Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Thought About the Preservation of Cultural Diversity

In the 1970's I worked as a health planner specializing in developing countries. I sometimes worked in places where on the average, of every four children born one would die before his/her fifth birthday. There are still such places today. It was then, as it is now, possible to cut that death rate by an order of magnitude. Rather than one in four children dying, one in 40 would die. Would anyone suggest that it were not desirable to achieve that reduction in infant and child mortality?

Of course, that is itself a change in the culture. Moreover, the ways we know to reduce child mortality involve teaching mothers to improve the nutrition and hygiene and providing basic public health and medical services. Of course, each such intervention changes the culture, and in fact tends to do so to move the original culture toward the culture of societies in which low infant and child mortality is the norm.

Indeed, breaking the cultural links as to where families seek nutritional and medical advice substituting linkages to new institutions would seem likely per se (if it works in ways that the families can see) will tend to promote more cultural change and less cultural diversity. If getting advice from the government health system works to improve your children's health, maybe getting advice from the government agricultural extension system will work to improve your farm's yield.

I would suggest that the impact of the improved health of children could also be seen as cultural change. We know that improving the survival probability of children leads rather directly to lowered numbers of pregnancies per woman. It has also been suggested that families invest more in children who are more likely to survive, and even invest more emotional attachment to such children. These would seem quite profound cultural changes.

Think also of the effect of a cohort of children growing up better fed, healthier, and receiving more investment of wealth and affection from their parents than did the previous generation. I suggest that there would be an important generation gap, leading to significant cultural change from generation to generation.

So the decision to reduce child mortality by an order of magnitude in a culture of poverty, while seemingly an obviously justified change in that culture, is likely to have repercussions that would lead to rather profound convergence of that society towards aspects of culture typical of societies with low infant and child mortality -- a significant reduction in cultural diversity.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Forests under siege: two maps tell the tale

The World's Forests

BOSTID and Other NAS Reports on S&T for Development

For many years I was the project officer in USAID for the grant to the National Academies that supported the work of its Board on Science and Technology for International Development (BOSTID). A long series of reports was published under that project. Most are out of date, but many still contain information that would be at least a start in developing an approach to innovation of technologies of potential economic importance to developing countries. The NAS has also published reports using other funding with similar value, including reports published after the demise of BOSTID. Many of these reports have now been made available online.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5

This is an update of the 2005 report which was instrumental in generating new science policy legislation. Here is the NAP description:
"In the face of so many daunting near-term challenges, U.S. government and industry are letting the crucial strategic issues of U.S. competitiveness slip below the surface. Five years ago, the National Academies prepared Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a book that cautioned: "Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position." Since that time we find ourselves in a country where much has changed--and a great deal has not changed.

"So where does America stand relative to its position of five years ago when the Gathering Storm book was prepared? The unanimous view of the authors is that our nation's outlook has worsened. The present volume, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, explores the tipping point America now faces. Addressing America's competitiveness challenge will require many years if not decades; however, the requisite federal funding of much of that effort is about to terminate.

"Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited provides a snapshot of the work of the government and the private sector in the past five years, analyzing how the original recommendations have or have not been acted upon, what consequences this may have on future competitiveness, and priorities going forward. In addition, readers will find a series of thought- and discussion-provoking factoids--many of them alarming--about the state of science and innovation in America.

"Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited is a wake-up call. To reverse the foreboding outlook will require a sustained commitment by both individual citizens and government officials--at all levels. This book, together with the original Gathering Storm volume, provides the roadmap to meet that goal. While this book is essential for policy makers, anyone concerned with the future of innovation, competitiveness, and the standard of living in the United States will find this book an ideal tool for engaging their government representatives, peers, and community about this momentous issue."

U.S. National Academies Press, 2010.

A new paradigm for technology improvement in poor countries

In his book Induced Innovation: Technology, Institutions, and Development Hans Binswanger pointed out that technological innovation may not always be exogenous to economic systems, but may be induced by the economic system. (See also Technology, Growth, and Development: An Induced Innovation Perspective by Vern Ruttan.)

It seems to me that sometimes it is better to see invention as not induced by economic conditions, but rather something that results from opportunities provided by scientific advances or complementary technological advances. Years ago, in Microcomputers in Public Policy: Applications for Developing Countries I published a chapter describing the development of modern surgery, which required both the development of anesthesia techniques and antiseptic techniques as well as an understanding of anatomy and pathology as well as development of diagnostic techniques. When surgery became less lethal, society could begin to develop the suite of surgical technology as well as the cadre of surgeons and supporting personnel able to perform the variety of surgical techniques that the economy could call forth. However, it is seems to me less than useful to try to analyze the development of the preconditions for modern surgery as induced by the financial opportunities that would eventually develop to perform reimbursed surgery.

Indeed, many of the technologies that led to revolutionary social changes -- including the printing press, the steam engine, the railroad, the telephone, the computer -- were marked by radical underestimation of their eventual economic value.

It is increasingly recognized that technological innovation is a key to economic development. There is a circular causality. The introduction of new technologies, by increasing the efficiency of resource utilization, can drive increases in production. Simultaneously, the changes in resource values resulting from economic development often results in opportunities to increase productivity by shifting to alternative technologies better suited to the new factor prices. (Thus as pay for labor increases and/or capital becomes more available and thus the costs of capital decrease, firms will seek to substitute labor saving but more capital intensive technologies for labor intensive but capital saving technologies.)

Brian Arthur in his book, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves, makes the case that technology is cumulative, in the sense that a society can only successfully adopt a new technology if it already has certain technologies on which that new technology depends. In my commentary on Arthur's book, I sought to make the case that technology can be regarded as knowledge that is embodied in people, machinery, plant, and even supplies (such as intermediate goods). In that context, it is clear that a society can successfully incorporate a new technology only if it can successfully obtain the machines needed for its use/operation and also successfully develop or obtain the people, plant and supplies with the embodied knowledge necessary to operate that machinery.

Thus the readiness to adopt new technologies depends on the technologies that a society has already adopted. This in turn is closely correlated with the level of economic development of the society. Poor countries generally do not have the ability to adopt complex technologies that are a radical departure from their existing technological pattern. Economic development involves developing increasing technological capacity in a step by step process. On the other hand, the so called "tigers" have shown that that process can be accomplished in decades, under the right circumstances, rather than in the centuries it has take for the richest countries to achieve their current status.

I have spent quite a bit of time trying to understand how donor agencies could help developing countries on the path to rapid scientifically and technologically fueled development. The poorest countries not only have much smaller GDPs per capita, but tend to devote a much smaller portion of their GDPs to science and technology than do rich countries. Indeed, there is a strong correlation between the portion of GDP devoted to research and development (and thus to science and technology) and the per capita GDP.

I suspect that this correlation is in part an artifact of the way in which we define "science and technology" (as well as "research and development"). The definitions tend to focus on kinds of knowledge development activities that have evolved in rich societies, and to ignore the kinds that are more common in and appropriate to poor societies. The efforts to improve the technologies used in agriculture and crafts by poor people in poor countries might often not be termed either "science and technology" nor "research and development".

Donor agencies must, of course, help all developing nations to increase their capacity in modern science and technology, both because some aspects of modern S&T will be immediately useful in their development, and because that capacity will increasingly be needed as countries become richer and more technologically sophisticated.

However, we need a new paradigm for improvement of the technology of poor countries, including improving the general knowledge needed to apply their current technologies and new technologies appropriate to their development.  How do craftspeople producing goods in small workshops improve their productive techniques and how do we find ways to stimulate those improvements? How do the primary producers -- especially farmers, fishermen, and woodcutters as well as home-makers -- improve their productive technology and how do we find ways to stimulate such improvements.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


"This spirit, however, without knowledge, would be little better than a brutal rage. Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome; set before us the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short, against the gates of earth and hell."
-- John Adams from "A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law" - 1765

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How did FDR make decisions?

Frances Perkins, in her book The Roosevelt I Knew, discusses the way in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt made decisions. Perkins, the first woman to be appointed to head a U.S. Government Department, was both on FDR's cabinet when he was governor of New York and for the entire time he was President. Indeed, she knew him for some 35 years.

Roosevelt had a very good memory for points that had been deeply impressed upon him. Perkins made sure to give him a detailed outline of her presentations in order that he would recall the most important points. He also recalled the human details of people he had met and things he had seen; so too he recalled things told to him by his wife from her work as his eyes and ears. These inputs were perhaps more important than his formal education, the books he was reading, or formal memos coming to him from subordinates.

While he recognized that the majority could be wrong, he tended to want to go with a majority where it existed. He was concerned with the politics of decisions, not merely with the public impact that a program under consideration might have.

She describes him as starting a decision from some specific point, going on to develop other aspects from that point until he had completed an overall program design. This would be contrasted to starting from an overall plan and then filling in the details.

She describes him as depending more on the analysis and views of trusted people than on detailed understanding of the issues himself. Perhaps the extreme aspect of this approach was in the atomic bomb decision. The possibility of the bomb was explained to him by Albert Einstein and Roosevelt's science advisor, and he approved the Manhattan Project based on his trust of their judgement more than on his own understanding achieved through that briefing.

FDR had discussions in his cabinet meetings, wanting to hear different opinions and to see points of view discussed. On the other hand, when cabinet members came to him for permission to go public with new programs or legislation he would often give that permission with a warning that he would not necessarily back the cabinet member if the suggestion became controversial.

While very intelligent, and able to use logical analysis, he also depended on instinct and intuitive judgment. He drew on his memory. He exercised his imagination. He had strong concern for the welfare of the common man. He made decisions exercising all of these faculties.

He also avoided the feeling that decisions were final. He worked on the basis that if a decision was wrong, it could be retrieved and corrected by later decisions and actions.

Perkins also describes FDR as growing through his experience. One gets the impression that when he was a legislator in New York, he thought in terms of New York affairs. His humanity was deepened by his experience with polio and by his recuperation. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy he became more aware of international issues, and living in Georgia and as a Vice Presidential candidate he became more interested in national issues. Of course, in the presidency his knowledge and understanding of national and international issues grew further.

The description seems to suggest a very good approach to decision making, but one that is not discussed in the average guidebook on decision making.

U.S. Development Assistance, Philanthropy and Remittances

Source: Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances 2010

The United States is still providing a smaller portion of GDP as Official Development Assistance than any other nation. When you add philanthropy, it does better, and when you add remittances it does better still.

It occurs to me that remittances are actually probably largely private philanthropy. At least my parents, both immigrants to the United States, sent money home to their families to help them out for their entire lives in the United States.

The Local Primary Election Was Held Yesterday

I was a poll watcher, and I was most impressed by the turn out of campaign workers. The turn out was 18.6 percent for the county, which is not bad for a primary. My precinct, which usually has better turn out than average, had almost 15 percent of registered voters appear yesterday, and probably many more who voted in the four days of early voting. The incumbents serving me in state and federal offices all won easily as expected -- congratulations to Donna Edwards my Representative in the House and Barbara Mikulski, my Senator. The Democratic races for local offices were apparently strongly contested, which explains the campaign workers and the 120 or so campaign signs at our polling place. Again, congratulations to all winners, condolences to those who fought and did not win. Special congratulatiosn to Roger Manno, who won a close race for nomination to the State Senate, and Darren Popkin, who was nominated for Sheriff.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A detailed briefing on the Floods in Pakistan and the Needed Relief Effort

My friend Nadia Afrin of the Development Gateway Foundation has conducted this two part interview with the Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States.

Ambassador Hussain Haqqani on Pakistan Flood (Part 1)

Ambassador Hussain Haqqani on Pakistan Flood: Part II

There are an estimated 20 million people in Pakistan who are displaced by the floods. Most of them will not be able to return to their homes quickly, a large number will not have homes to return to at all. It has been estimated that 1500 people died immediately during the flooding. Tragically, a lot of people will die in the next few weeks and months from diseases related to the flooding and to the problems of maintaining good hygiene in refugee camps and damaged villages and neighborhoods. More will probably die as a result of hunger and malnutrition in a country that has lost a major part of its crops and the communication and transportation infrastructure to more food from the ports to those who will need it. Indeed, others will die due to the damage to the health service infrastructure, which was weak enough already. Still more will die over the long run due to poverty, a poverty that will be worse due to the destruction caused by the flooding. Death and disease are only the most extreme forms of the damage that will accrue to people who have lost their property and their chances for a better life.

The Ambassador states in these interviews that those who don't want to donate to the Pakistani government can help by donating to UN agencies and/or non-governmental organizations. That seems a wise piece of advice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Maybe this helps explain the last posting

"In the 1970s and 1980s employment in quintessentially middle-skilled, middle-income occupations—salespeople, bank clerks, secretaries, machine operators and factory supervisors—grew faster than that in lower-skilled jobs. But around the early 1990s, something changed. Labour markets across the rich countries shifted from a world where people’s job and wage prospects were directly related to their skill levels. Instead, with only a few exceptions, employment in middle-class jobs began to decline as a share of the total while the share of both low- and high-skilled jobs rose (see chart)."

The routine middle class jobs that might have taken a lot of college graduates are being automated and the size of that workforce is decreasing.

Those countries that see education primarily as an investment, take note!

"The 'education is good' mantra does not work everywhere (see chart). In some countries many students have to be content with the intellectual rewards of study."

Of course, this graph does not take into account what students studied in college. The proverbial major in Latin literature may not expect the salary of the go-getter engineering major. The U.S. graduates seem to be making a lot, even with a high percentage in jobs that don't require university training. But the underlying message might be that a country may not be able to provide intellectually challenging and financially remunerative jobs for all the kids it educates through college, and it not may see a lot of them leave to seek opportunities abroad.

Higher Education Pays Off, at least in rich countries

"Tertiary education pays off, both for the individual and the wider economy. In countries where most of the workforce has an upper secondary education (ie, most industrialised countries), a college or university qualification gives recipients extra earning power and generates tax revenues for the country in which they work. On average across those rich countries that are members of the OECD, a think-tank, the total extra return for male graduates is greater than $230,000, more than half of which accrues to the individual. The net public return is almost three times the initial investment, according to OECD figures. The private return is reduced by the earnings forgone while the student was in education."

Bad graph but you get the idea

Source: Ignacio Hernandez in the World Bank's Growth and Crisis Blog

"Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is now the main technological driver for productivity growth in a number of developing countries. According to a study by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, a country which has reached a level of mobile phone penetration of 10 percent of the population adds 0.59 percent to its GDP per capita growth rate. Furthermore, strong empirical evidence suggests that investment in ICT improves competitiveness. Investment in higher education is shown to strongly boosts competitiveness, partly through allowing better use of ICT. Hence, investments in human capital and ICT are key components of recent growth performance in several developing countries."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A thought on comparison of two views of FDR

I was just listening to Alan Brinkley discussing his book, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I am also reading Frances Perkins book, The Roosevelt I Knew. Brinkley is a professor of history with a distinguished career; he was born after FDR died. Perkins was the first woman to serve in the cabinet of a U.S. president. She served on Roosevelt's cabinet in New York when he was governor as well as for the entire length of his presidency; she knew FDR personally for 35 years.

Brinkley and Perkins differ significantly about FDR's personality. Of course, knowing someone for a long time does not necessarily make one an expert on their personality, but FDR was someone so important in Perkins' life that she was likely to have studied his personality carefully. It is also the case that someone who has long experience in public life may not be entirely open about the person she served for many years immediately after his death (the book was published in 1946). Still, Perkins seem more persuasive about Roosevelt's personality and the way his mind works.

If a writer is not credible about one aspect of his analysis, how much credence should be assigned to other aspects?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poverty Rates Have Declined

According to the OECD Observer:
The number of people worldwide living in absolute poverty–the World Bank defines this as people surviving on less than $1.25 a day–has fallen by about half a billion since 1990. China is a major contributor to the decline: its absolute poverty fell from about 60% in 1990 to only around 16% in 2005. India, too, saw some progress, as poverty there fell from 60% to 42%.
The good news is the rapid decrease in the portion of people living in extreme poverty. The bad news is that one out of four of the 6.8 billion people in the world is trying to survive on less than a buck and a quarter per day!

Developing countries set to account for nearly 60% of world GDP by 2030, according to new estimates

The OECD reports:
The rapid growth of emerging economies has led to a shift in economic power: forecasts based on analysis by late economist Angus Maddison suggest that the aggregate economic weight of developing and emerging economies is about to surpass that of the countries that currently make up the advanced world.

According to Perspectives on Global Development: Shifting Wealth, a new publication from the OECD Development Centre, the economic and financial crisis is accelerating this longer-term structural transformation in the global economy. Longer-term forecasts suggest that today’s developing and emerging countries are likely to account for nearly 60% of world GDP by 2030.
No wonder that multinational corporations are seeking innovations that will enable them to enter into the currently untapped or weakly tapped markets in poor countries.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Scientific and technological innovators are getting older

There is an important article by Benjamin F. Jones titled "As Science Evolves, How Can Science Policy?" Here is the abstract:
Getting science policy right is a core objective of government that bears on scientific advance, economic growth, health, and longevity. Yet the process of science is changing. As science advances and knowledge accumulates, ensuing generations of innovators spend longer in training and become more narrowly expert, shifting key innovations (i) later in the life cycle and (ii) from solo researchers toward teams. This paper summarizes the evidence that science has evolved - and continues to evolve - on both dimensions. The paper then considers science policy. The ongoing shift away from younger scholars and toward teamwork raises serious policy challenges. 
Central issues involve (a) maintaining incentives for entry into scientific careers as the training phase extends, (b) ensuring effective evaluation of ideas (including decisions on patent rights and research grants) as evaluator expertise narrows, and (c) providing appropriate effort incentives as scientists increasingly work in teams. Institutions such as government grant agencies, the patent office, the science education system, and the Nobel Prize come under a unified focus in this paper. In all cases, the question is how these institutions can change. As science evolves, science policy may become increasingly misaligned with science itself – unless science policy evolves in tandem.
Here are a couple of other related articles:

Jones is clearly very good, and has studied the situation for a great deal of time. His explanation must be given respect, and his recommendations follow from his analysis. Nonetheless, I have a nagging doubt that the problem may be different that that which he perceives.

The explosion in scientific and technological personnel is a relatively recent historical fact. Could it be that as the proportion of older researchers increases, the opportunities for younger researchers to have their own laboratories and lead (small) teams decrease, and it is that decrease that is responsible for the decrease in important innovation from young researchers (which seems to be the cause of the overall decrease).

Peer Reviews Provide Information But They Do Not Define "Truth"

There is an article on Science 2.0 which in turn is based on "Editorial Peer Reviewers' Recommendations at a General Medical Journal: Are They Reliable and Do Editors Care?" in PLoS One. I quote from the Science 2.0 article:
A total of 2,264 manuscripts submitted to the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM) were sent by the editors for external review to two or three reviewers each during the study period. These manuscripts received a total of 5,881 reviews provided by 2,916 reviewers. Twenty-eight percent of all reviews recommended rejection.

However, the journal's overall rejection rate was much higher -- 48 percent overall and 88 percent when all reviewers for a manuscript agreed on rejection (which occurred with only 7 percent of manuscripts). The rejection rate was 20 percent even when all reviewers agreed that the manuscript should be accepted (which occurred with 48 percent of manuscripts).
There is a general agreement that those who submit article for publication, and even more those who submit proposals for funding spend more time and effort in those tasks than do the reviewers who evaluate them.

Researchers are taught to do research and write research reports and proposals; they receive feedback on their submissions for publication and funding. Reviewers are not taught to do reviews and do not receive feedback on the reviews that they do. So why would anyone assume that reviewers will be right in the judgments that they provide on the things that they review?

I am a little surprised by a system in which 28 percent of reviews recommend rejections but 48 percent to articles are actually rejected. I am more surprised by a system in which 12 percent of submissions that receive unanimous recommendations for rejection are actually published, or in which 20 percent of submissions that receive unanimous recommendations for acceptance are actually rejected.

If one uses a rating scale, one can estimate the probability of each rating, p(r) from the past experience with submissions and reviewer ratings. The average uncertainty of ratings is then by the normal information theory estimate, p(r) ln p(r) summed over all rating values. One can, in the same way, estimate the a posteriori probabilities of other reviewers giving each rating given that one reviewer has given rating r. The information in rating r is then, formally, the difference in the a posteriori and a priori average uncertainty. This approach offers an approach to deciding how many reviews to seek for an average submission.

Extensions of this approach can help to decide how much credence to give to individual reviewers who have a record with the organization.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

My friend Julianne sent me this

The U.S. is below many other countries in the automation of manufacturing with robots. This may be a function of the kind of manufacturing that goes on here, since some kinds of manufacturing do not lend themselves to robot implementation (e.g. oil refineries, food processing). It may be a sign of lagging innovation, or it may be both.

What is going on with the UN Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group

The Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group was established last June to increase support for the MDGs prior to the U.N. high level meeting later this month to consider steps to improve the compliance with the 2015 benchmarks. The Group is co-chaired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. It includes a couple of Nobel Prize winners and other distinguished persons.

I have come across a report that Rodrigues Zapatero refused to meet with Kagame recently. Here is another report with the same content.

Here is a report that "Kagame has told fellow African leaders that “trivialisation” of the UN Millennium Development Goals as it happened in Spain needs to be avoided if they are to be achieved."

A thought on experimental philosophy

The New York Times has an article today about an experimental approach to the study of philosophy. I quote a section describing an experiment:
Shaun Nichols and I (Joshua Knobe) thought that people might be drawn toward one view by their capacity for abstract, theoretical reasoning, while simultaneously being drawn in the opposite direction by their more immediate emotional reactions......

To put this idea to the test, we conducted a simple experiment. All participants in the study were told about a deterministic universe (which we called “Universe A”), and all participants received exactly the same information about how this universe worked. The question then was whether people would think that it was possible in such a universe to be fully morally responsible.

But now comes the trick. Some participants were asked in a way designed to trigger abstract, theoretical reasoning, while others were asked in a way designed to trigger a more immediate emotional response. Specifically, participants in one condition were given the abstract question:

In Universe A, is it possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for their actions?

Meanwhile, participants in the other condition were given a more concrete and emotionally fraught example:

In Universe A, a man named Bill has become attracted to his secretary, and he decides that the only way to be with her is to kill his wife and three children. He knows that it is impossible to escape from his house in the event of a fire. Before he leaves on a business trip, he sets up a device in his basement that burns down the house and kills his family.

Is Bill fully morally responsible for killing his wife and children?

The results showed a striking difference between conditions. Of the participants who received the abstract question, the vast majority (86 percent) said that it was not possible for anyone to be morally responsible in the deterministic universe. But then, in the more concrete case, we found exactly the opposite results. There, most participants (72 percent) said that Bill actually was responsible for what he had done.
I think this is a very interesting approach. Of course we live in our universe, not Universe A. My answer for the question in our universe is that since we can predict probabilities of someone committing a specific kind of act (e.g. stealing, selling drugs) from factors describing their background (e.g. parents criminal records, income, neighborhood in which the person was raised), people who appear to have a high a priori probability of committing that act are less morally responsible for actually doing so than would be people with a low a priori probability of committing the act. Indeed, if in the future science evolves sufficiently to better predict the likelihoods of "immoral" acts, say using information about genetics and conditions that influence brain functioning such as prenatal conditions and chemical influences during childhood, then our assignment of moral responsibility should be lower.

If moral responsibility is a probabilistic assessment, that probability is a function of both the variability of peoples' behavior and of our ignorance. Some people behave as might be predicted and some do not. But we don't know what the real probabilities of conformity or non-conformity to optimum predictions, since we can not make those optimum predictions.

More relevant to the theme of this blog, people think with their brains and those brains function not by pure logic but also by emotion and other non-logical influences. Decision making is thus not perfectly logical.

Do we ride technology or does technology ride us?

In the final chapter of his book Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture, titled "Creating an Ecotechnological Environment:, Thomas Hughes makes the book's purpose clear. Hughes emphasizes that people live in an environment which they have created themselves through the use of technology, and if that human-built world offends our values then we can change our society so as to better use technology to revise and improve that environment.

For Hughes, the epitome of the human-built environment seems to be that of the metropolis, and the technologies that most concern him are the engineering technologies of the metropolitan infrastructure, together with the architecture of the metropolitan buildings. He describes how buildings and cities can be made more livable. His point that we can repair the damage of past engineering is a good one!

I might have focused less on the aesthetics of housing and office spaces and the amenities of parks and greenbelts, to emphasize more the urban sprawl that wastes energy and time; the European societies have chosen to live in more compact cities with public transportation that perhaps better promote a civic culture. Similarly, I might have focused more on the segregation of our population into gated communities for the rich and ghettos for the underclass.

Hughes also considers what he sees as the interplay of the human-world and the natural world, calling for sustainable development. His point again is an excellent one. He considers major engineering projects such as the terraforming of the Everglades, and the long term effort to reverse past programs and restore the Everglades to their original richness. I hope he is right about the Everglades and that the ecosystem can be restored; the issue is still in doubt, and the World Heritage Center recently returned the park to its list of endangered sites.

I would have preferred that Hughes expanded his definition of technology to include the agricultural, forestry and fishery technologies. It is with these technologies that mankind is making the greater footprint on the earth, that we are polluting the water, destroying the soil, contributing to desertification, and depleting biodiversity.

Indeed, I would have preferred to address not only the human-built world of the cities, but also the human-modified world of farms, commercial forests, and fisheries, as well as a human-influenced world. Today the entire atmosphere is being changed by the addition of pollutants and greenhouse gases; there is no point in the ocean, albeit one never to have been crossed by human kind, that is not affected by anthropogenic global warming. The call for sustainable use of technology might then be inclusive in the forms of human technology that are covered and universal in the ecosystems that are of concern. So too, the society that would have to act is not simply that of the city or of the nation, but global society, and I fear that some of our ecological problems are so severe that a global approach to their solution is needed.

Hughes emphasizes that, as much as we might want a simple "technological fix" to achieve a sustainable environment that meets our best values, what is needed is a more holistic approach to the social, economic and political as well as technological systems with which we live. Another very good point!

Hughes believes that public involvement in rethinking development is useful, and gives examples in which it has been. He worries, however, about the technological literacy of the public. Indeed, his belief that a holistic approach that involves social choice to better utilize technology implies that everyone should be more knowledgeable -- government leaders about ecology, values and technology, the public about society and technology, and engineers and other technological experts about economics, politics and social change.

The important point that Hughes makes in this final chapter of his book clarifies that his earlier chapters were not simply a short history of the evolution of technology in the 20th century and its social impacts, but rather a basis to clarify the practicality of his final recommendations. This is, therefore, and important book.

In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond hold that many societies in the past have collapsed. Each had solved a number of problems to produce a human-built and human-modified world capable of sustaining a relatively large population living in a relatively complex society. Where they had made engineering mistakes in their pasts they had managed to dig themselves out of the problems of their own creation, until finally they encountered a problem that they could not solve. At that point, each of the societies he describes collapsed, with a radical deterioration of social institutions and a dramatic decline in population.

I agree with Hughes that we should seek to change our society and our use of technology to assure more livable and sustainable cities, countries and world, but I also think we should be more humble about our technological ambitions. If we continue to make systems more and more extensive and to increase man's footprint on the earth greater and greater, then it would seem to me we are more and more likely to reach a point where they are no longer manageable. Global warming is but one possible threat to global civilization; there have been ice ages, massive extinctions, massive meteor strikes, multiple simultaneous pandemics and other planetary stresses in the past. It would be better to have some slack in our use of global resources to meet such an emergency in the future.

Previous posting on Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture are:

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

This flower shows the Digital Divide is alive and well!

"The picture above is a visual representation of the 'nationality' of traffic on the internet, created by the University of California’s Co-operative Association for Internet Data Analysis: America is in pink, Britain in dark blue, Italy in pale blue, Sweden in green and unknown countries in white."

Check out these two graphs about the Internet

It looks like the Internet is soon going to used more for video and peer-to-peer purposes, that is entertainment, than for the World Wide Web (information). On the other hand, it seems that the projected growth of Internet traffic is such that the Web will continue to see growth. Of course, some streaming audios and videos, perhaps many, are and will in the future be information products. I use them frequently on this and others of my blogs. But an increase in streaming video and audio does not imply substitution and a decrease in substantive content.

Why keep out scientists, engineers and technological experts?

I quote from an article posted on the Internet by the Brookings Institution about myths related to immigration to the United States:
The United States makes a special effort to attract scientists, engineers and technological experts. Right now, we set aside only 65,000 of America's nearly 1 million visas each year for high-skilled workers. This is well below the 195,000 high-skilled visas that the U.S. allowed from 1999 to 2004. One study found that 25% of all the technology and engineering businesses launched in the USA from 1995 to 2005 had a foreign-born founder. In Silicon Valley, that number was 52.4%.
Why in the world would we want to restrict the number of highly-skilled workers coming to the United States? They clearly strengthen our economy, helping to assure social security for our dependents and creating the businesses that create jobs and wealth.

Research suggests better ways to learn

I quote from an article in The New York Times:
(T)here are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

“We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. “We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”
The article illustrates the difference between knowledge obtained by controlled research and validated by replication and peer review versus that obtained from popular discussions based on anecdotal evidence.

How does this tie into a blog focused on knowledge for development? It should be obvious, the more knowledge one gains and the more easily one gains it, if the knowledge is indeed credible, the better. Good learning is central to the concern for knowledge for development.

What do Architects and Artists of the 20th Century Think About Technology

Having discussed for three chapters the evolution of the impact of new engineering technologies, focusing on the United States and Germany, Thomas Hughes in Chapter 5 of his book Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture turns to "Technology and Culture" focusing on way architects and visual artists responded to the evolving technology and technology impact.

He focuses on "culture" in the sense of the output of cultural artifacts (and the thought behind them), rather than in the anthropological sense of the complete set of institutions and values that characterize a society. Even in this respect, he focuses on the best known architects and some of the best known artists, rather than for example, popular culture. One might have thought that a discussion of art and culture in the 20th century might have focused on the effect of movies and television on theater, or of changing recording technologies on music. Indeed, I suspect that building technology has changed sufficiently to change the products of architecture (e.g. steel framed, hung glass wall skyscrapers, pre-stressed concrete, not to mention the application of new lighting, air conditioning and heating technologies to building design). Hughes did not choose to approach these topics.

Instead he focused on the thinking of a number of architects, artists and critics about the technology and their crafts. Hughes is aware that this approach tends to focus on the architecture of large structures, typically reflecting not only the aesthetics of the architects but also of the people who make decisions on the financing of major structures and who choose their architects. So too, Hughes' approach tends to focus on artists who are thought to be important by the curators of major museums and those who buy the most expensive works of art. Thus, we are not likely to get a view of the impact of technology on genre painters such as native Americans or those focusing on livestock, wildlife, or the west. Even so, I would have expected some discussion of the theorists of post-modern architecture.

Hughes was constrained by his choice of producing a short readable book to choose only a limited number of thinkers to discuss in this chapter. However, I was left wondering whether if he had chosen a different group of architects and artists to consider whether the thrust of the chapter might have been different. As it was, Hughes leaves the impression that some architects and artists were energized by the opportunities offered by new technologies and the new social and economic conditions evolving, while others were concerned by the direction of social changes that they perceived to be related to the impact of technology. He ends the discussion citing some of the applications of computers to architecture.

Previous posting on Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture are:

How good are U.S. universities

According to The Economist:
They dominate global rankings: on the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy’s list of the world’s best universities, 17 of the top 20 are American, and 35 of the top 50. They employ 70% of living Nobel prizewinners in science and economics and produce a disproportionate share of the world’s most-cited articles in academic journals.

Where does all the computer power go?

An article on Social Network analysis in The Economist states:
By one estimate there are more than 100 programs for network analysis, also known as link analysis or predictive analysis. The raw data used may extend far beyond phone records to encompass information available from private and governmental entities, and internet sources such as Facebook. IBM, the supplier of the system used by Bharti Airtel, says its annual sales of such software, now growing at double-digit rates, will exceed $15 billion by 2015. In the past five years IBM has spent more than $11 billion buying makers of network-analysis software. Gartner, a market-research firm, ranks the technology at number two in its list of strategic business operations meriting significant investment this year.
I suspect that this might be an example of the Digital Divide. The approach is being used by local governments in the United States to improve police efficiency, by corporations to improve marketing, by the federal government to fight fraud, and by the military to plan counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency programs.

Is it being used by the World Bank or other international financial institutions or by USAID and other bilateral donors to improve the planning and implementation of donor assistance programs? Is it being used by poor countries to improve the targeting of their own social and economic development efforts? I doubt it!

Mobiles are about to flood BRICI countries.

Source: "Mobile internet in emerging markets: The next billion geeks," The Economist, September 2nd 2010
In Brazil, Russia, India, China and Indonesia (the so-called BRICI countries), there are 610m regular internet users but a staggering 1.8 billion mobile-phone connections, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In a report called “The Internet’s New Billion”, BCG predicts that by 2015 there will be 1.2 billion internet users in these countries—dwarfing the total in America and Japan (see chart).
Mobile phones are, I suppose, an aspect of the next phase or aspect of the Information Revolution -- personal connectivity leading to a flood of applications for mobile, personal devices. I admit I didn't see that coming.

Monday, September 06, 2010

An example of social networking

You don't need to understand Portuguese to appreciate what is happening here!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Final comment on "Dangerous Minds"

Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History (Modern Library Chronicles)

In the conclusion of her book, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, Margaret MacMillan reiterates the theme -- that the uses of history are to be found all around us, and while many are very helpful others represent abuses.

I was impressed by her statement that "history relies on a skeptical turn of mind". That is the statement of a professional historian, and echoes the attitude of the scientist that science relies on a skeptical turn of mind. The appropriate use of historical analogies in decision making certainly requires a skeptical turn of mind to be done well!

MacMillan also suggests that a major lesson of history is that we should all practice intellectual humility. There are certainly abundant examples in history and in the book in which smart, serious people have worked mightily on important decisions, bringing to bear considerable knowledge of history, and resulting in decisions which in historical retrospect appear not only incorrect but bad.

History must be understood in light of the saying "the past is another country". One can not understand how serious leaders in America's past could honestly support slavery or the expulsion of native Americans from the lands that they had occupied without understanding that those leaders belonged to a different culture with different beliefs and different values.

I have lived in three countries and worked in more than 35 countries and through that experience have come to a visceral understanding that beliefs and values really do differ from society to society. I suspect that studying history and learning about the otherness of the past is a help in understanding the otherness of foreign lands. I suspect the reverse is true, and that thoughtful travel helps one to understand the otherness of the past. Both experience with other cultures and other times also helps one to understand that people are people everywhere and everywhen, and often in need of the support of others -- as are we all.

My previous postings on this book are:

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Taking Guidance from Lessons of History

Chapter 8 of Margaret MacMillan's Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History is titled "History as a Guide". She says, and I think she is right, that we all use analogies from the past in our decision making. The point of the chapter, and indeed of the whole book, is that sometimes this is done well and sometimes poorly.

It seems to me that one has to understand both the historical event and the present problem to do this well. For example, the French in World War I failed to recognize that the Civil War had suggested that massed frontal attacks on entrenched troops armed with artillery and relatively rapidly firing weapons with relatively good accuracy was likely to fail, relying on earlier analogies with less relevance to European warfare in the second decade of the 20th century. They then assumed that strong defensive positions such as had worked in the World War I would work in the fourth decade, not realizing that mechanized warfare had again given advantages to attacking forces if well used.

The Germans in World War II may have been more effective in using the analogy of Sherman's march to the sea, or similar precedents, that warfare that bypasses dramatic engagements in order to move quickly to destroy the enemy's industrial and economic base and the morale of the enemy population can be an effective approach to defeating the enemy nation. In both cases the French appear to have missed the fact that the technology used in the preceding battles was in important aspects different from that in the battle to come.

Similarly, President George W. Bush seemed to miss the fact that the history, culture and socio economic conditions in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were different than those of Hitlers Germany in drawing analogies from the latter to guide his decisions with respect to the Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11.

MacMillan makes the point that major decisions or war or peace involve debates among key policy advisors and actors as to which historical events are the most appropriate from which to draw lessons, and what those lessons should be. For that process to work well, one should both know about a large number of historical events and understand each of them well. One should of course, also be able to argue them well, and the process is likely only to work well with decision makers who understand the use of such analogies and can make reasoned decisions among them, using the best analogies well.

Of course I am making a point at a very high level of abstraction. Public policy probably can benefit if advisors know a lot of history (both in terms of breadth of knowledge and depth of knowledge) and a lot about the circumstances in which they hope to apply the appropriate historical lessons, and if decision makers know how to utilize their advisors and their advice well in making decisions.

MacMillan makes her argument citing lots of examples, giving short shrift to the defense of the reading of each event that she cites and its implications. She is a very well known historian, but I found myself wondering whether all of her judgments were valid, and thus whether all of her examples were credible evidence for the point she was making.

Incidentally, Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies suggests that one of the reasons that the Spanish conquerors were successful in defeating the much larger forces of the Inca and Aztec Empires was that they had books which allowed them to have mastered a much larger number of historical examples of how to identify and take advantage of the weaknesses of opposing states. This sounds reasonable, and adds to the belief that profound knowledge of history may be a guide to current decisions.

This is one of a series of posts on Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History:

The Human-Built Virtual World.

Chapter 4 of Thomas Hughes Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture is titled "Technology as Systems, Controls and Information". It considers the evolution of technology over the second half of the 20th century. I suppose the examples of large scale systems may go back to the railroads and Henry Ford's automobile manufacturing system. World War II involved the mobilization of millions of men, mountains of machinery, and actions on a global scale. The Manhattan Project that built the first nuclear weapons alone was an immense undertaking requiring an exceptional amount of coordination.

The story he tells is one in which the needs created by earlier technological and social changes induce new technological innovations. On the other hand, new knowledge (e.g. of solid state physics and chemistry) opened possibilities for new devices (e.g. transistors, integrated circuits, microchips, lasers, leds) that could be applied to produce these technological innovations, leading to new industries and further social change.

The book was published in 2004 and Hughes spends much of the chapter discussing authors of earlier works. As a result the chapter seems a little dated in its failure to emphasize the importance of mobile phones, smart phones, GPS, and hand held personal computing devices and the new apps for these devices that are flooding the market and changing our lives.

In my opinion Hughes is using the chapter to introduce the thinking of some of the most thoughtful and influential thinkers on the Information Revolution. It should be recognized that it would be impossible to do full justice to their thinking in the short sections that can be allocated to single works. Still, the failures of these very smart and thoughtful people to correctly predict the technologically based future should encourage humility in us all.

I would note that as an engineering student in the 1950s it seemed clear to me that computers and information technology was the coming field of technology. So too I early recognized the coming importance of biotechnology, of personal computers and of the Internet. What I did not and could not do was predict with any accuracy where the potentials in the science and technology would take us.

Previous postings on Thomas Hughes book are:

Thinking about getting from place to place

Measuring distance in miles has a long history; the word "mile" comes from the Latin for 1000, and a mile corresponds to 1000 paces of a Roman legion. When we map all the distances among points on the earths they fit perfectly on a globe, and reasonably well on a flat map of a small part of the surface of the earth. The system is beautiful, and easy for us to comprehend especially with the visual aids of maps and globes.

There are other ways to measure distance between points. For example, one can measure the distance one actually has to travel to get from point A to point B. In cities, we use a city block measure. Think of a simple example of 100 yard square blocks, in which you have directions to walk three blocks east and then four blocks north to get from A to B. The map distance between the two points is 500 yards (by the Pythagorian theorum), but you actually have to walk 700 yards to make the trip. A bird may fly directly, but on city streets we walk only on the edges of the blocks, not across them. Note too, that in real cities as one drives from A to B, the distance might not be the same as that driving from B to A (if for example there are one-way streets).

One can also measure the time it takes to go from A to B. The measure can be very different than the measure of the miles from A to B. Were I to take a trip from my home near Washington to New York it would take about as long to go from my house to the airport as to go from the Washington airport to the New York airport although the distances are in a ratio of roughly one to ten.

Another measure would be the cost of travel.

Note again that in these measures, the value from A to B may not be the same as the value from B to A. If you have ever climbed a mountain you know that the time it takes to climb from the base to the top is much longer than the time it takes to descend from the top to the bottom. In the 19th century it would take longer and cost more to travel by boat from New Orleans to St. Louis than to travel from St. Lewis to New Orleans.

For all of these measures of the difficulty of traveling from place to place there is no simple two or three dimensional image one can make of the complete set of distances, which makes the sets hard to visualize. We tend to use reduced tables of "distances" among sets of key locations.

The difficulty of getting from place to place differs according to what is moving. Compare moving people, freight and information. It takes a few hours for someone to travel from East Africa to Europe by plane, a similar time for cut flowers to make the trip from East Africa to European flower markets, days for bulk shipments to make the trip, and miliseconds for information to make the trip by telecommunications.

Obviously the difficulties of getting from place to place have changed with changing technology and changing infrastructure. When Homo sapiens lived in small hunting and gathering groups, people walked. If they moved things from place to place they did so carrying them at the same walking pace. Information too moved at a walk. The changes to this system are obvious as is their relation to the changes in technology. The Incas had a system of runners with quipus who carried information more quickly over long distances than any person could travel in their society. The ancient Persians had a system similar to the pony express in the American west that moved information rapidly for the time. These systems were expensive, so expensive that they tended only to serve the government, and had very limited bandwidth -- they could not move very much information per unit time. Similarly systems like the native American smoke signals or the French 18th century telegraphs (signal towers located in long lines that allowed signals to be transmitted from tower to tower) similarly moved information faster than a man or a horse could travel, at relatively high cost, with very limited information transmission capacity.

The relative difficulties of different modes of transportation have changed with changing technology. As suggested above, man evolved when people, goods and information all moved at the same speed and cost. Today people move sometimes by foot or animal power, but can also move in cars or trains, or even airplanes. Freight tends to move more slowly than people, but at lower cost per unit distance. Information however can move literally at more than lightning speeds.

I suspect that the different rates of change of the ease of movement of different things has profound implications for society. Clearly the increasing pace of movement had major implications for the industrial revolution and the second technological revolution (based on such things as the internal combustion engine and electification).

Think also of the changing distribution of energy over the man-built world. At one time people had only the energy that they could generate with their own muscles and wood fires. By the time of Columbus, some societies had added animal energy, wind mills, and water mills as sources of energy, while the American societies still had on the llama for animal energy. Today we have added fossil fuel and electricity generated from fossil fuel, nuclear plants and hydopower. The energy available where people live is available to drive motion of people, freight and information. The global distribution of energy availability is very uneven. There are places in Africa and Asia where there is no electricity, little coal or oil, and few animals. Those of us in urban areas in the United States have comparatively much larger amounts of energy available/

Think also of the changing distribution of people over the man-built world.  Human population has grown exponentially over a couple of centuries. For the first time, more than half of the human population is to be found in cities. While it is increasingly possible to conduct transactions between people over great distances, it seems likely that more and more transactions are conducted among people located close together in the same city. This fact too modifies the speed with which people, goods, services and information can be delivered.

No wonder things seem to be moving faster and faster, and people are having more and more difficulty adjusting to the increasing pace of life.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Foreign Student Enrollments Up Last Year!

Source: "Foreign Science and Engineering Students in the United States," Joan Burrelli, NSF 10-324, July 2010
In 2008, about 568,000 foreign students (those holding temporary visas) studied at U.S. universities and colleges, 248,000 of them in science and engineering (S&E). There was an expectation (ACE 2009; Fackler 2009; IIE 2009) that fall 2009 foreign enrollments might be negatively affected by the 2008–09 world financial crisis because of schools' restrictions on enrollment, declines in institutional funds available for graduate student financial support, and declines in the value of foreign home currencies compared to the U.S. dollar, as well as the price of education in the United States compared to other countries and the increased capacity for education in the home countries.
The figures show that there was an increase in the numbers of foreign students in all fields, although a smaller percentage increase than in the previous two years. There was also an increase in the number of S&E foreign students, and indeed the increase was greater than the previous two years. Perhaps in the difficult economic conditions there was more willingness to invest in S&T education than in other types of university education.

Industries differ dramatically in R&D intensity

Source: "New Employment Statistics from the 2008 Business R&D and Innovation Survey," Francisco Moris and Nirmala Kannankutty, NSF 10-326, July 2010.
"The proportion of R&D employment relative to total employment, or R&D employment intensity, is one indicator of a company's involvement in R&D activity. Examination of this indicator across the industries into which companies were classified shows that worldwide R&D employment intensity in some industries is much higher than the 7.1% figure for the aggregate of all industries. Scientific R&D services (31%), communications equipment (27%), and computer systems design and related services (25%) top the list (figure 1). These three industries plus semiconductor and other electronic components, software publishers, and pharmaceuticals and medicines accounted for about half of worldwide company-performed R&D expenditures in 2008."
For developing countries to climb the technology pyramid to start producing high tech goods and services, they are likely to have to dramatically increase S&T capacity

Brazil Harnesses Agricultural Science to its Economy

Last week The Economist had a good article on the wonderful improvement of Brazilian agricultural production over the last couple of decades. Of course, Brazil has lots of land, lots of water, and many people to work the land.
But the availability of farmland is in fact only a secondary reason for the extraordinary growth in Brazilian agriculture. If you want the primary reason in three words, they are Embrapa, Embrapa, Embrapa.

Embrapa is short for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, or the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. It is a public company set up in 1973, in an unusual fit of farsightedness by the country’s then ruling generals. At the time the quadrupling of oil prices was making Brazil’s high levels of agricultural subsidy unaffordable. Mauro Lopes, who supervised the subsidy regime, says he urged the government to give $20 to Embrapa for every $50 it saved by cutting subsidies. It didn’t, but Embrapa did receive enough money to turn itself into the world’s leading tropical-research institution. It does everything from breeding new seeds and cattle, to creating ultra-thin edible wrapping paper for foodstuffs that changes colour when the food goes off, to running a nanotechnology laboratory creating biodegradable ultra-strong fabrics and wound dressings. Its main achievement, however, has been to turn the cerrado green.
A point that should be made is that the research and development is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the increase in agricultural production. It showed what could be done and how to do it. The R&D represented only a small part of the investment in agriculture. The opening of new lands, the improvement of soils, the development of water and transportation infrastructure and the training of the workforce in the new techniques were all also necessary but not sufficient conditions for the increase, and they were far more expensive. Too many people assume that the few percent of agricultural GDP spent on R&D imply that R&D is not important; nothing could be more wrong!