Monday, September 29, 2008

Half way to through the MDG period

Some 400 million fewer people live in absolute poverty today than in 1990.

At least 90 percent of boys and girls in all but two regions of the world are enrolled in school.

Deaths from measles fell from 750,000 in 2000 to less than 250,000 in 2006, and 80 percent of children in developing countries are now vaccinated against the disease.

Some 1.6 billion more people than in 1990 can now get safe drinking water.

Facing half the world's population who live in poverty, or facing 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty, it is important to recognize that we are making progress. Indeed the progress has been quite rapid. Unfortunately we are not progressing nearly fast enough, given the human suffering we are allowing to continue to exist. I predict that the worsening global economic situation will slow progress on the Millennium Development Goals.

Two new reports

Economic Doctrines and Policy Differences describes how three traditional economics doctrines – conservative neo-classical (supply-side), liberal neo-classical (Rubinomics), and neo-Keynesianism – have long dominated economic thinking in Washington, and explains how a new theory and narrative of economic growth – innovation economics – based on an explicit effort to understand and model how technological advances occur, has reformulated the traditional model of economic growth by placing knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation at the center of economic growth theory.

The companion report, An Innovation Economics Agenda for the Next Administration, explains an approach designed to ensure robust economic growth and rising standards of living for all Americans by putting innovation at the center of our nation’s economic policies. The report lays out eight concrete policy proposals to drive innovation-led economic growth, including significantly expanding the R&D tax credit, creating a National Innovation Foundation, and implementing an innovation-based national trade policy.

Another Bush Administration Failure

On a day in which the Bush administration was badly embarrassed on the bailout legislation for the financial industry, and had a damning IG report on the Justice Department politicization, here is still a third. Reporting on the successful passage of legislation to improve data on broadband access in the United States, Free Press reports:
"The Bush administration promised universal, affordable broadband access by 2007. Nearly a year past that deadline, we are still a long way from that goal. As high-speed Internet access becomes an economic and social necessity, closing the digital divide must be a national priority.

Watch out for appeals to your unconscious racism in this election

Yesterday I saw an interesting talk by Drew Westen, the author of The Political Brain. If I can do him justice, I came away with an increased appreciation of the fact that we make decisions based on our emotional responses to political parties and candidates as well as (and perhaps more than) our conscious analysis of the risks and benefits they offer the country in the current circumstances.

I was especially impressed by his demonstration that political advertising has an impact on our emotional response due to visual and other cues in addition to the more rational impact made by the explicit verbal content. The people who produce television and radio adds for commercial products are aware of this, and work very hard to make you feel you will be more attractive if you buy their product. The national political campaigns no doubt are trying very hard to employ those people to make their advertisements who will deliver the most votes.

Westen really made an impression on me showing how much some anti-Obama adds triggered unconscious racism. If you don't like the appeal to racism by McCain supporters, be conscious of the subliminal content in those adds, and fight against their attempt to unfairly manipulate your decisions!

This is what Josh Marshall says about the attack add the McCain campaign issued on Obama and education (I won't link the add, since even recognizing its bias it might leave a bad residue as well as a bad taste):
(T)oday McCain comes out with this rancid, race-baiting ad based on another lie. Willie Horton looks mild by comparison. (And remember, President George H.W. Bush never ran the Willie Horton ad himself. It was an outside group. He wasn't willing to degrade himself that far.) .......This is ugly stuff. And this is an ugly person. There's clearly no level of sleaze this guy won't stoop to to win this election.

Think for yourself, don't depend on your "political team" being right

Shankar Vedantam's Department of Human Behavior column in The Washington Post today has another interesting discussion of the way we make political decisions.

Research indicates that while Democrats and Republican activists both tend to see more difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates these days, moderates tend to see less difference. He ascribes this phenomenon in part to the fact that activists are more interested in politics on the average than moderates, and follow the candidates more closely. However, following the research of political scientist Marc J. Hetherington, he suggests that party members are exhibiting behavior analogous to that of sports fans following their teams.
On a variety of unrelated issues -- gun control, the economy, war, same-sex marriage, abortion, the environment, the financial bailout -- the views of Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly monolithic. There is no reason someone who is against abortion should necessarily also be against gun control or for economic deregulation, but that is exactly what tends to happen among committed Republicans. Loyal Democrats have similarly monolithic views on unrelated issues......

Another consequence of intense party identification is that the Democratic and Republican parties have rid themselves of contrarians. Liberal Republicans and, to a lesser extent, conservative Democrats are endangered species.
Vedantum suggests that this is more true of American voters now than was true in the past. Accepting that this polarization has taken place, there is still the question of why now, after more than 200 years of partisan politics in the United States.

Let me advance an uninformed hypothesis. People tend to seek out information that agrees with their preconceptions, and to believe more in data that confirms rather than challenges those preconceptions. Today it is easier to do so, not only by choosing friends as informants, but also by choosing apparently "authoritative" sources of information from the media. Not only are the mass media dividing along partisan lines in the United States, but using the Internet we can seek out copacetic opinions. Indeed, we can watch the speeches of our favorite candidate on the Internet without the "inconvenience" of listening to the other side. So the information we choose leads us to believe more of what the other members of our party believe, if we are members of a party.

One should also "follow the money". The candidates who have the most money and buy the most and best advertising get the most votes and win their elections. Incumbents have an advantage in the elections, and thus attract more money from those seeking to invest wisely in the search for influence. Thus incumbents are almost always reelected. The exception is incumbents in years of voter discontent in vulnerable constituencies; they receive support from their state and national parties. The dominant party in the state is more likely to be effective in exercising that influence. States become more monolithic politically.

Still, I think there is much to be said for the position that the media are not doing their job. They do not ask hard questions of candidates on both sides, and seek to honestly present the positions on both sides while debunking the political hyperbole and falsehoods.

Perhaps the best antidote to falling into the trap is to make a conscious effort to listen to the arguments on both sides. Ask yourself if you really accept each position of your candidate. There is no reason why one can not be a fiscal conservative and a social progressive. Certainly one can be a conservationist and not a conservative! One can feel we should not have entered the war in Iraq, and also feel that we need to get out of that war very carefully due both to the risks involved in destabilizing a large part of the world and to the moral responsibility we owe to the Iraqi people.
Source of table: “The Discounted Voter: Polarization at the Congressional District Level,” Marc J. Hetherington and Bruce I. Oppenheimer

Almost half of Congressional districts had closer than a 40/60 split in 1976, fewer than one-quarter in 2004. Fourteen districts had a 20/80 split or more polarized in 1976, while 40 did in 2004.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Congo Elephants Even More Endangered Than We Thought

Source: "Elephants in Congo: Big and helpless," The Economist, September 25, 2008.

The forest elephants of central Africa—smaller, with shorter, straighter tusks—may even constitute a distinct species from the African elephants we think of from the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. The forest elephants are few in number and being poached, in part to supply the demand for ivory from China.
The Congo basin is “haemorrhaging elephants”, says TRAFFIC, which monitors trade in wildlife. The head of the 790,000-hectare (1,952,000-acre) Virunga National Park in eastern Congo, Emmanuel de Merode, reports that 24 elephants have been poached in his park so far this year. The situation is dire: 2,900 elephants roamed Virunga when Congo became independent in 1964, 400 in 2006, and fewer than 200 today. Most have been poached by militias, particularly Hutu rebels from Rwanda who hack off the ivory and sell it to middlemen in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, who then smuggle it to China.

The criteria for the presidential election

In the election, it is important to forget what we learned in kindergarden. As children we choose our friends for our teams. As adults, that is called cronyism, and is frowned upon. Now the Democratic and Republican candidates all seem to be personally admirable:
  • Obama appears to be a good family man who has worked hard all his life and succeeded admirably,
  • McCain has served his country for decades, often in the most severe conditions, and ascribes to the code of duty, honor, country,
  • Biden too appears to be a good family man who has overcome great hardships and returned to the service of his country.
  • Palin, the mother of five, appears to be committed to her religion, her family, her community and has also succeeded admirably in her life.
The question is not which of these people we most like, but who should we vote for thinking of the needs of the nation. As I have written before, that is a question of which administration would best lead the nation, working most effectively to resolve our current problems and to set the basis for future challenges and opportunities. Of course the character, temperament and ideology of the candidates matter, as do their understanding of the world and ability to master new information and rise to new challenges. I would give more weight to leadership, the ability to mobilize their own party and to collaborate with the other party, and to the demonstrated strengths of the party the candidate represents.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"China: from ‘emerging contender’ to ‘serious player’ in cross-border student mobility"

This is a good posting on the GlobalHigherEd blog. It points out that China is succeeding in attracting a larger portion of the world's population of people enrolled in higher education outside of their own country. The United States while still attracting more students than any other country has seen a significant decrease in the portion of the world's foreign students under the Bush administration.

Surprise Modeling

Aurelie Thiele in her interesting blog, Thoughts on business, engineering and higher education, posted a comment on the Technology Review "list of ten emerging technologies that its editors believe will be particularly important over the next few years" with the following explanation of Surprise modeling (which appears on that list):
"Surprise modeling", pioneered by Eric Horvitz of Microsoft Research's Adaptive Systems and Interaction group, has led to a traffic-monitoring tool (for the Seattle area) called SmartPhlow, which focuses on alerting users to surprises in traffic patterns rather than the congested points everyone is supposed to know about. Using several years of traffic data, Horvitz and his group estimated traffic conditions, to represent the expectations of knowledgeable drivers, and have then concentrated on predicting the moments when the "data shows a significant deviation from the averaged model". The system, when set to a false-positive rate of 5 percent (which means that the chance of the system predicting a surprise when there's none is 5 percent), "tips drivers off to 50 percent more surprises than they would otherwise know about." While the system is not available for download on the Web by the general public, "more than 5,000 Microsoft employees" are said to have installed it on their smart phones.
Comment: My operations research skills are outdated, and I had not known about this approach. However, it is a great idea. I can think of all sorts of applications. How about putting a surprise monitor into biomedical tracking systems? How about migration data?

The Technology Review list is also interesting. It includes ways to make electronics smaller and more efficient and wireless power, as well as ways to better predict and understand human behavior. I am more doubtful about its prediction of new enzymes to transform lignocellulose into a liquid fuel, since I managed a program with that objective for more than a decade, several decades ago. But the list should combine both importance and feasibility as estimated by experts.

Congress Steps in to Protect Travel to the Space Station

As I posted recently, the Congress has waived a provision of a previous law which prohibits buying technology from Russia and other countries supporting Iran, in order to allow NASA to purchase voyages on the Soyuz rocket to the space station in the absence of the Space Shuttle.

The Washington Post today reports that:
The Senate, meanwhile, has added language to the NASA Reauthorization Act that would prohibit NASA from taking any steps to make it impossible to resurrect the space shuttle fleet after 2010, when it is scheduled to be grounded.
Comment: Of course, it is prudent to keep the Soyuz option open while the Space Shuttle program is in its current state. It sounds to my inexpert ears, however, like the Senators are trying to open an option for the next president. With a bad economy, it seems likely that Bush's strategy of making big announcements of manned space travel. leaving the heavy lifting of funding the program to his successors is coming home to roost. We may have to fund a more modest, more cost effective program of unmanned scientific space activities. JAD

The Debate Last Night

The British Telegraph reports:
Mr McCain's sometimes patronising attitude cost him support among a panel of 27 undecided voters assembled in the swing state of Nevada by Mr Luntz, a Republican polling guru.

Using hand-held dials, they indicated their reactions throughout the debate. Thirteen had supported Democrat John Kerry four years ago and 12 were for Mr Bush, with two voting for neither. By the end of Friday's debate, 17 said they felt more favourable about Mr Obama and 10 about Mr McCain......

In a so-called "insta-poll" of 524 uncommitted voters for CNN, Mr Obama won the debate by 51 per cent to 38 per cent. CBS conducted a similar survey with a victory for Mr Obama by a 39 to 24 per cent margin, with 36 per cent declaring it a draw.
One's Political Party Counts

Senator McCain has a problem, and Senator Obama did not point it out, perhaps because it is too subtle for a mass audience. Senator McCain's ideology and voting record places him in the center of the Republican Senators, although since he was one of the Keating Five he has tried to make a record against cozy deals with supporters and earmarks and probably alienated colleagues in the Senate. He is considerably to the right of the Democrats, thus to get a program through the Congress he will almost certainly have to craft one that his party will buy into almost without exception. That has also been the situation faced by President George W. Bush. So the McCain economic and foreign policies will probably be very much a continuation of the Bush economic and foreign policies.

I suggest that McCain has voted so consistently in support of Bush policies because that is the way politics works. To get anything done in Washington, one goes along with the wishes of one's party. Since the voters are generally opposed to the Bush administration policies, they will be opposed to the only policies that McCain is likely to be able to enact into law.

What Will Happen in the Economy

I don't know, but I believe the pundits who tell us that even if the effort to define a bailout are successful this weekend, there will be a long hard slog to repair the damage. That sounds to me like a recession and high unemployment, with consequent reduction of the tax base. The theory, as I understand it, is that the government should spend more than its income in recessions to help the economy pull out of its problems, and to spend less than its income in boom times in order to pay off its debts. Unfortunately, I would guess that not only will the national debt increase by about ten percent this year due to the deficit and bailout, but the interest rates the government will have to pay to finance that debt will also go up, so there is going to be a bigger "nut" that the government can not avoid.

If Obama can get the Iraqi's to pay part of the bill, and pull down the forces in Iraq, while increasing taxes on the rich, and given that he has been predicting economic problems due to the lack of regulation and the sub-prime lending crisis, if I am right he should be able to implement the major portions of his proposed policies. He will have to make cuts in discretionary programs and delay parts of his ideal program, but if times are tough you pull in your belt.

McCain's proposals seem less realistic. Entitlements and interest represent the major part of the federal budget, and if McCain plans to protect military expenditures and expenditures on veterans while cutting taxes he is either going to have to decimate discretionary programs or run into a debt crisis, with the consequent further increases in interest expenses.

Polarization in safe states

There is an interesting posting in Andrew Gelman's The Monkey Cage indicating that legislators from Republican "safe states" tend to be more conservative than their constituents, legislators from Democratic "safe states" tend to be more liberal than their constituents, and legislators from "battleground states" tend to share the bimodal distribution of ideology of their constituents more closely. Senators tend to be more homogeneous in their ideology than members of the House of Representatives in the "safe states".

I have heard it commented upon in the past that the increasing number of safe constituencies in the United States has contributed to the increasing polarization of the Congress, and Gelman's data would tend to support that idea.

By the way, the blog is from this quotation:
Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
H.L. Mencken

Friday, September 26, 2008

Science Community Calls for Energy Research

More than 70 business, higher education, and scientific organizations have issued a petition to be delivered to both Presidential campaigns calling on the next President to propose and implement a comprehensive energy research initiative to help lead the country toward long-term energy security.

Speakers at the meeting that was held on the release of the petition included MIT's Susan Hockfield, DuPont's, Uma Chowdhry, Intersil's David Bell and Berkeley Lab's Steven Chu.

Malaria may finally be erradicated

Sources: The Washington Post, BBC News.

The malaria summit this week, held in conjunction with the meeting of the United Nations, attracted the heads of more than a dozen countries. It saw the unveiling of the The Global Malaria Action Plan that calls for expanding access to bed nets and treatment to everyone in need by 2010, with the goal of reducing by 2015 the number of malaria deaths to zero.

Pledges were made totalling some three billion dollars.
The new funding commitments include: $1.6 billion from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; $1.1 billion from the World Bank; $168.7 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; $2 million from Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation; and $100 million from a coalition of corporations, including $28 million from Houston-based Marathon Oil to extend its malaria-prevention program across Equatorial Guinea.
Global malaria statistics are notoriously incomplete and inaccurate. Still it is estimated that 300 million to 500 million people become sick with the disease each year, and more than a million people die from the disease. The deaths are mostly kids. In hyperendemic areas, people get the disease repeatedly (although they develop some resistance over the course of these repeated infections). The burden of this disease increases poverty, and makes all development efforts harder and less effective.

There was a previous, failed effort to eradicate malaria globally. The earlier success of the Italian government in eradicating malaria in Italy and the success of DDT in controlling vectors led the World Health Organization to declare a Global Malaria Eradication Campaign in 1955. By 1969, however, it was apparent that the effort would not succeed, and efforts were scaled back. Malaria remained a plague of the tropical world. While developed countries succeeded in eliminating transmission within their borders, many poor nations limited themselves to trying to reduce the incidence and mortality due to the disease to more manageable efforts.

Paradoxically, the problem has gotten both more worrisome and more amenable to interventions in recent decades. Insects have become resistant to insecticides in many regions, as the disease agent has become resistant to treatment with a range of drugs. Global climate change carries the threat of conditions becoming more conducive to the vectors of malaria in many places, leading in turn to increased transmission of the disease and introduction of endemic malaria to populations with no resistance to the disease.

On the other hand, programs to distribute insecticide impregnated bed nets have proven effective in recent years as affordable nets have become available, a new drug -- artemisinin -- has proven effective and drug combinations have proven at a mimimum to delay the development of resistance, and there is a new acceptance of appropriate utilization of insecticides in malaria programs. Developing nations' governments are much more capable of managing malaria eradication campaigns than they were a half century ago, and there has been considerable economic progress since the last campaign failed.

As was done with Smallpox, it is conceptually possible to eradicate malaria. There is no known animal reservoir for the disease. We know that if we fail again in the effort, the disease is likely to return to the current or higher levels, and the control of the disease is likely to be even more difficult in the future.

The "war" metaphor is overused, but I suggest it fits, and the world should embark on a war against malaria. The disease has killed too many people, and with this coalition it should be possible to end the threat from this disease for good.

"Anti-poverty summit raises 16 billion dollars: UN chief"

Source: Agence France Press, September 26, 2008.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Thursday: "We have full commitment from many countries in pledges to help the world's poor, around the 16 billion dollars mark." The announcement was made at the close of the day-long summit called to review implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The exact total from pledges from world leaders, the private sector and civil society still had be tallied, and it should be noted that in the past not all such pledges had been fulfilled.

Major commitments were announced Thursday in four key areas: malaria control, education, health and food security.

  • Participants committed around three billions dollars for malaria to save more than 4.2 million lives between 2008 and 2015
  • 4.5 billion dollars' worth of new pledges and commitments were made for education which are to get 24 million children into school by 2010, as a milestone toward universal primary education by 2015
  • In the health sector, commitments totaling nearly two billion dollars next year and rising to seven billion by 2015 were made for the MDGs relating to child mortality and maternal health
  • 1.6 billion dollars were pledged to boost food security, including a new initiative to help poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and central America gain access to rich markets.
The Washington Post, in its coverage of the story, notes:
Last year, donors spent about $103.7 billion in foreign assistance. Ban has asked states to give an additional $18 billion a year, including more than $6 billion a year for Africa.

U.S. Approves Funding for Soyuz

Source: "Spending Bill Would Resolve a Pressing NASA Concern," JOHN SCHWARTZ, The New York Times, September 25, 2008.

A continuing resolution passed by the Congress on Wednesday will allow NASA "to buy seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft until 2016. Without it, NASA would have been unable to buy passage aboard the Soyuz after the current Congressional permission to do so expires in 2011."
The Soyuz seats are critical to the space program because NASA plans to wind down the space shuttle program in 2010. The next generation of spacecraft will not be ready until 2015, at the earliest, under current plans. In order to continue reaching the International Space Station during the gap between the end of the old program and the beginning of the new, NASA plans to fly with the Russian space program.

A 2000 law — the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act — prohibits the government from making payments to Russia related to the International Space Station because of Russia’s sale of nuclear materials to Iran. Congress had passed a waiver to the law that allowed NASA to purchase Soyuz seats, but that waiver will expire in 2011. Since Soyuz spacecraft take a full three years to build, NASA needed quick action on a new waiver or risk losing access to the station three years from now when the old waiver expires.
Comment: At least this one crisis has been postponed to be handled later by a new administration. Congratulations to the Congress! JAD

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Political Affiliations of Scientists and Professors

From a 2005 article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed:
Several studies this year — some disputed — have suggested a political tilt (toward Democrats) among professors. Now a new study is being released saying that social science professors are overwhelmingly Democratic, that Democratic professors in those disciplines are more homogeneous in their thinking than are Republicans, and that Republican scholars are more likely than Democrats in the field to end up working outside of academe......

The latest study is based on surveys conducted in 2003 of members of various disciplinary associations. On the question of political affiliation, the survey found the following breakdown of Democrats to Republicans:

* Anthropologists and sociologists — 21.1:1
* Political and legal philosophers — 9.1:1
* Historians — 8.5:1
* Political scientists — 5.6:1
* Economists — 2.9:1
A little more searching and I found a posting by Eric Schwitzgebel on The Splintered Mind:
I have looked at the public voting records of professors in several states (California, Florida, North Carolina, Washington State, and soon Minnesota)....Here's what I found.

Among philosophers (375 records total):

Democrat: 87.2%
Republican: 7.7%
Green: 2.7%
Independent: 1.3%
Libertarian: 0.8%
Peace & Freedom: 0.3%

Among political scientists (225 records total:)

Democrat: 82.7%
Republican: 12.4%
Green: 4.0%
Independent: 0.4%
Peace & Freedom: 0.4%

Among a comparison group drawn randomly from all other departments (179 records total):

Democrat: 75.4%
Republican: 22.9%
Independent: 1.1%
Green: 0.6%

By comparison, in California (from which the bulk of the data are drawn), the registration rates (excluding decline to state [19.4%]) are:

Democrat: 54.3%
Republican: 40.3%
Other: 5.3% [source]
Comment: I tend to identify with these highly educated people, but I find it interesting how strongly they lean toward the Democrats. JAD

Science in the United States -- Problems in the House!

Norman R. Augustine has written an editorial for the current issue of Science magazine (Science 19 September 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5896, p. 1605). It paints a dim picture of the situation:
The United States ranks 16th and 20th among nations in college and high-school graduation rates, respectively; 60th in the proportion of college graduates receiving natural science and engineering degrees; and 23rd in the fraction of GDP devoted to publicly funded nondefense research. The number of U.S. citizens receiving Ph.D.s in engineering and the physical sciences has dropped by 22% in a decade. U.S. high-school students rank near the bottom in math and science.
Comment: The situation is perhaps not so bad as these numbers might imply. The United States has been successful in attracting scientists and engineers trained elsewhere. The large number of Americans entering higher education accounts for part of the lower completion rates and part of the lower ration of science and engineering students to all students. Still, these figures are disturbing in themselves and bode ill for the future of the economy. JAD

Augustine also writes:
Of the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, only 8 list themselves as engineers or scientists. Of the 9 senior leaders in China, 8 hold such degrees. How can America's political leaders be expected to make sound policy decisions in a world of increasingly complex science and technology if the most qualified individuals in those fields remain absent from the field of play?
Comment: Given how few scientists and engineers are actually elected to Congress, it is important that the members get good scientific and technological advice. The efforts of the professional societies to place fellows on Congressional staffs are very important. But perhaps it is time to lobby for the reinstitution of an advisory body such as the Office of Technology Assessment that was abolished by a Republican controlled Congress in 1995, or the Office of Science and Technology Policy that provides advice to the President. If the Congress is to provide a check and balance to the Executive Branch, it too needs an advisory body to do so well in areas of science and technology. JAD

The failure of the United States to offer equal educational opportunities to minorities may be part of the reason we will be facing a problem in scientific and technological manpower in the not too distant future, and consequent economic problems.

EIT Launched

Tech Transfer eNews informs me:
The European Union has launched its much-anticipated new high-tech institute, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), with a formal opening at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. EU officials envision the institute as the European counterpart of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with leading researchers from across the continent collaborating and developing world-leading innovations in a variety of disciplines. At its inaugural meeting, EIT's 18-member governing board unanimously elected an industrial scientist, Martin Schuurmans, former executive VP of Philips Research, as the institute's first leader.

UN High Level Meeting Today on MDGs

Almost 100 world leaders are converging on the United Nations today for a high-level meeting to assess how to translate commitments into effective action to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The gathering at UN Headquarters in New York, convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, seeks to pinpoint gaps and identify steps to take to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDGs.

This is where the high level officials will be discussing poverty.

People like these will probably not survive without more help!

The UK on the MDGs

The Department for International Development (DfID) of the government of the United Kingdom has issued a comment on the progress toward meeting the Millennium Development Goals as the world has reached the half way point between in the 2000-2015 period agreed to by the UN to reduce poverty.

I quote the DfID summary of what more needs to be done::
* 75 million children are still not in school.
* Half of the developing world lack basic sanitation.
* Over half a million women still die each year from treatable and preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
* Over 33 million people are living with HIV.
* More than one million people die of Malaria every year, including one child every 30 seconds.
* 980 million people still live on less than $1 a day.
Comment: The World Bank has recently recognized that the $2 per day poverty line is too low, adjusted it to a still lowly $1.25 per day, and reestimated the number of people living in such extreme poverty at 1.4 billion, that is 1,400,000,000. It is interesting to compare the effort to help these people with the $700 billion now proposed to prevent a recession in the United States. JAD

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A possible lesson from history.

I have been reading the chapter on the Dreyfus Affair in Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower. As a vast oversimplification, the difference was between two camps. One which held that the French Army was sufficiently important that its prestige should be maintained, even at the cost of covering the mistake of senior officers and leaving an innocent man in prison. The other held that justice required freeing the innocent and punishing the guilty, including those guilty of deliberate miscarriage of justice. It occurs to me that were the Army unable to admit its defeats in so minor an affair as the conviction of Dreyfus, it would be unlikely to handle information adequately to conduct a war.

I don't know if Tuchman was deliberately seeking to draw a parallel with modern conditions, but it occurs to me that there are lessons to be learned from the Dreyfus Affair that might bear fruit in Iraq and Afghanistan. We learned in Vietnam not to demonize the military for doing what they were ordered by the elected civilian powers to do. We must not forget that lesson. Indeed, I think we need to redouble our efforts to treat the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with respect, assuring that the nation lives up to its debt to them.

On the other hand, human beings being what they are, we can be sure that mistakes have been made and evil acts committed. Given that such acts are inevitable when so many people are placed in such a position, the nation bears a part of their responsibility, and should own up to it. So too, the military should be asked to consider what it has done badly, how the damage may be ameliorated, and how such errors can be better avoided in the future.

Fool me once.........

In the first year of the Bush administration there was a catastrophe. Bush and his appointees told us that there was a huge peril from Iraq, which was developing weapons of mass destruction and linked to Al Qaeda, and that war was necessary to save us from future terrorist attacks. So we went to war, and discovered that there were no WMDs and no links to the terrorists, but thousands have died and a trillion dollars have been lost.

Now in the last year of the Bush administration, there is a financial disaster. Bush and his appointees tell us there is a huge peril in the financial markets, and that a huge payoff is necessary to save us from future financial meltdown. Do we believe them?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"McCain, Obama Present Their Wars on Cancer"

Science magazine has a brief news article by Jennifer Couzin on the candidates positions:
McCain's statement highlights legislation he supported in 2001 to improve access to clinical trials and, last year, to fund research on the environmental risk factors of breast cancer, a bill Obama endorsed as well. McCain also referred to his past support for doubling the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget over 6 years, adding that "as President, [I] will make sure that our researchers have necessary funding to defeat cancer once and for all."

Obama offered a denser, arguably more detailed plan, which included doubling the budget for cancer research in 5 years, mainly through the National Cancer Institute, and boosting from about 4% to 10% the number of adults with cancer participating in clinical trials. He also said he would provide "additional funding for research on rare cancers and those without effective treatment options" and for the study of genetic factors driving cancer and outcomes.
Comment: I don't suppose I would choose a candidate on the basis of his science and technology policy, in the current situation with economic woes and two wars, and indeed it is difficult to see the difference between the two candidates from their position statements. Still, I think they should be stating those policies so that we have something to hold the next president to in terms of science and technology. JAD

"Fragile States: ‘Toughest Development Challenge of Our Era’"

"One billion people live in countries where the state is breaking down or is overcome by conflict. The countries are often poor or with large pockets of poverty. Their governments are typically unable or unwilling to provide basic services or enough security for people’s lives to improve. These fragile states are the “toughest development challenge of our era,” Bank President Robert B. Zoellick observed recently at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Geneva. “The diseases, outflows of desperate people, criminality, and terrorism that can spawn in the vacuum of fragile states can quickly become global threats,” Zoellick said." More!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Water may be the real problem

Source: "Water for farming: Running dry," The Economist, September 18th 2008.
"(A)s the world’s population grows and incomes rise, farmers will—if they use today’s methods—need a great deal more water to keep everyone fed: 2,000 more cubic kilometres a year by 2030, according to the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a research centre, or over a quarter more than they use today. Yet in many farming regions, water is scarce and likely to get scarcer as global warming worsens. The world is facing not so much a food crisis as a water crisis, argues Colin Chartres, IWMI’s director-general."
Comment: As in the case of energy efficiency, there is one strategy that has a couple of benefits. If we were to eat more vegetable protein and less animal protein, we would save a lot of agricultural water, and those of us living in fat societies would also be healthier.

Of course, as water becomes more scarce, farmers will must and will use more water efficient technologies. The Israelis have decades of experience in water saving agriculture, including water harvesting technologies.

Still, given the inertia of political systems, I fear water wars in some areas that are already "tinder boxes" in both senses of the term. JAD

World Malaria Report 2008

"Half of the world's population is at risk of malaria, and an estimated 247 million cases led to nearly 881 000 deaths in 2006. The World malaria report 2008 describes the global distribution of cases and deaths, how WHO-recommended control strategies have been adopted and implemented in endemic countries, sources of funding for malaria control, and recent evidence that prevention and treatment can alleviate the burden of disease."

According to the Economist:
The report comes on the eve of a United Nations malaria summit in New York on September 25th. Governments, philanthropic outfits (notably the Gates foundation), activists and celebrities will launch a new global strategy and collect hefty pledges in its support. Campaigners say that malaria’s moment has finally arrived.

"Science Questions for Would-Be Presidents"

Scientific American provides a brief article in the October 2008 issue on the scientific positions of the two candidates. The editors, who provided the piece, emphasize that the candidates have as others before them, avoided providing details of their science and technology policies leaving it difficult to choose between them. After describing similar positions on energy, stem cells and space, the article states:
Obama, more than McCain, has taken positions on many other science issues. He has promised to double federal funding for basic research. Over what period? And does that figure include his promised energy investment? He has said he would appoint a chief technology officer to protect citizens’ electronic privacy, but could that person really overrule federal agencies with their own prerogatives? How precisely would Obama make good on his vow to reform the troubled copyright and patent system?
Comment: The editors apparently would prefer that the candidates would inform us about their policies. The candidates, I strongly suspect, want to provide only as much information as will maximize the number of votes that information captures for them, avoiding losing any more votes than necessary. Indeed, the situation is probably even more complex. Can they not be thinking about voters in Florida, with the space flight center, when they support manned space flight?

Both candidates are politicians and, in spite of their emphasis on change, each has voted the vast majority of the time with his party. That may tell you more about their likely science and technology approach than their formal statements.

The Candidates on the Financial Crisis

The candidates are commenting on the current financial crisis and making proposals as to what they would do about it. Of course, even when elected the winning candidate will not be able to act as president until January 20th, 2009.

More to the point, neither one knows much at the moment, compared to the spokespersons for the government. A Candidate has a few hundred policy people that he can draw on. The secretary of the Treasury has thousands. Not only is the Treasury Department there at his disposition, but he can draw on the State Department and its thousands of diplomats for information on foreign governments, the Commerce Department, not to mention the regulatory agencies. The federal government should have many more people, with enormous skills and resources working on the analysis that has lead to nearly a trillion dollars of initiatives. No candidate can match those resources.

It is interesting to hear how they approach the crisis in terms of evaluating their teams and fundamental approaches to governing, but it is not useful in coming to decisions on what the government should in fact do.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Web Science Research Initiative

The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) is a joint endeavour between the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT and the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton. The goal of WSRI is to facilitate and produce the fundamental scientific advances necessary to inform the future design and use of the World Wide Web.

The Initiative seeks to bring together academics, scientists, sociologists, entrepreneurs and decision makers from around the world. These people are to create the first multidisciplinary research body to examine the World Wide Web and offer the practical solutions needed to help guide its future use and design.

Tim Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the World Wide Web, director of the World Wide Web Consortium, senior research scientist at MIT and professor at the University of Southampton is one of the four founding directors of the Initiative.

"Africa's Great Green Wall"

Before and after images source: "Africa's Great Green Wall," Celcias

The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) has initiated a project to build a Great Green Wall across the continent from Mauritania in West Africa to Djibouti in the East. The project is an attempt to stop growing desertification in the northern regions of the continent. A 5 km wide 7,000 km long green strip of trees is to be planted across the desert from Dakar to Djibouti to constitute a barrier to further progress of desertification.

Read more at Global Envision.

This is an extremely ambitious project, and one that has not yet been completely funded. There is at least one precedent. The Great Hedge of India was installed in the 19th century to help stop smuggling (of drugs). It stretched a distance of 2,300 miles and was guarded by nearly 12,000 men.

Information technology Competitiveness

Will Informatization Recapitulate Mechanization?

Once, not all that long ago, physical strength was important in day to day life. My great-grandfather was remembered in my life as a man who could alone lift a barrel of bear down from a cart. A man who could plow a straight furrow following his animal, or a woman who could weave most dexterously was admired for the physical ability. Then came mechanical power to amplify man's strength and mechanization that was more dexterous than the most rapid manipulator. Those abilities were no longer needed in day to day life.

Indeed, the quickest is now the jet pilot or the racing driver; the strongest is the operator of the biggest earthmoving equipment or locomotive; the most dangerous person in single combat may be the operator of a predator unmanned aircraft. Their mental and physical endowments are quite different than those of the athlete.

We still honor the swiftest runner, the man who can throw a javelin furthest, the man who can lift the heaviest weight in the Olympics. We provide great economic rewards for the best professional players of soccer, football, basketball, and baseball, and the best professional cyclists. We do so, however, because we find the competition entertaining (and we can bet on the results), not because the best performing athlete will be the best warrier or best worker.

Even now, many intellectual abilities are important in everyday life. Yet some which were once important have been devalued by the changes that have occurred in our society. A good memory is less important than it once was, as means of automating recall have become more common. In my youth, the skills of the clerk typist and draftsman, essentially putting information in good order, were highly valued, but today those functions have been largely automated. The librarian, an expert in locating and retrieving knowledge, is a highly trained professional, but kids now Google to locate what they need quickly on the Internet; we are seeking to make those kids information literate in much the same way as professionals who once depended on clerk typists had to learn to use computers to prepare and store their own documents.

More and more information and communications technology is used to allow the average person to do that which only the intellectually gifted or trained person. So too, we will probably reduce the prestige we allocate to those who possess these once important abilities which are now common due to ICT-based intellectual augmentation. Expert systems, artificial intelligence, and other developments can only extend the effect.

We will still value those persons who can use the information and communications machines most effectively. Those who create the most powerful computer systems, the most complex Internet protocols have abilities that are rare and important to our society.

We still find demonstrations of intellectual abilities entertaining, and reward the winners of spelling bees, of school scholastic competitions, of chess, bridge and go tournaments. We even still have quiz shows on television that reward memory abilities.

Perhaps we will reserve our future adulation for the most moral people, for those with the 'greatest temperament", or those with other moral capacities.

Which is the important story today

The one the newspapers covered or the one they did not?

Those Covered:

The story they didn't cover:
I find myself unable to adequately address the failure of the media to put stories in their true perspective.

If the average American really understood that most of these kids die because no one cares enough to save them, would we really act as we do in the world?

For Developing Countries
Source: Christine Park
"Committing to Child Survival: What are the Priorities?"
Global Health Policy, June 08, 2007

STE4D and poverty alleviation

This is a gross oversimplification, but my time working for USAID led to the belief that that agency had two different sets of objectives for foreign assistance. For some countries for which the United States seeks political leverage, the program focuses on financial assistance at high levels according to the interests of the governments in power. For other countries, the humanitarian objectives dominate, the program is more modest and directed at poverty alleviation.

Similarly, my time with the World Bank led me to believe that its loan programs were directed by the borrowing countries to areas that would generate income needed to repay the loans. The resources provided on subsidized bases to the poorer nations were more focused on poverty alleviation.

From the point of view of science, technology and engineering for development (STE4D), it matters quite a bit whether the focus in increasing GDP or poverty alleviation. I do believe that in countries with strong pro-poor policies, increasing GDP per capita is a good way to reduce poverty, and in those countries STE4D can combine direct interventions aimed at poverty alleviation within the propoor policy and measures to improve GDP more generally.

In general, I think, the STE4D efforts to improve GDP will be oriented toward the more productive industries, including extractive industries, often toward exporting industries, and often in urban areas. While they will recognize the needs for more labor intensive approaches than would be used in developed nations, they will often focus on relatively capital intensive enterprises. The politics in the United States of using U.S. taxes to subsidize the transfer of technology to developing nations to support the development of export industries is not very attractive. Investments in science and technology to support human resource development for these industries is more acceptable, and so one does see STE education, educational technology, biomedical research and medical technology included in even the assistance to poor nations.

While I can and have helped develop both kinds of programs, I am much more interested in STE4D applied specifically to poverty alleviation. Generally such programs focus on:
  • agriculture, both to alleviate hunger and to improve the incomes of the agricultural workforce including subsistance farmers;
  • health, to alleviate the illness that is one of the worse burdens of poverty;
  • environment, since the poor are so vulnerable to the worsening of their poverty due to the degradation of their environment;
  • what is termed "Appropriate Technology" being that which is used in the productive activities of the poor, such as technologies for residential housing, cooking, clothing, etc.
There should be, but seems seldom to be, an emphasis on engineering science and technology. A significant impediment for poor people seeking to raise themselves out of poverty is the inadequacy of the infrastructure that serves them. They don't have good roads, and so pay more for the goods they buy and get less for the goods they sell. They don't have access to electricity nor telephone services, nor even broadcast media. Their potable water and sanitation infrastructure is weak, so they spend a lot of time carrying water and get sick more than they should. Their fields are not irrigated, their agricultural water supply uncertain, and thus their agricultural productivity limited.

Indeed, there is also a need for engineering technologies such as development of artisanal foundries, lime kilns, and brick kilns, small scale mining and forestry, etc. I would even suggest that the introduction of information and communications technology for microfinance enterprises is a significant element within an STE4D poverty alleviation strategy.

It is (now) widely recognized that there are areas of tropical agriculture, infectious diseases, tropical fisheries and tropical forestry in which research and development needs to be subsidized internationally in order to meet the needs of poor people in developing nations. The R&D done in rich countries does not adequately meet these needs, and commercial firms don't find sufficient market incentives to develop technologies for people living on less than one or two dollars a day.

It is perhaps less recognized that the needs for technologies specific to poor countries is very broad. For example, these countries need to develop road construction materials that use their own mineral resources and do not have excessive maintenance requirements. Mobile phone technologies may be quite different for the dense populations of frequent phone users in developed nations versus the sparse rural populations of low-frequency phone users of poor countries. A low price computer with software in local languages linked to local legal requirements might be quite different than one designed for sale in the United States or Western Europe. Scrap metal used by foundries differs from country to country, and foundry technology should be optimized for the characteristics of the country. The criteria for an appropriate medical technology -- affordability, need for professional administration, patient requirements to comply with treatment regimens, genetic makeup of the population, likely co-existing diseases, etc. -- make the choice of medical technology country dependent.

As a result of the need to adapt technology to local needs, there must be a considerable STE capacity in country devoted to STE4D for poverty alleviation. The local people would select internationally available technologies, adapt them to local circumstances and develop new technologies for local use.

Unfortunately, support for agricultural research and development oriented toward poverty alleviation and development of Appropriate Technologies has withered, and is likely to suffer still more in the coming economic hard times. There are still a few billion very poor people in the world who will suffer more than necessary in the future for lack of adequate investments in STE4D for poverty alleviation.

Geoff Oldham on the history of S&T4D

Geoff Oldham has a long presentation in a streaming video which, although nominally on the Sussex Manifesto (on science and technology for development -- done in 1970), includes a great deal on attitudes towards the subject over the last forty years, as well as his suggestions on the updates that would be made.

Go to the seminar website, where you can also download the manifesto itself.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

McCain on the economics of health care

From Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal blog (September 19, 2008):
OK, a correspondent directs me to John McCain’s article, Better Health Care at Lower Cost for Every American, in the Sept./Oct. issue of Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries. You might want to be seated before reading this.

Here’s what McCain has to say about the wonders of market-based health reform: "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."
Given that failure to regulate the financial services industry has resulted in a cascading crisis that is generally agreed to be the worst since the 1930's, and is leading the Republican administration to socialize major segments of the industry, Senator McCain seems very hard to convince of the dangers of unregulated markets.

Actually, his article is even worse than that quote would suggest. He diagnoses the problem of American health services is that they cost too much. He proposes as the major element of his health policy:
I propose to spread the tax subsidy for health insurance more equitably. I would change it to a refundable credit amounting to $5,000 for all families and $2,500 for individuals purchasing health insurance—regardless of the source of that coverage, regardless of how one purchases it, and regardless of one’s income.
He seems to think that that will allow the tens of millions of people who do now not have health insurance to obtain the insurance. That is doubtful, but if it were to be true it would increase the demand for health services. He has no plan to increase the supply of health services. If you increase demand more than you increase supply of any service, the price charged for that service goes up. That is not a way to reduce the cost of health service.

There are two fundamental facts about health services:
  • people are willing to pay a lot more to treat their illness than they are to prevent an illness that may never eventuate;
  • because of the knowledge differential between doctors and patients, the providers of medical services prescribe them and the patient recipients of the services don't have the knowledge to substitute their own economic choices.
Senator McCain writes:
We can build a health care system that is more responsive to our needs and is delivered to more people at lower cost. The “solution,” my friends, isn’t a one-size-fits-all big-government takeover of health care. It resides where every important social advance has always resided—with the American people themselves, with well informed American families making practical decisions to address their imperatives for better health and more secure prosperity.
Senator McCain apparently assumes that the public will choose the most cost-effective health insurance providers and the insurers will contain the costs of the service providers. Good luck getting an industry that depends for its growth on the growth of health care costs to contain those costs.

Finally, Senator McCain gets to an area of health planning in which I worked for a number of years. He writes:
Genuine and effective health care reform requires accountability from everyone. Drug companies, insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, medical technology producers, the government, and patients must operate in a more transparent environment that reveals what particular elements of health care cost and the outcomes they produce. Protecting the ability of Americans to have access to quality health care through affordable insurance products will involve expanded use of such policy tools as comparative effectiveness research to guide decision-making by medical practitioners; greater transparency and coding of health outcomes; and all-in costs for episodes of treatment so that people can actually make more effective and meaningful decisions about their care.
Far be it from me to argue against accountability, transparency, or learning more about the costs and benefits of alternative health care treatments. On the other hand, medicine is both an art and a science. The efficacy of treatment depends not only on the patient's conditions but also on patient compliance, diagnostic categories are uncertain and often diagnoses are not made at all (most consultations in primary care don't result in a specific diagnosis), and physicians are not machines. Moreover, an error at the laboratory, the doctors office, the surgical suite, the nursing station, the pharmacy, or the follow-up service may result in a failure of the whole chain. The communist nations found how difficult it is to control a system by central government planning to set quotas and quality standards.
Source: Ezra Klein, "Health Care Costs Will Eat Us," The American Prospect.
Source: "The Future of Medicare: Demographics vs the Cost of Health Care"
National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

LINK News Bulletin: August 2008

Special Issue on Development Assistance

"To coincide with the high level forum on aid effectiveness taking place in Accra in the first week of September, this issue of the LINK News Bulletin presents two opinion pieces on science and technology and development assistance. The first, by LINK co-ordinators Andy Hall and Jeroen Dijkman, reflects on the implication of a global knowledge economy and the way it calls into question the notion of donor and recipient countries. Norman Clark, the author of the second opinion piece, has been working on policy aspects of S&T and development since the early 1970s, and has held positions at SPRU and, most recently, at the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) in Nairobi and the Open University in the UK."

Conference: Science with Africa

This conference, which took place from 3 - 7 March 2008 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, aimed to explore how African scientists can increase their collaboration and participation in international science initiatives and research and development projects as well as promote the use of science and technology in the African development process. The Conference outlined specific plans of actions for implementation under each of the Conference themes.

Republicans tend to be more easily startled

Shankar Vedantam, the reporter who covers human behavior for the Washington Post, had an article in yesterday's paper reporting a small study done in Nebraska. He reports
People who startle easily in response to threatening images or loud sounds seem to have a biological predisposition to adopt conservative political positions on many hot-button issues.........The finding suggests that people who are particularly sensitive to signals of visual or auditory threats also tend to adopt a more defensive stance on political issues, such as immigration, gun control, defense spending and patriotism. People who are less sensitive to potential threats, by contrast, seem predisposed to hold more liberal positions on those issues.
Of course, as you would expect, he goes on to report that
researchers stressed that physiology is only one factor in how people form their political views -- and far from the most important factor. Startle responses, moreover, cannot be used to predict the political views of any one individual -- there are many liberals who startle easily and many conservatives who do not. What the study did find is that, across groups of people, there seems to be an association between sensitivity to physical threats and sensitivity to threats affecting social groups and social order.

"For a Global Generation, Public Health Is a Hot Field"

This article by David Brown in the Washington Post (September 19, 2008) reports that enrollment in public health classes is increasing in schools that have long offered them, and
A recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 137 of its 837 members, or 16 percent, now offer majors or minors in public health. (The number offering single courses is unknown.) Nearly two-thirds of the schools in that group require students majoring in the subject to undertake fieldwork or research.
I suggest that the increased emphasis on public health is not only a useful complement to medical and nursing schools that focus primarily on curative medicine, but a rebalancing of a system that has focused too much on cure and not enough on prevention. Moreover, as the article correctly states:
the benefits of studying public health go considerably beyond understanding infectious disease.

The concepts introduced in basic epidemiology courses include causation and correlation, absolute risk and relative risk, biological plausibility and statistical uncertainty. Nearly all health stories in the news -- from the possible hazards of bisphenol A in plastics and the theory that vaccines cause autism, to racial disparities in health care and missteps in the investigation of tainted peppers -- are better understood with grounding in that discipline.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Knowledge, technological learning and innovation for development"

The Least Developed Countries Report, 2007

UNCTAD produces a report on the least developed nations every year. The Least Developed Countries Report 2007 focuses on knowledge accumulation, technological learning and the ability to innovate as vital processes toward genuine productive capacity development in these countries.
The Report shows that the current pattern of technology flows to LDCs through international trade, foreign direct investment and intellectual property licensing does not contribute to narrowing the knowledge divide. Sustained economic growth and poverty reduction are not likely to take place in countries where viable economic re-specialization would remain impossible in the absence of significant progress in technological learning and innovation capacity-building.

The Report suggests that national governments and development partners could meet this challenge, notably through greater attention to the following four key policy issues:

* How science, technology and innovation policies geared toward technological catch-up can be integrated into the development and poverty reduction strategies of LDCs.

* How stringent intellectual property regimes internationally affect technological development processes in LDCs, and how appropriate policies could improve the learning environment in these countries.

* How the massive loss of skilled human resources through emigration could be prevented.

* How knowledge aid (as part of official development assistance) could be used to support learning and innovation in LDCs.
Note that there is a set of eleven background papers available on the website -- papers that were prepared to support the major document. They include a paper by my friend Sara Farley, "Donor Support to Science, Technology and Innovation for Development; Approaches in the Least Developed Countries".

"LEED & Extreme makeover"

The TECO blog has an interesting posting on a house makeover that produced a very ecofriendly building:
The home maintains a sustainable site by being completely devoid of conventional, water-guzzling turf. Some 85% of the lot is permeable, allowing rainwater to filter into the ground rather than polluting the aquifer as runoff. Energy use is reduced by 37% over conventional new homes with a thermal envelope tightly sealed by spray foam. Cooling efficiency is 45% better than a conventional new home, a major coup in muggy Louisiana. Three separate water-heating systems serve three zones of the house to minimize travel distance for hot water. The house is stocked withENERGY STAR®-rated windows and appliances. The home was panelized ahead of time, using 100% renewable energy.
TECO reports the makeover was done quickly as well.

Blocking Care for Women

Source: HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON and CECILE RICHARDS, The New York Times, September 18, 2008.

LAST month, the Bush administration launched the latest salvo in its eight-year campaign to undermine women’s rights and women’s health by placing ideology ahead of science: a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would govern family planning. It would require that any health care entity that receives federal financing — whether it’s a physician in private practice, a hospital or a state government — certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable.

Laws that have been on the books for some 30 years already allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further, ensuring that all employees and volunteers for health care entities can refuse to aid in providing any treatment they object to, which could include not only abortion and sterilization but also contraception.
There is a very simple thing you can do to help. Take 5 minutes out of your day TODAY and visit the planned parenthood website, and click on the Bush Attacks Women's Health banner on the right side. It links to an already created letter that will be automatically sent to the Dept of Health and Human Services when you enter your name and zip code. These letters need to be submitted by September 25th so PLEASE - ACT NOW.

Science and Technology for America's Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration.

The National Academies have issued a new report titled Science and Technology for America's Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration. The report, was sent to John McCain and Barack Obama , and is intended to provide guidance for the one elected president in November. The book provides suggestions on filling key science appointments after the election, listing some 80 high-level science and technology appointees who will be crucial in advising the new president on issues that range from energy to health care to economic growth. It also urges members of the scientific community to serve in these positions, and suggests ways to make it more attractive for well-qualified people to do so. Richard Biddell, who was once my boss, was the staff director for the report, working with a distinguished panel.

Read this FREE online!
Full Book | PDF Summary
Committee on Science and Technology in the National Interest: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments; National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine

A Question for the ages.

If Sarah Palin is John McCain's running mate, what kind of mate is Cindy McCain?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Candidate's Positions on Issues of Science and Technology

Science Debate, an ad hoc group created this year for a failed effort to develop an in person debate between the candidates for president on science and technology, has succeeded in getting each candidate to submit responses to 14 questions. Obama answered first at the end of August, which gave McCain a couple of weeks to adjust his responses to those of his opponent.

I must admit that I find the responses tend to be full of pious hopes and promises, and provide very little that I could use to differentiate the candidates. McCain seems to be running somewhat against the science and technology policy of the Bush administration, but his position on stem cells seems less forthcoming than it might be. McCain frequently refers to his naval career as if it provides a basis of scientific and technological expertise and positive attitudes toward the field; I doubt that naval officers are necessarily paragons of scientific and technological temperament.

Many of the questions deal with policies such as greenhouse gas emission reduction, energy policy, and public health and not with science and technology as I understand the terms.

An article from the Environmental News Service on the Q&As states:
Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama of Illinois says his administration would put the United States on track to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by the year 2050. "I will restore U.S. leadership in strategies for combating climate change and work closely with the international community," Obama says.

On the other hand, Republican nominee Senator John McCain of Arizona says his administration would aim for a reduction of at least 60 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. He does not mention international engagement but promises a $5,000 tax credit to every customer who buys an American zero-emissions car.