical results decide), and transparency in decisions. Most interesting is a commitment to the freedom to ‘fork’, meaning to split a project if its current leader pushes it in a way that many don’t like. This keeps alive the possibility of ‘no-fault divorce’ in all FLOSS projects.........The less familiar, but perhaps more important tools enabling co-ordination are technological: the design principles that enable code to be developed by many different people at minimal cost. Because extensive co-ordination in FLOSS is difficult, developers build projects, for example, to a disciplined modular design. So long as the interface of a module plugs into the rest, no one need worry about how the internals work........

"The software development that Weber describes is alien to most of us. But von Hippel naturalises it, showing us that aliens are everywhere. Something very much like FLOSS is happening in a wide range of commercial contexts. Sharing economies, in other words, are not just for geeks......Von Hippel writes:
The ‘private investment model’ of innovation assumes that innovation will be supported by private investment if and as innovators can make attractive profits from doing so. In this model, any free revealing or uncompensated ‘spillover’ of proprietary knowledge developed by private investment will reduce the innovator’s profits. It is therefore assumed that innovators will strive to avoid spillovers of innovation-related information. From this perspective . . . free revealing is a major surprise: it seems to make no sense that innovators would intentionally give away information for free that they had invested money to develop.
In the areas that von Hippel considers, between 10 and 40 per cent of users adapt the products they use, and freely reveal their innovations.........Why do they do it? Von Hippel identifies a number of motives. As with FLOSS, the innovator may benefit personally from the diffusion of an innovation because it increases the value of the product (anti-rivalness). The clearest example is academic publication, where ‘free revealing’ (publishing in open access journals) increases the number of citations the academic receives. And as with FLOSS, the innovators may benefit simply because they value the process of innovation. The hobbyist tinkering with his mountain bike may well be producing something of value to himself, to other cyclists and to the company that makes the bike. But he wouldn’t therefore call his tinkering ‘work’, at least in the qpq sense of that term."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Political Appointments, Bureau Chiefs, and Federal Management Performance"

Abstract: "The relationship between appointments and federal management performance has been the subject of political science inquiry virtually from the start of the discipline yet we still know little systematically about the influence of appointments on management performance. In this paper I use the Bush Administration’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) scores—a numerical measure of management performance—to analyze the relationship between political appointees and federal management performance. I find that politically appointed bureau chiefs get systematically lower management grades than bureau chiefs drawn from the civil service. I find that career managers have more direct bureau experience and longer tenures and these characteristics are significantly related to management performance. Political appointees have higher education levels, more private or not-for-profit management experience, and more varied work experience than careerists but these characteristics are uncorrelated with management performance. I conclude that some combination of structural changes or increased sensitivity to appointee selection based upon certain background characteristics could improve federal bureau management."
David E. Lewis
Princeton University

Congratulations to Barbara Turner

Barbara Turner is the recipient of the 2005 Service to America Medal for Career Achievement!

The feature article describing her qualifications for the award begins:
Barbara Turner's four decades with the federal government embody perseverance, achievement and public service that would be hard to match in the private sector, especially in today's world of frequent career changes. She worked her way from the lowest rungs to the highest, and along the way made a big difference in people's lives.

Read Barbara's profile: "Making a Difference Around the Globe".

Barbara was for many years a colleague at USAID, and I had many opportunities to see her outstanding work. It is a nice feeling to be able to congratulate her for a recognition amply deserved!

"Pandemic or Not, Experts Welcome Bush Flu Plan"

Read Jocelyn Kaiser's article in Science magazine. (Subscription required.)

"The Bush Administration's proposed flu plan, calling for $7.1 billion to help prepare the nation for a deadly influenza pandemic, is generally winning plaudits from public health experts--but not necessarily because they think a pandemic is imminent. Even if no such disaster materializes, they say, the plan will finance a much-needed overhaul of the nation's regular flu vaccine infrastructure.

"When he announced the initiative last week, President George W. Bush noted growing concerns that the H5N1 avian influenza now spreading west from Asia could acquire the ability to be transmitted from human to human. In caveats sometimes lost in general press accounts, Bush and other officials emphasized that H5N1 might not morph into a pandemic strain. A plan is needed, they say, to combat the emergence of any superstrain of human influenza, an event that has happened three times since 1900 and that many think is inevitable in the next few years..........

"The Administration's plan quickly drew congressional fire. In several hearings, lawmakers complained that it would provide insufficient money to states, which are expected to help pay for the antiviral drugs. Others have expressed concerned that the Department of Homeland Security will lead the response, rather than HHS, which has the appropriate public health expertise.

"The plan arrives as some experts are questioning whether the likelihood of a devastating pandemic is being exaggerated. Off it, for example, suggests that H5N1, which has sickened 120 people over the past 8 years and killed about half, would have spread from human to human by now if it was going to happen. But he and others are praising the Bush plan anyway because it will help reduce the toll from seasonal influenza. 'We're seduced into this tsunami mentality,' (Paul) Offit says. But if you add up annual deaths from influenza, he says the numbers quickly approach pandemic estimates. Longini agrees: 'I'm glad all this is happening, but not because of pandemic flu.'"

"China to vaccinate 14bn poultry"

Read the full article in BBC NEWS.

"China has vowed to vaccinate all of its estimated 14 billion poultry to contain the spread of bird flu.

"In his announcement, Chief veterinary officer Jia Youling said all the fees would be covered by the government.

"The move comes as new outbreaks of bird flu were confirmed in several regions of China in the past month."

Daniel S. Greenberg on The Republican War on Science

Read the full review of Chris Mooney's book in the London Review of Books. (Subscription required.)

I consider Greenberg to be the dean of those reporting on the interface between science and politics in Washington. He characterizes The Republican War on Science as "a valuable chronicle of Bush’s persistent efforts to undermine the authority of science in the interests of his anti-regulatory and anti-abortion agendas."

Greenberg himselt offers a scathing list of offenses in his review:
* The president has done his best to cast doubt on the theory of evolution with his respectful nods to the crackpot concept of ‘intelligent design’, a pseudo-scientific fabrication more marketable than its crude kin, creationism.
* The president’s base demands unwavering fealty to the anti-abortion movement, and the Bush camp has obliged, even to the extent of fabricating an association between abortion and breast cancer.
* The administration then turned its attention to condoms, which are an affront to the evangelical preference for abstinence. Mooney notes that both the Centers for Disease Control and the State Department’s Agency for International Development "have altered informational materials on condoms to downplay their effectiveness".
* Bush has repeatedly denigrated the work and warnings of the world’s leading climate researchers, scoffing at their conclusion – based on analyses of vast collections of data – that global climate change is caused in large part by the burning of fossil fuels.
* "Sound science" became a battle cry for Gingrich in his commitment to the wholesale dismantling of government regulations, and it has since been carried forward by the Bush administration in a variety of ploys aimed at undermining regulations disliked by industry.
* The Data Quality Act, a federal law that subjects government agencies to multiple challenges, peer review and stiff standards of scientific evidence when they attempt to mitigate health or environmental hazards, was passed in 2001.
* (Bush's) theatrical, hand-wringing decision regarding stem-cell research, which allowed federal funding only for embryonic stem-cell lines that were in existence prior to 9 August 2001. The decision, Bush said, was painfully arrived at after consultation with religious leaders, bio-ethicists, scientists and physicians. That it made little sense was evident from the start.

William Steiger, the director of the Office of Global Affairs and a godson of the first President Bush, is of some interest to me, since many years ago I worked in the predecessor of that office. "When a joint report of the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation linked obesity and excessive sugar consumption, particularly in soft drinks, the sugar lobby reacted boldly," according to Greenberg. They recruited Steiger to their support, Steiger, in turn, used the Data Quality Act to attack the FAO/WHO report, "even though researchers in his own department had participated in its preparation and endorsed it as a reliable basis for policy recommendations." Ultimately, "the World Health Assembly omitted any reference to the disputed document in the global strategy for diet and health that it issued in 2004." Steiger’s office went on with efforts to prevent government scientists from opposing the administration’s pro-business preferences, stating that that office would select U.S. experts advising the WHO, and those experts would be required to support US policies. Steiger also "put restrictions on foreign travel by scientists in his department: ‘foreign’ included the Washington offices of the World Bank, WHO and other UN organisations."

Greenberg is offended by the "political passivity of that community, despite the many assaults on its integrity, and the seething discontent that is now evident among individual scientists. The ‘war’ in the title is a lop-sided conflict, initiated and pursued by the administration. On the science side, it has consisted of petitions by Nobel laureates and other eminences, press releases, occasional editorials in scientific journals and feeble efforts to mobilise anti-Bush votes in 2000 and 2004. Though disturbed and offended by the administration’s manipulation, distortion and suppression of scientific data, science is not at the barricades. Most deplorable is the failure of the scientific establishment to help the public understand the reality and implications of Bush’s assaults on science."

"Review of 'Plan B' Pill Is Faulted: Report Calls FDA Actions 'Unusual'"

Read the full article by Marc Kaufman in the Washington Post online.

Excerpts from the article"

"Senior Food and Drug Administration officials were told that the application to sell the 'morning-after pill' without prescription was going to be rejected before the staff completed its scientific review and months before the decision was made public, government investigators reported yesterday.

"A report by the independent Government Accountability Office also said senior FDA officials, including then-Commissioner Mark B. McClellan, were actively involved in the politically sensitive decision -- one of four aspects of the agency's actions that the investigators called 'unusual.'

"The GAO report, requested by Congress more than 16 months ago, said the agency did not follow its normal procedures in making the scientific assessment of the Plan B proposal and in having a top official sign off on the eventual decision after lower-ranking scientists refused.

"Critics of the FDA's handling of the issue said the report confirmed their view that the agency had allowed politics to trump science."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Israel's technology industry

Read "Punching above its weight: The secret of Israel's success" in The Economist. (Subscription necessary.)

"Israel is third only to America and Canada in the number of companies listed on NASDAQ, and the country attracts twice the number of venture-capital (VC) investments as the whole of Europe, according to Ed Mlavsky, a veteran of the Israeli technology industry and the chairman and founder of Gemini, a big Israeli VC fund that was one of the investors in Saifun. In 2003, 55% of Israel's exports were high technology, compared with the OECD average of 26%. Tech giants such as IBM, Motorola and Cisco have research centres in Israel, which is also where Intel developed its Centrino chip. Not bad for a country with a population of 6.9m."

The bad news for other countries that wish to encourage the development of their technology industries is that few of the factors that account for Israeli success can be replicated elsewhere.

International Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development

This 2004 conference website has links to a large number of very well selected papers on science and technology for international development. I recommend especially:

Evenson, Robert E. 2003. "Making Science and Technology Work for the Poor - Lecture 1: The Green Revolution in Africa." Delivered at the UNECA conference held 7-10 October 2003, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and sponsored by the United Nations University (UNU), Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (INRA), and UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Evenson, Robert E. 2003. "Making Science and Technology Work for the Poor - Lecture 2: The 'Price of Admission' to the Growth Club for African Countries." Delivered at the UNECA conference held 7-10 October 2003, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and sponsored by the United Nations University (UNU), Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (INRA), and UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Evenson, Robert E. 2003. "Making Science and Technology Work for the Poor - Lecture 3: Development Strategies for Africa." Delivered at the UNECA conference held 7-10 October 2003, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and sponsored by the United Nations University (UNU), Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (INRA), and UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Jacobs, Katharine (2003). "Connecting science, policy, and decision-making: a handbook for researchers and science agencies." Silver Spring, MD, NOAA Office of Global Programs/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

"Foreign Student Enrollment Drops"

Read the full article by Alan Finder in The New York Times. (Registration required.)

"The number of foreign students enrolled in American universities declined slightly in the 2004-5 academic year, according to a survey to be released today, suggesting that a more significant drop that took place in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in 2001 might be abating.

"About 565,000 students from foreign countries were studying in undergraduate and graduate programs at American universities, a decline of 1 percent from the previous academic year, according to an annual survey by the Institute of International Education that was financed by the State Department.

"A survey released by the organization last year showed that foreign student enrollment had declined by 2.4 percent in the 2003-4 academic year, the first decrease in foreign students in three decades.

"A related survey released last week by the Council of Graduate Schools showed that the number of international students entering American graduate schools increased 1 percent this year. The report was based on a survey of a sample of graduate institutions."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

SciDev.Net Malaria Dossier

Click here to transfer to the SciDev.Net Malaria Dossier.

Controlling a disease as entrenched as malaria, which kills up to three million people a year — mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa — is an enormous challenge. The SciDev.Net a 'dossier', compiled under the guidance of an international panel of advisors, includes specially commissioned in-depth articles about malaria research and policy in developing countries.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program

Click here to go to the MAB Program website.

"UNESCO’s Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB) develops the basis, within the natural and the social sciences, for the sustainable use and conservation of biological diversity, and for the improvement of the relationship between people and their environment globally.

"The MAB Programme encourages interdisciplinary research, demonstration and training in natural resource management. MAB contributes thus not only to better understanding of the environment, including global change, but to greater involvement of science and scientists in policy development concerning the wise use of biological diversity.

"Over the next decades, MAB is focusing on new approaches for facilitating sustainable development, through promoting conservation and wise use of biodiversity. By taking advantage of the transdisciplinary and cross-cultural opportunities of UNESCO’s mandate in the fields of education, science, culture and communication, MAB is promoting both scientific research and information gathering, as well as linking with traditional knowledge about resource use. It must serve to help implement Agenda 21 and related Conventions, in particular the Convention on Biological Diversity."

The International Co-ordinating Council of the MAB Program, the ICC, is composed of 34 elected representatives of Member States of UNESCO. The are:
Austria** Belarus* Chile** Congo** Cuba** Czech Republic* Dem. People's Rep. of Korea* Denmark* Dominica* Ethiopia** Gabon** Germany* Ghana* Israel** Italy* Lebanon** Mexico* Mozambique* Myanmar* Nicaragua* Nigeria* Peru* Philippines** Republic of Korea* Romania** Russian Federation* Saudi Arabia* Sri Lanka* Sudan** Sweden** Syrian Arab Republic** United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland** United Republic of Tanzania* Vietnam**
* Members until 34th session of the General Conference, 2007
** Members until 35th session of the General Conference, 2009
Many nations, including the United States, have organized MAB National Committees. Such a committee is responsible for the activities making up the national contribution of a country to the MAB program.
· In co-operation with the UNESCO National Commissions, it serves as a liaison between the different institutions and ministries concerned by the MAB Programme and UNESCO (MAB Secretariat, Division of Ecological Sciences and field offices).
· It also serves to liaise with the national structures responsible for the other UNESCO programmes in environment and development, i.e. the IGCP, IHP, IOC and MOST, with a view to develop joint activities, as appropriate.
· It ensures the national participation, as a member or as an observer, whenever appropriate, in the sessions of the MAB International Co-ordinating Council.
The United States' MAB National Committee is chaired by Dr Barbara Weber of the USDA Forest Service.

The ICC membership changes every two years, when UNESCO's General Conference meets to replace half its members. I suggest that in 2007, the U.S. government seek a place on the ICC. We have the experts to contribute substantially to its work, and international policy interests that such membership could advance.

How the Press Covers Science

Here are today's "Science" headlines from several news services via Yahoo! News:

* Third trans-Kashmir crossing opens for quake relief
* Ancient 'Godzilla' crocodile found in Argentina
* Half of South Asia quake dead were likely children: UNICEF
* Crop yield is good news for drought-hit Sahel states
* Mediterranean states and EU pledge environmental clean up

New York Times
* The Pope on Creation

BBC News
* Super-rocket's next critical test
* Water builds the heat in Europe

* N.J. Biologist Studies Ice-Hardy Worms
* Huge Meteorite Found Underground in Kan.
* New Chewing Gum Could Replace Toothbrush
* Baby Panda at San Diego Zoo Named Su Lin
* Evidence of Huge Ancient Crocodile Found

* Health problems up in Zimbabwe
* China unlikely to sign on to Kyoto emissions cuts
* Germany secures delay in EU chemical reform deal
* Proposed condom labels warn against spermicide

Very few of these stories deal with science. Most deal with the physical world, and thus pose a problem for news agencies.

Most of the "news" seems to be about people and their social or political behavior. So stories about earthquakes, crop yields, the environment, and health conditions are termed "science". The New York Times article (which to be fair, they called "international") is religious in tone, not science.

The science news is very heavy on "charismatic" stories, that have very little scientific importance -- ancient crocodiles, and a baby panda.

There are technology stories -- rockets and chewing gum! The story about the EU "Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals" bill does seem to have important implications for the industrial chemistry industries, but it is the exception. The public fascination with rocket technology seems far in excess of its importance, and many technology stories seem to find news space because of their cuteness.

On the other hand, the news that is called "technology" news is almost always about information and communication technologies, and seldom about advances in manufacturing, transportation, agricultural, biomedical or any of the other technologies critical to our lives. I am a great fan of information and communication technologies, but the other technology news is also important. As the failures of the flood control works around New Orleans has demonstrated, so too news about engineering technology can be important! And of course, Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate the importance of news about military technologies.

Where is the coverage of the physical sciences -- of chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, microbiology, and geology. Where is the coverage of the social sciences -- of anthropology, sociology and economics?

I am not against the press covering topics that interest people, and indeed items that are newsworthy such as the South Asian quake or hunger in the Sahel. Perhaps what is needed is a category of news about "physical events" as distinguished from "political", "economic", and "social" events.

I am concerned that important science is not covered in the popular news. The "science" press can find enough important materials to fill its pages. By science press I mean not the scientific journals serving their specialized scientific communities, but those seeking to inform generally about scientific developments, including Scientific American, and large portions of Science and Nature, as well as many other magazines. While many scientists read these publications, they do so for general awareness of what is going on in other fields, and generally not for developments in their own field of specialization. The science press produces materials for a general, intelligent, educated audience, but not for the specialist.

The mass media need better editorial work on science and technology. Opinion leaders and the general public need to be better informed, not only on what is going on in the physical world, but about important advances in technology that affect the economy and their everyday world, and about the changing understanding of the world developed by the sciences.

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Intelligent Design?"

Read all of Noam Chomsky's posting on ZNet.

"An old-fashioned conservative would believe in the value of Enlightenment ideals — rationality, critical analysis, freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry — and would try to adapt them to a modern society. The Founding Fathers, children of the Enlightenment, championed those ideals and took pains to create a Constitution that espoused religious freedom yet separated church and state. The United States, despite the occasional messianism of its leaders, isn’t a theocracy.

"In our time, the Bush administration’s hostility to scientific inquiry puts the world at risk. Environmental catastrophe, whether you think the world has been developing only since Genesis or for eons, is far too serious to ignore."

"We have a bird flu plan, but will it work?"

Read the full article by Debora Mackenzie in the New Scientist.

"Recent weeks have seen a startling shift in attitudes, with governments taking the threat far more seriously. Last week, the US published a pandemic plan that pledges $7.1 billion, mainly for vaccines and drugs. For the first time the meeting in Geneva includes financial institutions such as the World Bank, which plans a global pandemic fund in 2006.

"Further good news has also emerged from a little-publicised meeting in Geneva last week. Vaccine companies and national authorities agreed to test low-dose vaccines against the H5N1 strain of bird flu. The lower the dose, the more vaccine doses can be produced quickly. Until now, all vaccine trials in humans planned to use 7.5 micrograms or more of viral protein, despite research in Germany in 2004 showing that 2 micrograms could work just as well.

"The results of the trials, now starting in the US, Australia, Japan and Canada, and the optimum dosage, will be known in about six months' time, says Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. If 2-microgram doses are effective, existing vaccine factories may be capable of producing enough for almost everyone.

"But a number of critical ifs and buts remain. For instance, Europe and the US cannot yet agree on how to license low-dose vaccines that must also include an immune booster called an adjuvant."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Avian Influenza - Are We Prepared?

Go to the Senate Hearing website.

This Senate Hearing was held yesterday, November 9, 2005. Those testifying included representatives of State, CDC, NIH, and USAID. There was also a presentation on the costs of a pandemic (if one occurs). The prepared statements of those testifying are linked to this page. This represents a readable, comprehensive review of the situation from a U.S. perspective.

" Here we go again"

Read the piece from The New York Times/International Herald Tribune of November 1, 2005

"Responding to questions at her confirmation hearing last week, Ellen Sauerbrey, the former Maryland state legislator nominated by President George W. Bush to head a key State Department humanitarian bureau, could come up with no convincing reason for why her lack of any relevant experience coordinating emergency aid shouldn't disqualify her from the job."

NGOs Urge Bush to Withdraw Sauerbrey Nomination

Read the Inter Press Service News Agency report from October 17, 2005.

"A coalition of 10 women's health and rights groups Tuesday urged Bush to withdraw the nomination of Amb. Ellen Sauerbrey as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), calling it 'yet another in a long string of crony nominations of unqualified individuals for critical positions'.

"The groups' statement followed editorials denouncing Sauerbrey's appointment by two of the country's most important newspapers, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, which called her unqualified and too ideological, as well as criticism by prominent emergency relief groups.

"'This is a job that deals with one of the great moral issues of our time,' Joel R. Charney, vice president for policy at Refugees International, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. 'This is not a position where you drop in a political hack.'

"Sauerbrey, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Maryland twice during the 1990s, has served in relatively low-profile State Department positions since Bush took office in 2001, most recently as U.S. representative to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the U.N.'s Commission on the Status of Women."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded today to Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn

Read about the award on the Google blog.

"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award given in the United States, and our own Vint Cerf has been recognized with this honor. He and Robert Kahn will be recognized in a White House ceremony next Wednesday.

"Together, Vint and Bob designed the architecture and protocols 30+ years ago that are used today to implement and operate the Internet. The White House statement puts it succinctly: "Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn have been at the forefront of a digital revolution that has transformed global commerce, communication, and entertainment."

Robert Kahn is married to Patrice Lyons, a member of the Board of Trustees of Americans for UNESCO.

Congratulations to Drs. Cerf and Kahn!

"Flu Vaccine Could Have Far Reach Under Best Circumstances"

Read David Brown's article in The Washington Post.

"Data presented Tuesday at an international conference on bird flu indicate that drug manufacturers could produce enough influenza vaccine starting sometime in 2008 to protect between a quarter and half the world's population over the course of a year, should a new and dangerous strain of flu virus emerge..........

"For a vaccine to reach a quarter to a half of the world's population -- 1.7 billion to 3.4 billion people -- current plans by manufacturers to expand production would have to go forward uninterrupted. In order to immunize the maximum number of people, doses would also have to be used with immunity-boosting substances that would make the vaccine more effective. The projections assume there will be enough trained technicians and needles on hand to administer the vaccines.

"The projection of reaching up to 3.4 billion people also assumes the use of a technique that would double the vaccine's potency, based on research being conducted."

The impact of vaccines would seem to me to depend heavily on the way the vaccine was used. If a quarter of the world population were immunized, emphasizing health care workers and high risk people in relatively affluent countries, it could probably reduce mortality and disease burden in those countries. If the immunizations were allocated preferentially to creating herd immunity in man in areas in which bird flu was likely to jump to human populations then a pandemic might be averted totally.

"The President's Overseas Reproductive Health Policy: Think Locally, Act Globally"

Read Susan Cohen's essay in the August 2002 online issue of the Guttmacher Report on Public Policy.

"In first announcing and then defending his first-day-in-office decision to reimpose the "global gag rule" that had been instituted by President Reagan in 1984 and revoked by President Clinton in 1993, President Bush and members of his administration took pains to couple their antiabortion statements with protestations of support for international family planning. Eighteen months later, however, the administration's record has begun to speak for itself.

"Barely one year after he reinstated the gag rule, the president froze the funds Congress had just appropriated for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for FY 2002. A few weeks later, in his FY 2003 budget proposal to Congress, he asked that funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development's family planning and reproductive health program be cut from the FY 2002 level and that no funds be allocated to UNFPA ("Congress and Reproductive Health: Major Actions in 2001 and a Look Ahead," TGR, February 2002). Shortly thereafter, the administration began using the opportunities presented by various United Nations (UN)-sponsored global meetings to aggressively export its domestic "abstinence-only" campaign as well as its antiabortion views. Further, the administration began using these meetings more generally to distance itself from the worldwide consensus on reproductive and sexual health issues that the United States itself was instrumental in forging at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing."