Archive for September, 2007

Innovation in Process vs Product

September 30, 2007

The Unsung Heroes Who Move Products Forward

Published: September 30, 2007

New York Times

“We are all human beings”

September 30, 2007

Some people believe that there is enough money and resources available to deliver basic health care effectively on a global scale, so the problem is how to do it. Earlier this year, Laurie Garret wrote about “The Challenge of Global Health” in Foreign Affairs. Her mains points are:

  1. success should be defined and measured in terms of (increasing) life expectancy and (reducing) maternal mortality rather than reducing specific disease rates.

  2. there is more govt/charity money than ever for health care in developing countries (several billions of $$s). spending is focused on political or donor-centric initiatives like AIDS, not on what’s needed to reduce mortality in patients in these countries

  3. this leads to contradictions like money being available to treat aids in HIV-positive mothers, but no money being available to address the most important causes of infant mortality and maternal mortality in terms of numbers of deaths.

This controversial article touched off a string of counterpoints by several leaders on global health advocates including Jeffery Sachs, Paul Farmer, Alex de Waal and a counter-counterpoint by Garret. They are all worth reading.

In particular, the untiring work of Dr. Paul Farmer (Harvard) on public health in Haiti is one of the most inspiring stories in service to the poor who don’t have access to the most basic health care made possible by modern science and technology. In addition to being a medical doctor, he is a Ph.D. in anthropology which he uses as a tool to be a more effective health care leader/provider in Haiti where belief in voodoo medicine can be a barrier. Self-described as “I’m an action kind of guy,” his life story is described in a book by Tracy Kidder called “Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The quest of doctor Paul Farmer” that is guaranteed to break you down as it exposes you to the kind of public health conditions that exist in Haiti and what Farmer’s efforts have been able to do to change that. I’m about half way through it, and one of the most striking lines in this book is when a Hatian expecting mother and her baby die because she is refused access to blood for a transfusion and her sister remarks, “We are all human beings.”


underdog story of neuroscience…

September 30, 2007

no funding, no path to tenure, and lots of skepticism. he still figured it out by refusing to let small statistical deviations remain unexplained.


One Doctor’s Lonely Quest To Heal Brain Injury

After 40 Years, SkepticsBack Hormone Therapy; Experiments in a Trailer


September 26, 2007; Page A1

Wall Street Journal

Watson in SF

September 30, 2007

last wed i got to see James Watson at the city arts/lecture series… his first choice for grad school was Caltech but he ended up going to his backup school (U-Indiana at bloomington). he said getting to work with linux pauling was the main attraction at Caltech but that Bloomington had three really good geneticists which probably made it a better experience.

he wrote a new book “avoid boring people” and then he was asked to explain the title. it came about because he had a boring title (like “science”) and his colleagues came back with this new title after thinking about it for a few hours. “boring” can be an adjective or a verb, and he means it as the verb form so it could also be called avoid boring *other* people J when he was in college he read the book “what is life?” based on lectures by physicist Schrödinger that guided him going forward.

his three lessons for a life in science are

  1. don’t be the smartest person in the room – he always sought to be in environments where others knew more than him. at the age of 22 he went to Cambridge to learn crystallography with sir Lawrence bragg at cambridge, and he was thrilled when they let him in.
  2. don’t go it alone when you’re on the hairy edge of science. crick was an expert at interpreting and reconstructing structure from x-ray crystallography images.
  3. talk to your competitors and even people who seem unreasonable because they may have data that would be useful to you – this is what gave watson an edge over pauling who incorrectly proposed the single strand RNA for the structure of the DNA. because pauling was less interested in science than politics at that point he didn’t talk to the people who could have provided data who were on the same cruise ship with him and could have steered him in the right direction. he also suggested that Rosalind franklin was autistic, she thought her nobel prize winning advisor was useless, and didn’t understand the significance of her x-ray crystallography data when she gave it to others because she didn’t think they were worth talking to. controversial.

at his age of 79, he still plays tennis and his hero is roger federrer.

update on October 18. It looks like Watson may have made some unfortunate and offensive comments, Nobel Winner in ‘racist’ claim row

at least he was maintaining an appearance of skepticism about race and intelligence in this recent essay in 02138 magazine when discussing larry summers. he’s apparently back-tracking now on his comments about Africa, intelligence, and testing — he may have realized his very serious mistake.

** Lab suspends DNA pioneer Watson **

Nobel Prize-winner James Watson is suspended by his research institution after making comments on the subject of race and intelligence.


James Watson Retires After Racial Remarks


Published: October 25, 2007

Dr. Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA, and later headed the American government’s part in the international Human Genome Project, was quoted in The Times of London last week as suggesting that, overall, people of African descent are not as intelligent as people of European descent. In the ensuing uproar, he issued a statement apologizing “unreservedly” for the comments, adding “there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”


Pief Panofsky: a great, great guy

September 30, 2007

I feel pretty fortunate to have known Pief — a larger-than-life Stanford physicist — whom I came across through my studies in nuclear detection. Just last week I was actively debating muon detection techniques with with him and others before I found out he passed away suddenly on Monday. To me, he will remain one of the best examples of someone who puts objectivity, physics, and principles first — politics second. In spite of or even because this he accomplished so darn much in his lifetime.

The lectures at Pief Panofsky’s memorial last Friday by the former directors of SLAC, the former Stanford President, and Sid Drell were inspiring, humorous, and impressive — well summarized by this article in the San Jose Mercury News. He has a forthcoming book called that he wanted to live to see published called Panofsky on Physics, Politics, and Peace: Pief Remembers. Also see this piece in the Washington Post which mentiones his nonproliferation contributions.

A few things the article did not mention. Sid Drell described Panofsky commitment to principle and the substance of his lecture is essentially contained in this article from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Panofsky had made the proposal for SLAC to the federal government for $160+ million in 1960s dollars. When it came time to approval, the government was insisting on a clause whereby the the DoD would be given rights to perform any experiment as they deem necessary since it was federally funded–many other universities agreed to such clauses. With the support of Stanford and risking the entire project proposal that he had worked on for over four years, Panofsky pushed back and said that he would agree to these experiments provided there was mutual understanding about the experiment between Stanford and the government.

Panofsky also had created a unique system of “bottoms up” innovation at SLAC described by one of the Nobel prize winners who spoke there. Without approval required, people at the lab could get $10-20K to perform experiments. Then if those went well, the next level of managers could get ~$100K for more elaborate experiments also without approval of the lab directors. Larger experiments would require funding from funding agencies of course, but this system allowed a flexibility of experimentation — which is being threatened by recent funding crunches from federal grant agencies who want to know how money is being used for each experiment.

Words that Work

September 30, 2007

there is a new book out called, “Words That Work: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear” which is all about how communication matters – independent of the content. this half-hour NPR interview of the author is pretty good… in the interview he compares how people typically respond to different words used to expressing the same concept:

  • “estate tax” as being OK (taxing the rich) versus “death tax” (repulsive).

  • “drilling for oil” (exploitative) versus “energy exploration” (cleaner).

  • “global warming” (divisive, emotional, intense, polarizing) versus “climate change” (thoughtful, reasonable, less hysteria).

  • “gaming” versus “gambling” to describe Vegas.

  • he says bush would have been more effective if he said “reexamination” or “reassessment” (flexibility, listening) instead of “surge” which is a simple focus on troop movement.

  • “electronic intercepts” works a lot better than “wiretapping.”

to get out of the politics he says we need to find ways to listen to people who we do not necessarily agree with – conservatives reading new york times and liberals watching fox news. this book is his way of how to do that…