Saturday, September 30, 2006

The U.S, Nominates a (former) Moonie for DG of World Food Program

The WFP helps people who look like this!

Read "U.S. Nominates State Department Official to Head U.N. Aid Agency" by Colum Lynch in The Washington Post, September 30, 2006.

The Bush administration yesterday proposed Josette Sheeran (Shiner) to head the U.N. World Food Program. The United States pays for nearly half of the agency's $2 billion annual budget and traditionally the World Food Program has been headed by an American. However, now governments of Canada and several European countries are fielding their own candidates for the post.

Sheeran is currently the U.S. Undersecretary of State for economic affairs and was formerly Deputy United States Trade Representative. Both of these jobs suggest she is well qualified for the WFP post,

However, at one time she was the managing editor of the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper. Wikipedia states that
The Times was founded in 1982 by Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, to be a conservative alternative to the larger Washington Post. The Times is widely perceived as maintaining a right-leaning editorial stance. By 2002, the Unification Church had spent about $1.7 billion in subsidies for the Times.
The Inner City Press reports
that Josette Sheeran (Shiner) was an active member of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church from 1975 through at least 1996. After that date, it is reported that she went "into the world," including into William Bennett's Empower America organization and then the U.S. State Department, in order to spread the Unification Church's message and position.
I found this site on the web about Shiner and her links to Moon.

The World Food Program is the food aid arm of the UN. WFP provides food in poor countries to help meet emergency needs and uses food aid to support economic & social development. It is an important vehicle for humanitarian and development assistance. It also helps American farmers since providing food to people too poor to buy it thereby reduces the supply of food to those who do buy (and since prices reflect the balance between supply and demand in the market, keeping prices higher).

The unwritten agreements distributing leadership of key international agencies are longstanding, and widely respected. The director's job of the WFP is economically and diplomatically important to the United States.

I suspect that the competition to Sheeran is partly due to her personal background. It is also probably related to a general loss of influence of the United States with other nations as a result of their disagreement with U.S. policies for the last six years. John Bolton's approach to diplomacy may not help matters.

More Generally About U.S. Influence in International Agency Appointments

Ban Ki-Moon, South Korea's foreign minister, received 13 votes in favor, one against and one with no opinion from the 15-member UN Security Council in a straw vote Thursday, making him the leading candidate for the job of Director General starting next year. Another, more telling, straw poll will be conducted on Monday. The Bush administration has supported Ban.

The top jobs is also open at the World Health Organization, where (Jim Hoagland reports) China is making a strong push

Republican officials who recently were appointed to head prominent international agencies include World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz and Ann M. Veneman, the executive director of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF). Both appointments were controversial, but the were pushed through by the United Sates. (For Veneman background click here.)

Friday, September 29, 2006

WHO | "The use of flexibilities in TRIPS by developing countries: can they promote access to medicines?"

WHO | "The use of flexibilities in TRIPS by developing countries: can they promote access to medicines?":

"This study was commissioned to: (1) examine the extent to which the flexibilities contained in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) have been incorporated into the legislation of developing countries and the extent of the actual use for public health purposes; (2) review the stated trade policies of major industrialized countries, particularly the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (E.U), vis-?-vis developing countries to determine whether these take adequate account of the public health priorities of developing countries; and (3) examine the practical effect and implications of recently concluded bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs) for public health protection in developing countries. The study has been compiled based on existing literature and other available evidence."

Intellectual Property Watch ? US Seeks Review Of WHO Publication Policy After Report On US Trade Deals

Intellectual Property Watch ? US Seeks Review Of WHO Publication Policy After Report On US Trade Deals:

"A senior United States health official in Washington is urging the head of the World Health Organization to withdraw a WHO-sponsored publication that is critical of US trade policy, charging possible organisational incompetence and calling for a full review of its publication procedures.

“The WHO Secretariat’s decision to publish the South Centre report seriously undermines my confidence in the veracity and reliability of assurances I received from senior staff in the Office of the Director General,” William Steiger, special assistant to the secretary for international affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services wrote to Acting WHO Director General Anders Nordstrom in August."

Steiger is a recurring character in this blog. Note these two previous postings:
* William R. Steiger
* Daniel S. Greenberg on The Republican War on Science

The National Academies | News | Academies Hold Summit to Encourage U.S. Competitiveness

The National Academies | News | Academies Hold Summit to Encourage U.S. Competitiveness:

"About 800 policymakers, educators, business leaders, and researchers from across the country attended a National Academies event in Washington to encourage bold leadership on initiatives to strengthen U.S. competitiveness. They identified actions that state and local officials can take within the next six months to foster job growth, improve education, and enhance the environment for innovation."

The discussion appears to be available in streaming audio from the website.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ranking of IberoAmerican Institutions of Higher Education

Read "Latin American universities ranked by research output" by Zoraida Portillo in SciDev.Net, 21 September 2006.

This website uses publication data to rank the universities in Latin America and other Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries. The site is well organized to allow the user to specify rankings to be displayed in a number of categories. Notably, the website provides rankings by numbers of publications, influence of publications, and publications weighted by influence. It should be of interest to those working in science policy and policy for higher education, as well as to those with more general interests, including those considering graduate school.

The top research institutions in Latin America by the weighted indicator are:
1. Fundación Campomar (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
2. Centro de Estudios Cientificos de Santiago (Valdivia, Chile)
3. Hospital de Gastroenterología Carlos B. Udaondo (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
4. Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia)
5. Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas (Rio de Janeiro, Brasil)
6. Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (San Luis de Potosí, Mexico)
7. Instituto de Investigaciones en Catálisis y Petroquímica (Santa Fe, Argentina)
8. Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (São Paulo, Brazil)
9. Hospital Universitario de Caracas (Caracas, Venezuela)
10. Instituto Mexicano del Petróleo (México, D.F.)
Of course, the big universities, such as the Universities of Sao Paulo and Campinas in Brazil, UNAM in Mexico, and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina lead in the categories of total papers produced and total papers cited in the literature, but the ten institutions listed above seem to be working at a very high level of quality in their specific fields of science.

Ranking of IberoAmerican Institutions of Higher Education website.

Heed This Warning -

Heed This Warning -

"BENEATH ITS dry scientific lingo, a new analysis of global climate change by a group of NASA scientists is terrifying. Headed by climate specialist James E. Hansen, the group argues that recent global warming has been quite rapid -- about 0.2 degrees Celsius over each of the past three decades -- and has largely tracked climate models that predict more dramatic warming in the decades to come. If the world continues increasing carbon emissions at its current pace, by about 2 percent a year, the authors argue that the resulting warming will cause the extinction of about 60 percent of species around the world and 'sea level rise of several meters per century with eventual rise of tens of meters, enough to transform global coastlines.'"

I have been reading The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization by Brian M. Fagan. It traces the changes in climate over the past 15,000 years, and their effects. Hundreds of meters of changes in sea level, deserts created where once herds grazed, huge lakes created that overflowed and created huge rivers. The rate of climate change is high now and is increasing. The effects will be much greater than all but a handful of people realize within the next century. We should be working much harder now to bring down greenhouse gas emissions!

Billions of people live a hand to mouth existence. Population growth is continuing, and population is growing faster in poor countries than in rich countries. What do you think is going to happen as the climate changes over the next 100 years? As rainfall patterns change, and cropping patterns are forced to change correspondingly? As more energy goes into the atmosphere and sea surface, will storms get worse or more frequent? What will happen to the densely populated coastal zones of the poor countries in Asia as the sea rises? Who will suffer when the ranges of the insect vectors of tropical diseases change? The poor will suffer, as they always do!

U.S. Weighs Moves Against Sudan Over U.N. Force -

U.S. Weighs Moves Against Sudan Over U.N. Force -

"The United States is considering a series of punitive steps if the Sudanese government fails to agree to a U.N. peacekeeping force to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region, U.S. officials said yesterday."

Its about time that human rights trump the rights of murderous governmental thugs!

Visas for Skilled Workers Still Frozen

Read the full article by S. Mitra Kalita in The Washington Post, September 28, 2006.

"A bill that passed the Senate this spring would have doubled the number of visas issued every year for highly skilled professionals, such as scientists and engineers. And it would have helped clear a backlog of applications for permanent residency from such workers.

"But the attempt by Congress to rewrite the nation's immigration laws has bogged down in controversy over border security and illegal immigration. That means changes in the skilled-worker programs, while less controversial, are also in limbo."

Only 65,000 H-1B visas are issued each year, much less than the demand. The Senate plan would have nearly doubled the H-1B quota to 115,000 a year, and it would have helped clear a backlog of green-card applications. Resident scientists and engineers also have very long waiting times for green-cards.

I know that some U.S. workers in these highly skilled categories feel the inflow of foreign competition is holding down their wages. Perhaps that is true, but perhaps not. We know that there are synergies in the areas with high concentrations of high tech firms and workers, and it may be that the faster they grow, the more competitive they are, and the more resources there are to spread around. Certainly the growth of these industries creates jobs selling groceries, providing medical services, teaching kids, building houses, not to mention manning the fast food restaurants and providing maintenance services. Lets break the log-jam on this legislation!

There is another argument, that the United States importing all these useful folk creates a brain drain. That is another matter. But I note that India and China, which have rapidly growing high tech industries seem to be able to staff them, and indeed to draw home good people when they have meaningful employment and good working conditions to offer.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Selling Soap - New York Times

Read the full article in the New York Times by the guys responsible for "Freakonomics".

"Even excellent hospitals often pass along bacterial infections, thereby sickening or even killing the very people they aim to heal. In its 2000 report “To Err Is Human,” the Institute of Medicine estimated that anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die each year because of hospital errors — more deaths than from either motor-vehicle crashes or breast cancer — and that one of the leading errors was the spread of bacterial infections."

"It may seem a mystery why doctors, of all people, practice poor hand hygiene. But as Bender huddled with the hospital’s leadership, they identified a number of reasons. For starters, doctors are very busy. And a sink isn’t always handy — often it is situated far out of a doctor’s work flow or is barricaded by equipment. Many hospitals, including Cedars-Sinai, had already introduced alcohol-based disinfectants like Purell as an alternative to regular hand-washing. But even with Purell dispensers mounted on a wall, the Cedars-Sinai doctors didn’t always use them."

Interesting article from the point of view of K4D.

Doctor's obviously know the literature that says hygiene in the hospital saves lives, but they don't necessarily transfer that knowledge into action.

They don't seem to know how often they wash their own hands, even tho they must be there watching as they do so.

And the lack of one kind of knowledge seems to interfere with the application of the "book learning" kind of knowledge.

The Group of 77 - Ministerial Meeting, Science and Technology

Report of The Group of 77 - Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology.:

The Decision of the Meeting is quoted below in its entirety:

"The Ministers of Science and Technology of the Member States of the Group of 77 and China meeting on 3 September 2006 at Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) on the occasion of the 10th General Conference of the Academy of Sciences for the developing World (TWAS), and the 9th General Assembly of the Third World Network of Scientific Organizations (TWNSO),

Recalling the decision adopted by the Heads of States and Governments at the Second South Summit held in Doha (State of Qatar), from 12 to 16 June 2005, (paragraph 35 of Doha Plan of Action) to support the efforts by the Trieste System, especially the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), to establish the G-77 Consortium on Science and Technology as agreed at the First South Summit,

1. Welcome the decision adopted by the Third World Network of Scientific Organizations (TWNSO) in Angra dos Reis to transform itself into the Consortium on Science, Technology and Innovation for the South (COSTIS).
2. Approve the creation of COSTIS and mandate the Chairman of the Group of 77 and the President of TWNSO to appoint a joint task force in order to ensure the effective operationalization of the Consortium before the end of 2006."

Behold, the bus of the future |

Behold, the bus of the future |

"(T)he Superbus is a novel public-transport system being developed in the Netherlands by the Delft University of Technology. It is an electric bus designed to be able to switch seamlessly between ordinary roads and dedicated “supertracks”, on which it can reach speeds of 250kph (155mph). It could thus present an alternative to much more expensive magnetic-levitation trains. The Superbus would be driven in the usual way on roads and an autopilot would be engaged when it reached a supertrack.

"Though it is as wide and long as a standard city bus, the Superbus is only 1.7 metres high, or roughly the same height as a sports-utility vehicle. Joris Melkert, the project's manager, explains that the designers managed to keep the Superbus this small by doing away with the central aisle usually found in today's buses, a vestigial design feature that allows passengers to stand upright, but also gives conventional buses the aerodynamic profile of a brick."

Pipe in the sky? |

Pipe in the sky? |

"EXTRACTING oil and gas from remote and landlocked places can carry a heavy price tag. Over the next decade $50 billion is expected to be spent building new pipelines over land, according to one estimate. In an attempt to reduce these costs, the oil and gas industry is considering a new approach: airships. These would be used not as giant airborne tankers for carrying oil or gas from wells, but as delivery trucks, carrying materials, equipment and supplies to remote places for laying pipelines."

Biotechnology Research: Meat Grown in Vats

Read the full article in The Economist (subscription required.)

Several research groups are currently working to develop the technology to produce meat in vat culture. If they can do so commercially, their work may lead to important advances in meat production. Vat culture could provide more security against microbial contamination of the meat. Biotechnology might be applied to produce meat with specific nutrient advantages. Indeed, many people would prefer eating something that did not require slaughtering animals. Growing muscle cells (the main component of meat) in a nutrient broth is easy. The difficulty is persuading those cells to form something that sufficiently resembles the animal product to be acceptable as human food. The researchers are makeing advances in that direction.

A rubbish business model |

A rubbish business model |

"Several firms have taken that idea to heart and are seeking profitable ways to turn rubbish into fuel.....

"The idea might sound far-fetched, but there are several ways to convert organic waste into various grades of fuel, at least in the laboratory. You can gasify rubbish by heating it and turning it into synthesis fuel, which is then fed into a reaction called the Fischer-Tropsch process. This technique for converting carbon monoxide and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbons using a catalyst was invented in Germany in the 1920s and was used by the Nazis to convert coal into fuel during the second world war. An alternative method involves breaking down cellulose using various catalysts to accelerate the decomposition of organic plant residues into ethanol.

"Household rubbish presents special problems, since it is an unpredictable mishmash of all sorts of stuff. Allen Hershkowitz, director of the solid-waste programme at the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), says that no technology can take large amounts of mixed household waste and profitably convert it into ethanol or any other kind of fuel. He also notes that, although the country's landfills seem to be overflowing, America in fact produces only about 230m tonnes of municipal solid waste a year, compared with more than 2 billion tonnes of farm waste. The NRDC reports that much of the solid waste in landfills is made up of recyclables like plastic, or food waste that could be used as compost. Burning such things for fuel may not count as a gain for the environment."

Vote on Bolton May Be Postponed

From today's Washington Post:
A committee vote on extending John R. Bolton's tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will probably be delayed until after the elections.

A vote "is not scheduled this week," said Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If the Senate finishes its business at the end of this week as scheduled, the panel would consider Bolton's nomination in the "lame-duck session" that will begin in November, Fisher said.

World Economic Forum - Global Information Technology Report

World Economic Forum - Global Information Technology Report:

"Since it was first launched in 2001, the Global Information Technology Report has become a valuable and unique benchmarking tool to determine national ICT strengths and weaknesses, and to evaluate progress. It also highlights the continuing importance of ICT application and development for economic growth."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

BIG NEWS: Bolton Confirmation Is Really, Really Dead

BIG NEWS: Bolton Confirmation Is Really, Really Dead | Steve Clemons in TPMCafe:

"The last pre-election loophole through which John Bolton's confirmation might have snuck through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was at 2:15 this afternoon at a previously called 'business meeting' of the Committee.

That meeting has been cancelled -- and with it even the dimmest chance of John Bolton being confirmed as US Ambassador to the United Nations."



"The African Union will add 4,000 troops to its Darfur peacekeeping mission, bolstering the 7,000 poorly funded and ill-equipped A.U. forces monitoring a battered cease-fire, an A.U. official said Monday.

The move came as international pressure on Sudan rises to allow a force of 20,000 U.N. troops into Darfur to replace the current A.U. contingent.

An estimated 200,000 people have died in Darfur since violence flared in 2003, and 2.5 million have been displaced in the fighting among government forces, rebels and militias.

Also, Qatar's U.N. ambassador, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, said about $50 million had been raised for the force by Arab nations, out of a target of $100 million."

Many Americans Lack Health Literacy

The National Academies | Science in the Headlines | Many Americans Lack Health Literacy:

"Only 12 percent of American adults could easily navigate the healthcare system, according to a new assessment from the National Center for Education Statistics. More than half of the participants understand basic health instructions though, such as reading medication labels for dosage.

The assessment tested more than 19,000 adults, ages 16 and older. Women and people with higher levels of education consistently scored higher, and adults who received health insurance through an employer had the highest average health literacy. Participants older than 65 had lower health literacy scores than younger participants.

The Institute of Medicine report Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion found that nearly half of all American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information, and there is a higher rate of hospitalization and use of emergency services among patients with limited health literacy."

Convocation on “Rising Above The Gathering Storm”: Energizing and Employing Regions,

Convocation on “Rising Above The Gathering Storm”: Energizing and Employing Regions,:

"The purpose of the Convocation on Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing Regions, States, and Cities is to:
(1) convene leadership of industry, government, research, and education community from all 50 states and the federal government,
(2) share knowledge and encourage leadership of initiatives at the state and local level to strengthen US competitiveness, and
(3) discuss current national proposals to respond to the nation’s competitiveness challenge and their implications for states, localities, and regions."

There will be a live webcast of the Convocation on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT.

Monday, September 25, 2006

WHO backs controversial chemical for malaria control - SciDev.Net

WHO backs controversial chemical for malaria control - SciDev.Net:

"The controversial insecticide DDT — which most nations have banned — is back on the menu for malaria control after the World Health Organization reversed a 30-year old policy on Friday (15 September).

The move puts annual indoor spraying of DDT alongside drugs and bednets as one of the three main tools for controlling the disease."

I have never understood why spraying DDT on the inside walls of houses in endemic and hyperendemic malaria zones would be controversial. There is danger to indoor animals, such as pets, from spraying and it has to be done carefully. But spraying inside houses is not likely to cause the environmental problems that agricultural uses of DDT caused -- and those were the reason that DDT was banned. Eliminating a weapon in the fight against a disease that kills so many children, causes so much illness, and has such grave economic consequences in Africa and other regions has just seemed wrong!

The Future of the Internet

The Pew Internet & American Life Project produces reports that explore the impact of the Internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The basis of the reports are nationwide random digit dial telephone surveys as well as online surveys. This data collection is supplemented with research from government agencies, academia, and other expert aources. Support for the non-profit Pew Internet & American Life Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center.

The Project has a site with general links to its research on Internet Evolution. Here ate two futures studies:

The Future of the Internet (Susannah Fox, Janna Quitney Anderson and Lee Rainie, Pew Internet and American Life Project, 1/9/2005)
A wide-ranging survey of technology leaders, scholars, industry officials, and analysts finds that most internet experts expect attacks on the network infrastructure in the coming decade as the internet becomes more embedded in everyday and commercial life. They believe the dawning of the blog era will bring radical change to the news and publishing industry and they think the internet will have the least impact on religious institutions.

The Future of the Internet II
(Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, The Pew Internet and American Life Project, 9/24/2006.)
A survey of internet leaders, activists, and analysts shows that a majority agree with predictions that by 2020:
# A low-cost global network will be thriving and creating new opportunities in a “flattening” world.
# Humans will remain in charge of technology, even as more activity is automated and “smart agents” proliferate. However, a significant 42% of survey respondents were pessimistic about humans’ ability to control the technology in the future. This significant majority agreed that dangers and dependencies will grow beyond our ability to stay in charge of technology. This was one of the major surprises in the survey.
# Virtual reality will be compelling enough to enhance worker productivity and also spawn new addiction problems.
# Tech “refuseniks” will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change.
# People will wittingly and unwittingly disclose more about themselves, gaining some benefits in the process even as they lose some privacy.
# English will be a universal language of global communications, but other languages will not be displaced. Indeed, many felt other languages such as Mandarin, would grow in prominence.
At the same time, there was strong dispute about those futuristic scenarios among notable numbers of 742 respondents to survey

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lighting up the world |

Lighting up the world |

"The greatest impact of LED-based lighting could be in developing countries, where it can be powered by batteries or solar panels"

Concrete possibilities |

Concrete possibilities |

"(M)aterials scientists have long known that they can tweak the basic concrete recipe to create any number of desired effects. For example, adding chemicals that encourage the trapping of tiny air bubbles makes concrete more durable, because it gives water room to expand into when it freezes, thereby avoiding tiny cracks. In the late 1990s researchers began to experiment with another additive—small amounts of electrically conductive steel or carbon fibres. Even though the fibres make up less than 1% of the concrete by volume, they have a large effect: the resulting concrete gains the ability to conduct electricity."

There are important applications for the conducting concrete.

In Housing

"Grancrete, a company based in Mechanicsville, Virginia, has been working on a new type of ceramic, cement-like material for making quick, durable and cheap “spray-on” housing for the billion or so people in the world who lack it. Grancrete, as its invention is known, has its origins in a material invented to encapsulate nuclear waste. Its developers soon realised, though, that its real potential lay in housing people, rather than plutonium.

" small local team can be trained to mix and to apply the grancrete, which is made from a mixture of sand and a special binding agent. The team uses a hose to spray a thin coating onto a simple frame. Because grancrete binds to many surfaces, the frame can be made from wood, metal, or even polystyrene or woven matting. When it hardens, 20 minutes later, the grancrete structure is twice as strong as traditional concrete, and it is durable, fire-resistant, waterproof and non-toxic—more than can be said for most of the poor's housing. Salt does not corrode it, so it is suitable for use in coastal areas and its insulating properties mean that it can be used both in hot and cold climates. It should also be strong enough to withstand hurricane-force winds.

"Jim Paul, Grancrete's chairman, reckons that a team of two can build a simple house in two days. All in all, he estimates that low-cost housing can be made for $12 to $15 per square foot. Grancrete opened its first full-scale production plant this summer. So far, it has performed proof-of-concept demonstrations in Venezuela and Panama, and is preparing for more in Mexico, Canada, Argentina and America."

Secrets of the digital detectives |

Secrets of the digital detectives |

"At insurance companies, banks and telecoms firms, fraud-detection software is used to comb through millions of transactions, looking for patterns and spotting fraudulent activity far more quickly and accurately than any human could. But like human detectives, these software sleuths follow logical rules and combine disparate pieces of data—and there is something curiously fascinating about the way they work.

Consider car insurance.........The staggering number of combinations, each an indication of fraud or legitimacy, underscores the limitations of human analysis. Fraud-detection software, however, can evaluate a vast number of permutations and deliver a fraud-probability score. And such programs are getting better as new claims provide extra statistics that can help tune the computational recipes, or algorithms, used to detect fraud.......

"With an estimated $250m in annual sales, and yearly growth topping 25%, the largest and fastest-growing category of fraud-detection software is that used to spot fraudulent credit-card transactions. According to the Association for Payment Clearing Services, based in London, such software is largely responsible for reducing losses from credit-card fraud in Britain alone from £505m ($925m) in 2004 to £439m ($799m) in 2005. Merchants implementing anti-fraud software for the first time commonly see losses from fraud reduced by half. Such software evaluates many parameters associated with each credit-card transaction, including specific details of the items being purchased (derived from their bar codes), to evaluate the likelihood of foul play in the form of a numerical risk score. Any transactions that score above a certain pre-defined threshold are then denied or challenged."

Comment: I have been suggesting that the digital divide is not access to PCs, but also and perhaps more importantly, use of high end ICT. Fraud detection would seem to be an example, requiring serious computing power to search through huge numbers of records. The Economist points out that the service provides users benefits that more than justify service costs. I suspect that there is also an increase in social capital as a result of having this technology. Those who would commit fraud are deterred, and those who might be victimized are protected. Increasing trust in an economy results in markets working better!

Mr BlackBerry sends a message |

Mr BlackBerry sends a message |

"Mike Lazaridis, co-founder of the firm behind the BlackBerry, is a passionate advocate of fundamental scientific research"

Cluster analysis | Blame it on the typewriter |

Cluster analysis | Blame it on the typewriter |

"HAD it not been for the humble typewriter, Austin might have been all politics and football, and no venture capital. In 1967 IBM opened a plant in the city to make Selectric typewriters. It then moved on to mainframe circuit-boards and terminals and eventually to personal computers. Other technology outfits sprung up in IBM's shadow. Texas Instruments (TI) arrived in 1969 and Sematech and MCC, two industry research consortia, during the 1980s. Michael Dell founded his PC-making firm in 1984 while a student at the University of Texas at Austin. Over 2,000 other technology firms set up shop in Austin during the 1990s.

Today “Silicon Hills” is a huge hub for the semiconductor industry. Besides Freescale and TI, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) designs chips in Austin and Spansion, its recent spin-off, manufactures flash-memory cards. Samsung, the South Korean electronics giant, has recently broken ground to build the largest semiconductor factory in America. The plant, Samsung's second facility in Austin, will cost $3.5 billion."

Lexington | Poison Ivy |

Lexington | Poison Ivy |

"AMERICAN universities like to think of themselves as engines of social justice, thronging with “diversity”. But how much truth is there in this flattering self-image? Over the past few years Daniel Golden has written a series of coruscating stories in the Wall Street Journal about the admissions practices of America's elite universities, suggesting that they are not so much engines of social justice as bastions of privilege. Now he has produced a book—“The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates”—that deserves to become a classic."

TWAS General Conference Concludes in Brazil

TWAS General Conference Concludes in Brazil:

"The TWAS 10th General Meeting concluded in Brazil with a series of testimonials to outgoing president, C.N.R. Rao and a listing of the highlights that had taken place during the four-day event......

"'The conference's superb scientific sessions,' notes Hassan, 'featured a lecture by Nobel Prize winner David Gross (Physics 2004) on string theory and presentations by the winners of the Trieste Science Prize and TWAS medal and prize lectures. In addition, there were symposia focusing on advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology, global change and developing countries, and life sciences in Africa.'

"TWNSO also held a forum on Financing Science, Technology and Innovation that was attended by more than 20 ministers of science and technology from the developing world and the Brazilian participants, led by the Brazilian minister of science and technology, Sergio Rezende, organized a half-day session on advances in science and technology in Brazil.

"'With all of the activities taking place, it is difficult to signal out one event above all others,' says Hassan. 'But I think it's fair to say that the successful organization of the first-ever TWAS Regional Conference of Young Scientists, with presentations from some 30 young scientists from Latin America and the Caribbean, was one of the highlights of the four-day event. Not only was it exciting to hear about the excellent work being done by our youthful colleagues, but it also clearly reflected the Academy's commitment to the future. The high quality of the work presented and discussed at the conference – and especially the high quality of the work of young researchers – bodes well for the future of science in the developing world.'"

"Time running out for Darfur - US"

Read the full BBC story.

Lead: "US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has accused Sudan of failing in its responsibility to protect its own citizens in the western Darfur region.

Speaking at a meeting organised on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Ms Rice said time was running out.

She hinted that, should Sudan continue to refuse access to UN peacekeepers, "other measures" were available."

Philanthopists Versus Politicians: Development Versus Environmental Preservation

Swimming capybara at the Iberá marshes, in Corrientes, Argentina
© 2005 Carla Antonini

Read "Argentine Land Fight Divides Environmentalists, Rights Advocates" by Monte Reel, The Washington Post, September 24, 2006.

The excerpts below are in my order, rather than that of the author:
Since the 1990s, the relatively cheap and expansive acreage of Argentina has attracted millionaires in search of unspoiled estates, including household names such as Ted Turner and Sylvester Stallone. Douglas Tompkins, founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing lines, and his wife Kristine McDivitt, the former chief executive of the Patagonia outdoor clothing company, have bought about 4.7 million acres in Chile and Argentina. Their strategy is to identify properties in danger of ecologically damaging development, buy them, then create private parks that they eventually turn over to the local governments. Last year, they donated about 210,000 acres to Chile to form part of the Corcovado National Park. Tompkins said he eventually hopes to do the same thing with his 741,000 acres in this species-rich wetland region (in Argentina).

But last month, Argentina's undersecretary for land and social habitat (Luis D'Elia) declared war on such land purchases with one highly symbolic act: He marched onto Tompkins's land, cut down a fence and called for the expropriation of the property. "We believe this is a new way of trying to dominate the South American countries," said Araceli Mendez, a congresswoman who represents this region and sponsored legislation last month that would expropriate Tompkins's land. "It is dangerous for the defense of our national security to have the concentration of so much land in the hands of foreigners."

Days later, he (D'Elias) tood alongside the ambassadors of Venezuela and Bolivia -- two countries that recently have implemented measures to redistribute land from wealthy estate owners to the poor -- and made his intentions even clearer.

"We want to tell everyone: We're going to continue cutting down fences," said Luis D'Elia, the government secretary. "What is more important, the private property of a few, or the sovereignty of everyone?"

Not only do these battles pit South American nationalism against foreign investors, they are drawing a bold line between two activist movements -- environmentalists and social justice advocates -- that are often grouped together under the same "progressive" label.

The Catholic Church joined the chorus this month, issuing a 128-page document that warned against the "foreign-ization" of Argentine territory. Environmental groups, such as the Argentina Wildlife Foundation, have generally backed Tompkins.
Comment: In the old days, Communist countries did not allow philanthopy since it diluted the power of government. Leftist governments have agreed in many cases.

The new concentration of wealth (I just read that every one of the Fortune 400 now has more than one billion U.S. dollars net worth) and the new philanthopy of these billionaires is opening new partnerships for development.

Offhand, it seems to me useful to have foreign philanthopists joining in the debate between social justice advocates, promoting land reform, versus environmental activists, who worry about the preservation of fragile biosystems facing the incursion of poor farmers. Certainly their money could be useful!

"Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Hurting U.S. Terror Fight"

Read the full article by Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, September 24, 2006.
A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.
Telling the boss what he doesn't want to hear is always hard. It is a lot harder when the boss is the President of the United States. John D. Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, and Thomas Fingar, who chairs the National Intelligence Council, deserve great credit for doing so.
"It's a very candid assessment," one intelligence official said yesterday of the estimate, the first formal examination of global terrorist trends written by the National Intelligence Council since the March 2003 invasion. "It's stating the obvious."

The NIE, whose contents were first reported by the New York Times, coincides with public statements by senior intelligence officials describing a different kind of conflict than the one outlined by President Bush in a series of recent speeches marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Together with our coalition partners," Bush said in an address earlier this month to the Military Officers Association of America, "we've removed terrorist sanctuaries, disrupted their finances, killed and captured key operatives, broken up terrorist cells in America and other nations, and stopped new attacks before they're carried out. We're on the offense against the terrorists on every battlefront, and we'll accept nothing less than complete victory."
Democracy works best when the voters have the information they need to make informed judgements. It is especially important that they have that information as they decide who to vote for in an election. When the party in power is spinning the information, and the spin is radically different from what the professionals in the bureaucracy belief, those professionals face a real problem. In this case, some have chosen to leak a classified document to the press, and to give background comments to the press. As the Wilson-Plame case shows, there were personal risks in doing so! Perhaps more important, "leaking" such information undermines the trust within the intelligence reporting system. This is a much harder thing than telling the boss what he doesn't want to hear. Still, as the WP said of the National Intelligence Estimate:
"It's stating the obvious."

Venezuelan official detained at JFK - Yahoo! News

Venezuelan official detained at JFK - Yahoo! News:

"Venezuela's foreign minister said he was illegally detained for 90 minutes by officials at a New York airport and accused them of treating him abusively by trying to frisk and handcuff him."

Reading the article, it is not clear what really happened and how the blame should be distributed.

Whatever the cause, it is too bad that the Foreign Minister of Venezuela has a platform to complain about mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government. With modern technology, the State Department should certainly be able to alert government officials at the New York airports of the Presidents and Foreign Ministers who will be traveling through for the Session of the United Nations. The folk should have photos, and if a problem arises there should be a VIP lounge and the most courteous treatment!

The Tsunami Relief Effort: Too Late and Not Good Enough?

Read the full article: "Relief Agencies Look Inward: Poor Planning Hurt Response to Tsunami, Assessment Finds," by Michael Casey, The Associated Press via the Washington Post, September 24, 2006.

Lead: "The tsunami of 2004 triggered the biggest humanitarian response in history, one that fed the hungry, headed off epidemics and engendered the hope that out of a calamity that took 216,000 lives, a better Indian Ocean rim would emerge. But 18 months later, recriminations are rife, with aid agencies accused of planning poorly, raising unrealistic expectations and simply being incompetent."

Apparently only 23 percent of the $10.4 billion in disaster aid to Indonesia and Sri Lanka has been spent, because so much of it is earmarked for long-term construction projects. And those construction projects are often providing buildings that don't hold up or provide suitable housing, and boats that don't meet the needs of the fishermen who they are supposed to serve.
"I think mistakes occur in every disaster, but for the first time we are seeing it on a large scale," Anisya Thomas, managing director of the California-based Fritz Institute, a nongovernmental organization, or NGO, that specializes in delivering aid and has surveyed survivors in India and Sri Lanka.

"Many large NGOs are involved in rehabilitation and reconstruction activities beyond their capacity," Thomas said. "The large NGOs had trouble finding local resources and, when they did, they often had trouble holding them accountable."

The Newspaper article is based on reporting by The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition. TEC is an independent organization established in February 2005 in the wake of the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis. TEC evaluations represent the most intensive study of a humanitarian response since the Rwanda multi-donor evaluation in the mid-1990s. The TEC synthesis report and its "thematic evaluations" are available online.

Comment: Tragedy piled upon tragedy! Unpalatable as I find this news, I am glad that the information is out there. I hope it is transformed into useful knowledge in the disaster relief and reconstruction community.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"Microsoft may offer web programs"

Read the full BBC article online.

"Microsoft is planning free web-based versions of its word processing and spreadsheet programs.

"The online versions of the programs will lack many of the features found in the full versions found in Microsoft's Office suite of applications.

"Although the programs will be free to use, Microsoft is planning to fund them via advertising."

The Future of Drug Safety: Promoting and Protecting the Health of the Public - Institute of Medicine

The Future of Drug Safety: Promoting and Protecting the Health of the Public - Institute of Medicine:

"In its report, The Future of Drug Safety: Promoting and Protecting the Health of the Public, the committee considered the drug safety system as the sum of all activities conducted by FDA and other stakeholders to monitor, evaluate, improve, and ensure drug safety......

"During its research, the committee found that
1. There is a perception of crisis that has compromised the credibility of FDA and of the pharmaceutical industry.
2. Most stakeholders--the agency, the industry, consumer organizations, Congress, professional societies, health care entities--appear to agree on the need for certain improvements in the system.
3. The drug safety system is impaired by the following factors: serious resource constraints that weaken the quality and quantity of the science that is brought to bear on drug safety; an organizational culture in CDER that is not optimally functional; and unclear and insufficient regulatory authorities particularly with respect to enforcement.
4. FDA and the pharmaceutical industry do not consistently demonstrate accountability and transparency to the public by communicating safety concerns in a timely and effective fashion."

Read the Washington Post story triggered by the release of the study.

Comment: This suggests problems in the knowledge base and the way knowledge is used in the drug safety process in the United States that probably go beyond the Bush Administration's unwillingness to listen to the science if it conflicts with their ideology. I suspect that the FDA could do better now than ever before in assuring drug safety because of the improvements that have taken place in the National Information Infrastructure. We can now link together doctors into a national reporting system and create data bases of drug trials in ways not possible in the past. Unfortunately, I suspect that the pressures of the industry to simplify regulatory processes, and the responsiveness of politicians to such pressures may militate against the FDA doing the best job possible for the public.

If there are problems of this kind in the United States of America, I suspect that they are much worse in developing nations. Most poor countries depend on the drug safety processes of the OECD nations to give them warnings of possible dangers. However, we increasing recognize that genetic differences exist in the response to disease agents and drugs, as well as the likelihood of metabolic and other non-communicable diseases. A genetically based pharmaceutical problem that affects one in a thousand persons in Western Europe or the United States may affect a much larger or even smaller portion of the population in Africa or Asia. Developing nations also should be worried about the problems identified in this U.S. Institute of Medicine study.

Audit Finds Ethical Lapses In U.S. Reading Program -

Audit Finds Ethical Lapses In U.S. Reading Program -

"A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's billion-dollar-a-year reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its view that the Reading First program has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests that the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use. It also says that program review panels were stacked with people who shared the director's views and that only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money."

Independent, external peer review, to paraphrase Churchill, is the worst of all methods for selecting among proposals, except for all the other methods that are in use today. But even peer review doesn't lead to good decisions if you stack the review panels, if you unballence the playing field, or if you ignore the reviewer advice!

"Science in the Information Society"

Susan Schneegans (editor), UNESCO Publications for the World Summit on the Information Society, UNESCO, 2003.

Download the full 86 page document as a PDF file.

"The emergence of the information society is a revolution comparable to the deep transformation of the world engendered by the dual inventions of the alphabet and the printing press.
Walter Erdelen (Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO)

From the Overview:
"In much the same way that the printing press has expanded human outreach, so the Internet is spreading its net ever wider to envelop an ever greater number of human beings; it is changing existing rules of how we acquire information, modifying the way people access new knowledge, accelerating procedures and, at the same time, triggering novel values, trends and challenges. The term ‘information society’ was coined at the turn of the century to describe a society in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) have become an integral part of daily life. It has become second nature to millions of people around the world to use ATM banking machines, listen to a radio, carry a mobile phone, surf the Internet or consult their e-mail inbox, to cite but a few examples.....

"Sir Roger Elliot, Chair of the Executive Board of the International Council for Science (ICSU) stresses the role scientists play in the development of ICTs, the foundation of the information society. ‘Scientific research, full and open access to scientific information for scientists and improved science education and training’, Elliot says, ‘are all important for raising public understanding of science, in order to enable society to make more informed decisions’

‘The application of scientific knowledge continues to furnish powerful means for solving many of the challenges facing humanity, from food security to diseases such as AIDS, from pollution to the proliferation of weapons’, says United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan6. “Recent advances in information technology, genetics and biotechnology hold extraordinary prospects for individual well-being and humankind as a whole. At the same time, the way in which scientific endeavours are pursued around the world is marked by clear inequalities. Developing countries, for example, generally spend much less than 1% of their gross domestic product on scientific research, compared to between 1.5% and 3% in wealthy countries. The number of scientists in proportion to population in the developing countries is 10–30 times smaller than in developed countries’. The great majority of new science is created in the North ‘and much of this – in the realm of health, for example – neglects those problems that afflict most of the world’s people’"

Helicopter missing in east Nepal with WWF and USAID people on board

Read the full report from BBC News (September 23, 2006).

Lead: "A helicopter carrying 24 people, including WWF conservationists from the US, Canada and Australia, has gone missing in eastern Nepal."

The article adds: "An American aid worker from the organisation USAID was among seven foreigners."

Friday, September 22, 2006

New National Academies Report: Changes Needed to Boost K-8 Science Learning

Read the news release:

"Improving science education in kindergarten through eighth grade will require major changes in how science is taught in America's classrooms, as well as shifts in commonly held views of what young children know and how they learn, says a new National Research Council report."

"Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8"



"UNCTAD's 2006 report on Economic Development in Africa examines how the commitment by the international community to double aid to Africa might place the continent on a sustainable development path. The central message of the report is that, if this commitment is to translate into big reductions in poverty and lasting gains in economic welfare, new thinking is required to tackle the unbalanced state of the international aid system. The report identifies the flaws in the existing system, such as high transaction costs, politicization, lack of transparency, incoherence, unpredictability, and excessive demands placed on the weak institutions of recipients."

Here is the BBC news story on the publication.

Braunton Burrows Designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

The sand dunes at Braunton Burrows and Northam Burrows in North Devon are designated as an international Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO's Man in the Biosphere Program. This designation of the 3,120 hectares of Braunton Burrows as the first site in the UK to be made a biosphere reserve means that the site is recognized alongside Mount Vesuvius in Italy and the Danube Delta in eastern Europe as natural wonders.

Braunton Burrows
is the largest sand dune system in the United Kingdom. It hosts an extraordinarily diverse plant community, with over 400 recorded species of vascular plants. This in turn means that there are also a great variety of associated invertebrate species.

The Burrows, located in the north of Devonshire (in the south-west of England) was one of Britain's original biosphere reserves, and has been expanded to include Northam Burrows, the Taw-Torridge estuary and Braunton Marshes.

The Braunton site is among 18 just designated biosphere reserves in 12 different countries.

Visit the UNESCO Man in the Biosphere (MAB) Biosphere Reserves website.

A Personal Note: My mother's maiden name was a Braunton, and her family comes from North Devon, probably originally from Braunton Village. I still have relatives living there. Mom no doubt walked these beaches as a child. JAD

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Review of the Science Programs in UNESCO

For those who are really interested in International Science and/or in UNESCO, I recommend three recent pieces:
* UNESCO's Overall Review of its Science Programs (UNESCO in the Spotlight)
* UNESCO needs a more strategic approach to science (David Dcikson: SciDev.Net) and
* Does UNESCO needs a more strategic approach to science? (UNESCO in the Spotlight)

Guardian Unlimited Business | | Virgin pledges $3bn to combat global warming

Guardian Unlimited Business | | Virgin pledges $3bn to combat global warming:

"The British billionaire Sir Richard Branson today pledged to commit $3bn (?1.66bn) over the next 10 years to help combat global warming......

He made the announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative, which was set up by the former US president Bill Clinton to create a 'community of global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges'."

Good for Branson! Good for Clinton! Good for us all!

John Bolton's Nomination

Robert Novak seems to be seeking to support Bolton's confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. (For example, this piece in the Union Leader.)

He seems to accept that the Democrats in the Senate universally oppose the confirmation. He notes that the White House and Senate Republican leadership have been having trouble keeping a couple of Republican Senators in line: Lincoln Chafee and George Voinovich. He notes that some of the people who worked with Bolton in the State Department are working against the confirmation. Mr. Novak, have you considered that perhaps Bolton is not the best person for the job?

Mark Malloch Brown, the distinguished Deputy Director of the United Nations, is portrayed as conducting a behind-the-scenes campaign to prevent the confirmation. Brown was brought into his current position to lead in the effort to reform the U.N., having previously served with distinction as the head of the UNDP and as a Vice President of the World Bank. If he in fact opposes Bolton, that alone should give the Senate pause!

Novak writes:
Bolton's confirmation for another two years at the U.N. would be bad news for the secretariat.
We need the United Nations now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, and may need it in the near future to help with North Korea, Iran, and other countries. Does Novak really think it is a good idea to make added trouble for its Secretariat for the next two years?

Bolton Often Blocked Information, Officials Say (

Bolton Often Blocked Information, Officials Say (

"John R. Bolton -- who is seeking confirmation as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- often blocked then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and, on one occasion, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, from receiving information vital to U.S. strategies on Iran, according to current and former officials who have worked with Bolton."

African Union Troops Will Remain in Darfur -

African Union Troops Will Remain in Darfur -

"The African Union said Wednesday that it would extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force in Darfur through the end of the year, ensuring that international troops will remain in the war-torn Sudanese province for now."

A small step, but in the right direction. Everyone, please do what you can to keep up the pressure for a lasting solution that will protect the people of Darfur!

Pope Again Clarifies Remarks About Islam -

Pope Again Clarifies Remarks About Islam -

"I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason go together,' he added, drawing applause from the crowd of about 20,000."
Pope Benedict XVI

Still I wish that the Pope would apologize for an action that he should have known would plaster an obscure quotation all over the world, a quotation that was legitimately seen as a terrible blasphemy by Moslems everywhere.

"A Quiet Break for Corporations"

Read the full article, subtitled "Tariff Suspensions, Often Initiated by Companies Based Overseas, Keep Millions of Dollars From Flowing to the Treasury Each Year" online. It is by Joe Stephens and published in The Washington Post, September 20, 2006.

Apparently many in the U.S. Congress believe that what the voters don't know wont hurt their election chances!

Excerpts from the piece (my order):
Each legislative season, corporate executives and lobbyists quietly draft hundreds of bills to suspend tariffs. Over time, the changes cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.......Since the beginning of last year, legislators have introduced more than 1,400 bills seeking new or renewed tariff waivers or reductions......At least 36 members of Congress have introduced five or more tariff-suspension bills in the current session......

Under guidelines set by Congress, each tariff suspension is supposed to cost taxpayers no more than $500,000 a year. Many proposals above the limit are rejected; others win approval anyway.....

The last time Congress passed an omnibus bill, in 2004, budget analysts estimated that the waivers would result in at least $172 million in lost revenue. The next set of suspensions, slated for passage this fall, is looking much more costly.....

Last month, in an unusual move, the Senate attached 262 of the suspensions to a pension bill. The rest, with an unknown number of the Senate's own proposals, are expected to be rolled into a miscellaneous tariff bill this month.....

The bills in Congress generally give no hint of whom the suspensions have been designed to benefit and sometimes refer to the products only by strings of numbers linked to phone-book-size tariff tables.....

Most of the tariff suspensions involve obscure chemicals and dyes, but many other products show up, including boilers for nuclear reactors, green peanuts, child potty seats, unicycles -- even chocolate coatings for laxatives......

Lawmakers usually introduce the provisions at the behest of companies in their districts. Many of those companies and their executives have given federal campaign contributions totaling millions of dollars.......

The biggest beneficiaries of the rising tide of tariff-suspension bills are domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations. Of the 10 companies that stand to benefit from the greatest number of bills examined in the study, eight are owned by or affiliated with German and Swiss chemical companies......

Various Bayer subsidiaries were the unnamed primary beneficiaries of more than 70 suspension bills covering imported chemicals, including the ingredients for aspirin. Over the next two years those suspensions would cost the Treasury more than $35 million on imports worth nearly $850 million........Since 2000, Bayer's political committee has made campaign contributions totaling $951,000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. In 2005 alone, Bayer and its U.S. affiliates spent $3.2 million on lobbying.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Death in Darfur

SOCIAL SCIENCE: Death in Darfur -- Hagan and Palloni 313 (5793): 1578 -- Science:

"We conservatively estimate 19 months of mortality in West Darfur as 49,288 (with a range from 40,850 to 67,598) by summing the means for estimated deaths between the high and low monthly figures in the right side of the figure. When the right tail of this distribution is extended to May 2006 (18), the total number of deaths is 65,296 in West Darfur alone, with a range from 57,506 to 85,346. This estimate covers 31 months of conflict that, as of August 2006, has been under way for 43 months. If the further 12 months of conflict were well estimated, and/or if all or most missing or disappeared persons were presumed dead, the death estimate would be much higher.

Largely as a result of this killing, more than one million individuals are now displaced or affected in West Darfur (20). About one million people are similarly displaced in each of the adjoining Sudanese states of North and South Darfur. If the same ratio of death to displacement applies across states, this implies that close to 200,000 deaths have occurred over 31 months in Greater Darfur."

Everyone. Do something now to stop the killing in Darfur!

U.S. GRADUATE EDUCATION: Foreign Enrollment Rebounds After 3-Year Slump -- Bhattacharjee 313 (5793): 1559b -- Science

U.S. GRADUATE EDUCATION: Foreign Enrollment Rebounds After 3-Year Slump -- Bhattacharjee 313 (5793): 1559b -- Science:

"After a 3-year decline, the number of foreign students starting graduate studies in the United States rose 4% last year. And, continuing the upswing, the number of international graduate applications to U.S. universities shot up 12% this year, suggesting that the country may be regaining its positive image among foreign students.

Observers credit the rebound, documented in a 643-institution survey released this week by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), to speedier processing of visa applications and increased international outreach. 'The U.S. government has clearly made efforts' to modify some of the restrictive visa policies that were put in place after the 2001 terrorist attacks, says CGS President Debra Stewart. 'The visa situation is still not perfect, but it is much better than it was in 2004.' A majority of foreign-born graduate students pursue degrees in the sciences and engineering."

Good news!

Here is some Knowledge He Wishes He Hadn't Shared!

"The Hungarian prime minister's candid admission that his government had accomplished 'nothing' and had been lying for 'the last year and a half to two years' has infuriated the public, sparking riots in the capital Budapest.

BBC News, 19 September 2006.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dr. Victoria Hale Named MacArthur Fellow

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named Victoria Hale, founder and chief executive officer of the Institute for OneWorld Health, a 2006 MacArthur Fellow today. According to the Washington Post, the award ($25,000 quarterly for the next five years)
will offer an (her) opportunity to step back and do more networking and strategic planning for her start-up company. That nonprofit works to develop and deliver pharmaceuticals to developing countries and has been funded by the Gates Foundation.
The Institute for One World Health is the first nonprofit pharmaceutical company founded in the United States. Its mission was "to develop safe, effective, and affordable new medicines for those most in need." In order to develop the pipeline of potential drug leads into approved new medicines at a fraction of the cost of conventional pharmaceutical development the Institute's
team stressed partnership and collaboration with industry and international research institutions. To ensure affordability, they sought donated and royalty-free licensing of intellectual property and identified research and manufacturing capacity in the developing world.

With early investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, collaboration with the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and alliances with biotechnology firms such as Celera Genomics, OneWorld Health has completed final stage testing of a promising new therapy to cure visceral leishmaniasis in India.
The drug, Paromomycin IM Injection, was approved for use by the Government of India on August 31st of this year.

Thus we have a not-for-profit organization with foundation funding stepping in to catalyze partnerships among the U.S. Government, the scientific community, and industry -- utilizing donated intellectual property rights -- to create a new biomedical technology for an unmet health need of the developing world.

"A seedbed of revolution"

Read "Economics focus: A seedbed of revolution" in the current edition of The Economist.

Last week the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation said they would devote $150m over five years to research to improve agricultural productivity in Africa.
Some of this money ($63m) will be spent training more crop scientists and breeding new seed varieties suited to sub-Saharan Africa's parched climate, denuded soils and stubborn pests. But the two foundations, appreciating that technology is not the only obstacle, will spend almost as much ($61m) on the distribution of seeds as on their discovery. They will, for example, help village retailers and seed wholesalers set up in business, and push for financial reforms that would enable farmers and their suppliers to get credit.

The money is welcome, because crop science of the sort Mr Borlaug (who won the Nobel Prize for his leadership in the research that fueled the Green Revolution in Asia) made famous has fallen out of fashion in recent decades. The International Rice Research Institute, for example, lost a quarter of its core funding between 2001 and 2003. These days biotechnology is mainly a profit-driven enterprise, creating seeds for big farms, often in rich countries. This skews its research, says Michael Lipton, of the University of Sussex. Herbicide-resistant crops, for example, allow weeds to be killed chemically, rather than plucked manually. This might reduce the demand for farm labour, which is scarce in rich countries, but in need of employment in poor ones.
Thus we see philanthropists stepping in to support biotechnology for agriculture in Africa, recognizing the failure of private industry to address Africa'a technological needs under the market-based innovation system, and recognizing the failure of governments to adequately support the International Agricultural Research Centers to make up the shortfall.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Booksellers All But Gone from Baghdad

This is what the street of the booksellers in Baghdad
would have looked like on a Friday before the war.

This is a picture from that street on a recent Friday.

Read the full article titled "Violence Changes Fortunes Of Storied Baghdad Street" by Sudarsan Raghavan in The Washington Post of September 18, 2006.

Mutanabi Street, named after a 10th-century poet, was famous for its booksellers, and for the throngs of people who shopped there on Fridays in the past (Friday being the only day off of the week). This is a story of loss.

There is a saying known throughout the Arab world:
Cairo writes. Beirut publishes. And Baghdad reads.
Perhaps it will be changed to:
Cairo writes. Beirut publishes. And Baghdad used to read.
Baghdad's booksellers were the guardians of a literary tradition that stretched back centuries if not millennia, a tradition that "survived empire and colonialism, monarchy and dictatorship."

According to WP:
Under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Mutanabi Street was the nexus for resistance and freewheeling debates, where underground writers published illegal books that denounced Hussein.

"I wish you could see how it used to be on Fridays," Shatri spoke before he broke down in tears. "You could not even walk. The whole street was filled with books and people. Mutanabi Street is a part of how great Baghdad is."

In the heady days after the U.S.-led invasion, Mutanabi Street pulsed with the promise of freedom.......After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, once-banned Western magazines were displayed openly. Religious books, especially those catering to Iraq's long-oppressed Shiite Muslims, flourished.......

Now, in the fourth year of war, it is a shadow of its revered past. Many of the original booksellers have been forced to shut down. Others have been arrested, kidnapped or killed, or have fled Iraq. "We are walking with our coffins in our hands," said Mohammad al-Hayawi, the owner of the Renaissance book store, one of the street's oldest shops.......

Three months ago, the government imposed the midday curfew on Islam's holiest day to stop attacks on mosques. That was a major setback for Mutanabi Street, named after a 10th-century poet. Now, the street is still a hive of activity on every other day. But poor security has altered its character, said many of its old booksellers. Before the invasion, they used to stay open till evening. No longer. "By 2 p.m., we close our shops and run away fast."
A bookseller which imported 1000 boxes of books even a year ago, imported 20 boxes last month. Abdullah Gumar al-Ogaeli, 85, who opened a stationery shop in 1947, said
he knew about 200 merchants in the months after the invasion. Now, he knows three. Some died of natural causes, others lost their lives to the violence. Several booksellers, he said, were kidnapped by gunmen, but were later released. In Baghdad, the elite and the educated are often targets of criminals, who seek ransom, and of extremists, who seek to shred the city's cultural and intellectual fabric. "Many of our merchants have left Iraq and opened shops in Egypt, Syria and Jordan," said Ogaeli.......

(G)unmen a few months ago killed two professors after they left the cafe, Khakshali said. And before men entered the nearby Al-Sadim bookshop last August. As they exited, they left a suitcase by the door. It exploded, killing the owner's son.....

"All the educated people have left," said Shatri, as he reached into his pocket to pull out a neatly folded, gray handkerchief......

Today, a new generation of merchants sells paper and other supplies. Several original booksellers said the newcomers were looters who thrived during the chaos of the invasion.
Mohammad al-Hayawi
has always resented the U.S. occupation. But now he outright blames the Americans for the violence that is tearing apart their lives. "The Americans are the reasons for it. This is the truth. You must hear it. Sectarian strife is like a fire. When the fire starts, it eats everything."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fragile States According to the World Bank

Engaging with Fragile States | 2006 LICUS:

"As defined by the World Bank, all LICUS are characterized by weak policies, institutions, and governance. This map shows how the LICUS composition has changed through the years, since the program was instituted by the Bank. It also shows the countries' severity levels (see explanation below) and conflict/post-conflict status."

Click here to go to an interactive map of Low Income Countries Under Stress (fragile states).

Eldis - Economic growth and education

Eldis - Economic growth and education:

Eldis, the Economic Development Portal supported by the UK's DfID and other donors has developed this Quick guide through the key issues of Economic growth and education. The website states:
"If more education leads to faster economic growth, then investments in education could pay for themselves in the long run, and could also play a role in reducing poverty. Such reasoning could be crucial in bolstering political support for education investments and ensuring their sustainability. This page considers the evidence for an education-growth link, and explores some of the issues that governments and donors face in making investments which will best take advantage of the potential for education to contribute to economic development.

The papers under rates of return to education look at the differences in productivity and wages between people with different levels of education – one route through which education could ultimately impact on a country's economy as a whole. These papers also shed light on the question of how much money should be allocated to primary, secondary, and higher education, when overall resources are limited. The second section of this page highlights how vocational education has often been neglected when making such decisions. A final set of papers consider how both developed and developing countries can lessen the negative impact, and maximise the positive impact, of the brain drain of educated professionals from poor to rich countries."

Save Darfur

Click here to go to a website which will allow you quickly and easily to send a message to the White House, demanding the U.S. Government do its best to prevent the catastrophe in Darfur from getting worse. It appears likely to get much worse very fast without immediate steps.

More on Iraq

The juxtaposition of the two previous postings made me think more. In my first posting of the day, I was criticizing the Administration about having substituted ideology for information based on experience, study, and evidence. I still believe it deserves such criticism.

The second posting made me aware that the issue of values was at least equally important. There are very important values at stake in Iraq, including core religious values of Iraqi Sunnis and Shiits, of Kurds and Arabs, of different tribes, of secular and religious Iraqis. Even if we knew and understood these different values, I am not sure it is possible or desirable for a Western Coalition, with its own diversity of deeply held moral values to create the institutions in which Iraqi's sort out a socio-economic solution on the Iraqis that would in some sense be best for Iraq -- much less to impose such a solution. And of course, we don't come near to understanding the values of the many players.

Perhaps the most immediate issue domestically in the United States is whether what we are doing is even morally acceptable in our own value system, to our own people, as determined by our own institutions. I think the answer to such a question when posed in World War II was clearly yes; in Viet Nam it appears to have been no. In Iraq, I suspect it is too early to have any confidence what that answer will be.

Ultimately, however, we must judge the Bush Administration's Iraq policies not only by not only its head, but its heart; not only did it get the facts right, analyze them well and plan accordingly, but did it do the right thing; not only would it make its professors proud, but its preachers.

What did Pope Benedict XVI Really Say

There has been a lot of commotion (see for example, this from Israel) about what the Pope said in his "Meeting with the Representatives of Science" in Germany on the 12th. I suggest you read the full text yourself. For those interested in knowledge, it is a useful discussion by one far more thoughtful and learned than I.

But the tempest in the teapot is just that. The Pope quoted a short segment of a dialog between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian (recorded by an unknown hand, possibly that of the emporer himself) from an edition by Professor Theodore Khoury. He, the Pope, certainly does not suggest that the emporer was right in the quoted remark. If anything, he implies that its "startling brusqueness" was a rhetorical ploy used for argumentative or discursive purpose. The statement is placed in the context of theological debate, which the Pope clearly suggests has value and importance. Indeed, a major theme of the speech seems to be the division of that of Greek philosophy which is intrisic to the New Testiment and thus to Christian and Moslem religion, that which is intrinsic to European culture and philosophy (but not to the religions), and by elimination that which is neither. The Pope must be careful of what he says, as the tempest demonstrates, but I can say that even this speech makes clear that he is a serious student of the "structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man". I would note that the Pope states that the emporer surely knew that "surah 2, 256 reads: 'There is no compulsion in religion'."

I will quote the English version of the text at length because it so eloquently refutes my last posting:
The scientific ethos, moreover, is......the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss". The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

"Early U.S. Missteps in the Green Zone"

Read the article "Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in The Washington Post of September 17, 2006.

This article tells part of the story of appointment of political ideologues to key possitions in Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority and the disasterous repercussions of those appointments.

The U.S. Institute for Peace Oral Histories Project on the Iraq Experience has dozens of surprisingly frank interviews with people who served in or with the CPA, many of which tell the same sad story.

"Knowledge" is a funny concept. As Will Rogers said, "it's not what you don't know that hurts you, it's what you do know that ain't so." I might suggest another line:
It's not what you don't know that hurts you, its what you don't understand."
I think it is quite clear that the CPA officials didn't understand the situation they faced, and didn't understand the repercussions that their actions would have.

You may think you know something because
* of the evidence supporting that thing,
* it is a logical consequence of theory, or
* it is part of your ideology.
If knowledge is based on evidence, then it can be improved with more or more credible evidence. Dependence on evidence based knowledge requires the holder to be willing to change his mind, and to consider the degree of credance to attach to that knowledge.

In the case of Iraq in 2004, there was not much time for reevaluating knowledge or gaining new evidence.

It should also be said that knowledge and understanding can be gained by experience or by study. Study is great for explicit knowledge, but experience is needed to gain tacit knowledge.

Who wants to be treated for a serious and complex medical problem by someone who has finished the classroom portion of medical school, but who has not been through the clinical training and internship? Sending a 24 year old real estate salesman to rebuild the Iraqi stock market, as apparently was actually done, is a comparable approach to dealing with a serious and complex problem. The Iraqi PhD stock broker, who eventually headed the Board of Directors of the Stock Exchange, may well have thought the U.S. was mad to make him take orders from so unprepared a person.

It occurs to me that people who disagree but who create knowledge and understanding based on evidence and theory -- gained through experiment, experience, and study -- can resolve differences through the application of reason. People who disagree but who base base knowledge and understanding on ideology have little recourse to reason.

It seems that story after story is coming out of Iraq to suggest a fundamental problem. The United States government and its key decision makers did not have adequate knowledge nor understanding of Iraqi culture and society. As a result:
* They overstated the risk that was posed of Iraqi control of weapons of mass destruction, and of its relations with terrorist organizations.
* While they correctly estimated that the Coalition military forces could quickly overcome the Iraqi military, they underestimated the degree of paramilitary resistance that would occur, and gravely underestimated the degree of civil disturbance that would occur after the the fall of the Iraqi government (and the size of the military force that would be required to contain the looting and killing).
* They apparently made a significant error in disbanding the Iraqi army and police, and barring all people with Baath party backgrounds from positions of authority.
* They overestimated the ability of the CPA to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure, and they did not understand the drastic economic distress that they were unleasing on the country. And
* They did not predict the insurgency that would result from this combination of factors.
We too often consider governments as if they were people. A government may well act as though it lacks knowledge and understanding not because it does not have access to such knowledge and understanding, but rather because it does not bring the knowledge it actually holds to bear on the critical decisions that it makes. In the case of Iraq, there is a case to be made that the United States had allowed itself to lack enough people with enough knowledge and understanding of Iraq. But the WP article and many other sources are suggesting that the more important problem was that it failed to bring the appropriate knowledge and understanding that existed in the military, the State Department and its advisors, and the development community to bear on the Iraq decisions. Rather people who shared a neo-Conservative ideology recruited ideologically compatible people without reference to other qualifications to whom to delegate decision making responsibility, and as a result ideology was substituted wholesale for the knowledge and understanding that had been gained in decades of post-conflice situations, in decades of development asssistance, and in centuries of international relations.