Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Large Hadron Rap -- Without Comment

The New Web Tactics of Politics: Cookies for Targeting and Retargeting

Source: "Candidates' Web Sites Get to Know the Voters: Presidential Campaigns Tailor, Target Ads Based on Visitors' Online Habits," Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post Staff, August 30, 2008.

Recent visitors to the online sports pages of the Boston Herald who had visited Barack Obama's Web site received as many as three Obama ads alongside the news. Readers who hadn't visited his site didn't see a single Obama add.

Both presidential campaigns are reluctant to discuss the details of their abilities to identify sympathetic voters based on their Internet habits, and then to target them with ads as they move across the Web. However, this emerging capability is one of the defining aspects of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.
Digital advertising networks and large Web companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft are using Web behavior -- which news articles people read, which blogs they visit or what search terms they enter -- to target voters who may be sympathetic to a certain cause. Using a method known as "sentiment detection," some companies even boast that they can tell whether the blog you go to is for or against the Iraq war.

"During a get-out-the-vote drive, you don't want to get out the wrong vote," said Diane Rinaldo, political advertising director at Yahoo, which has worked with both campaigns. With these techniques, the candidates "can reach who they want to reach without wasting their incredibly valuable media dollars, and reach them with the right message."
Comment: Unfortunately, the campaigns will probably be more effective than ever in getting us to vote our prejudices, and mine our unconscious for feeli;ngs about candidates, rather than study the issues and vote rationally. JAD
Source of graph: "Reshaping Attitudes: Mass Media Changes Along with the News," The Hoover Institution, April 2, 2008.

The Growth of Agricultural Productivity

Source: Pardey, Philip G., Julian Alston, Jenni James, Paul Glewwe, Eran Binenbaum, Terry Hurley, and Stanley Wood
Science, Technology and Skills
InSTePP Report, St. Paul: International Science & Technology Practice & Policy, University of Minnesota, October 2007.
Prepared as a background paper for the "World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development," of which the full report and all associated background papers are available at this website.

Social Psychology Illuminates Decision Making

Karin Olah, 'Little Blue Confabulation'
Fabric, Gouache, Graphite on Paper-
13.0 x 10.0"- 2007
Source: MyArtSpace

Science has an article ("PSYCHOLOGY: The Unseen Mind" by Timothy D. Wilson and Yoav Bar-Anan, 22 August 2008) which begins:
Social psychologists have discovered an adaptive unconscious that allows people to size up the world extremely quickly, make decisions, and set goals--all while their conscious minds are otherwise occupied. The human mind operates largely out of view of its owners, possibly because that's the way it evolved to work initially, and because that's the way it works best, under many circumstances. Without such an efficient, powerful, and fast means of understanding and acting on the world, it would be difficult to survive. We would be stuck pondering every little decision, such as whether to put our left or right foot forward first, as the world sped by. But as a result, we are often strangers to ourselves, unable to observe directly the workings of our own minds.
The article goes on to stress that "people freely give reasons for their preferences, even when it is clear that these reasons are confabulations and not accurate reports." They will even give convincing reasons why they made a decision that was diametrically opposed to their actual decisions, if they can be fooled into defending the counterfactual choice.

If the issue is why you had the hot dog rather than the hamburger, the psychological phenomenon is not important. For important decisions, however, we should be careful to analyze options and not jump to conclusions. Using formal decision making proceedures, or even paper and pencil with pros and cons, fault tree analysis, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) or something of the like, is probably useful. Most important is to avoid being defensive about initial feelings in order to consider alternatives fairly.

confabulation - (psychiatry) a plausible but imagined memory that fills in gaps in what is remembered
Oliver Sacks described a patient's experience in this way:
Another profoundly amnesic patient I knew some years ago dealt with his abysses of amnesia by fluent confabulations. He was wholly immersed in his quick-fire inventions and had no insight into what was happening; so far as he was concerned, there was nothing the matter. He would confidently identify or misidentify me as a friend of his, a customer in his delicatessen, a kosher butcher, another doctor—as a dozen different people in the course of a few minutes. This sort of confabulation was not one of conscious fabrication. It was, rather, a strategy, a desperate attempt—unconscious and almost automatic—to provide a sort of continuity, a narrative continuity, when memory, and thus experience, was being snatched away every instant.

Climate Models underfunded

Source: "CLIMATE SCIENCE: Turbulent Times for Climate Model," Eli Kintisch
Science 22 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5892, pp. 1032 - 1034

Researchers are running out of time to finish updating an important U.S. climate change model that has been hamstrung by the budget woes of its home institution, the National Center for Atmospheric Research
The article states:
Some climate scientists say that CCSM should have been better protected from the budget turmoil. "This hub of the nation's climate strategy has apparently not received the priority it deserves and needs," wrote members of the model's independent scientific advisory board on 8 July in an unsolicited letter to Eric Barron, who last month succeeded Killeen. Although computers are critical for climate simulation, they say, in the end it's NCAR's staff who must incorporate thousands of complex elements into a code that simulates everything from hurricanes to droughts to ocean currents.

Any erosion of CCSM's projected capabilities threatens what modeler David Randall of Colorado State University in Fort Collins calls "the closest thing we have to a national model." What sets CCSM apart from rival U.S. models at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is its widespread use by academic researchers, who also build it in partnership with NCAR. So whereas the other models rely on the expertise of teams of federal experts, CCSM's health reflects the state of overall U.S. climate research.
Comment: The Bush administration stalled for seven years (until leaving the heavy lifting on steps to reduce global warming) saying that there needed to be more scientific evidence to justify what they suggested would be heavy economic costs. (For the oil industry?)

Now I find out they have been underfunding a key area of research on climate change!
Getting the picture. An early version of NCAR's updated global climate model (lower right) does a better job of simulating actual ocean temperatures during an El NiƱo event (top) than an earlier model (lower left).

Saturday, August 30, 2008

From IFPRI on Agricultural Research

The International Food Policy Research Institute is a global resource--a consistent source of information and analysis of agriculture in the developing world. Here are a few of its publications on agricultural research.

"Shifting Ground:Agricultural R&D Worldwide"
Philip G. Pardey, Julian M. Alston, and Roley R. Piggott
IFPRI Issue Brief No. 46, June 2006 (PDF, 6 pages)
'Today, a slower growing, stagnant, or shrinking public agricultural research pot is increasingly being diverted away from the traditional agenda toward environmental objectives, food quality and safety, and so on. Who, then, will do the research required to generate sustenance for a growing world population when—at least for another quarter century—virtually all the population growth will occur in the poorer parts of the world? These questions and others are raised in a new book, Agricultural R&D in the Developing World: Too Little, Too Late?, edited by Philip G. Pardey, Julian M. Alston, and Roley R. Piggott.'
Agricultural R&D in the Developing World: Too Little, Too Late?
Philip G. Pardey, Julian M. Alston, and Roley R. Piggott, eds.
IFPRI, 2006 (PDF 1.5M)
This book was conceived as a companion to the 1999 volume Paying for Agricultural Productivity, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in conjunction with IFPRI. That volume dealt with investments, institutions, and policy processes regarding agricultural R&D in developed countries. This book addresses the same set of issues for the developing countries, and the relationship of those countries to the richer parts of the world where the preponderance of agricultural innovation still takes place. It also reviews developments within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), along with the changing roles of international research generally, in light of the substantial shifts in science funding and policy (as well as in the science itself ) that are taking place throughout the world.

The book combines new evidence with economic theory and an economic way of thinking about science policy--highlighting the developing-country aspects--as well as a set of in-depth, comparative country studies. These country studies take us well beyond generalities, providing insights into the important changes taking place within these countries and others they represent. The countries covered include the largest developing countries--China and India--as well as a range of richer and poorer, and more- and less-developed countries, representing most parts of the globe.
"Agricultural Research: A Growing Global Divide?"
Philip G. Pardey, Nienke Beintema, Steven Dehmer, and Stanley Wood
IFPRI Food Policy Report No. 17, August 2006 (PDF, 358K)

Sustained, well-targeted, and effectively used investments in R&D have reaped handsome rewards from improved agricultural productivity and cheaper, higher quality foods and fibers. As we begin a new millennium, the global patterns of investments in agricultural R&D are changing in ways that may have profound consequences for the structure of agriculture worldwide and the ability of poor people in poor counties to feed themselves.

This report documents and discusses these changing investment patterns, highlighting developments in the public and private sectors. It revises and carries forward to 2000 data that were previously reported in the 2001 IFPRI Food Policy Report Slow Magic: Agricultural R&D a Century After Mendel (PDF 300K). Some past trends are continuing or have come into sharper focus, while others are moving in new directions not apparent in the previous series. In addition, this report illustrates the use of spatial data to analyze spillover prospects among countries or agroecologies and the targeting of R&D to address specific production problems like drought-induced production risks. More detailed data on the agricultural research investment trends summarized here can be accessed at

If you want still more statistics on agricultural science and technology, try the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) online database provided by the CGIAR.

Agricultural aid fails to keep up ag research

Source: "The Food Chain: World’s Poor Pay Price as Crop Research Is Cut," KEITH BRADSHER and ANDREW MARTIN, The New York Times, May 18, 2008.

The article states:
nowadays at the International Rice Research Institute, greenhouses have peeling paint and holes in their screens and walls. Hallways are dotted with empty offices. In the 1980s, the institute employed five entomologists, or insect experts, overseeing a staff of 200. Now it has one entomologist with a staff of eight.

“We’ve had an exodus here,” said Yvette Naredo, an assistant geneticist.

Similar troubles plague other centers in Asia, Africa and Latin America that work on crop productivity in poor countries. Agricultural experts have complained about the flagging efforts for years and warned of the risks.......

The United States is in the midst of slashing, by as much as 75 percent, its $59.5 million annual support for a global research network that focuses on improving crops vital to agriculture in poor countries. That network includes the rice institute.
Comment: This posting is a partial response to a comment/request from Glenn for information on the funding of international agricultural research.

The International Agricultural Research Centers of the CGIAR network are the keystones in a worldwide system of agricultural research, doing the heavy lifting. They maintain huge repositories of germplasm for our major crop species, and have historically done the breeding of the most important new crop varieties which then have been adapted by national agricultural research agencies to local conditions. As plant breeding has been increasingly done by the private sector, financed by the sale of hybrid seeds and chemicals, the IARCs have expanded into a wide variety of crop protection and cropping systems research.

As I understand it, the reasons that African yields have stayed so low are complex. Governments have favored low prices for consumers over higher incomes for food producers. There has not been the investment in irrigation needed to provide the abundant and predictable water supply that the high-yielding grain varieties require. The very poor, often subsistence farms in Africa don't have the money to buy modern inputs, and so the systems to supply such inputs are rudimentary there, and as a further result there is little economic incentive for the private sector to provide innovations for those farms. African governments are often financially and administratively weak with a fair number of "failed states", and the efforts of African governments to fund agricultural research and extension service consequently have been inadequate to fill the gap.

Unfortunately, people are going hungry as a result of the lack of agricultural productivity in poor nations, and that in turn can be traced back in part to decades of neglect for the improvement of their agricultural technology and infrastructure. JAD

Friday, August 29, 2008

Were U.S. Troops in Georgia?

Russia's Prime Minister Putin charged that the were Americans in Georgia. According to the New York Times:
On Thursday, Mr. Putin, now prime minister, also said Russian defense officials believed that United States citizens were in the conflict area supporting the Georgian military when it attacked the separatist region of South Ossetia.

“Even during the cold war, during the time of tough confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, we have always avoided direct clashes between our civilians, let alone our servicemen,” Mr. Putin said. “We have serious reasons to believe that directly, in the combat zone, citizens of the United States were present.”

“If the facts are confirmed,” he added, “that United States citizens were present in the combat zone, that means only one thing — that they could be there only on the direct instruction of their leadership. And if this is so, then it means that American citizens are in the combat zone, performing their duties, and they can only do that following a direct order from their leader, and not on their own initiative.”
The same article reported on the White House response to Putin's charges:
In Washington, the White House spokeswoman, Dana M. Perino, dismissed Mr. Putin’s remarks. “To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate just sounds not rational,” she said.

She added, “It also sounds like his defense officials who said they believe this to be true are giving him really bad advice.”
GlobalSecurity.Org has this (undated) on its website:
Immediate Response 08 (IR08) was an annual bilateral security-cooperation exercise conducted between the U.S. and NATO and coalition partners. The annual, bilateral security cooperation exercise is conducted between US, NATO and coalition partners, to focus on interoperability training and theater security cooperation. This year, IR08 is being conducted in the Republic of Georgia. The participants are the United States, the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Ukraine. The purpose of the exercise is to increase the cooperation and partnership between U.S. and Georgian forces while preparing the Georgian military for operations in Iraq.

Approximately 1,000 personnel from U.S. Army Europe’s Southern European Task Force, the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, the state of Georgia Army National Guard, Army Reserve, U.S. Marine Reserve, Sailors and Airmen trained alongside 600 Soldiers from Georgia and other European nations. IR08 builds on lessons learned from previous training and operations by giving commanders and their staffs a practical exercise in organizing, controlling, and supporting coalition stability and security operations. The two/three-week exercise included a command post exercise, situational training lanes and a live-fire exercise.

Officers, senior enlisted and Navy corpsman from 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, had an opportunity to meet and greet their Georgian counterparts July 13, 2008. This began the cultural exchange before the subsequent training for Operation Immediate Response 2008, a joint operation between Georgian Armed Forces and United States Armed Forces.

About 300 Georgia National Guard Soldiers arrived in Tiblisi, Georgia, on 15 July 2008 for Immediate Response 2008, an international exercise to help build relationships with coaliton partners from several Eastern European nations. Soldiers and Marines from the United States, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Ukraine conducted this joint training exercise at Vaziani Military Base and the surrounding area.
I found the following on a blog, The Pentagon Brief:
Over 1,000 US servicemembers, DoD civilian employees and contractors are in the Republic of Georgia even as Russian attack aircraft and tanks continue their assault.

About 130 Americans are stationed in Georgia to train the Georgian armed forces for peacekeeping and anti-terrorist operations, including preparing units for deployment to Iraq.

Approximately 1,000 additional personnel from U.S. Army Europe’s Southern European Task Force, the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, the state of Georgia Army National Guard, Army Reserve, U.S. Marine Reserve, Sailors and Airmen are in Georgia for the Immediate Response 2008 multinational training exercise. Soldiers from other European nations participated in Immediate Response 08 as well.
Googling "Operation Immediate Response", I got a hit from a U.S. Marines website that was down, but the cached story was confirmatory that U.S. troops were in Georgia in July.

Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military's newspaper, reported on Tuesday, August 12, 2008;
U.S. personnel responsible for training members of the Georgian military remain stationed inside the volatile country, where fighting erupted Friday between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

The U.S. European Command said on Monday that there were no plans at this time to withdraw the U.S. military trainers from the country. There are still 127 U.S. trainers in Georgia, where the American forces had been preparing the Georgian army for operations in Iraq......

Regarding the military personnel, EUCOM stated that they are not engaged in the conflict and are removed from where the fighting is happening.

In addition to the trainers, 1,000 soldiers from the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and the Kaiserslautern-based 21st Theater Sustainment Command, along with Marine reservists with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines out of Ohio, and the state of Georgia’s Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry recently participated in "Immediate Response 2008."

That exercise, which had the U.S. troops operating from Vaziani, concluded on Thursday. That base, near the capital of Tbilisi, was bombed by Russian aircraft over the weekend, Georgian officials said.
There seems to be little controversy over this history, as reported by China View:
In June of 1992, Russia, Georgia and South Ossetia established peacekeeping forces, which were responsible of implementing peacekeeping mission in the conflict region.

On August 8 of this year, Georgia troops marched into South Ossetia and bombed the capital city of South Ossetia, which worsened the situation there immediately.
Comment: The New York Times might well have reported that there were U.S. forces in Georgia at the time of the Georgian incursion into South Ossetia.

I suppose it is possible that the Russians mistook the purposes of the American troops in Georgia, or that they are taking advantage of their presence for a disinformation campaign.

The situation illustrates the dangers in use of military maneuvers in this region. It is easy to see how they could have been misinterpreted by the Georgians or the Russians, or indeed how they could be used as a pretext by either of those parties.

On the other hand, I recall the stories, stories that seem well founded, that during the 1980 Reagan-Carter election campaign the Republicans held secret discussions with the Iranians encouraging them to keep the hostages that were taken from our Embassy; Carter certainly lost that election due to the hostage crisis. JAD

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Election Should Be About Who We Are, Not What We Want

We want a strong economy with lots of good jobs, a life secure from terrorist attacks, a just peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, a good reputation with our allies, and a program that responsibly deals with climate change. These are all important, and there are differences between the candidates and parties in the success they are likely to have in fulfilling these desires.

We are, however, not in a crisis situation. Compare the situation now with that of the situation Roosevelt faced in 1940, with the Great Depression continuing and a World War soon to engulf the United States. Think of the situation faced by Lincoln in 1860, with a nation divided between slave and free states, about to embark on a Civil War of unprecedented violence. Think of Washington assuming the presidency after the Articles of Confederation had proven inadequate, needing to create a national government that could bring together a bunch of sparsely populated colonies into a strong nation that could stand up against the European powers.

Our nation is economically sound, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are limited and likely to wind down. Terrorism against the United States was overestimated, and can be controlled by good police work. We have lived for years with the other problems we face, and can continue to do so if we must. Either party would, if elected, put good men into office and they would work hard at their jobs. We could live with even limited success in meeting our wants over the next four years.

The Bush administration, however, has challenged fundamentally who we are as a people. Are we a people who torture prisoners, or who ship them off to be tortured by others? Do we impression people without recourse to legal process? Do we accept a government that spies on our own citizens and abrogates protections of their rights built over centuries? Are we a people that respects the individual's rights, or do we allow a religious minority to restrict the choice of others and to limit the search for and dissemination of scientific knowledge. Is the United States a nation of immigrants, a melting pot that offers opportunities to others, or is it a mean spirited closed society rejecting immigrants seeking a better life? Is the United States a bully in international affairs, pushing smaller weaker countries around, or are we good neighbors and a responsible member of the community of nations. Is our foreign policy responsive to the concerns of our allies and willing to discuss our differences with others, or are we too arrogant to listen? Are we still the people who have striven for centuries to grant human rights and dignity to all our citizens, or will we use code words to hide our unwillingness to grant real power to women and minorities? Are we a nation that honors and supports our veterans, or are we a people willing to deny our returning soldiers, wounded in body or mind, the medical care to which they are entitled; are we still the people who gave our veterans educational opportunities after the wars of the 20th century or are we now a people too mean to do so? Are we a people who bends our national efforts to the defense of the weak and needy among us, or are we rather a nation that seeks to further enrich the already rich without regard to either our poor or our middle class. Are we a people, inheritors of a land of huge beauty and resource riches, who seek to conserve that heritage for our children and grandchildren, or shall we destroy the environment in a rush for short term profits? Are we still a people willing to sacrifice for our country and pay for our government, or are we now selfish borrowers satisfied to leave a crippling debt for our children. Are we the world's most innovative people, or will we now be satisfied to continue to beggar ourselves and our children by depending on foreign oil while watching other nations out compete us in a global economy? Will we accept Hurricane Katrina as the first in a series of disasters for our poor and dispossessed, or will we demand that it be a wakeup call to prevent such suffering in the aftermaths of future disasters? Are we a people who will now accept an imperial presidency, or are we the people who rejected monarchy and built the most elaborate checks and balances into our constitution to prevent an excess of power in the presidency.

We have an opportunity now to reject the Bush administration's destruction of our national moral purposes that so characterized the last eight years, and to restore the ideals of our forefathers to their former central place in our public life. Will we as a people again become what we once were? If we do not do so now, then when?

The Impact of Conviction of Scientific Misconduct

There is an interesting report in Science magazine on the effect of being found guilty of scientific misconduct. The authors selected the 43 researchers with completed doctorate degrees from the 106 scientists found guilty by the Office of Scientific Integrity between 1996 and 2001 of committing scientific misconduct.
Thirty-six of these scientists were found guilty of falsification or fabrication, 10 were guilty of plagiarism, and 12 were guilty of "misrepresentation." Seventeen scientists had committed only one infraction, and the remaining 26 had committed multiple breaches.

All 43 individuals were excluded from Public Health Service (PHS) advisory boards (for a mean 3.5 years), 30 were also debarred from PHS grants and contracts (mean 3.4 years), 20 were subjected to institutional oversight (mean 3.2 years), and 14 were required to retract or correct papers. Overall, these scientists received an average of 2.5 sanctions; of 94 total sanctions levied, 58% were 3-year debarments.
So what happened to their scientific careers?
Searching PubMed, we found publication data for 37 of the 43 individuals......Mean publication rate per year before the finding of scientific misconduct (dating back to each individual's first publication) was 2.1 (SD = 1.7, range 0.2 to 5.9) and after the finding 1.0 (SD = 1.2, range 0.0 to 5.6) (dating up to late 2003). This decline was significant (t = 4.66, P < 0.0001). Twelve individuals published nothing after the misconduct finding.........

Interviews were held with seven individuals, who all reported financial and personal hardship. Six hired lawyers to defend themselves; surprisingly, three reported receiving some assistance from their institutions, one with legal help and two with nonfinancial support. Several reported that they could not appeal their cases because they lacked the resources to do so. Several became physically ill and experienced major disruptions in their personal lives.

Nonetheless, most reported that they had recovered or sustained useful scientific lives after initial shocks to their reputations. Indeed, six of the seven continued to publish in the years after the ORI determination (the exception had moved to industry).
The authors point out that the people that they interviewed were more successful after found guilty than were those not interviewed.

Comment: I find this a very appropriate situation. Being found guilty of scientific misconduct carries severe consequences. No one should take those consequences lightly.

On the other hand, a scientist once found guilty can resuscitate his/her career and again make use of his/her training and experience to participate in research and other scientific activities. Redemption is possible, as it should be!

Republicans Appear Still to Oppose Stem Cell Research

According to Bloomberg news,
Like the 2004 (Republican national platform), this year's text opposes the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research. McCain supports such research and has said he would reverse Bush's ban on federal funding to develop treatments using embryonic stem cells......

The platform committee was unwilling to compromise on its abortion plank to accommodate McCain's views on the issue.

As a senator and presidential candidate, the Arizona Republican has said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and threats to the life of the mother. For more than two decades the Republican Party has taken a harder line that would ban abortion with no exceptions.
The platform has not yet been approved by the Convention, so there is still hope that a more reasonable and responsible position may be adopted.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Increase in R&D Intensity

This graph is from a very nice Fact Sheet produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics titled A Global Perspective on Research & Development. It shows the changes in portion of Gross Domestic Product devoted to research and development that countries have made between 1996 and 2005. Each country is represented by a labeled point. The countries falling above the upper line in the graph have significantly increased their spending on research and development relative to their total economic product, and almost all of them also increased their GDPs. Only a few countries fall below the lower line, having significantly reduced the portion of GDP devoted to research and development. In short, the graph provides an interesting demonstration of the increasing belief in science and technology among a wide range of nations. Moreover, since richer countries tend to be those with the higher portion of GDP devoted to research and development, the graph shows an increase worldwide in research and development.

"World Bank Updates Poverty Estimates for the Developing World"

"New poverty estimates published by the World Bank reveal that 1.4 billion people in the developing world (one in four) were living on less than US$1.25 a day in 2005, down from 1.9 billion (one in two) in 1981.

"The new numbers show that poverty has been more widespread across the developing world over the past 25 years than previously estimated, but also that there has been strong—if regionally uneven—progress toward reducing overall poverty."

Ccmment: The World Bank kept the poverty line at $1/day for many years, and inflation has outmoded that standard. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, many years ago, I lived on just under three dollars a day, in 1960's dollars, and I felt poor. I really can not imagine how one would live on $1.25 a day! On the other hand, the new study summarizes a huge amount of work, and provides basic information of use to the development community.

Of course, a more meaningful definition of poverty should be in all our heads.
Think of poverty in terms of sick and hungry kids, too often dying early. Think of people living without access to schools or education. Think of desperate mothers, facing sick children without access to medical care or even the simplest drugs, of mothers facing hungry children without food to give them or money to buy it. It is important for policy makers to think dispassionately about poverty, but it is also important for us all to feel viscerally the pains of poverty. JAD

"Political Science? Strengthening science–policy dialogue in developing countries"

This study by Nicola Jones, Harry Jones and Cora Walsh of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) systematically examines the science-policy interface in developing countries and offers practical strategies and recommendations for strengthening the relationship between scientific knowledge and the policy process.It focuses on three broad questions: What is the patterning of relationships between scientific researchers, policy decision-makers and intermediaries in developing country contexts? What are the challenges and opportunities for strengthening these linkages? What types of strategies exist or could potentially be adopted to improve evidence-informed policy proceses
Representing the views of over 600 respondents from researcher, policy-maker and intermediary organisation communities from the North and South, the findings confirm the need to tackle systemic barriers to institutionalising evidence-informed policy processes in the field of science, technology and innovation for development. They also shed light on ways in which the quality of policy dialogues on science and technology could be strengthened in order to enhance their value for pro-poor sustainable development policy and practices?

Monday, August 25, 2008

More About the New Invisible College

In her book, The New Invisible College, Caroline Wagner describes the growth of global science and within that growth the more rapid growth of international collaboration among scientists. In the final chapter, Caroline considers the governance of this new invisible college of collaborating scientists building a grand edifice of knowledge.

National Governmental Policies

Quite reasonably she focuses on governments and their role in governance of the global system. Governments are major funders of fundamental science. They govern science within their borders. More importantly, they have not delegated governance responsibilities for science to international or intergovernmental bodies.

Caroline makes a very pertinent observation that all countries must now recognize that it is often not only more efficient but also more practical to obtain scientific information that they need from abroad than domestically. That information can be obtained from the public domain or by collaborations between homeland and foreign scientists. (While once the United States did half the world's science, even this country now produces only half of the science produced abroad.)

Thus all nations must build their science policies around the acquisition of scientific information from abroad and the facilitation of international collaboration by its scientists. I would add that U.S. international science policy should be seen as closely linked to our soft diplomacy and our development assistance policy.

The Private Sector

The rise of multinational companies in an increasingly global economy raises significant issues of the role of corporations in international science. They fund a great deal of science, and indeed carry out a great deal of research within their corporate structures. Increasingly the multinationals are moving their research activities from country to country, seeking lower costs, high quality, or access to national markets. There seems little alternative than to allow the corporations to make their own science strategies under the discipline of the market, although national governments can and do regulate research activities of corporations doing business within their borders, and offer incentives and sanctions intended to assure corporate science is done within their countries and in support of their economic and other needs. Perhaps more importantly, governments survey the research portfolio of the private, for profit sector to detect public goods which require public intervention.

Civil society plays a smaller role in international science, but foundations have been quite important and it may well be that it is increasingly so. U.S. experience is that foundations and non-governmental organizations provide an important complement to government funding of non-commercial science. The government's role has been to establish rules that make donations to such organizations tax deductable, and regulate to ensure that civil society organizations use their resources to promote charitable causes.

Institutions to Promote Trust

The institutionalization of systems of international collaboration require there to be trust among the collaborators. A small but significant effort that establishes that trust is the effort of organizations such as UNESCO and the European Union to establish standard setting conventions that assure that educational credentials are comparable among participating nations. Indeed, the higher education sector is in part self regulating as accreditation institutions are widely used to assure the quality asserted by university degrees.

More importantly, science is self regulating. Professional journals and peer review provide systems to prevent scientific misconduct and to warrant the quality of scientific work while disseminating scientific information in the public domain.

The UN decentralized agencies also play an important, albeit little recognized role in building trust in the scientific community. For example, the World Health Organization establishes peer review mechanisms using the results of biomedical research to establish guidelines for medical practice which are widely accepted in developing nations.

UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Committee provides a mechanism which establishes trust among the states whose waters are traversed by research ships on their voyages; its International Hydrological program similarly provides a trusted agent for cross border hydrological studies. The Global Network of Biosphere Reserves provides a mechanism by which countries can commit to cooperation in the operation of this global network and the research to establish means for sustainable preservation of biodiversity.

In other cases bilateral or multilateral agreements are created, such as for the financing of megaprojects that are cooperatively financed by several nations, and which offer facilities to be used by multinational networks of collaborators.

Financing of science as a global public good

The International Agricultural Research Centers are perhaps a prototyical network that meets a global need, and requires funding from a consortium of donors. The network, governed by the Consortium for International Agricultural Research with its scientific advisory bodies, is essentially a club of funding bodies -- governments and foundations. The IARCs serve a global purpose in the maintenance of seed banks protecting the biodiversity of mankind's major crop species, making it available as a public good. They also are the keystone in a network of national agricultural research and extension services, providing improved varieties to be adapted to local conditions by national bodies, and increasingly interacting with global private sector seed and agricultural chemistry industries. The system in part was created in response to the fact that poor, developing nations did not have the keystone agricultural research capacity that was needed to fight hunger, promote rural development, and prevent famines. The international agricultural research system has been regarded as the most fully articulated such system, but its recent lack of funding indicate the remaining inadequacy of that form of international scientific governance.

While other initiatives involving multinational support for centers of research excellence have been introduced their success is mixed. CERN, a facility for nuclear research in Europe, financed by a club of rich nations, has been successful over decades, and counts such successes as the invention of the World Wide Web. So too, the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (IDDRB) has been in operation for decades and can point to many accomplishments, including Oral Rehydration Therapy. But the Central American system of regional research and development centers has had continued difficulties raising support among its member states.

The ongoing humanitarian disaster of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and the other diseases of poverty, so common in tropical climates, is resulting in the creation of a variety of new institutions which alternatively foster and distribute philanthopic donations (many from governments) or provide incentives (sometimes non-financial) for the private sector to invest in appropriate biomedical research and development.

The current situation with regard to the international space station may illustrate the nature of the problems. The United States is phasing out the space shuttle, and does not expect to have a maned vehicle to supply the space station for several years. It had been planned to utilize Russian manned rockets to send Americans to the space station. Now, however, with the crisis in Georgia, that thinking is being agonizingly reappraised. There seems always to be a possibility when institutionalizing a support mechanism to last for decades to see an increasing tension among the member nations or a financial crisis affecting some or all, to threaten the entire ediface.

Donor Assistance for Building Scientific Capacity

The International Financial Institutions, the United Nations programs and decentralized agencies, and bilateral donors all have programs to support the creation of scientific capacity in developing nations, and of the capacity to govern science in those nations.

The coordination of these efforts are sometimes accomplished by donor coordinating bodies, and sometimes by interlocking directorates as the governments of the bilateral donors and the major recipients govern the intergovernmental organizations.

Final Comment

As the global Invisible College is growing and evolving, so too are the institutional infrastructure providing the resources it needs to thrive, the trust among its participants needed to enable their collaboration, and the prioritization for the allocation of resources and attention, as well as the distribution of its results.

World spending on R&D is more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year, and if one considers other scientific and technological activities that funding must be well over a trillion dollars a year. Millions of scientists working in nearly 200 nations are involved in the system. A century ago international science was not not nearly of this scale. The change is like that of a village growing into a metropolis. Not surprisingly one counts the time for the evolution of the institutions supporting this expanded system in decades (centuries) rather than in years. Expanding the metaphor, we do not yet understand how to build an adequate institutional infrastructure for the megacities that are appearing around the world, even though there have been large cities from which to learn for centuries. There is no comparable model for the governance of a huge global network of collaborating scientists, and it should not be surprising that we are seeing institutional gaps and institutional failures.

Discussion on Caroline Wagner's Blog

Check out the discussion of her book, The New Invisible College: Science for Development, on Caroline Wagner's blog. I recently posted a review of the book.

A couple of interesting things

Toolkit: Disseminating Research Online
This toolkit from the Global Development Network provides broad tips and practical suggestions for communicating academic research using the internet. It draws on best practice for web strategies from the information and commercial worlds, especially selected to help the successful electronic dissemination of your research.
The Development Communication Sourcebook: Broadening the Boundaries of Communication
This 266-page book from the the staff of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/ The World Bank is intended to be a source of knowledge and practical advice for all those involved in development communication, a compendium of reference material for courses and workshops in this field, and an advocacy piece to promote the discipline to managers and decision makers who have an interest in learning why and when to adopt development communication. The two factors guiding the rationale for writing this sourcebook, according to the introduction, are: "First, despite the growing recognition enjoyed by the discipline of development communication, its nature and full range of functions are still not fully known to many decision makers and development managers who tend to identify this field merely with the art of disseminating information effectively. Second, because of the recent shift in the development paradigm (that is, from one-way to two-way communication) and the related changes in the field of development communication, many communication practitioners are not entirely aware of the discipline’s rich theoretical body of knowledge and the wealth of its practical applications—which are growing in relevance for the development context."
Paolo Mefalopulos, The World Bank, 2008

The New Invisible College: Science for Development

I have just read The New Invisible College: Science for Development by Caroline Wagner. As expected from one of the world's leading experts on international science and technology, it is very good.

I have known Caroline for years. We are now both on the faculty of George Washington University (albeit in different schools). We worked together on a White House conference on Biotechnology, and have appeared together on panels. More fundamentally, she is the author of a series of reports going back decades which quantified the nature of international scientific collaboration -- reports which informed my own beliefs and work.

The book counterposes the internationalization of science through increasingly elaborated global networks of collaboration against the concentration of activity in scientific clusters primarily located in rich countries. (There is a great map showing these clusters, based on publication counts.) Her use of social network analysis to illuminate the changing nature of the global scientific system is especially innovative and illuminating.

The book is not only dry statistics, but includes appropriate illustrative examples of research projects and interviews with key informants, making it readable and indeed a pleasant read.

The final chapter provides some thoughtful and important recommendations for science policy in developed and developing nations.

My hat is off to Caroline!

Here is the link to the book on Amazon (which offers a discount)!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Academies of Sciences and the Transition to Knowledge Societies

In 2007, Academies of Sciences from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe (ESEE) took part in a Conference on “Global Science and National Policies: the Role of Academies”. The Conference was organized by UNESCO (Venice and Moscow Offices) and the International Council for Science (ICSU) and it was hosted by the Academy of Sciences of Moldova at its headquarters in Chisinau.

Click here to read the conference report
(PDF format)

This report and the conference that it summarizes illustrate the role of UNESCO in helping build the new science policy institutions required by the transition countries. While it is almost two decades since the fall of Communism, the transition from the dysfunctional institutions created under Communism and a more effective system suited to free market economies and democratic governments will take much longer.

The effort also illustrates the partnership with the International Council of Science, the umbrella organization for the network of international scientific professional organizations--a partnership that has lasted for decades.

"Solar plane makes record flight"

The BBC has an article on a solar powered airplane which can serves as a sensor platform. It has demonstrated the ability to stay up for three days, storing power in batteries during the day to power the system at night. It should be possible for the device to stay in flight for months. While developed for the Department of Defense, the technology should also be available for civilian application.

This technology appears likely eventually to provide a great source of observation data for developing nations for a host of applications, from agriculture, to urban planning, to disaster response.

The Teaching of Evolution

The New York Times today has an article by Amy Harmon which describes the increasing inclusion of evolution in the high school curriculum in the United States. That is of course something I approve.

The article makes a very good point that a good teacher figures out ways to communicate with students, including in spite of the the students' unwillingness to learn that which is being taught, the students' preconceptions, and the students' idealogical bias. It also makes the point that the teacher's objective should be that the student comes to understand, but not that the student comes to believe.

In the teaching of evolution, it seems to me that students should understand the general structure of the scientific theory and the nature of the evidence that supports it. It seems to me that epigenetics, as it is developing, is modifying our understanding of genetics, and thus of the linkages between the theory of natural selection and genetics. These in turn are being enriched by better understanding of population dynamics and ecology. Consequently, I think evolution provides a great way to acquaint students with the way in which scientific theory can evolve, and the tentative nature of scientific knowledge, which does not undermine the support for the larger context of the structure which has been built, nor the epistemology of science.

Again, it seems to me that evolution provides a great basis to teach kids about the way in which scientists think, and about the institutions in which scientific knowledge is created and validated. Students, who learn that lesson well, should be able to apply its fruits in many ways in later life; indeed that lesson should be a part of their basic literacy, informing their later judgments on the quality of information and the credibility of assertions.

If one looks at the creation of say new breeds of animals or the improvement of crops, there is another lesson that should be made, whether or not a student ever believes that homo sapiens evolved from other species without "intelligent design". Historical observation confirms that new breeds or varieties have been developed, depending on the tendency of progeny to be like their ancestors, to exploit natural variation, through selection, to produce something new. Understanding that evolutionary processes have been observed in many circumstances to produce something new without planning is important. That understanding can be produced in classes on economics, political history, cultural history, or other venues, but often is not. Students who take a biology course should at least learn it there.

Thomas Jefferson on Knowledge

"Even in Europe a change has sensibly taken place in the mind of Man. Science had liberated the ideas of those who read and reflect, and the American example had kindled feelings of right in the people. An insurrection has consequently begun of science, talents and courage against rank and birth, which have fallen into contempt... Science is progressive, and talents and enterprise on the alert. Resort may be had to the people of the country, a more governable power from their principles and subordination; and rank and birth and tinsel-aristocracy will finally shrink into insignificance even there. This, however, we have no right to meddle with." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. ME 13:402

"What a satisfaction have we in the contemplation of the benevolent effects of our efforts, compared with those of the leaders on the other side, who have discountenanced all advances in science as dangerous innovations, have endeavored to render philosophy and republicanism terms of reproach, to persuade us that man cannot be governed but by the rod, etc." --Thomas Jefferson to John Dickinson, 1801. ME 10:217

"The generation now in place... are wiser than we were, and their successors will be wiser than they, from the progressive advance of science." --Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819. ME 15:215

"When I contemplate the immense advances in science and discoveries in the arts which have been made within the period of my life, I look forward with confidence to equal advances by the present generation, and have no doubt they will consequently be as much wiser than we have been as we than our fathers were, and they than the burners of witches." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse, 1818. ME 15:164

"The light which has been shed on the mind of man through the civilized world has given it a new direction from which no human power can divert it. The sovereigns of Europe who are wise or have wise counselors see this and bend to the breeze which blows; the unwise alone stiffen and meet its inevitable crush." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1820. ME 15:299

Jefferson is spinning in his grave

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

The main body of our citizens... remain true to their republican principles; the whole landed interest is republican, and so is a great mass of talents. Against us are... all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty... We are likely to preserve the liberty we have obtained only by unremitting labors and perils. But we shall preserve it, and our mass of weight and wealth on the good side is so great as to leave no danger that force will ever be attempted against us.

Lethargy [is] the forerunner of death to the public liberty.

Let the eye of vigilance never be closed.

[We] should look forward to a time, and that not a distant one, when corruption in this as in the country from which we derive our origin will have seized the heads of government and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people and make them pay the price. Human nature is the same on every side of the Atlantic and will be alike influenced by the same causes.

The spirit of 1776 is not dead. It has only been slumbering. The body of the American people is substantially republican. But their virtuous feelings have been played on by some fact with more fiction; they have been the dupes of artful maneuvers, and made for a moment to be willing instruments in forging chains for themselves. But times and truth dissipated the delusion, and opened their eyes.

Ignorance is a comparative concept. Jefferson's United States was inhabited by a frontier people -- a few million people living on the land, with a few scattered small towns, separated by weeks' voyages from the powers of their time. Unschooled, untroubled by the limited suffrage of their time, they were sufficiently informed to successfully begin to build a democracy.

Today, we are schooled, but with great gaps in popular knowledge. We are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but most people could not find that country on a map. We depend on science and technology for our future economic security, but the public knows little of science and often prefers superstition to scientific knowledge; we depend on immigrants to utilize our great university system and man our technological industries.

We have given suffrage to most adults, but only half our people register to vote, and only half of them actually vote in the major elections.

Today, with more than 300 million people, the United States is the most powerful nation in the world, not only linked to all other nations but deeply influencing their economic, political and cultural systems. In this context we are far more ignorant than were the citizens of the United States in 1800, and our passivity in the management of our government unforgivable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cuts in store for the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Numbers

Source: "Peace Corps to Pare Ranks of Volunteers: Despite Bush's Goal of Doubling Program's Size, Tight Budget Forces Cuts," by Christopher Lee, The Washington Post, August 22, 2008.

The Peace Corps is facing both a cut in appropriations and a loss in buying power of the dollar abroad, problems which it proposes to meet by cutting down the numbers of Volunteers in the field by 400, as well as reducing the Peace Corps bureaucracy.
The 8,079 volunteers today number the most in 37 years but are far fewer than the goal of 14,000 by fiscal 2007 that Bush set in his 2002 State of the Union speech.
The Peace Corps costs the texpayer about $40,000 per Volunteer in the field per year. As a former Volunteer, I would guess that local NGO's could do a lot more good with $80,000 in cash than with a Volunteer for two years. On the other hand, the United States is buying a lot of good will in the communities in which these volunteers are serving, and we really need to spend on public diplomacy. Moreover, this is a great educational investment, as the Volunteers not only learn languages and cultures, but a great deal about the world and the people who inhabit it. All in all, I think the Peace Corps is a great investment for the nation!

The failure of the Bush administration to live up to the promise made in his first State of the Union message is a shame. It is, of course, only one of many ways in which the administration has disappointed us and the world.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Appropriate Technology and the Commons

This is the fifth in a series of postings giving examples of different kinds of Appropriate Technologies according to the typology above. The prior postings were:
In this posting I want to think about goods or services that are both non-excludable and rivalrous. This is the quadrant of the square above that Garrett Hardin was concerned about when he wrote "The Tragedy of the Commons". He was concerned that in these situations in which each user of a commons could obtain temporary advantage by exploiting more than his/her fair share, then the commons will not be used sustainably.

Hardin later recognized that often people have institutionalized methods to assure that each uses only his/her fair share. Think about an oil field, or an underground aquifer. To maximize the production from such a resource, it is both important to have the proper technology to understand and monitor the resource base, and to use appropriate extraction technologies. Thus the nature of the common resource base and of the institutions for its management would seem to determine the technology appropriate for its exploitation.

In addition to such common tangible assets, David Bollier writes of an intangible asset commons:
The commons also consists of intangible assets that are not as readily identified as belonging to the public. Such commons include the creative works and public knowledge not privatized under copyright law. This large expanse of cultural resources is sometimes known as the public domain or—as electronic networking increases its scope and intensity—"the information commons." In addition, our society has dozens of "cultural spaces" provided by communications media, public education, and nonprofit institutions. Another large realm of intangible assets consists of scientific and academic research, much of which is supported by the public through government funding. The character of these spaces changes dramatically when they are governed as markets rather than as commons.
Are then areas of appropriate technology that are both non-excludable and subtractable? Certainly, there are lots of technologies that can be used by anyone who knows that they exist, with perhaps only the observation of someone also using the technology. The question is whether there are technologies within this set which become less useful for others because they are used by some, or overused by some. An example might be a productive technology which should be used in moderation lest the amount produced results in an excess supply in the market, and reduces total income to the producers. It has been suggested that the training of physicians in diagnostic and prescriptive skills has been limited in just such an effort to maximize the incomes of individual physicians and of the medical profession. So too, we have programs to pay farmers not to use the commonly available technology to grow common crops, lest the total production exceeds that which can profitably be sold on the market.

Technological knowledge depreciates with time. The appropriate technology to be used with a given resource base and specific factor prices, within a given technological system, need no longer be appropriate when those conditions change. We can think of buggy whips and trolley cars as illustrating technologies that were once important, but which are no longer. It seems likely that there are circumstances in which overuse of a technology, even intangible technological knowledge, would result in too rapid a depreciation of that technology. If you can think of an example, describe it in a comment, please!

Perhaps one might be the overproduction of free and open source software. On the one hand, there are economies of having software products that interconnect and which are interchangeable from the point of view of the users. On the other hand, there is a limited number of software programmers, and spreading their efforts over too large a set of open source projects may be detrimental to the quality and maintenance of the best of the resulting products, and thus to the user community.

Terrorism is getting worse

Source: The Human Security Brief 2007.

So much for the success of the "War on Terrorism." I think we should have used a different metaphor.

On the one hand, it seems to me, and I admit I am no expert, that to reduce terrorism we should have focused more in the short term on the use of police powers and in the long term on education and promoting a culture of peace, not to mention the soft diplomacy of being a good neighbor. The metaphor might better have been "policing terrorists".

On the other hand, it does seem to me that military power should have been used in Afghanistan if economic and other diplomacy had not sufficed to eliminate that country as a sanctuary for Al Qaeda. But that might better have been described as "a war against a sovereign government" that allowed the training and support of international terrorists.

We can improve health status by improving social policy!

This graph from Gapminder is usually interpreted to show the dependence of health on wealth. It also shows, however, that for a given income level, there are wide disparities in child mortality.

Countries with a higher portion of children dying before age five that other countries with comparable per capita income include the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and Nigeria.

Countries with a lower portion of children dying than economically comparably countries include Japan and the Scandanavian countries, Malaysia, Cuba, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.

The reasons why countries underperform or overperform in terms of buying improved health must differ from country to country. Still, it would seem that governments with more emphasis on social policy do better. The South African anomaly might suggest that radical inequality within a country leads to poor health indicators.

In any case, it is an indictment of the United States health system and more generally our political and social system that we are willing to continue to have lower health status indicators than other countries, including less wealthy countries.

Gapminder Demonstrated

Hans Rosling made another great presentation at TED last year, explaining a lot about the way the world has changed in the last half century while making the points that we should use data to understand the world, and that great presentations can communicate knowledge faster than most people believe possible.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Center for Science Diplomacy

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has launched a science diplomacy center, aiming to use science and scientific cooperation to promote international understanding. The Center is based in Washington D.C. Vaughan Turekian, the AAAS chief international officer and director of the center, says its major objective is to raise the profile of science as an important element of relationship-building between countries and societies.

How should we organize information.

I find newspapers increasingly annoying, as they not only contain the core information I seek, but also embed that information in longer prose that instantiates the information with personalized stories; the overall organization is not to facilitate the efficiency of the readers perusal or mastery of the story, but (I assume) to sell more advertising and newspapers.

I like better the organization of scientific papers, which seek an informative title, include an abstract which conveys the gist of the article, and then provides further information in a stylized manner such that readers with different degrees of interest in the article can choose their own skimming or reading tactics to obtain what they want efficiently. Of course we know that scientific articles leave much to be desired. There will usually be tacit knowledge that another must obtain to replicate the research results noted in an article. Moreover, scientific articles seldom explain how the research hypothesis came to be formulated, nor what the real process of the research actually was.

Still, it would seem to me that the Internet, digital information formats, hypertext, and other capabilities inherent in modern technology should make it possible to present scientific information in much more efficient, useful and effective ways than has been possible in the past. Think about the use of streaming videos and audios as well as graphics that add a time dimension as examples of what can be done to strengthen the conveyance of the information in a report. Indeed, a report might be interactive, diagnosing potential misunderstandings of the material by the reader. Moreover, computer presentation of information might be more effective in motivating reader behavior, and might adjust the presentation in accord with reader characteristics.

What information do we want and need?

It seems obvious that sources of information should be tailored to their intended audiences. Everyone recognizes that children and adults have different styles and needs for the obtaining information, but so too are the optimum presentations different for experts versus highly educated and motivated lay people, versus the general public. There are lots of other differences.

Still, it would seem generally useful to layer information. Think about online news sites which have clearly distinguished headlines, lead paragraphs that are rapidly visible, links to more complete articles, and from those articles links to still more detailed sources.

In some sense, hypertext rich sites also provide this kind of layering, allowing the visitor to diverge from the linear flow of a discussion to go into more depth on especially interesting items, then to return to the linear treatment of the original topic.

I wonder, however, whether we have taken sufficient advantage of improved understanding of the psychological research results on learning in the design of online resources. Do we have alternative sites for people with different styles of processing information and learning. Do we know how to differentially to design websites for use by experts or lay people?

A good source

In this respect, here is a good lecture by Alvin Trusty on good practice for preparing power point presentations, filled with useful information on U.S. copyright law.

Here are the links used by Professor Trusty in that presentation.

Musing on the Value of Science

Scientific research may be considered to be oriented toward the development of knowledge, while technological development to be oriented toward the development of practical products and processes. Scientific research in turn may be divided into that which is intended to provide knowledge for application, and that which is simply intended to provide knowledge and understanding of the world as an end in itself. Applied scientific research might be intended to inform the development of technology or to provide other knowledge for immediate use, such as knowledge about weather or climate, natural resources, possible problems (e.g. diseases, pests), etc.

Scientific knowledge may be and often is used for purposes other than those for which it was intended either by the researchers who uncovered it or by those who supported their research. Thus the distinctions among fundamental and applied scientific research and technology development are distinctions among intentions, and not that useful for the classification of the knowledge and understanding emerging from research and development.

We may alternatively distinguish among knowledge:
  • In the public domain;
  • In the private domain, which is shared but which may not be used by others without permission (e.g. that which is protected by intellectual property rights such as patents);
  • In the private domain, and kept secret (e.g. trade secrets).
In keeping with this division, we may classify research and development as that which is intended for the production of knowledge and understanding to be put immediately in the public domain, and that which is intended to produce knowledge which is intended to be kept at least initially in the private domain.

It is possible, for example to consider two people working side by side involved in methodologically similar projects for the development of an appropriate pharmaceutical for the treatment of similar diseases. One might be funded by a commercial pharmaceutical company which plans to commercialize the product for the profit of its investors; the other might be funded by a foundation which plans to put the product in the public domain to be produced by generic drug manufacturers. In the first case the price would be determined by the willingness of patients to pay while in the latter case the price would be determined by the competition and thus the cost to produce the drug. For example, a foundation might fund research to find new drugs to be used for treatment of diseases of the poor, where the intended users would not have the financial resources to create a market attractive to commercial firms. The research activities would be relatively unaffected by the intentions of the organizations providing funding for their work. But the results emerging from the research might be expected to have very different social applications.

The way knowledge created by research and development scientists may of course not be used in the ways intended by those supporting its creation. Thus, for example, pharmaceutical firms sometimes find that knowledge that they have created with commercial intentions is not commercializable, but would provide substantial health benefits if applied for the benefit of the poor, and put that knowledge in the public domain or produce drugs and make them available at cost for public health programs as a matter of social responsibility. Alternatively, knowledge created in a university with the original intent of being placed in the public domain might, when developed, be judged to be better put to use by patenting and licensing to a commercial firm.

Knowledge produced explicitly to be immediately placed in the public domain is considered a prototypical public good. It is not rivalrous, in that one person’s use of the knowledge does not interfere with the use of the knowledge by another. Since it is placed in the public domain, it is available to all to obtain and utilize without payment, and thus no one is excluded from its use.

Intentionality is something which we attribute to people, and is not an attribute of the information per se. Not only can the information resulting from a research and development project be used for different purposes, the researchers themselves may describe the purposes of the R&D differently for different audiences, and their purposes in doing the project may not only be different than those of the organizations supporting the project, but may never be fully articulated by the researchers themselves nor need they be stable over time. Indeed, one may have to go to court to establish whether information is in the public domain or in the private domain.

The values of knowledge produced for the public domain

I think we often assume that the value of knowledge is determined by the stream of profits that can be generated attributed to its use. This is obvious for technological knowledge. We might extend the concept of “profits” to include values generated by non commercialized applied research. For example, there is a value to epidemiological or climatological data resulting from the social benefit stream that it generates, albeit a stream that would be difficult to quantify. Certainly we can attribute an instrumental value to knowledge in these ways. I would suggest, however, that such instrumental value is only part of the story, and that there are other sources of value which should be considered, especially for knowledge in the public domain.

There is what we might consider a “consumer value” in the creation of knowledge. People like to generate knowledge, and some people like to do so very much. I recall a friend who was a research epidemiologist who told me, probably accurately, that his expected lifetime earnings went down when he got his Masters of Public Health after his MD degree, and went down further after he got his second doctorate. In the distant past, science was a gentleman’s occupation to be conducted without financial reward, and indeed with considerable expense to the scientists involved in the creation of facilities and the purchase of supplies to conduct research. Indeed, there are means to mobilize the volunteer efforts of people who an not professional researchers to help in the conduct of formalized research and development (e.g. scientific tourism, mobilizing bird watchers to do avian population censuses, amateur astronomers contributing to astronomical information bases).

There is also a consumer value for knowledge based on our curiosity. People like to obtain information for the simple pleasure of collecting facts and understanding more of the world. They like to be seen by their friends and associates as knowledgeable. Indeed, people are willing to pay for information to be available which they do not internalize in case they may need it in the future, or simply want to learn it in the future. Think of the families that buy encyclopedias in case someone may wish to look up a fact? Think of how much you are willing to pay for a home computer and Internet access for the privilege of being able to search the web at any future time for information you might want or need.

The willingness to pay for access to information of course depends on the ability to pay. Rich people are not only able to pay more for information that they may want, they are generally willing to pay more of their available resources for information than are the poor. That is, there is a positive elasticity of demand for information.

There are also cultural and individual differences in the willingness to pay for information, and indeed information is not a homogeneous good. As a simple example, different nations allocate their basic research funds differently among the sciences.

There is also a willingness of people to pay for information to be used by others. Thus our charitable feelings lead us to pay for research on tropical agriculture and tropical diseases that we do not expect to benefit from directly, but which will benefit the poor. Indeed, we may see it our responsibility to fund the development of information that it needed if poor people in poor countries are to be granted that which we recognize as their basic human rights to live healthy lives free of hunger.

This kind of analysis suggests that the differences in funding for research and development among different countries are functions of the different abilities to finance the work, the different abilities to utilize the results of R&D for utilitarian purposes, and the different willingness to pay for knowledge and understanding as ends in themselves.

I think it clear that we have not developed the institutions necessary to mobilize all of our willingness to pay for information in the public domain for the enterprise needed to generate and disseminate that information and to prepare people to obtain the information and convert it to knowledge and understanding.

If one accepts that the world is in the process of moving towards a “knowledge society” or an “information society”, then it seems likely that the values assigned to knowledge and information in the future will be different than those of today. If present value is calculated as the sum of discounted future values, it becomes doubly hard to estimate present value, both since so much of value is implicit rather than explicit, and since even those explicit values will change over time.

The institutional systems for appropriating value to pay for research and development are more fully developed in advanced developed nations, and less developed in poor nations (which have less need of them). Those systems are especially poorly developed to fund international scientific and technological collaborations in the public and non-profit sectors.