Thursday, December 31, 2009
Ironically, as assessments of climate change science and climate impacts have increasingly called attention to changes in climate and documented impacts that were not evident even a half decade earlier (13–15), the Earth-observing systems on which advances in this science depend are woefully underfunded. Budgets to develop, deploy, and operate these systems and to support the scientific use of the data have not grown in proportion to the widely recognized need for these capabilities. Worse, domestic funding to sustain them has actually declined over the past decade, even though the United States pioneered many of these systems. Some of the systems now at risk are international partnerships with U.S. funding requirements.The Bush administration spent years denying climate change research, and the switch of NASA priorities to manned space exploration and away from earth science gave not only a quick publicity gain among non-scientists but reduced the accumulation of evidence about climate change -- evidence that some in the administration and some of its supporters probably did not want.
Several organizations have been rising to the challenge of prioritization and support for the deployment of new satellite sensors and renewal of those essential time-series observations of atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial properties and processes. For example, in 2007 a committee of the National Research Council (NRC) prioritized 17 new Earth-observation missions for the 2010–2020 time period out of more than 100 that were proposed. A few months later, the AAAS Board issued a Board Statement on the "Crisis in Earth Observation from Space." It stated that the NRC had provided the "blueprint for a program that will bring immense returns for modest costs" and urged the Congress and the Administration to implement this plan.
The decline in funding for Earth observations has in part been a consequence of NASA's refocusing of priorities with a new emphasis on a return mission to the Moon and on to Mars. The outcome of the Obama Administration's review of NASA's mission for the next decade will signal the degree to which the United States is committed to sustaining and enhancing critical Earth observations.
If you still have doubts, check this figure from the paper:
Fig. 6. Global surface temperature. Global ranked surface temperatures for the warmest 50 years. The inset shows global ranked surface temperatures from 1850. The size of the bars indicates the 95% confidence limits associated with each year. The source data are blended land-surface air temperature and sea surface temperature from the HadCRUT3 series. Values are simple area-weighted averages for the whole year (28).
Percentage of Visits for Influenza-like Illness (ILI) Reported by the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet), National Summary 2008-2009 and Previous Two Seasons
Note too, however, that it is possible to see an antigenic shift in the H1N1 flu with a more severe epidemic in the future.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I have been reading Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, a great read for the history buff who will read historical fiction!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
On Black Friday, I picked up a sweet 32" Samsung HD TV for about $500. That's not nothing, but it occurred to me after I left Best Buy that the full suite of cutting edge technology I own can today be had for a few thousand dollars (even less if you go MacBook instead of MacBook Pro, get the $99 iPhone, etc.). That's rather amazing, and it means that I can whip up creative content in a way that would blow the minds of gear heads even a decade ago. It doesn't mean, though, that anyone is going to necessarily listen to once I post it online......But I'll suggest one consideration worth keeping in mind. We're quickly getting to a place where it makes sense to think about the digital divide not just in terms of hardware disparities. Distribution networks are becoming an ever bigger deal, as conversations are being shaped by who is reading/following whom online. That's why it starts to matter who Post reporters are listening to on Twitter or whether the political class ignores MySpace in favor of Facebook. Give a read, for example, to the story that the City Paper is telling about how the Washington Postignored for quite a while gripping documentary evidence available online about the DC snowball incident, preferring instead official denials issued by MPD. Of course, gripping videos of cops behaving badly might break through in a big way eventually. But cheap technologies don't alone dictate that everyone's voices are going to get heard.
I saw this hour long program last night on PBS, and found it excellent. It made the point very well that we surely evolved our brain because it facilitated action that enhanced survival and thus reproductive success, and that is only possible because the brain is able to control our muscles.
Students flock to American universities from all over the world. But according to the OECD, a think-tank, over 40% of the 106,123 foreign students in the country during the 2007-08 academic year came from just three Asian countries: China, India and South Korea.The Institute for International Education in its 2009 Open Doors report says that the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by 8% to an all-time high of 671,616 in the 2008/09 academic year.
Migration matters. Economic growth depends on productivity, and the most productive people are often the most mobile. A quarter of America’s engineering and technology firms founded between 1995 and 2005 had an immigrant founder, according to Vivek Wadhwa of Harvard Law School. A quarter of international patent applications filed from America were the work of foreign nationals. And such measures ignore the children of immigrants. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the stepson of a man who fled Cuba at the age of 15 and arrived without even a high-school diploma.
Richard Florida, the author of such books as “The Flight of the Creative Class” and “Who’s Your City?”, argues that countries and regions and cities are engaged in a global battle for talent. The most creative people can live more or less where they want. They tend to pick places that offer not only material comfort but also the stimulation of being surrounded by other creative types.
- Racialism, the belief that "there are heritable characteristics, possessed by members of our species, which allow us to divide them into a small set of races, in such a way that all members of these races share certain traits and tendencies with each other that they do not share with members of any other race."
- Extrinsic racism, the belief that moral distinctions can be made between races because they believe that the racial essence involves certain morally relevant traits.
- Intrinsic racism, the belief that moral distinctions can be made between races quite independent of the morally relevant traits of individuals of those races, much as we make more distinctions between "our family" and "others not of our family".
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
At t the start of the twentieth century, another indispensable but unmanageably costly sector was strangling the country: agriculture. In 1900, more than forty per cent of a family’s income went to paying for food. At the same time, farming was hugely labor-intensive, tying up almost half the American workforce. We were, partly as a result, still a poor nation. Only by improving the productivity of farming could we raise our standard of living and emerge as an industrial power. We had to reduce food costs, so that families could spend money on other goods, and resources could flow to other economic sectors. And we had to make farming less labor-dependent, so that more of the population could enter non-farming occupations and support economic growth and development.Land grant colleges had been started during the Civil War under President Lincoln and eventually their agricultural field stations could develop improved techniques and adapt improved techniques to local circumstances as well as train agricultural experts. In 1914 Congress established the USDA agricultural extension service.
By 1920, there were seven thousand federal extension agents, working in almost every county in the nation, and by 1930 they had set up more than seven hundred and fifty thousand demonstration farms.......Gawadne goes on to describe his interview with a USDA extension agent who serves 660 farms in Ohio, with an average size of a hundred and fifty acres. The agent has a Bachelors and Masters degree in agronomy, and is supported by the USDA state and national expertise. The farmers he serves are themselves highly educated and highly connected by global standards.
The department invested heavily in providing timely data to farmers, so that they could make more rational planting decisions. It ran the country’s weather-forecasting system. And its statistics service adopted crop-reporting systems from Europe that allowed it to provide independent crop forecasts—forecasts that, among other things, dramatically reduced speculation bubbles........
The U.S.D.A. established an information-broadcasting service. A hundred and seventeen commercial and forty-six military radio stations carried crop reports; printed reports were distributed to fifteen million farmers a year. It also introduced a grading system for food—meat, eggs, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables—to flag and discourage substandard quality.......
The government never took over agriculture, but the government didn’t leave it alone, either. It shaped a feedback loop of experiment and learning and encouragement for farmers across the country. The results were beyond what anyone could have imagined. Productivity went way up, outpacing that of other Western countries. Prices fell by half. By 1930, food absorbed just twenty-four per cent of family spending and twenty per cent of the workforce. Today, food accounts for just eight per cent of household income and two per cent of the labor force. It is produced on no more land than was devoted to it a century ago, and with far greater variety and abundance than ever before in history.
The process by which such an agricultural extension agent can communicate with a farmer is quite efficient -- an expert communicating with an informed practitioner often by telephone. The impact of the precise answer to an important question for a 150 acre farm may be worth quite a lot of money.
Compare that to what happens in developing nations, in which farms may be very small, often an acre or less, the farmers much less educated and connected than in the United States, served by a less educated extension worker who has less backup from the research and extension service of his government. No wonder it takes decades to bring agricultural productivity up to global standards for the poorest nations.
Gawadne is clearly right that there is a fruitful analogy between the success in the 20th century of the U.S. Government's role in improving agricultural productivity and the potential for success of a U.S. Government role in improving health productivity in the 21st century.
I just finished Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson.
- Isolating the Confederacy from foreign aid, perhaps especially when in the middle of the war the Emancipation Proclamation was issued making it a war about slavery.
- Destroying the economic base of the Confederacy by blockade (of an economy that traded cotton for manufactured goods), freeing the slaves, confiscating property, destroying the inland shipping and railroad infrastructure, and devastating the land and agricultural production.
- Bringing more and better supplied armies to bear on the Confederate armies, in part by the introduction of the draft and the recruitment of 200,000 black soldiers and in part by the manufacturing strength (85,000 Spencer repeating rifles made the Union cavalry a fearsome force in the last year of the war). The refusal to exchange prisoners by the North, and the policy by the South of killing black soldiers and their officers taken prisoners may both have helped.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
- Economic initiatives that have warded off a depression
- Placing the United States in a global leadership position in the amelioration of climate change
- Leading the nation toward a much needed reform of our health services
Friday, December 18, 2009
Source: Alan I. Leshner and Vaughan Turekian in a Science editorial
Past controversies over historical temperature trends and access to research data have resurfaced amid a stir over old e-mail exchanges among climate scientists that were stolen from a university in the U.K. Two National Research Council reports in particular address these issues. Guiding principles for maintaining the integrity and accessibility of research data were recommended in a report released earlier this year, and a 2006 report examined how much confidence could be placed in historical surface temperature reconstructions.
Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Agerecommends that researchers -- both publicly and privately funded -- make the data and methods underlying their reported results public in a timely manner, except in unusual cases where there is a compelling reason not to do so. In such cases, researchers should explain why data are being withheld. But the default position should be to share data -- a practice that allows conclusions to be verified, contributes to further scientific advances, and permits the development of beneficial goods and services.
Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Past 2,000 Years examined what tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other "proxies" can tell us about the planet's temperature record, and in particular how much confidence could be placed in a graph that became known as the "hockey stick," which depicted a steep rise in temperatures after a 1,000-year period in the last few decades of the 20th century. The committee that wrote the report found sufficient evidence to say with a high level of confidence that the last decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years. It said less confidence could be placed in reconstructions of temperatures prior to 1600, although proxy data does indicate that many locations are warmer now than they were between A.D. 900 and 1600. Proxy data for periods prior to A.D. 900 are sparse, the report notes.
- New York
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
The days of our years are threescore years and ten
Nature magazine recently published an article titled "Ageing populations: the challenges ahead". Abstract:
If the pace of increase in life expectancy in developed countries over the past two centuries continues through the 21st century, most babies born since 2000 in France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the USA, Canada, Japan, and other countries with long life expectancies will celebrate their 100th birthdays. Although trends differ between countries, populations of nearly all such countries are ageing as a result of low fertility, low immigration, and long lives. A key question is: are increases in life expectancy accompanied by a concurrent postponement of functional limitations and disability? The answer is still open, but research suggests that ageing processes are modifiable and that people are living longer without severe disability. This finding, together with technological and medical development and redistribution of work, will be important for our chances to meet the challenges of ageing populations.An article at Knowledge@Wharton expands on this projection, noting that we will have to educate these kids differently, giving them the skills to adopt several professions during their lifetimes. We better start now revamping primary, secondary and tertiary education systems because they have a lot of inertia.
Look too at the predicted composition of the population. The aging white folk are going to depend more and more on the younger non-white and Hispanic folk and immigrants to run our economy. We better learn to be nice to them!
- Energy technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and will eventually reduce our dependency on fossil fuels
- Agricultural technologies that will increase productivity on cultivated lands thereby both feeding our growing population and decreasing pressures on marginal lands
- Information and communications technologies which offer both the hope of amplified intelligence with which to better face our problems and improved communication to better span the cultural divides which lead to war
- Biomedical technologies which will offer a healthier and longer life
Despite its presumed role as an engine of economic growth, we know surprisingly little about the drivers of scientic creativity. In this paper, we exploit key dierences across funding streams within the academic life sciences to estimate the impact of incentives on the rate and direction of scientic exploration. Specically, we study the careers of investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which tolerates early failure, rewards longterm success, and gives its appointees great freedom to experiment; and grantees from the National Institute of Health, which are subject to short review cycles, pre-dened deliverables, and renewal policies unforgiving of failure. Using a combination of propensity-score weighting and dierence-in-dierences estimation strategies, we nd that HHMI investigators produce high-impact papers at a much higher rate than two control groups of similarly-accomplished NIH-funded scientists. Moreover, the direction of their research changes in ways that suggest the program induces them to explore novel lines of inquiry.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.This clearly implies that everyone has a right to an adequate amount of water to assure the health and well-being of himself and of his family, since we know that there are waterborne diseases, waterwashed diseases (that can be prevented by washing utensils or people), and that food production requires water.
Over time, the Earth's orbit around the Sun varies slightly.I strongly recommend that you watch the video animation of this report.
This changes the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth's surface, alternately warming and cooling the planet's surface.
In a warming phase, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are released and amplify the warming - increasing the natural greenhouse effect. They are stored again when an ice age starts.
So over this period, we see temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations changing in step, in cycles lasting about 100,000 years.
About 10,000 years ago, the Earth emerged from its most recent ice age. Agriculture developed, and the extra food supported a growing global population.....
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes it is more than 90% probable that the warming seen in the second half of the 20th Century is mainly driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
- The United States spends $7,290 per capita on health services, compared to an average of $2,986 among developed nations. The second highest spending is $4,417 in Switzerland.
- The United States has a life expectancy of 78 years, less than the average of 79.2 of its sample of OECD countries. Japan has a life expectancy of nearly 83 years.
- In the United States the average number of visits per year is less than 4. In Japan it is more than 12.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
"in January 2007, Jim Gray, a database software pioneer and a Microsoft researcher, sketched out an argument that computing was fundamentally transforming the practice of science.
"Dr. Gray called the shift a 'fourth paradigm.' The first three paradigms were experimental, theoretical and, more recently, computational science. He explained this paradigm as an evolving era in which an “exaflood” of observational data was threatening to overwhelm scientists. The only way to cope with it, he argued, was a new generation of scientific computing tools to manage, visualize and analyze the data flood.
"In essence, computational power created computational science, which produced the overwhelming flow of data, which now requires a computing change. It is a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing landscape.......
"He argued that government should instead focus on supporting cheaper clusters of computers to manage and process all this data. This is distributed computing, in which a nation full of personal computers can crunch the pools of data involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or protein folding.
"The goal, Dr. Gray insisted, was not to have the biggest, fastest single computer, but rather “to have a world in which all of the science literature is online, all of the science data is online, and they interoperate with each other.” He was instrumental in making this a reality, particularly for astronomy, for which he helped build vast databases that wove much of the world’s data into interconnected repositories that have created, in effect, a worldwide telescope"
Comment: What an interesting idea. Of course, it is an idea that can be generalized, for example to government. Think of harnessing the computer power of the cloud of computers not only in government offices but in a nation to do the government's work! JAD
- The 48,802 research doctorates awarded in 2008 is the highest number in the history of U.S. higher education, but growth rates have slowed in recent years (table 1).
- Life sciences accounted for 11,088 research doctorates awarded in 2008, the largest number by broad field (table 5).
- Women received 46% of all research doctorates awarded in 2008, the 13th consecutive year in which women received more than 40% of doctorates awarded (table 7).
- A total of 6,981 U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are members of racial/ethnic minority groups were awarded research doctorates in 2008—23% of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who earned research doctorates and reported race/ethnicity (table 8).
- Asians earned 2,543 research doctorates in 2008, more than members of any other U.S. racial/ethnic minority group (table 8).
- Of graduates with known citizenship status, 67% were U.S. citizens or permanent residents and 33% were non-U.S. citizen temporary visa holders (table 11).
- China (including Hong Kong) was the country of origin for the largest number of non-U.S. graduates in 2008, with 4,526 (table 12).
- The median total time span from baccalaureate to doctorate among graduates was 9.4 years; median duration between starting and completing graduate school was 7.7 years (table 18).
graduates was 9.4 years; median duration between starting and completing graduate school was 7.7 years (table 18).
Comment: Note that the vast majority of the Ph.D. graduates who study in the United States under temporary visas plan to stay in this country after their degrees, at least in science, technology, health and professional fields. The bring a lot of brains and skills to our economy, as well as improving our connections with and understanding of the rest of the world. JAD
Are we reminded of the General MacArthur in the Korean War, the U.S. leadership in the Korean War, or the U.S. leadership in the wars of the last decade?
USAID's Frontlines magazine has an interview with Lucy Liu. I quote:
Estimates show that human trafficking takes in $10 billion worldwide, second only to drug trafficking. Every year between 700,000 and 4 million people are bought and sold. Many victims, both boys and girls, are as young as 7 years old—some are younger.Thanks to Ms. Liu for pointing out how huge this problem continues to be. We think that slavery has been eliminated, but how many years of the Atlantic slave trade from Africa to the Western hemisphere saw a million souls sold into slavery? JAD
Source: "What’s the Story on Militarization?" Ron Capps, Monday Developments via FrontLines, November 2009.
While there are over 2,300,000 uniformed service members, there are fewer than 6,800 Foreign Service Officers at the Department of State and about 1,400 Foreign Service Officers at USAID. The General Accounting Office claims nearly 30 percent of language-designated positions at American embassies are filled by inadequately trained officials, and a recent article in Foreign Affairs noted that American embassies in Africa are short 30 percent of their assigned staffs......
Personnel numbers alone still don’t tell the whole story. A recent study by the Association for American Diplomacy and the Henry L. Stimson Center repeatedly cited a lack of program management skills at State and USAID. Congress has granted the Department of Defense authorities and funding for security and development assistance that should reside with State and USAID; and it did so principally because the civilian agencies cannot carry their load. A congressional report cites a waning of diplomatic effectiveness in representing U.S. interests as foreign officials “follow the money,” increasingly emphasizing defense relations over diplomacy. The RAND Corporation calls these discrepancies “a dysfunctional skewing of resourcesto- tasks.”....
The real story here is that America has just passed the outermost point of one of our regular foreign policy pendulum swings and we are headed back to a more centered approach. Right now, we in the development, humanitarian assistance, and advocacy communities have an opportunity to influence the political story line. Now is the time to press for greater funding for civilian personnel, more training to increase civilian capacity, and a return of authorities and funding and oversight of development and security assistance to the Department of State and USAID.
Television is lagging a long way behind its audiences. The UK has an increasingly ethnically diverse population, and people travel abroad for work, leisure and gap years. We consume music, food, clothes and media from around the world, and have interests and hobbies which connect us to a range of different places. Yet what we see on television doesn’t reflect this.
This was the conclusion of a recent piece of research, The World in Focus. The study asked how TV, as people’s main source of information about the wider world, portrays developing countries and show these interconnections. Are we being given enough or the right information and impressions of the rest of the world and our place in it?
In view of the opportunities presented by cloud computing, the Thai government has started experimenting with hybrid clouds to roll out e-government services to the rural areas. Jirapon Tubtimhim, Director, Government Information Technology Infrastructure, National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre, reveals what the government has been doing and the lessons learnt...
The National University of Singapore built a private cloud to address increasing end-users’ demands. Tan Chee Chiang, Associate Director, High Performance Computing, Computer Centre, National University of Singapore, shares the university’s approach to cloud and the challenges they have faced along the way...
Sunday, December 13, 2009
What are the respondents thinking of who do not think democratic government is best, but who think authoritarian governments can never be better than democratic ones? Maybe they just think the questions are stupid.
According to The Economist:
Last year an IBM supercomputer called Roadrunner, based at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, established a new record by operating at more than one petaflop (1,000 trillion calculations a second). Roadrunner is the world’s first “hybrid” supercomputer, having been assembled in part from off-the-shelf equipment, including 12,960 Cell processor chips like those found inside the PS3. It will be used to simulate the behaviour of nuclear weapons.The Economist, in another related article about a new virtual autopsy system states:
The body needing to be examined is first scanned using a computed tomography (CT) machine, a process which takes about 20 seconds and creates up to 25,000 images, each one a slice through the body. Different tissues, bodily substances and foreign objects (such as bullets) absorb the scanner’s X-rays in varying amounts. The software recognises these and assigns them a density value. These densities are then rendered with the aid of an NVIDiA graphics card, of a type used for high-speed gaming, into a 3-D visualisation of different colours and opacities. Air pockets are shown as blue, soft tissues as beige, blood vessels as red and bone as white. A pathologist can then peel through layers of virtual skin and muscle with the click of a computer mouse.
To make the process easier, Dr Persson and his colleagues have also created a virtual autopsy table. This is a large touch-sensitive LCD screen which stands like a table in an operating room, displaying an image of the body. Up to six people can gather around the table and, with a swipe of a finger, remove layers of muscle, zoom in and out of organs and slice through tissue with a virtual knife.
- The concept of "false balance". The media unfortunately sometimes tries to appear balanced by juxtaposing a scientific viewpoint, supported by evidence from carefully controlled experiments which have been replicated and described in peer reviewed publications with anecdotal evidence or worse with completely unsupported assertions. While such assertions may be well motivated by "true believers" with superstitious beliefs, they may also be meretricious assertions made for private gain.
- Our evolved interest in stories. People do like to tell and to hear stories. Often we can learn from the stories that are told. Check your newspaper and you will see how often information of general applicability is cloaked in the story of an individual or a family. The problem is that science advances by amassing data. The broadcast noted that "data is not the plural of anecdote".
- I was immunized and I did not get sick.
- I was immunized and I got sick.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
was one of the most-read WaPo opinion pieces of the year, coming in 21st in page views out of literally hundreds of opinion articles. An earlier Palin Op ed in the paper on the same topic was the third most read of the year.