Friday, May 26, 2006

The ITER Project

ITER is a joint international research and development project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power. The partners in the project - the ITER Parties - are the European Union (represented by EURATOM), Japan, the People´s Republic of China, India, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA. ITER will be constructed in Europe, at Cadarache in the South of France.

In January 2003, President Bush announced that the United States would join the multilateral negotiations for the construction and operation of ITER, and last summer our Congress indicated in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 their support for this endeavor and the process by which the United States Government may formally accept the text of the ITER agreement. Finally, in his State of the Union Address to the American people this year, President Bush reaffirmed his support for basic research and highlighted his belief that research in methods of harnessing clean energy has a leading role in global energy security.

On May 24th, ministers representing the People's Republic of China, Euratom, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States of America met in the European Commission’s Berlaymont Building in Brussels to initial the agreement that they have negotiated on the joint implementation of ITER construction, operation, and decommissioning.

This opens the way to its signature by the governments concerned, expected to take place before the end of 2006, followed where needed by its ratification.

"Why American College Students Hate Science"

Read the full editorial piece by BRENT STAPLES published in The New York Times on May 25, 2006.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, runs the Meyerhoff Scholars Program.
The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals. At the same time, however, the students are pushed to perform at the highest level. Those who earn C's, for example, are encouraged to repeat those courses so they can master basic concepts before moving on. The laboratory approach keeps the students excited and prevents them from drifting off into less challenging disciplines.

The program has been very successful in attracting minority students to enroll in science and engineering programs at UMBC, and those students are getting good grades and graduating!

Read the article in Science magazine (March 31) by Michael F. Summers1 and Freeman A. Hrabowski that describes the program, and triggerred the Times editorial. (Subscription required.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Paradigms versus Communities of Practice

It is a long time since I last read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I recall that he proposed that a scientific revolution be seen as a change in the paradigm of a field of science. As normal science illuminates the field, more and more anomolies are discovered, and the field enters what might be seen as a crisis. Eventually someone, or a small group of scientists discover a new approach. More and more scientists are enlisted to the new approach, and fewer and fewer adhere to the old, until one can consider that a new paradigm has replaced the old. The paradigms then differ not only in the basic theories that motivate research, and in the communities of practioners, but also in the problems that appear interesting, methods, etc.

I have been reading David Warsh's Knowledge and the Wealth Of Nations. It is a history of the development of economic growth theory. He follows others to differentiate between those scientists (economists in this case) motivated primarily by desire for knowledge and understanding versus those motivated by a desire for tools to solve problems -- a difference between a "purely scientific" approach and an "engineering" approach.

Perhaps it is because the economic problems have been so oppressive, but it seems that many of the best known and most influential economists have wanted knowledge to enable them to better engineer the economy and solve economic problems.

In any case, Warsh describes a scientific world in which clusters of economists form, often in a single location such as a university department, and work on a common program. These communities seek out fields of inquiry which are relevant to pressing problems of public policy, that also appear fruitful for obtaining results.

The perceived fruitfulness of a topic depends on the economics that has been done before, and the theory and methods that have been developed. Warsh's discussion emphasizes, however, the importance of borrowing from other fields. In economics, there has been a great impact of new mathematics and of computers; surprisingly often, outsiders such as John von Neumann or John Nash have made important contributions to economics.

Warsh shows us a number of what we might consider as "communities of practice" working simultaneously in economics, without necessarily challenging the existing paradigm of that field. The various communities might indeed challenge each other intellectually and for political influence. But they are not seeking something so fundamental that it might be termed a change of paradigm.

It seems to me that Warsh's insight as to the importance of these communities and the motivations for their practice is important. It is an insight that might be explored in other fields of science.

As an aside, the fall of Communism and the triumph of Capitalism, including the emergence of "The Washington Consensus" seems to me like a change in paradigm. However, the more important change was of the social and political paradigm that followed the change in intellectual economic paradigm.

Bird Flu Fears Ignite Debate on Scientists' Sharing of Data

Read the full article by David Brown in The Washington Post of Thursday, May 25, 2006.
"A struggle has emerged between experts who believe the latest genetic data on the H5N1 bird flu virus should be made public immediately and others who fear that such a policy would alienate the countries collecting virus samples and the scientists analyzing them.

"The issue may come to a head this week at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, the governing body of the World Health Organization. Health ministers from more than 190 countries will consider a resolution that would require them to provide flu data and virus samples to the scientific community 'in a timely manner.'

"If adopted, that probably would end the current system whereby flu researchers decide when and how quickly crucial genetic data on the virus are made available to other scientists."

Make no mistake. Telling the world that there is an epidemic in your country has economic and political consequences. Even governments in "advanced, developed" nations can be unwilling to do so. Yet unless public health officials worldwide are aware of the geographic sources of the dangers we face, those dangers are increased!

“Guidelines for Terminology Policies. Formulating and implementing terminology policy in language communities”

UNESCO just published this report that was prepared by the International Information Center for Terminology (Infoterm). Terminology planning occurs at different levels: national, regional, language community, local community, institutional or organizational. There are also terminology planning activities in various professional fields such as chemistry, biology, physics and medicine. In addition, there is a terminology component to virtually all standardization and harmonization activities, whether in industry or elsewhere. A terminology policy or strategy, especially when conceived and implemented at the national level, needs to take into account highly complex demographic, cultural, ethno-linguistic and geo-linguistic and socio-psychological factors. Infoterm, was founded in 1971 by UNESCO with the objective to support and co-ordinate international co-operation in the field of terminology. Members are national, international and regional terminology institutions, organizations and networks, as well as specialized public or semi-public or other kind of non-profit institutions engaged in terminological activities.

Click here for the Infoterm databases.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Even Experts Differ on Interpretation of Data from Clinical Trials

Read the full article By ANDREW POLLACK and REED ABELSON published May 22, 2006 in The New York Times. (Registration required but free.)

Last week
prominent medical experts said that new data from Merck indicated that Vioxx's risks started to emerge after only four months of use. The controversy is the latest illustration of how widely open to interpretation and potential corporate pressure the results of clinical trials can be — even when reported in a leading medical journal.

Critics say it is now clear that the previous data analysis was done in a way that minimized the risks of the drug. Some also say that Merck and its academic collaborators should have known about that four-month threshold and made the earlier risks clearer in a medical journal article in March 2005.

It was the first scientific report of the clinical trial results that had prompted the company to withdraw the drug. That article, in The New England Journal of Medicine, concluded: "The increased relative risk became apparent after 18 months of treatment."

The conclusion "makes the drug look a lot safer than it was," Dr. Steven E. Nissen, the interim chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, said last week after reviewing the new data.

I guess conspiracy theorists will claim that the drug companies initial interpretation was self-serving. It seems more likely that it is simply a case in which reinterpretation of data in light of knowledge gained in the interim allows more careful analysis and conclusions. Of course, people are people, and scientists often are optimistic in their search for results. But I assume no scientist wants his results and interpretations to put his client in the position that Merck no finds itself with respect to Vioxx. I am pretty certain that the journal's reviewers would not have wanted to approve for publication a report that ran into the kind of criticism now directed at the first publication of Vioxx clinical trials.

In any case, the story illustrates just how hard it is to develop good knowledge for development!

"Heard the One About the 600,000 Chinese Engineers?"

Read the entire Opinion piece by Gerald W. Bracey in The Washington Post of Sunday, May 21, 2006.

Were 600,000, 350,000 pr 70,000 engineers produced in 2004 in China, India and the United States, respectively?
"The numbers first drew major notice when they appeared in a Fortune magazine story on July 25, 2005.......These numbers attained seemingly impeccable credibility when they were featured in a press release last October about a new report from the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, a joint group from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine (which, with the National Research Council, are collectively known as the National Academies).......

"After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, "Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate," they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor's degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That's more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation."

There are lies, damn lies and statistics. (This quotation is apparently from Disraeli, but frequently attributed to Mark Twain, who was really Samuel Langhorne Clemens.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Commission On Growth And Development Created By The World Bank

The World Bank has announced the creation of an independent, high-level Commission on Growth and Development comprised of leading practitioners from government, business and the policy-making arena. The Commission, over a two-year period, is intended to deepen the understanding of economic growth for development and poverty reduction. The Commission is independent and its conclusions will reflect the views of the Commission members. It will be chaired by Nobel laureate Michael Spence, former Dean of the Stanford Graduate Business School. Danny Leipziger, World Bank Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, will act as the Commission's Vice-Chair.

The Commission has been charges to:
* take stock of the current state of knowledge and understanding of economic growth, review the salient features of successful growth experiences,
* identify new and developing trends that are relevant to future growth strategies, and
* assess the most effective approaches for developing countries.

This exercise is to look at the coming ten years and beyond, recognizing the economic uncertainties that affect the international environment. The Commission is expected to shed light on the long-run forces underlying growth experiences, and highlight the actions--at the national and international level--most likely to improve developing countries’ growth prospects. The aim is to foster well designed policies for shared and sustained growth that leads to improvements in the well being of the poor.

The final report will be released by the end of 2007.

The formation of the Commission is mentioned in an "Economics Focus" column of The Economist (May 18, 2006). The column also gives a favorable review of David Warsh's new book, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Normal vs Revolutionary Development of Technology Systems

Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, distinguished between normal science and scientific revolutions. (See a nice summary of the book by Frank Pajares.) Basically, there are scientific paradigms, and normal science is what goes on within them. However, such paradigms have historically gone into crises, where accumulating evidence made them appear untenable. Revolutionary change can then occur in which a paradigm shift occurs. When a new paradigm successfully challenges the old, there is a period in which adherents of the old and the new work in parallel while debating the merits of the two.

Since it was first published there have been a lot of challenges to Kuhn’s book, which itself set a paradigm. I recently read Simon Winchester’s The Map That Changed the World : William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, and it raised such a challenge in my mind. Smith, at the turn of the 18th century, created the first maps of geological strata, which in turn lead to the field of stratigraphy and thus modern geology. According to Winchester’s book, he did so from scratch rather than in reaction to a previous paradigm then in crisis.

Technological systems seem analogous to scientific paradigms. Would it be useful to distinguish between system shifts and the development of new technological systems?

There are clearly situations in which one technological system replaces another. The replacement of the horse and buggy by the automobile comes to mind. Eventually a system was created of: factories to manufacture cars, garages to maintain and repair them, gas stations to fuel them, roads on which they could run, licensing of drivers, etc. That system replaced one composed of: the breeding farms for horses, the stables, the feed stores, the buggy manufactures, the horse whip makers, the street cleaners, etc. For a while, however, there were both cars and horses and buggies on the street.

Looking at the automobile, however, we can see a process of “normal” technological development that has been going on for more than a century. There have been improvements in every aspect of the autos themselves. There have been improvement in the process by which they are made. Ford, indeed is seen to have changed the manufacturing paradigm through the introduction of mass production. For over a century there have been incremental changes in heavy machinery, and more fundamental changes such as the introduction of robotics and CAD/CAM into the manufacturing process. As the relative costs of capital and labor have changed, and manufacturing has become more capital intensive, technological changes have been induced in the manufacturing process.

The replacement of animal power by auto-power was a change in technological system. But perhaps the Information Revolution is better seen as the introduction of new technological systems. Thus telecommunications, broadcasting, and computers seem to have established new technological systems where none existed before. Even if these are seen as elaborations of the technological system based on electricity, that larger system of electric power and its applications might be seen as historically new to the world.

Would it be useful to distinguish between normal and revolutionary technological development?

A lot of applied research and development (R&D) is simply seeking incremental improvements in an existing product or process technology. We might think of such efforts as normal technology development. Moore’s Law, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every year, suggests that the for decades the improvements in chips and chip manufacture have been ”normal”. Yet the introduction of semiconductor chips to replace tubes and wired individual components might be seen as “revolutionary”.

Others have pointed out that at the beginning of such a revolutionary change not much is gained economically. It took a while until the effect of Moore’s Law was to put chips into virtually every manufactured electrical device (including electric toothbrushes). So too, I imagine, at the beginning of a shift in scientific paradigm, not much is understood through the new paradigm.

So where do we find normal and where revolutionary technological developments?

I suppose that one of the key sources of revolutionary technology is in the results of fundamental research. Semiconductor electronics came from solid state physics. Biotechnology came out of developments in molecular biology. Operations research from developments in pure mathematics. On the other hand, perhaps the Wright brothers derived the invention of the airplane not so much from science as from their mechanical experience. Edison was an inventor, not a scientist even in the terms of his time.

Normal technology development (NTD) sometimes comes simply from reengineering products and processes to meet changed circumstances. Oil prices go up or government regulations change, and cars are designed with increased fuel efficiency. Labor costs go up, and factories increase automation.

Sometimes NTD comes from technology deepening. Designers take what they learned from developing the processes for the manufacture of one generation of microchips, extend them, and more on to those for the next generation.

Sometimes NTD comes from technology transfer. Companies transfer technology developed in one country to their facilities in another country. Or engineers pick up a technique used in one field, and apply it in another.

Sometimes NTD comes from new findings from fundamental science, as when a pure mathematician can suggest to an applied mathematician an finding that can make algorithms more efficient.

Invention versus innovation

Just to remind any reader who might still be with me, an innovation is not necessarily a new invention. Farmers can innovate by adopting a new crop or farming practice that is commonly used in other places. The combine was invented only once, although there have been many innovations since in the design and manufacture of combines. An invention is something totally new, an innovation need only be novel to its local application.

A thought about IPR

Patents were originally awarded for inventions, and novelty was a critical criterion for the approval of a patent. In the United States, patents were created in the law for utilitarian purposes. It was felt that giving inventors monopoly rights to their inventions in return for their publication would allow and encourage further development of their ideas into useful products. It was also felt, I suppose, that the profitability of the temporary monopoly would encourage both the commercialization of inventions and more inventive activity.

Increasingly, I am told, the patent system has been changed to protect the products of applied research and development, with innovation much reduced as a criterion for their award. I suppose this is due in part to the increase in “normal” technology development focused on improving many aspects simultaneously of our complex technology systems. It certainly seems important for society to stimulate such R&D.

I suppose then that, to some degree, the original idea of patents was to promote revolutionary technological developments while the current use of patents is more to promote normal technological development. I hope that we do not lose the revolutionary in our efforts to encourage the normal.

I have posted in the recent past on open source, open content, and standards as alternative ways of dealing with inventions and innovation.

Perhaps a key issue is how to institutionalize systems in developing nations that best promote innovation in their technological systems, and under their social, political, economic and cultural systems.

Good practice versus innovation

There seems to be a great emphasis these days on innovation, to the neglect of good practice of the science and technology based professions. I would suggest that very few physicians produce medical innovations, but I want my physician to use best practices of knowledge based medicine. Similarly, there is a lot of work in soil analysis, plant pathology, and plant pest control that is not especially innovative, but for which good professional practice matters for agricultural production. Professional architects should use knowledge-based, good practice to develop sound, cost-effective building designs. Civil engineers’ good practice leads to the design of good, cost-effective roads, canals, and water and sewerage systems.

The new growth theory in economics seems to stress technological innovation. Its proponents may not have figured out how to quantify the value of good practice, nor how to include good practice in their economic models. But donor agencies should not be deferred from developing institutional capacity to assure good practice for lack of the economists’ understanding. The threat of such a failure is real. After all, we know that for a generation the donors failed to support knowledge for development. It is only recently that the new growth theory in economics seems to have increased donor agency interest in building the capacity of knowledge systems in order to promote innovation.

Final comment

Developing nations might be regarded as at a different, earlier stage in the transitions among technological systems than developed nations. They still have underdeveloped road systems, and use more animal than auto power. They have less developed electrical, telecommunications, broadcast, and computer infrastructures, and thus depend on energy, communications and information processing technological systems now replaced in Europe and the United States. Their agricultural systems depend more on traditional agricultural practice, and have not fully integrated modern crop varieties, chemical inputs, irrigation, or other elements of the “modern” agricultural technology system. So too, their health services have not made the transition to systems based on professional practitioners, with a full complement of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and diagnostics and diagnostic devices at their disposal.

There is a metaphor that might be useful. Some people image a poor nation as a miniature of a rich nation, as a Chihuahua might be seen as a miniature of a Doberman. It is better to image a poor nation as composed of parts of each, in a dysfunctional arrangement – one big leg and one small, one big ear and one small, a big head and a small mouth. The traditional technological systems are the small organs, while the modern technological systems might be likened to the large ones.

As the “traditional” technology systems of developing countries reflected their cultures as well as their physical, economic and social environments, so too the “modern” technology systems will reflect those environments. The modern technology systems of developing nations should not be seen as simply transferred or copied from developed nations. Their country specific aspects are worth at least as much effort as the transfer of aspects from abroad.

New technological systems are invented very seldom, and there are many countries in the world. Thus most modern technological systems are importantly transfers from abroad. Indeed, it seems that most come from technologically advanced, relative rich countries. However, I wonder whether among the billions of people in developing nations, there is not to be found a modern Edison or a modern Ford, who could lead in the invention of a new technological system meeting the needs of his own and other countries. How are the conditions to be created to empower such individuals?

There is little likelihood that the transition to modern technological systems can be completed soon in many if not most developing nations. The issue then is before such nations of how to continue with “normal” technology development in the various technology systems simultaneously.

It seems clearly inappropriate to leave the “traditional” system unimproved and to put effort only to extend and improve the “modern” system. Thus, in developing countries, it has been important to provide primary health services with delegated functions to poor populations and to improve the efforts of traditional practitioners, while also improving and extending the hospital based medical practice.

It seems a sure path to poverty in a globalized world to ignore modern technologies and put all of a nation's efforts into upgrading traditional technological systems.

With very limited resources in the fields of applied science and technology, poor nations are required to allocate human and institutional resources:
* to improving traditional technology systems and to improving modern technology systems,
* to inventing and innovating to improve traditional technology and to improve and adapt modern technology,
= to training for good professional practice and to training for good paraprofessional and traditional practice.

A critical issue is then how to allocate resources among technological systems in order to achieve more fundamental objectives of social and economic development. This would seem to be an topic tailored for economists, but I am not at all sure that their models are up to the task of illuminating the choices among alternative strategies. Their failure leaves the task to science and technology policy makers, who are working “by the seat of their pants”.

Building science and technology capacity would seem importantly to be about building the institutional capacity and policies so that society will allocate these resources well.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Good News for a Change About Bird Flu

Read the full story by DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. in the New York Times (May 14, 2006).

There are few cases this year of H5N1 flu in birds in Thailand and Vietnam, and very few in humans (as compared with last year). Some evidence apparently suggests that the disease is also being beaten back in China. Birds making the spring migration north from Africa do not appear to have carried the virus into Europe.

"The Pin Factory Mystery"

This is Paul Krugman's review of David Warsh's book Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations.

I have just started reading the book, and will report more later.

The book is a journalists account of the process by which economists internalized knowledge in their growth models. For those interested in K4D, it would seem to be must reading.

Ian Hacking on Autism

Read Hacking's review of The Science and Fiction of Autism by Laura Schreibman and Send in the Idiots: How We Grew to Understand the World by Kamran Nazeer in the London Review of Books. (subscription or fee required.)

Hacking is an interesting writer on the history and philosophy of science, and this brief treatment of autism is interesting in terms of knowledge systems. He points out that autism is defined in terms of developmental problems, and was recognized as a syndrome only after Gessell (and others) published standards for normal rates of development in childhood. Hacking suggests:
Autism ranges in at least three dimensions: language deficit, social deficit and obsession with order. We should talk of an autistic space.

Thus any "autistic child" might be associated with a trajectory of points in this space representing the progression of his level of language, his level of social ability, and his level of obsession with order at different times in his development. We know that there are different kinds of autism, including what Hacking terms “core autism”, ‘high-functioning’ autism, and Asperger’s syndrome. One assumes that these correspond to clusters of trajectories in this autistic space. Thus one might seek by cluster analysis of the points representing children at a given age to examine if there were other sub-syndromes of autism.

Our understanding of the basis of behavior requires that we perceive autism as related to the development of the brain. Hacking notes:
A vigorous school of cognitive science holds that many human capacities are innate and modular, that a distinct neural organization will correspond to each group of abilities. According to this view, autistic children lack the mental module that enables us easily to understand others. They lack ‘a theory of mind’.
Thus, again, we seek to understand this specific condition or set of conditions in light of modern theories of brain functioning.

Of course, scientists must further reduce the issues. Is the brain malfunction due to organization or function of the neural circuitry? How do genetics, chemical exposures and education cause the fundamental problem, and are there ways that autism can be prevented, or detected earlier, or that autistic children can be helped more.

Hacking points out that the diagnosis of autism began in the second half of the 20th century. Without the clinical category, clinicians didn’t recognize the problem. Without clinical recognition of autistic children as forming a class, there could be no statistics.

Now, developed countries are seeing an explosion of the numbers of autistic kids. Is this a function of better diagnosis, of better record keeping, or of more programs in which autistic kids can be enrolled? Or is it really that a greater percentage of kids exhibit the development problems we call autism? Understanding the basis for this trend is fundamental if we are to make good public policy vis a vis autism.

Thus Hacking presents two knowledge-related aspects of the subject:
· Autism is clearly related to the knowledge capacity of individual children, and we have to better understand the workings of the brain to deal with the problem.
· Society’s understanding of autism depends on the way we define the syndrome and its sub-syndromes, as well as the existence of systems to identify and treat autistic individuals, and the quality of the statistics we keep on such people.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Visit to the National Air and Space Museum

Thursday I spent a couple of hours at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum near Dullas International Airport. It was my first visit.

I suspect we don't think enough about the wonder of the advance in aerospace technology in the last century, but the museum virtually forces one to do so. It has on display one of the very early, unsuccessful aircraft, a contender with that of the Wright brothers for the honors of the first manned flight. The saga continues with the display of fighter airplanes from World War I and II, the Enola Gay (the first plane used to drop an atomic bomb), and the Concord, to rockets and space capsules, to a prototype of the space shuttle. The show was topped off by a great IMAX presentation on the mars rovers. Sitting in a theater, looking at full scale photos of mars is an experience everyone should share!

Of course, this is a U.S. federal government facility. It has had unique access to the artifacts produced with government funding, and may be biased by this access. But it is striking how much the United States has done to advance aerospace technology, and how much more effort (and money) it has put into the effort than other countries and other continents. Tax dollars well spent, in my opinion.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What do Basques Want?

I have just read Mark Kurlansky’s book, The Basque History of the World. Having finished the book, I find myself wondering (to paraphrase Freud’s famous question) what do the Basques want?

Let me start by quoting from the Amazon reviews of the book:
Straddling the border of southern France and northern Spain, the land of the Basques has long been home to a people who had no country of their own but have always viewed themselves as a nation. In this marvelous work of cultural history and appreciation, Kurlansky traces Basque history from pre-Roman times, when Basques worked as the mercenaries of Carthage, to the region's recent renaissance in language and arts. Along the way, he explains how the Basques came to be among Europe's first whalers, capitalists, explorers, industrialists and international traders. (Publishers Weekly)

"The singular remarkable fact about the Basques is that they still exist," Kurlansky asserts. Without a defined country (other than Euskadi, otherwise known as "Basqueland"), with no known related ethnic groups, the Basques are an anomaly in Europe. What unites the Basques, above all, is their language--Euskera. According to ETA, "Euskera is the quintessence of Euskadi. So long as Euskera is alive, Euskadi will live." (Sunny Delaney,

Ideas of the nation-state

Have the Basques “always viewed themselves as a nation”? I thought nationalism in the sense of “one culture, one state” to be a 19th century concept. Certainly there are many states today that span more than one ethnic group living in its ancestral homeland, as there have been in the past. Certainly there are ethnic groups speaking closely related dialects of the same language with similar cultures that are split among different states, as there have been in the past. The idea of the nation state is not universal, nor does it seem to be a “law of nature”.

Basques today clearly understand that they live in Spain or in France, and that they are subject to the laws of the nation in which they live. Kurlansky tells us that they also appreciate being Europeans, living under the political and economic system of the European Union. Since the 1970’s, some authority has been devolved to the regional and local governments in Spain.

Kurlansky clearly makes the point that in many ways Basque culture clashes with Spanish and French national cultures. But what legitimate political powers do the Basques want to be devolved to what kinds of governmental organizations, where?

The statement above, of course suggests that Basques have an agreed upon position on an issue which itself seems unlikely. Like other peoples, Basques are individuals and history indicates that they often disagree among themselves. How a Basque position can be legitimately formulated is the very core of the political issue before us.

Cultural change

Kurlansky’s book clearly makes the point, that I suspected anyway, that Basque culture changes over time. The language itself is changing. Various dialects, some not mutually intelligible, are merging since books have documented a formal grammar. (The first Euskera grammar was apparently published in 1729, and important grammars were apparently published in the latter part of the 19th century.) There is now a standardized dialect (Batua) which is taught in the schools and used on TV and another (Classical Labourdin) used for radio broadcasts and some newspapers. New words are being introduced to express new concepts.

A publishing industry has created a body of Basque literature, and a recording industry a body of recorded Basque music. Kurlansky is very interested in food, and he tells us how Basque cuisine has changed radically over the centuries. The Basques are described as very Catholic, with some hangovers from their pre-Christian religious traditions, but Catholicism itself has changed significantly in recent decades. Indeed, Basques (Loyola and Xavier) founded the Jesuits as a revolutionary order within the Catholic church. Kurlansky demonstrates that Basques have been in the forefront of economic development, creating whaling, fishing and boat-building industries in the distant past, then coal and iron industries in the industrial revolution, and eventually building a banking industry (based on the wealth accumulated from the others). Thus Basque culture has changed radically to accommodate new forms of economic production and new occupations. We are told that the Guggenheim Bilbão is an exceptional example of Frank Gehry’s architecture, and that it is well accepted by the Basque public, suggesting a cultural willingness to accept new architectural developments. Indeed, the interest in showing Picasso’s Guernica in the Basque provinces suggests an openness to even radical innovation in the visual arts.

The Basques have experienced a Diaspora, and I have met people proud of their Basque family background in the United States and South America. It seems hard to believe that a people willing to immigrate to new countries with very un-Basque cultures are excessively culturally conservative. Moreover, links between Euskadi Basques and their relatives in the Diaspora must exist, are likely to be growing more influential, and must help to produce cultural dynamism.

The ETA has used violence to express demands for Basque self-government, but the demand for a return to traditional Basque governmental forms and further devolution of power is apparently much more widely felt among the couple of million people living in the Basque provinces, and especially in the million or so speakers of Euskera. Thus, one must conclude that while Basques are quite willing to change their culture in many ways, they are willing to persevere and even to fight to retain other aspects of that culture. Unfortunately, Kurlansky doesn’t tell us what differentiates the two classes of cultural elements.

Of course, there would be no problem were the governments of Spain and of France willing to give up the power sought be the Basques. One must assume that those governments, legitimately representing most of their constituents, are responding to strong cultural preferences of those constituencies – that there is something more fundamental than power that they fear to lose through giving up power. Both the French and the Spanish also have accepted radical transformations in some aspects of culture (society, political systems, etc.) Is the roadblock simply economic? Probably not.

One suspects that the failure to find a political solution satisfactory to the Basques and to the other French and Spanish is most fundamentally a failure of imagination. Neither group can fully imagine the interests of the other, and perhaps neither can imagine an institutional alternative that will satisfice both its own and the other’s felt needs.

Why this extended comment?

If we could understand the disagreement between the Basques in Spain and the rest of the people of Spain, or between the Basques in France and the rest of the people in France, perhaps we could generalize our approach to other cultures and other countries. There are many intra-state conflicts rooted in disagreements between an ethnic minority and the government representing the whole population. Indeed – like the Basques – the Kurds in Iraq, the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Catholics in Northern Ireland represent ethnic minorities in their own countries who are part of a larger cultural community that crosses the national border. I don’t suggest that a devolution of power that would satisfy the Basques in Spain and the rest of the Spanish would work in these other nations. But just perhaps, the mental approach to mutual understanding and the promotion of dialog could be generalized.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Harmonization of Animal Care and Use Guidance

Read the full (enhanced) discussion in Science magazine (5 May 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5774, pp. 700 - 701). I think a subscription is required.

This article (by Gilles Demers, Gilly Griffin, Guy De Vroey, Joseph R. Haywood, Joanne Zurlo and Marie Bédard) calls for continued and expanded efforts to harmonize laws and regulations relating to the ethical treatment of animals involved in scientific research. Their article cites a number of important references (with links in the expanded version). It draws heavily on the work of the International Council for Laboratory Animal Science (ICLAS). The authors make the point that such harmonization is important for many reasons, including not only improving ethical treatment but also simplifying the administration of international research collaboration and improving the comparability of research results from different nations. Indeed, I believe that the thought that has been given to regulations involving animals used in science in the United States has lead in many cases to saving money and to more valid research.

Most people, when they think of this topic at all, think of the use of laboratory animals in medical research -- a very important topic, and one of considerable interest to the World Health Organization. However, animals are involved in many other fields of science, and not only in the laboratory. Thus, for example, agricultural scientists do research on livestock, environmental scientists and zoologists do research on wild animals in their natural habitat, and ichthyologists do research involving fish in fresh and salt water ecosystems.

The relevant regulatory system is complex. In the United States, for example, there are different regulations for treatment of laboratory animals, livestock involved in research, and animals in the wild. There are also different regulations for primates versus other less intelligent laboratory animals versus laboratory mice and rats.

Harmonization of animal care and use regulations would seem to be an important topic for UNESCO, which is of course the lead agency in the United Nations System for the physical and social sciences, and which has a program in bioethics. UNESCO's work could complement that of the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, coordinating among the different UN agencies, and broadening the scope to include all of science.

The United States government might well recommend that UNESCO consider a declaration designed to harmonize regulations on the ethical treatment of animals in science. Were UNESCO to embark on the effort to develop such a declaration, the United States has a strong community of experts involved in the relevant issues who might assist in UNESCO's work.

Education Counts: An Inspiring Life

Read the full Diplomatic Dispatches column by Nora Boustany in The Washington Post of Wednesday, May 10, 2006.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala grew up in the Nigerian countryside, and her family lost everything in the Biafra war. But her parents, university educated in Europe, started over. She won scholarships, and eventually attended Harvard and got a PhD at MIT. Working in the World Bank, she was called upon to serve her country, and is now finance minister in Nigeria.

She was honored in April's Vital Voices awards at the Kennedy Center!

The education of her parents as well as her own university education in the United States made such a difference!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"The High Cost of Coming to America"

Read the full editorial by Al Teich and Wendy White in Science of 5 May 2006. (Vol. 312. no. 5774, p. 657; subscription required.)

Goverdhan Mehta, a distinguished chemist from India who serves as president of the International Council for Science (ICSU), recently found the process of getting a visa for travel to the United States so humiliating and unjustified that he simply cancelled the trip. Wendy White and Al Teich (in their Science editorial) have used this as an example of the problems that are still occurring with travel by scientists and people from the other learned professions as they seek to travel to the United States. They recognize that the process, which got much worse after 9/11, has been improved in the last year or two. More needs to be done.

Obviously, most of the scientists and engineers who seek to come to the United States for conferences, exchanges, or educational opportunities constitute no threat to the United States, and indeed their continued travel here helps to keep us up to date with science in the rest of the world (which is now producing twice as many scientific papers per year as is the United States).

Even were this not true, I would object to the lack of courtesy shown by our government to our most distinguished visitors! So too, I am concerned by the lack of capacity of our government to deal with even so simple a logistical task as giving visiting scientists visas.

"Health Experts Criticize Changes in STD Panel"

Read the full article by Rob Stein in The Washington Post of Tuesday, May 9, 2006.

The Bush administration is at it again:
An aide to Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.), sent an e-mail April 26 to the Department of Health and Human Services raising questions about a panel titled "Are Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs a Threat to Public Health?"
The congressman also reportedly alarmed because one of the speakers was focusing on a report produced by the office of Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) that was critical of abstinence programs, and because no one would be speaking in support of such programs.
In response, the CDC last week changed the name of the panel to "Public Health Strategies of Abstinence Programs for Youth," removed the panelist discussing the Waxman report and added two proponents of abstinence, Eric Walsh of Loma Linda University in California and Patricia Sulak of Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Texas, founder of an abstinence-promotion program called Worth the Wait.......

Bruce Trigg of the New Mexico Department of Public Health, the original organizer, condemned the decision as political meddling in the scientific process. The original panel was vetted through a formal peer-review process by independent researchers.

"It is unprecedented that this type of interference takes place at a scientific meeting," Trigg said. He said the original panel was not designed to be a balanced critique but to present the public health concerns about abstinence programs.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

WP Charges Ethical Failure in 96 Nigerian Drug Trial

Read the full article by Joe Stephens in The Washington Post of Sunday, May 7, 2006.

The article leads with the following paragraphs:
A panel of Nigerian medical experts has concluded that Pfizer Inc. violated international law during a 1996 epidemic by testing an unapproved drug on children with brain infections at a field hospital.

That finding is detailed in a lengthy Nigerian government report that has remained unreleased for five years, despite inquiries from the children's attorneys and from the media. The Washington Post recently obtained a copy of the confidential report, which is attracting congressional interest. It was provided by a source who asked to remain anonymous because of personal safety concerns.

During a meningococcal meningitis epidemic in Nigeria in 1996, it seems that Pfizer treated 100 children at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Kano, Nigeria, with its antibiotic trovafloxacin (Trovan). Results of the treatments were recorded and used as part of the clinical trials of the drug.

Trovan was later released in the United States, but WP reports
the FDA never approved Trovan for use in treating American children. After being cleared for adult use in 1997, the drug quickly became one of the most prescribed antibiotics in the United States. But Trovan was later associated with reports of liver damage and deaths, leading the FDA to severely restrict its use in 1999. European regulators banned the drug.

The situation is more completely described in a 2001 article in Science magazine, and a couple of articles in The Guardian (article 1, article 2). However, it seems that Trovan was effective in "about 90%" of the 100 patients who took the drug -- a success rate slightly better than observed in the "gold-standard" ceftriaxone given to the control group. The kids who died or were left with disabilities did not seem to be suffering from the damage attributed to Trovan. Pfizer officials report that informed consent was in fact obtained for all the subjects in the trial.

WP notes the response from Pfizer later in the article:
"The Nigerian government has neither contacted Pfizer about any of the committee's findings nor are we aware that the committee has approved a final report. Therefore it would be inappropriate for the company to respond to specific points in the document.

"However, as we have stated repeatedly over the past several years, Pfizer conducted this trial with the full knowledge of the Nigerian government and in a responsible way consistent with Nigerian law and Pfizer's abiding commitment to patient safety."

Pfizer said it had previously tested the drug in thousands of patients and found it effective. Local nurses explained the experiment to Nigerian parents, it added, and obtained their "verbal" consent. The company said that Trovan demonstrated the highest survival rate of any treatment at the hospital.

"Trovan unquestionably saved lives, and Pfizer strongly disagrees with any suggestion that the company conducted its study in an unethical manner," the statement said.

The Ethical Issues

The testing of drugs in developing nations should concern us all. At a point in their development, drugs must be tested in people who are sick to see if they work. Thus their testing requires a population with the disease. The terrible burden of disease in poor countries means that suitable groups for tests can often be found there.

Testing drugs in poor countries, however, involves major challenges. Among these are the poor education frequently found in patients and their families, the lack of alternative medical services availability for those involved in the testing, weak governmental protection for their citizens rights, and (indeed) often a high level of corruption in all sectors.

Assuring the ethical conduct of research is difficult always, but especially in developing nations. The most obvious problem is that rich people buy more and benefit more from most medical goods and services than do the poor. Testing a drug in a poor population almost always raises the issue that people in other countries are to benefit more from the studies than people in the country where the tests are conducted.

Moreover, freely given informed consent to participate in a medical experiment, the keystone of ethical research, is difficult to assure. How does one assure that the uneducated parents of a sick child actually understand the potential risks and benefits of an experimental treatment and its alternatives? What does the local culture say is ethically required? How do you deal with differing national and international laws? In cultures where record keeping is deficient, what paper trail assures the process to be ethical? How does one protect against corruption in the process?

I managed programs funding research on human subjects in developing nations, and I can assure the reader that these problems are difficult! Certainly we required documentary evidence that proposed research protocols had been approved by appropriate ethical review panels, and certainly we sent teams of independent experts to investigate any report of ethical problems, but we also lived with concern that in spite of these efforts, problems existed.

The WP Article

Is the WP article credible? The expert committee report on which it is based, we are told, was provided by an source who remains anonymous. WP does not vouch for his credibility. That document is described as the report of a panel of Nigerian medical experts designated by the Nigerian government officially to review the case. We don't know who the "experts" were, what their qualifications were, nor whether they had any interests in the case. The WP article does state that the official committee report has never been released, but does not consider the possibility that it was rejected as not credible. WP suggests that there were very few copies of the official committee report in existence, but does not explain how one of the few found its way to the Post.

It should be noted that there are apparently financial interests at stake, as the families of children involved in the study have been suing New York-based Pfizer. I get emails with the Nigerian scam almost every day, so I can easily imagine someone trying to improve the chances in a law case by faking a report that no one admits having seen.

So What?

It seems likely that there was something wrong in the study done ten years ago. There seems to be agreement that the Nigerian physician most involved faked a letter of approval for the study from the hospital ethics committee. A physician, Juan
Walterspiel, who worked for Pfizer at the time and who appears to have had a long career in clinical research since, also expressed concerns about the study in writing. And indeed, a U.S. team flew into Nigeria in a chartered plane, did their study, and left while an epidemic was raging that eventually killed 15,000 people. Still, from what I can read, there seems to be little to indicate that Pfizer executives or medical staff was unethical.

Indeed, I would suggest that sometimes people disagree about the ethics of a specific medical research project without it in fact being unethical. Medical research is a dangerous business, and it is important that people review its conduct thoroughly and feel free to express their opinions. However, I think we must have an ethical review system that makes decisions, sometimes to go ahead, even in the case of lack of consensus.

The research in question was done in Kano, in Northern Nigeria. This is an area in which polio vaccine was refused for a time in this decade, and in 2004 a polio epidemic broke out in children in the region. The region has since reestablished its polio campaign. However, people infected with polio from northern Nigeria appear to have transmitted the infection to many other countries since that occurred, and it has taken an exhaustive effort of the international public health community to stop the epidemic.

Unreasoning fear of public health efforts is a major problem. Before the WP or any other medium publishes an attack on the credibility of those involved in public health, it should be very sure of its grounds. At the very least, the WP should have provided its readers with more grounds and better tools with which to judge the credibility of its report!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Report Reconciles Atmospheric Temperature Trends

Read the article describing the study by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post of May 3, 2006.

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has issued the first of 21 Synthesis and Assessment S&A Products it is preparing. The report findings improve our understanding of climate change and human influences on temperature trends. According to the report, "there is no longer a discrepancy in the rate of global average temperature increase for the surface compared with higher levels in the atmosphere. This discrepancy had previously been used to challenge the validity of climate models used to detect and attribute the causes of observed climate change. This is an important revision to and update of the conclusions of earlier reports from the U.S. National Research Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

Read the press release for the report.

Read the report itself. (9.2 MB, PDF)

Perhaps now the Bush administration will take more effective action to limit greenhouse gas emissions!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another Chance for Net Neutrality Legislation

"Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey on Tuesday took to the U.S. House of Representatives floor to introduce a bill called the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 (click here for PDF).
(c/net "Net neutrality proposal revived in House")

His measure is similar to a Senate proposal (see "Senator wants to ban 'fast lane' for Web"), which was introduced in March but has seen no action yet." Unfortunately, the Senate too may balk at legislating net neutrality. ("No love for network neutrality in the Senate" by by Nate Anderson in Ars Technica.)

On April 26, the House of Representatives shot down an ammendment to the telecom bill that would have made it illegal for ISPs to create a multi-tiered Internet (Nate Anderson, Ars Technica, "Net neutrality amendment shot down"). The amendment was rejected 34 to 22, largely along party lines. The Markey amendment was supported by the ACLU (PDF), AARP, religious broadcasters, the Gun Owners of America, and others. The financial services industry appears ready to jump into the battle on the side of net neutrality (Wired News) Broadband providers such as AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon Communications oppose net neutrality because they want to expand from flat pricing to also sell tiers of service based on the speed, reliability and security of the bandwidth used.

I am no expert on this topic, but I know that in a battle between the ACLU and AT&T, my heart lies on the side of the little guy! The inventors of the World Wide Web and the Internet make a strong case for net neutrality!

Here is Tim Berners-Lee's defense of the need for net neutrality.

And here is Vint Cerf's support for net neutrality.

This would be a good time to contact your Congressman and Senators, and urge their support for net neutrality to be ensured by legislation!

The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) yesterday introduced their proposed Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006. The Act, if passed into law, would require researchers to provide free public Internet access to any publication of U.S. federally sponsored research within six months of its publication in a peer reviewed journal. The proposed law would apply to research funded by all 11 federal agencies that provide at least $100 million in outside funding per year -- including the departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Homeland Security as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and the National Science Foundation.

* Senator Lieberman's Office's press release on the Act.

* The FAQ's published on the Senate website on the Act.

* The article by Rick Weiss in today's Washington Post on the legislation.

As one would expect, the publishers of journals are concerned with this legislation. I suspect that it is a step in the social change that the Internet and World Wide Web are creating. The system of professional journals is itself a product of technological improvements in printing and publishing. But professional journal articles are very limited in their distribution. We need to get the information from federally funded R&D on the web -- more quickly and more fully.

On the other hand, there have to be significant efforts made to organize that information and to provide users with vetting which warrants the content. To some degree this can be done through automation, and through volunteer work using open content approaches. Still there will be costs involved, and I suspect they would be better financed via public subsidies than through advertizing or fee-for-publications. I hope that the Congress will consider the financial implications of its actions to free knowledge. We may already have paid for its production via our tax supported public R&D funding, but we need also to pay for the distribution of the knowledge and understanding!

The Elimination of Neglected Diseases Act of 2006

Read the full press release by Senator Lieberman's office.

U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) have "introduced the Elimination of Neglected Diseases Act of 2006, which encourages pharmaceutical companies to invest in developing treatments for neglected diseases......

"Neglected diseases include HIV, TB and malaria but also leprosy, hookworm, and river blindness which themselves cause over 500,000 deaths annually. A total of 13 such diseases afflict the poor in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Africa bears the brunt of them, as nearly 90 percent of the world’s neglected diseases afflict people in the continent.

"Lieberman continued, 'The technology and brain power behind cures should not be limited to the privileged and our bill aims to remove the barriers that have too long prevented these cures from reaching the nation’s underprivileged. The financial benefit companies would receive from the patent incentives in our bill can help offset the cost of crucial R&D investments needed to combat these neglected diseases, which can be as high as $1 billion dollars per drug.'"

Monday, May 01, 2006

Knowledge from forensic science

The Washington Post this morning has an article in which it describes the limitations and uses of polygraph machines as "lie detectors".

I think most people seriously misunderstand the nature and use of evidence produced by polygraphs, finger print analysis, DNA and other aspects of forensic science. This is a serious problem in systems that depend on trial by jury (and perhaps also serious in systems which depend on a professional judge to make decisions of guilt or innocence -- since they too may lack understanding of the nature of this evidence.) Indeed, it illustrates a basic problem with the use of evidence in the creation of knowledge and understanding.

Part of the problem with forensic evidence is that during the 20th century, popular media presented forensic science as infallible. Sherlock Holmes would identify the culprit without the shadow of a doubt from the slimist piece of physical evidence. Lots of TV programs now feature crime scene investigation and coroners who are never wrong.

Things don't work that way in the real world. In the case of the polygraph, for example, there is a chance that a response identified by the operator as false will in fact be true, and a chance that a response identified as true will in fact be false. I don't think that the probabilities of those events are quantified in the literature, but even if they were, the probabilities would not generalize. Thus some operators are better than others, and some people are harder to test than others. Indeed, in the case of a senior official of the CIA, such as the one in the news today, it seems quite possible that she knew a lot about how to avoid detection in a polygraph based interrogation. There are also differences in the situation, and in some situations the person being interrogated is likely to be in an emotional or physical state that makes interpretations of physiological changes difficult. Moreover, the polygraph examination is a social process, and differences in the social situations of operator and person being interrogated may influence the outcome. Thus, while "Type 1" and "Type 2" errors must exist, it would seem impossible to quantify their probabilities for a specific interrogation.

In the case of fingerprint identification, I understand that the accuracy depends on the number of points of comparison that the expert is able to extract from a fingerprint -- the more points, the more precise the identification. I suspect that very few jurors understand this simple fact. I suspect that fingerprint examiners can't really say that there is such and such a probability that this fingerprint was made by this person, and such and such a probability it was made by another. And I suspect that even if they do make such an approximation, and it is in the ball park, people would not know how to utilize the information.

DNA interpretation seems more quantitative, but the probability estimates made for such evidence don't seem to include the probability that there would be a mix-up of the samples tested, nor a laboratory failure, nor indeed willful misconduct on the part of someone in the chain of evidence.

In theory, Bayesian statistics offers an approach in which one can add each additional information to that already on hand and adjust the probabilities of guilt and innocence accordingly. In reality, no one really does so. But simply understanding the ideas behind Bayesian statistics helps. We start with a priori probabilities of a person being guilty or innocent. Each piece of evidence changes our estimates of the conditional probabilities, including each piece of forensic evidence. Some forensic evidence is such as to have very strong effects on the a posteriori probabilities. Thus blood type evidence can essentially rule out paternity in some cases, as can DNA evidence. More generally, forensic evidence just makes guilt more or less likely.

Lawyers also distinguish between "fact witnesses", "expert witnesses" and "character witnesses". Unfortunately, a fact witness may be wrong, or may not tell the truth as he sees it -- the testimony may not be "factual". Each piece of evidence from such witnesses again should be weighed, and used to adjust the probabilities assigned to the alternative outcomes. Character witnesses unfortunately come with built in biases, and character evidence seems especially hard to interpret.

I was impressed recently that there seemed to be a view that a political appointee in the FAA would be an "expert witness" about what could or could not have been done with statements by a suspected terrorist to stop 9/11. It might indeed have been interesting to hear such testimony, but how could one have evaluated it? How accurately could anyone predict such a thing? How much would the answer be influenced by the political considerations?

The legal system, with its judges, courts and juries, has defined rules of evidence and procedures for coming to judgment. The results are what I have termed "legal knowledge". That is the results are verdicts of guilt or innocence, as determined by authorized legal processes. (There are, fortunately, other legal ways to ponder evidence which help to deal with situations in which judges and juries are likely to have grave difficulties weighing the evidence and making valid determinations.)

I have suggested that many institutions in our society have their own, alternative knowledge systems. All bureaucratic organizations have such a system, as do all legislative bodies, the military, and markets. Thus, weighing evidence is obviously important in other fields.

We live with what seems to have been a very bad weighing of the evidence with respect to the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and of the likelihood of the Saddam Hussein government transferring such weapons to Al Qaida operatives. The evidence seems especially dodgy in the field of espionage, and the need for expert witness and judgment especially intense in the field of WMDs. One interpretation of the failure that occurred in the run up to the Iraq war is that there was a serious failure in the interface between the political knowledge system of the Bush administration, and the professional knowledge system of the intelligence knowledge system of the United States and its allies. (From what little I know, the knowledge systems of the intelligence community seem to be explicitly defined, and the result of some generations of evolutionary modification.)

I wonder whether there is regularly an "impedence mismatch" between knowledge systems of different institutions? Do we regularly see knowledge from bureaucratic systems misunderstood by the legal or legislative systems? Or knowledge from scientific systems misinterpreted by governmental environmental bureaucracies? Perhaps!

If one thinks about knowledge for development, one might question the effectiveness of other knowledge systems. Do we use evidence well to make economic, agricultural, public health, or other policies and decisions? Certainly there has been a lot of criticism of knowledge systems in donor agencies such as the World Bank and USAID. Perhaps some more explicit discussion of the nature of the evidence that we use, the kinds of witnesses we employ, and the processes we use to weigh that evidence might bear fruit in better development policies and projects.