Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Freedom of Speech in Government Science"

David Resnik has a good article in the recent issue of the National Academy of Science's Issues in Science and Technology dealing with the need both to guarantee freedom of speech for government scientists and to assure that those scientists when the speak do so with proper respect for the ethics of science, including refraining from publication of low quality data or excessive extrapolation of the meaning of their results.

Resnik recommends a watchdog committee to oversee the rights to freedom of speech of government scientists. This seems to me a very good idea. He suggests that this might be done by the AAAS, and I would suggest that it might also be done by the National Academies.

I would dispute one of Resnik's conclusions. He correctly recognizes that governments have to make decisions on the allocation of scarce resources, and states:
Government agencies use peer review committees to decide which research proposals should be funded. Scientists who are denied funding by a federal agency are still free to conduct their research using funds from a different source, such as a private company, university, or foundation.
Unfortunately, political ideology sometimes trumps the recommendations of impartial peer review panels, and I think Resnik may underestimate the power of political officials to retaliate financially against scientists who displease them or threaten to challenge their pet myths with scientific observations. I think government scientists and scientists seeking government funding need institutionalized protection mechanisms against inappropriate political interference with the funding process. Fortunately, a free press, the Congressional checks to administration power, and non-governmental organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the AAAS provide some such mechanisms. Still, more might be done, perhaps by reviving a scientific advisory body for the Congress extending the functions of the long lost Office of Technology Assessment.

Sea Change China, India & Africa in a New Century

Martin Walker, interviewed on MhZ's program Dialog, talked about his theory:
Chimea is a region you have probably never heard of. It is composed of China, India the Middle East and Africa. The Indian Ocean is its central trade route. Powered by the dynamic economic growth of China and India, “Chimea,” may become a leading trading bloc by mid-century. It is already making startling contributions to the development of Africa through trade and business deals. Martin Walker explains the potential impact of “Chimea” on the world economy.
As India and China take over more and more of the world's manufacturing, Africa's underexploited natural resources are going to be shipped to Asia. Walker, I think correctly, suggests that this will be an important emerging nexus of globalization in the 21st century.

He also suggests that the Chinese will be exporting their development model which combines coercive state power with a largely free market economy, and that this will be attractive to African oligarchs, who will want to retain power but get richer.

I was especially taken with his comment that the Bush administration has taken its eye off this critically important development that will have important political and economic implications for decades, because the administration is trying to figure out how to deal with the quagmire in Iraq and the Middle East (my words, not his).

"Cheney: 300 Endangered Whales Is 300 Too Many"

Mother Jones provides this sad story:
Hot on the heels of a GAO report detailing the Bush administration's assault on the EPA, this little tidbit pops up.

Cheney's office has been delaying attempts to issue speed limits near the habitat of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale for FOUR YEARS. There are only about 300 right whales alive today, and ship collisions are their leading cause of death. As Henry Waxman wrote in his letter to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, "the death of even a single whale, particularly a breeding female, may contribute to the extinction of the species."

Despite clear evidence linking higher boat speeds with increased whale mortality, Cheney's office has gone so far as to conduct their own analyses of data (using untested methods, NOAA scientists noted) to delay a ruling on the speed limits. The office contended that NOAA had "no evidence (i.e. hard data) that lowering the speeds of 'large ships' will actually make a difference." NOAA has quickly rebutted these objections, noting that they've conducted statistical analysis of ship strike records and have published peer-reviewed literature on the subject. They also conduct calf counts.

BOSCO: Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach


The Communications Initiative ICT for Development website provides this case study. It begins:
Inveneo, a non-profit social enterprise, partnered with the BOSCO Uganda Relief Project (Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach)to provide access to computers, internet, and voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) telephony for Northern Uganda's internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. The project has set up a solar-powered WiFi network in refugee camps to offer communications to the organisations that serve the IDPs and the refugees. In its first phase (as of 2007), the project serves nearly 100,000 refugees fleeing the Lord's Resistance Army which has raged a civil war in the area since the late 1980's.

Lighting Africa


"New advancements in lighting technology, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs), promise clean, portable, durable, lower cost, and higher quality lighting. The challenge is to make these products accessible to the half billion "lighting poor" in Africa. With expenditures on fuel based lighting estimated at US$38 billion annually, the potential exists to engage the international lighting industry in this new market area, while serving consumers, bolstering local commerce, creating jobs, enhancing incomes, cleaning the air, and improving health, safety, and quality of life."

One of the problems in Africa is that the electric grid reaches so little of the continent and so few of its people. While there are many alternative technologies for off-grid micro power generation, the most common is probably the small generator, and it is an expensive alternative. As the new technologies become more efficient in the generation of light from electric power, and as new alternative power generation technologies (such as solar photo voltaic and microhydro) become more common and affordable, Africans should have access to more affordable (and reliable) lighting technology, even when they are off grid.

Lighting Africa is a World Bank Group initiative aimed at providing up to 250 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa with access to non-fossil fuel based, low cost, safe, and reliable lighting products with associated basic energy services by the year 2030.

Read:
"The end of the light bulb as we know it" by Marianne Lavelle
on
Eartheasy

New Participatory Institutions

Clay Shirky posted a thoughtful and thought provoking essay titled "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus" on his Here Comes Everybody blog.

The growing population, with increasing education and information literacy, and increasing per hour productivity produced by the spread of improved technology, has what Shirky terms a "social surplus" or "cognitive surplus" of time available for things other than working and sleep. A lot of this time currently goes into watching television:
Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year.....

The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption.
Shirky also points out that while people like to consume entertainment and information, they also like to produce and share information. Wikipedia is an example of a new "institution" which allows people to produce and share information, and Shirky calculates that Wikipedia represents a "cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought". That is, Wikipedia represents one part in 10,000 of the cognitive surplus currently used watching television that is available to Internet-connected people each year.

The point of Shirky's posting is to suggest that it will take time, but we will surely develop other institutions that will absorb much more of the growing cognitive surplus in generating and sharing information on the Internet.

Some of that time will no doubt be spent on social networking sites like Facebook, but some of will be used on activities that produce considerably greater social benefits.

On the other hand, as others have pointed out, this may be bad news for the television producers.

Developing Countries Own Growing Share US$59 Trillion Global Output

The World Bank provides the following information:
Developing economies now produce 41 percent of the world's output, up from 36 percent in 2000, according to the Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI) 2008. The combined output of the world's economies reached US$59 trillion in 2006. Using new measurements that take into account the differences in price levels between countries, China now ranks as the second largest economy in the world, and 5 of the 12 largest economies are developing economies. Strong growth over the period has increased the shares of all developing regions except Latin America and the Caribbean, while the share of high-income economies fell by 5 percent. This year's WDI introduces new estimates of purchasing power parity (PPP) used to convert local currencies to a common currency - in this case the US dollar.
Read more...

A thought on the economics of biofuels

How much does it cost to add alcohol to your gasoline? A part of that cost must be the added cost you pay for your food because less food and feed is produced as land is converted to produce crops for biofuel. It is not just the added price you pay for your corn on the cob or bread, because the cost of food grains has gone up. You also pay more for your meat, because livestock consume a lot of feed grain per pound of meat on the table, and the cost of feed grains has also gone up. Ideas such as subsidizing the production of biofuel crops, or legislating requirements for alcohol content in fuel may turn out to be very expensive if there is no elasticity in the supply of food and feed grains.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Grass-Roots Malaria Funding"

Source: "ScienceScope," Science, Volume 320, Number 5875, Issue of 25 April 2008.

"Even small donors can now support malaria research using a new Web site that connects them with African scientists. The site, MalariaEngage.org, provides descriptions of research projects. Donors can contribute as little as $10 to a specific project and follow its progress online.

"Peter Singer and Abdallah Daar of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health in Toronto, Canada, teamed up with Tom Hadfield, a successful entrepreneur and Harvard University undergraduate, to create the site with $200,000 from Genome Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Scientists at the National Institute for Medical Research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, selected the first seven featured projects and will oversee the donations. Singer says the goal is to ensure that good ideas 'aren't flushed down the drain for lack of capital.'"

Do we really need this technology?

Photo credit: GENE KIEGEL

Source: "Random Samples," Science, Volume 320, Number 5875, Issue of 25 April 2008.

"This spray-on dress--which comes completely out of a can labeled Fabrican--is one of the outfits featured at TechnoThreads, "a glimpse into the future of fashion," opening this week at Trinity College's Science Gallery in Dublin. Other fashions on display include "victimless leather" (cells cultured to form a layer of leatherlike tissue on a polymer matrix); a garment fermented from the "skin" generated by adding sugar to Guinness stout; and "Hug Shirts" embedded with sensors that pick up warmth and pressure from the body and transmit them to other hug shirt wearers."

"US 'plans cut to global agricultural research funds'"

Source: Science via SciDev.Net, 22 April 2008.

Lead: "Despite rising food prices and restrictions on food exports the United States is planning to cut funding to international agricultural research, scientists claim." The article continues: "In February this year officials from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) warned that a cut in funding was likely. The actual figure is yet to be announced, but it could be as much as 75 per cent according to a spokesperson from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)."

Read the original article: "INTERNATIONAL AID:As Food Prices Rise, U.S. Support for Agricultural Centers Wilts" by Dennis Normile, Science 18 April 2008: Vol. 320. no. 5874, p. 303.
"You couldn't ask for worse timing," says Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Philippines. "Part of the reason we're having this deterioration of the global agricultural situation is that there has been a steady erosion of support for research." IRRI has put a freeze on hiring and is holding back on planned research investments until the budget is confirmed.
Comment: This is unbelievable! Take action now to reverse this stupid decision. JAD

Ironically, this week there is an editorial in Science magazine by Nina Federoff, the Science Adviser for both the State Department and USAID which states:
Demand for plant products has never been greater. More people, rising affluence, and expanding biofuels programs are rapidly pushing up the prices of grain and edible oil. Boosting supply isn't easy: All the best farm land is already in use. There's an acute need for another jump in global agricultural productivity--a second Green Revolution. Can it happen? Will it happen?
Comment: Since Dr. Federoff is the Science Adviser to both the Secretary of State and the Administrator of USAID. I hope she can make her concern for agricultural research effective in restoring funding for the International Agricultural Research Centers! JAD

If you are an agricultural scientist, click here to sign a petition to oppose the budget cut for international agricultural research!

A Thought About the Election Campaign

It is interesting that there is so much concern that Barack Obama might actually be listening to his pastor, when so many of our problems are due to presidents who did not follow the guidance of theirs!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tragedy of the Commons

Source: "Clinton, Obama and the Narcissist's Tale," Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post, April 28, 2008.

The tragedy of the commons is a well known theoretical position from game theory in which a selfish person always appears to optimize his returns, but in fact acting cooperatively maximizes everyone's returns. If you can trust your fellows and negotiate, you cooperate and win. If you can not trust your fellows and all act selfishly, everyone loses.

Vedantam suggests that the Obama-Clinton campaign is showing signs of the candidates being trapped in such a tragedy. If the two cooperate, the Democrats win in November. However, negative campaigning is seen as more effective in gaining the nomination, so the two are spending a lot of time pointing out the weak spots in the other's positions and character, and slinging mud.

Vedantam suggests that the most damning aspect of negative campaigns is that it is the most cynical, egotistical, narcissistic, selfish candidate who wins. Those are the very characteristics that in a president of the United States are likely to be projected on the nation, making us more hated and less effective in realizing the best aspirations of our people.

We Democrats should make the candidates for our support stop falling into the trap of negative campaigning, clearly stating that we will choose the better candidate for the nation, based on character (ability to put the nation first), political philosophy, and team that can be placed in the government if the candidate wins. We will not choose the most vitriolic, and will take vitriol to be a sign of weakness.

We Americans should rise above the fun of watching a negative campaign (if anyone still enjoys this marathon), and vote for the candidate best qualified to lead the nation and thus help us to play the role in the world that our wealth and power demand.

"Mccain Vs. Mccain"

Fareed Zakaria has an article in the issue of Newsweek dated May 5th 2008 in which he writes:
On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.
Comment: Just what we need is a politician who is willing to restart the Cold War, playing "chicken" with two nuclear powers, in order to improve his chances in an election.

Another example of the 'tragedy of the commons", as described in my next posting (above0.

The way to fight this is to be sure we do not elect candidates who act for their own electoral interests and against the national interes. Zakaria, also questions the whole tone of McCain's policy speech. JAD

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY, INNOVATION, AND GROWTH THROUGH A NATIONAL INNOVATION FOUNDATION"

The United States’ share of worldwide total domestic R&D spending fell from 46 percent in 1986 to 37 percent in 2003. Expanded support for basic research and science education, while important, will not do much to promote the commercialization of innovations. Without a more robust, targeted, and explicit federal innovation policy, U.S. competitiveness may well slip and economic growth may well lag.

In a new report published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, Robert Atkinson and Howard Wial argue for the establishment of a National Innovation Foundation – a nimble, lean and collaborative entity devoted to supporting firms and other organizations in their innovative activities. NIF would work to catalyze industry-university research partnerships, expand regional innovation-promotion by state governments, and encourage technology adoption.

The Washington Post on Information and Knowledge

Source: "Can You Handle It? Better Yet: Do You Know It When You See It?" Monica Hesse, The Washington Post, April 27, 2008.

This article makes the valid point that, as students are able to access more and more information on the Internet, it is important that they learn how to evaluate that information. Is it accurate? Is it still valid? Is it from a credible source? Is is complete?

The author seems to feel that information from books is more likely to be credible than that from the Internet, but seems herself to be drawing on popular non-fiction rather than, say, peer reviewed journals articles. Of course, I am not the first nor will I be the last to question the credibility of a newspaper, or indeed even a better newspaper such as the Washington Post.

The article seems to use the word "knowledge" as I use the word "understanding". I think we normally mean by "knowledge", information which we have available in our minds. Any scientist should tell you that scientific knowledge, at least, is always tentative. Newton's theory of gravity, proven good for all practical purposes for centuries, was superseded by Einstein's theory, especially when practical purposes came to include the calculations of orbits of space vehicles.

I have a friend who coined the wise phrase:
I know many things to be true, and one of the things I know to be true is that some of the things I know to be true are not true.
"Understanding," as I use the term, involves recognition of the relationships among pieces of knowledge, and the ability to utilize knowledge, and the ability to judge the credibility of pieces of knowledge.

The article recognizes an important fact: sometimes information that is not very credible is good enough. The author mentions an online query from a drunk who wanted to know how large iguanas grow. It is likely that a quick answer if a fairly decent source could be located would more than suffice. (Of course, if the guy was trying to figure out whether he was facing a gater or a lizard out in the wild, it might be important to give him an answer quickly that had little chance of encouraging him to grab what might be a gatoe!)

As postings on this blog have pointed out in the past, there are trade-offs between the cost of information, the timeliness of information, the utility of information, and the credibility of information. It almost always costs more and takes longer to get more credible information, and sometimes the utility decreases with the time needed to get the information without increasing with more credibility. There is always a question as to whether the value of more credibility justifies the expense to obtain that greater credibility.

Lets Not Cut Spending on the Blair Magnet Program


Source: "The Price of a Good Magnet Program," Kelly McQuighan, The Washington Post, April 27, 2008.

Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry Weast has proposed budget cuts that will "only" increase the magnet teachers' course loads to five courses per year -- the same number as most county high school educators -- rather than the current four. Kelly McQuighan, a graduate of the Blair science magnet program and current high school science teacher protests:
Such a perspective underestimates the time and effort magnet teachers put into teaching the integrated science-research program.

When I attended the magnet program, my science teachers did not merely teach four sections of science; they also helped supervise four sections of research projects. They not only prepared for their own classes but they also coordinated an entire integrated curriculum. Reducing magnet teachers' preparation time can only degrade the quality of the magnet program.
Comment: My son, long ago was a student in that program, and it was great. It is a relatively small program, and represents a tiny portion of the county's $2.2 billion public school budget. Yet it is important.

Montgomery county depends now, and will depend more in the future, on high technology industries and science intensive governmental and educational activities. Providing a really stimulating science programs for the kids who can and will keep up is important in part because some of those kids will continue to live and work in the county when they finish their education. It is also important because the kinds of people we want to attract to our county as leaders of the emerging biotechnology industry and the expanding ICT industry want programs like the Blair science magnet for their kids.

In any case, we owe it to the nation to give every opportunity to the kids who attend this program. Year after year they have shown that they use that opportunity to excel, and go on to excel in the university and in their adult lives. JAD

"The New Economics of Hunger"

Source: Anthony Faiola, The Washington Post, April 27, 2008.

Lead: "A brutal convergence of events has hit an unprepared global market, and grain prices are sky high. The world's poor suffer most." This is a good article from the Washington Post, ascribing the current food crisis in the developing world to an increased demand for animal protein (which requires many pounds of feed grain per pound of meet), to competing use of agricultural land for biofuel production, to the geography of food production and consumption (that involves the export of foods from the Americas and the import of food in other regions), and to export control policies on some traditional food exporters.

Source: Mark Gold, The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat,Compassion in World Farming Trust, 2004.

Donna Edwards for Congress


On Thursday, April 24, 2008, Donna Edwards was chosen to be the Democratic nominee for the June 17, 2008, Special General Election by the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee by unanimous vote. This follows her nomination by the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee on Tuesday. The nomination will now be passed on to Governor Martin O'Malley, the Maryland Democratic Party, and the State Board of Elections for confirmation.

After Donna Edwards knocked off Al Wynn, the Democratic incumbent, in the Democratic primary, he quit the Congress (to make money as a lobbyist). Governor O'Malley announced that an election would be held to fill Wynn's seat for the last half year of his term of office, and Donna Edwards has cinched the Democratic nomination for that election in June.

This is potentially important for the district in which I live. Congress is a very traditional place, and seniority counts--even a few months seniority. In this year of popular anger at the war and the failing economy, there are going to be a lot of new faces elected to Congress. Donna Edwards has the opportunity to gain a boost in seniority over the new entering class of 2009. I hope that seniority will continue to yield benefits to her and her constitutents during a long career in Congress.

It is long past time for the world to control malaria

Friday was World Malaria Day, and fortunately that day was marked by expressions of re-dedication to the fight against malaria. The disease causes an estimated 500,000,000 cases of illness per year and a million deaths per year. While once it was an important health problem in the United States and southern Europe, it has long been controlled in the rich areas of the world, and it really only seen when someone with malaria travels to one of these countries.

The geography of the disease is important. There are areas where mosquitoes capable of carrying the disease are much more common than they are in the temperate zones where malaria has been controlled, areas where the costs of controlling mosquitoes are harder to bear, countries with grave difficulties of managing the campaigns needed to control malaria, and countries with very high levels of prevalence of the disease meaning that there are many more people to treat and many more new cases per year (since each person with the disease is a threat to others around him/her). The fact that some forms of the disease can persist for a very long time means that even when there are no reported cases for years, there remain sources that can reinfect the population when control efforts are relaxed.

Half a century ago, the World Health Organization managed an ambitious world wide campaign against malaria. The eradication of malaria in Italy before World War II showed the world that it was possible to control the disease. Unfortunately, the effort was billed as a global effort to eradicate malaria, and when public health officials came to believe that they could not eradicate malaria worldwide, the efforts to control the disease were cut back. Poor countries felt that they could not afford the required campaigns, and rich countries suffered donor fatigue.

There are many tools available for the control of malaria. Engineering works can drain areas where standing water allows mosquitoes to breed. Direct efforts can clear up refuse in which mosquitoes can breed, and larvacides can keep water larva free. There are varieties of fish that can be stocked that will eat mosquito larva and thus reduce mosquito density. Ultra low volume spraying with a number of environmentally acceptable pesticides can keep mosquito density low in areas in which people are out of doors. DDT spraying on the walls of houses and pesticide impregnated bed nets can keep mosquitoes away from people at night, and kill them when the rest after the blood meals that infect them. A variety of medications can cure people when they become infected, and the relatively new combination therapies seem to retain efficacy.

There are new technologies including remote sensing technologies, telecommunications technologies, and computer technologies that can be used to improve the management of campaigns. Advances in biotechnology are leading to improved understanding of the disease, and eventually there will almost certainly be effective vaccines to provide some degree of immunity and/or resistance to the disease. The capacities of developing nations to manage public health programs have improved in most of the world.

A million kids dying a year from a disease we can control is not acceptable. 500 million cases of the disease cause human and economic losses that are not acceptable! It is just a matter of mobilizing our will to control malaria, and eventually we will eradicate the disease. Rich countries should revitalize their support, and encourage poor countries to renew and redouble their efforts to control malaria!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Musing about the nature of fictional and real knowledge

We watch lots of television programs where the police go through a series of interviews and figure out what crime was committed and who committed it. Law and Order provides a slightly more complex picture, in which the conclusions of the detectives are found in the trial phase to have been only part of the story, and perhaps a part that had been misinterpreted.

All too often the situation is quite different in reality. A lot of crimes occur at night in a crowd of partying people. So the police are interviewing people who are:
  • not very bright,
  • trying to recall what happened in a very confusing situation,
  • when they were stoned,
  • even tho it happened a long time ago,
  • and they are lying.
So the police a bunch of people who they think were present, and get a bunch of different stories, and have to try to figure out what really happened.

Of course, television has a bunch of crime scene investigation programs which suggest that the physical evidence will clarify the whole situation. I suspect that more often than not there won't be much physical evidence, that which does exist will not be analyzed quickly, and it will tend to further confuse the situation.

So how about when we get the major crimes committed by politicians. The main difference may be that the politicians are smarter than the criminals, and therefore lie more convincingly.

"Scientists Report Political Interference"

My friend Francesca Grifo made the Washington Post today with more sad news about the Bush administration's interference with the scientific integrity of the federal government.
More than half the Environmental Protection Agency scientists who responded to an independent survey made public yesterday said that they had witnessed political interference in scientific decisions at the agency during the past five years.

The claim comes from a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group that sent questionnaires to 5,500 EPA scientists and obtained 1,586 responses. Among the scientists' complaints were that data sometimes were used selectively to justify a specific regulatory outcome and that political appointees had directed them to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information in EPA scientific documents.

"Things are not as they should be at the EPA," said Francesca Grifo, director of the group's scientific integrity program. "Scientific findings are being suppressed and distorted; 889 scientists personally experienced at least one type of political interference. . . . Scientists are being pressured by outside interests."

A Final Thought on Baumol et al

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity by William J. Baumol, Robert E. Litan and Carl J. Schramm has been the subject of a couple of previous postings. I want to make a final comment on the book, or more explicitly about the section on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Chapter 7.

The authors are concerned especially with technologically innovative enterprises and make a probably correct point that some policies to promote SMEs, such as those proposed by the European Union, will not stimulate the development of the new enterprises that will eventually become large and important through their innovation (as did Google, Amazon, and eBay).

They do recognize that producing large numbers of micro, small and medium size enterprises may help generate employment and alleviate poverty. (Not bad objectives in themselves). In the U.S. minority small business programs have been used in an effort to allow minorities that have been held back by prejudice and discrimination to become entrepreneurial. Perhaps it unfair (given that the Baumol et. al. chapter is about Europe and Japan) to note that SME programs are especially important in developing nations that don't have many indigenous large enterprises, and have huge needs for goods and services that can be met by SMEs. Indeed, I would miss Mom and Pop stores, local barber shops, individually owned restaurants and other small enterprises were they not available.

But the specific thought that I had was that in some cases clusters of SMEs can have important benefits in creating high valued products competitive in international markets, and thus be a relatively important element in a country's development strategy, even if not especially innovative technologically. I am thinking of the Italian or French fashion industries, or Taxco silver from Mexico, or indeed the people who revolutionized American music when "Moon-June" songs went out of style. By making products much like the competition, by much the same kinds of processes, that the consumer sees as higher in quality clusters of SMEs can be a growth industry with international competitiveness.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Regional Income Distrribution



Comment: It is hard to alleviate poverty when the rich take most of the increase in the production of goods and services that can be achieved. JAD

What is Foreign Aid About?

Surprisingly, William Baumol and his coauthors of Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity seem to misunderstand the purposes of foreign assistance to developing nations. Their book, of course, focuses on policies to promote economic growth, and that is the main theme of the chapter on policies to promote growth in developing countries.

That chapter makes important and I think accurate points. While the book recommends that developed nations combine a vibrant small business sector for the creation of new technologies and business models with a strong large business sector to adopt, perfect and commercialize those innovations, it recognizes that developing nations that are not at the technological frontier can best progress by innovation based on imitation and commercialization based on low labor costs. It also recognizes that countries face serious problems in the transition from effective policies to catch up and reach the technological frontier and competing actively at that frontier. Indeed, the book recognizes that the distribution of income in Africa and Latin America is such that the vested interests may be more interested in maintaining their privileged economic and political positions than in general economic growth, and that they have the power to do so.

The authors, however, seem to believe that the purpose of so called "development assistance" is to promote increases in average per capita income. They point out, correctly, that econometric studies do not confirm that foreign aid results in economic growth. Actually, I don't think donor nations are very interested in taxing their citizens to promote increases in average per capita income in other countries far away. Foreign aid during the Cold War (and even today) was more likely to reflect political objectives (supporting allies, supporting former colonies, buying influence) than interests in creating more income to be badly distributed in Africa or Latin America. In fact foreign aid is more often focused on alleviating the worst aspects of poverty, and in fact over the last few decades countries receiving foreign aid have often greatly improved health status of their citizens and extended educational opportunities to their children.

Perhaps the authors underestimate the impact of war, conflict , tribalism, and natural disasters in constraining long term economic growth in developing nations, as well as the negative impact of geography in some countries.

Don't get me wrong. I am very much enjoying the book and find it very useful. The book only addresses foreign aid in one short section in one chapter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What is an International Civil Servant

I was recently looking through a book on UNESCO written by its former employees, and came across "De ce que nous sommes…" by René Maheu, a former Director General of the Organization. He addressed the question of what is an international civil servant.

He said, wisely, that he could not define what constitutes an international civil servant, but he could identify some things that such a person is not. Of course, the question is not, simply, that an international civil servant is someone who works for an intergovernmental organization. Not only do people work for these organizations who are not international civil servants, but the more fundamental question is on the characteristics that make one a good international civil servant.

Nationality

Maheu points out that when one becomes an international civil servant (ICS), one does not give up one's nationality. I have worked in three intergovernmental organizations consulted with more, and no one ever missed the fact that I am a Yank.

On the other hand, an ICS is also not a person who represents the government and policies of his country within an intergovernmental organization. That is a rule that is sometimes broken, but is fundamental to the job.

An ICS works in support of the mission of the intergovernmental organization for which he works, and indeed to defend that organization when appropriate, and does so with the knowledge that (almost always) his home country is a member state of the organization and expects its citizen employees of the organization to act in that way.

Technical Expert versus Technocrat

Maheu says that the ICS is first a technical expert in one of the areas of competence of his organization. However, he/she is not a technocrat, or one who believes that technical experts rather than legitimate representatives of governments should make decisions. The ICS lends his technical expertise, but leaves political power in the hands of political authorities.

Outsiders

When working in a member state, the ICS is clearly to be an outsider, one who does not represent a political faction or interest within the country. (Of course, a lot of us sought to represent the poor and needy when conducting our work, but then most intergovernmental organizations have that as part of their missions.) An ICS is often someone who can say something that everyone knows and understands, but which could not be accepted from a spokesperson for any domestic faction.

When working in headquarters, typically interfacing with people from many different countries, the ICS is someone who represents the concerns of the international organization itself rather than those of any of any one of its individual member states. Since intergovernmental organizations are important fora for discussions among representatives of governments of member states, or experts chosen to come from a wide variety of nations and cultures, they must have the capacity to be relatively neutral fora, and their functionaries to represent the organizational neutrality.

The individual expert

I have also been invited to participate in fora in intergovernmental organizations as an individual. In those instances, too, it was my technical expertise that was sought. And iin those situations, too, I was clearly understood by others to be a Yank by citizenship and culture. Yet there too, I was not a representative of my government. I was there to give my own opinion, and not to state an opinion dictated by a bureaucratic process within my government. Equally, I was not there to represent the interests and mission of an intergovernmental organization. Still there is a lot of similarity to the role of an individual expert called to participate in an international context and that of an ICS. Both should strive to give their best technical judgments honestly and diplomatically.

Generic Biologicals

Ezra Klein has an interesting set of comments on his blog relating to the costs of biologicals and the possibility of creating generic biologicals to cut those costs. Representative Henry Waxman's website provides some interesting information on pending legislation.

As I understand the situation, the biotechnology revolution has allowed industry to develop and market a number of new products that differ substantially from earlier drugs. The earlier industry was based on the chemical synthesis of biologically active molecules. These tended to be small and comparatively simple. If two chemical processes produced the same molecule, the biological activity would be the same.

Biologicals, by contrast, are produced in cell culture. The molecules tend to be large and complex. Two processes which produce molecules which have the same sequence on the main chain may have differently associated sugars or other different properties, and as a result have different risks to the patient and different efficacy.

Because of the differences between traditional pharmaceuticals and biologicals, the approval process for generics has to be different. For the small simple molecules, the generic approval process depends primarily on showing that the active ingredients are chemically the same as the previously approved proprietary product. For biologicals, the process would involve not only showing similar chemical structure, but also showing that the generic was comparably safe and efficacious to the already approved proprietary product, a much more difficult and expensive process.

Drug pricing is a complex process. In the case of generics, competition tends to bring prices down to the cost of production plus a relatively modest profit. Of course, the generic producers are not amortizing investments in research, development and testing of new pharmaceutical products in their prices.

In the case of proprietary products, pricing is based on the cost of alternative treatments and the added benefits that the specific products provide over those alternatives. For biological products now on the market, these prices can be very high, since often there is no effective alternative and the health benefits can be very significant. The companies justify that pricing as needed to justify the high costs of research, development and testing of new biologicals, and the fact that only a very small portion of the research results actually lead to development of successful new products.

Pending legislation, which is controversial, would allow the FDA to set new rules for licensing generic biologicals. On the one hand, there is considerable interest that this be done quickly so as to see competition ariving quickly to drive down the prices of biologicals, which are already represent a significant portion of all drug expenditures. On the other hand, there is some controversy on how to create the legislation that allows and requires the FDA to create good rules.

I find the situation interesting in that the core is a knowledge process. A regulatory agency is to define rules which allow the determination that product A is equivalent to product B, and that the safety and efficacy information that was at great cost developed to justify the acceptance of product B can be taken to also justify the acceptance of product A.

From the point of view of the research intensive pharmaceutical industry producing new biologicals, the issue is one of intellectual property. The stricter the requirements imposed to demonstrate equivalence, the longer their monopoly control of the market created by their original products, the less incentive for generic producers to compete with those products, and the greater the price that the generic manufacturers will have to charge to justify their investment in the production of their generic products. Thus the producer of the original patented product is likely to have a longer stream of higher profits the more stringent the requirements to prove equivalence of the proposed generic alternative.

From the point of view of the patient, the complexity of the process for demonstrating equivalence has a different complexion. A less stringent process demonstrating equivalence should result in lower costs of biologicals but greater risks of lower efficacy or higher medical risks.

This will probably result in some very interesting international issues. Different countries will come to different decisions as to the right balance between cost to the patient and risks faced by the patient, due to factors such as differences in ability to pay, differences in attitude toward medical risks, and indeed differences in those actual risks. Different countries will also come to different decisions as to the degree to which they wish to favor the pharmaceutical industry producing new products versus the generic pharmaceutical industry. Then the trade representatives of the governments of these countries will go at each other in venues ranging from the World Health Organization to the World Trade Organization.

Monday, April 21, 2008

McCain Beholding to Telecom Industry?

Source: "List of McCain Fund-Raisers Includes Prominent Lobbyists,"
By MICHAEL LUO and SARAH WHEATON, The New York Times, April 21, 2008.

Senator McCain has released a list of the "bundlers" who have brought in at least $100,000 each in donations to his campaign. The New York Times analysis includes the following text:
the potential for conflicts of interest are obvious. Several of Mr. McCain’s top fund-raisers, for example, lobby for the telecommunications industry, which regularly does business before the Senate Commerce Committee, where Mr. McCain is a senior member and once served as chairman.

Kirk Blalock, of the lobbying firm Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, leads Mr. McCain’s young professional group and has raised over $250,000 for him; his clients include Sprint Nextel and Viacom.

Kyle McSlarrow, chief of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the lobbying arm for the cable industry, has raised over $100,000 for Mr. McCain. He and others in the cable industry recently butted heads with Mr. McCain over a proposal that would allow customers to pick and choose which channels they received.

In an interview Sunday, Wayne Berman, who is deputy finance chairman of the McCain campaign and a veteran lobbyist whose clients include Verizon and Verizon Wireless, dismissed the notion that some lobbyists might be raising money for Mr. McCain to curry influence.
Comment: If you believe Berman, I have some great investment ideas for you. How about the investing in the Capital Building? Woops, Berman beat me to it! JAD

"How Scientific Gains Abroad Pay Off in the U.S.

The New York Times published this story by G. PASCAL ZACHARY on April 20, 2008. Fundamental research is funded by governments because the business sector will underinvest in fundamental research if left alone because the likely commercial returns to the company doing the research don't justify the risk to those firms. Indeed, laws have been changed in the United States to allow the firms in an industry to jointly fund "pre-competitive" research and development -- that is R&D that will benefit the whole industry but which would not provide an individual firm with sufficient competitive advantage to justify its independent investment in that R&D.

Fundamental knowledge gets published, and is out there for the first entrepreneur who can put it to work. Often it remains unused until other, complementary knowledge is developed which allows its use, or is never found to be commercially useful.

So the author is quite right in stating that the increase in basic scientific knowledge coming from increased investments in S&T in Asia (and indeed in Europe) may benefit the United States greatly if our entrepreneurs are sufficiently on the job to be the first to commercialize the technology and gain a commercial edge. Indeed, American consumers may benefit significantly from the commercial application of scientific knowledge, even when that knowledge is first commercialized in another country. Lots of Americans have benefited from drugs developed in Europe.

The argument for the United States government funding basic research here in this country is properly based on the need for "gatekeepers" who understand the knowledge landscape and who can recommend commercial applications, and a responsibility of the rich to pay their fair share of the production of knowledge as a public good and as something valued for itself by the citizens. The Bush administration seems to misunderstand this fact, seemingly believing that investing in university R&D via the National Science Foundation will in itself generate commercial advantage.

On the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United States, feeling that there ought to be a Bill of Rights to accompany the constitution of the United Nations as there is accompanying the U.S. Constitution, led in the effort to create a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt, chaired the committee that drafted the Declaration. She had great prestige worldwide based on her own activism, as well as derivative from her husband's leadership of the allies during the Depression and World War II, and led the drafting process with great skill and great humanity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
was adopted unanimously by the United Nations, and has formed a basis for international affairs for six decades. This year has been devoted to a celebration of its 60th anniversary.

I recommend that everyone read the Declaration. Here for the Bush administration are the first dozen articles:
Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

" Action urged to keep net neutral"


BBC News provides a report from the recent Stanford University hearing on Net Neutrality.
Tough action is required by US regulators to protect the principles that have made the net so successful, a leading digital rights lawyer has said.

Professor Lawrence Lessig was speaking at a public meeting to debate the tactics some net firms use to manage data traffic at busy times.

He said the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) should act to keep all net traffic flowing equally.
A streaming video of Lessig's testimony is available on his blog.

Where Does All the Computer Power Go?

Defense Week's most recent broadcast has an interview with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Department of Defense Research and Development. He describes the priorities of that organization, including the development of technologies that will allow soldiers to process huge amounts of data in a theater of operations to identify that which has military tactical or strategic value. This is going to be computer intensive, as well as communications intensive, building on the remote sensing intensive data collection from unmanned platforms.

Currently, the military's angelfire system is collecting data in Iraq equal to 37,000 times the data in the Library of Congress every week. It is estimated that within 10 years the data collection rate will go up by a factor of one billion Computing power is seen as absolutely critical to handle the data flow, but the real problem may be the data mining software to utilize the computer power to get information from the data.

The idea is not developing the technology to allow one to drink from a fire hose, but rather to select a specific molecule of water from that flow.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A thought about decision making, games, Iraq and the election debates

There have been a large number of decisions by the U.S. government which had major influence in bringing us to the current situation in Iraq, including:
  • The choice to believe Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction in this decade;
  • The choice to believe Iraq was in discussions with and a potential supporter of Al Qaeda;
  • The decision not to wait for the U.N. process to deal with the charge of WMDs in Iraq;
  • The decision not to accept the arguments of the French and other governments in the United Nations about invading Iraq;
  • The decision to form a coalition of the willing;
  • The decision to invade with the size force that was used;
  • The decision not to utilize a larger post invasion force to maintain order;
  • The decision to abandon the post-war planning done by the State Department teams;
  • The decision to install the Coalition Transition Authority rather than to quickly establish an Iraqi caretaker government;
  • The decision to keep Coalition forces in Iraq for an extended period, rather than to withdraw quickly;
  • The decision to conduct a radical de-Bathification;
  • The decision not to quickly reconstitute the Iraqi army and police after the invastion;
  • The decision to staff the CTA in the way that it was done;
  • The decision to seek a "Big Bank" move to a free market system;
  • The decision not to call for multiparty talks with the neighboring countries to Iraq;
  • The decision not to expand recruiting for the U.S. military and not to further expand military spending to reduce the stress on the existing military;
  • The decisions with respect to military tactics, including the battles for Fallujah.and "the surge";
  • The decisions with regard to the sweeps of Iraqi citizens, imprisonment, interrogation techniques, etc.
  • The decisions with respect to the refugeesl
  • The decisions with respect to walling off of Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods,
If we think of a game of chess or checkers, the mental model is of a complex tree of moves. So too we can think of Iraq as a complex tree of decisions. We know the path that actually occurred -- the choices that were actually made and their results. We don't know the paths that would have been taken had different alternatives have been made along the way.

In the aftermath of an important game of chess, experts will analyze the sequence of moves, seeking to see where the eventual winner make key moves, and where the eventual loser went wrong. Chess games start with a player choosing an opening gambit, and the opponent choosing a response. There is an extensive body of expert knowledge on openings, and only the rankest amature would lose a game at the opening, nor would the most expert player usually lose the game choosing the wrong opening.

In the case of the chain of decisions made with respect to Iraq, it may be that our government's decision making should not be criticized as inevitably leading to five years of war and the current situation. Counterfactual paths might legitimately have been considered more likely than the path that actually occurred. Thus it might have been assumed that the U.S. government would have put in more troops, carried out a modest de-Bathification, reconstituted the Iraqi military quickly, established a new, non Saddam led government quickly, allowed the Iraqis to make their own political and economic reforms, negotiated a regional accord, and quickly withdrawn Coalition forces.

In the debates between Clinton and Obama, where neither candidate had much influence over the subsequent decisions of the Bush administration, we perhaps attach too much importance to the position that the candidate took five or six years ago. It seems clear in retrospect, that there were few people in the United States who had a deep understanding of Iraqi society, nor that accurate predictions could be made of Iraqi responses to possible actions of the Coalition. It also seems unlikely that either Democrat could have accurately predicted the way in which the Bush administration would prosecute the occupation.

This blog is not about Iraq. It does deal with decision making. The point of this posting is that it is more appropriate to consider the path that was selected through a decision tree in evaluating a complex history such as that of the war and occupation of Iraq, than to consider a single decision, such as the decision to invade.

The experience in Iraq is also instructive of a significant point of decision making. There have to be "Plans B". It seems very clear that many of the decisions made by the Bush administration had worse results than they had anticipated -- the looting after the occupation of Baghdad, the unwillingness of the Sunnis to participate in the elections, the slow speed of legislation, the failure of the economic reform program to put people back to work and trigger economic growth, the failure of the efforts to rebuild the infrastructure, the length and viciousness of the insurgency. In complex situations, it is wise to prepare for unforeseen or unlikely consequences that are more negative than what is expected.

Finally, chess masters will generally agree in the middle and end games, whether a specific position favors one or the other player. They may well differ as to the quality of individual moves that led to that position. When you are traveling in unfamiliar country it is easier to recognize when you are lost than it is to see exactly where you got off the right track!

Friday, April 18, 2008

12Manage: Management Methods, Models and More

I ran across this interesting website. For readers of this blog, 12Manage has facets on Decision Making and Valuation, Strategy, Leadership and Change and Organization that should be interesting.

Scientific Integrity Watchdogs

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a program and website on:



The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a program and website on:



Climate Science Watch seeks to hold public officials accountable for the integrity and effectiveness with which they use climate science and related research in government policymaking.

Thoughts occassioned reading Baumol et al.

I have been reading Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity by William J. Baumol, Robert E. Litan and Carl J. Schramm. It is an interesting book, and one worth your attention.

Culture, policy and institutions

In one section the authors discuss "culture" as a determinant of the ability of a society to progress rapidly economically through entrepreneurial innovation. They make the point that, while culture is sometimes thought to be relatively slow to change, countries that have established policies and institutions that promote entrepreneurial innovation have experienced rapid increases in entrepreneurial behavior within less than a generation. They suggest that perhaps culture responds to policies and institutions rather than the reverse.

I am very interested in UNESCO, and I perceive that the emphasis in that organization is that globalization and other pressures are driving cultural change at a very fast rate, and indeed that many people are concerned that those changes are threatening many of the most deeply held cultural values of their societies. They question how rapid cultural change can be made more morally and ethically responsive to the members of the cultures involved.

A definition of culture is:
The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
Under that definition, institutions are part of culture. I understand that Baumol et al. consider institutions such as markets and those involved in the rule of law and intellectual property rights protection to be worthy of special concern for economists, and are referring to behavior patters and beliefs as "culture". However, the links among policy, institutions and culture even in the author's limited sense are indeed complex. Institutions and policies do not come into existence or do not work if they are in too much conflict with the beliefs and behavior of the society to which they are introduced.

The main point I would make is that cultural changes are probably critically important in achieving economic growth, but that those changes affect a broad cultural network, and should not be made without control by the members of the culture that would be changed.

Education

The authors also suggest that they believe increases in educational opportunities are necessary to achieve economic progress through entrepreneurial innovation, but not sufficient. I suspect they are right.

They also suggest that economists, using the techniques of econometrics, have not been able to support that assertion. The authors do note that economists strongly believe that there are benefits to education that are external to the earning impacts of more schooling, and that it is the development of skills used in the workplace that counts in terms of the economic value of education. I concur.

Econometrics techniques are difficult to apply to situations in which there are many necessary conditions to an effect, but where in many cases one of more of those conditions are not met.

In the case of education, all too often analysts are forced to lump very dissimilar things. The value to a country of preparation of much needed professionals in public health or engineering may be quite different than the value of preparation of lawyers or historians in excess of the number than can be employed, but training of these professions are often lumped in expenditures on higher education. Indeed, it seems very likely to me that the marginal returns to different kinds of education are highly variable, depending on the society's needs for skills and abilities to utilize graduates effectively.

It should also be noted that UNESCO and the United Nations have realized in the creation of the goals for Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals that basic education is a universal human right. Rights "trump" utilitarian concerns, and countries have the responsibility to provide those services which are determined to be the rights of their citizens whether or not they are "profitable".

Scientists should politicize to respond to Bush's attack on science

Read Chris Mooney's call for scientists to actively work in politics. He traces the political attack on science from the Nixon administration, to the Reagan administration, to the Bush administration (which seems to have been the worst).

"The Raging Grannies Greet the F.C.C."


Source: John Markoff, The New York Times, April 17, 2008.

Excerpt:
The complaint that Mr. Topolski posted on the Internet ultimately led to two public hearings held by the agency focusing on the issue of network neutrality. The first was held in February at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. The second focused on engineering management of the Internet and new and innovative digital applications.

At Stanford a parade of witnesses challenged the efforts of the giant Internet service providers to control and, in some cases, block the data traffic that flows over their networks.

The panel was enlivened by an activist group called the “Raging Grannies,” who stood outside before the hearing began and sang songs condemning Comcast’s pricing and other practices.
Comment: Hats off to the raging grannies! Net Neutrality is an important principle that we have to support and protect! JAD

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Help not wanted: Congress is doing its best to lose the global talent war"

Source: Lexington, The Economist, April 10, 2008.

Excerpts:
Consider the annual April Fool's joke played on applicants for H1B visas, which allow companies to sponsor highly-educated foreigners to work in America for three years or so. The powers-that-be have set the number of visas so low—at 85,000—that the annual allotment is taken up as soon as applications open on April 1st. America then deals with the mismatch between supply and demand in the worst possible way, allocating the visas by lottery. The result is that hundreds of thousands of highly qualified people—entrepreneurs who want to start companies, doctors who want to save lives, scientists who want to explore the frontiers of knowledge—are kept waiting on the spin of a roulette wheel and then, more often than not, denied the chance to work in the United States.

This is a policy of national self-sabotage. America has always thrived by attracting talent from the world. Some 70 or so of the 300 Americans who have won Nobel prizes since 1901 were immigrants. Great American companies such as Sun Microsystems, Intel and Google had immigrants among their founders. Immigrants continue to make an outsized contribution to the American economy. About a quarter of information technology (IT) firms in Silicon Valley were founded by Chinese and Indians. Some 40% of American PhDs in science and engineering go to immigrants. A similar proportion of all the patents filed in America are filed by foreigners.

These bright foreigners bring benefits to the whole of society. The foreigner-friendly IT sector has accounted for more than half of America's overall productivity growth since 1995. Foreigner-friendly universities and hospitals have been responsible for saving countless American cities from collapse. Bill Gates calculates, and respectable economists agree, that every foreigner who is given an H1B visa creates jobs for five regular Americans.......

The United States is already paying a price for its failure to adjust to the new world. Talent-challenged technology companies are already being forced to export jobs abroad. Microsoft opened a software development centre in Canada in part because Canada's more liberal laws make it easier to recruit qualified people from around the world. This problem is only going to get worse if America's immigration restrictions are not lifted. The Labour Department projects that by 2014 there will be more than 2m job openings in science, technology and engineering, while the number of Americans graduating with degrees in those subjects is plummeting.
Comment: It is estimated that three percent of the world's population lives in a country other than the one in which they were born. However, ten percent of the people living in advanced developed nations are immigrants.

It is also the rich nations that have low birth rates and healthy populations who live long lives. They will face the problem that fewer people of working age will be available to run economies with increasing numbers of old people dependent on them. And we old folk have heavy economic demands and big political voices.

That is true unless a nation can and will attract immigrants.


The United States is fortunate in that it can attract immigrants, and indeed highly educated, entrepreneurial immigrants. It also has space in which they can live, and an economic system that can accept immigrants, put them to work, and indeed allow them to create jobs for those born here. The United States not only has historically created institutions that facilitated the integration of immigrants in our society, it has an accepted national myth of "the melting pot" which encourages the acceptance of immigrants. JAD

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

Quote: Are Cellphones a Basic Human Right

In the article, "Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?," in the New York Times magazine (April 13, 2008), Sara Corbett is interviewing Jan Chipchase:
I voiced a careless thought about whether there might be something negative about the lightning spread of technology, whether its convenience was somehow supplanting traditional values or practices. Chipchase raised his eyebrows and laid down his spoon. He sighed, making it clear that responding to me was going to require patience. “People can think, yeah, monks with cellphones, and tsk, tsk, and what is the world coming to?” he said. “But if you wanted to take phones away from anybody in this world who has them, they’d probably say: ‘You’re going to have to fight me for it. Are you going to take my sewer and water away too?’ And maybe you can’t put communication on the same level as running water, but some people would. And I think in some contexts, it’s quite viable as a fundamental right.” He paused a beat to let this sink in, then added, with just a touch of edge, “People once believed that people in other cultures might not benefit from having books either.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Another Bush Appointee in the News

Jackson, Bush and Paulson

Remember George Bush saying "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" on television while Michael Brown was overseeing the dismal response to the Katrina disaster? Well, he is likely to say "Alphonso, you've done a heck of a job" when Alphonso Jackson steps down as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday.

According to the Washington Post today:
In late 2006, as economists warned of an imminent housing market collapse, housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson repeatedly insisted that the mounting wave of mortgage failures was a short-term "correction."

He pushed for legislation that would make it easier for federally backed lenders to make mortgage loans to risky borrowers who put less money down. He issued a rule that was criticized by law enforcement authorities because it could increase the difficulty of detecting and proving mortgage fraud.

As Jackson leaves office this week, much of the attention on his tenure has been focused on investigations into whether his agency directed housing contracts to his friends and political allies. But critics say an equally significant legacy of his four years as the nation's top housing officer was gross inattention to the looming housing crisis.

They contend that Jackson ignored warnings from within his agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, whose inspector general told Congress that some of the secretary's efforts were "ill-advised policy" and likely to put more families at risk of losing their homes.
Wikipedia's entry on Jackson states:
On April 28, 2006, Jackson spoke at a meeting in Dallas and addressed the subject of government contracting. He recounted that a prospective African-American HUD contractor had made a "heck of a proposal" and was selected upon the basis of that proposal, but upon thanking Secretary Jackson for being selected the bidder, mentioned that he did not like President Bush. As a result, Jackson said, the bidder who had criticized Bush did not receive the contract: "Brother, you have a disconnect — the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn’t be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don’t tell the secretary." Jackson asked the crowd, "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

After Jackson's comment, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) called for Jackson to resign. In response, the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that Jackson's statement was not literally true but instead "anecdotal," and meant only to "explain to this group how politics works in D.C." An inspector general's report later claimed that Jackson "personally intervened with contractors whom he did not like...these contractors had Democratic political affiliations," however no direct proof was found that Jackson's staff obeyed.
Comment: Arghh! JAD

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The U.S. Leads in Space Competitiveness


Reduced Expectations for World Economy


Other Links

I spend a great deal of my time as an editor for the Development Gateway. I am very active as an editor of:
The Information and Communications Technology Community
Monitoring and Evaluation (of ICT Projects) Community

Thousands of online resources of interest to those involved in Knowledge for Development can be located using the archives and search facilities of those website, and one can contact thousands of people with similar interests in many, many countries who participate in those communities. I would also recommend the Development Gateway:


I have also been active editing the community pages on:

Nanotechnology for Development
Space Applications for Development

We are considering combining these into a site that would be called "Emerging Technologies for Development". That community would include not only nanotechnology and space technologies but also biotechnology and other emerging technologies with potential economic importance to developing nations.

For those of you interested in UNESCO, I am the webmaster for the website for:


I am also the chief blogger for two blogs that relate to Americans for UNESCO:

UNESCO in the Spotlight: Education and Culture
UNESCO in the Spotlight: Science and Communications

Drop a comment if you think the Emerging Technologies for Development would be a good or a bad idea. I am also looking for volunteers to help with posting material on the UNESCO blogs.

Israelis and Palestinians

I just finished reading The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan. I recommend it highly. The book tells the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in some detail, but it also recounts the story of an Israeli peace activist and a Palestinian activist for return of the Palestinians to their pre-Israel lands. That the Palestinian was born and lived as a child in the same house that the Israeli grew up in, that they were friends for decades, and that they made that house into a center for Palestinian children in Israel makes the story truly exceptional.

I have been reading a fair amount about the Israeli-Palestinian situation over the past month, including No Man's Land: Despatches from the Middle East by Richard Crowley, another good book.

As a result, I have come to fear that a settlement of the conflict is quite unlikely in any reasonable time frame. Looking at the facts on the ground, Israel is taking over more and more control of the land west of the Jordan, and the Israeli's and their allies who wish to see the two-state solution abandoned in favor of a Jewish state seem to be gaining their desired ends. This leaves more than five million Palestinians in limbo.

It is a wonderment to me how the beliefs of people affect their actions. I assume that all people want good lives for themselves and opportunities for good lives for their children. Lots of Israeli Jews have opted to immigrate to Australia or the United States in search of better lives and more security than they can find in Israel. Lots of Palestinians have opted to immigrate to other Arab lands or to the United States for the same reason.

Yet millions of Israeli's continue to live in Israel. Many of them do so, I assume, out of love of the land and the local community, including their family and friends that continue to live around them. Many do so out the desire to live in a Jewish nation, although the majority of Israeli Jews are secular.

So too, millions of Palestinians continue to seek a return to historical Palestine, even though more than four million live in refugee camps with little realistic hope of every returning. Large numbers support Fatah and Hamas striving for goals that appear to be very distant at best, and often their actions result in great personal danger and sacrifice.

I am the child of immigrants, having lived in three countries and worked in more than 35 myself, the father of a child born in another country, with family members who have lived in a number of other countries. I live in the United States, where people move from house to house frequently. Here there is a common belief that if there are no good jobs in the state in which you live, you should move to a state where there are good jobs. Increasingly Americans believe that one have to have an education which prepares one to change not only jobs, but also careers several times in a working lifetime. Giving up opportunities for oneself or for ones children for love of place seems profoundly unintuitive.

Yet most Israelis and most Palestinians seem to find it equally unintuitive that one might leave one's home and one's land for greener pastures. Of course, most Palestinians look back on themselves or their immediate ancestors having left their homes and suffered in the aftermath of that move. However, most Israeli's look back on their own or their immediate ancestor's immigration that in fact achieved a better life.

The answer of course is "culture". Israelis and Palestinians have internalized a cultural value on remaining in what they regard as their ancestral land. Their parents and neighbors shared that value, they learned it as children, and it is reinforced in their adult lives; the value is reinforced and reinforces the cultural institutions of their societies. But that is no answer at all! Why does that value persist in spite of the fact that so many Israelis and Palestinians have migrated and the fact that so many of the migrants have found success and safety abroad?

The more I learn, the less I seem to understand!