Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Europe in the global competition for talent

"Europe's “blue card” plan: Not the ace in the pack"
The Economist, October 25th 2007

"The best educated seem keener to go almost anywhere but the European Union. In Australia nearly a tenth of the employed population are highly qualified foreigners, in Canada more than 7% and in America just over 3%. The EU manages a paltry 1.7%, or roughly 70,000 highly skilled non-Europeans in the workforce."

Of course, Australia and Canada have relatively small populations, so a small number of immigrants makes a large change in the workforce. But still, why is the U.S. unable to attract more of the best and the brightest from abroad? I suppose a part of the explanation is that so many immigrants have become U.S. citizens. Still, if the Aussies can manage ten percent of the workforce as highly qualified foreigners, the U.S. should not worry about increasing from three percent.

e-Government Leadership, CIOs and e-Champions

I attended a seminar yesterday titled "The Human Factor in Re-engineering Government: e-Government Leadership, CIOs and e-Champions". I found it stimulating. It certainly included a number of speakers, each of whom had years of important and useful experience. The video is online in case you want to watch.

The emphasis of the speakers was on the importance of leadership from the top. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of organizations are needed who understand ICT and its application in government, and who support the reengineering of the organizations that they head. Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are needed who understand the technology, the organization and its purposes, how to manage the ICT staff of the organization, and how to link with the CEO and senior staff. I can't disagree with this position. It is nice to have effective leadership in reengineering government organizations from great CEOs and CIOs.

What is wrong with this position?

But what do you do if you don't have that happy situation? What if the Dilbert conditions apply, and you are faced with pointy-headed managers who don't manage very well? (Dilbert, according to Scott Adams a few days ago, had the following dialog with the trashman:
D: Why does it seem that most of the decisions in my workplace are made by drunken lemurs?

T: Decisions are made by people who have time, not talent.

D: Why are the talented people so busy?

T: They are fixing the problems made by the people who have time.)
A speaker from Sri Lanka mentioned in the meeting that there were 600 CIOs in that small developing country. The odds are overwhelming that not all of them can be good, nor unfortunately are all of the 600 CEOs in their 600 organizations likely to be paragons of virtuous e-leadership.

Assume for the moment that there is an index of the ICT leadership quality of CEOs and one for CIOs. Then, for the sake of this argument, we may assume that CEOs are distributed around some average value, half better than average and half worse than average. So too, we can assume that half the CIOs are better than average, half worse than average.

What does that mean? Assume perfect correlation: that the better the CEO then the better the CIO he is able to recruit. Then half of all organizations would have the sad experience of being led by worse than average CEOs and worse than average CIOs. Alternatively, assume zero correlation. Then three-quarters of organizations would either be led by a worse than average CEO or a worse than average CIO. Are we to write off these organizations because they don't enjoy the quality leadership in their formal authority structure that is desired?

Guerilla leadership.

Leadership can be the result of "legitimate" authority conferred by top positions in the hierarchy of a formal organization. However, some authority is from expertise. (I started out working in research laboratories in which we had a manager and a chief scientist. The manager had formal authority for most purposes, but the chief scientist had the authority of expertise legitimated by a formal position in the organizational structure of the lab.) People look to those around them who best understand the situation and what needs to be done for leadership, Leadership can also be established by initiative, by the person who gets out in front and leads.

What is the likelihood that the person with most talent for intellectual leadership in reengineering for e-government in a large organization is also the person with the formal role of CEO or CIO in that organization? Probably fairly small. Indeed, a couple of the speakers in the seminar suggested that a critical role for the formal leaders was to empower those subordinates in the formal organization who had the needed talent, and to reward them when they exercised that needed intellectual leadership. Anyway, we all know that it is the younger people among us who most often identify with the new technologies and with new ways of doing things, while formal leadership roles in large organizations most often go to older folk with experience and the authority attributed to age.

My words are for those who have the needed talent in greatest abundance, but who do not enjoy formal authority nor the luxury of good leadership from above. First, form a coalition with like minded, comparably talented members of your organization. Then form a "gorilla movement" within the organization to educate and inform the others in your organization of the potential benefits of e-government, and processes needed to successfully reengineer the organization in order to achieve those benefits and avoid the potential pitfalls. Remember, the formal organization is just a cultural construct. It is not a reality like a tree or a rock. Some of your most valuable allies will be found outside the nominal boundaries of your formal organization -- in academia, industry, civil society, and other government agencies. Bring them in as consultants, advisers, speakers and guest experts.

Paradigm shifts

I remember when personal computers were called word processors, and had very limited software. In my government agency at the time there was a formal policy that only secretaries could have these simple personal computers, and professional staff could not use them. I recall later when in 1992 I organized a seminar in my agency on inter-networking, and people wondered what it was and why a government agency might be interested in so esoteric a concept. I have lived through the paradigm shifts that lead to a personal computer for every staff member, networked to the Internet, with universal use of the world wide web in large organization in most of the world.

Invariably, in my experience, the intellectual leadership in the early stages of these paradigm shifts within government agencies came from mid-level staff within the agencies or from outside advisers and consultants. During yesterday's seminar, someone mentioned Chandrababu Naidu, who while Chief Minister in Andhra Pradesh (India) provided the leadership to transform his government through the use of information technology. Others have told me of his combined intellectual leadership, formal leadership, and initiative, and I am really impressed. But he is the extreme high-end tail of the CEO e-government leadership distribution. Do not wait for a Naidu to appear to lead when the next IT paradigm shift approaches. The chances are 1000 to one he will not appear in your organization.

John Maynard Keynes said, "practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." Isaac Newton said, "if I have seen further....it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." I suspect that even Dr. Naidu would acknowledge that his success in Andhra Pradish owed much to the intellectual leadership of people who convinced him that e-government was a right step for the future of Andhra Pradesh, and that the line of influence traces back to some (probably now defunct) e-government theorist.

A question from the audience

In the seminar a member of the audience noted that it is well established that most IT project fail. On the other hand, governments almost everywhere are far more computerized and networked than they were a couple of decades ago. That is an apparent contradiction. He asked how that conundrum could be resolved.

Perhaps part of the answer is that much progress occurred virally. Set up the right climate, reward innovation, permit experimentation recognizing that most experiments will fail, and a thousand flowers will bloom.

(Another part of the answer is that the process of creating a technological system like that of e-government is not adequately described in terms of projects, and that there are externalities from projects which do not meet their nominal objectives which contribute significantly to the development of the overall system supporting e-government.)

There is of course a suitable place for the planning of major initiatives. Interoperability of systems is important, and will generally not be achieved without leadership from the top and coordination among organizational units and different organizations. Economies of scale are available, sometimes large, and again require collective action to achieve that scale.

However, one of the paradigm shifts I remember was when the networked personal computers came in over the resistance of the managers of central mainframe computer departments in large organizations. Centralization can be the bureaucratic enemy of viral progress, The trick is to manage a process in which centralization and planning as well as decentralization and individual initiative are each allowed to play their appropriate roles.

Superstition versus expert knowledge

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, "Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets," makes the point that with thousands of people in leadership roles, some of them will by chance be more successful than others. Those riding the advancing wave of the Information Revolution, like those riding the advancing wave of a bull stock market, are likely to be successful on the average. People being people, the successful will seek retroactively to understand the reasons for their success. Indeed, people being people, they and we will tend to attribute success to superior performance. Taleb suggests that success is often due to the luck of being at the positive end of a random distribution. His experience in the stock market indicates that over the long run, more cautious investors who realize that things can go wrong may outperform those who shine in the short run with aggressive tactics. He knows that attribution of wisdom to the traders who shone brightest during the bull market may be a false attribution. He suspects, and I suspect, that attributing unusual wisdom to those who ride to success on other favorable circumstances is also often a mistake.

We know that correlation is not causality. Superstitious beliefs occur when we observe correlation and assume causality. Indeed, most cultures for most of history seem to have been marked by superstitious beliefs about the nature of the world. CEOs and CIOs who have presided over successful e-government innovation programs seem to me likely to form superstitious beliefs about "what they did that achieved those successes". Listen to them because they like to be listened to. They may be right about the reasons for their success. But.....

On the other hand, there are organizational scientists who conduct systematic observations of large organizations guided by theory. Theirs is a descriptive science, but a science nonetheless. They too may be wrong in their conclusions, their paradigms for understanding leadership may change, but theirs is a form of knowledge that provides an important counterpoint to that of the practitioner.

Final words

Ultimately, let me say that I too believe leadership from CEOs and CIOs is important. I suggest that the Information Revolution has been progressing long enough that strong leaders have emerged and have learned their business from theory and experience. Finding these guys and gals, and giving them the chance to make our organizations better through e-government innovations is a very good idea. Indeed, training an expanded cadre of people with the multiple talents for these roles is also a very good idea.

But I also suggest that leadership is easy when things are going well. A well endowed organization, serving a knowledgeable clientele, in a conducive socio-economic environment (with good ICT providers, access to good external advice, and local examples of good practice, forming a strong cluster favoring innovation), utilizing a rapidly developing technology in proven ways is easy to lead.

It is harder to provide the intellectual leadership when things are going badly, when the formally designated authorities in the organization don't understand what needs to be done, when the clientele are resistant, when the organization is impoverished, and when the socio-economic environment is not conducive to success. Those of us who work in development assistance are not willing to write off all the organizations nor all the countries that suffer from these problems.

We need intellectual leaders to step forward and make e-government work better everywhere, even where such leadership is not easy. If those intellectual leaders happen also to have formal authority of CEOs and CIOs, so much the better. But in so many cases, we must substitute intellectual authority and initiative for formal authority.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Read "The pharmaceutical industry: Beyond the pill" in The Economist of October 25th 2007.
Subtitle: "Drugs firms are casting about for new business models"

“THE future is not terribly bright for most drug companies,” says a new report from Sanford Bernstein, a respected New York investment firm. Such blunt talk is unusual on Wall Street, but it is no exaggeration. Drugs firms, once rich and the favourites of investors, are urgently seeking cures to a variety of ailments.

One is the erosion of patent protection. Not only are the copy-cat manufacturers of cheaper generic drugs becoming emboldened by cost-conscious politicians and legal rulings in their favour, but big pharmaceutical companies are also facing an unprecedented wave of patent expirations over the next five years. Pfizer alone will lose some $13 billion in revenue a year when Lipitor, its blockbuster cholesterol drug, goes off-patent as early as 2010.......

As the Bernstein report notes, the global industry saw 24 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1998 on the back of $27 billion spent on R&D. Last year, the industry spent $64 billion, but only 13 new drugs were approved by the regulator.

And even new drugs can no longer reliably command the huge premiums they once did. Peter Lawyer, of the Boston Consulting Group, reckons the global drugs market doubled in value to $600 billion in revenues in the decade to 2005, chiefly from growth in America. But there is little chance it will double again by 2015, he argues.
Marcia Angell recently said on Frontline:
[The pharmaceutical companies'] R&D costs are very high, in absolute terms. But they're quite small relative to their other expenditures and profits. The drug companies spend on average, by their own figures, last year, 15 to 17 percent on R&D. And that's a lot of money. But their profits are higher. Their profits are 18.5 percent. And what's really interesting is what they spend on marketing and administration, by their own figures, is on average 35 percent. That's over twice as much as what they spend on R&D. So if they point to their R&D costs as some sort of justification for the high prices, what on earth can they say about their marketing costs, which are over twice that much? ...
Comment: If you believe the stock market is efficient, the prices of stocks reflect the future earnings potential of the companies. If pharmaceutical profits are high now, and you believe they will stay high, buy the companies. But maybe The Economist is right, and these profit margins will not last. Maybe the current value of the companies reflect both the current profits, expected future profits, and risk due to future market uncertainties.

In part the high marketing cost of drugs is related to the system in which physicians make the purchasing decisions for their patients, and generally don't face the need to pay for that which they prescribe. But it also reflects the reality that it is hard and costly to provide the information to hundreds of thousands of physicians and others with authority to write prescriptions with the information they need about drugs, their uses, and their risks.

A Thought on the Use of Factor Analysis

Derek H. C. Chen and Kishore Gawande have written a paper titled "Underlying Dimensions of Knowledge Assessment: Factor Analysis of the Knowledge Assessment Methodology Data". It refers to the data provided by the World Bank with the Bank's very nice Knowledge Economy Index toolkit.

The authors make the basic point, which I accept, that the 83 variables chosen to indicate the readiness of nations to develop knowledge based economies are highly correlated. The vast majority of information contained in the measurements of these variables can be communicated by using a smaller number of factors. They make the further point that the principle factors from a factor analysis do not convey that information in as intuitive a manner as other dimensions might, and thus that other combined variables might be better suited to enable the user to build knowledge.

It occurs to me that the purpose of the Knowledge Assessment Methodology simply descriptive, but evaluative. It seeks to enable its users to understand how ready a country is to develop socially and economically in certain directions. Comparing values of the Knowledge Readiness Index from one time to another is to help analysts to determine whether the country is moving appropriately in those directions.

The methods used by the authors discard information. How do they know that the information that they discard is not useful in the predictions that the database in intended to help users to make, and not simply noise. Unfortunately there is no real indicator of success in developing a knowledge economy that could be used for regression analysis.

Is it not the case that simply looking for combined variables that contain most of the information in a data set might result in a reduced set of information that looses key information for predictive purposes.

For example, might it not be that those countries which value scientific and technological information a little more than might be expected and that are a little more open than might be expected from their general level of development are exactly those nations that will move more rapidly towards a knowledge economy?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Where does all the computer power go?

Read "All systems go" in The Economist, October 25th 2007.

A complex computer model of a heart, developed over more than 40 years, is being used to improve understanding of the ways in which drugs cause arrhythmias; around 40% of the compounds that drug companies test cause these arrhythmia, and if the side effect could be reduced or eliminated, drugs would be safer. Denis Noble of Oxford University, the creator of the beating-heart model, is now part of a consortium involving four drug firms — Roche, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca — that is trying to unravel how new drugs may affect the heart.
Virtual drugs are introduced into the model and researchers monitor the changes they cause just as if the medicines were being applied to a real heart. The production of some proteins increases while others are throttled back; these changes affect the flow of blood and electrical activity. The drugs can then be tweaked in order to boost the beneficial effects and reduce the harmful ones.

Systems biology thus speeds up the drug-testing process. Malcolm Young is the head of a firm called e-Therapeutics, which is based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Using databases of tens of thousands of interactions between the components of a cell, his company claims to have developed the world's fastest drug-profiling system. In contrast to the two years it takes to assess the effects of a new compound using conventional research methods, Dr Young's approach takes an average of just two weeks. Moreover, the company has been looking at drugs known to have damaging side effects and has found that its method would have predicted them......

Ultimately, the aim is to build an entire virtual human for researchers to play with. But reductionism is still needed to get there. Human bodies are made of cells, and the best way to build a model body might be to construct a general-purpose virtual cell that can be reprogrammed into being any one of the 220 or so specialised sorts of cell of which the human body is composed. That, after all, is how real bodies develop. And a collaboration organised by the European Science Foundation is hoping to do just this, through what it calls the Blue Cell project.

Keeping track of the data needed to carry out systems biology on this scale will be a Herculean task, and may turn out to be the driver of future developments at the heavy-number-crunching end of the computer industry. Dr Noble is in negotiations with Fujitsu, a Japanese computer firm that is developing a machine capable of performing some ten thousand trillion calculations a second. That would make it the world's fastest computer, but it comes with a price tag to match—about a billion dollars. This is a little more than the $6m paid for that fictional bionic man, Steve Austin, even allowing for inflation. But it is only about a quarter of what the Human Genome Project cost. And this time, it might produce some answers that prove immediately useful.
Comment: I have been suggesting that connectivity to cell phones or to the Internet is but one kind of index of the digital divide. Those of us who use personal computers may feel that we understand the technology, but there is a huge gap between the power of a PC and that of a $10 billion computer used to model a human being at the level of sub-cellular chemical and genetic activity.

The firms that first master the technology described in this article should have a huge advantage in drug discovery. Even now, the discovery of really new pharmaceutical products is dominated by huge ethical pharmaceutical companies, which are the only ones that can afford the hundreds of millions of dollars per drug to prove safety, efficacy and effectiveness. These firms may devote a fifth of their sales income to research and development. They also dominate the sales of ethical pharmaceuticals globally, with huge incomes.

The big guys are likely to be the ones to appropriate super computers for drug discovery. They are likely to use the technological power from the models and super computers to dominate the value chain in pharmaceuticals. Firms in developing nations may participate in the value chain, perhaps packaging product and selling it in developing markets. They are unlikely to be able to appropriate a large portion of the benefits from the drugs, seeing the lions share going to big pharma giants.

Unless means can be found either
  • to give enough purchasing power to the victims of diseases of poverty (or to surrogates acting on their behalf) to develop a market attractive to big pharma, or
  • to subsidize the development of pharmaceutical products for the diseases of poverty
poor people in poor countries are not going to benefit very much from this exciting, but expensive information technology. This is an aspect of the digital divide that gets too little attention! JAD

A couple of Quotes from Yeats

I especially like the poetry of William Butler Yeats. Here are a couple of quotes:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

From Sailing to Byzantium

An aimless joy is a pure joy,’
Or so did Tom O’Roughley say
That saw the surges running by,
‘And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey.

From Tom O’Roughley

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Green Holloween

Patti Sanner and Stephanie Bianchi of the National Science Foundation Library in their great email newsletter write:
What colors do you associate with Halloween? Most would answer orange and black as traditional Halloween colors. But more and more people are celebrating a green Halloween! The Environmental Defense Fund reminds us annually of tips for celebrating an eco-friendly Halloween. And beyond these tips, parents and students will find wonderfully engaging 'green' activities to bring life to any celebration. And we can't forget the 'green' influence on our candy choice!

Copenhagen Consensus for Latin America and the Carribean

The Copenhagen Consensus Center analyzes the world's greatest challenges and identifies cost efficient solutions to meeting these challenges. The Center works with multilateral organizations, governments and other entities concerned with mitigating the consequences of the challenges which the world is facing.

The Copenhagen Consensus for Latin America and the Caribbean took place in San José, Costa Rica, 22-25 October 2007. The challenges considered were:
  • Democracy,
  • Education,
  • Employment and Social Security,
  • Environment,
  • Fiscal Problems,
  • Health,
  • Infrastructure,
  • Poverty and Inequality,
  • Public Administration and Institutions, and
  • Violence and Crime.
An expert panel of nine distinguished economists considered research about each major challenge and its potential solutions.

The panel ended its brief report with the following paragraph:
Top priority was given to Early Childhood Development programs. These are interventions that improve the physical, intellectual and social development of children early in their life. The interventions range from growth monitoring, day-care services, preschool activities, improved hygiene and health services to parenting skills. Besides improving children’s welfare directly, the panel concluded these programs create further benefits for family members, releasing women and older siblings to work outside the home or to further their own education. Evidence shows that the benefits are substantially higher than the costs.

Engineering Thinking

Check out the CDIO Syllabus, created by an international consortium of engineering schools to promote the reform of engineering education. Notice the thinking skills that it calls to be formed in student
2.1.1 Problem Identification and Formulation

Data and symptoms

Assumptions and sources of bias

Issue prioritization in context of overall goals

A plan of attack (incorporating model, analytical and numerical solutions, qualitative analysis, experimentation and consideration of uncertainty)
2.1.2 Modeling

Assumptions to simplify complex systems and environment

Conceptual and qualitative models

Quantitative models and simulations
2.1.3 Estimation and Qualitative Analysis

Orders of magnitude, bounds and trends

Tests for consistency and errors (limits, units, etc.)

The generalization of analytical solutions
2.1.4 Analysis With Uncertainty

Incomplete and ambiguous information

Probabilistic and statistical models of events and sequences

Engineering cost-benefit and risk analysis

Decision analysis

Margins and reserves
2.1.5 Solution and Recommendation

Problem solutions

Essential results of solutions and test data

Discrepancies in results

Summary recommendations

Possible improvements in the problem solving process
2.2.1 Hypothesis Formulation

Critical questions to be examined

Hypotheses to be tested

Controls and control groups
2.2.2 Survey of Print and Electronic Literature

The literature research strategy

Information search and identification using library tools (on-line catalogs, databases, search engines)

Sorting and classifying the primary information

The quality and reliability of information

The essentials and innovations contained in the information

Research questions that are unanswered

Citations to references
2.2.3 Experimental Inquiry

The experimental concept and strategy

The precautions when humans are used in experiments

Experiment construction

Test protocols and experimental procedures

Experimental measurements

Experimental data

Experimental data vs. available models
2.2.4 Hypothesis Test, and Defense

The statistical validity of data

The limitations of data employed

Conclusions, supported by data, needs and values

Possible improvements in knowledge discovery process
2.3.1 Thinking Holistically

A system, its behavior, and its elements

Trans-disciplinary approaches that ensure the system is understood from all relevant perspectives

The societal, enterprise and technical context of the system

The interactions external to the system, and the behavioral impact of the system
2.3.2 Emergence and Interactions in Systems

The abstractions necessary to define and model system

The behavioral and functional properties (intended and unintended) which emerge from the system

The important interfaces among elements

Evolutionary adaptation over time
2.3.3 Prioritization and Focus

All factors relevant to the system in the whole

The driving factors from among the whole

Energy and resource allocations to resolve the driving issues
2.3.4 Trade-offs, Judgement and Balance in Resolution

Tensions and factors to resolve through trade-offs

Solutions that balance various factors, resolve tensions and optimize the system as a whole

Flexible vs. optimal solutions over the system lifetime

Possible improvements in the system thinking used

Friday, October 26, 2007

Commercialization of Technology at UCLA

Read the new edition of UCLA Impact with examples of innovations it has developed and moved to commercialization.

Driving Innovation to Market
Technological advances are necessities for a healthy global economy. Ranked #2 in the U.S. for academic research and development spending — UCLA is situated to make the most of California's innovative drive.

Through technology transfer, the process of developing applications for the results of scientific research, UCLA plays a vital role in bringing new innovation into the marketplace. Thus, new startups based on UCLA discoveries are launched every year.

UCLA builds relationships with private industry to accelerate the development of UCLA discoveries. The UCLA Office of Intellectual Property (OIP) creates partnerships among researchers, investors and industry, serving as a conduit between the faculty and the business community, both locally and around the world. By providing guidance to faculty and university researchers and building relationships with investors and industry leaders, OIP helps move faculty inventions and helps fuel advances in many fields, including biomedicine and computer modeling.

Since 1990, UCLA’s portfolio includes more than 1,100 inventions and 2,569 faculty inventors.

Small Schools Can Help Their Communities Compete in High Tech

There is an interesting article by Francesca Di Meglio in the October 16 issue of Business Week titled "Small Schools' Big Tech Dreams". The commercialization of academic research is big business. According to a study by Innovation Associates, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, in the last 10 years academic institutions have nearly doubled the number of licenses executed and more than doubled the number of startups launched. Universities that responded to the Association of University Technology Managers Licensing Survey reported that gross license income from licenses to corporations and startups in 2005 totaled about $1.6 billion.

Most university science and engineering research is done large, research intensive universities. However, the study highlighted a number of smaller programs that are developing new technologies through academic research, licensing the inventions, and helping launch businesses that use them. With fewer resources than the big players these schools think creatively to contribute to the greater economic development of their state or region.


World Bank Knowledge Assessment Methodology

I have been using the World Bank's online tools in the website for the

Knowledge Assessment Methodology

They are quite good and interesting. Here is an example of a comparison of readiness of Ireland for the Knowledge Economy as compared to the United States and the United Kingdon. It took only a couple of minites to create and download.

Do the Baby Boomers Understand the World Economy?

At the end of World War II, the United States was the only developed nation with it economy intact. Indeed, during the war the United States had developed its industry to unprecedented levels to support the war effort. Its population had saved a great deal since there were few consumption goods to buy, full employment for years, and a vivid memory of the depression. Starting after the war, the United States invested heavily in human resources -- the GI Bill, alone sent millions of returning veterans of the war through college. Having learned the importance of technology in the war, the United States began to build its scientific and technological capacity. And of course, it benefited greatly from an influx of the intellectual leaders from Europe, who fled the Nazis and the European devastation caused by the war.

The Truman administration through the Marshall Plan stimulated the economic restoration of Europe. So too, it supported reforms in Japan that lead to the development of Japanese economic power in the second half of the 20th century. The tripartite growth of these economies resulted in synergies, and indeed helped the U.S. economy to continue to grow in the aftermath of the war. The creation of the European Common Market helped to continue European economic growth, and the accession of Central and Eastern European nations to the Europe has resulted in further strengthening of the European economy. Europe again is a comparable economic power to North America.

Following the growth of Japan, the Asian tigers followed by China and (later) India have participated in enormous growth in Asian economies. Asia, with more than half of the world's population is joining Europe and North America as a comparable global economic power. While the Western European economic restoration can be seen as repairing the damages of the first half of the 20th century (World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II), the Asian economic restoration can be seen as part of a longer historical process, repairing not only the damages of the wars and depression of the first part of the century, but of colonialism, in the previous centuries, and of failed experiments with centrally planned economies in the latter half of the 20th century.

The Cold War suggested that the Soviet Union was a comparable global power to the United States in the immediate post World War II period, but that was not true. Soviet economic power did not match its military power and was far inferior to that of the United States. Russia, and the Russian speaking nations seem now to be repairing the damage caused by central planning. Indeed, one may hope that Russia and other large nations -- Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico -- will grow their economies That leaves Sub-Saharan Africa, the Islamic countries and parts of Latin America and the Caribbean as trailing economies. Still the world economy is now global, and the balance is quite different than that of the 1945-1975 period.

The Baby Boomers, born between 1945 and 1965, grew up in a world in which the United States had exceptional domination of the world's economy, and thus exceptional power and influence. That generation is now of an age that they dominate the halls of power. They occupy the top jobs in big corporations and in the government. They are the senior professors in the universities, and run foundations, think tanks, and other civil society organizations. Lets hope they can adjust the attitudes formed in the 60's and 70's to the new economic realities, and the resulting power relationships among countries and regions.

"Third of primates 'under threat'

Read Steve Jackson's article on BBC News, October 26, 2007.

Lead: "Almost a third of the world's primates are in danger of extinction because of destruction of their habitats, a report by conservation groups has warned. The article continues: "The report says many apes, monkeys and other primates are being driven from the forests where they live or killed to make food and medicines. The research is being presented at the International Primatological Society (IPS).......It was compiled by a team of 60 experts led by the World Conservation Union."


The fourth Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) assessment is a comprehensive and authoritative UN report on environment, development and human well-being, providing incisive analysis and information for decision making. It has found that water, land, air, plants, animals and fish are all in "inexorable decline". More than 2 million people are possibly dying prematurely of air pollution, and close to 2 billion are likely to suffer absolute water scarcity by 2025. Put bluntly, the report warns that the world's 6.75 billion people had reached a stage where "the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available". United Nations Environment Program, October 2007.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ignore This if you hate local media and favor media consolidation in the USA

The FCC is holding an official media localism hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007. But the public wasn't notified until the last minute.

In his march to push through sweeping changes in media ownership rules that would allow the biggest media conglomerates to swallow up even more local outlets, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has again pushed the public out of the process. He gave the public just a week's notice about this vital event and is providing only limited time for public testimony.

Official FCC Localism Hearing
Oct. 31, 2007, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Room TW-C305 following open commission meeting
FCC, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20554 (map)

Bush Administration Cuts Science Testimony on Global Warming

Read "Sen. Boxer Seeks Answers On Redacted Testimony: White House Cut Climate Warnings" by Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, October 25, 2007.

Bush administration officials acknowledged yesterday that they heavily edited testimony on global warming, delivered to Congress on Tuesday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the president's top science adviser and other officials questioned its scientific basis.....

White House officials eliminated several successive pages of Gerberding's testimony, beginning with a section in which she planned to say that many organizations are working to address climate change but that, "despite this extensive activity, the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed," and that the "CDC considers climate change a serious public concern.".....

several experts on the public health impact of climate change, having reviewed Gerberding's testimony, said there were no inconsistencies between the original testimony and the IPCC's recent reports.

"That's nonsense," said University of Wisconsin at Madison public health professor Jonathan Patz, who served as an IPCC lead author for its 2007, 2001 and 1995 reports. "Dr. Gerberding's testimony was scientifically accurate and absolutely in line with the findings of the IPCC."....

Michael McCally, executive director of the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the editing means that the "White House has denied a congressional committee's access to scientific information about health and global warming," adding: "This misuse of science and abuse of the legislative process is deplorable."
Comment: I have long been concerned that the health effects of climate change on a global basis have been seriously underestimated.

A billion people live on US! per day or less. These folk have no ability to deal with new problems. Another couple of billion live on $1 to $2 per day, and have very, very limited ability to deal with unforeseen problems. If subsistence agriculture fails, people go hungry, and hungry people die not only of malnutrition but of the diseases of hunger and poverty. All the indications I have seen suggest that global climate change is likely to increase agricultural risks, and I expect it will cause more failures in subsistence agriculture.

Climate change will also be expected to change vector densities. Vectors will reach levels that will support disease endemicity, disease epidemics, and hyper endemicity in new areas, in all probability. Public health officials will be hard pressed to deal with such novel problems, and in the poorest countries will probably often fail. Remember, millions of people die each year from malaria, and there are other vector born diseases.

Other communicable diseases may also change their temporal and geographic patterns due to climate change, and again, poor people and poor countries have real problems in meeting unexpected health problems.

Dr. Geberding is no doubt doing her job in trying to alert our lawmakers to the need to deal with the public health impacts we can foresee in the United States as a result of climate change. However, this is a rich country, and if we are willing to apply our selves I suspect we can accommodate the changes without damage to public health.

The situation is not that good in developing nations, where literally billions of people are at risk. If there are not only direct impacts due to food shortages and changing disease patterns, but climate change induced migrations and conflict, the viscous cycle will get still worse for these people.

We are already using a very large part of the earth's bioproductivity, and indeed, the rich countries are drawing on that of poor countries. Climate change is not going to be easy for the global population to accomodate.

The Bush administration should stop denying the problem exists, and begin to help us to plan for its amelioration!

Expenditures for U.S. Industrial R&D in 2005

"Expenditures for U.S. Industrial R&D Continue to Increase in 2005; R&D Performance Geographically Concentrated" National Science Foundation InfoBrief NSF 07-335, September 2007.

Companies spent $226 billion in current-year dollars on research and development (R&D) performed in the United States during 2005 compared with $208 billion in 2004, according to estimates from the Survey of Industrial Research and Development. Funding from both the company's own and other nonfederal sources and from federal sources for R&D were higher in 2005 than in 2004. Company funding during 2005 amounted to $204 billion compared with $188 billion during 2004, and federal funding amounted to $22 billion during 2005 compared with $20 billion during 2004. After adjusting for inflation, company-funded R&D increased 5.4%, and federally funded R&D increased 4.9%.

During 2005, the top 10 states accounted for two-thirds of the industrial R&D performed in the United States. Companies in California, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, Washington, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut (listed by decreasing level) reported aggregate R&D expenditures of $152 billion. California alone accounted for 22% of the U.S. industrial R&D total.

Check out the Natural Hazard facet of the NASA Earth Observatory

Satellite image of the California wildfires and the smoke they generated,

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

GERD in the Americas 2000

Source:"Science, Technology, Engineering and Innovation for Development: A Vision for the Americas in the Twenty First Century"

Getting Lies From Interrogations

"A tale of two decisions (or, how the FBI gets you to confess)"
Steve Bergstein, Psychsound.

Bergstein writes:
Last week, my eyes lit up when I checked the daily decisions and saw that one case involved a guy who claimed he was forced to confess to a crime that he did not commit. This scenario surfaces from time to time for murders and other crimes, but this case was different because it involved the crime of the century: the 9/11 hijackings which launched this country into a new era.

The long and the short of it was that an Egpytian national, Abdallah Higazy, was staying in a hotel in New York City on September 11 and the hotel emptied out when the planes hit the towers. The hotel later found in the closet of his room a device that allows you to communicate with airline pilots. Investigators thought this guy had something to do with 9/11 so they questioned him. According to Higazi, the investigators coerced him into confessing to a role in 9/11. Higazi first adamantly denied any involvement with 9/11 and could not believe what was happening to him. Then, he says, the investigator said his family would go through hell in Egypt, where they torture people like Saddam Hussein. Higazy then realized he had a choice: he could continue denying the radio was his and his family suffers ungodly torture in Egypt or he confesses and his family is spared. Of course, by confessing, Higazy's life is worth garbage at that point, but ... well, that's why coerced confessions are outlawed in the United States.

So Higazy "confesses" and he's processed by the criminal justice system. His future is quite bleak. Meanwhile, an airline pilot later shows up at the hotel and asks for his radio back. This is like something out of the movies. The radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazy, and Higazy was free to go, the victim of horrible timing. Higazi was innocent! He next sued the hotel and the FBI agent for coercing his confession. The bottom line in the Court of Appeals: Higazy has a case and may recover damages for this injustice.
Comment: The FBI is of course a law enforcement agency, and is seeking means to convict criminals. The coercion in this case might have gotten a conviction had the pilot not showed up, but it did not get useful intelligence. Coercion is not only morally wrong, it would seem often to be counterproductive in acquiring truthful information, JAD

Getting Truth From Interrogations

Yesterday I watcher a TV interview by Charlie Rose of Michael Hayden, director of the CIA. Hayden who, as one would expect, was articulate and an effective spokesperson for his agency. He emphasized that the CIA is not police nor a prison agency, and holds people only when doing so contributes to the gathering of intelligence, and even then only under very clearly defined guidelines and conditions.

He emphasized that the CIA approach to obtaining information from a person it holds is best termed "debriefing". The interrogator and the prisoner sit across from each other at a table and talk. He said that were he able to describe the process in detail, most Americans would be very comfortable that the methods are appropriate and not overly coercive. On the other hand, he said that he would not fully describe those methods, because to do so would allow trainers of terrorists to better prepare them to resist debriefing.

I thought it interesting that he stressed that the most effective means to improve interrogation results was to provide the interrogator with more information. An interrogator who is able to show the person who is being interrogated that the questioner understands the situation, probably has more information than the prisoner, and who can challenge false statements with correct information is likely to be successful.

Of course, people can become very skilled at getting others to talk. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and ethnographers are professionally trained to do so, not to mention reporters and policy interrogators. People can also become very skilled at recognizing lies and evasions. Indeed, there was a report some time ago that there is a game in Iraq in which one person tries to identify which of a panel of opponents is lying; Iraqis were characterized at good at both deception and detecting deception in this game,

A couple of years ago,Harvey Rishikof and Michael Schrage wrote an article in Slate titled "Technology vs. Torture". They wrote in part:
The tools for radically transforming tomorrow's interrogations can be found in hospitals worldwide. They're helping to painlessly diagnose Alzheimer's, dyslexia, epilepsy, schizophrenia, insomnia, and brain tumors. The past decade has seen revolutions both in brain-scanning technologies and in drugs that affect the brain's functions. Like personal computers and digital camcorders, these technologies are getting faster, better, and cheaper. And they may have uses in the interrogation room that will render moot debates about the excesses of Abu Ghraib-style treatment of prisoners.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain scans, for example, have improved so dramatically that they can now produce high-resolution movies of brain activity. Functional MRIs can measure how the brain reacts when asked certain questions, such as, "Do you know Mr. X?" or, "Have you seen this man?" When you ask someone a question, the parts of the brain responsible for answering will cause certain neurons to fire, drawing blood flow. The oxygen in the blood then changes the brain's magnetic field so that a neural radio signal emitted becomes more intense. Functional MRI scanners detect and calibrate these changes. And by comparing the resulting images to those of the brain at rest, a computer can produce detailed pictures of the part of the brain answering or not answering the question—in essence, creating a kind of high-tech lie detector. Indeed, a Pentagon agency is already funding Functional MRI research for such purposes.

Engineers are also using less-expensive technologies such as infrared* to track blood flow in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the region associated with decision-making and social inhibition. Electroencephalography, which is painless and noninvasive, has dramatically improved in the last 10 years so that it is now able to detect, for example, where the ability to speak a second language resides in the brain. And when electroencephalography data are read alongside Functional MRI scans, we can gain even richer insight into how the brain is functioning.

Concurrent with these strides in brain-imaging, scientists are learning more about how drugs influence the brain. Pharmaceuticals like Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac have now been in general use long enough that neuroscientists are beginning to observe how they affect brain behavior and individual responses to conversation and questions. It now appears that there are safe drugs that reduce conversational inhibitions and the urge to deceive.
Polygraphs have been around for a long time, and they seem to be helpful to a trained person in interrogations. They may not give the level of confidence that is needed in U.S. courts to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and while they apparently can be fooled by a trained person, they illustrate the potential of technology.

The U.S. intelligence community spends a lot of money on technology. I suspect that they have been spending some of that money for decades on technological support for interrogation. Some technologies, such as ICT to organize information and help interrogators understand patterns, and technology enabling experts to replay interrogations and collaborate on their analysis would seem likely to be available.

Hayden said, if I recall correctly, that since 9/11 some 9,000 intelligence reports have been obtained from some 100 detainees. That suggests the interrogation is effective, and I would infer that it is being done by very skilled interrogators supported by advanced technology.

Indeed, Hayden mentioned that the Army interrogation manual was written for military interrogators, who generally would be relatively young and untrained in interrogation techniques, and that is written to set forth guidelines that can be used on the battlefield by people under great pressure. He asked why anyone would assume that those guidelines would be applicable to professional, highly-trained CIA interrogators working in carefully controlled circumstances. Again, I would infer that the CIA guys are good at their job, and that they work in a high tech environment designed to enhance their effectiveness.

R&D in U.S. Universities

"Universities Report Stalled Growth in Federal R&D Funding in FY 2006", U.S. National Science Foundation InfoBrief NSF 07-336, September 2007.

The National Science Foundation has published results from its latest survey of 600 leading U.S. research universities. Science and engineering research funding in those universities was almost 48 billion dollars in 2006. Thirty percent of the total was located in the top 20 universities, each of which accounted for more than $500,000,000. Six of the top 20 are in California.

Science Sensei

My old friend Eliene Augenbraun who runs ScienCentral has created Science Sensei to provide science news in a format that works for 14 year olds. A YouTube video covers a couple of science stories in an upbeat manner, with short text support pieces, linked to longer original print media publications for adults.

Eliene says the show
discusses science studies that just came out... In ways you’ve never seen before. Think NOVA meets Ask a Ninja. It stars a guy who is a Duke-educated engineer with a black belt in jujitsu and a very strange sense of humor.
Check out Science Sensei 1.

Go directly to the YouTube Videos for ScienCentral.

Or to the YouTube Video for Science Sensei 1.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Benchmark Passed

I am an editor of several communities on the Development Gateway:
I am also a frequent contributor to others, especially:
It is six and one-half years since I joined the Development Gateway. According to my DG profile, I have now contributed 15,000 resources to the resource base on the Gateway. That of course does not include highlights, news, events, and comments.

This has been a pleasure, and I hope a service to the community of people interested in development cooperation and especially science and technology for development.

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
Vinod Khosla to Larry Page

While Vinod Khosla made this comment in a different context, it seems to me to fit the upcoming conference on Israel and Palestine perfectly. In an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post (which for some reason does not seem to have made it to the web) Henry Kissinger says that the outcome of the peace talks should be clear -- a two state solution with a withdrawal of Israel to something like its boundaries before the expansion into the West Bank. Who am I to argue with Kissinger?

The situation spanning the geographic area from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan has gotten so much worse in this decade that it certainly can be classified as a crisis. The U.S. government has considerable leverage with the Israelis, and I think should use all of that leverage to push for real Israeli concessions in the current peace negotiations. I hope that the U.S. government and others will similarly use their influence with the parties in the region to promote the peace. Lets not waste this crisis, but rather use it to really advance the peace process!

The Economist Innovation Special Report

The Economist magazine published a long special report on innovation in its October 11, 2007 edition.

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
Vinod Khosla to Larry Page

The report divides the process of innovation into an initial, "creative" phase and an "implementation" phase, suggesting that only a few percent of the process is creativity and that more than 90 percent of the process of commercially successful corporate innovation is implementation. It also suggests that keys to successful corporate innovation strategies are:
  • investigating lots of creative ideas, but weeding out the less promising ones quickly;
  • stopping doing what the corporation has done (successfully) in the past and adopting a new approach when a disruptive innovation is about to occur. (Polaroid failed to recognize that digital cameras would overtake the polaroid process, and went bankrupt when it failed to abandon its film based technology in a timely fashion.)
The report suggests that globalization and the Information Revolution are making innovation occur more rapidly than in the past, and that firms need to respond to the changing environment that they face by innovating more rapidly. Thus, corporations are moving to open innovation systems; big firms are depending more on other sources of creativity and implementation, and perhaps less on their R&D labs and in-house implementation.

The report also suggests that geographical clusters are becoming less important than they were, as geographically dispersed networks become more important in the innovation process. With the Internet, networks are no longer so geographically constrained as they were. The report also suggests that total reliance on cluster development by national planners is a form of magical thinking; Germany may have wasted $20 billion investing in a biotechnology cluster which may well fail to compete with those centered in the United States.

OECD economies are now largely service oriented, and the innovations that count are often new services, new business processes, or importantly, new business models. The traditional R&D lab was of course focused on new products and new manufacturing processes. These are obviously still important, and I suspect that the R&D labs will remain important in manufacturing industries. They may, however, more often be networked with labs in start-up high tech firms, in government and in academia.

An important fact recognized in the report is that the countries that reap the economic benefits from inventions are not necessarily the countries where the inventions take place. Too much a concentration on subsidies for R&D, and too little concentration on creating conditions conducive to firms implementing innovations is probably a recipe for commercial failure. On the other hand, The Economist seems to me too focused on the business of doing business, and inadequately focused on the social and economic climate that favors creativity and acceptance of the new and different in individuals.

While the report is very interesting and illuminating, I was concerned that it may not adequately recognize the differences among industries. Certainly the report suggests that, since the manufacture of cell phones and of automobiles now involves a lot of software and computer chips, firms in these industries are ripe for disruptive change. But I would suggest that the aircraft industry, the heavy equipment manufacturers, the pharmaceutical industry, and the software industry all have unique characteristics (reflected in their attitudes towards the protection of intellectual property) which call for different innovation strategies.

A couple of quotations suggest the changes that are coming:
The emergence of Asian world-beaters exemplifies the two forces driving innovation. Globalisation and the spread of information technology allow the creation of unexpected and disruptive business models, like the one used by Chongqing's motorcycle-makers. Other examples include the design networks established by Taiwanese contract-producers in the textile industry. Groups of innovative just-in-time suppliers abound in Asia, feeding Western fashion and consumer-goods companies. They are often managed by supply-chain experts, like Hong Kong's Li & Fung. Unlike Japan's keiretsu, which bound companies and their suppliers together with interlocking shareholdings, these firms are free to leave their alliances. They stay together only if they continue to learn and profit from the experience. In some ways they resemble the nimble networks of firms that underpinned Silicon Valley's success.

Low labour costs may have given such firms a head start, but that is a transitory advantage. India's software innovators were once sniffed at as merely low-cost offshoring and back-office operations. But firms like Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) have become world leaders in business-software services. S. Ramadorai, TCS's chief executive, says his firm sees “innovation as a key enabler of its productivity edge”. He points out that his firm has been investing in R&D for 25 years and holds several dozen patents and copyrights. Navi Radjou of Forrester Research, a technology consultancy, applauds TCS's “global innovation ecosystem” which brings together academic labs, start-ups, venture-capital firms, large independent software firms and some of its most important customers.

Innovation is also changing the pharmaceuticals industry. Small biotechnology firms, using networked approaches, are getting ahead of Big Pharma. This too opens the way for Asian competitors, like Ranbaxy and Dr Reddy's Laboratories. These firms were once copycats, trampling on Western patents to make cheap generic versions of drugs. But increasingly they are shifting to process innovation and even new drug discovery.
OHN KAO is an innovation guru described as “Mr Creativity” by this newspaper a decade ago. Now he is concerned about America losing its global lead and becoming “the fat, complacent Detroit of nations”. In his new book, “Innovation Nation”, he points to warning signs, such as America's underinvestment in physical infrastructure, its slow start on broadband, its pitiful public schools and its frostiness toward immigrants since September 11th 2001—even though immigrants provided much of America's creativity. The rise of Asia's innovators is a “silent Sputnik”, he argues, invoking a cold war analogy. What America needs, he reckons, is a big push by federal government to promote innovation, akin to the Apollo space project that put a man on the moon.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Feeding a Hungry World"

Norman Borlaug, Editorial, Science Magazine, 19 October 2007:.

"Next week, more than 200 science journals throughout the world will simultaneously publish papers on global poverty and human development--a collaborative effort to increase awareness, interest, and research about these important issues of our time. Some 800 million people still experience chronic and transitory hunger each year. Over the next 50 years, we face the daunting job of feeding 3.5 billion additional people, most of whom will begin life in poverty. The battle to alleviate poverty and improve human health and productivity will require dynamic agricultural development."

Borlaug, who was the awarded the Nobel Prize and other awards for his role in the Green Revolution which has saved so many lives and done so much to alleviate poverty over the past several decades says:
Although sizable land areas, such as the cerrados of Brazil, may responsibly be converted to agriculture, most food increases will have to come from lands already in production. Fortunately, productivity improvements in crop management can be made all along the line: in plant breeding, crop management, tillage, fertilization, weed and pest control, harvesting, and water use. Genetically engineered crops are playing an increasingly important role in world agriculture, enabling scientists to reach across genera for useful genes to enhance tolerance to drought, heat, cold, and waterlogging, all likely consequences of global warming. I believe biotechnology will be essential to meeting future food, feed, fiber, and biofuel demand.

Support Tim Berners Lee for the Nobel Prize

Support the campaign: copy this banner in your website.

"How Many Site Hits? Depends Who’s Counting"

Read the full article by LOUISE STORY in The New York Times, October 22, 2007.

Organizations buying online advertising depend on services such as those offered by ComScore and Nielsen/NetRatings to measure traffic on websites. Organizations running those websites depend on their own measurement of site usage. According to this article, the internal measurements often exceed those of the external services.
"A main source of the discrepancies is over how to measure Internet use in the workplace. Nielsen/NetRatings and ComScore both track the Web use of representative panels of people, and use those traffic patterns to extrapolate the total number of visitors to a Web site. But online publishers say that their systems drastically undercount people who use the Web during work hours, particularly in offices where corporate software makes the wanderings invisible to the tracking systems. The issue is most pronounced at sites like CNN.com and Forbes.com, which say that high numbers of people read them in the workplace. Mr. Spanfeller of Forbes.com says the ratings companies’ figures at times have 'no relationship to reality'; they in turn say that executives like Mr. Spanfeller are simply deceiving themselves about the popularity of their sites......the ratings panels still have problems. Condé Nast met with ComScore late last year to dispute the figures for Style.com. 'They couldn’t really explain it, and they admitted as much,' he said. Condé Nast counts international readers and ComScore and neilsen/NetRatings do not, but that does not fully explain the discrepancies, Mr. McDonald said. He finds fault with the panels that both companies use, saying that they do not include enough of the wealthier people whom Condé Nast says frequent many of its sites.Complaints about the panels do not end there: some Web publishers say the panels lack representation from students on college campuses, Hispanics and other demographic groups. 'The results you get from a panel will reflect the choices you’ve made as you select the panel,' said Rob Grimshaw, advertising strategy director at The Financial Times. 'There’s a natural bias from panels. And on the Internet, we can have a genuinely more accurate system.'"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Do Literate People Think More Complex Thoughts

Colin Wells in Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World suggests (in his discussion of the transfer of literacy to Russia from Byzantium via the Cyrillic alphabet) suggests that people who can read and write learn to thing through more complicated arguments than illiterates are able to make. My book club discussed this comment briefly, with several people saying the idea was interesting.

I wonder now whether this is simply prejudice of an author from a literate society toward people in illiterate societies. Does Wells think Homer could not follow a complicated thought, or that the Iliad and the Odyssey were not complex? Indeed, it seems to me that people with trained memories who did not have a lot of things to divert their minds from complex thoughts may be better able than we to deal with complexity.

"HIV prevalence estimates: Fact or fiction?"

Read the full article by Kristen Jill Kresge in IAVI Report.

In recent years HIV prevalence estimates have been revised for many nations. The revised estimates, based on improved data, in almost all cases are lower than previous ones, sometimes dramatically so. "A few years ago UNAIDS estimated that 42 million people were HIV infected. Now the number stands just below 40 million, according to the 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic.....HIV prevalence estimates are generated by epidemiologists using HIV infection data from small subsets of the population that can be extrapolated using mathematical models. These models combine national population estimates and epidemiological data collected in a country and then churn out estimates of national HIV prevalence, based on a series of assumptions.......Previous prevalence estimates have been based primarily on sentinel surveillance data collected from pregnant women who visited antenatal clinics, one of the few settings where there is mandatory HIV testing.....'Data from antenatal clinics help monitor trends over time,' says Karen Stanecki, a senior advisor at UNAIDS in Switzerland. 'The intent [with data from pregnant women] is to monitor changes, not to predict the actual number of people who are infected,' says Prabhat Jha, professor of epidemiology at the Center for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto.....Following pressure from donor organizations to come up with more accurate prevalence estimates, more countries began conducting population-based surveys, often leading to a drop, sometimes precipitous......Now 30 countries have conducted population-based surveys to help better gauge the extent of their HIV/AIDS epidemics. In Benin, Mali, and Niger the results from these surveys were very similar to the figures estimated using sentinel surveillance data from antenatal clinics, but in the majority of cases the new figures were lower......Population-based surveys have several advantages—they reach more individuals in rural areas and include men. But they have disadvantages as well. 'The other side of the coin is that people may refuse HIV testing,' says Stanecki. 'This introduces a bias.' These household surveys are also limited to countries where there is a well-developed HIV/AIDS epidemic. "We don't recommend that they be conducted in countries with low-level prevalence," Stanecki adds. Population-based surveys are only applicable in countries where 1% or more of the population is HIV infected, which excludes many Asian countries where the HIV epidemic has not progressed as rapidly as in sub-Saharan Africa.

Comment: The collection of information requires resources, and resources are scarce. The resources needed to get good epidemiological data are quite scarce anywhere, and especially so in developing nations. Therefore those resources should be allocated so as to obtain the most important and useful information for decision making.

Sometimes, therefore, it is appropriate to allocate these resources to the collection of information that is very easily available, but only of limited utility.

Clearly it makes a lot of sense to test pregnant women coming into antenatal clinics for HIV infection, since medication of the HIV infected women is a cost effective means of prevention of transmission to the children to which they will give birth. Keeping track of this data is easy, and important for resource planning for future service delivery as well as for detecting trends that are relevent to the planning of prevention campaigns aimed at such women and their sexual partners.

Similarly, it is reasonable to test sex workers and other very high risk people for HIV infection, both as case finding for treatable disease and for monitoring the effectiveness of key prevention campains.

When making estimates of national prevalence and incidence of HIV (or any other disease), it makes sense to utilize a wide variety of information sources, including many sources that were designed (primarily) for other purposes.

It is important to realize that information also only has to be "good enough" for its purposes, not perfect. Does the difference between a worldwide prevalence of 42 million and 40 million make any difference in the decisions that are made relevant to HIV/AIDS? If not, either estimate is "good enough" for the global decision making. On the other hand, it may be important to know whether the incidence of HIV infection is increasing or decreasing globally, regionally, and nationally. If one is inferring incidence from changes in prevalence (combined with death rates), the need for accuracy in the prevalence estimates is greatly increased.

It is important, however, to understand how the estimates are made, and how and why the data was collected on which the estimates are based. Estimates of prevalence based on national sample surveys done specifically for the estimation of that national prevalence are different than those based primarily on extrapolation from clinical records of prevalence in specific target populations. The latter may be "good enough" for many practical purposes, especially if a nation deems it a poor use of epidemiological survey resources to make more precise estimates.

Governments do play politics with morbidity estimates, and it is sometimes important not to be fooled by a government official seeking to spin or even falsify that information. However, inaccuracy in estimates that were made with a reasonable allocation of available resources, and deemed "good enough" for their purposes by reasonable decision makers need not be meritricious. JAD

Two Stories Today From Iraq -- Without Comment

"State Department Struggles To Oversee Private Army:
The State Department Turned to Contractors Such as Blackwater Amid a Fight With the Pentagon Over Personal Security in Iraq
By Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, October 21, 2007.
Last Christmas Day in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad received a furious phone call from Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. An American -- drunk, armed, wandering through the Green Zone after a party -- had shot and killed one of his personal bodyguards the night before, Mahdi said. He wanted to see Khalilzad right away.....

Within 36 hours of the shooting, Blackwater and the embassy had shipped him (the alleged perpetrator) out of the country.....as with previous killings by contractors, the case was handled with apologies and a payoff. Blackwater fired Moonen and fined him $14,697 -- the total of his back pay, a scheduled bonus and the cost of his plane ticket home, according to Blackwater documents. The amount nearly equaled the $15,000 the company agreed to give the Iraqi guard's family.

"US raid kills Iraqi 'criminals'"
BBC News, October 21, 2007
Forty-nine Iraqi "criminals" have been killed in three separate raids in Sadr City in the capital, Baghdad, the US military says.

"The operation's objective was an individual reported to be a long-time Special Groups member specialising in kidnapping operations," it said.

Iraqi sources said women and children were among those killed, but the US said it was not aware of this.....

US military said its troops had returned fire after coming under sustained attack from automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades from nearby buildings as they began to raid a series of buildings in the district.

Ground forces then called in air strikes.

Biotechnology Regulation in Africa

Read "Calestous Juma: Protect Africa from technological vandalism" in Business Daily (Africa), October 21, 2007.

Lead: "African countries should adopt laws that protect the region’s research efforts against technological vandalism, argues Calestous Juma"

The article begins:
The Kenyan parliament is debating a bill to enable the country to regulate agricultural biotechnology. Critics, however, argue that passing the law would pose threats to the environment, threaten the welfare of farmers and expose the people to unknown health risks.

To the contrary, failing to adopt the law will condemn Kenya to the backwaters of technological innovation. Adopting biotechnology will do for African agriculture what the mobile phone has done for telecommunications. It will revolutionize agriculture, offer new tools for managing the environment and expand economic opportunities for farmers.
Calestous Juma argues, as he has done begore, that biotechnology is a powerful approach that would benefit African nations if used appropriately.

Juma is a professor at Harvard who has done a lot to promote the appropriate use of science and technology in developing nations, and who has been especially important in raising consciousness of the potential benefits and perils of the application of biotechnology.

I of course agree fully that biotechnology offers African nations important opportunities to improve agriculture, health services, environmental protection, and industry. If applied well, it can help reduce the burdens of disease, hunger and poverty.

I think the question is not whether Kenya should adopt laws for the regulation of biotechnology. It seems to me obvious that countries need good laws for that purpose. (And laws in each country should reflect the real risks faced by that country as well as the willingness of people in the country to accept risks.) The more important question should be whether the proposed Kenyan law is indeed a good one. Does it appropriately balance the need to protect against risks yet allow benefits to flow from the application of biotechnology?

Even with a good law, however, there is an issue of the ability of Kenya to enforce the law. Indeed, one might include enforceability as part of the criteria of "good". Too many countries with weak enforcement of laws seem to spend their time inventing laws to solve their problems rather than by creating the institutions needed to enforce the laws, or indeed a culture of "rule of law".

I would also point out that the laws and policies needed to promote the rapid adoption of biotechnology go far beyond those needed to regulate against risks from the consumption of inappropriate genetically modified foods. There have to be laws that favor the transfer of useful technologies, often involving foreign direct investment and protection of intellectual property rights.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater

Jeremy Scahill

Bill Moyers Journal had a good program featuring Jeremy Scahill last night. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. The book appears to be the result of years of reporting, and discusses the corporate mercenary military firms (some 170) that are multinational in recruiting and sales, and which have many tens of thousands of armed employees here and abroad.

The program, as it was no doubt planned, raised serious issues about the control and accountability of these mercenaries, the cost to the U.S. government of our dependence on them rather than a citizen army, the implications in terms of our policy processes of depending on foreign mercenaries so heavily, and the risks they pose to our international reputation as well as to the people on whom they are inflicted.

Moyers raised the issue of the weak coverage of Blackwater by the traditional media. I was also left with questions as to whether Scahill was confounding the corps of armed mercenaries with the more general (and larger) class of contractors in Iraq, and how important Blackwater was compared with the other corporate mercenary firms.

Scahill raises the really difficult problem of how these mercenaries can be controlled and brought under rule of law. Will the government officials they protect set the needed policies? Is it practical to enforce laws on thousands of armed and trained mercenaries in a war zone by other than military means?

He also posed a difficult political issue. These organizations, Republican lead, receive huge and very profitable government contracts, and their executives make large political contributions, which guarantee them a voice in Congressional policy making. Is this an aspect of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower would have warned against most strenuously if he could have imagined its emergence in the United States?

In retrospect, it seems to me that the emergence of multinational corporations providing mercenary military services was an obvious development of globalization. After all, the multinational corporation is our current best model for the organization of management, and mercenaries have been around for millennia. But I admit, I had not thought about the phenomenon.

I wonder what will be the unforseen consequences of the use of these corporate mercenaries in Iraq and other areas. Will they be as bad as those from the use of Islamic militants to fight the Russians in Afghanistan -- a policy that resulted in the rise of the Taliban and the supply of military trained people to fuel insurgencies and terrorism in many lands. Blackwater is apparently recruiting and training mercenaries from Chile and Colombia (as well as many other countries). What will they do after they are no longer needed in the current war zones? Where will the corporate mercenaries offer their services next, and for what purposes?

"Strict Visa Regulations Discourage Visiting Artists"

The Hallé's orchestra" Education Program
The orchestra, at 150 is Britain's oldest
The orchestra recently canceled a US tour
due to the cost and difficulty of getting visas.

Read the full article subtitled "Post-9/11 Process Adds Costs and Red Tape" by Sarah Kaufman in The Washington Post of October 20, 2007.

The article states:
To perform in this country, foreign artists of all stripes -- punk rockers, ballet dancers, folk musicians, acrobats -- are funneled through a one-size-fits-all "nonimmigrant" visa process whose costs and complications have become prohibitive, according to booking agents, managers and presenters, such as the Kennedy Center, who program and market the performers. Visiting businesspeople face similar security hurdles put in place since Sept. 11, 2001. But artists' visa petitions also require substantial documentation to satisfy the "sustained international recognition" requirement for the type of visa (called a "P-1") issued to many performing artists.
Comment: Cultural diplomacy has been a great way to build understanding among nations. Having visiting artists helps Americans appreciate the value of other cultures and understand other cultures. Artists don't seem likely to be terrorists, but the Bush administration seems to be afraid of anything foreign. JAD

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Internationalization of U.S. Science and Engineering

Chapter 3 in Science and Security in a Post 9/11 World: A Report Based on Regional Discussions Between the Science and Security Communities, Committee on a New Government-University Partnership for Science and Security, National Research Council, 2007.

The report notes that:
  • Foreign-born PhD scientists and engineers constituted 37.3% of the U.S. S&E workforce in 2000, and increase from 23.9% in 1990.
  • Foreign student enrollment in U.S. universities decreased in the years following 9/11, in part due to the security measures introduced by the U.S. government.
  • Thirty years ago the U.S. accounted for 54% of the world's PhD degrees, but by 2001 that portion had dropped to 41%.
  • Participants in the meetings held during the preparation of the report were concerned about increasing difficulties in attending scientific meetings abroad and bringing visiting faculty and scholars to the United States.
  • Participants also complained about the expansion of the Technology Alert List which regulates access to dual-use technologies.
Comment: Innovation is increasingly taking place in international networks, rather than within companies. I would guess that foreign-born scientists and engineers in the United States and U.S. educated scientists and engineers abroad are the best assurance that U.S. industry will be plugged into these networks.