Monday, May 31, 2004

Bioethics of Gender Selection, Part III
Gender Selection Using PGD

The third and final part ofthe series on gender selection has been posted to The Rest of the Story, here. This deals with the most controversial means of gender selection, since PGD invariably leads to the destruction of some embryos.

China Update

Notes about China:  China is becoming a major economic and political force in the world, with a population of 1.3 billion, and an economy that is expanding rapidly.  The most recent news stories about China pertain to the democracy rally  in Hong Kong, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown; Chinese allegations that the USA is meddling with China-Taiwan relations; tension over the new Taiwanese president's position on Taiwanese independence; and news that China may be rethinking its military strategy, in response to their observations of US strategy and tactics in the Iraq war. 

It is difficult for those of us outside the political loop to know what is really going on with US-China relations.  The Chinese embassy website recently ran an article  about a phone call between President George Bush and President Hu Jintao, stating that China was reassured of our commitment to the One China Policy.  But the article was published at the same time that the Xinhau news agency reported  that the USA is interfering in China's internal affairs. 

Indeed, the China-Taiwan issue continues to be the overriding factor in defining US-China relations.  In this CC post, I describe some of the hopeful signs that China might be moving -- slowly, in their own way -- toward a more democratic internal organization, and conclude with some comments about the ongoing difficulties.   Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Portrait of a Rebellion

Link skipping from Amygdala  to Peevish,  I encountered a link to an online magazine I haven't seen before.  Ann Arbor's own Juan Cole has an article  in this month's In These Times.  If you haven't yet run across Dr. Cole's blog, Informed Comment, you might you to read it.  He's a professor of History at the University of Michigan.  On his blog, he writes about current Mideast affairs with a fairly neutral, journalistic style. 

His ITT article, Portrait of a Rebellion, is just that.  He describes the historical background for the prominence and influence of the leader of the rebellion, Muqtada al-Sadr.  Among other things, he notes:

Al-Sadr’s militia had not been violent toward Americans, and the Bush administration's decision to go after him appears to have been a matter of policy. Al-Sadr, having lived under the Baath, knew that his own arrest was in the offing, and he launched a preemptive rebellion to underscore the fact that he would not go quietly.

We've been told that the reason the CPA went after al-Sadr is that there is an arrest warrant for him, for murder.  It always seemed odd to me that, given all the turmoil in Iraq recently, that there should be so much Coalition attention paid to what is essentially a matter for local police to deal with.  Dr. Cole does not really explain why the CPA has been so ardent in their pursuit of al-Sadr, possibly because he does not really know why.  He does, however, provide an analysis of the implications of this pursuit.  Read the article for the details, but the bottom line is that Dr. Cole believes nothing good will come from this. 

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Some Recent Headlines...

Let's hire more contractors!

Federal Workers Score a Victory
Study Says They Outperform Private Contractors in 89% of Cases

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; Page A25

Federal civil servants proved they could do their work better and more cheaply than private contractors nearly 90 percent of the time in job competitions last year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

An OMB report released yesterday found that such competitions, the cornerstone of President Bush's "competitive sourcing" initiative, cost federal agencies $88 million in fiscal 2003. But they are projected to bring savings of $1.1 billion in reduced personnel costs and overhead during the next five years, the report said.[...]

In 1996, Cogress passed a law making it illegal to commit crimes...
Memos Reveal War Crimes Warnings
Could Bush administration officials be prosecuted for 'war crimes' as a result of new measures used in the war on terror? The White House's top lawyer thought so
Investigative Correspondent
Updated: 9:14 a.m. ET May 19, 2004

May 17 - The White House's top lawyer warned more than two years ago that U.S. officials could be prosecuted for "war crimes" as a result of new and unorthodox measures used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism, according to an internal White House memo and interviews with participants in the debate over the issue.
The concern about possible future prosecution for war crimes—and that it might even apply to  Bush adminstration officials themselves— is contained in a crucial portion of an internal January  25, 2002, memo  by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales obtained by NEWSWEEK. [...]

In the memo,  the White House lawyer focused on a little known 1996 law passed by Congress, known as the War Crimes Act, that banned any Americans from committing war crimes—defined in part as "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. [...]

Saturday, May 29, 2004

New Findings in Sleep Physiology

Reported via  AZo News-Medical.Net, Dr. Cameron van den Heuvel has found that temperature regulation is important in the initiation of sleep.  Furthermore, he has found that some persons with insomnia have a defect in their ability to regulate core body temperature. 

Discovery that body temperature has a vital role in the onset of sleep
Friday, 28-May-2004

Insomnia affects up to a quarter of the population in Australia and can have a severe impact on the quality of life and health of long term chronic sufferers, who often cannot stay alert enough to remain in the workforce.

[...] The research shows that the body needs to drop its core temperature in order for sleep to initiate normally, according to Research Fellow Dr Cameron van den Heuvel at UniSA’s Centre for Sleep Research.

At The Rest of the Story,  I include more excerpts from the article, links pertaining to the use of biofeedback for migraine and Reynaud's disease, and conclude with some advice of my own. 

Friday, May 28, 2004

Why My Job is Getting Harder
Mixed Reviews of the Economy

The economic recovery continues, sort of, but it looks as though the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, corporate profits are up, but labor compensation has not kept pace in proportion, and private wage/salary income is down.  This information is portrayed differently n the Joe Hill Dispatch, but the conclusion is the same.  John Irons at Argmax echoes the same data.  In this post, I review the latest economic data and provide links that show the implications of the "Upside Down Recovery."

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Things Found While Looking For Other Things

INDC Journal  Missed This One:

Courtesy of Catallarchy.net

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Bioethics of Gender Selection, part II:
Preconception Gender Selection

The second part of the series, Bioethics of Gender Selection, has been posted on The Rest of the Story.  This addresses the bioethics of nonmedical preconception gender selection, links to additional sources of information and policy papers, and concludes with recommendations from ASRM and from Corpus Callosum.

Bioethics of Gender Selection, part I

I have decided to write about the bioethics of gender selection.  Gender Selection, also known as sex control or sex selection, is the practice of employing technology to influence the gender of a child, either prior to, or during the process of, conception.  In this article, I will talk about the reasons for writing this, and the sources of information that I have located so far.  Later, possibly tomorrow, I will write about the various ethical issues that have been discussed in the various sources.  I may or may not get to my own conclusion at that time, or I might write that even later.  We'll see.

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story, here

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A couple of Additions to the Blogroll

I found these because of their metadata.  According to Blizg, the blogs most similar to mine are here.

Fire & Ice: Politics, culture, and other oddities.

Bloggers welcomed by DNC.
Thu May 13 2004 3:30 PM
For the first time, bloggers can apply for press credentials to cover the Dems' Convention in Boston. I might do this.

Ramesh Gandhi

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Bush's Speech

There is nothing about Mr. Bush's latest Iraq speech so far on the Tehran Times  website, nor on Russia TodayThe Straights Times  (Singapore) has a reprint of a generic AP article.  Arabnews  (Saudi Arabia), likewise, has no report yet; they do, however, have a cartoon showing Bush falling off a bicycle.  Nothing on Jerusalem PostKaleej Times  (UAE), interestingly, has a short article that mainly echoes the statements John Kerry made after the speech:

Bush said the United States would stay in Iraq until it was free and democratic and suggested that more US soldiers might have to be sent to stop enemy forces bent on destroying the new government.  In response, Kerry said: “That's going to require the president to genuinely reach out to our allies so the United States doesn't have to continue to go it alone and to create the stability necessary to allow the people of Iraq to move forward. That's what our troops deserve, and that's what our country and the world need at this moment.”

Kerry has said on the campaign trail that Bush has damaged relations with allies to the point that only a new president can repair them.

Kaleej Times also has a short article, containing some critical statements  that Madeline Albright made after the speech. 

In this post, I refer to news reports that came out after Bush's speech today.  (Note that it is late at night in the Middle East right now, and most of the news websites there seem to refrain from updating continuously through the night.)  There isn't much blogger commentary out there yet, although I'm sure dozens of people are writing theirs as I write this.  At The Rest of the Story,   I include more quotes about the speech, and conclude with my own comments.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Medical Software

Found via Obels.net, there is a list  of good medical software for PDA's, much of it free or very inexpensive.  I downloads Diagnosaurus  from McGraw Hill and found that it supports memory cards -- an essential feature for today's memory-hogging apps.  Thanks to Dr. Obels for the tip.

Following the links on the blogroll, I came across an interesting article  (on Blogborygmi) on a medical liability case that was lost -- even though the physician followed the latest EBM guidelines; and an article  on the use of neuroimaging to study brain development, on Brainworld.  Brainworld is like what I would like my blog to be -- except that I keep getting sidetracked by politics and social commentary. 

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Damn Liberal Media
Trying To Hide White House Scandal

In the 5/22/2004 Detroit Free Press -- widely regarded as the more liberal of the two major Detroit papers -- there is an article about the allegation that  Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi obtained secret intelligence information that later was passed on to Iran.  The headline of the article:

U.S. suspects key Iraqi passed secrets to Iran

May 22, 2004

This article started on the front page, but below the fold.  Buried deep in section A are the paragraphs;

Two U.S. officials said evidence suggests that Arras Habib, Chalabi's security chief, is a longtime agent of Iran's intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

[...]The two U.S. officials said Habib is suspected of giving classified U.S. intelligence to officials in Iran, with whom Chalabi has long had close ties. Habib is now a fugitive.

A U.S. intelligence official said the evidence of Habib's ties to Iran includes intercepts and some documentation. The official said Habib provided sensitive information, some of it classified above top secret, to the Iranians.

The intelligence official said Habib also was the Iraqi National Congress official who handled most of the Iraqi defectors, including one code-named Curveball, who provided much of the fabricated, exaggerated and unconfirmed information about Iraqi weapons programs and links to terrorism that President George W. Bush used in making his case for invading Iraq.

"The bottom line here is that much of the information the administration had about Iraq may have come from an Iranian agent," said the intelligence official. "If that's true, this is a huge scandal."

Isn't it clever of the liberal media to make us actually turn the page and read the entire article to find the comment: "If that's true, this is a huge scandal"?

In this post, I review the news items and blogger posts quickly, boiling it all down to a few essential points.  I conclude with a rant about the misguided US foreign policy, pointing out how incredibly -- and predictably -- foolish it was to think we could create a benevolent government by force.

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

"You All Will Be Destroyed"
An Explanation

On /19/2004 I posted a graphic with the caption "You All Will Be Destroyed."  The comments indicate some confusion about this.  Hmmm, I thought, why did I post that?  Well, it goes like this.  I got an e-mail from one of my sisters, saying "check this out."  It turns out that a brother-in-law has put up some T-shirts for sale via Cafeshops.com. 

Dennis, and his twin brother David, are design wonks of a sort.  Dennis used to design furniture.  In fact, he used to make furniture out of concrete.  Yes, the hard, heavy stuff.  It turns out that it is possible to make comfortable furniture out of concrete.  It fits in with some kinds of architectural design, although it is not good for houseboats or tree houses. 

I did not know Dennis very well when my sister graduated from Michigan State (with a degree in Landscape Architecture.)  She had some of the concrete furniture in her apartment.  When it was time for her to move out, where was Dennis?  I don't know.  I ended up being the one to move that damn concrete furniture.  My foot still hurts from that.  Dennis is smarter than I am.

So now he is selling T-shirts.  The designs are a bit odd, in an obliquely humorous way; some of them have a sly political message, without being overtly political. If you know the characters who came up with the designs, they make sense.  I have no idea if they make sense to anyone else. 

News Flash:
Hardly Anyone Cares About Gas Prices

Polls show that most Americans do not blame President Bush for the recent increases in gasoline prices.  Media reports have informed us that the increased demand for oil in China, OPEC  quotas, and limited refining capacity are to blame.  Other reports assure us that there still is plenty of oil, although of course that only refers to the number of decades that will elapse before oil prices get really high.  (See Cheap-Oil Era Is Far From Over, Analyst Say, from National Geographic News)

Scanning the Blogosphere and US news outlets, there is a lot of commentary about gas prices; but scanning the international news outlets, there are only a few concerns mentioned.  There is a G7 conference  coming up; oil prices will be a topic there.  US diplomats are meeting with OPEC ministers.  Asian stock markets are declining a bit, because of the price of oil.  Why is there a discrepancy between the great expressions of concern in the US, but such muted concern elsewhere?

In this post, I outline the issues that pertain to gasoline prices, then show why we should join the rest of the world in not making a big political issue out of it. 

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story, here.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Friday Cicada Blogging

Courtesy of Greg Sidell

Life at Indiana University

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Looking For Evolution Educators

The University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) is developing a teacher resource website on evolution. The website will aim to help teachers better understand and teach the subject of evolution. We are looking for a diverse group of K-12 teachers to help evaluate the website. Please forward this survey to people who might be interested in the Evolution Website. This evaluation is being conducted by ROCKMAN ET AL, which is an independent, educational research and consulting firm, specializing in technology and learning. If you are interested in joining this evaluation group, we invite you to complete the following information survey.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Buy This T-shirt.

Items from Medscape News

(free registration required)

Coffee, Caffeine Consumption Associated With Reduced Liver Disease
Karla Harby

May 18, 2004 (New Orleans) — A U.S. population study of 5,944 adults conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) has found a strong association between coffee drinking and caffeine consumption and a lower risk of liver injury in persons at high risk for liver disease.

The researchers defined the high-risk population as those who reported being heavy drinkers of alcohol, or who had hepatitis B or C, iron overload, were obese, or had impaired glucose metabolism. Liver injury was defined as a serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) activity level in excess of 43 U/L.  [...]

FDA Safety Labeling Changes: May 17, 2004

Yael Waknine

May 17, 2004 (updated May 18, 2004) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved revisions to safety labeling for ethambutol hydrochloride, atazanavir sulfate, zafirlukast, ciprofloxacin hydrochloride, and bone cements and bone void fillers. [...]

Human Brain to Machine Interface May Now Be Feasible

Laurie Barclay, MD

May 6, 2004 — Directly using human brain neuronal activity to operate external neuroprostheses may now be feasible, according to a presentation on May 4 at the 72nd annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons held in Orlando, Florida. This work could potentially benefit patients with quadriplegia or other focal neurological injury who are unable to use their extremities because of a breakdown in connectivity between their limbs and brain motor centers.

"For all kinds of motor training, such as riding a bicycle, people incorporate an external device into their schema, and the process becomes subconscious," senior author Dennis Turner, MD, MA, a neurosurgeon at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, told Medscape. "We will build on that phenomenon in our human studies." [...]

Cathy Tokarski

May 10, 2004 — Despite studies in leading medical journals warning of the ethical conflicts and high rates of prescribing that occur when physicians accept gifts from the pharmaceutical industry, many physicians and medical residents remain unaware of the impact of the drug industry's interaction with physicians, according to a new study.

For example, only 9% of internal medicine residents at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and 18% of its faculty members surveyed as part of the study said they were knowledgeable about the American Medical Association's 2001 "Ethical Guidelines for Gifts to Physicians from Industry," while 20% of residents and 67% of faculty said they were aware of industry-sponsored research at academic centers. The study was published in the May issue of Academic Medicine. [...]

Additional Links:

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Changes at the Corpus Callosum

I've started to use the new features of Blogger.  This includes the integrated comments service.  Since there are some existing comments that use the Haloscan service, I won't delete that right now.  After a few weeks, I will remove the Haloscan comments, and leave just the Blogger comments and the Haloscan TrackBack service. 

Also, I have published a companion blog, The Rest of the Story.   Because some of my posts are rather long, it was taking a long time for the entire page to load.  My plan is to use The Corpus Callosum  as the front end, with just the opening and with no images posted.   For posts that are more than a few paragraphs, or for those with images, I will post the complete deal on The Rest of the Story

Eventually, I will move some of the slower-to-load things, like the Babelfish translator, to The Rest of the Story.   This should make the whole thing easier to use, since The Corpus Callosum will load quickly and be easier to browse through.  If anything appears interesting enough to justify the bandwidth, you can click to The Rest of the Story,  then go make a sandwich while the thing loads. 

Since short posts will not be duplicated on The Rest of the Story,  I am going to leave the permalinks, comments, and TrackBack links on CC.  There is a third blog, Image Sink,  that I will use for photos uploaded with Blogger's Hello program. 

I know this is a kluge, other hosting sites have similar features -- more elegantly implemented -- that use javascript etc.; but why pay for something sleek, when you can do the same job for free with baling twine and duct tape?

April (mare) and October (colt) Posted by Hello

NO WMD Found!!!!

One of the endemic complaints in the Blogosphere is that of media bias.  Of course, conservatives think the media have a liberal bias, and vice versa.  Now comes a study that proves conclusively that there are no "writers of mass destruction."  On Allsci, which I found via linkhopping from Radically Inept, there is a report of a study on media bias:

David Domke, a communications professor at the University of Washington, notes that these arguments are only valid given the right context. Consistently, however, over a longer period of time, no bias has been found. “Some scholars have found a liberal media bias. Other scholars have found a conservative one. I think what it largely comes down to is context. What issues are being covered, in what context? You have to take into account these contextual situations. Journalists who examine a variety of situations, variety of issues, variety of people, would find that there is no consistent media bias ideologically. However, in any single topic, person, you could well find media coverage that is heavily favorable to one topic or one person,” said Domke.


Using this as a premise, that no consistent media bias has been found, Tien-Tsung Lee argues that it's the consumers of media information that are finding bias. That is, “no matter how objective and balanced a report is, observers are going to perceive a bias,” wrote Lee in an email interview. [bold emphasis mine]

Nonetheless, as Lee notes, the media, of course, is not always objective. Its coverage of the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, for instance, he says was biased in favor of the Bush administration's position. “I don’t think the U.S. mainstream broadcast media have done a satisfactory job in their coverage of the war, or the discussion leading to it,” wrote Lee. Nonetheless, favoritism towards one political party or ideology, Lee writes, isn't consistent. For instance, a 1965 study of Time magazine found that they were negative towards President Truman, a Democrat, positive towards President Eisenhower, a Republican, and balanced towards Kennedy, also a Democrat.

To test his thesis, Lee used two methods, he examined studies of how ideology relates to perception of the media, and he designed a questionnaire that he sent to political journalists. His conclusions regarding ideology confirmed the Hostile Media Theory. That is, the more ideological you are, to the left but especially to the right, the more likely you are to perceive media bias. Conservatives, for instance, are more likely than liberals and moderates to believe that the news media have a bias. Relatedly, Republicans are more likely to perceive bias than Democrats and Independents.

Bias, according to Tien-Tsung Lee, is in the eye of the beholder.

NIH Stem Cell Policy Shift(s)?

On 5/10/2004, The Corpus Callosum noted a report that Nancy Reagan had spoken out in favor of expanded research using stem cells.  I don't know what it was that led me to post that; of all the news that day, it seemed noteworthy for some reason.  Now comes a report  in the WaPo that the director of NIH,  Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, (yes, that  Dr. Zerhouni -- see the post from yesterday) has written a letter to the US House of Representatives reflecting the President's stem cell policy.  A PDF of the letter is here.  In this post, I describe the possible policy shift that the letter may signal, and point out two things that the author of the article apparently missed. 

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story, here.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Ethical Questions at NIH

A while ago, I posted several articles on the safety and effectiveness of antidepressant medication.  On of the posts provoked an e-mail from Alex, the author of the Pseudoscience in Psych  blog.  Although he is an outspoken critic of certain aspects of psychopharmacology, he is well-informed and well-meaning.  part of his message to me was:

I'll believe that antidepressants work better than placebos when I see
large-scale, rigorously designed, independently conducted (i.e., not
financed by Big Pharma) studies where an active placebo is used and where
the double-blind conditions are tested and not simply taken for granted.

I have gotten distracted by other things, but I always meant to write up an explanation of why his objections are so important, and what is being done about them.  To this end, I started to look into the Star*D (Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression) research program.  Star*D is a large, multicenter research program that is funded by NIH.  A synopsis is located on the University of Michigan Health System Depression Center page (here, scroll down).  For more information, go to PubMed and search for "Star-D".  SInce the program is funded by NIH, I thought that it might answer at least one of Alex's concerns. 

Unfortunately, there are complications.  I decided to look into the state of things at NIH.  This   article is about the complications at NIH.  I conclude with some comments of my own. 

See the rest at The Rest of the Story, here.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Will Somebody Please Explain?

Every once in a while, I check the columns on Townhall.com, just to see what conservatives are up to.  Some of the columnists, such as George Will, write articles that are worth reading.  His most recent one, Brown vs. Board, 50 years later, provides some interesting historical perspective.  Others, such as Phyllis Schlafly, write things that I disagree with, but I can see that she has a point.

Today's column by Pat Buchanan is weird.  Rise of a judicial dictatorship  starts in an unremarkable fashion:

When the Warren Court handed down its most famous decision, Brown vs. the Board of Education, on May 17, 1954, this writer had a ringside seat at a high school in the inner city of Washington, D.C.

See the rest at The Rest of the Story, here.

Arrgh! Yet Another Internet Quiz!

Nicholas Kristof

You are Nicholas D. Kristof! You enjoy travelling,
going as far as China, Africa, Alaska, and
Central America for a good story. You use a lot
of quotes and references in your stories. You
tackle tough issues like AIDS and religion,
which makes you controversial among Christians.
You're a good man, Nicholas D. Kristof.

Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Via George W. Bush, Will You Please Go Now?!

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Recognition of Facial Emotions in
Neuropsychiatric Disorders

The second article in The April 2004 issue of CNS Spectrums is titled Recognition of Facial Emotions in Neuropsychiatric Disorders.  It was written by Christian G. Kohler, MD, Travis H. Turner, BS, Raquel E. Gur, MD, PhD, and Ruben C. Gur, PhD.  Most of them are from the University of Pennsylvania.  I'm not sure why this article is in with the others, since it is not really about neuroimaging.  The abstract is here:

Recognition of facial emotions represents an important
aspect of interpersonal communication and is governed
by select neural substrates. We present data on emotion
recognition in healthy young adults utilizing a novel set
of color photographs of evoked universal emotions.
In addition, we review the recent literature on emotion
recognition in psychiatric and neurologic disorders, and
studies that compare different disorders.
CNS Spectr. 2004;9(4):267-274

Rest the rest at The Rest of the Story, here.

Nielsen Rating System points to possible deceit in RIAA sales figures

Ars Technica Newsdesk


A little investigative journalism can go a long way, and Moses Avalon has turned up something rather curious: the numbers that the RIAA uses to talk about "sales" are actually just numbers relating to shipments. The gist of it is pretty simple: the RIAA has their own tracking system based on units shipped, while Nielsen Ratings bases their Soundscan tracking system on actual barcode-scanned purchases. The problem is that Soundscan shows a 10% increase in music sales when comparing the first quarter of 2004 to 1Q 2003. Yet, the RIAA insists that music sales are down. Avalon suggests that sales aren't down, only shipments are. How can that be possible? Simple: in the past, the RIAA always shipped considerably more units than were sold. Why the change? Retails stores simply want less inventory, so they order less, even though they are selling more. [...]

Remember This Guy?


The Iraqi Information Minister, Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, was ridiculed when he said:

"The shock has backfired on them. They are shocked because of what they have seen. No one received them with roses. They were received with bombs, shoes and bullets. Now, the game has been exposed. Awe will backfire on them. This is the boa snake. We will extend it further and cut it the appropriate way."

The damndest thing is, he was right after all.  The shock has backfired on us; we are shocked because of what we have seen.  No one received us with roses.  The game has been exposed1.  As a result, Bush and Cheney Halliburton and Bechtel have little chance to win in November 2004.  This is highly unfortunate.  I'm sure we all would like to see the best candidates win, and win on their own merits; no one should loose because of the misguided acts of a small miniority of soldiers, and perhaps a few officers . 

1I don't mean to imply that the entire war and reconstruction was a game; it most certainly was not.  Recent events, though, have tended to trivialize the sincere, productive efforts of most of our personnel in Iraq. 

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Functional Neuroimaging
Introduction and First Article

The April 2004 issue of CNS Spectrums  is titled Neuroimaging of Emotions in Psychiatry.  The forward was written by the guest editor,  Israel Liberzon.  Dr. Liberzon is associate professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety Research Center in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School.  Much of his work was done here.

This post includes a discussion of the Introduction to the CNS Spectrums issue and a review of the first article.  The article itself describes some of the corellations found between activation of specific parts of the brain, and general of specific emotional tasks.  I include some comments about the potential practical significance of this kind of work.  Please refer to my previous posts (1  2) for an introduction to the topic.  For a quick review of neuroanatomy and neuroimaging, go here

See the rest at The Rest of the Story, here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Quite An Excellent Performance

The Ann Arbor Community High School  Mock Trial team  returned from Orlando Florida, after competing in the National Finals.  The won three of four trials.  The one they lost, they lost by just one point.  That was good enough for a fourth place finish. There were about 45 teams at the finals.  I don't know how many teams there are in the country, but the number is probably about 400.   So they placed in the top one percent. 

Last year, I think they placed #16 at the Nationals.  Next year, most of the team will have graduated.  Kevin will be one of their most experienced members, so there'll be a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.  Assuming he chooses to participate, which is up to him.  No pressure from Dad, ever1.  (He seems to do his best if you just let him do what he wants.)

Kevin is the tall kid in the back row.

1Parents of very bright children know exactly what I mean by this.

Ok, Forget the Introduction

Yesterday, I wrote some background material on fMRI.  After I did that, I ran across a site, whimsically named fMRI for Dummies.  fMRI4Dummies contains the visual teaching material for Psychology 554 at UWO, as taught by Dr. Jody Culham.   Basically, it is a collection of .ppt and .pdf files -- it'll take a while if you have a slow connection.  But if you are really  interested, go take a look.  She put a lot of effort into this, and she does a good job of making a tough subject a little more palatable.  She may be the Mary Poppins  of fMRI.  So forget my introduction to the subject, and use hers instead.

fMRI in the News

...Well, not exactly.  CNS Spectrums is not what you would call a leading news outlet.  Still, it devoted an entire issue to the subject; I just got it today.  Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the human brain is one of those obscure things that gets mentioned in the news occasionally, but it is not one of those things that reports pick up on and report reflexively.  Probably, that's because most of the individual research findings are so obscure as to be meaningless to someone who does not have a broad understanding of the scientific or clinical context of the discovery.

The functional  part of fMRI refers to the fact that the technique permits imaging of the function of an anatomical part, as opposed to just getting a picture of the part itself.  With fMRI, it is possible to see what parts of the brain become more (or less) active when certain tasks are performed. 

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story, here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

And Gasoline Now Goes For $2.09 in Ann Arbor...

Stocks set a new low for 2004

Worry about rate hikes, Iraq drag the Dow below 10,000 By Mark Cotton, CBS.MarketWatch.com
Last Update: 5:08 PM ET May 10, 2004

NEW YORK (CBS.MW) -- The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed Monday at its lowest level this year amid a broad sell-off sparked by concerns about rising interest rates and the political fallout surrounding the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The Dow ($INDU: news, chart) tumbled 127.32 points, or 1.3 percent, to 9,990.02, and at one point in late trading fell as low as 9,932.74. The last time the benchmark index closed below 10,000 was on Dec. 10, 2003, when it ended the session at 9,921.86.

The Nasdaq Composite ($COMPQ: news, chart) was off 21.89 points, or 1.1 percent, at 1,896.07, after falling to an intraday low of 1,880.32. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index ($SOX: news, chart) ended up 0.4 percent, helping to limit losses on the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($SPX: news, chart) dropped 11.58 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,087.12, while the Russell 2000 Index ($RUT: news, chart) of small-cap stocks fell 2 percent.

Casting a pall over the morning on Wall Street, Japan's blue-chip Nikkei average plunged more than 500 points, pressured by the specter of the Federal Reserve raising rates to 1.75 percent by the autumn from its current 46-year low of 1 percent.

"The markets were rattled by the global meltdown prior to the opening of the U.S. market," said Mike Holland, fund manager at the Holland Balanced Fund. "There was no serious attempt at changing the direction, with a weak afternoon rally fading.

Monday, May 10, 2004

July 4, 2074

(AUSTIN)The Texas Board of Education had their summer meeting/book-burning today.  As students have left for the summer, they were able to get down to some real business.  They got together to review the textbooks submitted for use in classrooms next year.  As usual, they burned most of them.

The Chairman, Donald "Duck" Rumsfeld, explained: "People thought we were done with this kinda stuff, once we got rid of all them books with evolution in 'em.  Not so."  Rumsvelt held up a book entitled Early 21st Century History. "Take this 'un, fer 'zample.  Them's got the audacity to talk about the great Republican Revolution of 2004 in downright disparagin' words."

When asked what was so disparagin about the textbook, Rumsvelt went on: "They print the bald-face lies about our Dear Departed Leader, Dubya B 43.  They claim that the gol-darn War in Eye-Rack was just a smokescreen and that the only reason Dear Ol' Dubya was re-elected was that the Americun Pee-puh was distracted by all the bad news cummin outta Eye-rack.  They claim that the Americun Pee-puh was too dumb to remembuh all the [insert air quotes here] scandals [end air quotes] that the Dubya folks allegedly done."   After tossing the book on the pyre, he turned to the rest of the Boared and they all started to clap their hands.

"I mean, tarnation and Doom on 'em I say.  Like Mr. Cheney would really still be on the Halliburton payroll while he wuz vice-prez.  Like we'z supposta believe that bible-sworn Senators broke inta other folk's computer files.  Like my gran-pappy knew about Abu Ghraib months before the news broke, and didn't send the ICRC report to the prez.  Like Duyba really knew that Harken Oil stock wuz gonna drop a coupla days after he sold $800,000 wortha stock.  They's even got the nerve to claim that Dubya hoodwinked everyone into thinking Medicare reform would be cheap, and that the war would be cheap, and that we'd find WMD's in Eye-rack, and that Eye-rack was linked to terrorism.
  And we're supposta believe that???  Then they go claimin' Halliburton stole our money, and that Boeing cheated us on the tanker lease deal, and that someone tried to bribe Nick Smith, and that good ol' Tom DeLay had sum kinda campaign finance deal.  Well, I know he died in prison, and all, but they didn't hafta bring that up, did they?  'Course, they go on and on for pages and pages like that, what with the so-called Plame affair, an' sayin' oilmen actually wrote parts of the guvmint's Energy Policy. Goldarnit, that there book was so full of trash I actually got a thrill tossin' it on the flames.  To think, are the Amercun Pee-puh really so dumb as to [insert air quotes] fergit [end air quotes] all that just cuza some [air qoute/eye roll combo] alleged  [end air quote/eye roll] scandal in Eye-rack?"

They ended the ceremony with the traditional simultaneous burning of Fahrenheit 451 and Fahrenheit 9/11.

If They Were All The Same
I Would Want One Different

I usually vote for Democrats. But if the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives all were controlled by the Democratic Party, I would seriously consider voting for a Republican for President. Really.

Reagan in the News Again

Sometimes people do unexpected things.  Here is an excerpt of an article from New York Daily News that shows one influential person speaking her own mind, despite the party line. 

Nancy Reagan backs stem cell research

May 10, 2004

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is butting heads with President Bush and conservatives over the controversial issue of human embryonic research.

The wife of Republican icon Ronald Reagan voiced strong support Saturday for the science that could lead to a cure for a wide range of diseases - including Alzheimer's, which has stricken her husband.

But such laboratory studies have been branded taboo by Bush and Pope John Paul, who oppose the research because it involves the destruction of days-old human embryos.

"I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this," Reagan said at a Beverly Hills, Calif., gala for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. [...]

Now, Nancy Reagan is not a policy expert, and she is not a scientist.  But she is a person of some social prominence.  I am hopeful that her comments will invigorate the debate on stem cell research.  Perhaps some persons who had not given the matter much serious thought, thinking the matter closed because their party said so, will now think again about the potential benefits of this technology.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

The Long, Strange Trip
What Happened to Pediatric Drug Safety Testing?

The article presents some information about the history of FDA  regulations related to the testing of drugs for safety and effectiveness in children.  This is pertinent for two reasons: there still is an active controversy about the use of prescription medications in general, and psychotropic medication in particular, in children; and, I am sick and tired of the whole Abu Ghraib thing. 

In December 2003, the UK's National Health Service issued an alert about antidepressant medication. The alert mentioned two things. First, they were not satisfied with the evidence for the effectiveness of antidepressant medication, when used in children. Second, they were concerned about the possibility that such medications could cause suicidal thinking or suicidal behaviors. There were no actual suicides recorded in the studies. However, in placebo-controlled studies in children, there were more instances of suicidal or self-injurious thinking in those on the active medicaiton compared to the placebo groups.

The UK NHS alert took many people off guard, especially since it is assumed commonly that the US FDA keeps close track of safety and effectiveness data. Shortly after the UK alert, the US FDA issued a similar alert. In order to understand how these alerts could come as such a surprise, it is necessary to understand the history of the FDA.

What this article shows is that there is a long an convoluted history to the efforts of the federal government to regulate the pharmaceutical industry.  Up until the 1990's, though, the process was relatively free of pernicious political and financial influences.  In the new millennium, something changed.  I invite us all to wonder about what changed and why.

In 1862, President Lincoln appointed a chemist, Charles M. Wetherill, to serve in the new Department of Agriculture. This was the beginning of the Bureau of Chemistry, the predecessor of the Food and Drug Administration.  In 1906, Congress passed the Food and Drugs Act to establish the Food Drug, and Insecticide Administration.   In 1938, prompted in part by the deaths of 107 persons from a patent medication containing diethylene glycol, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act.  This required that drugs be tested for safety in adults before being put on the market.  Note that, although many of the diethylene glycol deaths occurred in children, the 1938 legislation did not require safety testing for children.  The legislation in 1938 did not actually require testing for effectiveness; only testing for safety was mandated.

The first formal protocol for testing drugs (Guidance To Industry) was published by the FDA in 1949.  In 1950, a court ruled that a company marketing a drug must declare the purpose of the drug.  Apparently, they had realized that you cannot test a drug properly for safety unless you first declare what it is for.  This appears to have been the first adequate recognition of the need for the scientific method  (first, formulate an hypothesis...).  You can't formulate an hypothesis about safety until you first answer the question: "safe for what?"  The safety of a medication is assessed in relative terms.  Risks that might be acceptable for a cancer drug might not be acceptable for a drug used to treat acne. 

Personally, I found it startling that the FDA did not formalize the use of the scientific method until 1950.  That was not very long ago, but at least it happened before I was born.  Remember, though, that the FDA was not founded as a scientific agency.  In Lincoln's time, it was an agency that regulated agriculture.  Even in 1950, there was no requirement for testing a drug for effectiveness.  In 1962, Congress passed the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments.  This was the first mandate to test a drug for effectiveness as well as safety.  It was not until 1966 that the FDA assigned the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the effectiveness of drugs already on the market.  In 1968, the FDA began implementation of effectiveness testing recommended by NAS. 

In 1988, the Food and Drug Administration Act was passed, thus forming the FDA as we now know it.  I was already in medical school by then.  Even then, there was no requirement for pediatric testing.  In 1992, the FDA ruled that drug labeling should include specific information, if available, regarding the use of the drug in children.  The National Institutes of Health established pediatric pharmacology research units.  In 1997, the FDA Modernization Act  was passed.  This still did not require  pediatric testing, but it offered drug companies six extra months of patent protection for any drug that a pharmaceutical company tested in children on a voluntary basis.  This led to the issuance of the Pediatric Rule, in 1998, which formalized the FDA's position on pediatric testing.  By 1999, only about two dozen drugs had been tested specifically in children by the PPRU's.  Pediatrics  1999;104:644-5.  A paid subscription is required for full text; see links 1  (free access) and 2  (free access with registration) for more information. 

In October 2000, the Children's Health Act of 2000  was passed.  This created the Pediatric Research Initiative.  In January, 2002, the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act  was passed.  This enabled the the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue requests for specific drugs to be tested in children. 

That's it for the background information.  What this tells us is that it took the FDA a long time to require proper scientific methodology for drug testing, and even longer to consider the issue of pediatric testing; but that by the late 1990's, they were starting to pay attention to the specific issue of testing drugs for safety and effectiveness in the pediatric population.  Even thought they got off to a slow start, they were building momentum in the early part of this decade. 

Given the news and blogbuzz  we have seen about the problems with antidepressant use in children, no one would be surprised to see a news article like this one come out in early 2004.  The questions are: Who are the "political figures" involved, and what was the date?


Today, Political Figure X, together with Secretary Y and representatives of parents and a broad range of health professionals, launched an unprecedented public-private effort to ensure that children with emotional and behavioral conditions are appropriately diagnosed, treated, monitored, and managed by qualified health care professionals, parents, and educators. Federal actions she will outline include: (1) the release of a new, easy to understand fact sheet about treatment of children with emotional and behavioral conditions for parents; (2) a new $5 million funding commitment by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to conduct additional research on the impact of psychotropic medication on children under the age of seven; (3) the initiation of a process at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to improve pediatric labeling information for young children; and (4) a national conference on Treatment of Children with Behavioral and Mental Disorders to take place this fall. Political Figure X  will also highlight actions taken by the private sector to ensure appropriate diagnosis and effective treatment of these children. All of these actions build on the landmark work resulting from the first ever White House Conference on Mental Health and the release of the unprecedented Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health last year, both of which were spearheaded by Political Figure Z, the President's Mental Health Advisor.

Answers: X=Hillary Rodham Clinton, Y=Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and Z=Tipper Gore.  The date was 3-20-2000 (link).  Next question, regarding the question of the safety and effectiveness of drugs used in children: If the federal government was on the case in 2000, why were we surprised in late 2003 when the news (183 KB PDF) about equivocal efficacy of antidepressants used in children, and a question about a possible safety issue, were revealed?  If Ms. Clinton et. al. launched an effort to improve research in this area in 2000, why did it take so long for the news to come out?  And, more vexingly, why was it the UK, and not the US, that broke the news?  The following news excerpts tell the story.

HUFFINGTON: Drugging Our Children The Legal Way
By Arianna Huffington, AlterNet
October 31, 2002

Chalk up another profitable victory for those promoting the legal drugging of America's children, also known as the good folks of the pharmaceutical industry. Earlier this month, a federal judge struck down a Food and Drug Administration regulation that required drug makers to test medicines routinely given to children.

As a result, America's legal drug pushers are once again free to offer their potent concoctions for our kids' consumption without having to prove that they are safe or effective for pediatric use.

This is no small matter, given the skyrocketing number of children being prescribed heaping helpings of powerful mood-altering drugs. For instance, 1.5 million kids are currently taking Prozac and its equivalents even though the FDA hasn't approved these drugs for use by anyone under 18.

In making his ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy, Jr. made it clear that the problem wasn't the FDA's attempt to protect our kids, but Congress' failure to authorize them to do so. He pointed out that earlier this year Congress considered but passed on the chance to require drug companies to make sure that products designed for grown-ups but regularly given to kids are, in fact, safe for children to take.

Ignore the polemical tome in the article; also ignore the error about Prozac.  (Prozac was approved for use in children in 2000.)  The point is, that the Pediatric Rule was struck down in 2002.  See this link  for more on the court decision overturning the Pediatric Rule.  The opposition to the Pediatric Rule was led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (about) and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (about).  See this link for a summary of the CEI's position.   Note that the implementation of the Pediatric Rule had been voluntarily delayed  (also see this link) by the FDA in March 2002, pending the court decision.   The Pediatric Rule had been supported by most physicians and other health care providers, but some individuals  and advocacy groups  claimed that it was a scheme to generate more profits for the pharmaceutical industry. 

By 2003, efforts were underway to correct the legal deficiency that had caused the Pediatric Rule to be overturned.  SInce the Rule was overturned based on the argument that the FDA did not have the proper legal authority, Congress acted to provide that authority.

October 20, 2003

U.S. Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) have renewed their call for drugs that are widely used by children to be studied, tested and labeled for safety and efficacy. One year ago last week, on October 17, 2002, the Pediatric Rule was struck down by the District Court in Washington DC. In July of this year, the Senate passed legislation by Senators DeWine, Clinton and Dodd to restore the Rule.

The Pediatric Research Equity Act would give the FDA authority to secure pediatric studies and labeling of drugs that are widely used for children.

"Restoring the Pediatric Rule would give parents the peace of mind they deserve," said Senator DeWine. "It is time to stop playing guessing games when it comes to our children's health. The Pediatric Research Equity Act would provide children with the same safety assurances that are afforded to adults. We need to make sure the FDA continues to have every tool available to them to ensure that drugs are tested and labeled for children."

"When a United States District Court judge blocked the Pediatric Rule last year, I joined my colleagues Senators DeWine and Dodd in reiterating our pledge to provide clear Congressional authority to reinstate enforcement of the Pediatric Rule, without which many children will be under- or over- dosed, or even denied important medications that are not labeled or formulated for their use," Senator Clinton said. "In the 12 months since the Rule has been struck, over 100 medicines important to children have been approved by the FDA for adults without assurance that children will ever have safe appropriate access to these drugs. The consequences of this lapse, even for just one year, are dire. A 2002 study found that over 200 children under the age of 2 alone die from the failure to properly label and study drugs for their use. That is why we took action in the Senate this July to pass the Rule with the unanimous support of our colleagues. I look forward to swift action to make sure that this bill passes because every day this bill is delayed, is another day children's health is left at risk."

After DeWine, Dodd, and Clinton proposed the Pediatric Research Equity Act of 2003, it passed quickly, and was signed into law by President Bush on December 3, 2003.  On December 5, 2003, the Alliance for Human Research Protection (about) issued a press release that was highly critical of the new Legislation, claiming that in would be unethical to test drugs in children.  On December 10, 2003, the UK National Health Service recommended that 10 popular antidepressant drugs be withheld from children because of questions about safety and effectiveness. 

My interpretation of this history is as follows: in the 1800's the forerunner of the FDA was a small, inconspicuous bureaucratic entity that was able to do its business without too much hassle.  In the early to mid-1900's, improved public health monitoring enabled the government to learn of major problems with drug safety, and they engaged in a fairly straightforward process to solve those problems.  There was not a formal implementation of the scientific method, but that was not critical to the limited mission of the agency.  The earliest major drug discoveries: penicillin, polio vaccine, etc., had such obvious effectiveness that rigorous testing for effectiveness may have seemed superfluous.  Health insurance was not widespread then, so the massive amounts of money that change hands today were not a corrupting influence. 

During World War II, wages were controlled strictly.  Therefore, employees bargained for improved benefits instead of higher wages.  Health insurance became a common benefit.  Medicine, and the pharmaceutical industry, suddenly became much more profitable.  Along with profit comes widespread fraud.  This led to the need for expanding the mission of the FDA.  It became necessary to mandate testing for effectiveness as well as safety.

In that era, children did not have the status that they have today.  After all, it was illegal to beat your dog before it became illegal to beat your kids.  The elevation of concern for the safety of children is a complex issue, but for various reasons it became a prominent social issue by the 1970's.  I cannot explain the lapse in time from the 70's to the 90's, before the FDA began to consider the issue of drug safety testing in the pediatric population. 

By the 1980's, the pharmaceutical industry had become one of the most profitable industries on the planet.  This was due to the widespread availability of health insurance, coupled with advances in the biomedical sciences.  The rising expenditure on prescription drugs was one factor that led to the phenomenon popularly known as managed care, but more accurately referred to as rule-based care.  This posed the first serious threat to the profitability of the pharmaceutical industry.  Also, the cost of developing a new drug had risen considerably, and huge lawsuits were becoming more common.  These developments led to a difficult situation for the pharmaceutical corporations.  Although the potential for profit was still enormous, the risks associated with development became much more significant. 

The issue of risk became even greater in the new millennium.  The economic recession caused all companies to become much more wary of risk.  The potential for stock market shenanigans also became significant.  For a corporate executive with stock options, a single unfavorable news story could lead to a loss of several million dollars.  Likewise, an artificially good news story could lead to a windfall. 

As a result of these various factors, the pharmaceutical industry was transformed.  Early on, the industry had a reasonably secure probability of a solid return on their R&D investments.  They did not have to resort to artificial means to influence the market.  As the economic pressures and risks increased, it became increasingly tempting to engage in a political process to shelter those risks and increase the likelihood of a good return on investment.  Also, there was increasing pressure to stifle the dissemination of potentially unfavorable research results. 

As this was happening, the health care industry became much broader.  Not only were there profits to be made by physicians, but insurance companies, hospitals, and many other groups developed a financial stake in the vicissitudes of the pharmaceutical companies.  There were many more competing interests, all with their own agendas.  Even groups that were not directly tied to the health care industry -- such as the The Competitive Enterprise Institute -- started to get into the act.  The Pediatric Rule, which was fairly obscure in 1998, became a focal point for all these competing interests.  What had appeared to be a fairly straightforward and uncontroversial topic became an issue on which fortunes could be made or lost, and a focal point for political ideology.  As a result, the important issue of pediatric safety testing became a political football. 

It has been a long, strange trip.  The strange part has developed only recently.   My impression is that the Pediatric Research Equity Act of 2003 is a good piece of legislation, and that the matter now is more or less settled.  There is an apparatus in place for appropriate pediatric drug safety studies to be done.  Reform of corporate finance is underway.  There are still competing interests, and there still is a need for public vigilance.  There is a need for reform in the way research is done and reported.  Greater transparency would help. 

There is a way to defuse some of the political and financial issues that led to this mess.  Even though the mess is getting straightened out, it would be well for us all to think about ways to keep important legislation such as the Pediatric Research Equity Act of 2003 in place, and to prevent excessive politicization
of important safety issues.  We could either drop the notion of health insurance completely, or work toward universal health coverage.  The former is not an attractive option.  The latter is not attractive either, but would offer some advantages. 

It probably is no accident that the revelations about pediatric use of antidepressants first occurred in the UK.  With a national health plan, all citizens have an interest in the efficient operation of the health care system.  In such a system, if a class of drugs is being used inappropriately, everyone suffers.  This has the effect of getting everyone on the same team, at least partially nullifying the competing interests.  Likewise, everyone benefits if the only pharmaceuticals that are used are those that are safe and effective.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I Missed the National Day of Prayer

From The Church of Critical Thinking, a nice, little, slightly sarcastic, bit about the National Holiday yesterday.  Read the whole thing if you've got a couple of minutes to spare:

When is National Search and Seizure Day?

This Thursday is the 52nd Annual National Day of Prayer.

You're thinking, "Surely that can't be a government-sanctioned holiday, right? That must be a Hallmark Holiday or something some Church came up with to promote religion, right?" Sadly, no.

{...] The President asks that you give thanks, according to your own faith, for God's guidance and protection. Your own faith. God's guidance and protection. I guess your own faith is okay, as long as it has a God.

Oh, and Jesus, too. God, and Jesus. According to the National Day of Prayer website, "Prayer is opening your life to Jesus." Forget that other stuff about your own faith. There must be God and Jesus. It can still be your own faith, I guess. But make sure it includes God and Jesus. Come on, it's a Government sanctioned National Day of Prayer. You want to be a team player, right? You call yourself an American? America is praying to God and Jesus.

But what if you're not sure what to pray for? That's okay. The NDP Website offers suggestions in five key areas: Government, Media, Education, Church, and Family. Five points of prayer, Five minutes a day. They call that the Freedom Five! You can even download wallpaper for your computer desktop so you don't forget to take the Freedom Five Challenge. The website actually says, "By targeting these specific areas, America can experience the freedom that accompanies God's power."

I swear. I am not making this up.

Not sure how to pray? That's okay. The NDP Website offers tips in that area, including Prayer Posture, which I guess is important if God's going to pay attention to your prayers. God cares how you're sitting.

[...] Why is it so acceptable for the Government to violate this clause of the constitution again and again and again with no repercussions, and barely any uproar? In fact, as we recently saw in the House, a person can actually get chastised for not violating the separation clause. How is this okay? Where is the outrage?

The author goes on to comment on other things, all rather amusing.  He does not pick up on one thing, though.  The "honorary chairman" of this year's NDP is Ollie North.  The NDP website has a link hawking North's new book:

True Freedom Prayer Resource 
True Freedom
by Oliver North
Real-life stories about how prayer gives freedom from guilt, anxiety and self-deception.

Why might North be interested in freedom from guilt, anxiety and self-deception?  Here's a clue:

From NDP site
From United States v. Oliver L. North, Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC) Papers, National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. (link)

Science Education, Science Funding, and World Domination

The National Science Foundation (about) is a federal organization with the following mission statement: "To promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense."   Although its website refers to it as an independent agency, it is run by a board of 24 members, all appointed by POTUS

On May 4, 2004, the NSF issued a report entitled Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2004.  This CC article starts with excerpts from the NSF press release, then includes excerpts from news articles written in response to the press release, tosses in some related articles, then concludes with my own comments about science education in the USA, and about the priorities for research funding.  I mix in some comments about the slants evident in the news reports. 

The NSF  press release begins as follows:

United States Still Leads in Science and Engineering, But Uncertainties Complicate Outlook
National Science Board highlights workforce issues in its release of S&E Indicators 2004

ARLINGTON, Va.-- The United States remains the world's leading producer of and a net exporter of high-technology products and ranks among the global leaders in research and development (R&D) spending. However, ongoing economic and workforce changes make the outlook for the future uncertain, according to Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2004, a biennial report of the National Science Board (NSB) to the president.

"The United States is in a long-distance race to retain its essential global advantage in S&E human resources and sustain our world leadership in science and technology," said NSB Chair Warren M. Washington. "For many years we have benefited from minimal competition in the global S&E labor market, but attractive and competitive alternatives are now expanding around the world. We must develop more fully our native talent."


Report: U.S. losing ground in science education
Thursday, May 6, 2004 Posted: 3:07 PM EDT (1907 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States could lose its prominence in the fields of science and technology because of rising competition for foreign talent, a National Science Foundation report says.

"For many years we have benefited from minimal competition in the global science and engineering labor market, but attractive and competitive alternatives are now expanding around the world," said National Science Board Chairman Warren Washington.

The report, released Tuesday, said more and more foreign-born scientists and engineers joined American scientific work force in the 1990s. Immigrants made up 38 percent of science and engineering employees with doctorate degrees in 2000, while immigrants made up 29 percent of those with master's degrees.

The science board said America risks losing the foreign scientists it relies on to fill technology jobs because of unclear immigration demands since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and because more countries are developing programs to keep their highly-educated citizens.

America also lags other nations in the number of students majoring in science and engineering at colleges and universities, according to the board.

Twenty-four nations in 2000 awarded a higher percentage of science and engineering degrees to students than the United States. The United States awarded 5.7 science degrees per 100 24-year-olds, compared with a ratio of 13.2 to 100 in Finland, which awarded the highest proportion, the report said.

The board warned that a loss in the number of foreign-born scientists who want to work in the United States would hurt the technology sector at a time when many of its most-educated employees are nearing retirement. [...]

The New York Times

May 3, 2004

U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences

The United States has started to lose its worldwide dominance in critical areas of science and innovation, according to federal and private experts who point to strong evidence like prizes awarded to Americans and the number of papers in major professional journals.

Foreign advances in basic science now often rival or even exceed America's, apparently with little public awareness of the trend or its implications for jobs, industry, national security or the vigor of the nation's intellectual and cultural life.

"The rest of the world is catching up," said John E. Jankowski, a senior analyst at the National Science Foundation, the federal agency that tracks science trends. "Science excellence is no longer the domain of just the U.S."

Even analysts worried by the trend concede that an expansion of the world's brain trust, with new approaches, could invigorate the fight against disease, develop new sources of energy and wrestle with knotty environmental problems. But profits from the breakthroughs are likely to stay overseas, and this country will face competition for things like hiring scientific talent and getting space to showcase its work in top journals.

One area of international competition involves patents. Americans still win large numbers of them, but the percentage is falling as foreigners, especially Asians, have become more active and in some fields have seized the innovation lead. The United States' share of its own industrial patents has fallen steadily over the decades and now stands at 52 percent.

A Talk with Bush's Science Czar

MARCH 16, 2004
John Marburger points to the Administration's spending in R&D, innovation, education, and space, and says "We still are a leader"

When President Bush needs to talk science, he turns to John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. A physicist who previously held the top spot at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Marburger plays a key role in setting both funding and research priorities for the federal government, the largest research funding institution on earth. [...]

Q: Everyone is talking about outsourcing in the software field undermining U.S. superiority in that key area. Is the threat overblown?
A: I think it is somewhat overblown. We have fairly complicated markets in software. When it comes to new products and software that's at the edge of capabilities, the U.S. is a major player. We still are a leader, and it's going to be a long time before we lose that position. [...]

Q: What can America do to make sure foreign grad students continue to come to the U.S. to study?
U.S. institutions of higher education are the gold standard around the world. You have a higher-value-added degree from a U.S. institution than from anywhere else. It's true that China is producing many more students with advanced degrees, but the U.S. continues to attract the best talent.

I've participated in a number of conferences with other countries, and Europe is concerned about its brain drain to the U.S. Even China sends students to us. There has been a fall-off in foreign student applications, which isn't surprising in view of the changes in the visa process. But the numbers are still high, and there's every indication we will continue to attract large numbers of foreign graduate students. [...]

Q: An increasing percentage of breakthroughs are coming from research institutions outside the U.S. Does this indicate the U.S. is losing ground?
A: We see rates of publication in journals and patents filed increasing for other countries, but I don't see significant weakness in our numbers. We still are the world leader in innovation. Basic science has always been an international phenomenon. The trick is to take advantage of the basic research done around the world and turn it into products that keep us on the leading edge. [...]

Q: A lot of the most important figures in the technology business are concerned that the percentage of U.S. gross domestic product going to fund basic science research has fallen significantly over time.
A: For 40 years, the percentage of the domestic discretionary budget devoted to nondefense R&D has been about 11%. It's at 13.7% right now, and that's about a 20-year high. For the total budget including military R&D, we're at the highest level in 37 years as a percentage of the domestic discretionary budget.

Recession's silver lining? More top students head to grad school
New data track high GRE scorers
The economy's recent slump prompted growing numbers of top U.S. college graduates to hunker down in graduate school, new data shows, sharply reversing course from the late 1990s when more of the brightest young Americans headed for quicker-payoff careers in business and health.

By 2001, with fewer high-tech jobs beckoning, the share of top U.S. citizen scorers (above 750) on the Graduate Record Exam quantitative scale heading to graduate school in the natural sciences and engineering increased by about 31 percent compared to 1998, after having declined by 21 percent in the previous six years, according to William Zumeta of the University of Washington.

This recent increase is comparable to the 29 percent gain in the number of all score levels of examinees who intended to enroll in graduate school in the sciences or engineering. And the total number of GRE examinees increased by 9 percent between 1998 and 2001, suggesting that more students in a variety of fields were preparing for graduate school. [...]

Zumeta's concerns about the nation's scientific future have grown over years of watching America's highest-achieving college students – the top 5-to-7 percent of scorers on the Graduate Record Exam (those who score 750 or higher) – drift away from careers in advanced research.

He and Raveling also examined the plans of senior science majors from a group of elite private colleges – members of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education – and found that the proportion who planned to enroll in graduate school the following fall had plummeted from 47 percent of the 1984 graduates to 28 percent in 1998. The decline among students with A averages was even steeper. The proportion of all the graduates who said they had no plans for graduate school at any time in the future more than doubled.

Foreign students continued to pump intellectual energy into U.S. graduate science and engineering programs during the early 1990s. But America's own homegrown college graduates – the highest-achieving ones – increasingly turned to relatively short postgraduate programs in business and health fields such as physical therapy, speech pathology and public health, according to results published last year by Zumeta and Joyce Raveling.

And in the late '90s, Zumeta and Raveling found that even foreign students were coming to American graduate programs in smaller numbers – an unprecedented reversal that could further diminish the quality of U.S. graduate study. This downtrend turned around for a few years around the turn of the century but threatens to reappear with the current barriers facing would-be immigrants to the United States.

Shunning science were elite science majors – both American and foreign – who might relish advanced study but were turned off by the decade-plus apprenticeships in low-paid doctoral and postdoctoral programs, followed by bitter struggles for the few faculty posts in a logjammed academic market. The result was that from 1992-2000, the number of top-scoring U.S. GRE-takers headed for graduate study in mathematics fell by 19 percent and engineering by 25 percent.

If you look at the NSF press release, and the Business Week interview with Bush's Science Czar (John Marburger), you see that the headlines are essentially positive.  They emphasize the fact that the USA still has a prominent leadership position with respect to production of new technologies, and advancement of discoveries in basic science.  Of course, the NSF and John Marburger represent the executive branch of the government, so they can be expected to try to put a positive spin on things.  The newspapers know that negative news is what attracts attention, so they tend to write alarming titles.  Eureka Alert is written by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (about).  AAAS is a nongovernmental organization.  They have their own agenda, of course, but their report seems to be the most balanced. 

In order to make sense of all the data reported, it is important to recognize that the articles are mixing data related to two separate subjects.  One is the changing enrollments of college students in various scientific and technical areas; the other is the scientific and technical output of the country as a whole.

With regard to the trends in education, what we see is that the trends change dramatically,  often in response to economic conditions.  It appears that the economy has two opposite effects: when the job market outside of academia is tight, undergraduate students are more inclined to delay entry into the job market, often by going to grad school.  On the other hand, when there is economic uncertainty, undergrads are disinclined to expose themselves to years of low pay by pursuing academic careers.  There are other factors as well.  Academia is prone to fads just like the apparel industry, or any other aspect of popular culture.  Because of these various factors, enrollment in different programs will go up and down.  The CNN and NYT articles key in on a few findings that, taken in isolation, seem to support the dire predictions implied by the titles of the article.  In my view, it is hazardous to try to read too much into these trends.  

With regard to the educational trends, clearly, the USA has a lot to gain by maintaining a large pool of persons well-trained in science and technology.  It appears that Dr. Marburger is counseling Mr. Bush to appropriate funds in a manner that will tend to maintain this resource.  Marburger points out that there has been an increase in the difficulty for foreign students to enroll in US colleges and universities.  This is a consequence, probably an unintended consequence, of the War on Terror.  Whatever the cause, it is a problem.  Sure, there can be a security risk to enrolling foreign students.  But there is a strategic advantage to be had by collecting the world's most talented students here in the USA.  Some will go back home, and perhaps a few will be involved in mischief later on.  But we will know who they are and what their talents are, so we will be in a better position to keep track of what they are up to.  If they go somewhere else for their education, we loose that.  If they go somewhere else, they still will be just as bright and as talented as they were before.  So there is nothing to gain by denying them access to an education in the USA. 

To think that there is a strategic advantage to making them go elsewhere for their education is a shortsighted kind of snobbery; this has no place in serious policy decisions.  It is based on the false notion that scientists trained in the USA will be more capable -- and therefore more dangerous -- than those trained elsewhere.  Guess what?  It does not take a rocket scientist to strap on a bomb and blow yourself up, or highjack a plane and fly into a building.  What makes terrorists dangerous is their psychological state, not their technical expertise. 

Let's think about a hypothetical future weapons-of-mass-destruction-program-related-scientist (FWOMDPRS).  If that person comes to the USA to study, he or she is likely to develop some kind of emotional attachment here.  He or she will then be less inclined to cooperate with an attempt to harm our country.  That is no guarantee, but it is better than breeding contempt by shunning someone.  Of course, this only will work if the FWOMDPRS experiences an open, inclusive, and diverse community when studying here.  If the FWOMDPRS is met with racism, elitism, or intolerance, that would be a bad thing.  Note that this would imply that there is a benefit to having diversity on our campuses, and to being nice to people. 

With regard to technological output, the NYT article expresses this concern:

One area of international competition involves patents. Americans still win large numbers of them, but the percentage is falling as foreigners, especially Asians, have become more active and in some fields have seized the innovation lead. The United States' share of its own industrial patents has fallen steadily over the decades and now stands at 52 percent.

This, of course, is a natural consequence of globalization.  If it is true that globalization has more advantages that disadvantages, then this one particular aspect of globalization should not be a matter of concern.  We will have to take the bad with the good. 

Naturally, we should make global competitiveness a priority.  But we should not expect to retain complete dominance.  In order to do that, we would have to shortchange other priorities, such as health care and social services.  The government does have an important role to play in maintaining competitiveness.  This is done primarily through funding of research and development.  The Science Czar has an important role in advising the President on the priorities for such funding.  He is asked about this in the Business Week article.  Oddly, in the BW article, he does not really answer the author's questions.   For example:

Q: A lot of the most important figures in the technology business are concerned that the percentage of U.S. gross domestic product going to fund basic science research has fallen significantly over time.
A: For 40 years, the percentage of the domestic discretionary budget devoted to nondefense R&D has been about 11%. It's at 13.7% right now, and that's about a 20-year high. For the total budget including military R&D, we're at the highest level in 37 years as a percentage of the domestic discretionary budget.

He seems to equate nondefense R&D to basic science research.  This is semantic gamesmanship.  The classification of R&D spending into defense and nondefense categories is a different frame of reference than the classification of basic vs. applied research.  The author asked about the funding priorities using the basic vs. applied frame of reference.  The answer was phrased using the defense vs. nondefense frame of reference.  This enabled him to respond  to the question without really answering  it. 

If it is true that there is a trend toward more applied R&D and less basic science R&D, that is a matter of concern;  this is true especially if the apportioning of research funds reflects a political agenda involving favoritism to certain industries.  The author did not press that point, and Dr. Marburger does not really address it.  There probably is an optimum balance between funding basic vs. applied research, but I do not know of any objective way to determine the optimum.  I can say, though, that using political factors is not going to lead to the optimum balance.  The thing is, basic research pays off, but the payoff is later than the payoff for applied research.  Putting too much into the quick-payoff areas makes no more sense, strategically, that investing all your money in short-term market positions.  We need a balanced research portfolio, just as a smart investor seeks to maintain a balanced investment portfolio.