Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cell Phones are a Powerful Technology

There are a couple of stories in the current Economist magazine (October 28th 2006) that illustrate the impact that cell phones are having in developing nations. (A subscription is needed to read the articles online.)

Mobile telephony and banking: Phoney finance
About half a million South Africans now use their mobile phones as a bank. Besides sending money to relatives and paying for goods, they can check balances, buy mobile airtime and settle utility bills. Traditional banks offer mobile banking as an added service to existing customers, most of whom are quite well off. But Wizzit, and to some extent First National Bank (FNB) and MTN Banking (a joint venture between Standard Bank and a mobile-phone network), are chasing another market: the 16m South Africans, over half of the adult population, with no bank account. Significantly, 30% of these people do have mobile phones. Wizzit hired and trained over 2,000 unemployed people, known as Wizzkids, to drum up business. It worked: eight out of ten Wizzit customers previously had no bank account and had never used an ATM.

Liberation technology: Mobiles, protests and pundits
(I)n August residents of Muyinga province acted fast when they saw fresh corpses drifting downstream; they used their mobile phones to contact NGOs, who in turn tipped off the United Nations, whose soldiers got to the scene fast enough to recover some forensic evidence.

The use of mobiles as a tool of “empowerment”, even in the poorest and worst-governed parts of the world, is not always so grisly. The cruder kinds of electoral fraud, relying on poor communications between the capital and the boondocks, are now much harder. Even with minimal resources, monitors can count the voters and conduct exit polls—and then phone their findings to a radio station before the authorities stuff the ballot boxes. Such methods have helped make elections a bit cleaner in places like Ghana and Kenya.

Applying the Logical Framework Approach to Organizational Planning

I got an email asking how one would apply the LogFrame approach for organizations (as opposed to projects) in order to help establish organization-wide goals and indicators of impact. I have been thinking about the problem.

The Logical Framework was pioneered in 1970 for U.S. AID and other foreign assistance projects. It is now one of the chief tools used by the international development community to help design projects so as to achieve measurable results. The LogFrame utilizes a hierarchy: goals, objectives, outputs and inputs. It also utilizes for each level in the hierarchy, to supplement the narrative summary, a set of verifiable indicators, a specification of the sources of data for those indicators, and an explicit statement of key objectives.

Certainly one could simply define the overall goal of an organization (its mission statement), then make a project towards achieving that goal. Define the inputs that are to be available. Then make a plan that would allocate the inputs to achieve specific outputs that would fulfill specified objectives.

The benefit of the LogFrame approach, in my mind, is the discipline it imposes on the planning process. Its emphasis on verifiable indicators makes monitoring progress a natural outgrowth of the planning process, and part of implementation. While many have emphasized quantitative indicators, qualitative indicators are possible and indeed may be quite useful. The requirement that key assumptions be specified should lead to detailed consideration of the assumptions, including an assessment of their importance to the effort and the likelihood that they are valid.

One problem of applying the LogFrame to an organization is that its implicit project nature may not be well suited to the ongoing nature of an organization. Thus an organization may have specific objectives such as a level of activity or impact by a given date, but it also has objectives related to internal capacity building and positioning itself for future impact. Of course, it is possible to specify multiple objectives, as is often done for projects, but that might not be enough to get away from the bias.

Another frequently cited problem is that the use of the LogFrame has been associated in practice with overly costly preliminary planning, and on the other hand, with inadequate implementation management, monitoring and mid-course corrections. Dangerous territory for organizations.

One application of the LogFrame to organizations does seem obvious, and that is to projectize the reengineering or reorganization of the entity. In this case, the process should be time limited, and should have clear goals, objectives, inputs and outputs.

It also occurs to me that there is a potentially interesting extension of the LogFrame approach to organizations. Formal organizations have organizational diagrams, which disaggregate them into hierarchies of organizational units. One could facilitate a reengineering process by creating a LogFrame for each unit within the organization, using hierarchical processes (both top-down and bottoms-up) to define unit objectives, outputs and inputs, as well as their verifiable indicators and assumptions. The process might be very useful as a planning approach, facilitating communication across and throughout the organization about expectations as well priorities in the allocation of resources. The process might also provide management with tools for monitoring progress in the reengineering process.

What do we know about U.S. responsibility to Iraqis?

We know that the public justification of the invasion of Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction and ties with Al Qaeda -- proved false. We know that following the destruction of the Iraqi military, the United States and the United Kingdom disbanded the remains of the military and that their "DeBathification" fired thousands of workers from the Iraqi government, and that government services suffered as a result. We know that the United States and the United Kingdom, especially through the Coalition Provisional Authority, undertook a massive reorganization of the Iraqi economy and of Iraqi institutions. We know that in the years following the invasion security has been inadequate, and the insurgency has increased dramatically. We know that tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, and that the Iraqi economy and infrastructure are a mess.

It certainly appears now that the strategy of the Coalition is to build a strong military presence, with large numbers of Iraqis in domestic forces supported by foreign advisers and troops. We know that Iraq has never know a real democratic government, and that its population is deeply divided along ethnic, cultural and religious lines. We know that many U.S. interventions in the past, in societies with at least some similarities to Iraq, have resulted in military-supported dictators imposing order on the country then ruling badly and postponing the introduction of democratic governance for long periods.

We know Colin Powell said at the outset of the war:
If You Break it, You Pay For It, Mr. President

What are the implications of this knowledge?

The people of the United States have incurred a responsibility to the people of Iraq! We now have to figure out how best to fulfill that responsibility.

I don't think that slogans are the best way to approach that analysis.

I do think that the people of the United States have a duty to the people of Iraq to keep troops there as long as they will do more good than harm. We certainly have a duty to do the best we can to help the Iraqis to rebuild their institutions and to reestablish stability. We also have a more general obligation to undo as much as possible of the damage resulting as a result of our government's interventions.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Knowledge for Development

Knowledge for Development:

This CTA "website supports the policy dialog on S&T for agricultural and rural development in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. It enables the ACP scientific community - primarily agricultural research and development scientists and technologists, policy makers, farmers and other stakeholders and actors - to share and review results of national and regional efforts and collaborate to harness science and technology for the development of agriculture in their countries."

"It's Who? You Know."

The article by Al Kamen in The Washington Post, October 30, 2006.

"State Department career diplomats are in an uproar over the recent appointment of a mid-level civil servant who worked for Undersecretary Karen Hughes to a top job running the new Public Diplomacy Rapid Response office in Brussels.

In an unusually strong letter last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice , J. Anthony Holmes , head of the American Foreign Service Association, called the selection of Diane Zeleny a 'pre-cooked deal,' apparently done by manipulating the process and violating personnel rules and standard practices. AFSA, he said, was filing a grievance 'to undo this assignment.'"

Comment: Those people really understand Public Diplomacy don't they! JAD

Bush Appointee Said to Reject Advice on Endangered Species - washingtonpost.com

Read the article by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post, October 30, 2006.:

"A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has rejected staff scientists' recommendations to protect imperiled animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act at least six times in the past three years, documents show.

"In addition, staff complaints that their scientific findings were frequently overruled or disparaged at the behest of landowners or industry have led the agency's inspector general to look into the role of Julie MacDonald, who has been deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks since 2004, in decisions on protecting endangered species......

"Two advocacy groups, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Biological Diversity, provided the documents to The Washington Post. Francesca Grifo, who directs the union's scientific integrity program, said MacDonald's actions are 'not business as usual but a systemic problem of tampering with science that is putting our environment at risk.'"

Francesca is an old friend and colleague, who is fighting the good fight! Go girl!

The International Budget Project

From The Economist print edition, October 26th 2006

Go to the project website.

I think knowledge of government budgets and expenditures is especially important for development. If it is not publicly available, corruption seems unavoidable. If it is publicly available, then it can be analyzed, and there can be debate on the best way to use government resources. That is why I like this project so much. Check out a couple of its products:

The Open Budget Index 2006
This index has been used to rate 59 countries on how open their budget books are to their citizens. It is intended to provide citizens, legislators, and civil society advocates with the comprehensive and practical information needed to gauge a government’s commitment to budget transparency and accountability. Armed with this kind of information, lenders, development advocates, and aid organizations can identify meaningful budget reforms needed in specific countries to combat corruption and strengthen basic services to improve people's lives. It was unveiled October 18, 2006 by the Open Budget Initiative of the International Budget Project.

Impact of Civil Society Budget Work: Case Studies on Brazil, Croatia, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Uganda
The International Budget Project (IBP) and the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex have produced in-depth case studies of six established budget groups. The objective of the exercise was to learn specifically about the impact of sustained budget work on good governance and poverty reduction. The independent budget organizations in Brazil, Croatia, India, Mexico, South Africa and Uganda that were studied have been engaged in budget analysis and budget advocacy for a period of 5-10 years. Methods included interviews with politicians, government officials and representatives of civil society organizations; focus group discussions; analysis of laws and procedures governing budget transparency; analysis of secondary documentation and media reports; and field visits. The authors conclude that the "case study groups’ media and dissemination work, together with training and capacity building, have considerably expanded budget literacy and the engagement of parts of civil society, the media and the legislature in the budget process."

Development Gateway Highlight: S&T Policy Objectives in a Global Knowledge Society

The Development Gateway Knowledge Economy community portal has just published my highlight on science policy.

Check out the full length version: S&T Policy Objectives in a Global Knowledge Society.

Check out some Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Review Resources.

Shangai S&T Museum
Flickr.com; le niners' photostream

"The Politics of Technology for an African Renaissance"

This brief paper describes "a framework for grouping various technological views into non-exclusive groupings in relation to the idea of control or power, humanity and nature, culture and development, and the idea of values and meanings. These views can perhaps be arbitrarily grouped into seven varieties, with no clear boundaries:
(1) - The Instrumentalist / Utilitarian / Functionalist Views
(2) - The Determinist / Autonomist / Fatalist Views
(3) - The Essentialist / Substantivist / Fundamentalist Views
(4) - The Luddist / Rejectionist / Technophobic Views
(5) - The Environmentalist / Naturalist / Romantic Views
(6) - The Pre-Modernist / Traditionalist / Preservationist Views
(7) - The Constructivist / Voluntarist / Idealistic Views/"
Jacques L. Hamel, Economic Commission for Africa, undated.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

DFID White Paper on International Development

Read the UK Department for International Development White Paper: Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor.

"We will deliver the promises we made in 2005 by: increasing our development budget to 0.7% of gross national income by 2013; concentrating our resources on the poorest countries – particularly sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – and working more in fragile states; making sure that wider UK policies support development; and doubling funding for science and technology."

Diasporas of Highly Skilled and Migration of Talent

Go to the website of this World Bank Knowledge for Development Program Pilot Project:

"As countries move to second-generation reforms and focus on long-term growth agenda, they increasingly reach to their Diasporas as an entry point to articulate and implement such agendas. This trend is all the more remarkable because it is present in countries of all sizes and income levels. On requests of the governments, (the World Bank's) K4D Program has provided advisory services to develop relevant pilot initiatives in Chile, Mexico and Argentina."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"U.S. Finds Too Many KBR Reports 'Proprietary'"

Read the full article by Griff Witte, The Washington Post, October 28, 2006.

The article states:
A Halliburton Co. subsidiary is abusing federal regulations by marking nearly all information it gives to the government about its operations in Iraq "proprietary," a practice that promotes unnecessary secrecy and could hurt competition, according to a report released yesterday by U.S. auditors.

Under federal law, contractors are allowed to mark some documents proprietary, especially when they are bidding on a deal. But auditors for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc. was using that stamp even with such basic records as daily head counts of how many people ate at the company's dining facilities. KBR is the Pentagon's largest contractor in Iraq, providing logistics support for the Army including meals, fuel, laundry service and base construction.
There is a real problem in government funded work not being available to the public in the United States (and I suspect in most other countries). The idea of getting companies to share data with the government by guaranteeing that it will not be shown to competitors is good, but subject to abuse in practice/

So too is the classification of information that may reduce the security of the United States a good idea, but one that has been often abused in the past, and one that probably is being more abused now and will be abused in the future.

Research that is funded by the government should go in the public domain. In the past, when making such data available meant publishing on paper, there was a rationale for not publishing negative results or other results that did not pass peer review for journal publication. Today such data is in electronic form to begin with, and publication on the web is cheap.

There seem to have been cases of negative results not being published in the past because they would diminish the value of commercial products. While this seems to be more a problem of company funded research, when those results have a bearing in regulatory action such as of the Food and Drug Administration, this too is an abuse.

Knowledge does not help development if it is not used, and knowledge held secret to prevent its use is an abuse!

BBC NEWS | Business | Global warming 'threat to growth'

BBC NEWS | Business | Global warming 'threat to growth':

"Global warming could cut the world's annual economic output by as much as 20%, an influential report by Sir Nicholas Stern is expected to say.

While that is a worst case scenario, the report claims that at the very best the cost of tackling global warming would be 1% of annual economic output."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Nurit Peled-Elhanan: Education Or Mind Infection?

This is a wonderful speech by an Israeli woman peace activist. She has been awarded the Sakharov prize for her peace advocacy by the European Parliament. Many of her speeches are available online, and I greatly admire her willingness to work so hard to advocate an end to violence. Her willingness to speak out for the Palestinians and Lebanese is especially valiant since her own daughter was killed at age 13 in a Palestinian suicide bombing. Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan is also a lecturer in Language Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The speech makes a plea for peace in the Levant, and indeed for peace everywhere. It is eloquent!

This blog is primarily about knowledge, and I want to address the following portion of her speech:
I keep asking myself, what are the means by which good Israeli children are turned into murdering monsters, what are the means by which they are so mind-infected as to kill and torture and humiliate other children, their parents and grandparents, and sacrifice their own life for nothing but the folly and megalomania of their chiefs?.....

The scientist Richard Dawkins was the first to speak about viruses of the mind. Children, because their minds are gullible and open to almost any suggestion, are not immune to mental infections of all sorts of propaganda and fashion. They are easily persuaded to pierce their faces and tattoo their bottoms, to turn their hats around and bare their bellies, to believe in angels and fairies. They are equally easy to acquire political beliefs and to appropriate mental maps which will later influence their decisions on the question of the future borders of the state and on the necessity of war. All of Our children are mind-infected from an early age. So that by the time they are old enough to become real soldiers, they have already learned to be good soldiers, which means their minds are totally infected and they are incapable of questioning the 'truth' that has been inculcated to them. This is part of the explanation one can give to the terrible deeds that are committed today by good Israeli boys, who are characterized once and again as "people of values".
She makes the point that Arab children and American children are also infected at an early age by viruses of the mind. She is not by any means anti-Israeli, but only anti-war and anti-violence.

I wish that schools everywhere would provide knowledge and understanding of other peoples for their students, inoculating their students against the virus of prejudice. As in true virology, an inoculation may not totally prevent the disease but reduce its incidence and reduce the severity of the disease in those who are infected. Indeed, producing herd immunity may reduce the incidence of the disease even in those who are not immunized.

I fear that all of us have been infected to some degree by the viruses of the mind that cause prejudice, but some cases are far more virulent than others. To some degree getting to know other people and other cultures can help to cure the mental disease of prejudice. We can also learn to live with and cope with our viral mental disease; when we know we have unconscious prejudice we can consciously take steps to ameliorate its affects on our judgment and decisions.

Mind viruses of prejudice attack and debilitate the health knowledge and understanding of diversity we need to advance social and economic development and sustain the peace.

United Nation's Benchmarking Tool

This is a great tool making it easy to develop graphs and tables benchmarking achievements of countries. There are two tools, one for ICTs and an even better one for the Millennium Development Goals. The following figures are in fact taken from the MDG tool.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Review Resources

Some programs doing Science, Technology and Innovation and related country studies:
* The World Bank Knowledge for Development Program

* UNESCO Science Policy and Sustainable Development program

* IDRC Innovation, Policy and Science (IPS) Program

* OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry

* UNCTAD/UNCSTD Science, technology and innovation policy reviews

Results of meetings on how to do national S&T policy reviews:
* Invitational Workshop on the Comparative Analysis of National Research Systems

* Future Directions for National Reviews of Science, Technology and Innovation in Developing Countries

Online examples of individual country studies
* Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (United States)

* China and the Knowledge Economy: Seizing the 21st Century

* OECD: National Science Systems (Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, United Kingdom, United States)

* Science, Technology and Innovation in Chile

* Science and Technology Policy Review for Iran

* Guidelines for a Science and Research Policy in Bosnia & Herzegovina

* Finland as a Knowledge Economy: Elements of Success and Lessons Learned

* Science and Technology in Armenia: Toward a Knowledge-Based Economy

* "Armenia: Moving Towards Knowledge-Based Growth"
Some other agencies involved in research assistance:
* U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

* The Netherlands Development Assistance Research Council (RAWOO, part of NUFFIC)


* The Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Imperial History

"Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? Pretty much everyone. Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans...the list goes on. Who will control the Middle East today? That is a much bigger question."

This is a great animated map of the Middle east and the growth of empires there over the ages.

This seems to call out for a big theory of history.


I got an email from Cristina (who I don’t know) saying:
I was wondering if we can really talk about eDiplomacy and if there are concrete experiences of that.
I would assume that eDiplomacy involves the use of the World Wide Web via the Internet to accomplish the purposes of diplomacy. eDiplomacy would be more than the use of the internal or external networks by Ministries of Foreign Affairs; more than use of the Internet for communications; more than the use of computer technology for analysis and forecasting. These applications predate the interest in eGovernment.

Many people have suggested that governments use of the web develops through several stages, such as:
· Establishing a presence on the Web
· Providing information via the Web
· Conducting transactions via the Web
· Reorganizing to take advantage of the possibilities provided by the Internet.
If one accepts this definition, clearly many Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and indeed many Embassies have already started eDiplomacy by establishing websites and providing information important to their diplomatic missions via the World Wide Web.

Merriam-Webster defines diplomacy as “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations.” Conducting negotiations of course means more than bargaining face-to-face or via telephone, mail, email, or computer conference. Governments seek to obtain information about each other’s negotiating positions and seek to influence those positions by various means, including providing information to the constituents of the governments with which they are bargaining. Moreover, the private sector and civil society are involved in negotiations between nations, even when those negotiations are lead by the governments. Thus there is a lot of scope for using the World Wide Web in diplomacy.

I think there are many kinds of diplomacy – including political, economic, cultural, and scientific. I would guess that some are more amenable to eDiplomacy than others. I ask myself whether cultural and scientific diplomacy currently involve transactions via the Web, and I suspect that there is some limited use. Indeed, the U.S. State Department website has tabbed sections for the press, travel and business, and youth and education. I suspect that these are well on the way to conducting some transactions in terms of media diplomacy, economic diplomacy and cultural diplomacy.

My only direct contact with diplomacy these days is with respect to my service to Americans for UNESCO. I find myself contacting people by email at the State Department whom I have found via State’s websites, and asking for help with contacts with UNESCO – the prototypical multilateral organization serving as a vehicle for U.S. cultural and scientific diplomacy. The State Department secretariat for the U.S. National Commission on UNESCO and the U.S. Mission to UNESCO in Paris have websites, and I recall that the National Commission website was used as part of the registration process for visitors to the last meeting of the Commission.

How much further will eDiplomacy go? I don’t know. The United States was the first nation to develop the Internet and was a leader in eGovernment applications and so its experience might be a harbinger, but the State Department has been a lagging agency in ICT applications within the U.S. government. The State Department does have an Office of eDiplomacy, and the Transitional Diplomacy initiative focuses significantly on improving use of ICT by the Department. In 2006 there are 33 Virtual Presence Posts which provide points of presence for the State Department in foreign venues which are to small to justify bricks-and-mortar offices. As far as I can see, State is still primarily in the first two stages of e-Diplomacy, and its e-Diplomacy Office is emphasizing bringing the Department up to the standard of ICT use found in other government agencies before the explosive growth of the World Wide Web.

I would predict that, with the appointment of Karen Hughes as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. public diplomacy will become more visible and more visible in cyberspace and on the Web. I can only hope that it will move from the provision of information to two way communication, opening the return channel to the U.S. Government.

Indeed, it seems to me that a great deal is to be done exploiting the World Wide Web to learn more about the substance on which political and economic negotiations take place, on the factors influencing the negotiators, and on the views and interests of their constituents.

One could imagine using encrypted computer conferencing via the Internet to conduct even sensitive political and economic negotiations between governments. Such negotiations are the prototypical substance of diplomacy. Whether they would qualify as eDiplomacy probably depends on your definition.

Experience suggests that I am not a very good predictor of future impacts of information and communications technology. I failed to predict the importance of pornography and gambling on the Internet, and of computer games. I thought “more serious” applications such as computer modeling and computer aided decision systems would be more important than they appear to be. It seems to me that eDiplomacy will become very important. I am almost sure that people will exploit the World Wide Web more fully for diplomatic purposes in the near future. Bit, time will tell!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

S&T Policy Objectives in a Global Knowledge Society

Geological Mapping: Debbie Huntzinger, a Michigan Technological University doctoral candidate in geological engineering, explains the approach for mapping surface expressions of subsurface fracture lineaments to Aqua Terra Tech Enterprise student Gary Lawson on a ranch near Boaco, Nicaragua.
Courtesy: National Science Foundation

I suggest that there are four objectives that should form the basis of science and technology (S&T) policy in countries participating in globalization and in a global knowledge society:
· Import as much knowledge, understanding and technology as the nation can, adapting those as necessary, and utilize them for the nation’s social and economic development and the welfare of its people;

· Utilize scarce S&T resources to generate knowledge, understanding and technology important to the nation’s development and the welfare of its people that can not be imported;

· Create new knowledge and understanding and invent new technology as a contribution to the common good, and as a means of enhancing international competitiveness.

· Maintain and build S&T capacity for the future.
Acquiring S&T knowledge, understanding and technology from abroad.

China, the world’s largest country, has about one-fifth of the world’s population. According to the UNESCO Science Report 2005, the United States has the largest number of scientists and engineers of any country, with 22.8 percent of the world total. The same source indicates that inventors from the USA account for about one-third of the world’s patents. According to Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006, the United States is by far the leader in publications of science and engineering papers, and it publishes some 30 percent of the world’s total.

More knowledge, understanding and technology is being created outside than inside every nation. Consequently, it seems obvious that every country, even the United States, must make its first objective in science and technology to acquire knowledge, understanding and technology from abroad. This is in part true because globalization, especially the development of the global information infrastructure makes it increasingly cost-effective to acquire information from abroad.

For small countries with weak S&T capabilities, it should be obvious that development depends on acquiring S&T from abroad. For many in the United States, however, U.S. dependence on foreign science and technology may be unintuitive. Few people alive today directly experienced the time when the United States looked to Europe as its primary source for knowledge and technology. However, that was the situation even in the early 20th century. World War II saw massive destruction of European economies and S&T systems. The war and its aftermath produced a massive immigration of scientists and engineers to the United States. Moreover, U.S. industry dominated the world economy. As a result of these factors, the United States was able to dominate global S&T to an exceptional degree in the 1950’s and 60’s.

In the succeeding decades Europe’s and Japan’s economies and S&T capacities were rebuilt and expanded, and more recently many other nations have been able to contribute to the international stock of S&T. This is all to the good in that more countries are picking up a part of the global effort and the global stock of S&T knowledge, understanding and technology is growing more rapidly. However, for the United States it means that its global S&T domination has been much reduced, and that the United States has new and ever greater opportunities to acquire S&T knowledge, understanding and technology from abroad.

The mechanisms for acquiring S&T from abroad are well known. Countries can among other things (and in no special order):
· Attract immigrants with S&T training and expertise

· Send their students abroad for S&T training

· Encourage S&T exchanges with other nations

· Import products which embody S&T

· License intellectual property from abroad

· Make S&T books by foreign authors available domestically, translating them as necessary

· Attract foreign direct investment and take measures to assure that the investors transfer knowledge and technology in the process

· Develop the Internet and information literacy of their people.
There is great emphasis on innovation these days, and some may misinterpret that to imply a decreased interest in international technology transfer. I think those individuals may confound innovation with invention. Innovation basically means doing something differently, while invention means doing something really new. Thus studies of the diffusion of technological innovations trace how the use of an invention spreads as people introduce the new technology in their own lives. A newly invented crop variety, for example, is diffused as more and more farmers choose to plant the variety. Most farmers do so by seeing their neighbors succeeding with that crop, and following their example. The agricultural research station may create the new variety, while the farmers innovate by adding the variety to their farms.

I would also point out that the economically most successful countries tend to be those which import the most knowledge, understanding and technology. This is observably true, but it is also theoretically reasonable. I suggest that economic success is based more on the ability to appropriate knowledge, understanding and technology and put it to productive use than it is on the ability to invent.

Creating S&T knowledge, understanding and technology domestically

Importing S&T must be complemented with efforts to master the knowledge, understanding and technology, to adapt it to domestic needs, to adapt domestic systems as necessary to make the new fit in, and usually to further improve and expand that knowledge, understanding and technology. Thus the innovation process involves domestic research and development, and usually fairly extensive R&D, even when it depends on imported technology.

Every country also has a scientific agenda that others will not do for it, or at least that would not be done economically. Thus, a country must develop knowledge and understanding of its own resource base and its management. It must develop knowledge and understanding of its own problems – be they social or physical. Economists must explore the operations of a country’s economy and its idiosyncrasies; sociologists and anthropologists must explore a country’s social and cultural institutions; political scientists its political institutions; organizational scientists the behavior and culture of its formal organizations. So too, epidemiologists must develop knowledge and understanding of its health problems, agricultural scientists of its plant and animal pests and diseases, climatologists and meteorologists of its atmospheric systems and their dynamics.

So too, I suggest, most country’s will have technological needs that will not be fully met by importation of technology. Software will have to be developed not only in the local language, but to meet the needs created by the laws, regulations and practices within that country. Crop varieties will have to be created to meet the specific growing conditions within the country, and the preferences of its citizens. Vaccines and drugs will have to be tailored to the diseases of the country and the immunological characteristics of its population (and to the economic conditions that affect affordability of different products).

Note that developing an adequate S&T capacity is in part a defensive measure. A country that does not understand its own natural resources and their management is at the mercy of international corporations that would exploit those resources. Such countries negotiate from weakness. A country that can not assure the quality of efficacy of products is at the mercy of those domestic and international firms that would distribute (substandard) products within its borders. A country that can not apply local scientific knowledge to the regulation of its economic, political and social institutions is likely to pay a steep price.

Research and experimental development would appear to be a major tool for generating the kinds of knowledge, understanding and technology described in this section of the essay. That effort would include systematic and descriptive scientific research such as is often done in botany, entomology, anatomy, genetics, epidemiology, geology, geography, etc. I would note. however, that not all knowledge and understanding is explicit and much is implicit. People learn by doing, and products and processes can be improved without explicit description of the process of improvement or the improvements themselves. Some S&T does not appear in the R&D budget, or even in the S&T budget.

Creating new knowledge, understanding and technology

Fundamental and pre-competitive R&D are supported by the state in many countries as public goods – in the sense of activities that will not be adequately funded by the private sector to optimize the benefits to the country. Contributions to the world stock of S&T will fall short of the optimum level if there is free loading – e.g. if countries do not invest appropriately in non-commercial R&D but simply seek to take advantage of the knowledge, understanding and technologies created using government or foundation funding from other nations. International agreements, partnerships and collaboration can help to assure the appropriate sharing of the burden of support of this kind of R&D.

Invention is an important element in the generation of competitive advantage for nations with strong S&T capabilities. I recall the example of Israeli agriculture, where I was told that new crops and new exports to the European market were a critical ingredient of the sector policy. Many other countries in the Mediterranean region have climates and growing conditions like those of Israel, lower labor costs, and equal or better geographical access to European markets. Those countries turn out to eventually have comparative advantages in the crops Israel pioneers, and Israel then moves on to pioneer another agricultural export.

I suspect that this pattern is exacerbated by the small size of the domestic market in Israel, but is to be found in many developed countries, with high labor costs and strong capabilities for technological invention and innovation. Indeed, in a globalknowledge-based economy comparative advantages will always shift, and the productive sectors in all nations will be well advised to learn to shift with the changing patterns of comparative advantage and to develop new export markets to replace those which are lost.

Building S&T capacity

Investments in knowledge, understanding and technology depreciate. Conditions change, and their descriptions get outdated. Technology that once was state of the art eventually becomes outmoded. Systems change, and the knowledge, understanding and technology needed for their operations must also change. People retire, research facilities deteriorate, and instrumentation is rapidly obsolete. So even countries with strong S&T capacities need to continue to invest in that capacity in order to retain it.

There seems to be a transition, between very poor nations that spend a fraction of one percent of GDP on R&D, and rich nations that spend two or three percent of GDP on R&D. I suspect that the institution building that is involved in economic development has the effect of increasing the payoffs to R&D, and thus making it more attractive as an investment. It may simply be that richer countries have more money left over after they pay the basics of life—food, health, etc.

I suspect too that the returns to S&T increased over the 20th century. Institutions were created and strengthened to carry out R&D more efficiently, and to utilize knowledge, understanding and technology more rapidly and effectively for economic development. In many fields, positive returns to investment in S&T have been observed.

In any case, it seems clear that countries expecting economic growth should also expect to spend a greater portion of their GDP on S&T. For the top tier countries, facing an ever increasing gap between their domestic salaries and the labor costs of poor nations, invention and innovation appears to be the necessary priority. Such nations need to continuously improve productivity, and to exploit the temporary advantage the inventor has with a new invention. And, of course, the new instruments and new technologies make the productivity of S&T itself greater and greater.

Striking a balance

Each nation then has to strike a balance among these activities. How much effort should it use to import S&T? How much of its scientific capacity should it spend on solving domestic problems (and what should be the priorities among those problems)? How should it balance its emphasis on S&T to compete in global markets versus to solve domestic problems? Note that to some degree the investment in S&T takes away from its application – the trained personnel can either do S&T or they can teach the next generation, but there is a choice between the two functions.

I suspect that countries with relatively weak S&T systems will be best served putting very high priority on using that system to improve domestic systems, but that as S&T capacity grows countries will find decreasing returns to solving domestic problems and increasing opportunities for higher returns in utilizing S&T to create value added exports. Thus, the strongest S&T countries will find their comparative advantage in high technology products, and will emphasize their export.

Perhaps one of the real benefits of comparable international S&T statistics is that they give decision makers a reading on the balance that has been struck in other countries. Still countries differ greatly in the balances the strike, and I suspect that they do so relatively rationally. There are many factors that affect such allocations of resources, and simple econometric models are unlikely to capture real life complexity of such decision making.

"A Shelf Full of Books Chronicle Iraq Policy, Strategy"

NPR: Steve Inskeep's discussion with George Packer (October 24, 2006) The website provides streaming audio of the discussion as well as transcript and links.

"A slew of recently released books examine U.S. policy and military strategy behind the Iraq war. Steve Inskeep discusses them with George Packer, author of 2005's highly acclaimed The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq."

Comment: It is important for the government to have knowledge and understanding of situations for good decisions to be made. It is also important that the knowledge and understanding be brought to bear on the decisions. It is important for decisions to be made well utilizing the knowledge and understanding that can be brought to bear. In the case of Iraq, what little I know suggests that there was unfortunately little knowledge and understanding in the government of the country, nor of how an occupying power maintains order, nor of nation building. It seems that what knowledge and understanding there was was not brought to bear on many important decisions. It also seems that the process of decision making was often faulty, making decisions in Washington that should have been made in Iraq, in the Green Zone that should have been made by Iraqis, in the civilian ranks rather than the military, etc. JAD

Monday, October 23, 2006

Aid to Enhance Africa's Skills -- King 314 (5798): 385 -- Science

Aid to Enhance Africa's Skills -- King 314 (5798): 385 -- Science:
David A. King
Science 20 October 2006:
Vol. 314. no. 5798, p. 385

"The past 18 months have been important for Africa, with the emergence of a new vision for how to eliminate the continent's poverty for good. Last year's Gleneagles G8 summit made unprecedented commitments to eliminating debt and providing levels of aid that could finally make a difference. In particular, both the Commission for Africa and Gleneagles emphasized science and technology as a central plank in this effort. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to the need for highly trained scientists, engineers, medical practitioners, and agriculturalists as a developmental priority. This is a recipe for disappointment.....

"It may seem perverse to be worrying about how many scientists and engineers a country produces when adult literacy is so low. But we need to ensure that at least a proportion of people develop high-standard scientific and technological skills relevant to their home countries. This is not elitism. Even a relatively small number of people who are well-educated in science and technology can make a significant difference to their communities."

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Read Bryan Burrough's review in The Washington Post of THE CONSERVATIVE SOUL: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back by Andrew Sullivan. (10/22/06)

"The first half of The Conservative Soul , which explores the philosophical underpinnings of Christian fundamentalism and explains how they are anathema to a free society, made me as angry as anything I've read in months. That there are people in 21st-century America who believe the Bible is literally true, who believe the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, and who believe that our lives today should be dictated by codes of conduct written by people who lived 2,000 years before modern medicine, electricity or equal rights -- and that these same Americans have influence in national affairs -- should infuriate anyone with a functioning mind. Fundamentalism, Sullivan reminds us, is the antithesis of reason. Its adherents -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise -- have been handed The Truth and cling to it, facts be damned. Quoting figures as varied as Pope Benedict XVI and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Sullivan repeatedly emphasizes how fundamentalism abhors the thinking mind, insisting that an individual's conscious choices -- whether to have an abortion or what to order at Burger King -- amount to moral anarchy."

"Nokia donates 1.25 million dollars to empower African youths"

People's Daily Online:

"Cellular telephone manufacturing giant Nokia has donated one million euros (1.25 million U.S. dollars) to empower young people in Africa, a Nokia official said here on Tuesday.

In a statement issued in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, Nokia's Executive Vice President Veli Sunbeck in charge of corporate relations and responsibility said it was partnering with a body called Plan to use modern communications technologies to raise the awareness of children in Africa on rights and opportunities available to them."

Survey of Telecom and Media Convergence

Image from the lead article

Click here to go to The Economist survey (October 12, 2006; Subscription required).

We are seeing convergence of voice and data commumications, of fixed-line and mobile telephone systems, of telecoms and cable media, of telecoms and IT, and of devices (as mobile phones become digital cameras, PDAs become phones, etc.). A recent survey "asked industry executives which converged services and markets they thought were likely to prove most important. The clear leader was voice-data convergence, followed by fixed-mobile convergence and telecoms-media convergence. And these are, indeed, the three areas where convergence is most visible." This survey therefore examined the prospects for convergence by looking at each of these areas in turn.
Of the three, voice-data convergence is clearly the most mature (think of the popularity of Skype, an internet-calling service that is now practically a household name) and provides the strongest evidence of the power of convergence to reshape the industry. Fixed-mobile convergence is less advanced, though the first commercial services are now available in some countries. Telecoms operators' move into the television market is also at an early stage, though there have already been some notable successes.
The survey suggests that convergence will counter intuition and increase diversity. That is, there will be more diversity in the services offered and the devices linked to the converged infrastructure. Since consumers want to chose and only pay for the options they need, and since producers often benefit from bundling services, the market is likely to result in a wide choice to the consumer of different bundles of services provided via different devices.

In the section of the survey titled "Winners and losers" The Economist states:
Figures from the OECD show that household spending on communications, having risen during the 1990s as people signed up for internet access and mobile phones, has been flat since 2000. The same is true of spending on recreation, which includes television, DVD sales and rentals, and cinema-ticket sales (see chart).

As VoIP has driven down the cost of fixed-line telephony, consumers have spent more on mobile phone calls instead, says Rupert Wood of Analysys; but their overall spending on voice calls has stayed roughly constant. So the coming fight between converged operators of various kinds will be over the allocation of existing spending. Nobody seems to be offering anything new that will increase the overall size of the pie.

Comment: I was especially interested in the increase in household spending on eduction as well as on entertainment and communications. The figure illustrates the growth of the information society.

Food and clothing get cheaper. Technology continues to increase productivity. Demand is limited since one only eats so much, and there are limits to what most people are willing to pay for fancy or high quality foods. So too, one only wears one outfit at a time, closets are of limited size, and there are limits to what most people are willing to pay for fancy or high quality clothing.

As incomes continue to increase, and as the communications and information technology continue to give ever more bang for the buck, consumers spend more in information related services.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Press Release: World Competitiveness Report

Switzerland, Finland and Sweden take the lead in the rankings of the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index, but US drops. Denmark, Singapore and Japan among the top ten; the United States drops five places.

Comment: U.S. elections are in a couple of weeks. Remember the drop in U.S. competitiveness when you go to the polls!

Noted from today's Washington Post

"Newfound Bacteria Fueled by Radiation" By David Brown.
A team of scientists has found bacteria living nearly two miles below ground in water spilling out of a fissure in a South African gold mine. Their underground home contains no nutrients traceable to photosynthesis. The chemistry involved appears as follows:
First, water molecules -- H2O -- are split by radioactive particles. The result is hydrogen, oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. The latter two substances then attack the mineral pyrite (also known as iron sulfide or "fool's gold"), making sulfate through a process called oxidation.

The bacteria then uses the hydrogen to turn the sulfate back to sulfide, a process known as reduction. In doing so, it captures some of the energy in the sulfate's chemical bonds, which it uses to make ATP, the molecule that is the universal coin of energy exchange in living things.
Comment: Since many planets that would not support normal earth-life have similar conditions to those harboring these microbes, the finding somewhat increases the likelihood of finding extra-terrestrial life. Perhaps more important in my lifetime, these microbes (or their genes) may have applications in areas such as mineral beneficiation, waste treatment, or industrial processes.

Algae Causing Jump In Ocean 'Dead Zones'
Scientists have found 200 "dead zones" in the world's oceans, a 34 percent jump from two years ago, a U.N. report yesterday showed.
Comment: Another sign of major environmental degredation with potentially dire consequences, reminding us of the failures of the Bush Administration's environmental policies!

Antarctic Ozone Hole Is Largest Measured
"From September 21 to 30, the average area of the ozone hole was the largest ever observed, at 10.6 million square miles," said Paul Newman, atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. That's larger than the area of North America.
Comment: Still another warning, and another reminder!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"A Natural Evolution: Advances and Trends in Natural Products Research"

Nick Zagorski, National Cancer Institute Benchmarks, November 17, 2004 (VOLUME 4, ISSUE 4)

"Since 1960, the Natural Products Branch (NPB), a branch of the Developmental Therapeutics Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has devoted itself to finding these chemicals by setting up a repository of plant and animal samples from around the world. The NCI Natural Products Repository currently houses some 170,000 extracts from samples of over 70,000 plant and 10,000 marine organisms collected from over 25 countries, as well as over 30,000 extracts of diverse bacteria and fungi. This repository is being considered as a source of novel compounds to add to the 500,000 compounds envisaged for the NIH Roadmap Molecular Library.

"After over 40 years of screening these extracts, a critical arsenal of important cancer drugs has been developed. The fleet is led by the flagship drug Taxol®, which is used for the treatment of several cancers, notably breast and ovarian, and includes other FDA- approved drugs such as: the camptothecin analogs, topotecan and irinotecan, vinblastine and vincristine, and the microbial-derived anthracyclines such as doxorubicin and the bleomycins. Several other promising compounds also are currently being tested in clinical trials against cancer and AIDS. Overall, though, these samples haven't produced the cornucopia of efficacious anti-cancer agents that many would have hoped for.

"Gordon Cragg, D. Phil., chief of the NPB, notes that the quest for therapeutic natural products can be akin to 'looking for a needle in a haystack.' 'In the first group of extracts studied from 1960 to 1982 that gave us two anti-cancer agents, Taxol and camptothecin, over 114,000 extracts were investigated.'"

"Innovation at Work: The European Human Capital Index"

Source of figures: Conservation Finance

Read the full Lisbon Council Policy Brief by Peer Ederer, 2006. (PDF, 24 pages)

Ederer has developed an interesting index, composed of four subindices:
* Human Capital Endowment

* Human Capital Utilization

* Human Capital Productivity

* Demography and Employment
I think the idea is clear. The first three indices are factors which when multiplied should give you the total production of the society. The fourth factor, especially important in Europe where many countries have low birth rates and decreasing work forces, indicates whether production is likely to increase or decrease in the future.

The report focuses on human capital in 14 European countries, and the results correspond generally with our intuition -- Sweden and Denmark come out best and Italy and Spain worst. There seems to be a good correlation between investment in human capital and utilization of human capital. There are some surprises, however. While Finland spends a lot on formal education, Sweden comes out ahead on human capital investment because of its favorable child rearing practices.

"Pollinators' Decline Called Threat to Crops"

Read the full article by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post, October 19, 2006.

Lead: "Birds, bees, bats and other species that pollinate North American plant life are losing population, according to a study released yesterday by the National Research Council. This "demonstrably downward" trend could damage dozens of commercially important crops, scientists warned, since three-quarters of all flowering plants depend on pollinators for fertilization."

Read the full NAS report or a summary online.

Comment: I suspect this is a really serious indicator of environmental degradation! JAD

Immigrants Sending $45 Billion Home

Read the full article by Krissah Williams in The Washington Post, October 19, 2006.

Lead: "Immigrant workers are sending more money than ever to their families in Latin America, but two new studies show that only a small portion of the billions of dollars directed there has gone to economic development."

A report released yesterday by the Inter-American Development Bank estimates that immigrants living in the United States will send $45 billion to family members this year, representing a steady increase from about $2 billion in 1980......

World Bank researchers, who will release a report later this month, found that the overall impact of remittances on Latin American economies is modest at best. For every one percent increase in the share of remittances to a country's gross domestic product, the fraction of the population living in poverty is reduced by about 0.4 percent.

The Net at Risk

Go to the program website for "The Net at Risk" broadcast by Moyers on America. You can participate in an online discussion.

This is a very thoughtful, and thought provoking program divided into four sections:
* The New Digital Divide,
* Net Neutrality,
* Community Connections,
* Big, Bigger, Biggest Media.
The website also provides:
* "essential documents",
* a glossary, a timeline of media regulation,
* sites for further research,
* web-only video and audio and excerpts from the Moyers program archive and the complete show,
* the transcript of "The Net at Risk."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Final Report of the Invitational Workshop on the Comparative Analysis of National Research Systems

Read the full final report (PDF, 24 pages.)

The Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge examines how research and knowledge are generated, how they are organized and how they play a central role in national development.

The workshop reported in this document aimed toward some type of matrix which may help comparative analysis of different research systems and notably to help strengthen those in developing countries. The workshop was held in Paris on 6-7 April 2006.

"Central African states to enact science plan"

Read the full article by Catherine Brahic, SciDev.Net, 3 October 2006.

"Science ministers from the region who met in Cameroon on 26-27 September said they would implement Africa's Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action.

"The plan was endorsed last September (see Support urged for US$160m plan for African science) and will be the focus of discussions at the next African Union summit in January 2007 (see AU summit 2007)."

Comment: I wish them good luck! But I fear that unless political and economic conditions improve in the region, not much science will be done.

"Boost to NEPAD science from the Gates Foundation"

Image by Eric Schwab, Copyright UNESCO

Read the full article by Wagdy Sawahel, SciDev.Net, 18 October 2006.

A US$600,000 grant to the science and technology office of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) will help improve the advice it gives to the African Union and the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology.

"Bush Sets Defense As Space Priority:"

"U.S. Says Shift Is Not A Step Toward Arms; Experts Say It Could Be"
By Marc Kaufman, The Washington Post, October 18, 2006.

The first full revision of the White House statement of U.S. space policy in 10 years, "emphasizes security issues, encourages private enterprise in space, and characterizes the role of U.S. space diplomacy largely in terms of persuading other nations to support U.S. policy."

"Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank that follows the space-weaponry issue, said the policy changes will reinforce international suspicions that the United States may seek to develop, test and deploy space weapons. The concerns are amplified, he said, by the administration's refusal to enter negotiations or even less formal discussions on the subject.
"The Clinton policy opened the door to developing space weapons, but that administration never did anything about it," Krepon said. "The Bush policy now goes further."
"Theresa Hitchens, director of the nonpartisan Center for Defense Information in Washington, said that the new policy 'kicks the door a little more open to a space-war fighting strategy' and has a 'very unilateral tone to it.'

If the U.S. space policy is more focused on military applications, I suspect it will be less likely to produce environmental information that would militate against the Bush (lack of) environmental policies, and less likely to produce scientific results.

WIPO Patent Report - Statistics on Worldwide Patent Activity (2006 edition)

Click here to read the report itself.

Click here to read a press release on the report.

The WIPO Patent Report 2006 shows that companies are increasingly using the intellectual property (IP) system to protect their investments in new markets. The report reveals that a total of 5.4 million patents were in force worldwide in 2004, the last year for which complete statistics are available.....

the report shows an increase in the use of WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The PCT, which provides a simplified system for international patent filing, has become a major tool for companies seeking broad-based patent protection. The number of PCT applications grew at an average annual rate of 16.8% between 1990 and 2005 and topped 134,000 international applications in 2005. The PCT is now used in 47% of all international patent filings......

The number of patent applications filed worldwide almost doubled between 1985 to 2004, rising from 884,400 to 1,599,000 with an average annual rate of increase of 4.75% since 1995. This is in line with the average annual growth in world gross domestic product (GDP) of some 5.6%......

Large increases in foreign patents filings in countries like Brazil, China, India, Korea, and Mexico reflect the internationalization of markets and production. Companies seeking new export markets or investing overseas are keen on protecting their inventions in these key emerging economies.

The report notes a boom in patent filings in northeast Asia over the past 20 years, most notably with the emergence of China and the Republic of Korea as major industrial economies. For several decades Japan has been the largest patent office in the world with more than 400,000 patent applications filed by residents and non-residents in 2004. In only 20 years, China has become the 5th largest patent office in the world (by number of patent applications filed) and patent filings by Chinese residents grew more than five-fold between 1995 and 2004 to reach 65,786. Today, the Republic of Korea is the 4th largest patent office in the world and is also experiencing very high growth rates with a three-fold increase in patent filings by residents between 1994 and 2004.

Although an increasing number of applicants are seeking protection for their inventions outside their country of residence, and emerging and fast-developing economies have been using the patent system more extensively, its use is still very concentrated. Five patent offices account for 75% of all patents filed and 74% of patents granted worldwide. These are the United States of America (USA), Japan, the European Patent Office (EPO), Republic of Korea and China.

"Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?"

Read the full Op-Ed piece by JEFF STEIN in The New York Times October 17, 2006.

FOR the past several months, Stein has been ending interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with the question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”
(S)o far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies.......

It’s not all so grimly humorous. Some agency officials and members of Congress have easily handled my “gotcha” question. But as I keep asking it around Capitol Hill and the agencies, I get more and more blank stares. Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting. And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night.
I just looked up the answer, although I had a better understanding than the folk cited in Stein's piece. Check it out.

I must admit that although I have been following Ireland for decades, I don't fully understand the doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants, much less those between "Church and Chapel". Still I don't see how one can deal with Middle East policy without understanding the Shia-Sunni divide. It is important to understand why Shiit minorities in Lebanon and Iraq seek support for Shiit Iran. It is important to understand that the Sunni ruling minority in Iraq under Saddam had fundamental differences with the Shiit ruling majority in Iran that fueled the long running war between those countries. It is probably important for the FBI to recognize the risks from Shiit activists are different from the risks from Sunni activitists.

I suspect that, as in Ireland, many of the differences that count in Iraq are based on the use of power by one faction to obtain economic benefits for itself at the expense of other factions, and not on theological points of difference. I also noted a while back that four Shiit factions were competing for power in Basra, so there are not only differences in religion, but jockying for power among co-religionists. I remember a comment made during the invasion by a modern Iraqi who was worried about being governed by "crazy mullahs". I have read that Saddam Hussein (al-Tikriti) drew his close associates and key supporters from his own family and from Tikrit, suggesting that the tribalism we have read about still exists and is a powerful force in Iraq.

I don't know, but I suspect that politics in Iraq are very complicated, and very difficult for an outsider to understand. I suggest that if the United States government is going to keep intervening in Iraqi politics, it better get some people on board who really understand what they are dealing with (and not just the difference between Sunni and Shiit). Of course, we could try to do what the military originally wanted to do, and leave Iraqi politics to the Iraqis.

Doonsbury 2, Bush 0

The comic strip Doonsbury point out today that while 3000 people were killed by terrorists on 9/11, 200,000 have died in highway accidents in the United States since then. Yet the Bush administration has done little on highway safety, and spent a trillion dollars in the name of antiterrorism.

The comic strip Doonsbury point out today that while 3000 people were killed by terrorists on 9/11, 150,000 have by guns in the United States since then. Yet the Bush administration has done little preventing gun violence, and spent a trillion dollars in the name of antiterrorism.

Comment: Garry Trudeau often communicates better than I can.

We know people worry about things that actually present little risk, and ignore risks that kill them by the hundreds of thousands, millions globally. The false perceptions of risk underlie public acceptance of lots of bad government policies.

We also know that the false perceptions of risk are affected by what we see, what we hear, what we read and what comes most easily to memory.

Unfortunately, the media in the United States (and I suppose everywhere) operate not to leave the most accurate perceptions of relative risks in the minds of their public, but to achieve other objectives -- audience share, profits, support of their clients, etc.

Relatively few people can reach large numbers of people through the media, so their influence on the public perceptions of relative risk are disproportionately large, and thus important.

Some use their "star power" to deliberately affect our understanding of relative risks. Often their intentions are the best, as when actors, comedians or musicians participate in fund raising or act as "good will ambassadors" for causes in which they believe. Of course, actors, comedians and musicians seldom make a serious study of public policy issues and seldom have the education or professional background to make good judgments on evidence of relative risks. Still, I think they perform a useful function of bringing public attention to underestimated risks.

Unfortunately, politicians who should make a serious study of public policy issues and who have access to advisors who do have the professional backgrounds to make good judgments on such issues, sometimes utilize the public's faulty risk perceptions to advance interests that the public would not or should not tolerate. Worse still, sometimes they deliberately create misperceptions of relative risks in the minds of the public in order to gain the political support they need to advance private interests.

This blog is about knowledge for development. As I posted previously, some things are wronger than wrong. Often our risk perceptions are wrong. But deliberately creating false risk perceptions to build the political support for policies supporting special interests -- policies that would otherwise fail in the marketplace of ideas -- is wronger than wrong!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Muhammad Yunus Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Prize committee made a great decision in recognizing the man who founded the Grameen (Village) Bank. The Bank itself seems to be a huge success in Bangladesh, helping exactly those people who most need help. It has demonstrated that those poor people not only deserve help, but given the right kind of help can put it to good use!

I suspect that even more important is the model that Yunus has set, that is being followed all over the world -- the local smart guy who is innovating to reduce poverty in his country!

Read about the award in The Irish Times.

"In 2004, Mr. Yunus accepted the inaugural Development Gateway Award on behalf of the Grameen Bank for its Village Phone program, which used microcredit and information and communications technology to help female entrepreneurs start a business providing wireless payphone service in rural areas of Bangladesh."

What is was like

Read "The Arthur C. Clarke chapter from The Silicon Jungle" by David Rothman.

Rothman tells the story of setting up a computer connection from his home in Alexandria, Virginia to Arthur C. Clark in Sri Lanka in 1983-4. Yes, it took a long time to do so, not to mention thousands of dollars of equipment at both ends.

I managed a project that organized a meeting on personal computers in Colombo in November 2004, and Gary Garriott gave a presentation at the meeting that involved a link from Alexandria to the meeting room in real time. I can attest to the verisimilitude of Rothman's account. (Arthur Clarke did not show up, although he had said he would do so, but we visited the Clarke Center and met the techies mentioned in Rothman's account.)

As I get frustrated by the current technology, it sometimes helps to think back at how far we have come in so short a time.

Wronger Than Wrong

Read the full article:
"Wronger Than Wrong: Not all wrong theories are equal"
By Michael Shermer, Scientific American, November 2006.
Achieving almost canonical status as the ne plus ultra put-down is theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli's reported harsh critique of a paper: "This isn't right. It's not even wrong." I call this Pauli's proverb.

(I)f an idea is not falsifiable, it is not that it is wrong, it is that we cannot determine if it is wrong, and thus it is not even wrong.

Asimov's axiom, well stated in his book The Relativity of Wrong (Doubleday, 1988): "When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

As evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins observed on this dispute: "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong."
These are great, but then Shermer concludes:
When people thought that science was unbiased and unbound by culture, they were simply wrong. On the other hand, when people thought that science was completely socially constructed, they were simply wrong. But if you believe that thinking science is unbiased is just as wrong as thinking that science is socially constructed, then your view is not even wronger than wrong.
Of course, it is more wrong to suppose that science is unbiased than to suppose it is socially constructed, although I doubt that was the point Shermer was trying to make. Science is a social activity. It depends on experimentalists test hypotheses generated from theories which are usually generated by others. It depends on scientists replicating the results of other scientists. It depends on a social process of interpretation of the meaning of experimental results, which are generally communicated through scientific societies or at least scientific community networks. Scientists get to be scientists through a social process in which they learn a body of scientific knowledge developed by the scientific community, and indeed communicated according to a socially constructed scientific curriculum.

I would also say that it is more wrong to say:
* science is completely socially constructed than to say that science is science is unbiased, and

* science is completely socially constructed than to say science is socially constructed
Having carped at a single word in Shermer's essay, I think it makes a very important point -- that science progresses replacing one theory by another, without ever concluding that some new theory might prove better still. But that progression involves theories that predict more and more, and more and more accurately.

I would also disagree on an epistemological grounds to the idea that theories must be falsifiable. It seems to me that the first job is to try to develop a better theory. When a candidate theory is ready, the next job is to figure out how to test its validity, or at least to find predictions of experimental results that would differ between that theory and the one it is offered to replace. I think that there are examples of good hypotheses that took a long time to test.

Shermer seems also to be against string theory
depends far too much on the aesthetic nature of its mathematics and the eminence of its proponents.
I don't know. Eminent scientists are of course not always right, but they got to be eminent often by being right in the past. And beautiful mathematics is surely not a negative charactistic in a theory. These two criteria seem to be good ones to use in determining whether or not to seek tests to verify a theory.

Monday, October 16, 2006


This is an interesting time for UNESCO. The Executive Board is reviewing its next medium term plan, and its recommendations will carry a lot of weight in the final decisions of the General Conference. A team is reviewing UNESCO's Natural Science Program and its Human and Social Science Program. As part of its 60th anniversary celebration, UNESCO is highlighting one aspect of its program each week (for sixty weeks).

Check out the two UNESCO in the Spotlight Blogs for selected news about UNESCO:
* UNESCO In the Spotlight: Education and Culture
* UNESCO in the Spotlight: Science and Communications
The blogs are supported by Americans for UNESCO.


Read the full InfoBrief from the National Science Foundation (April, 2006, PDF).

"Industrial funding for research and development in academic science and engineering (S&E) dropped by 2.6 percent in FY 2004, the third consecutive year of declining support from this sector, according to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges (table 1). The industrial sector is the first source of academic R&D funding to show a multiyear decline since the survey began, in FY 1953. Industry’s FY 2004 percentage decline was more substantial than its percentage reductions in previous years (1.1 percent in 2003, 1.5 percent in 2002). Industrial support was $2.1 billion in FY 2004, down from a high of $2.2 billion in FY 2001. Industry’s share of academic R&D support in FY 2004 equaled its share in FY 1983, at 4.9 percent."

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Report Says Nonprofits Sold Influence to Abramoff"

Read the full article by James V. Grimaldi and Susan Schmidt, The Washington Post, October 13, 2006.

"Five conservative nonprofit organizations, including one run by prominent Republican Grover Norquist, "appear to have perpetrated a fraud" on taxpayers by selling their clout to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Senate investigators said in a report issued yesterday.......

"The groups named in the report are Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform; the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which was co-founded by Norquist and Gale Norton before she became secretary of the interior; Citizens Against Government Waste; the National Center for Public Policy Research, a spinoff of the Heritage Foundation; and Toward Tradition, a Seattle-based religious group founded by Rabbi Daniel Lapin."

Click here to download the full 608 page report (PDF format).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

More Comprehensive National Strategy Needed to Help Achieve U.S. Goals and Overcome Challenges

Read the full Statement of David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, of July 11, 2006.

"The NSVI is an improvement over previous U.S. planning efforts for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq. However, the NSVI and supporting documents are incomplete as they do not fully address all the characteristics of an effective national strategy.:

No kidding!

The Agony in Iraq

The Washington Post today tells us:
A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.
The editors put the story on page A12. On the front page we find "In Marine's Death, Clues to a Son's Life" and "FBI Agents Still Lacking Arabic Skills".

Comment: I don't know whether the lack of knowledge of Americans about what is happening in Iraq is due to lack of coverage in the big media or lack of interest. Of course, the two form a viscous cycle! JAD

How bad is the situation in Iraq?

The Lancet today published "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey" by Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy and Les Roberts. The authors write:
We estimate that almost 655 000 people—2·5% of the population in the study area—have died in Iraq. Although such death rates might be common in times of war, the combination of a long duration and tens of millions of people affected has made this the deadliest international conflict of the 21st century, and should be
of grave concern to everyone.
This estimate is based on a household survey that involved a couple of thousand households. It is a small sample, but the study was run by a team from Johns Hopkins University and published in a really good peer reviewed journal. It is credible.

According to WP, this mortality figure:
is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group. (The Iraq Body Count estimate is actually beween 43850 and 48693 "civilians killed by military intervention in Iraq. JAD)
So why the difference? We can begin with a quotation from the summary published with the article:
Findings: Three misattributed clusters were excluded from the final analysis; data from 1849 households that contained 12 801 individuals in 47 clusters was gathered. 1474 births and 629 deaths were reported during the observation period. Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.

Interpretation: The number of people dying in Iraq has continued to escalate. The proportion of deaths ascribed to coalition forces has diminished in 2006, although the actual numbers have increased every year. Gunfire remains the most common cause of death, although deaths from car bombing have increased.
Iraq Body Count bases its count on media reports of civilian deaths from military action. It leaves out the deaths of Iraqi soldiers during the war. More importantly, while newspapers sometimes report someone as dead who is really alive, such reports are rare. On the other hand, with many deaths per day, we must assume that the media do not report them all. The Iraq Body Count is an underestimate.

The Lancet article, however, looks at the death rate since the war versus the death rate before the war. The excess death rate is attributed to the war. This approach catches the deaths that don't make the papers or TV. This rate would include not only the people killed in military action, but those dying in other forms of violence, and the people who die as a result of the current terrible conditions who would not have died in the better conditions found in peace time.

I wonder if this report misses kids who die because they haven't had enough to eat for a few years because of the dismal economic conditions, and who are often sick because of the dismal hygienic conditions and thus don't thrive, who don't get adequate medical conditions because of the weakened state of the health service delivery system, and who don't get the right medicines because of supply situation. It certainly does not capture the ill health and disability that have been caused by the conflict.


The International Organization for Migration reports:
It is estimated that there are more than 1.5 million internally Displaced Persons in Iraq today and perhaps 2-3 million Iraqis living abroad.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population of Iraq in 2001 was 23,332,000. Thus it would seem that 15 to 20 percent of the people of Iraq have been driven from their homes since the invasion.

How about the economy?

Juan Cole writes in his blog, Informed Comment:
So, with all due respect, these periodic Brookings charts on Iraq statistics (I assume this is the website for the statistics he refers to. JAD) in the NYT have been completely useless and largely misleading. The fact is that many of the statistics are phony. This latest one says that the unemployment rate in Iraq is 30 percent. I challenge that. I challenge Brookings to prove it. I say that in Kirkuk, Ninevah, Diyala, al-Anbar, Salahuddin, Babel and Baghdad provinces (nearly half the country), the whole concept of going to work is almost meaningless for many residents because of the horrible security conditions. And I doubt things are humming along in Basra or Maysan either. The recent reduction in the number of attacks on US troops is also a mirage, because the US military has just run fewer convoys off base and so been less exposed to roadside bombs. When they do run a convoy, it is as likely to be attacked as ever. Oil production in August briefly spiked, though it still was not at the level of 2.8 to 3 million barrels a day typical of pre-US Iraq (pace what the op-ed alleged on the basis of one month). But in September the production fell again to only 1.8 mn. barrels a day.

And they actually say that "the economy has shown some improvement." What?? Is there improved manufacturing productivity? Is Iraq producing more steel? Pharmaceuticals? Anything? Are retail sales up? No!. There is no improved ordinary economy. It is a mess, a hellhole. The only "improvement" in the Iraqi economy would be because of high petroleum prices. But because the oil industry is state owned and profits go straight to the government, this sector is disconnected from everyday livelihoods. There is no evidence that the oil income is getting out into the pockets of ordinary Iraqis. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that much of the petroleum income is being skimmed off by militias and tribes via smuggling, producing a collapse of security in Basra, Iraq's third-largest city. There is no mechanism for auditing where the oil money is going. Saying that increased petroleum prices are producing an improvement in the Iraqi economy is like saying that increased gambling receipts by the Sicilian Mafia are a sign of an improved economy.
Comment: This makes the U.S. losses on 9/11 pale by comparison. But then, Iraq had nothing to do with Al Aaeda nor 9/11, did it!

If the citizens of the United States fully comprehended the magnitude of the suffering inflicted on Iraq by the invasion and occupation, I wonder what the Congress would do and how the Executive Branch would respond? I know we would have some real changes in the next election!