Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mirabou Storks in Kampala

Two trees with nesting Mirabou Storks from fourth floor window.
These are some 3 1/2 to 4 ft. tall, with maybe a 6 ft. wingspan.

The treetop across the street.
The chicks look about the size of full grown chickens.

Here is the nesting pair in the near tree.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Building Capacity in Local Government Organizations

I discovered that the Government Ministries here in Uganda tend to think of capacity development for local government almost entirely in terms of staff training. Most of the training is by short courses, given be contractors funded by local government and prequalified by the Ministry.

The point of view is natural, in that in the evil days of Obote and Amin, local government was all but destroyed. The Musevini government has been working for 20 years to rebuild local government, and has decentralized the implementation of many services to the local governments. Ranging from Districts to villages, there are maybe 50,000 local governments. There was a huge job to be done getting local political leaders to understand how to run local councils, and to establish the cadre of more than 300,000 workers needed to run the decentralized school, health, agricultural extension and other decentralized services. No wonder the government resorted to short courses on key skills to meet immediate needs.

I attended a Joint Assessment of the local government program, where people from the local governments themselves said this focus was now too narrow. They need help not only to train people, but to retain the people trained. The local government capacity depends also on bricks and morter -- facilities in which people can work effectively. It depends on equipment, such as working motorcycles so that people can get into the countryside and interact with their clients, and computers and telephones. And people work in teams, so it is necessary to have all of the necessary skills in the team. (I would say "team building" is also needed; putting a bunch of people together does not necessarily make them into an effective working team. People have to learn to work together.) The local government units need help to utilize the skills of their workers fully. Local government people also stressed the importance of having training officers in their own teams, and of having the ability to do some kinds of training themselves with their own staff trainers.

University people pointed out that there is a need to think in terms of career development, and not just short-term skills training. If you want good decisions made at the local level, you need people who are trained to think analytically, and who can use history to guide their analysis; long term education is the best on perhaps only way to develop such skills. On the one hand, there ought to be training programs for individual workers and teams so that the training builds over time, while urgent needs can be put first in time. On the other hand, there ought to be opportunities for diploma and degree training.

It was noted that doctors, nurses and engineers are professionally certified, and a non-professional government official can have confidence that a doctor or engineer has at least basic completency even if the higher official can not judge that competency himself. It was suggested that there should be other accreditation systems so that, for example, someone seeking to transfer between Districts would come with a certification of competency, and the new district could be sure the new employee satisfied criteria of at least basic skills and knowledge.

I was struck by the need to think carefully about the appropriate techniques for specific training needs. Some training could I think be done by simple broadcasts or tape recordings at a very low cost. Thus a simple message, that an epidemic was in place and immunizations are necessary could be provided simply. When a new technique is introduced (e.g. a new drug in the health system, a new accounting procedure, a new material for road construction) a short course would seem useful, especially if it were quickly and widely disseminated. Again, I would think each District office might eventually have a television equipped classroom that could provide such short courses thru distance education at very low cost per training program.

I have thought there are many ways that an organization can improve its capacity. It can reorganize so that it brings the knowledge and skills of its members more fully to bear on the most important decisions it has to make. It can change procedures also to accomplish that purpose. Team building also helps. An organization can increase its knowledge and skill base not only by training but by hiring people with new knowledge and skills, by partnering with another organization with complementary knowledge and skills, or by outsourcing. I agree that facilities are an important part of organizational capacity. I also suggest that with information and communications technologies developing as they have, organizations can increase capacity through appropriate acquisition and utilization of ICT.

A great radio series

I am in Uganda, and met with Liz from the Uganda Local Government Association. She told me about a radio series she did for a year, featuring call in questioning after presentations by professors involved in the Innovations at Makerere (University) project. I was told the format was to create series of four half-hour programs. Each series would begin with a professor for two broadcasts, and local government leaders responding for the next two. Topics would be drawn from agriculture, health, engineering, and other I@Mak priority subjects. Each half hour program was divided into halves, the first a scripted lecture by the guest, and the second devoted to call-in questions and answers. Liz hosted the entire series. The series was broadcast on both short wave and FM, with nation-wide coverage. Broadcasts were at 8:00 am on Saturday mornings. There was a summary of the topic to be covered each week published in the newspaper on Wednesday, giving readers a chance to decide whether there was interest. Phone in questions came from all over the country, and now cell phones are common enough that there was a significant chance of getting calls from ourside the capital. Liz tells me that the program was well liked, and the leadership of UGLA would like to continue the program, but to decentralize it and to allow it to be localized into local languages.

I am very impressed. This is a great way to link academic leaders with practioners in the field. Since low power transmitters are so inexpensive now, there could be radio stations in every district capital, reaching out into its resident population. Broadcasts could be in common languages. China has agreed to build an Internet backbone for Uganda, so soon it should be possible to send streaming audio from Kampala to all the districts, where they could be downloaded by local broadcasters, and the content localized (for example, by translation of the script into local language and local government officials holding call in or in studio questions and answers from local people.) I would hope some donor would pick up the modest cost of such a program, at least for the start-up period.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I will be traveling to Africa for the next couple of weeks.

So I will probably not post on this blog. See you when I get back!



UNCTAD's Information Economy Report 2006 has been produced, like its predecessors in the E-commerce and Development Report series, to highlight the implications for developing countries of the changes that ICT and e-business are allowing in the productive, commercial and financial spheres. The Report is intended to help developing countries to narrow the digital divide and to become more competitive through the adoption of ICTs and e-business. The Report analyzes the specific policy challenges facing developing countries, proposes possible means to address them and identifies and disseminates existing international best practice.

Think of Darfur while giving thanks for all we have.

Starting Monday, November 20 and extending through all of Thanksgiving week, the US Holocaust Museum will be projecting photographs from Darfur on its exterior walls.

"Darfur: Who Will Survive Today" will begin nightly at 5:30 PM. The images will be projected onto the 15th Street side of the Museum in downtown Washington DC.

For more information on the Darfur genocide or to take action, go to the Darfur/Darfur website or Darfurgenocide.com.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Microsoft: Descktop Vista and Office 2007 versus Online Windows Live and Office Live

Read the full article: "New Brain Trust Plans Microsoft's Future: Emphasis Is Shifting From Desktop to Web," by Alan Sipress, The Washington Post, November 18, 2006.

Microsoft plans to release Vista, its new PC operating system, and Office 2007, an updated PC business-productivity suite to businesses on Nov. 30 and to consumers in January. It also plans to release Office Live, an Internet service for small businesses that offers Web sites, domain names, company e-mail accounts and shared online workspaces. Office Live is distinct from Microsoft Office, the desktop suite that includes the programs Word and Excel. It symbolizes the company's new emphasis on online services. "The centerpiece of Windows Live is a search engine that Microsoft considers crucial because search is the primary method for navigating the Web." Microsoft's research and development spending for online services has more than doubled to $1.1 billion a year, according to longtime Microsoft executive, Steve Ballmer. "Capital spending in this area is up fourfold, to $500 million annually." Microsoft has been hiring innovative executives from other firms firms including: Ray Ozzie who lead development of Lotus Notes and then founded Groove Networks Inc., Gary Flake from Yahoo.com, Steve Berkowitz from Ask.com, Debra Chrapaty from the E-Trade Group Inc. Windows and Office currently account for 62 percent of the total company revenue, an estimated $6.7 billion in the past quarter. The move towards online services has been complicated by the vast effort needed to develop the new desktop products. Vista alone is reported to contain about 50 million lines of computer code. "But there is no consensus inside Microsoft over whether Internet services have ousted packaged software as the company's top priority -- or even whether they should."

Comment: Given Microsoft's historic role in the software industry, its view of the desktop versus online issue may influence the course of ICT development worldwide. JAD

Friday, November 17, 2006

Science and Technology in the National Interest

"Science and Technology in the National Interest: Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Science and Technology Appointments"
Committee on Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Science and Technology Appointments, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, 2005.

In 2004, an ad hoc committee was charged with preparing this third report examining the most senior S&T appointments to federal government positions and updating the accompanying list of the most urgent S&T presidential appointments. Sufficient changes have occurred since the National Academies 2000 report on presidential appointments including the 2001 terrorist attacks, the anthrax deaths, the reorganization of homeland-security activities in the federal government, new developments in S&T, and concerns about the politicization of S&T decision making and advice to warrant this new edition. In contrast with previous reports on the subject, this one covers not only presidential appointments to top S&T leadership positions but also the appointment of scientists, engineers, and health professionals to serve on federal advisory committees that focus on science-based policy or on the review of research proposals. The committee recognizes that other areas of federal responsibility are as important as S&T, but S&T appointments are the only ones within its purview.

The National Academies | News | Conference Held for Project to Develop African Science Academies

The National Academies | News | Conference Held for Project to Develop African Science Academies:

"Stronger African science academies can help save lives by informing public policies that are critical to food security on the continent, said organizers of the second annual international conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative, being held this week in Yaound?, Cameroon. The initiative is supported by a $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by the U.S. National Academies."

Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States

Commitee on Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States, Board on Higher Education and Workforce, National Research Council, 2005.

Description: "Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States explores the role and impact of students and scholars on US educational institutions and the US economy. The nation has drawn increasingly on human resources abroad for its science and engineering workforce. However, competition for talent has grown as other countries have expanded their research infrastructure and created more opportunities for international students. The report discusses trends in international student enrollments, stay rates, and examines the impact of visa policies on international mobility of the highly skilled."

Republican Chair of Senate Environmental Committee Charges Science on Global Warming Unsettled

TPMmudraker.Com also alerted me to:
"US senator calls UN climate meeting 'brainwashing'," Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters, November 16, 2006.
James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican Senator "who will step down as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee in January, told a news conference, 'The idea that the science (on global warming) is settled is altogether wrong.'......Inhofe said he acknowledged that the planet is warming but disputed those who attribute it to human activity and the emission of greenhouse gases. Instead, he blamed climate change on natural cycles."

Imhofe seems especially incensed by the children's book, "Tore and the Town on Thin Ice". (Carole Douglis, UNEP, March 2006.) Indeed, his Senate Committee reprints virtually the entire book on its website.

Comment: It seems to me that the Senate has better things to do than to review children's books. Of course, they will give this nice little book more publicity and that will make it more widely read, which will probably annoy the Senator more. Perhaps the new majority will place someone more helpful in charge of its environmental affairs. JAD

Family Planning in the Bush Administration

Two different pieces came to my attention today:

"Bush Choice for Family-Planning Post Criticized" By Christopher Lee, The Washington Post, November 17, 2006; Page A01.
The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women."

Eric Keroack, medical director for A Woman's Concern, a nonprofit group based in Dorchester, Mass., will become deputy assistant secretary for population affairs in the next two weeks, department spokeswoman Christina Pearson said yesterday.

Keroack, an obstetrician-gynecologist, will advise Secretary Mike Leavitt on matters such as reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy. He will oversee $283 million in annual family-planning grants that, according to HHS, are "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons."

The appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, was the latest provocative personnel move by the White House since Democrats won control of Congress in this month's midterm elections. President Bush last week pushed the Senate to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations and this week renominated six candidates for appellate court judgeships who have previously been blocked by lawmakers.

The Keroack appointment angered many family-planning advocates, who noted that A Woman's Concern supports sexual abstinence until marriage, opposes contraception and does not distribute information promoting birth control at its six centers in eastern Massachusetts.
"ABSTINENCE EDUCATION: Efforts to Assess the Accuracy and Effectiveness of Federally Funded Programs," GAO Report to Congressional Requesters (GAO-07-87), October 2006. (PDF, 62 pages.)
What GAO Found:
Efforts by HHS and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited. This is because HHS’s ACF (Administration for Children and Families) — which awards grants to two programs that account for the largest portion of federal spending on abstinence-until-marriage education — does not review its grantees’ education materials for scientific accuracy and does not require grantees of either program to review their own materials for scientific accuracy. In contrast, OPA (Office of Population Affairs) does review the scientific accuracy of grantees’ proposed educational materials. In addition, not all states that receive funding from ACF have chosen to review their program materials for scientific accuracy. In particular, 5 of the 10 states that GAO contacted conduct such reviews. Officials from these states reported using a variety of approaches in their reviews. While the extent to which federally funded abstinence-until-marriage education materials are inaccurate is not known, in the course of their reviews OPA and some states reported that they have found inaccuracies in abstinence-until-marriage education materials. For example, one state official described an instance in which abstinence-until-marriage materials incorrectly suggested that HIV can pass through condoms because the latex used in condoms is porous.

HHS, states, and researchers have made a variety of efforts to assess the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs; however, a number of factors limit the conclusions that can be drawn about the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs. ACF and OPA have required their grantees to report on various outcomes that the agencies use to measure the effectiveness of grantees’ abstinence-until-marriage education programs. In addition, 6 of the 10 states in GAO’s review have worked with third-party evaluators to assess the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs in their states. Several factors, however, limit the conclusions that can be drawn about the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs. Most of the efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs included in GAO’s review have not met certain minimum scientific criteria—such as random assignment of participants and sufficient follow-up periods and sample sizes—that experts have concluded are necessary in order for assessments of program effectiveness to be scientifically valid, in part because such designs can be expensive and time-consuming to carry out. In addition, the results of efforts that meet the criteria of a scientifically valid assessment have varied and two key studies funded by HHS that meet these criteria have not yet been completed. When completed, these HHS-funded studies may add substantively to the body of research on the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs.
The report notes:
In commenting on a draft of this report, HHS agreed to consider requiring grantees of both ACF programs to sign written assurances in grant applications that the materials they use are accurate. In addition, HHS noted that all federal grant applicants attest on a standard form that information in their applications is correct. However, it is not clear that this serves the purpose of assuring the scientific accuracy of the educational materials. Further, the curricula to be used are not required to be included with states’ applications. HHS’s written comments also stated that ACF requires that the Community-Based Program curricula conform to standards that are grounded in scientific literature by requiring certain types of information. However, the inclusion of certain types of information does not necessarily ensure the accuracy of the scientific facts included in the abstinence-until-marriage materials. In addition, HHS noted in its written comments that we did not define the term scientific accuracy and stated that it disagreed with certain findings of the report because it was difficult to precisely determine the criteria employed by GAO in making the recommendation as to scientific accuracy. However, the objective of our work was to focus on efforts by HHS and states to review the accuracy of scientific facts included in abstinence-until-marriage education materials and not to perform an independent assessment of the criteria used or the quality of the reviews. With regard to effectiveness, HHS agreed that it may be too soon to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of ACF’s and OPA’s programs. (Emphasis added.)
TPM Mudraker.Com comments:
This is kind of fun. In a new report on publicly-funded abstinence programs, a government watchdog charged that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allows programs to distribute inaccurate sex information to kids, and suggested the agency clean up its act.

But in its defense, HHS argued that it doesn't know how to tell whether something is "scientifically accurate."
Comment: The Bush Administration's political agenda, based on the moral views of an influential portion of its constituency, again appears to trump its interest in scientific accuracy in the field or reproductive biology. JAD

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Congress's sci-tech agenda to shift under Democrats | csmonitor.com

Congress's sci-tech agenda to shift under Democrats | csmonitor.com:

"Ordinarily, broad science goals - such as better science education or the American Competitiveness Initiative - draw bipartisan support. But there are some divisive science topics on the Democrats' early agenda - namely embryonic stem-cell research - and these highly charged science and environmental issues will be one barometer of the durability of cross-aisle cooperation.

'If this stated spirit of bipartisanship is to occur, one of the best places to look is going to be in the area of science and technology,' says Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder. 'If it doesn't occur in science and technology, I wouldn't expect that it's likely to occur elsewhere.'"

Most Students in Big Cities Lag Badly in Basic Science - New York Times

Most Students in Big Cities Lag Badly in Basic Science - New York Times:

"A least half of eighth graders tested in science failed to demonstrate even a basic understanding of the subject in 9 of 10 major cities, and fourth graders, the only other group tested, fared little better, according to results released here Wednesday.

"The outcome of those tests, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the nation’s report card, showed that student performance in urban public schools was not only poor but also far short of science scores in the nation as a whole.

"Half or a little more of the eighth-grade students in Charlotte, San Diego and Boston lacked a basic grasp of science.

"In six of the other cities — New York, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Atlanta — the share of eighth graders without that knowledge was even higher, ranging from about three-fifths in New York to about four-fifths in Atlanta. By comparison, the corresponding share for the nation as a whole was 43 percent."

"Open Campuses: The resurgence of enrollment by foreign students is welcome news."

Read the full editorial in The Washington Post, November 26, 2006.

In the 2005-06 school year, though, according to a survey released Monday by the Institute of International Education, the number held steady at 564,766, and new enrollments were up about 8 percent. Credit goes to the State Department, which made foreign students a priority, adding workers to streamline the visa process and starting new recruiting and scholarship programs. Credit also goes to the educational institutions that put new energy into recruitment efforts.
Go to the full Open Doors Report 2006 website.

The Institute for International Education (IIE) reports:
American students continued to study abroad in record numbers, according to Open Doors 2006, reaching 205,983 students -- an increase of 8% over the prior year's report. This latest surge builds on steady increases over the past few decades, and is buoyed in part by growing interest in destinations in Asia and South America, according to Open Doors, the annual report on international education published by the Institute of International Education with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Happy International Education Week.

Some Americans Lack Food, but USDA Won't Call Them Hungry - washingtonpost.com

Some Americans Lack Food, but USDA Won't Call Them Hungry - washingtonpost.com:

"The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans -- 35 million people -- could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined 'very low food security' to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group"

Comment: Sounds like Orwell's 1984 to me! Calling hunger by another name doesn't fill people's bellies. JAD

What we Don't Know About Flu; What that tells us about K4D,

Read "Next Flu Pandemic: What to Do Until the Vaccine Arrives?" by Stephen S. Morse, Richard L. Garwin and Paula J. Olsiewski in Science (Science 10 November 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5801, p. 929). Subscription required.

A flu pandemic is overdue, and almost surely will arrive in the not too distant future. It will take six months (at best) to develop adequate supplies of a useful vaccine once the pandemic strain announces itself. Until the vaccine arrives, other public health approaches will be needed to contain the epidemic. According to this article:
our main defenses will be nonpharmacological interventions, such as hand washing, "respiratory etiquette," face masks, school closure, and social distancing or isolation (6, 7). These are ironically similar to the measures used in 1918 to combat the greatest of all known influenza pandemics (8, 9).

Recent attempts to identify the most effective nonpharmacological interventions have revealed that these measures have a thin science base (6, 7, 10-13). For example, it is uncertain whether influenza transmission from person to person is primarily by large droplets or by fine particles. Although this may seem a specialist issue, it has a direct bearing on how far apart people should position themselves to prevent infection and on whether relatively inexpensive face masks might be useful. Recent results in the guinea pig (14) indicated that transmission of influenza could occur even when cages were kept ~3 feet apart, which contradicts conventional wisdom. The results should be confirmed in other models.
The article concludes:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded grants to study nonpharmacological interventions in community settings. Although a commendable start, the CDC program so far represents $5.2 million in a total proposed pandemic influenza budget of $7.1 billion. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) may also include related areas in their funding. We should systematically address knowledge gaps now during upcoming flu seasons, rather than wait to empirically test measures ad hoc when the next pandemic is upon us.
Comment: I simply want to point out that nonpharmacological techniques for public health interventions to limit flu epidemics (which happen every year and kill huge numbers of people) and pandemics (which happen every couple of decades and kill even larger numbers of people) are "public goods". The people who do the research and development of such techniques cannot find a way to appropriate part of the benefits to the public resulting from their work via sales of goods or services. We depend on foundations or governments to fund such research and development, but it is not sexy and does not get the attention it deserves. So billions are spent to develop pharmacological techniques and little for what might be very effective nonpharmacological techniques. The success in finding cost-effective techniques in other public health cases -- oral re-hydration therapy, bed nets against malaria bearing mosquitoes, communications to promote safe sexual behaviors, to name a few -- suggests that such research can be very helpful, not to mention cost effective!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Center for Inquiry-Transnational

Read "Think Tank Will Promote Thinking: Advocates Want Science, Not Faith, at Core of Public Policy" by Marc Kaufman, The Washington Post, November 15, 2006.

Lead paragraphs:
Concerned that the voice of science and secularism is growing ever fainter in the White House, on Capitol Hill and in culture, a group of prominent scientists and advocates of strict church-state separation yesterday announced formation of a Washington think tank designed to promote "rationalism" as the basis of public policy.

The brainchild of Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, the small public policy office will lobby and sometimes litigate on behalf of science-based decision making and against religion in government affairs.
According to Wikipedia, Paul Kurtz (born December 21, 1925) "is founder and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism, the Center for Inquiry and Prometheus Books. He is editor in chief of Free Inquiry magazine, a publication of the Council for Secular Humanism. He was co-president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)."

The Center's website lists Centers for Inquiry in several cities in the United States as well as in a number of other countries.

Comment: While I certainly favor the use of scientific knowledge in public policy making, and share a concern for "Bush administration policies regarding stem cell research, global warming, abstinence-only sex education and the teaching of 'intelligent design'," I am somehow uncomfortable with what little I know of this initiative. I understand the U.S. separation of church and state to be based on the desire to protect the rights of adherents to minority religions (as well the non-religious) rather than to oppose organized religion per se. I distinguish militancy for scientific rationality from militant secularism. Indeed, scientists are only now beginning to explore neurological and evolutionary bases for behavior that we classify as moral, yet I would not want the lack of scientific evidence on the basis of morality to be used to justify immoral behavior. JAD

The two highest-ranking officials in the U.S. Census Bureau quit yesterday,

Read "Top 2 Census Officials Resign: Departures Could Delay Preparations for Count in 2010" by Elizabeth Williamson, The Washington Post, November 15, 2006.

Census Bureau chief C. Louis Kincannon, a statistician appointed by President Bush to lead the Bureau of the Census in 2002, and Hermann Habermann, a career statistician who runs the census operation, both resigned yesterday.

Excerpts from the article:
Kincannon officially cited family responsibilities for his departure. But in an interview he mentioned "different views perhaps about priorities" at the agency.

"My perception is that I don't have the same level of trust that I did a year or so ago," said Kincannon, who began his career at the agency in 1963. "The relationship has changed, and that relationship I regard as essential." There was no official reason given for Habermann's departure and no letter was released. Habermann could not be reached to comment......

One person with knowledge of the situation suggested that the two officials -- especially Habermann, a career employee -- were targeted by Republicans who would want to install an official who could better protect against Democratic congressional efforts to reinvigorate adjustment efforts -- a move some think could favor Democrats.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.), a member of the Government Reform Committee and former ranking Democrat on the census subcommittee, said in a statement.
"It's disturbing that two world-class statisticians who have worked for years to make sure we will have an accurate count in 2010 left on the same day so soon before the beginning of the census.

"At this point, without knowing who's taking over, it fair to say that the accuracy of the 2010 census is absolutely in jeopardy."
U.S. House of Representatives Districts are to be apportioned according to population, and reapportionment normally occurs after each census. It turns out that more Democrats are missed by census takers than Republicans. The use of statistical means to estimate total population based on the census enumeration therefore can change the basis for the reapportion of Districts. There is no doubt that the statisticians can improve the accuracy of population estimates over the pure enumeration.

Comment: Republicans seem to fear that the more accurate estimates will reduce their political power, and feel that the loss of even one vote in the House is too high a price for improved accuracy in population estimates. Democrats of course are happy to come down on the side of science since they feel doing so will strengthen them in the House. I just want the most accurate numbers on principle, and due to the fact that those numbers are the basis of a huge amount of planning in our society. JAD

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Standardized Educational Testing Should be Kept in its Place!

Read "Just Whose Idea Was All This Testing? Fueled by Technology, Nation's Attempt to Create a Level Playing Field Has Had a Rocky History" by Jay Mathews, The Washington Post, November 14, 2006.
"I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be."
Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, Popular Lectures and Addresses, vol. 1, "Electrical Units of Measurement", 1883-05-03
Mathews' article considers the history of educational testing in the United States, and has a questioning tone.

Standardized tests are obviously useful, but I suspect that they are taken much too seriously. I once was responsible for calculating the scores for university entrance test and ranking the applicants by test score. I am sure that there had been no effort to assure the validity of the test as a predictor of success at the school, much less of career success or likelihood of the student to achieve the university's objectives. The main advantage of the test was that it gave a numerical score that had some verisimilitude to objectivity which people could point to and defend decisions to include some kids and exclude others.

Standardized tests can be useful for monitoring. When teaching I find frequent quizzes helpful in telling me how well I have gotten the content to the students.

We should be interested in test results that indicate that kids in some schools, or of some socio-economic groups are not performing as well as others -- there may be a problem we can work to resolve.

But tests are just tools. Like any tools, some are better than others. Using the wrong test for the wrong purpose is like using a hammer to cook a omelet -- it can be of limited help, but only if used gently and with understanding, and is more likely to get in the way.

The numbers that we use to evaluate universities are even more suspect than those the schools use to evaluate their applicants or their students. A kid should not feel bad when a university turns down his admission because of his test scores. First, it may not be the right school for him in the first place, and second, the university doesn't really have a clue which students it can serve best, or which students will most help it achieve its long term goals. (I know that if anyone reads this, they will say that university officials know that kids from rich families will be more likely to help them achieve their goals of keeping the university well supplied with money.)

I have been involved in a lot of processes in which groups of people make choices, and I have come to the conclusion that they are very bad at the task. As Churchill said of democracy, panel review is the worst form of decision making "except all the others that have been tried." But I know deep down that there is no process that can accurately draw the line between the worst applicant to be accepted and the best to be rejected. If a university is selecting 1,000 to offer admission from 5,000 applicants, there is no way to convince me that the those ranking 951 to 1000 are superior to those ranking 1001 to 1050.

I suggest that the real issue is helping people to learn and guiding them towards learning important and useful things. I suspect that the best educational system is a gifted and motivated educator sitting at one keyboard connected to the Internet and a smart, motivated kid at a keyboard also connected to the Internet, assisted by really good educational software, and both in the same room. I suspect that our understanding of this fundamental interaction between learner and facilitator of learning is still of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; quantification via standardized tests may make information on the process appear more precise, but will not yet make it accurate nor satisfactory.

"In Sea of Data, Not All Numbers Are Equal"

Read the full article by Jon Cohen in The Washington Post, November 14, 2006. Cohen is The Post's director of polling.

One vogue approach to the glut of polls this year was to surrender judgment, assume all polls were equal and average their findings. Political junkies bookmarked Web sites that aggregated polls and posted five- and 10-poll averages.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, averages work only "on average." For example, the posted averages on the Maryland governor's and Senate races showed them as closely competitive; they were not. Polls from The Post and Gallup showed those races as solidly Democratic in June, September and October, just as they were on Election Day.......

averaging polls encourages the already excessive attention paid to horse-race numbers. Preelection polls are not meant to be crystal balls. Putting a number on the status of the race is a necessary part of preelection polls, but much is lost if it's the only one.

We need standards, not averages. There's certainly a place for averages. My investment portfolio, for example, would be in better shape today if I had invested in broad indexes of securities instead of fancying myself a stock-picker. At the same time, I'd be in a much tighter financial position if I took investment advice from spam e-mails as seriously as that from accredited financial experts.......

Pollsters sometimes disagree about how to conduct surveys, but the high-quality polling we should pay attention to is based on an established method undergirded by statistical theory.

The gold standard in news polling remains interviewers making telephone calls to people randomly selected from a sample of a definable, reachable population. To be sure, the luster on the method is not as shiny as it once was, but I'd always choose tarnished precious metals over fool's gold.

Before anyone feels condemned to night classes and bell curves to sort through the glut of polls, let me say that the primary filtering burden should rest with the news media. It's ironic in a field that prides itself on sorting reliable sources from bogus ones that so many treat all numbers -- including poll estimates -- equally, and as valid on their face.

News organizations should be aware that they give immediate credibility to the "facts" they air or print. But this is not an argument for some sort of media monopoly on polling information.
Comment: I agree! JAD

Two from the Washington Post

"Fantastic Job, Mr. President" Richard Cohen. November 14, 2006.
There is something refreshing about George Stephanopoulos. After George Bush announced that he was firing Don Rumsfeld, Stephanopoulos -- on the air at the time -- actually seemed shocked that just a week earlier the president had said he would do no such thing. Stephanopoulos not only suggested that the president had lied but that he was wrong to have done so.
"CIA Acknowledges 2 Interrogation Memos: Papers Called Too Sensitive for Release" Dan Eggen, November 14, 2006.
After years of denials, the CIA has formally acknowledged the existence of two classified documents governing aggressive interrogation and detention policies for terrorism suspects, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

But CIA lawyers say the documents -- memos from President Bush and the Justice Department -- are still so sensitive that no portion can be released to the public.
Thomas Jefferson said it for me:
"The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe."
--Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816. ME 14:384

The Madscientists Handbook

I don't know who started this or why, and it is unfinished, but it seems to have good tips on how to handle knowledge problems.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Science Reporter Fired for Reporting Attacks on Science

Check out the story by streaming video from America's Investigative Reports, a news show from PBS. (Episode 111, November 10, 2006.)

Paul Thacker was not hired to do investigative reporting, but rather general news reporting for ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, a peer-reviewed scientific journal serving environmental scientists worldwide. Thacker, however, found himself investigating junkscience.com, and debunking its operator. He went on to cases in which seemingly grassroots organizations promoted industry arguments on environmental issues.

The summary notes:
Thacker's investigative reporting, he says, didn't please some of the people he worked for, and he soon found his career on the line. He says a board member of the American Chemical Society (ACS), which publishes ES&T, objected to a story he wrote about the Weinberg Group, an international scientific and regulatory consulting firm which specializes in, among other things, "product defense." Thacker's story examined a proposal made by The Weinberg Group to chemical giant DuPont. The document outlined a detailed product-defense strategy regarding PFOA, a chemical DuPont uses in the production of Teflon. The letter arrived as DuPont was facing pressure from the EPA and a civil-action lawsuit by West Virginia residents who claimed to suffer serious health effects from exposure to PFOA. Thacker says the ACS board member suggested he was focused on "muckraking rather than reporting news." He further claims that he was told to stop his investigative reporting.

He didn't. Several months later, Thacker unearthed evidence that the White House had tried to prevent scientists from speaking out about the link between climate change and the increasing strength of hurricanes. He says ES&T refused to allow him to follow the story, so he found a home for it at salon.com. Then, he says, he was fired from ES&T. In a written statement, an ACS representative told AIR, "...it is not the policy of the American Chemical Society to comment on conditions of individual's employment or departure."

Scientists get free access to environment journals - SciDev.Net

Scientists get free access to environment journals - SciDev.Net:

"Over 1,000 scientific journals are available to scientists from countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America through the Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE) scheme, launched last month (30 October) by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and US-based Yale University.

Seventy countries whose gross national product (GNP) per capita is below US$1,000 now have free access to the journals.

By 2008, access to OARE will extend to 37 other countries whose GNP is between US$1- 3,000. The institutions in those countries will pay US$1,000 per year for the scheme."

What a great idea. I would suspect Gus Speth, dean of Yale's Environment School, deserves much credit for this initiative.

African science to benefit from China trade deal - SciDev.Net

African science to benefit from China trade deal - SciDev.Net:

"China will help African countries build ten agricultural science centres, establish 100 hospitals, and will send 100 Chinese agricultural technicians to Africa.

By 2009 the Chinese government will double the number of African students on its annual scholarship scheme for study in China to 4,000.

On aid, China pledged to spend 300 million yuan (US$37.5 million) on artemisin-based anti-malaria drugs, malaria treatment and anti-malaria clinics for Africa over the next three years, and said it would double its overall aid to Africa by 2009.

China will also promote more cultural and scientific exchanges with African countries, Hu told the summit.

The Chinese government plans to offer US$5 billion in low-interest loans and credits to Africa and establish a China-Africa development fund of US$5 billion over the next three years.

Chinese enterprises investing in Africa will be able to apply for loans from this fund. Hu also promised to exempt the debts of the least developed African countries."

Friday, November 10, 2006

What the Democrats' win means for tech | CNET News.com

What the Democrats' win means for tech | CNET News.com:

"By an 11-11 tie, a GOP-dominated committee failed in June to approve rules requiring that all Internet traffic be treated the same no matter what its 'source' or 'destination' might be. A similar measure also failed in the House of Representatives.

"But now that this week's elections have switched control of the House back to the Democrats -- and they appear to have seized the Senate as well -- the outlook for technology-related legislation has changed dramatically overnight.

"On a wealth of topics -- Net neutrality, digital copyright, merger approval, data retention, Internet censorship -- a Capitol Hill controlled by Democrats should yield a shift in priorities on technology-related legislation."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"When What's Just in Just Isn't News"

Read the full article by Tom Guisto in The Washington Post of November 9, 2006.

The core function that TV news performs very well
is that when there is no news
we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were.

David Brinkley, former news anchorman

The music stopped, the station's logo faded and one of the co-anchors came into focus.

"This just in from Los Angeles," he began, with a somber expression on his face.

Then a picture of Paris Hilton appeared above his left shoulder.

The news anchor informed us that Paris Hilton had been arrested early that morning on a DUI charge. He also reported that Ms. Hilton was briefly handcuffed. The anchor solemnly promised we would be kept informed as the latest news on the arrest came in.

I started to laugh, as did several of the other early birds. But the significance of the report soon turned my thoughts to a sober realization: someone, probably the morning news show's producer, considered Ms. Hilton's arrest a highly newsworthy event. Is Paris Hilton being arrested really worth a "Breaking News"
After reading this I wanted to blog on the value of knowledge. Clearly the news bulletin provided information, and some people learned something about Ms. Hilton. The news editor thought, correctly I suppose, that the audience would value the knowledge gained sufficiently that it was worth broadcasting. In the U.S., TV channels are profit making entities, and the news editor must have made the judgment that broadcasting Ms. Hilton's difficulties would make the station more money in the long run than broadcasting the other information that was at hand. Thus the value that the viewers placed on the information served to set the value that the media placed upon it. I must admit that I fail to understand why anyone would care to know about Ms. Hilton's arrest other than her immediate family, and I suppose that is a very small part of the audience.

There is of course a literature on the value of information. It tends to focus on the economic benefits that result from more informed decisions. The media, however, it more interested in the willingness of people to tune into the medium and the consequent willingness of advertisers to fund that medium. There would seem to be a real disconnect here.

I suggest that the popular audience -- in the United States at least -- is very incompetent in assigning value to information that they receive via the media. They fail to tune into the sources that would help them make better decisions, and tune into sources that bring them highly inaccurate, redundant, or useless information instead. There is an opportunity cost to watching junk, and perhaps a real cost if they buy the products advertised in conjunction with the junk they watch.

The poor news judgment of their readers is probably why the newspapers print so little of the important news -- it is not valued by their readership. That is also probably why The Daily Show can provide as much news content in its comedy format as the nightly news broadcasts on the major networks do in their more serious format.

It may be that our evolution has predisposed us to be interested in the inconsequential. Or that we evolved in situations where the misbehavior of a member the group was of critical importance, and we inappropriately behave as if the media celebrities are members of our group. It may be that our schools and parents don't do a good job in teaching us how to distinguish important from unimportant information. It may be that popular culture encourages us toward the meretricious and away from the meritorious. Probably a little of each!

"My 'Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan'"

Sacha Baron Cohen reports as "Borat."
Twentieth Century Fox via the Washington Post.

Read the full op-ed piece by Gauhar Abdygaliyeva in The Washington Post of November 8, 2006.

She writes:
I'm a Muslim Kazakh woman who arrived in the United States two months ago to work on my master's in public administration. Almost every time I meet people and tell them where I come from, they ask me about the "Kazakh journalist" Borat, "the sixth most famous man" in Kazakhstan. I answer that Borat is a satirical fictional character who has nothing in common with Kazakhstan or its people.
I suspect that many Americans who think Kazakhstanis should "lighten up" and enjoy the humor would be quite upset were the shoe on the other foot, and Americans were shown as boors and buffoons in a foreign movie.

Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat, is obviously a very gifted comedian. He has used "the foreign visitor" as a vehicle to satirize America. In the guise of the foreigner he can be extremely politically incorrect. He might well have chosen to be from outer space or from Elbonia, but for most Americans Kazakhstan is equally distant and foreign.

I spent a fair amount of time over the last six months reading and thinking about Kazakhstan. I have been fortunate enough to meet and talk with hundreds of Kazakhstanis. I can attest to Ms. Abdygaliyeva's points that Kazakhstan has a sophisticated, educated population. I was struck by the fact that people on the streets of Astana and Almaty appeared more formally and better dressed than those on the streets of Washington, DC.

It is too bad that Americans are so bad at geography that they don't know about Kazakhstan or appreciate its importance. It has huge fossil fuel and mineral resources, and is going to be an important oil exporter in the near future. It has long borders with both the Russian Federation and China, but is seeking to build its ties with Western Europe and the United States. It is a secular Sunni society in a region which is increasingly dominated by state religions and Shiite militancy. It looks to me like the most stable and progressive of the "Stans" of Central Asia. Thus it has an important geopolitical role to play. It is also a beautiful nation with an interesting history and culture.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Corruption Watchdog Downgrades U.S."

Read the article partially subtitled, "Scandals Hurt America's Standing" by Patrick Donahue Bloomberg News via The Washington Post, November 8, 2006.

Lead: "Congressional scandals have damaged America's standing on a global list that ranks freedom from corruption. The United States ranked 20th least corrupt among 163 countries, down from 17th last year, and scored 7.3 out of 10, a drop of 0.3 compared with 2005, according to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2006."

Comment: About time we had a new Congress! JAD

New Controls on What U.S. Diplomats Can Say

Read the full article in the Washington Post, with the memo included.

Karen Hughes, the State Department's undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, sent a long memo worldwide Friday, spelling out "Karen's Rules" for working with the media.

Quoting psychologist Robert Hogan, the article states
"She presents a thicket of rules, and if all the guidelines are followed, a person won't be able to say much of anything.

"It is also a mixed message: Go out there and communicate freely and vigorously, but be very careful what you say.

"The combination of micromanagement and mixed message will lead to learned helplessness on the part of the recipient. They will feel obliged to do something but unable to decide what. . . .

"The only thing a recipient can do is spout the preexisting words of senior officials. There is no possibility to exercise initiative -- which is another way of saying this is an exercise in micromanagement."

Right Winger Named to Head World Food Program

Read the full article by Colum Lynch in The Washington Post, November 8, 2006.

This story should not be lost in the enthusiasm over the election results.
Josette Sheeran, a senior U.S. State Department official and former managing editor of the Washington Times, was chosen Tuesday to head the United Nations' Rome-based World Food Program for a five-year term.

Sheeran, the U.S. undersecretary of state for economics, business and agricultural affairs, will replace American James T. Morris, who plans to step down around the end of the year. She will take charge of the United Nations' largest humanitarian institution, which feeds about 90 million people in about 80 of the world's poorest countries.......

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the appointment, saying he looked forward to Sheeran's leadership of the World Food Program. "She's obviously an extraordinarily well-qualified candidate," Bolton said.......

The Bush administration was sensitive to the possibility that Sheeran's former membership in the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church would emerge as an issue in the race. A U.S. official pressed The Washington Post not to mention Sheeran's past links to the church, saying it was inappropriate to describe her religious affiliation.
According to Wikipedia:
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.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Congress Kills the NIST Advanced Technology Program

Read the full article by Eli Kintisch in Science magazine (Science 3 November 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5800, pp. 752 - 753). Subscription required.

The U.S. Congress has apparently voted to kill the NIST Advanced Technology Program (ATP). The House of Representatives has voted eight times to kill the program but supporters, including a handful of senators, have succeeded until this year in rescuing the program.

This program over 16 years has funded 768 projects to the tune of $2.3 billion. It was intended to make U.S. industry more competitive. It was administered by the well-respected National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST scientists provided technical peer review of company proposals. Companies were required to finance nearly one-half the research costs of projects. Funding was for the early stage of technology development. The program recognized that many small companies could not otherwise find risk capital needed to develop innovative technologies, but that the rewards for doing so would often justify the risks.

The program has been the subject of many evaluations, and indeed serves as a model for evaluation research on publicly funded R&D programs. The National Research Council report, Government-Industry Partnerships for Development of New Technologies (2002), states (page 141):
Award partnerships, such as those in the ATP and SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) programs, can provide an effective means to encourage small firms with promising ideas and technologies to gain access to early-stage financing. In doing so, partnerships contribute to the achievement of government missions in important ways.

Programs such as the SBIR can accelerate and facilitate the modernization of the U.S. defense establishment by introducing new and better information systems. Programs such as the ATP are helping to bring new energy-saving technologies to the market as well as new medical devices and instruments to the healthcare system. Around the world award-based partnerships, such as the ATP and SBIR, are increasingly seen as an effective means to overcome obstacles to new technological development.
Science notes that
the benefits of ATP projects have extended far beyond the companies themselves. Several studies examining a total of 14 projects have claimed an economic return that exceeded $1.2 billion for the $87 million spent by the government. In 1998, a study by the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, estimated that seven successful tissue-engineering projects that received roughly $15 million from ATP saved society $34 billion in reduced morbidity and lower medical costs.
Although the program was launched during the Reagan Administration and first funded during President George H. W. Bush's administration, it was opposed by a faction of the Republican party. That faction cited ideological reasons for their opposition -- that governments should not try to choose winners among technological innovations because the process was best left to the marketplace, that government technology capacity was not up to the task, etc.

I suspect that there may have been more political reasons. Perhaps too many of the entrepreneurs who created successful technological firms turned out to support Democratic causes.

President Bush announced a Competitiveness Initiative which included increased funding for fundamental research by the National Science Foundation. That funding is great, but has little immediate impact on U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. On the other hand, the ATP which demonstrably has improved competitiveness, has been killed by his party members in the Congress. This seems to be a victory of ideology over the knowledge, of the political over the scientific and technological.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reminding all Americans to vote tomorrow

Bill Clinton, John Kerry and George Bush are captured by terrorists and told they will be executed by a firing squad at dawn the next morning.

As the sun is rising that next day, Clinton is placed against the wall. Just before the order to shoot him is given, he yells, "Earthquake!" The firing squad falls into a panic, Bill jumps over the wall and escapes in the confusion.

John Kerry is the second one placed against the wall. The squad is reassembled and John ponders what his old pal Bill has done. Before the order to shoot is given, John yells, "Tornado!" Again the squad falls apart and Kerry slips over the wall, thus making his escape.

The last person, George W. Bush, is placed against the wall. He Thinks, "I see the pattern here, just scream out a disaster and hop over the wall." As the firing squad is reassembled and the rifles raised in his direction, he smirks his famous smirk and yells, "Fire!"

AU congress suggests how to boost African science - SciDev.Net

AU congress suggests how to boost African science - SciDev.Net:

"African scientists and politicians have proposed a wide range of measures to boost science and technology on the continent, ranging from more flexible visa laws for greater mobility of scientists, to the creation of a continent-wide scientific advisory committee.

The proposals were made at a three-day congress of African scientists and policymakers, held in Alexandria, Egypt from 27-29 October.

The delegates put forward 50 individual suggestions, of these 10 will be chosen to be submitted to a meeting of African science and technology ministers later this month in Cairo, Egypt.

If approved, these will be presented at the next AU summit meeting of heads of state being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2007 under the theme of science, technology and innovation."

R&D Spending by Some Corporations

From The Economist print edition of Nov 2nd 2006

Sunday, November 05, 2006

About the Development Gateway

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis honors the opening of the American West; it seemed a suitable image for this posting.

I have been volunteering for several years as an editor of a couple of the Development Gateway community pages:
* Information and Communication Technologies for Development (more than 13,700 members and 9,600 online resources)

* Nanotechnology for Development (more than 2,000 members and 600+ online resources) This was set up as an experiment and Anil Srivastava have been donating our time and the Foundation donating the hosting service. Sometime soon we are going to need a little outside funding if this service is to continue.
I have also served in the past as an adviser for its community:
* Knowledge Economy (nearly 13,000 members and 4,000 online resources. Note my current highlight on the community portal home page.)
These are three of some 30 online dgCommunities which together have more than 50,000 online postings. When I started in international development in the 1960's and even into the 1990's, my colleagues in developing countries had very limited access to professional literature on development, and very little opportunity to understand what was going on in their fields in other developing nations. Those of us in donor agencies had only a little better access to development information, and went from country to country learning as we went and sharing what we could. The dgCommunity pages now give practitioners direct access not only to 50,000 current resources online but to many millions of indirect development resources through its links to key sources on the World Wide Web. Each community portal also gives its users the ability to search its collection, to comment on resources and read the comments of others; all the resources are structured according to the key issues. The community portals also give users news, a calendar of events, etc. Of course anyone can use these resources which are freely available on the Internet, and if I recall correctly less than 5% of the resources pulled down are by members; however, it is only members who can submit new content for approval by the editors or who can receive the email newsletters and alerts sent by the communities. I use other development portals such as Dev-Zone and Eldis, but the Development Gateway is much richer; it takes some investment of time to learn to use it well, but that investment pays off.

For a donor organization, university department, government ministry or NGO, the community pages provide a free way to disseminate publications widely. They also publish announcements of development job openings (very much appreciated by community members) that can reach tens of thousands of readers in the field at no cost to either the organization offering the job or the job seekers. The site allows one to publicize upcoming events free of charge. Since the member directory is available online, it provides a means of finding and communicating with experts in a given field in a specified country. Indeed, an organization could act as the guide for a dgCommunity in partnership with the Development Gateway Foundation, as many organizations already do. (I personally would love to see new communities formed on topics such as one on higher education in developing nations or a complementary portal to the UNESCO library portal.)

The dgCommunities were seen as more than a library, but also as means for forming international communities of practice and communities of interest in selected development fields. That is why the member directories are online and can be searched electronically. The platform also allows bulletin boards, discussion groups, list serves and other means of communication among members. (I would love to see more such use of the community portals.)

I am also the editor of Monitoring and Evaluation (ICT Projects) (nearly 1,500 resources online). This illustrates a different aspect of the Development Gateway. It has created an open source software platform for its dgCommunities which is freely available. It also hosts websites using this platform for a number of users (I think it is no longer in a position to do so free of charge, and would expect a modest contribution for those services, but I don't speak for the Foundation.) There have been dozens of different portals set up using this facility, such as that of the eDevelopment service group of the World Bank (They don't need to have the DG brand, since that can be changed on the platform.)

Anyway, a couple of us used that platform to set up a website with resources for those involved in monitoring and evaluation of the Development Gateway Foundation's own projects, and its collection has grown over the years. We saw that it would be useful to a wider community, so we opened it to the public, but it is not one of the core Development Gateway portals. The last year I checked, 2004, some 8000 of its resources were pulled down and viewed by users.(Incidentally, I wish some organization like Council on Foundations would take over as guide on this portal, and provide the token funding that the DG Foundation would need to make it a full fledged community. It could then provide a complementary service to the UK's MandE serving non-profits and foundation,)

The Development Gateway Portal provides some other very important resources for the International development community:
* AIDA (A directory of over 500,000 activities of major bilateral organizations, multilateral development banks and UN agencies. Over 130,000 are ongoing and planned, residing in the live database. For each entry there is a meta-description, and a link to more detailed information about the project.)

* dgMarket (This is a service which publishes announcements of tenders for goods and services. It promotes transparency in procurement, allows the buyers to inform a large group of potential suppliers with the tender, and allows suppliers of goods and services to easily find large variety of sales opportunities. The use of Internet technology makes this affordable. The Foundation has also helped developing countries set up their own online procurement marketplace using its software platforms.)

* A data and statistics page which is really very useful.

* The Foundation has also funded a program of eGovernment grants with the Government of Italy. It conducts Development Gateway Forums (face to face meetings on ICT for Development, and offers the Development Gateway Prize (Its first Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, just added the Nobel Peace Prize to his collection.). It provides an online directory of consultants working in Latin America and the Caribbean as part of dgMarket. It has an "Aid Effectiveness" tool which it makes available to governments and donor agencies. (I don't really understand the tool, but it is designed to help organizations to coordinate aid and reduce waste and overlap.) It runs a number of Training and Research Centers in collaboration with the governments of their host countries (as a consultant, I helped set up this program.)
I want to go into more detail on the network of Country Development Gateways. These are 50 locally owned and managed country-specific development portals. The Development Gateway Foundation and the World Bank collaborated to provide seed money for the network and the large majority of its member organizations, but they are independent. (I organized the grant competition in the early years and provided oversight for the grant review process, and can affirm that independence and sustainability were important criteria for selection of the organizations to receive the seed funding.) The country specific portals all share the same goal of using the Internet to provide development information to the communities within their own nations. They have gone about realizing their goals in different ways, and while their portals share a common look and feel, they have very different content and organization. They include a range from government supported portals in large developing nations, to civil society portals in small nations.

The network (as opposed to the country gateways individually) seems to me to be an immense potential resource that has been underutilized. On the one hand, it seems to me that donor organizations which frequently face the need for dissemination of information from their projects should regularly utilize the development gateway and the local development gateway organization within the host country to do so. On the other hand, the network of country gateways provides an exceptional opportunity for regional organizations and projects to reach out via portions of the network to the groups of countries they wish to serve and inform. (Would it not be great to equip each of the country gateways with a computer conferencing facility so that one could organize Internet mediated conferences among civil society organizations in any combination of 45 countries? The CG organizations have ICT literate staffs to run such facilities, and generally are located in capital cities with facilities open to the public. The cost of doing so would be cheap because I am relatively sure that the country gateway organizations could fund the operating costs from sales of international Internet conferencing services -- if only to the international NGOs.)

The Development Gateway portal now has some 400,000 visitors a month and over 200,000 registered users. The Foundation newsletter goes out to over 45,000 recipients, and the individual community alerts and newsletters thousands of subscribers each. The country gateways further extend the outreach.

Andrew Carnegie changed the world when he used his vast fortune a century ago to build thousands of libraries. A self-educated man, he knew the power of knowledge and knew that if information were available millions would improve themselves as he had done. Indeed, hundreds of millions of minds have been enriched by what they have read in the thousands of Carnegie libraries. The Development Gateway provides the kind of information dissemination and knowledge sharing that Andrew Carnegie would have appreciated. The Internet makes it possible at a cost he would have recognized as a real bargain.

The Development Gateway Foundation has had its birthing problems. It had a number of different directors over the years, and probably suffered from lack of continuity in leadership. The initial financial expectations of its founders proved excessive, but the organization has downsized its expectations and is working with partners to share costs (gaining expertise in the process), On the other hand, Jim Wolfensohn was able to swing tens of millions of dollars in initial support for the Foundation, and its software platforms and the social capital built with that investment can now be used with much less expense. The DG Foundation has now distanced itself from the World Bank, overcoming the criticism that it was too subordinate to the Bank's interests, and is located in facilities provided by the InterAmerican Development Bank. (It is formally a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, incorporated in the District of Columbia.) The new director, Mark Fleeton, is the former Assistant Director General of AusAid, and seems to be getting good reviews. The Foundation has, as it always has, an independent Board of Directors. The chair is now Michael Hofmann from Germany. The Foundation now has about 40 employees and works with hundreds of partners around the world. It has direct activities in 60 countries. There is an independent evaluation of the program done in 2005.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables"

Development, Security, and Cooperation (DSC) and Policy and Global Affairs (PGA) Committees of the U.S. National Academies of Science, National Academy Press, 2006.

Summary: "This report is the second in a series of three evaluating underexploited African plant resources that could help broaden and secure Africa's food supply. The volume describes the characteristics of 18 little-known indigenous African vegetables (including tubers and legumes) that have potential as food- and cash-crops but are typically overlooked by scientists and policymakers and in the world at large. The book assesses the potential of each vegetable to help overcome malnutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and create sustainable landcare in Africa. Each species is described in a separate chapter, based on information gathered from and verified by a pool of experts throughout the world. Volume I describes African grains and Volume III African fruits."

Check out these related books from the National Academy Press:
* Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I: Grains

* Neem: A Tree for Solving Global Problems

"Tech firms woo 'next billion users'"

Check out the Intel World Ahead Program website.

Read the full article by JASON DEAN and PETER WONACOTT, The Wall Street Journal via China Daily, November 3, 2006.

Lead: "Big technology companies, their established markets maturing, increasingly see their future in a huge but seemingly unlikely pool of potential customers: poor, rural residents of the world's developing countries."

In May, Intel announced plans to spend US$1 billion over five years to improve Internet access in developing countries and train teachers how to use technology. Intel hopes to work with local companies and governments to setup Internet connectivity in hundreds of other villages in China, and is helping deliver computers and Internet access to rural health clinics and schools. Intel has also helped train 700,000 teachers in China and more than 600,000 in India in the past several years on how to use technology in the classroom. It plans to train a million more teachers in China over the next several years. Intel is rolling out similar connectivity initiatives in India.

Motorola Inc., in cooperation with the GSM Association, an industry group, is making specially designed mobile phones priced under $30 for people in emerging markets who have never used them before.

Companies including Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and PC maker Quanta Computer Inc. of Taiwan have joined in the One Laptop Per Child effort. Microsoft is rolling out 50,000 computer kiosks in small towns and rural regions across India over the next three years. The kiosks are to be operated by entrepreneurs who will charge small fees for computer services, such as crop prices or accessing government land records.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Where do scientists fit into Africa's science plans?"

The modern Library of Alexandria. (The rebirth of the most famous of ancient libraries might symbolize the reinforcement and regeneration of African science in general.)

David Dickson, in this editorial, wrote:
Defining an appropriate policy-making role for Africa's scientific community requires a careful balance between 'science push' and 'demand pull'.
"Science and technology" is a big field, and science and technology policy is necessarily complex. The United States, with the world's biggest national R&D enterprise, is perhaps the prototypical example. There is the National Science Foundation as well as a plethora of foundations and other entities involved in financing fundamental research. Industrial, agricultural, medical and other sectoral research systems have largely separate and autonomous R&D policy systems. In part this complexity is due to the system evolving -- just growing like Topsy -- rather than being the result of some grand plan. But the complexity is probably also due to the fact that decisions are better made by different means according to the circumstances of those decisions.

Thus in the past, crop development was largely a local matter of developing and adapting varieties to meet local needs. A variety grown in Iowa may not do well in Florida or Hawaii. It was estimated that more than half of the benefits of such R&D were realized within 100 miles of the field station where the work was done. In those circumstances, a extremely decentralized system of agricultural science developed, with block grants made to research stations, to be divided among projects by local judgment.

Biomedical research, on the other hand, faced a nation-wide population with relatively similar health needs, and biomedical research policy could be more centralized. However, since the investment in R&D in the development could be recouped by sale of products, that field was left to the private sector and to the hidden hand of the market. On the other hand, techniques for clinical practice were first the responsibility of the medical schools, and later of the National Institutes of Health, not the commercial sector.

It seems to me that the major challenge of science and technology policy is institutionalizing a process that brings the right knowledge and understanding to bear on the right issues at the right time.

Scientists obviously have the best understanding of their science, and the opportunities that exist for doing important science. Indeed, it seems that highly productive scientists who have produced widely cited papers may have even a better understanding of the dynamics of their fields than the "run of the mill" scientists. On the other hand, sometimes older scientists fail to see that the frontier that they explored has been relegated to a backwater by some other frontier in their field.

Those most knowledgeable about technology are perhaps those involved in advancing the frontiers of each specific technology -- in industry for industrial technology, in biomedical and clinical research for health technologies, etc.

In some cases, there are experts with superior knowledge of the need for new technologies. Sometimes they are technology users. Sometimes they are people who have a broad overview of the sector, as a health planner may be a good source for information on the relative needs for new vaccines, or an agricultural planner of the relative needs for new crop varieties.

Similarly, in some cases, there are experts with superior knowledge and understanding of the need for new information. Thus there are experts in the field of public health who might first detect the need for new epidemiological data about a potential disease outbreak; experts in agriculture who might first detect the need for new knowledge from plant pathology of entomology on a new crop disease or pest.

We live in societies in which those who pay the bill call the tune. Thus the owners of businesses, or the managers they pay, should be heard on the needs for industrial technology. Where governments fund R&D, it is important that not only the public interest but the public preference be considered.

There is a famous example, that of polio research. Polio was not the most serious health threat when pressure was brought to bear on the development of a vaccine, but it was probably most in the minds of the American public. There was fear fired by images of people in leg braces, wheel chairs and iron lungs. The public demand that there be an end to that fear had to be taken into account, and not just the relative burden of disease.

There are of course other values and interests at stake, but this list should suffice.

At issue in science and technology policy are: the allocation of resources, the definition of policies, the building of institutions. I would suggest that the processes of decision making on these matters are by definition political, as is the bringing to bear of different parties and influences on the decision making process.

I think political science is not sufficiently advanced to specify a process by which the best science policy decisions could be made. Some things do seem clear. Substituting the judgment of politicians for that of scientific peers in the selection of individual scientific projects seems to court inefficiency and rent-seeking behavior. Market forces seem to be very effective in the promotion of technological innovation.

In the political arena, however, efficiency is not the only criterion. The legitimacy of the decision process is also of concern. A process that in fact gets high returns from investments in S&T, but which is widely seen as illegitimate, will not fly.

I agree with Dickson's conclusion:
The optimal solution, as so often, lies somewhere between the two (science push versus demand pull). The creative spirit at the heart of scientific enterprise requires a certain degree of autonomy to flourish. But if this spirit is not harnessed to the goals and values of the society that supports it — which means in practice contributing to technological innovation for social and economic progress — such support is likely to evaporate.
For Africa, I hope to see a number of participants in the science and technology process. These would include Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine providing inputs especially from established scientists and people in the technological professions, as well as from profession societies representing a wider range of professionals. So too, I would like to see participation of legislators, people from industry and from civil society. It seems to me that the legislative and executive branches of governments should play central and analytic coordinating roles, both in terms of allocations for publicly funded S&T, and for creating policies to foster development of S&T in the for-profit and non-profit private sectors.

I am glad to see the InterAcademy Council, the African Academy of Sciences and the World Academy of sciences playing roles in Africa. I am also glad to see the International Scientific Union (ICSU), the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) and other professional societies playing roles in Africa. The fact that the Gates Foundation has joined in an effort supported for many years by other foundations (notably Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie) is great!

I hope to see more firms developing technology to meet African needs and sell in African markets, and indeed helping to develop technologies that Africans can utilize to sell better in their own and in international markets.

Many donors are needed. The technical agencies of the UN system are important, and UNESCO, WHO, FAO, UNEP, UNIDO, UNCTAD and WTO all should play important roles in their spheres of influence. So too, the international financial institutions (World Bank, African Development Bank, UNDP) have a key role, providing the funding for institution building as well as expert advice from their professional staffs.

The need is huge, and the resources severely limited. Africa needs all the players it can get to help. Integrating the efforts of the various players into sustainable science policy institutions and institution building will be complex and difficult, but should not prove impossible with good will.

SciDev.Net Dossier: African Union Summit 2007

In January 2007, the African Union will hold its 8th annual summit, focusing on science, technology and innovation and organised with support from NEPAD.

This autumn, a number of meetings will take place to prepare and discuss proposals including a model law to regulate biotechnology across the continent, the role of the African diaspora and a new financing facility to support African research.

SciDev.Net has grouped its coverage of these issues, key documents relating to the summit, links, and an invitation to join our related discussion group.

The Cluster Initiative Greenbook

The Cluster Initiative Greenbook, prepared for the 6th Global TCI Conference, takes a closer look at CIs around the world, mainly in OECD countries. It is built on a unique data-set of over 250 cluster initiatives, derived from the 2003 Global Cluster Initiative Survey and a series of case studies.

The Competitiveness Institute (TCI)

The Competitiveness Institute (TCI):

"The Competitiveness Institute is collecting information concerning cluster initiatives developed worldwide. These are stored in our Cluster Initiative Database containing basic information and key indicators with contact references available for our members."

State Department Using Ideological Litmus Tests to Screen Speakers

Read the full article by Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay in December 3, 2005 by Knight Ridder via the Common Dreams News Center

"The State Department has been using political litmus tests to screen private American citizens before they can be sent overseas to represent the United States, weeding out critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, according to department officials and internal e-mails.

In one recent case, a leading expert on conflict resolution who's a former senior State Department adviser was scheduled to participate in a U.S. Embassy-sponsored videoconference in Jerusalem last month, but at the last minute he was told that his participation no longer was required.

State Department officials explained the cancellation as a scheduling matter. But internal department e-mails show that officials in Washington pressed to have other scholars replace the expert, David L. Phillips, who wrote a book, Losing Iraq, that's critical of President Bush's handling of Iraqi reconstruction.

"I was told by a senior U.S. official that the State Department was conducting a screening process on intellectuals, and those who were against the Bush administration's Iraq policy were not welcomed to participate in U.S. government-sponsored programs," Phillips said."

A comparable story appears in today's Washington Post, but seems not to be on the WP website. I wonder why?

Comment: Democracy in the United States has been based on freedom of expression, and the belief of our founding fathers that truth would best be made evident by an open market place of ideas. Smart men those founding fathers! The State Department is supposed to represent all the people of the United States, not just those who support the political party, or more exactly the faction of the political party in power. If the State Department, or some people in the State Department, are applying a political litmus test to speakers, it is wrong for them to do so, other than in the context of assuring that the full range of thought in the United States is represented in our public diplomacy. It is also in the long run ineffective public diplomacy. Foreigners are not stupid, and they will quickly detect what is being done. Censoring opinion will convince others that the United States is not serious about allowing freedom of expression. It will also lead to people ignoring U.S. speakers sent by the State Department because they will be seen as presenting no more than the party line of the group in the White House. JAD