Archive for the ‘Technology and Globalization’ Category

Information on Emerging Diseases Relying More on Internet

May 25th, 2009

Posted by: admin

From the New England Journal of Medicine we have this review of digitally-enabled public health surveillance.  The recent online activity over the swine flu and Google Flu Trends are only the latest efforts in activity that go back 15 years.  What started with reporting systems has grown to include news aggregation, mashups, and, yes, even the Internet darling of the moment, Twitter.  The authors are concerned, however, that the increasing online capacity for assessment and analysis not displace the work of public health practitioners and clinics.  Put another way, its fine to look up symptoms online, but you should still see a doctor if needed rather than self-diagnosing.  There are other concerns:

Information overload, false reports, lack of specificity of signals, and sensitivity to external forces such as media interest may limit the realization of their potential for public health practice and clinical decision making. Sources such as analyses of search-term use and news media may also face difficulties with verification and follow-up. Though they hold promise, these new technologies require careful evaluation. Ultimately, the Internet provides a powerful communications channel, but it is health care professionals and the public who will best determine how to use this channel for surveillance, prevention, and control of emerging diseases.

Given the title of the NEJM piece – “Digital Disease Detection – Harnessing the Web for Public Health Surveillance” – I think another pair of concerns to add is privacy and security.  If IP addresses can be tracked, which is true with some of these cases, then it is possible to connect particular incidents to particular individuals.  Unless its necessary to communicate with specific individuals, measures should be taken to preserve the anonymity of those whose information supports this public health monitoring.  The security of the databases and other systems using this information need to be strong enough to guard against breaches and inadvertent exposure.

Secretary Chu Open to Multiple Modes of Technology Transfer

March 30th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Andy Revkin and Kate Galbraith write at the DotEarth blog about recent remarks by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.  During a tour with the press of Brookhaven National Laboratory, Secretary Chu indicated that collaborative measures, rather than strict patenting and licensing, might be better means of spreading the fruits of energy research.  Some have suggested that the weak intellectual property protections of the Chinese have been a hindrance in spreading designs and technology to that country.  While that certainly removes an incentive for private sector entities to disseminate their technologies, governments need not be so restricted with knowledge generated through its funding (Secretary Chu is likely focused on government supported technologies).  And realistically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be restrictive in how knowledge is transferred, particulary in areas deemed of importance, like new energy technologies are.

Even if areas of national concern were not involved, public returns on research investment will be different from the private returns on investment.  So thinking in terms of only one or two forms of knowledge transfer unnecessarily limits the potential for capturing the kinds of returns sought by the transferer(s).  I do not mean to say that patenting and licensing are private sector tools, and more collaborative efforts are necessarily the best for public sector returns.  The semiconductor industry has used a mix of transfer methods to some success – collaborating on more fundamental technologies of benefit to all, and relying more on other forms of intellectual property for more specific innovations.  It’s a mix worth keeping in mind as energy technologies receive more and more attention.

Spain Reluctant to Follow EU Rule on Scientific Visas

December 4th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Learning from the bad example of the U.S., the European Union established a directive in 2005 to make it easier for non-EU scientists to obtain visas to visit <strike>other</strike> EU countries and to bring their families.  Unfortunately, not all EU countries opted in on the directive (The U.K. and Denmark).  Two countries, Spain and Cyprus, opted in but have not implemented the directive.  Nature News has the details of Spain’s byzantine immigration system, and how the European Commission is taking the country to court for failing to comply.

New York Times Misunderstands Innovation

November 17th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Last week the New York Times ran a brief piece on the efforts of the Kauffman Foundation to contribute to knowledge on innovation.  Short articles (and short blog posts) do leave out details for the sake of brevity, but the shortcomings of this piece could be misleading to its readership.

The piece raises a good question: how can foundations assist in the innovation challenge?  The Kauffman Foundation, focused on entrepreneurship (which should be clear from anyone who reads their website), has committed a great deal of its resources to conduct research on entrepreneurship and its relationship to innovation.

The Times piece swings at its first strike by equating the two.  They are most certainly related, but entrepreneurship is simply a part of innovation.  Similarly, the piece gets the invention/innovation distinction wrong in a misguided attempt at oversimplification.  From the article:


America’s Twice Yearly Exposure to Technology Policy – Saving the Daylight

November 2nd, 2008

Posted by: admin

Most of America has fallen back this morning, moving their clocks one hour earlier at the end of Daylight Savings Time.  While not the first thing that many think of when the topic of technology policy comes up, how we measure time is a very integral technology to our lives.  Whether dealing with the establishment of time zones back in the 19th century, the enforcement of uniformity (all of China is the same time zone), or the dubious attempts to save energy, time is definitely a technology that can be changed to acheive (or attempt to achieve) various policy goals.  But for most of us, it’s a twice yearly chore of changing the clocks and testing the smoke detectors.

For more information on daylight savings time, check out the U.S. Naval Observatory’s resource page.  Other resources about daylight savings time (and associated research questions) include the following:

Ian R. Bartky and Elizabeth Harrison: “Standard and Daylight-saving Time”, Scientific American, May 1979 (Vol. 240, No. 5), pp. 46-53.

There are several articles on the subject – usually focused on the effects of Daylight Savings Time – available through Google Scholar.  Two popular histories of Daylight Savings Time are David Prerau’s Seize the Daylight and Michael Downing’s Spring Forward.

Australia Plans Great Barrier Internet

November 1st, 2008

Posted by: admin

Apparently convinced that China’s internet policies are worth duplicating, reports out of Australia indicate the Australian government is planning a mandatory Internet filter for all citizens, with an additional, optional filter that would provide a ‘clean feed’ for those wishing to avoid adult material.  The rationale appears to be preventing illegal material from entering the country.

While as a general rule most technologies developed to prevent something from happening are eventually circumvented, government imposed internet restrictions do persist.  The most notable example is the “Great Firewall of China”, which – as described in this James Fallows piece from The Atlantic – defies easy explanation.  It’s a bad idea for a number of reasons, and the implementation of this filter will be an interesting policy fight to watch.

What U.S Competitiveness Crisis?

July 7th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For some time we have noted the tendency of some in the S&T community to claim that a crisis exists in United States Competitiveness, with the solution being large and immediate government investments in R&D budgets. Others, including Paul Krugman and Amar Bhidé argue that the notion of “competitiveness” is itself incoherent placing claims of a crisis on dubious claims.

A new report out by The Rand Corporation, titled U.S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology (PDF), seeks to shed some light on this debate, asking : “So, who is right? Is U.S. leadership in S&T in jeopardy?”

The answer they come up with is “No”:

The United States continues to lead the world in science and technology. . .

Taken in concert, these statistics suggest that the United States is still a premier performer in S&T and grew faster in many measures of S&T prowess than did Japan and Europe. Developing nations such as China, India, and South Korea, though starting from a small base, showed rapid growth in S&T, and, if that growth continues, the United States should expect its share of world S&T output to diminish.

High growth in R&D expenditures, triadic patents, and S&E employment, combined with low unemployment of S&E workers, suggest that the United States has not been losing S&E positions to other countries through outsourcing and offshoring.

It is an interesting report and a valuable contribution to the debate. My view of the long series of claims that the U.S. is experiencing a competitiveness crisis reflect a flawed understanding of data and analysis in this area, a willingness to exploit jingoistic rhetoric for political gain, or a crass effort to boost R&D budgets based on an argument that sells well in Washington. The reality is probably a combination of all three.

But even if the U.S. is not experiencing a competitiveness crisis, complacency is not really an option. The Rand report makes a number of sensible suggestions:

* Establish a permanent commitment 􀁴􀀁 to a funded, chartered entity responsible for periodically monitoring, critically reviewing, and analyzing U.S. S&T performance and the condition of the S&E workforce.

* Facilitate the temporary and indefinite stay of foreigners who
graduated in S&E from U.S. universities . . .

* Facilitate the immigration of highly skilled labor, in particular
in S&E, to ensure that the benefits of expanded innovation,
including spillovers, accrue to the United States and to ensure
the United States remains competitive in research and innovation.

* Increase capacity to learn from science centers in Europe, Japan,
China, India, and other countries to benefit from scientific and
technological advances made elsewhere.

* Continue to improve K–12 􀁴􀀁 education in general and S&T education
in particular, as human capital is a main driver of economic
growth and well-being.

Did US Agricultural Policy Lead to the Mad Cow Disease Epidemic?

July 5th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I discuss this question in the context of the need for an independent, authoritative perspective on technology assessment in my latest column for Bridges.

World Bank and UK Government on Climate Change Implications of Development

May 22nd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


The World Bank and UK government issued a report today titled, “Strategies For Sustained Growth And Inclusive Development.” Here is what the report says about the implications for climate change of development in the developing world (p. 86), something that the report calls absolutely necessary:


Malaria and Greenhouse Gases

April 25th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Did you know that today is “World Malaria Day“? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t; a search of Google News shows 233 stories on “world malaria day” published in the past 24 hours. A search of “climate change” over the past 24 hours shows 45,819 stories. This post is about the inevitable conflict in objectives that results when we frame the challenge of global warming in terms of “reducing emissions” rather than “energy modernization.” The result is inevitably a battle between mitigation and adaptation, when in reality they should be complements.

Why does malaria matter? According to Jeffrey Sachs:

The numbers are staggering: there are 300 to 500 million clinical cases every year, and between one and three million deaths, mostly of children, are attributable to this disease. Every 40 seconds a child dies of malaria, resulting in a daily loss of more than 2,000 young lives worldwide. These estimates render malaria the pre-eminent tropical parasitic disease and one of the top three killers among communicable diseases.

The Economist reported a few weeks ago on efforts to eradicate malaria. The article referenced a study by McKinsey and Co. on the “business case” (PDF) for eradicating malaria. Here are the reported 5-year benefits:

• Save 3.5 million lives

• Prevent 672 million malaria cases

• Free up 427,000 hospital beds in sub-Saharan Africa

• Generate more than $80 billion in increased GDP for Africa

I want to focus on the prospects for increasing African GDP, for as we have learned via the Kaya Identity, an increase in GDP will necessarily mean an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. So what are the implications of eradicating malaria for future greenhouse gas emissions from Africa?

To answer this question I obtained data on African greenhouse gas emissions from CDIAC, and I subtracted out South Africa, which accounts for a large share of current African emissions. I found that the average annual increase from 1990-2004 was 5.2%, which I will use as a baseline for projecting business-as-usual emissions growth into the future.

The next question is what effect the eradication of malaria might have on African GDP. The McKinsey & Co. report referenced a paper by Gallup and Sachs (2001, link) which speculates (and I think that is a fair characterization) that complete eradication could boost GDP growth by as much as 3% per year. This would take African emissions growth rates to 8.2%, which is still well short of what has been observed in China this decade, and thus not at all unreasonable. So I’ll use this as an upper bound (not as a prediction, to be clear). So if we graph future emissions under my definition of business-as-usual and also the Gallup/Sachs upper bound, we get the following curves to 2050.

Malaria Scenarios.png

The figure shows that by eradicating malaria, it is conceivable that there will be an corresponding increase in annual African emissions of more than 11 GtC above BAU. Today, the entire world has about 9 GtC. For those following our debate with Joe Romm earlier this week, this would mean that he would have to come up with another way to get 10 more “wedges,” as rapid African growth is included in none of the BAU emissions scenarios. Put another way, the success of his proposed policies depends on not eradicating malaria since rapid African GDP growth busts his wedge budget.

The implications should be obvious: If a goal of climate policy is simply to “reduce emissions” then this goal clearly conflicts with efforts to eradicate malaria, which will inevitably lead to an increase in emissions. But if the goal is to modernize the global energy system — including the developing the capacity to provide vast quantities of carbon-free energy, then there is no conflict here.

This distinction helps to explain why there persists an adaptation vs. mitigation debate, and why it is that advocates of adaptation (to which eradicating malaria falls under) are often excoriated as “deniers” or “delayers” — adaptation just doesn’t help the emissions reduction challenge. The continued denigration of those who support adaptation will continue until we reframe the climate debate in terms of energy modernization and adaptation, which are complementary approaches to sustainable development.

Over at The New Scientist Fred Pearce takes a broader view and warns of “green fascism” on the issue of development and population:

But there is another question that I find increasingly being asked. Should we be trying to stop others having babies, especially people in poor countries with fast-growing populations?

I must say I thought this kind of illiberal thinking had been banished from the environmental movement. But it keeps seeping back. When I give public talks on climate change, I am often asked if all the efforts in the rich world won’t be wiped out by rising populations in the poor world.

Isn’t overpopulation more dangerous than overconsumption? I say no. But the unpalatable truth is that a lot of environmental thinking over the past half century has been underpinned by an unhealthy preoccupation with the breeding propensity of Asians and Africans. . .

Only recently, US groups opposed to all migration tried to get their policies adopted by the blue-chip environment group, the Sierra Club. To many they sounded like a fringe group. Actually they were an echo of the earlier mainstream.

And the echo is becoming louder. We hear it in the climate change debate. No matter that the average European or North American has carbon emissions 10 times greater than the average Indian or African, somehow it is those pesky breeding foreigners who are really to blame.

And now food shortages are growing and we will get more. Ehrlich, we are bound to be told, was right after all. You have been warned: green fascism could soon be on the march.

It is long overdue to rethink how we think about the climate debate.