Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bush Administration Reported to Block NPS Refutation of Biblical Age of Grand Canyon

I found the following on the website of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:
"Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)."

This article in the New York Times confirms that scientists have unsuccessfully sought to ban sales of a book at the Grand Canyon that explains the age of the Canyon in biblical terms.

Comment: This actually leaves my speechless! jad

Friday, December 29, 2006

Stem Cell Research: "The 'untouchables' of US science"

The 'untouchables' of US science | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited:

"Over the past five years the imperative of segregating all stem cell research has created a jumble of red tape. This has allowed collaboration to restart, but at a price. In the Eggan lab each piece of equipment is marked with a sticker: green for privately funded machines that can be freely used; red for those bought by the National Institutes of Health, the federal funding body, which must not be used in stem cell research.

The most Kafkaesque is the yellow sticker. This is applied to equipment that is federally owned but where a deal has been reached: whenever a scientist uses the machine they record it in a book and the NIH is reimbursed.

In one room there are two cryostats, used to prepare tissue for the microscope, standing side by side. One has a green sticker, the other red. Someone has put a label above the red machine, showing Mr Bush pointing straight out and saying: 'You there! No human ES cell sectioning on this machine!'"

Crisis in Housing Adds to Miseries of Iraq Mayhem - New York Times

Crisis in Housing Adds to Miseries of Iraq Mayhem - New York Times:

"Now, after more than 10 months of brutal sectarian reprisals, many more Iraqis have fled their neighborhoods, only to wind up often in places that are just as wretched in other ways. While 1.8 million Iraqis are living outside the country, 1.6 million more have been displaced within Iraq since the war began. Since February, about 50,000 per month have moved within the country."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

MATHEMATICAL BIOLOGY: Master Class in Evolutionary Modeling -- Frank 314 (5807): 1878 -- Science

MATHEMATICAL BIOLOGY: Master Class in Evolutionary Modeling -- Frank 314 (5807): 1878 -- Science:

"How does one identify a significant idea? From the purely intellectual perspective, the great mathematician G. H. Hardy gave perhaps the best answer: 'We may say, roughly, that a mathematical idea is 'significant' if it can be connected, in a natural and illuminating way, with a large complex of other mathematical ideas. Thus a serious mathematical theorem, a theorem which connects significant ideas, is likely to lead to important advances in mathematics itself and even in other sciences' (1). Hardy's definition of significance applies not just to mathematics but to any discipline."

SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHING: Don't Pretty Up That Picture Just Yet -- Couzin 314 (5807): 1866 -- Science

SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHING: Don't Pretty Up That Picture Just Yet -- Couzin 314 (5807): 1866 -- Science (Subscription required.)

Jennifer Couzin's article raises an interesting question on the evaluation of information presented in image form. The improvement of digital image processing makes it easier to lie with pictures, as well as to bring to the viewers attention what one feels is important in an image.

I suppose scientists should make the original digital file available online, together with information on how it was made. That should be complemented with the modified image and information on how the modifications were made. Replication of the modified image would be one test. So too would be the willingness of other scientists to accept the interpretation of the meaning of the enhanced image.

Couzin suggests that journalists are becoming more concerned about the veracity of the images that are published, and this seems right and proper.

But there would seem to be a large issue of the images that are posted on the World Wide Web, which may be faked, modified to accentuate the wrong things, or misinterpreted.

The State of Science and Technology in Uganda

Download the entire 77 page report as a Word document.

This report is two years old, but may be of interest. It emphasizes science and technology education, including pre-university S&T education to an unusual degree for such STI assessments. It also emphasizes the importance of engineering services, showing that they relate to a major part of the GDP in Uganda, and that lack of a well engineered infrastructure is holding back economic progress.

I wrote the report with Fred Muhamuza, Sara Farley, and Mike Crawford.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Global Forum: Building Science, Technology, and Innovation Capacity for Sustainable Growth and Poverty Reduction

On February 13-15, 2007, the World Bank, in partnership with UNESCO, UNCTAD, the IDB, DFID, CIDA, and the GRA, will convene a Global Forum on Building Science, Technology, and Innovation Capacity for Sustainable Growth and Poverty Reduction. The Forum will seek to understand the lessons of previous and ongoing STI capacity building experiences and map out new and more effective ways for governments, industry, academia, foundations, and donors to work together to apply STI capacity building to development in low and middle-income countries.
A background paper is available at this website.

UCLA Impact

"With 498 inventions translating into 264 companies, including 77 start-ups - it’s no wonder UCLA generates more than $6 billion in economic activity in Southern California."

Because Los Angeles is so large, with so broad an industrial base, my alma mater may not get the recognition it deserves as a source of technological innovation, while Stanford is recognized for its contribution to Silicon Valley and MIT for the Route 128 Corridor technology innovation clusters.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Holiday Thought

May all countries enjoy

Good policies,

Strong institutions,

Effective organizations,

A strong human capital base, and

A propitious cultural context for development.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Goodbye, Production (and Maybe Innovation) - New York Times

Goodbye, Production (and Maybe Innovation) - New York Times:

"(O)ver the long run, can invention and design be separated from production? That question is rarely asked today. The debate instead centers on the loss of well-paying factory jobs and on the swelling trade deficit in manufactured goods. When the linkage does come up, the answer is surprisingly affirmative: Yes, invention and production are intertwined.

“Most innovation does not come from some disembodied laboratory,” said Stephen S. Cohen, co-director of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy at the University of California, Berkeley. “In order to innovate in what you make, you have to be pretty good at making it — and we are losing that ability.”

Mr. Cohen is a partisan. He was a co-author of the 1987 book “Manufacturing Matters,” one of the first to sound an alarm as imports began to displace domestic output. But even the National Association of Manufacturers, which is supportive of members like Whirlpool and General Electric who shift production abroad, agrees that sooner or later innovation and production must go hand in hand."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"DRUG RESEARCH: WHO Panel Weighs Radical Ideas"

Read the full news story by Martin Enserink from Science magazine (1 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5804, p. 1373).

WHO's Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on Public Health
may consider, is a hotly debated proposal for an international treaty to open up drug discovery, championed since 2002 by James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology in Washington, D.C. Under Love's "R&D Treaty," countries would agree to spend a minimum percentage of gross domestic product on medical research, including a portion for neglected diseases. In addition, the treaty would promote open access to research findings and possibly add R&D incentives. For instance, governments could award big monetary prizes for those who invent important new medicines. Manufacturers would then be free to produce and market them cheaply.

The treaty, recommended in a letter to the World Health Assembly by 162 scientists, health experts, and others last year, "is widely seen as the end of the pharmaceutical industry as we know it," says Anne-Laure Ropars, a researcher at the George Institute for International Health in London.

No wonder the industry is vehemently opposed. The treaty would create an "extremely complicated international bureaucracy," says Eric Noehrenberg of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations in Geneva, adding that the award system would never work. Instead, Noehrenberg offers a different idea: The world should create markets where they currently don't exist. For instance, companies could be enticed with research grants from a "Global Tropical Disease Fund" or the promise of guaranteed sales should they develop an effective new drug.

The industry also contributes through a model called the public-private partnership (PPP). Over the past 10 years, more than two dozen PPPs have sprung up to tackle diseases of the poor. Enlisting industry, academia, governments, and foundations, these partnerships, such as the TB Alliance and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), have produced many new candidate drugs. And the IP protection regime has not been an obstacle, says MMV president Chris Hentschel: "If people spent less time thinking about IP and more about other things, we would make more progress."
Go to the WHO website for the public hearing on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.

"RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Where Is the New Science in Corporate R&D?"

Read the full article by Jerry Thursby and Marie Thursby in Science (8 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5805, pp. 1547 - 1548). (Subscription required.)

The idea that the United States dominates cutting edge science and technology is challenged by the decline in the U.S. share of patents and the growth of corporate spending on research and development (R&D) in emerging countries like China and India. Because scientific discovery is critical to economic growth, these trends have sparked concerns as to what is driving companies to conduct R&D in these countries and the implications for future competitiveness, particularly given problems with the U.S. patent system and improving protection of intellectual property (IP) in emerging economies. Similar concerns pervade European innovation policy initiatives. The popular press has fueled these concerns with reports of R&D moving to emerging countries in search of low costs.........

Here we focus on the type of R&D conducted in different countries and argue that appropriate policies in the face of globalization should focus not only on the factors affecting location but also on the type of R&D conducted.........

Our regression analysis showed that, although quality of R&D personnel affects location decisions, it is not significantly related to the type of science. Cost was significantly related to the type of science with an increase in cost decreasing the ratio of new to familiar science. Growth potential and supporting sales were expected to be more important for familiar than new science, because R&D in those cases is likely to be product localization. An increase in market potential or a facility that supports sales is associated with a decreased ratio of new to familiar science. Results for the two IP factors were similar to those for quality of personnel, in that the IP factors were statistically important in location decisions, but were not significantly related to the ratio of new to familiar science........

The most striking result is that the factors related to universities (presence of university faculty with special expertise and ease of collaboration with universities) had the strongest impact on the type of science conducted.......

for developed economies to maintain an advantage for cutting-edge corporate research, the keys are maintaining excellence and accessibility of research universities. The new science at sites identified by our respondents is largely conducted in developed economies, and this is significantly related to university factors.

Science and Technology Education

Students participating in the FIRST (Female Involvement in Real Science and Technology) program work with their teacher on a gardening project at Fruitvale Elementary School in Oakland, California.
Image courtesy of the U.S. National Science Foundation

Harold Foecke, when decades ago he took over the science education program for UNESCO, helped broaden the focus of that program to include technology education. I worry about economic development, and teaching technology rather than just science strikes me as very important. Foecke’s was in my opinion a real contribution.

In poor countries, people often don’t go to school very long. It seems to me that the way you teach science and technology ought to depend very heavily on how long you will have students in school. It also ought to depend on what those kids will do when they leave school, and the cultures from which they come.

If you only have girls in school for two or three years, and those girls will be the givers of child care and doing the family meals, it may be very important to teach them something in those early years about hygiene and nutrition.

If you only have boys in school for a couple of years, and those boys are going to be doing heavy work, it may be important to teach them something about simple mechanics during those early years – how pulleys and levers work, for example.

In Africa, I am told, those same girls who only go to school a couple of years often do the farming when they grow up, while in other countries the farming is done by males. It seems to me that poor kids in rural areas -- who will only go to school for a couple of years, and will spend many years taking care of crops -- should be given an opportunity to learn some basics about how plants grow, what they get from the soil, and how to protect crops from pests and diseases.

Kids going to school in urban areas, even if they are only likely to have a few years of schooling, may benefit from some of the same lessons as their rural peers, but also from some different lessons. Thus those who are or will be care givers may benefit from hygiene and nutrition lessons, but few urban kids will be expected to be farmers. Those city kids who will work on the factory floor may benefit from information on how machines work.

If the schools can expect to keep children thru secondary education, those schools can take a lot longer to provide opportunities to learn about science and technology. I think that schools serving higher income families even in very poor countries have this chance, so maybe science and technology curricula even in the lower grades should vary according to the economic status of the population served by the school.

I suspect that this common sense approach is very often ignored due to cultural blinders we all too often wear. Of course it is important to train doctors and engineers, and the training for these professions will be long and will require a broad and thorough foundation in science and the relevant techniques. But in our focus on training a knowledge-elite professionally we should not forget to teach what we can to kids who will only go to school for a couple of years; there is a lot of basic science and technology that could serve them in the future.

Similarly, the ideas of science and technology training that come from Japanese, North American or European high schools and colleges may not be too relevant to the needs of poor primary school kids in India or Africa.

The Affect Side of S&T Education

Science and technology education is not just about imparting knowledge and skills, it is also about instilling attitudes. In the United States we are quite concerned that kids in secondary schools learn to like science and math in order that a reasonable portion of secondary school graduates will choose to go on into scientific and technological professions. So too, in developing countries, it is important that sufficient numbers of those kids who can go on into these professions are motivated to do so.

A really important attitude in life relates to where one goes for information. Do you get health information from relatives and neighbors, from traditional practitioners such as midwives and herbalists, or from doctors and nurses? Do you get farming information from neighbors, from religious figures, from astrologers, or from agricultural extension workers. In countries where modern institutions are available sources of high quality technological information, people still may choose to believe “old wives tales” because they seek information from “old wives”. Schools are great places to inculcate the attitude that you get the best health information from the local health center, the best agricultural information from the ag extension worker, or the best educational services from the schools.

Of course, for it to be reasonable attitudes to inculcate in the students, the modern knowledge systems should work better than the traditional ones –not always the case in poor communities.

I wonder how effective UNESCO, the World Bank, and other donor organizations are encouraging the improvement of science and technology education in poor countries?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Farm Subsidies

The Washington Post is running a series of very good articles on farm subsidies.

As Congress prepares to debate a farm bill in 2007, the Washington Post points out that subsidies that grew to more than $25 billion in 2005, despite near-record farm revenue.

The subsidies cost us consumers!

The lobby for farm subsidies, supported by banks, insurance firms, and large agricultural firms, is not out there to protect the "family farm", but the profits of enterprises that are making lots of profits already.

Developing countries note, correctly I believe, that the farm subsidies are unfair to their farmers who could provide cheaper agricultural goods to the United States in an open international market. Not only could they reduce poverty abroad, but they could reduce the taxes we pay to support the big farms and the financial institutions serving those farmers.

The domestic farm subsidies hurt as we seek to convince the Europeans to open their markets to U.S. farm products. The serve to distance us from developing countries which we need as allies in international affairs.

I support reform of the farm legislation, and I suggest that anyone else reading this do so as well.

I was especially impressed by this material from yesterday's article:
The transformation of the family farm from a small, self-contained business to a complex, technology-driven enterprise is seen today in a rapidly changing rural landscape dominated by larger and wealthier farms. That landscape shows a vastly different picture of family farms than the one often evoked by legislators and industry groups: bigger, more industrial than agrarian, with owners wealthier than most Main Street Americans.

In a late-October speech in Indianapolis, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said that, in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, "our farmers' resiliency is evident": Agricultural exports are at a record $68 billion; farm equity has swelled to $1.6 trillion, another record; and farmers' debt-to-assets ratio is at a 45-year low.

"Today, producers grow more crops and handle more livestock more efficiently than at any time in the history of mankind," Johanns said.
Discussing one very efficient and effective farmer, WP notes:
Large farms are a "rational and ethical" response to market demands, he said. His family has farmed there for six generations, Phipps himself for the past three decades. He owns 800 acres outright or with his siblings and rents 1,000 acres. His wife is his main helper and drives one of the trucks that haul up to 700 bushels of corn per load to grain bins. "Imagine that: Two middle-aged people able to farm 1,800 acres," Phipps marveled. "That's all because of the immense technology we have at our hands. We are horrendously efficient."

As his combine churns down the rows of corn, Phipps knows exactly how many bushels he is harvesting, acre by acre, row by row. The information is downloaded to his computer so he can put it in a spreadsheet.
We don't support small manufacturing enterprises because they are run by families, nor do we support the mom and pop corner store for nostalgia's sake. We should let the market encourage innovation and efficiency on the farm as well as in the manufacturing and commerce, I think.

Al Kamen - A Diplomat's Plum Post, Plucked Away -

Al Kamen - A Diplomat's Plum Post, Plucked Away -
"The American Foreign Service Association two months ago protested the selection of mid-level civil servant Diane Zeleny for the job, calling it a 'pre-cooked deal' done by manipulating the process and violating personnel rules. AFSA filed a grievance asking foreign service director general George Staples to 'undo this assignment.'

"Staples did, though he gave Zeleny until next summer to leave Brussels. Staples, in a joint announcement with AFSA chief J. Anthony Holmes, said 'we understand that she is doing an excellent job and is to be commended' for her work. But foreign service officers may now begin applying for the job, they said."
There was a radio broadcast earlier this week in which it was stated that of some 1000 people in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, only 30 speak Arabic, and only 6 of them speak it well. It is hard enough to get really good people into embassies abroad, without stuffing the posts with political appointees. The reason we went to the merit-based career system was that too often in the past the United States was represented by political hacks, unprepared for the posts in which they served.

Foreign Service Officers are the eyes and ears of our government abroad, more so that the intelligence agencies. Not only do they represent the United States to the nationals of the countries in which they serve, our political, economic, military, commercial, and scientific attaches report on the trends and developments in those countries that concern us.

Good for AFSA keeping the principle alive.

What We Wanted to Tell You About Iran - New York Times

What We Wanted to Tell You About Iran - New York Times:

This article in the New York Times suggests that the White House is using national security as a pretext to censor the information available to the U.S. public.

"Agency officials told us that they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rockefeller goes for innovative research funding approach

CNW Telbec:

"The Rockefeller Foundation and InnoCentive today announced that the Foundation will create a non-profit area on InnoCentive's global scientific network,, specifically designed to spur science and technology solutions to pressing development problems. The non-profit Rockefeller Foundation area on InnoCentive's scientific platform will bring to bear the talent of thousands of world-class scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs in solving the most pressing and complex humanitarian challenges posed by non-profit entities selected by the Foundation."

"New publishing rules restrict scientists"

Read the full article by JOHN HEILPRIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS via, December 13, 2006.

The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.......

The new requirements state that the USGS's communications office must be "alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature."

The agency's director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told - prior to any submission for publication - "of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.".......

At the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists and advocacy groups alike are worried about closing libraries that contain tens of thousands of agency documents and research studies. "It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what it likely one of our country's comprehensive and accessible collections of environmental materials," four Democrats who are in line to head House committees wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson two weeks ago.

Democrats about to take control of Congress have investigations into reports by The New York Times and other news organizations that the Bush administration tried to censor government scientists researching global warming at NASA and the Commerce Department.

Comment: Administration spokespersons indicate that the new rules are not intended to censor the science, but simply to insure the quality of the USGS scientific products and to alert the public relations folk to publications that might result in a need for their service. It sounds reasonable, except that the scientific community does not trust the political appointees of the Bush Administration (or really any political appointees) to value scientific accuracy more than political expediency. The Bush Administration is especially suspected of politicizing any scientific results that would potentially threaten business profits, as results from environmental science often do. It also is suspect with regard to an science that bears on human reproduction or the evolution versus creationism controversies. JAD

Monday, December 18, 2006

United States (2006), DAC Peer Review: Main Findings and Recommendations

United States (2006), DAC Peer Review: Main Findings and Recommendations: (This is a report of a study by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

"The United States is a leader in international development co operation because of the large size of its economy, its ability to influence global action and its presence within the international donor community. It is the largest donor in the DAC. Historically, the US has justified its development assistance policies in terms of both recipient country needs and its own foreign policy objectives. The events of 11 September 2001 and the “War on Terror” which grew from them have provided the starting point for a renewed American interest in development co operation. Since that time, the government has used the logic of national security to resuscitate the image of development co operation with Congress and the American public. A variety of policy statements has helped to define the role of development in relation to this national security perspective. Prominent among them, the National Security Strategies of 2002 and 2006 have moved the United States in significant new directions."

InterAcademy Panel Statement on Evolution

"We, the undersigned Academies of Sciences, have learned that in various parts of the world, within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science. We urge decision makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature. Knowledge of the natural world in which they live empowers people to meet human needs and protect the planet.

"We agree that the following evidence-based facts about the origins and evolution of the Earth and of life on this planet have been established by numerous observations and independently derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines. Even if there are still many open questions about the precise details of evolutionary change, scientific evidence has never contradicted these results:
Read what the 68 Academies of Science agree is the best available scientific consensus on evolution.

The AIDS-Malaria Connection - New York Times

The AIDS-Malaria Connection - New York Times:

"AIDS and malaria feed on each other, with disastrous effects.

In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers looked at health records from Kisumu, Kenya, a city of 200,000 with high levels of both diseases. They calculated that the interaction of the diseases increased AIDS cases by 8 percent and malaria by 13 percent. Over 25 years, that meant 8,500 additional AIDS cases and almost a million extra cases of malaria. The researchers drew on earlier findings that H.I.V.-positive people who get malaria experience a six- to eight-week spike in the level of the AIDS virus in their blood. During that spike, they are supercontagious, with double the usual chance of infecting a sexual partner. People with H.I.V. have also been proved more likely to catch malaria.

One important lesson of the study is that protecting H.I.V.-positive people from malaria would also limit the spread of AIDS. They need insecticide-treated bed nets to sleep under, and should take a daily dose of the antibiotic cotrimoxazole. Combining bed nets and cotrimoxazole with antiretroviral therapy reduced malaria cases in H.I.V.-positive people by 95 percent in one study. Cotrimoxazole is cheap, but is not yet widely used in poor countries.

The findings should add extra urgency to the fight against malaria, which has always lagged far behind AIDS in both money and attention. Last week President Bush convened a forum on malaria, but the fact that more than a million people — most of them under 5 — die each year from a disease that is easily preventable and curable speaks volumes."

From the World Bank

The World Bank Science, Technology, and Innovation Publications Webpage:

Review of World Bank Lending for Science and Technology, 1980-2004
From the Introduction: "This analysis measures the amount of World Bank lending to support scientific and technological (S&T) research and S&T capacity building. It devises a taxonomy and methodology for identifying such S&T projects, and differentiates these from other World Bank lending that may be more loosely related to science and technology. The analysis also identifies trends in operational support for science and technology. Trends and initial lessons were also identified in recent related Bank reviews, evaluations, and strategy papers: some key tables and boxes are reproduced here with permission, particularly as annexes to this document, for further illustration and to provide concrete examples and policy/activity options for the Bank in the S&T field."
Michael F. Crawford, C. Cesar Yammal, Hongyu Yang, Rebecca L. Brezenoff, The World Bank, January 16, 2006.

Innovation systems : World Bank support of science and technology development
Abstract: "Innovation systems and science and technology (S&T) projects supported by the World Bank have taken on many forms in the past several years. The Bank's involvement in industrial technology projects started in the 1970s, with Israel and Spain numbering among the first countries to receive support in the form of industrial technology development.1 This paper reviews the lessons learned in S&T projects that have been supported by the Bank, with an emphasis on the examples of the past decade (1989-2003). Projects and their components were included in this review if their objectives included the use of scientific and technological knowledge to improve development. The review included 51 project, in an aggregate amount of over US$4.2 billion; this did not include agricultural research projects where the Bank supported a significant amount of projects world-wide. The amounts invested in individual projects ranged from US$3 million to US$300 million, with a mean project size of about US$58 million. This paper first discusses the concept of the knowledge-based economy (KE) and its relation with the S&T sector, and then identifies the main themes of KE projects, groups them by the four pillars of the knowledge economy, and summarizes the key lessons learned. Since the Bank experience is most substantial in the areas of innovation systems and related policy frameworks, this review focuses on industrial technology development and on building national innovation systems. It touches only briefly on the themes of education, and information and communications technology, with the aim only of providing the proper context for the main study. A List of Projects is included in Box 1, and brief descriptions of these projects in Annex B to this report."
Ekaterina Koryukin, Mohini Bhatia, Priyanka Agarwal, nod K. Goel, The World Bank, 2004/04/01

More About STI and the Least Developed Nations

My friend came back after my last posting, and asked for a few clarifications. Here they are in Q&A Form:


Answer: I suggest that you think of governance of the donor agencies when you consider their objectives. The bilateral agencies respond to their governments, and those governments differ among themselves. They all can get support for humanitarian interventions from their constituencies. Other priorities vary from donor to donor.

The United States government in addition to humanitarian objectives has been interested in geo-political objectives; cold war objectives have been replaced by counter-terrorism objectives, while the Middle East objectives seem to include both support for Israel and concerns for the supply of oil. There was recently a study that pointed out that U.S. aid was increased to developing nations when they got spots on the UN Security Council, and the aid dropped off again when they were replaced.

The Soviet Union, in the days of the Cold War, also based its foreign assistance on what its government perceived as its geopolitical interests. Some countries, such as those in Scandanavia, seem really interested in economic growth per se. The French and English have post-colonial interests, and the French seem to have a cultural interest in the Francophonie. Japan has been seen as especially interested in tying aid to its international economic affairs, and as focusing on an Asian sphere of influence.

The least developed nations have been seen as having relatively little geo-political importance to the great powers. They have been marginal to the global economy and do not have much military clout. Only in the last decade has it become obvious that the failed states constitute a refuge for terrorists who threaten the developed nations.

I don't think it is coincidental that some of the economically most successful countries in the past generation, such as Taiwan, South Korea, Chile, and Israel were seen as key nations in need of development for geo-political reasons, and that some of the countries that did worst such as North Korea and Cuba were seen by the large donors as nations that should be encouraged to fail unless they changed their governance.

Going back to the question of governance, I would suggest that the Development Banks such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the EBRD, and the Asian Development Bank are governed by their Boards. Their governors are elected as the result of a complex formulae, but ones weighted by the contributions of the donor nations.

On the other hand, WHO, FAO, UNIDO, etc. do what their general assemblies tell them to do, and those assemblies are dominated by the G77. Thus these UN agencies focus more on the needs and desires of the 50 least developed nations, since those nations constitute an important voting block. Even these agencies depend heavily on "voluntary contributions" which are controlled by the donors, rather than the dues paid by all member states.

Within the United Nations system, however, the donors exert more control on some of the agencies that do not have one-nation-one-vote governance. The UNDP and some of the other UN agencies that handle money seem, for example, to historically be run by directors chosen by and from the donor nations.


Answer: Oil changes the balance, and Kazakhstan is energy rich! The natural resources make it important for Europe, Russia, China, Japan, and the United States. Turkey I suspect sees it as an important regional ally, including due to its use of a Turkic language. I think its placement as a secular, Muslim culture on the border of a region increasingly dominated by theocratic cultures will make it increasingly geo-politically important.

Kazakhstan, at the end of the Soviet era, had to rebuild political institutions and construct the institutions underlying a market economy, but it had many strong institutions as well. It had an educated population speaking a world language (Russian). With its natural resources providing a source of investment capital, and access to regional markets, it could fairly quickly begin to attract foreign direct investment, and the related infusion of technologies from abroad.

From the point of view of STI, Kazakhstan had at the end of the Soviet era some strong universities, and a network of Institutes of the Academy of Science. It had a world class space technology facility at Baikonur. As a nuclear power, and the home of the test site for Soviet nuclear weapons, it made some strong friendships by decommissioning its nuclear weapons. It will be interesting to see whether Kazakhstan can build on these elements and its economic prospects to develop knowledge based industries.


Answer: I think there is also an issue of the nature of the institutions in poor countries. Look at the Cultural Map of the World, and it is pretty clear that there is something different about the African nations verses the Confucian nations which is strongly related to economic performance and STI performance. I think it is not only human capital, but social capital that results from the nature of the institutions in the Newly Industrializing Countries (NICs).

Some years ago the World Development Report pointed out that at one time Ghana and South Korea had comparable economies, but their economic, industrial and technological trajectories were very different in the later 20th century. I think that the success of South Korea was very important to Japan and the United States after the Korean war, and that as a result of their concern South Korea had advantages (such as access to markets and foreign direct investment) that Ghana did not. On the other hand, I think there were political problems and economic policies in Ghana that were the result of Ghanaian culture and institutions that proved ruinous.

Many years ago USAID funded a project with Georgia Tech to develop industrial extension services aimed at small and medium enterprises. They worked in four countries. A post project evaluation indicated that the project had been wonderfully successful in Korea, and very unsuccessful in the Philippines. I think the difference was that Korea had policies and institutions that fostered rapid economic growth, and as a result there were incentives for technological innovation and improvement. In the Philippines there was not a comparable growth environment, and firms were much more passive technologically.


Answer: The Green Revolution was based on dwarf varieties of rice, wheat and corn that needed fairly heavy inputs (fertilizer, pesticides, improved seeds, irrigation) to achieve high yields. The improved varieties worked where countries used irrigation, and did not work in Africa where grain production was rain-fed. I suggest that the irrigation was needed to reduce the risk of investing in the other inputs. If you spend a lot of money on fertilizer and chemicals, and there is a drought and you get no crop, you have lost a lot of money.

Africa also had war and terrible governance. Its economic policies favored urban consumers over rural producers.

But remember, China and India -- where the Green Revolution was successful -- were full of very poor subsistence farmers before their agricultural success stories. India was seen by many in the 1950's and 60's as a "triage" case that had to be left to periodic famine because it could never adequately feed itself. I don't think you can put the difference in success of improved crop varieties between India and Africa to donors favoring India and being against Africa.


Answer: The idea goes back to some of the early work from the World Bank by Bernard Woods and others. You set up a set of computers linked to the Internet in a community center. There are many ways to do so, and a growing body of information on the "business models" that allow them to be financially viable and to be staffed by people who will keep them working and open to the user community. A key element is of course to provide content so that there is something for the users to use, and to provide training so that they can do so.

But in those circumstances,
* producer-cooperatives can use the kiosk to find markets with good prices for their products,
* educators can download content for their classes and communicate with ministry of education offices for logistic support,
* health service providers can consult with experts on medical problems, report outbreaks of infectious diseases, and order supplies,
* land registration agents can file titles in regional and national depositories.
The list is endless. But the point is that sharing the facilities can result in a package of benefits that support the technology, even where a poor nation can not afford Internet connectivity in every cooperative office, school or health post.

Check Somos Telecentros or the Development Gateway list of telecenter links for a lot more information.

Concluding remarks: I think science and technology must play an important role in the development of the least developed nations. A key element in such a process is to improve productive technology in order to improve economic productivity. The least developed nations have agricultural economies based in subsistence production, and so it is important to increase the productivity of the subsistence farms. In part this is done by providing better seed and helping farmers to use that seed effectively. In part it is done by improving the infrastructure so that they can begin to participate in a market economy and can begin to benefit from modern inputs. And in part it is done by using science based approaches to understanding soils, water resources, crop pest problems, and crop diseases in order to help the farmer be more productive.

The humanitarian concern for basic educational and health services can also be seen as investing in human capital for the least developed nations, in the sense that these services will also help to improve the productivity of the work force. Thus innovations in public health technology and drawing on science-based approaches to better understand health problems provide double benefits -- both serving humanitarian ends and contributing to increased economic productivity.

Eventually, one hopes, the least developed nations will develop manufacturing industries and will also develop knowledge-based industries. But they will have to learn to walk before they learn to run. There are comparative advantages among nations, and the least developed nations do not have the institutions, the human capital, nor other factors now to compete with the NICs in manufacturing, nor with the most developed nations in knowledge based industries.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

STI for the Least Developed Nations

A friend and colleague asked me what I thought were good practices in science, technology and innovation (STI) in the context of the 50 least developed nations. I thought I would share the thoughts I sent back to her.

The least developed nations have largely subsistence economies based on agriculture. Not only are their per capita GDPs tiny, they spend a very small portion of those GDPs on R&D. Their ability to absorb S&T trained personnel are severely limited, and brain drain is a problem. Indeed, they have achieved the status of least developed by failing to successfully grow their economies. Their rates of technological innovation are low in large part because there are few incentives to such innovation.

I think that countries make a transition in science, technology and innovation as part of social and economic development. The transition is most obvious as countries join in industrialization. The data suggest that they increase not only per capita GDP, but the portion of GDP spent on STI during the course of industrialization. That suggests also that the development makes it possible for countries to take better advantage of STI investments as they develop their institutions.

For the least developed countries, I think there is a problem of applying appropriate technologies to their immediate problems, to the degree that they can accept, adopt and master those technologies, while laying the groundwork for future development. I think that it is a hard task. There is perhaps more experience in agriculture and health than in other sectors in this process, but I think donor agencies have not been very effective.

The problem is exacerbated in small, poor nations. Countries like China and India, even when they were very poor, has sufficiently large populations and national economic products that they could afford nuclei of STI excellence. Small poor nations can only obtain the nuclei on a shared basis, and the problems that have kept these nations poor have also often kept them from collaboration. Only where there has been long term, outside donor support have regional STI centers seemed sustainable, and the donors do not like to provide this kind of support -- it has very little political appeal either domestically or in terms of foreign policy.

The best practice for donors in the poorest nations includes a focus on humanitarian priorities, seeking to apply science, technology and innovation to reducing hungers, reducing the burden of disease on the poor, and affordable and usable techniques to reduce poverty (e.g. the GrameenPhone system in which village women in Bangladesh get micro-credit loans to buy cell phones which they rent to neighbors on a per-call basis illustrates that the approach need not be limited to traditional technologies.)

I suspect that the current enthusiasm for innovation underplays the importance of regular technology services. Countries don't work well if their infrastructure is weak, and it takes a lot of routine, day to day engineering to keep up and running well the roads and railroads, ports and power networks, aquaducts and sewerage. So too, there is a lot of day to day work in agriculture, public health, and other fields that requires journeyman technological skills. It is critically important that these be present in a developing nation.

Thus "best practice" involves building key professional capacity that can be absorbed by poor economies in substantive areas critical to poverty reduction such as public health, crop disease control, pest control, zoonosis control, and civil engineering Training those professionals of course will do little good unless they can be embedded in institutions in which they can function professionally and effectively, and that in turn implies a socio-economic climate and policy framework in which professionals can function. Produce more professionals than you can pay, or fail to provide them with the tools and opportunity to work productively and those professionals leave, reducing the payoff to the educational subsidies that they have generally received from the state.

Thus an important approach has been to encourage policy changes and institutional development in such countries. Uganda might be an example, looking back since 1986, the country reformed it economic policies and has made considerable progress rebuilding its institutions. It has consequently seen some real successes in the period in terms of technological innovations, notably in techniques to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, in improving agricultural productivity, in creating new export industries (cut flowers, fish). I suggest that it is important to recognize that these STI benefit came as the result of fundamental changes in national policy and governance.

Doing STI in rich countries for the benefit of the poor

The donors also play a key role in developing core technologies that can be adapted to local needs in developing nations. Where market mechanisms don't work, direct subsidies for R&D are important. That was the case in the past for crop technologies, and the reason for the development of the International Agricultural Research Center network. The Green Revolution has got to be counted as one of the great successes of STI in development of the least developed nations. This approach is still important for some areas, such as development of communications techniques for public health messages and innovations in techniques to improve primary education. The development and introduction of oral rehydration therapy might be seen as a more recent example of an innovative technique that would not have developed without donor subsidized R&D and donor subsidized dissemination.

There has been more effort lately to complement market mechanisms where they are inadequate. The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and the Gates Foundation efforts come to mind. I would note that the development of agricultural biotechnology and the seed industry have given more impetus to private sector approaches to crop development, leaving the CGIAR to consider modifications of its historic role.

Of course it does little good to develop the core technologies unless they can be adapted, adopted and utilized. The agricultural system, with its linkages among international research centers, national crop research stations, and agricultural extension systems illustrates an approach that has been useful in many places in the past.

Think also about the role of the World Health Organization in promoting appropriate technological innovation in developing nations. For example, it (with the WTO) has provided a forum for discussion of pharmaceutical pricing and IPR licensing, as well as a source of advice on pharmaceutical policy for health service delivery systems in developing nations. Its work to establish the etiology of infectious diseases, and to establish international standards for diagnosis and treatment of such diseases have been very important in helping developing nations figure out standards for health care.

More on technology dissemination.

This is a difficult issue in the least developed nations. One aspect is how to link traditional knowledge and technology systems, which still hold the allegiance of the poor majority, with modern sources of knowledge and technology. Another is how to build allegiance to modern systems -- how do you get an agricultural extension system or a primary health care system to actually make appropriate knowledge and technology available, and how do you build the demand for the services of those systems? There are in fact a lot of good practices that have been developed in these areas -- ranging from paraprofessional delivery of services to integration of primary with secondary and tertiary service systems.

One of the points you might make is the failure to take lessons from one sector, abstract them, and apply them in other sectors. Another is the importance of developing multisector approaches. Take for example, the utility of community kiosks that can provide linkages for knowledge and technology to entire groups of local agents -- teachers, health workers, ag extension workers, SME extension workers, micro-finance workers -- in the rural communities of poor nations.

There is also the problem of South-South spread of STI. Poor people know a lot! Think of the spread of crops between the Western and Eastern hemisphere after Columbus as an example of the impact that traditional technologies can have when they are made widely available. The indigenous knowledge movement is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to improve the abysmal lack of communication of knowledge and technology among poor nations. I personally have some hopes for a technological fix in this respect, as ICT makes international and intercontinental communication much easier. If we see some real advances in machine translation, so that people who have not mastered an international language can communicate with each other, that would be a big step forward. I suspect that such a step will be made in the next generation or two.

Worst Practices

You might also consider a section on the worst common practices. I would volunteer as a candidate for that section, the practice of importing consultants to least developed countries for technical work without incorporating nationals into the process. When the consultant leaves, there is no residual knowledge or skill. There might be an additional cost and some delay in getting local engineers and other technological professionals into the processes, and that would not put all of the money in the donor nation's consulting organizations, but it would do a lot for capacity building.

World Report on Knowledge for Better Health

World Report on Knowledge for Better Health: The 2004 Report of the World Health Organization.

"The Report focuses on bridging of the 'know do' gap, the gulf between what we know and what we do in practice, between scientific potential and health realization. The bridging of this gap is central to achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) by 2015. The gap exists for each of the MDG’s and represents a fundamental and pragmatic knowledge translation challenge that must be addressed to strengthen health systems performance towards achieving the MDG’s.

The Report will expound the message that we must turn scientific knowledge into actions, which improves people’s health, and that health improvement through knowledge applications is a critical factor in human development and alleviation of ill-health and poverty worldwide."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Support to Science, Technology and Knowledge for Development: A Snapshot of the Global Landscape

Support to Science, Technology and Knowledge for Development: A Snapshot of the Global Landscape:

"This study seeks to provoke thought and discussion around the degree to which donors — foundations, bilaterals, and multilaterals — emphasize science, technology, and knowledge for development in the provision of development assistance. Beginning with an exploration of the particularities of the current state of science and technology and the international context in which the products and processes of science and technology are funded, created, used, adapted, and disseminated, the paper provides a brief description of the origins of the approach to this study followed by a synopsis of the key trends in donor support to science, technology, and knowledge for development that emerged from the interviews encapsulated in the stand-alone chapters."

Friday, December 15, 2006

USGS Scientists Object To Stricter Review Rules -

USGS Scientists Object To Stricter Review Rules -

"A new Bush administration policy for reviewing scientific documents before publication has angered some U.S. Geological Survey scientists, who say the elaborate internal review of their work may impede them from conveying information to the public.

The new requirements, which were unveiled in July but are still being put into practice, call for staff scientists to submit all reports and prepared talks to managers to determine whether they meet the agency's scientific standards. They also require researchers to alert the agency press office of any work involving 'potential high visibility products or policy-sensitive issues.'"

The Week - News Article

The Week - News Article:

"The slave trade is now the third largest type of illegal trade in the world, after drugs and weapons, according to the U.S. State Department. Between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders each year, the State Department reports, with up to 17,500 of them entering the U.S. The International Labor Organization estimates that slave trading generates $31 billion annually. The traders seem to be getting increasingly brazen: In June, British authorities announced that 'slave auctions' were being held in public places in airports, with brothel keepers bidding on women arriving, under duress, from Eastern Europe. 'This is a new area,' says Vernon Coaker, Britain's top domestic security official. 'It's something five, 10 years ago perhaps, people very rarely talked of.' "

The Role of Universities in African Development

I have been looking at a project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank to support Makerere University and its partner institutions as they sought to provide services to local governments and to strengthen their capacity to serve their nation. The project focused on building capacity in agriculture, education, engineering, health and public administration. I think the most important lesson from the project is:
There are scarce but untapped resources in the higher education system in Africa that can be relatively quickly and efficiently brought to bear on critical social and economic problems, and in the process higher education can be made more relevant and of higher quality.
Universities are communities of scholars. Those scholars have differing goals and objectives, and to the extent that there are goals of the university community as a whole they must be composite goals. People in Uganda, like people everywhere, want a good life for themselves and their families. The university community in Uganda, like such communities in other countries, aculturates its initiates into certain values, including professionalism and interest in certain kinds of knowledge and skills. From my contacts with members of the community, they often share an interest in the social and economic development of their nation.

I was impressed when Nakanyike Musisi, in a meeting two weeks ago, mentioned the evolution of ideas about universities in Uganda and developing nations in general. She suggested that in the Colonial period Makerere had specific goals and objectives that were linked to improving service and producing well trained people to serve the colonial government (under the direction of colonial authorities). In the early independence period, the goal was to create civil servants answerable to development goals of the newly independent nation. The 1960's saw a number of theorists, importantly from USAID's efforts to strengthen university capacity in developing nations, who discussed the "development university". This was a period in which bricks and mortar were important to building physical facilities, as were training a generation of new faculty, and providing technical assistance in the development of courses and curricula. I have been impressed however, that those theorists also emphasized the need to build linkages between institutions of higher education and government, funders, labor markets, and others. Practical hands on training and relevant skills development characterized the post crisis period in Uganda -- since the mid 1980's. Dr. Musisi sees the current university reforms seeking to combine all these goals as it learns from history.

Perhaps because I spent part of the summer looking at Kazakhstan's emergence from the Soviet system, I am also impressed by the impact of alternative models of education. I think Makerere University was originally heavily influenced by the British model, in which the university was seen as educating an elite. Perhaps with the involvement of the Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and MacArthur Foundations, there has been a strong impact of U.S. models, in which education, service and knowledge generation are combined, with a more egalitarian and merit based approach.

I was trying to explain Uganda, from my admittedly limited perspective, to some friends and family. The period from say 1970 to 1986 -- the Crisis Period -- was terrible. Hundreds of thousand of people were killed. The per capita GDP was reduced by more than 40 percent. The infrastructure deteriorated. At the end of the period, Makerere University students sought shelter as revolutionary forces and government forces exchanged fire across the campus.

Since then, stability has been restored in the country, and conflict has been limited to border areas and cattle rustling rather than the wholesale violence with people everywhere afraid to leave their homes. Economic growth has been rapid and substantial, government services have expanded, and the infrastructure has been significantly restored. Ugandans are concerned about many remaining problems, but will think twice about disturbing the sources of recent progress.

Makerere University is the oldest institution of higher education in East Africa. I believe that in the post-colonial period it enjoyed a very high reputation for the excellence of its educational opportunities, and that the research its faculty did was of international importance. Still, it was also seen as serving only a small minority of students, inadequate to meet the nation's needs, and training them in an elitist fashion, not well suited to the growth of a new nation. I guess that the university barely survived the crisis. It has been challenged by the recovery period, as its enrollment exploded. Resources of all sorts have been strained. Still, it forms the keystone of Uganda's higher education system, and is playing a key role in educating students, creating knowledge, and providing services to the Ugandan nation.

The Innovations at Makerere Project (I@Mak) that I studied was successful in improving the capacity of the university to train agricultural extension workers, secondary teachers, engineers, health professionals, and civil servants to take roles in service provision in Uganda. Those skills are crucially important, and indeed have been the topic of this blog for years. I wonder, however, it there are not still more important functions for the university in Africa.

In that context, I have been wondering about the differences between the United States and Uganda, and which ones account for the differences in performance between the two countries. Of course, one is the depth of the human resource base. The education level in the United States is very high as that in Uganda is very low. But the United States worked pretty well as a nation before it achieved the current high standards of education.

Both nations have English as the national language. I live in a county in which one-third of the households speak another language at home, but there is a strong effort that everyone speaks English, and all the kids that go to school here seem to come out speaking English well. In contrast, I recall chatting with an American consultant in Kampala; she told me that concerned with the difficulties her Ugandan colleagues were having communicating in English, she suggested that the speak in their own language among themselves; she was informed that English was the only common language that they shared. English in the United States is established by the existence of a literature in the language and by the content popular culture. It is the main language of the media, of politics, and of the law and law enforcement.

There are strong institutions in the United States. For example, rule of law is strong. That means not only do the laws exist, and the police powers and courts to enforce them, but there is a wide spread cultural belief in the rule of law. While some people break the laws, most people believe that they should not do so. People believe that politicians and civil servants should serve the public, and that corruption in office is wrong. Trust based economic systems work reasonably well, because people are reasonably trustworthy. I fear that the cultural basis for many modern institutions are weak in Uganda.

Uganda is a tribal society, and it appears that often allegiance to tribe is more important than national identity. The United States is a multi-ethnic society, and while many hold dear a strong ethnic identity, few doubt that their allegiance to the nation trumps that to their ethnic group. German and Japanese Americans fought against Germany and Japan in World War II. Arab Americans are serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.

Culture in the United States is modern, with an emphasis on beliefs based on science and evidence rather than on tradition. Superstitions exist, but superstitious people are less respected than the more modernly rational. People look to modern education systems for knowledge rather than to traditional authority figures. They look to modern health services rather than to traditional practitioners, to modern sources for economic and financial information rather than to sources of a more traditional nature.

I suspect that the higher education system in the United States has been for many decades a leading source of modern culture in all these senses. I suspect that Uganda and other African nations are going to have to modernize in many of these ways for nation building and social and economic development. I see few institutions other than those of higher education that can lead in that modernization.

I suggest that this modernizing mission of the university may be more important than just that of training the cadres of professional workers. That mission involves the generation of culture as well as knowledge. It involves the transmission of cultural values and attitudes as well as curation of collections of cultural artifacts. Universities would seem to be the place to prepare the curricula for the education system as a whole through which the culture may be modernized, as well as to prepare those who will utilize those curricula. It is a critical place to develop and promote the institutional innovations that will modernize the nation.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kofi Annan at the Truman Library

"We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please."
Harry Truman

The five lessons:
First, we are all responsible for each other's security.

Second, we can and must give everyone the chance to benefit from global prosperity.

Third, both security and prosperity depend on human rights and the rule of law.

Fourth, states must be accountable to each other, and to a broad range of non-state actors, in their international conduct.

My fifth and final lesson derives inescapably from those other four. We can only do all these things by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the unique instrument bequeathed to us by Harry Truman and his contemporaries, namely the United Nations.
(N)o nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others. We all share responsibility for each other's security, and only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves. And I would add that this responsibility is not simply a matter of states being ready to come to each other's aid when attacked – important though that is. It also includes our shared responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – a responsibility solemnly accepted by all nations at last year's UN summit . That means that respect for national sovereignty can no longer be used as a shield by governments intent on massacring their own people, or as an excuse for the rest of us to do nothing when such heinous crimes are committed......

And states need to play by the rules towards each other, as well as towards their own citizens. That can sometimes be inconvenient, but ultimately what matters is not convenience. It is doing the right thing. No state can make its own actions legitimate in the eyes of others. When power, especially military force, is used, the world will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose – for broadly shared aims – in accordance with broadly accepted norms......

Accountability between states is highly skewed. Poor and weak states are easily held to account, because they need foreign assistance. But large and powerful states, whose actions have the greatest impact on others, can be constrained only by their own people, working through their domestic institutions. That gives the people and institutions of such powerful states a special responsibility to take account of global views and interests, as well as national ones.......

I have continued to press for Security Council reform. But reform involves two separate issues. One is that new members should be added, on a permanent or long-term basis, to give greater representation to parts of the world which have limited voice today. The other, perhaps even more important, is that all Council members, and especially the major powers who are permanent members, must accept the special responsibility that comes with their privilege. The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests. It is the management committee, if you will, of our fledgling collective security system.

As President Truman said, “the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world." He showed what can be achieved when the US assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the US remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky's the limit.......

You Americans did so much, in the last century, to build an effective multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. Do you need it less today, and does it need you less, than 60 years ago?

Surely not. More than ever today Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world's peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition.


I have been reading Charles Mann's 1491. Good book! I recommend it.

The History

It tells a surprising amount of the pre-Columbian history of the Western Hemisphere, at least an amount that surprised me. It seems that not only has it been possible to reconstitute histories because the Mayan writings have been deciphered, but there are a fair number of writings by native Americans and Spanish from the 16th century that tell histories. Combining these with anthropological information, a lot is known.

I must admit, that history of warfare and the stories of kings and warriors seemed not very interesting, and not something I would want to remember. It was interesting that so much could be recovered. A fair amount of history of the conquest also gets retold.

Mann makes the point that the Columbian exchange brought Eurasian diseases to the previously unexposed native American populations, and that as a result perhaps 95 percent of the peoples of the 1491 population of the Western Hemisphere died off. With the crash of their populations, ways of life crumbled. The European Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries simply did not understand that the tribal civilizations that they knew were merely the tattered ruminant of older, much richer civilizations.

Mann suggests that this earlier history was temporarily lost but is being reclaimed. He is perhaps is too kind to the Europeans. The Spanish – who, for example, burned the Mayan codexes -- were clearly trying to disempower their subject people, and succeeded in doing so in part by denying their histories. The Europeans of various brands tended to describe the peoples that they were dominating and exploiting as less than themselves, and their exploitation as a civilizing mission. The seem to have succeeded well in writing history as they wanted it to be.

Archaeological Evidence

The book draws on archaeology to show the rise and fall of many urban cultures. It makes the point that time and again, the greatest American cities were larger and more impressive than the comparable European cities of their time. It also suggests, as one might expect considering histories of Europe, Africa and Asia, that urban societies fell time and again. I think, however, that the book suggests that there was some cultural learning taking place in the region as a whole. In 1401 there were more people living in cities and large political entities than at earlier periods. I believe the book suggests that an increasing ability to produce food was the critical element in allowing large populations and larger political entities to form.

Mann also draws on information from physical geography and climatology. He goes back to the debate on when the first people arrived in the Western Hemisphere, drawing on relatively recent studies that suggest a longer pre-history than did earlier studies. He makes the point that before Columbus, there were maybe 100 million inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, the descendents of people who had lived here for thousands of years. He looks at the civilizations who have left impressive ruins -- in Mexico, the Andes, and the Peruvian coast, as well as the Anasazi, Cahokia mounds, etc. to demonstrate the advanced civilizations that existed “among the savages”.

He perhaps misses the point that there can be very rich cultures without leaving archaeological ruins. The Navajo are an example of a culture with a rich heritage of philosophy and religion, who were not builders of pyramids. Think of Homer or of other classic epics written by people who did not have cultures richly endowed with material goods.

The History of History

The book spends some time on historiography, considering why historians have not in the past covered native American history. I think the discussion is in part one of the growth of knowledge accumulated by the work of many scholars over time. Mann also, of course, points out that historians (and anthropologists) are people of their times, and sometimes make culturally based assumptions or interpretations that do not stand the test of time; that they are argumentative and will sometimes hold a position too long in the face of contrary evidence.

I think there are issues with popular history that he might have addressed. The movies and pulp fiction were not interested in the real native Americans, but something akin to science fiction, but they left a lasting impression in American society. Mann points out, correctly I think, that in Mexico and some other nations of Latin America, popular culture was kinder to the native American heritage.

Perhaps more of concern is the collection of history text books in U.S. schools that don't tell the story of the pre-Columbian American peoples, as that story is known today to experts in the field. I can not but suspect that the text book approval boards in key large states are more interested in preserving a mythical American past favorable to the cowboys than in providing a more accurate and credible version to the youth of the country. European history before Columbus is more taught than American history in U.S, schools!

The Human Built Environment

One of Mann's themes is that the environment of the Americas in 1491 was already a human artifact. He makes the point especially in his discussion of the Amazon basin, where more than 100 edible trees and plants are widely distributed. (I remember the shock of walking into a juice bar in Colombia the first time and finding it had 100 juices, most of which I had never heard of.) He cites evidence that this is because the peoples of the region fostered the wide distribution of these useful plants. But he also mentions the use of fire by plains Indians in North America to manipulate the environment.

I think it is reasonable to assume that 100 million or so people living in this hemisphere had a big impact on the environment. Indeed, given that their ancestors were also having an impact for thousands of years, it seems likely that there was a strongly human affected American environment in 1491. However, the native America people used less energy than we do, and had not only a less mechanical culture, but did not have large animals. So there were limits to the impact that they could have on the environment. But fire used to clear land is a technology that has large scale impact, and draws upon the energy in the available biomass.

In later, agricultural days before the Spanish arrival, people in the Andes made damns and terraces. The terraces in Peru are indeed impressive, and were the raised bed agricultural areas and canals left in other areas of the Americas. But these are relatively limited in extent, as compared with the overall size of the North and South American continents.

I have been wondering how much impact a hunting and gathering society could have. Clearly hunters can exert considerable leverage in affecting the environment. Reducing the predators that competed with humans for bigger game could have had wide impacts on grazing animals, which in turn might have affected plant communities when done with increasing effect over thousands of years. So too might humans have changed the density of prey species, and thereby affected the larger environment.

Mann looks at the possible effect of native Americans promoting the growth of trees that produce the rich fruit assortment in the tropics, and the mast (nuts and acorns) of the forests of what is now the eastern United States. He does not focus on the effect of such people in reducing the biomass of trees that they don't utilize. It seems to me that it is relatively more simple to kill a tree that is not useful than to plant and grow one that is useful. You ring the bark of a large tree, or just pull up the shoot of a small tree. If people over thousands of years eliminated trees that they didn't want, then the surviving population of trees would be enriched with the desired species.

Mann makes the interesting point that when 95 percent of the population were killed off after 1491, there would have been large scale environmental changes. Populations of animals that had been kept in check by man might have exploded, with further repercussions on other species. That seems obvious once it is said. Mann focuses on the passenger pigeon and the bison, and I don't know whether their populations exploded as he suggests. But is seems likely that the early European settlers were not only dealing with environments that were heavily affected by humans before 1491, but that were also in a state of flux as a result of the crash of those pre-Columbian populations. Combine that with the flux due to the introduction of European, Asian and African species, and of the new, more energy intensive culture brought by the settlers, and you have an environment that would seem really hard to understand.

Mann suggests that this environmental history is being manipulated for political ends. Conservationists tend to downplay the importance of human impact on the environment, allowing them to advocate a preservation of the "pristine environment" where it remains. Others emphasize that the native Americans had impact on the environment too, suggesting that it is OK for European Americans to continue to have a big environmental impact. I suspect he is right that people do seek to pick and choose the information that they believe and they communicate to others in ways that promote the interests that they hold dear.

The Commercial

Real knowledge and understanding of the past human impacts on the environment, and of past cultures and their achievements, seem important for themselves, and as a guide to future action. The fact that others may have affected the environment in the past would not seem to remove from us the obligation to do the best we can to protect and manage the environment now for the future. Recognition that pre-Columbian peoples had a rich cultural heritage that was all but destroyed in wave after wave of epidemic diseases might make us more respectful of their survivors and more thoughtful about our own future.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Scientific Evidence Versus Church Dogma

"Famed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey is giving no quarter to powerful evangelical church leaders who are pressing Kenya's national museum to relegate to a back room its world-famous collection of hominid fossils showing the evolution of humans' early ancestors.......

"Leaders of Kenya's Pentecostal congregation, with six million adherents, want the human fossils de-emphasized.

"'The Christian community here is very uncomfortable that Leakey and his group want their theories presented as fact,' said Bishop Bonifes Adoyo, head of the largest Pentecostal church in Kenya, the Christ is the Answer Ministries.

"'Our doctrine is not that we evolved from apes, and we have grave concerns that the museum wants to enhance the prominence of something presented as fact which is just one theory,' the bishop said."

Comment: The Bishop seems willing to impose restrictions on the vast majority of people, Kenyans, and Christians who think that the evidence for human evolution should be on view. Of course he believes his doctrine is right, but he might notice that there have been a lot of doctrinal disputes in the past among Christians, and not all the participants in those could have been right. I say, let the evidence be viewed. JAD