Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Dr. Jhunjhunwala’s Scorecard for IT in rural India

January 1, 2008

a take away from this IIT-Madras analysis is that Internet access infrastructure and basic apps are *not* the biggest problem in rural India today — the real gap is in apps for creating higher paying jobs, connecting buyers to sellers, and enabling financial transactions for rural economic growth. that’s where we need the heavy lifting.

for decades Professor Jhunjhunwala (IIT-Madras) has been leading a R&D center focused on rural access for wireless voice + Internet and economic development in India. his slide deck which gives an overview of rural information and communications technology (ICT) including cell phones, fiber backbones, Internet kiosks, voice technologies — with examples of rural apps like financial services, remote teaching, telemedicine, e-choupal, weather, etc. his “dream” is to double the GDP of $140 billion for 700 million rural Indians from $200 to $400 per person annually. on slide 21 he asks “where are we?” and he rates today’s services in the rural areas on a scale of 0-5.

Jhunjhunwala’s Scorecard:

Infrastructure for ICT

  • 4 — rural fiber backbone
  • 3+ — broadband access (> 100 kbps)
  • 3+ PCs/Software/Power

Capacity Building for ICT

  • 2+ — selection/training of operators, marketing of services

End to End Services using ICT

  • 4 — Basic Services (email, browsing, games, DTP, astrology, matrimonial, photography)
  • 3 — Communication Services (3 VoIP, 2+ Mobile)
  • 3+ — Education
  • 2+ — Micro-franchise
  • 2+ — ITeS
  • 2+ — Telemedicine
  • 2- — Agriculture
  • 2- — Financial Services
  • 0 — Jobs
  • 1- — Buying and Selling
  • 1+ — E-governance
  • 0+ — Micro-enterprise
  • 0 — Online Games

the slides are from (2005)

here is a more recent video Q&A with him (2007)

there are some interesting perspectives at Microsoft’s site “Unlimited Potential” site, but the ideas are mostly PC/net centric. i didn’t find much in terms of actually connecting rural villagers to higher paying economic local opportunities

also see interview with CK Prahalad “bottom of the pyramid”

How do people fall into poverty in India and Africa?

December 30, 2007

this weekend after reading Dr. Krishna’s papers (Duke University) i feel even more confident that large scale rural poverty in India can be solved, but that it is certainly not going to be solved the way we have been going about it historically. if we want to make a dent in the numbers, the survey data clearly indicate that poor villagers simply need make more money to afford basic needs like food and health care sustainably year after year. information services catering to mainstream agricultural needs are not enough to do this. we need new information services that can *connect* villagers to new local and regional economic opportunities/markets beyond agriculture. roughly, the total market for agriculture is limited to perhaps $100B or $200B annually and crop yields are at the mercy of weather, droughts, and so on. they need to somehow find 10x that. see my earlier post “India’s 450 million.” that got me thinking about all of this.

these papers show several commonly held assumptions are wrong. the survey teams talked to many thousands of families in 36 villages in each of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujurat in which poverty rates are 25-65% and vary a lot from village to village ( they also conducted parallel studies in Kenya/Uganda and in all cases found several similar patterns across india and Africa.

take education. it is a commonly held belief that villagers don’t want to send their kids to school. but that doesn’t seem to hold up against the data. even then, nor has primary education played significant role in which large numbers of families have risen or fallen out of poverty.

in the surveys they asked what villagers consider to be the poverty threshold, in order of priority. there is some variation among the states, but within each state they found universal agreement on villagers’ priorities which define the point at which they consider a family to be poor — only after this cutoff, villagers opinions diverged in each state.

Rajasthan — food, primary education, clothes, paying off debt

Gujurat — food, clothes, primary education, paying off debt, patching leaky roofs, farming a small plot of land (sharecropping)

Andhra Pradesh — food, patching leaky roofs, paying off debt, clothes

with the exception of AP, primary education was high up on the list only after food. why not in AP? the reason in AP is “not because parents care less about educating children, but because primary education is almost universally provided here and it is no longer something that is out of reach of even very poor households. All but a miniscule number of primary school-age children attend primary schools in these 36 villages, and annual fees for government-run primary schools are a pittance, easily within reach of even very poor households.”

across all three states, there were similar patterns in how families fell into poverty or rose out of poverty over 25 years. The number of families rising out of poverty (11% in Rajasthan, 10% in Gujurat, and 14% in Andhra) has been almost counteracted by the rate of falling into poverty (8% in Rajasthan, 6% in Gujurat, 12% in Andhra) for a net poverty reduction of only 2-4%.

in all three states, the most common pattern for 60-80% of villagers who fell into poverty was nearly identical — inability to afford the heavy costs for health care in chronic and life threatening illnesses, costs of social functions like death ceremonies and marriage functions, which in turn leads these families to take on high interest rate debt from local loan sharks (~3% per month). factors like laziness/drunkenness were identified in single digit percentages and not a major factor.

in the other direction, in almost all cases the only way families have risen and managed to stay out of poverty is simple: making more money by getting out of agriculture and diversifying their income sources so they can afford health care, support a family/social life, get a roof over their head, and repay their debt. they have done this by getting a better job in a city or accessing a new urban market through a contact/friend, farming very different more profitable crops, or getting a government job. it turns out primary education played a relatively minor role compared to other factors — so why push education on them if they will send their kids to school anyways, once they make enough money to eat?

migration to cities and government jobs can work for a limited number of families, and can only go so far and is not scalable. there needs to be a way to enable small-scale entrepreneurs with specialized skills to gain access to local markets to build up their own villages/regions by supplying higher value-add services/goods where the need is greatest and so the price is highest (long tail) — just like how AdWords/AdSense, EBay, and Amazon are enabling all sorts of small businesses in the US to gain access to markets they couldn’t otherwise reach before.

how can we do this in india? Internet access via kiosks and rugged laptops for kids (OLPC) is only part of the equation. perhaps one way to get started would be to create a service for villagers to input classified ads via the web and browse/search them the same way (like craig’s list) — keeps it simple to setup/operate, and easier to focus on getting the content right with categories tailored to rural economy’s needs such as electrical repair work, ads for doctors/hospitals/specialists, tractor repair needs, water purification, dramas/skits/performances, new shop/business openings, bicycles for sale, animal care, and so forth. the list is endless, unpredictable, and long-tail. the important thing is should be derived directly from demand/supply in the regional rural economy and can be extended to incorporate literally anything if a user needs to include it. if the site enables broader distribution not otherwise possible, the early users would be entrepreneurial buyers who want to get lower prices and entrepreneurial suppliers who will “do what it takes” to gain a competitive edge by connecting supply to demand.

for the foreseeable future, my understanding is that Internet/web terminal penetration will remain much lower than cell phones. Internet kiosks are mostly limited to larger population centers, but still within a day’s travel reach of most villagers. cell phones can reach a larger audience anywhere in the villages on a daily basis, and this can be combined with less frequent access to kiosks in larger centers. as site usage grows, it could justify supporting other access methods — which requires additional software development. a rural user could be given the capability to subscribe to “alerts” on a cell phone (txt message, voice mail), even via an interactive voice interface on a cell phone, or via the web itself at an Internet terminal. for instance, a worker who is skilled in electrical work may want to be notified by cell phone when an ad shows up within a radius of 20 miles of his village — once he gets a notification, he can request more details on his cell phone or otherwise go check at the nearest Internet terminal to see more details of the job requirements. replace “electrical work” with “bharata natyam” dance performance and you have a local cultural network.

30th Anniversary of the Internet

November 11, 2007

Major Internet Milestones:A 30th Anniversary Celebration of the First Three-network Transmission

  • Bob Kahn DARPA
  • Jim Garret Collins Radio – still in the business. Wi-Fi packet radio (for military)
  • Irwin Jacobs Linkabit (now at Qualcomm)
  • Vint Cerf DARPA (now Google)
  • Donald Neilson SRI
  • Paal Spilling Norwary
  • Ginny Travers BBN

The Internet Problem: Internetworking of disparate networks

Kahn gave introductory remarks

Internet Demonstration: Nov 22, 1977 data was flowing from a van in silicon valley from SRI to USC via London

  1. Satellite network (Packet Satellite), 64/128 kbps, 8000 bit packets – Irwin was the architect
  2. Digital packet radio (Packet Radio) 100/400kbps, 2000 bit packets, omnidirectional broadcast, DSSS. – Kahn was the architect
  3. Wired ground network (Arpanet) 50kbps landlines

Kahn inspired by “Poisson Shannon and the Amateur Radio”

Routing modules could be plugged into the ARPANET, congestion and deadlocks would be an issue. AT&T did not see it as a business.

Asked for 20 MHz portion of spectrum – got the band they used for radar at SFO

Internet router added 3 boxes instead of one.

Kahn – communications with applied math and EE. Cerf – computer scientist. Background in Leiner paper. Collaborated on the development of TCP.

Connected 2 networks, but no documentation

Cerf — was DARPA PM, Director of IPTO

3-network demo was historic – 50 people made it happen

“A ride in the packet radio van [SRI] is a religious experience – it converts everyone who rides in it.” – Vint Cerf

D&R – demonstration and recovery (instead of R&D) when US starred generals would be taken for a ride in it

Irwin Jacobs involved in packet/satellite radio – challenges

  • Working with companies all around the world
  • Short packets, long packets, protocols to handle that
  • Fighting tdma issues. Cdma would solve a lot of those problem

Donald Nielson

Weren’t many codes in spread spectrum – only one (Kahn)

Ginny built the first gateways (routers) ever

  • Surprise is the Internet of today
  • In those days we were connecting networks at the rate of every six months
  • No one could ever envision
  • Installing gateways in Europe, Norway, etc. based on passport stamps. Didn’t realize how momentous it is going to be
  • Biggest challenge we had was low bandwidth and mismatched bandwidth (9.6 kbps to 56 kbps backbone, packets would fill up and drop)

Reasons for international participation

  • Resource sharing – computers, lines,
  • Command & Control – militaries will have to work with other countries militaries – hence international participation, requested approval from DARPA and got it

Cerf & Kahn on TCP/IP

  • No patents to prevent people from adopting its use
  • Not secret to make it a standard and make it as widely used as possible
  • Social processes for standards body was a challenge and new thing
  • Secure packet technology developed at NSA was classified so could not tell anyone about it – PKI was not available until much later

Given problems with security in IP, what you do if you could start over with IP v8?


  • End to end security and authentication so you know who you are talking to
  • 128 bit address space


  • Had we tried to solve security up front, we would not have invented the Internet

Universal Health Care in Rwanda

November 11, 2007

Dr. Paul Farmer spoke today at Stanford University about “scaling up” health care in Rwanda based on the health care delivery models that his organization “Partners in Health” developed in Haiti. Minus the funny anecdotes and striking visual examples he showed on his slides, a good summary of his talk can be seen in this newsletter in

Rwanda Scales Up PIH Model and also here.

The challenge is how to provide uniformly high quality health care across the entire nations. The government of Rwanda is basing their efforts on a set of ten principles listed in the link.


  1. High quality health care requires a truly comprehensive and integrated approach at all levels
  2. A comprehensive supply chain and procurement system should be in place for drugs, diagnostics and other commodities
  3. Patients should be able to access healthcare without regard to their ability to pay
  4. Healthcare workers should be highly trained and compensated fairly
  5. All health centers should have decent basic infrastructure and functional equipment to support the services they provide
  6. Community health workers are a vital component of the health system
  7. Nutrition is an essential element of any comprehensive health care service
  8. Information and communication technology should be integrated into existing health systems to improve the delivery of health care
  9. Health institutions should be held to the highest standards of care
  10. Comprehensive rural health care must go beyond the purely clinical by providing socio-economic support as well

Point 7 is simple — the best cure for hunger is food because patients can’t recover without proper nutrition. In his slides, Farmer mentioned that point 10 includes education, drinking water, jobs, and other essentials needed for living a decent, productive life. He did not mention microcredit or microlending. When I asked him about that he said they do microlending already, and it should probably be mentioned.

For point 8, he mentioned that the remote hospitals are equipped with satellite uplinks powered by solar panels and generators to communicate back to the PIH center in Boston.

Personally, I would add access to information and communication (the Internet) to this list in point 10 in addition to microcredit.

The common thread that emerged listening to him was the basic human need for “security” in the broadest sense of the word — health security, food security, water security, security from crime, national security, access to information, financial security, job security, personal safety, and so on. A functioning national economy is supposed to provide all this for most if not all of its people. Farmer talked about health security being a “right” versus a “commodity” — in some developed countries a small fraction of the population doesn’t have health security and in other developing countries most of the population doesn’t. I think the idea of listing all these things that together define “human” security needs would help us clarify what can be done to achieve them.

update on feb 13, 2009: compare to Clinics in the US, Expansion of Clinics Shapes Bush Legacy

NASHVILLE — Although the number of uninsured and the cost of coverage have ballooned under his watch, President Bush leaves office with a health care legacy in bricks and mortar: he has doubled federal financing for community health centers, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas.

“A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”

October 5, 2007

On January 4, 2007 I stopped at Pete’s coffee on Market Street to get my morning espresso on my daily bike ride, a bit chilly but nothing unusual otherwise. After I sat down I noticed an old gentleman carefully cutting out a newspaper article and putting it in his pocket, as though he was holding something very dear to him–it happened to be,

A World Free of Nuclear Weapons

By George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn

January 4, 2007; Page A15; Wall Street Journal

Being one of those “I have a dream” kind of ideas, this seemed so far out of left field and most unbelievable until you saw the names of the authors who proposed it–then it was almost certainly unbelievable. It turns out they were bringing back to life a vision that Reagan had discussed with Gorbachev to end the Cold War. This is interesting considering the US has spent some $5.5 trillion dollars on its nuclear arsenal from 1940-1996 according to a report by the Brookings Institution. In the Fall of 2006, I had seen Shultz talk about this concept as part of a Roundtable discussion at Stanford University but back then I didn’t realize to what extent this was being floated as a concrete proposal.

Later in March 2007, I got to see Shultz, Perrry, and Sid Drell explain their vision in person in San Francisco at a panel discussion organized by the World Affairs Council–here are my notes:

  • sid drell was one of the founding members of JASON.
    • during the cold war, he got a letter from andre sakarov (Russian physicist) saying that nuclear weapons pose an “existential threat to humanity,” and ending this threat must be their highest focus.
    • 10 steps outlined in their essay “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”,
    • Nuclear fuel production = nuclear weapon capability, no two ways about it.
  • Perry classified the risk of nuclear detonation into three categories
    1. miscalculation whose risk has gone to zero (with soviet union, others)
    2. accidental, which still exists. US/Russia are on 15 minute readiness status. ballistic missiles finish the job in half an hour. he shared two stories of near-accidental launches during which he was personally involved
      • Cuban missile crisis. he used to consult for DoD on missiles. one day in 1962 he was called in by his stanford classmate who was deputy CIA director on for an urgent assignment. turned out to be examining photos of soviet missiles in cuba. he dy director would report that to the president every morning. every day during the crisis, he thought that was going to be his last day.
      • as undersecretary of defense, he was woken up by a general who said he saw 200 soviet missiles approaching and had 15 minute window to respond (retaliate). turned out to be false alarm.
      • in both cases, perry attributes the turnaround to good luck rather than good management
    3. nuclear terrorism by non-state actors (Al Qaeda). not as bad as a US-Soviet exchange. he cannot backup of his estimates, but quotes Allison as saying there is a 50/50 chance by the end of the decade.
    4. North Korea is motivated by deterrence, prestige, and economic reasons when seeking nuclear weapons. when perry went to North Korea, he didn’t see anyone from the military. as the top ranked official in the DoD, he asked to meet with NK’s top ranked military officers. the general who came out said he didn’t want to meet. perry asked why they wanted nuclear weapons. the general said they don’t want to be vulnerable to being attacked like in Belgrade (Yugoslavia), and if there were ever a nuclear weapon exploded in Pyongyang, Perry could expect to see one in Palo Alto. So deterrence is a major consideration in NK’s calculus, apart from the economic benefits (i.e. extortion) they are deriving.
    5. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, Egypt, Jordan will certainly follow suit. Israel likely to do a preemptive attack. economic sanctions may convince Iran not to get them. Iran should be offered supply of nuclear fuel to avoid having to build their own fuel production cycle. This will clarify their full intentions (“smoke them out”). Russian and US can offer the fuel, under the authority of the IAEA which is internationally controlled.
    6. what are the uses of nuclear weapons,
      • only use is for preventing MAD with other nations
      • tactical nuclear weapons and bunker busters do not provide enough tactical advantage to justify the risks, as determined by Congress
  • Shultz brings up the historical precedent of how the constitution said “all men are created equal” but it was only centuries later that this vision was fully realized with women and minorities. similarly, he views “world free of nuclear weapons” as an “ought” that we can shoot for and eventually achieve.
    1. when asked what was the most significant turning point during the cold war, Gorbachev told Shultz that it was the Reykjavik meetings where both US/Soviet sides sat down and talked about all the issues.
    2. Reagan
      • called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. He thought mutually assured destruction (MAD) was inhumane.
      • suggested eliminating long range ballistic missiles and relying solely on strategic bombers which can be called back.
      • Gorbachev asked Reagan why they needed strategic defense—he replied that there could be some other nation (besides Russia) that threatens the US with missiles

Then in April I went to a talk by the world’s most famous historian of nuclear weapons, Richard Rhodes also at Stanford where I learnt a few more things…

Richard Rhodes (4/10/2007), Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Stanford University

sigfried hecker introduced him—richard’s books teach physics better than most physics texts.

rhodes wrote the most famous books/histories on the US atomic programs called “the making of the atom bomb” and “the making of the hydrogen bomb.” in residence at stanford, rhodes is writing a new book (“arsenals of folly”) on the concept of nuclear abolition that was discussed by Reagan and gorbachev, digging into the motivations of the two leaders.

neils bohr said that the atom bomb puts us in a situation that cannot be resolved by war, requiring a concept of “common security.” it’s analogous to public health. Oppenheimer was a bohr protégé. Soon after the bomb was exploded, hope for international control failed and the strategy shifted to military containment. in the 1960s, the us put aside all priorities to build missiles, including going to the moon. $5 trillion spent on the nuclear arsenal. key political question, how to establish a world system of nuclear restraint?

neocons neglected détente with the soviet union as a fatal move. in 1985, the Cold War was never colder.

Gorbachev was a farmer, won awards, and rose in the ussr to become agricultural minister. He was determined to reduce the cost of defense in order to improve people’s lives. At some point during the cold war it was estimate that the USSR was spending 40-70% of their money on defense.

Reagan a former lifeguard from riverside, saved 70 people, and only wished they would thank him for it. before winning the election, he told one of his presidential campaign managers that his purpose was to end the cold war and eliminate nuclear weapons. only secretary Shultz took him seriously (who was in the audience).

edward teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, proposed the idea of strategic defense initiative (SDI, star wars), i.e. missile defense shield. it could provide an alternative to mutually assured destruction (MAD) and not require aiming nukes at other nations—which Reagan thought was inhuman. Reagan’s vision was to provide SDI to all nations in the world. reagan believed in “common security” as a blueprint for survival.

SDI was used by soviet hardliners to disallow key concessions that gorbachev wanted to make to end nuclear weapons.

“Just as there is no such thing as a machine that doesn’t fail, there isn’t a bomb that doesn’t go off.”

my question to rhodes: define nuclear abolition more precisely. 10,000 à 100 à 1 nuke is very quantifiable. What does 1 à 0 mean? How do you define it independent of time for a nation to assemble/manufacture a weapon or the time to deliver it to its target? Rhodes says the time to arm can be increased up to 3 months (how?), and by doing so the risk of nuclear war can be reduced since that leaves a lot of time to come to a negotiated or conventional military solution.

It would seem that grand visions like this can never happen because the world is a mean place, game theory and animosity rather than cooperation rules the planet. But there is a reason why this might be a good idea as far as self-preservation is concerned–accidents and nuclear terrorism. First, Perry has been pointing out how the risk of accidental launch or other accidents involving nuclear weapons is non-zero–making the benefits of deterrence less than the risk of accidents. The more countries who have nuclear weapons, the more weapons, the greater the risk there could be an accident somewhere. An accidental loss of accounting was just disclosed in the handling of the weapons by the US Air Force–first in 50 years.

Missteps in the Bunker

By Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 23, 2007; A01

Second, the more weapons there across many countries, the greater the risk they can fall into the hands of a non-state actor and become part of a nuclear terrorism plot. Almost all US presidential candidates have been outspoken about this threat. In particular, Guiliani has annouced that he wants nuclear detection systems deployed, both across the US border and within the interior.

Toward a Realistic Peace
Rudolph Giuliani
From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007

An even greater danger is the possibility of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil with a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon. Every effort must be made to improve our intelligence capabilities and technological capacities to prevent this. Constellations of satellites that can watch arms factories everywhere around the globe, day and night, above- and belowground, combined with more robust human intelligence, must be part of America’s arsenal. The laudable and effective Proliferation Security Initiative, a global effort to stop the shipment of weapons of mass destruction and related materials, should be expanded and strengthened. In particular, we must work to deter the development, transfer, or use of weapons of mass destruction. We must also develop the capability to prevent an attack — including a clandestine attack — by those who cannot be deterred. Rogue states must be prevented from handing nuclear materials to terrorist groups. Our enemies must know that they cannot murder our citizens with impunity and escape retaliation.We must also develop detection systems to identify nuclear material that is being imported into the United States or developed by operatives inside the country.

Another sign of hope emerged this week when presidential hopeful Obama annouced that he endorses the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Obama Calls for nuclear free world, October 2, 2007, by Lynn Sweet, Sun-Times Columnist

It’s time to junk nuclear weapons, by Ivo Dalder and John Holum, The Boston Globe, October 5, 2007

update: see new op-ed on Jan 15, 2008 “Toward a Nuclear-Free World”. many people continue oppose the drastic changes suggested by this disarmament concept. but besides Shultz, perry, Kissinger, and Nunn, it seems this is also gaining momentum among several current and retired diplomatic and military leaders who are free to speak their mind… Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Beckett, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madeleine Albright, Richard V. Allen, James A. Baker III, Samuel R. Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, Warren Christopher, William Cohen, Lawrence Eagleburger, Melvin Laird, Anthony Lake, Robert McFarlane, Robert McNamara and Colin Powell. General John Abizaid, Graham Allison, Brooke Anderson, Martin Anderson, Steve Andreasen, Mike Armacost, Bruce Blair, Matt Bunn, Ashton Carter, Sidney Drell, General Vladimir Dvorkin, Bob Einhorn, Mark Fitzpatrick, James Goodby, Rose Gottemoeller, Tom Graham, David Hamburg, Siegfried Hecker, Tom Henriksen, David Holloway, Raymond Jeanloz, Ray Juzaitis, Max Kampelman, Jack Matlock, Michael McFaul, John McLaughlin, Don Oberdorfer, Pavel Podvig, William Potter, Richard Rhodes, Joan Rohlfing, Harry Rowen, Scott Sagan, Roald Sagdeev, Abe Sofaer, Richard Solomon, and Philip Zelikow.

CURIOUS: Reality TV of Caltech Researchers

October 2, 2007

Documentary Focuses on Caltech Researchers

This is a two-hour show based on following around several Caltech researchers for a year as they did their research…

Interviewees include Mark Davis, who is involved in clinical trials on a low-side-effect alternative to chemotherapy; Lynn Paul, who studies how learning and personality are affected in the rare situations when the two hemispheres of the brain aren’t connected; Nate Lewis and Sossina Haile, who are trying to find a practical way to harness the energy of the sun and reduce our reliance on oil; Michael Dickinson, who studies how flies fly, which might one day lead to the creation of safer airplanes; Steve Quartz and Colin Camerer, who use fMRI to study how emotion and reason do battle in the brain during moral and economic decision making; Richard Murray, who is creating a car that can drive itself; and JPL researchers who create robots to explore other planets and discuss how robots might one day surpass humans in intelligence.”

“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.