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Mostrando entradas con la etiqueta In English. Mostrar todas las entradas

miércoles, 1 de julio de 2015

20 Things You Didn't Know About... The Periodic Table

How it started, how it's like solitaire, how to fold it, and how it ends.

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

1  You may remember the Periodic Table of the Elements as a dreary chart on your classroom wall. If so, you never guessed its real purpose: It’s a giant cheat sheet.

2  The table has served chemistry students since 1869, when it was created by Dmitry Mendeleyev, a cranky professor at the University of St. Petersburg.

 With a publisher’s deadline looming, Mendeleyev didn’t have time to describe all 63 then-known elements. So he turned to a data set of atomic weights meticulously gathered by others.

4  To determine those weights, scientists had passed currents through various solutions to break them up into their constituent atoms. Responding to a battery’s polarity, the atoms of one element would go thisaway, the atoms of another thataway. The atoms were collected in separate containers and then weighed.

 From this process, chemists determined relative weights—which were all Mendeleyev needed to establish a useful ranking.

6  Fond of card games, he wrote the weight for each element on a separate index card and sorted them as in solitaire. Elements with similar properties formed a “suit” that he placed in columns ordered by ascending atomic weight.

7  Now he had a new Periodic Law (“Elements arranged according to the value of their atomic weights present a clear periodicity of properties”) that described one pattern for all 63 elements.

 Where Mendeleyev’s table had blank spaces, he correctly predicted the weights and chemical behaviors of some missing elements—gallium, scandium, and germanium.

 But when argon was discovered in 1894, it didn’t fit into any of Mendeleyev’s columns, so he denied its existence—as he did for helium, neon, krypton, xenon, and radon.

10  In 1902 he acknowledged he had not anticipated the existence of these overlooked, incredibly unreactive elements—the noble gases—which now constitute the entire eighth group of the table.

11  Now we sort elements by their number of protons, or “atomic number,” which determines an atom’s configuration of oppositely charged electrons and hence its chemical properties.

12  Noble gases (far right on the periodic table) have closed shells of electrons, which is why they are nearly inert.

13  Atomic love: Take a modern periodic table, cut out the complicated middle columns, and fold it once along the middle of the Group 4 elements. The groups that kiss have complementary electron structures and will combine with each other.

14  Sodium touches chlorine—table salt! You can predict other common compounds like potassium chloride, used in very large doses as part of a lethal injection.

15  The Group 4 elements (shown as IVA above) in the middle bond readily with each other and with themselves. Silicon + silicon + silicon ad infinitum links up into crystalline lattices, used to make semiconductors for computers.

16  Carbon atoms—also Group 4—bond in long chains, and voilà: sugars. The chemical flexibility of carbon is what makes it the key molecule of life.

17  Mendeleyev wrongly assumed that all elements are unchanging. But radioactive atoms have unstable nuclei, meaning they can move around the chart. For example, uranium (element 92) gradually decays into a whole series of lighter elements, ending with lead (element 82).

18  Beyond the edge: Atoms with atomic numbers higher than 92 do not exist naturally, but they can be created by bombarding elements with other elements or pieces of them.

19  The two newest members of the periodic table, still-unnamed elements 114 and 116, were officially recognized last June. Number 116 decays and disappears in milliseconds. (Three elements, 110 to 112, were also officially named earlier this month.)

20  Physicist Richard Feynman once predicted that number 137 defines the table’s outer limit; adding any more protons would produce an energy that could be quantified only by an imaginary number, rendering element 138 and higher impossible. Maybe.


domingo, 12 de abril de 2015

9 Rules For Emailing From Google Exec Eric Schmidt

In a new book out this week chock full of Google-flavored business wisdom, How Google Works, Google executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt and former Senior Vice President of Products Jonathan Rosenberg share nine insightful rules for emailing (or gmailing!) like a professional

How Google WorksCover of ‘How Google Works,’ by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

Communication in the Internet Century usually means using email, and email, despite being remarkably useful and powerful, often inspires momentous dread in otherwise optimistic, happy humans. Here are our personal rules for mitigating that sense of foreboding:

1.Respond quickly. There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can’t. Strive to be one of the former. Most of the best—and busiest—people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone. Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions, and being responsive to everyone reinforces the flat, meritocratic culture you are trying to establish. These responses can be quite short—“got it” is a favorite of ours. And when you are confident in your ability to respond quickly, you can tell people exactly what a non-​response means. In our case it’s usually “got it and proceed.” Which is better than what a non-​response means from most people: “I’m overwhelmed and don’t know when or if I’ll get to your note, so if you needed my feedback you’ll just have to wait in limbo a while longer. Plus I don’t like you.”

2. When writing an email, every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t. Be crisp in your delivery. If you are describing a problem, define it clearly. Doing this well requires more time, not less. You have to write a draft then go through it and eliminate any words that aren’t necessary. Think about the late novelist Elmore Leonard’s response to a question about his success as a writer: “I leave out the parts that people skip.” Most emails are full of stuff that people can skip.

3. Clean out your inbox constantly. How much time do you spend looking at your inbox, just trying to decide which email to answer next? How much time do you spend opening and reading emails that you have already read? Any time you spend thinking about which items in your inbox you should attack next is a waste of time. Same with any time you spend rereading a message that you have already read (and failed to act upon).

When you open a new message, you have a few options: Read enough of it to realize that you don’t need to read it, read it and act right away, read it and act later, or read it later (worth reading but not urgent and too long to read at the moment). Choose among these options right away, with a strong bias toward the first two. Remember the old OHIO acronym: Only Hold It Once. If you read the note and know what needs doing, do it right away. Otherwise you are dooming yourself to rereading it, which is 100 percent wasted time.

If you do this well, then your inbox becomes a to‑do list of only the complex issues, things that require deeper thought (label these emails “take action,” or in Gmail mark them as starred), with a few “to read” items that you can take care of later.

To make sure that the bloat doesn’t simply transfer from your inbox to your “take action” folder, you must clean out the action items every day. This is a good evening activity. Zero items is the goal, but anything less than five is reasonable. Otherwise you will waste time later trying to figure out which of the long list of things to look at.

4. Handle email in LIFO order (Last In First Out). Sometimes the older stuff gets taken care of by someone else.

5. Remember, you’re a router. When you get a note with useful information, consider who else would find it useful. At the end of the day, make a mental pass through the mail you received and ask yourself, “What should I have forwarded but didn’t?”

6. When you use the bcc (blind copy) feature, ask yourself why. The answer is almost always that you are trying to hide something, which is counterproductive and potentially knavish in a transparent culture. When that is your answer, copy the person openly or don’t copy them at all. The only time we recommend using the bcc feature is when you are removing someone from an email thread. When you “reply all” to a lengthy series of emails, move the people who are no longer relevant to the thread to the bcc field, and state in the text of the note that you are doing this. They will be relieved to have one less irrelevant note cluttering up their inbox.

7. Don’t yell. If you need to yell, do it in person. It is FAR TOO EASY to do it electronically.

8. Make it easy to follow up on requests. When you send a note to someone with an action item that you want to track, copy yourself, then label the note “follow up.” That makes it easy to find and follow up on the things that haven’t been done; just resend the original note with a new intro asking “Is this done?”

9. Help your future self search for stuff. If you get something you think you may want to recall later, forward it to yourself along with a few keywords that describe its content. Think to yourself, How will I search for this later? Then, when you search for it later, you’ll probably use those same search terms. This isn’t just handy for emails, but important documents too. Jonathan scans his family’s passports, licenses, and health insurance cards and emails them to himself along with descriptive keywords. Should any of those things go missing during a trip, the copies are easy to retrieve from any browsers.
Excerpted from the book HOW GOOGLE WORKS by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle. © 2014 by Google, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.


jueves, 19 de marzo de 2015

How language can affect the way we think

Jessica Gross   

Keith Chen (TED Talk: Could your language affect your ability to save money?) might be an economist, but he wants to talk about language. For instance, he points out, in Chinese, saying “this is my uncle” is not as straightforward as you might think. In Chinese, you have no choice but to encode more information about said uncle. The language requires that you denote the side the uncle is on, whether he’s related by marriage or birth and, if it’s your father’s brother, whether he’s older or younger.

“All of this information is obligatory. Chinese doesn’t let me ignore it,” says Chen. “In fact, if I want to speak correctly, Chinese forces me to constantly think about it.”

This got Chen wondering: Is there a connection between language and how we think and behave? In particular, he wanted to know: does our language affect our economic decisions? So he designed a study to look at how language might affect individual’s ability to save for the future. According to his results, it does — big time.

While “futured languages,” like English, distinguish between the past, present and future, “futureless languages” like Chinese use the same phrasing to describe the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Using vast inventories of data and meticulous analysis, Chen found that huge economic differences accompany this linguistic discrepancy. Futureless language speakers are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year than futured language speakers. (This amounts to 25 percent more savings by retirement, if income is held constant.) Chen’s explanation: When we speak about the future as more distinct from the present, it feels more distant — and we’re less motivated to save money now in favor of monetary comfort years down the line.

But that’s only the beginning. There’s a wide field of research on the link between language and both psychology and behavior. Here, a few fascinating examples:

    Navigation and Pormpuraawans
    In Pormpuraaw, an Australian Aboriginal community, you wouldn’t refer to an object as on your “left” or “right,” but rather as “northeast” or “southwest,” writes Stanford psychology professor Lera Boroditsky (an expert in linguistic-cultural connections) in the Wall Street Journal. About a third of the world’s languages discuss space in these kinds of absolute terms rather than the relative ones we use in English, according to Boroditsky. “As a result of this constant linguistic training,” she writes, “speakers of such languages are remarkably good at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes.” On a research trip to Australia, Boroditsky and her colleague found that Pormpuraawans, who speak Kuuk Thaayorre, not only knew instinctively in which direction they were facing, but also always arranged pictures in a temporal progression from east to west.
    Blame and English Speakers
    In the same article, Boroditsky notes that in English, we’ll often say that someone broke a vase even if it was an accident, but Spanish and Japanese speakers tend to say that the vase broke itself. Boroditsky describes a study by her student Caitlin Fausey in which English speakers were much more likely to remember who accidentally popped balloons, broke eggs, or spilled drinks in a video than Spanish or Japanese speakers. (Guilt alert!) Not only that, Boroditsky argues, but there’s a correlation between a focus on agents in English and our criminal-justice bent toward punishing transgressors rather than restituting victims.
    Color among Zuñi and Russian Speakers
    Our ability to distinguish between colors follows the terms in which we describe them, as Chen notes in the academic paper in which he presents his research (PDF).  A 1954 study found that Zuñi speakers, who don’t differentiate between orange and yellow, have trouble telling them apart. Russian speakers, on the other hand, have separate words for light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy). According to a 2007 study, they’re better than English speakers at picking out blues close to the goluboy/siniy threshold.
    Gender in Finnish and Hebrew
    In Hebrew, gender markers are all over the place, whereas Finnish doesn’t mark gender at all, Boroditsky writes in Scientific American (PDF). A study done in the 1980s found that, yup, thought follows suit: kids who spoke Hebrew knew their own genders a year earlier than those who grew up speaking Finnish. (Speakers of English, in which gender referents fall in the middle, were in between on that timeline, too.)


sábado, 18 de junio de 2011

A big step for Science, a huge step for Argentina

Claudio Pairoba
Dr. Claudio Fernández and his research team at the IBR

Claudio Fernández returned to Argentina in 2006 with a clear goal in mind: to continue his research on neurodegenerative disorders in the country where he was born, grew up and studied.

A graduate from the University of Buenos Aires, Fernández is a Biochemist, Pharmacist and PhD from that institution. After spending more than 10 years doing research at different international laboratories, including the world renowned Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, Fernández decided it was time for him to go back to Argentina. The task ahead was not a minor one: to set up a state of the art laboratory in a country that has distinguished itself academically and in the scientific research field (three Argentinean researchers were awarded Nobel Prizes) but has also been struggling to recover from several decades of uncertain scientific policies and military governments.

A Nuclear Magnetic Resonance equipment, one of the key tools Fernández and his team use to carry out his research, was provided by the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology and the National Council of Scientific and Technological Research from Argentina (both dependent from the national government). This was the kickoff for Fernández’s voyage back home, to the city of Rosario in the province of Santa Fe.

Fernández is currently working at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of Rosario. He and his team have continued to publish scientific papers in top science journals. The most recent elucidates the interaction between molecules of the protein α-sinuclein to produce insoluble aggregates that lead to neuron malfunction, a mechanism underlying the development of several neurodegenerative disorders.

But the good news faced new challenges. The development of new drugs required a 5-million dollar investment, which was prohibitive in terms of economic resources. The Argentinean pharmaceutical business was not interested and those who were interested were not Argentinean. Fernández received a tempting offer: returning to Germany and getting funding for the next step of his research project: drug development.
It would be a road definitely easy to follow but not the one Fernández had in mind. As a graduate from the public university system, he feels responsible for contributing to society in return for the opportunity society gave him: to study at the university tuition-free.

After knocking on many doors, giving countless interviews and calling every influential person he could get ahold of, that is, showing people what he was doing, he has finally received the much needed political and institutional support. As a result of this, the national and provincial governments as well as the National University of Rosario will join efforts to build a new center where an interdisciplinary team will do the research and design of new drugs aimed at treating neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Not only that: this effort paves the way for the discovery of new drugs and the subsequent patent applications in Argentina, with all their obvious implications.

Fernández´s story is a clear example that excellent scientific research and valuable results are undoubtedly required but not enough if a country is to grow based on science. Researchers who are devoted to communicate their research to politicians, government officials, the media and society in general are equally needed.

martes, 5 de abril de 2011

“Revolution. The crossing of the Andes” premieres in Argentina

By Laura Lunardelli (
Translation by Claudio Pairoba

A co-production between Argentina´s Public Television and Encuentro Channel, with additional support from the Argentinean Movie Institute, the government of the province of San Juan and the National University of San Martin, the film starring Rodrigo de la Serna describes the crossing of the Andes mountain range, carried out by Gen. San Martin and his army in 1817.

The plot starts in 1880, in a forgotten boarding house where a journalist interviews one of the last men alive to cross the Andes with San Martín. He is Manuel Esteban de Corvalán who was 15 at the time of the crossing and landed a position as the General´s personal secretary due to his writing and reading skills.

His account takes us further into one of the greatest heroic deeds in world military history, the crossing of the Andes by a 5,000 men army, from Cuyo towards Chile and the intimacy of his leader, one of the greatest men born from the revolution.

Corvalán’s portrayal of San Martín and the crossing, its difficulties and events, the battle of Chacabuco and his comrade in arms, differ from the interviewing journalist notion of Fatherland, Forefather, Nation and History, giving back to the revolution its original American nature.

“There’s a very sad metaphor in the movie about how journalism can change history”, director Leando Ipiña told Reporter to account for the differences between Corvalán’s story, “the immediate past”, and the writer “who tries to narrow the revolution”.

“The important thing is that the revolution was not against Spain but against the pro-Spanish, as San Martín makes it explicit –Ipiña confided-. The revolution was against Absolutism.”

José Francisco de San Martín was such a revolutionary, republican, illustrated and military genius that he was compared to Aníbal and Napoleón. And maybe because of that his figure is bigger than life. “The first problem you find when you choose to make a movie about a historic chracter is their grandiose life. San Martin’s life could fill a trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ but as “The Lord of the Sword”, Ipiña said.

Close to 1,400 movie extras took part at diffent times of the shooting of “Revolution. The crossing of the Andes”, the movie that was filmed in the small village of Barreal, located at the foot of the Andes range, in the Valley of Calingasta, in the southeastern part of the province of San Juan. The shooting crew, under the supervision of the Director of the National Public Media System, Tristán Bauer, was made up of a hundred people.

Bauer considers that the movie (previously shown during the latest edition of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival) meets his goal: to “honor the memory of those men who gave everything for their country”, as José de San Martín did.


miércoles, 23 de febrero de 2011

Morphine, Weapons on U.S. Air Force Plane Trigger Complaint From Argentina

By Eliana Raszewski - Feb 15, 2011 

Barack Obama's upcoming Latin America tour will not take in Argentina, a decision which has strained relations. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Relations between Argentina and the U.S. worsened after the South American country filed a complaint about a U.S. Air Force plane it says arrived in Buenos Aires with “suspicious” material for a police training exercise.

“So far neither the U.S. Embassy nor its government have given satisfactory explanations to clarify the presence of non- declared cargo,” the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mail statement last night. Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said the cargo on the plane, which arrived Feb. 10, included weapons, communications equipment and expired morphine.

Police and customs officials at the Buenos Aires-based international airport seized 1,000 cubic feet of material that wasn’t included on a list that the U.S. provided to the government in December, according to the Foreign Ministry. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said the cargo was “fully coordinated” with Argentina.

The dispute over the military plane comes after President Barack Obama decided against visiting Argentina during his first South American trip next month and after diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes secret documents on its website, suggested corruption among members of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s Cabinet.
Relations ‘Strained’
The plane’s cargo was to be used in a police course on hostage rescue, Timerman said on his Twitter account on Feb. 13. Argentines are sensitive about avoiding a third terrorist attack on their soil after bombings against Jewish targets in the early 1990s, Timerman said in an interview on CNN’s Spanish-language channel yesterday.
U.S. Representative Connie Mack, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said he thought the government of Argentina made “bogus” claims against the United States for domestic political reasons.
“I don’t think the idea that we’re smuggling weapons or drugs into Argentina is credible,” Mack, a Republican of Florida, said in an interview today. “This is just part of the playbook. You make an allegation against the United States and it helps you in your own election, your own country.” When asked if the incident has damaged U.S.-Argentinian relations, Mack said, “I think the relations have been strained in the first place.” Diego Guelar, a former Argentine ambassador to the U.S., said the government intentionally opened a new conflict with the U.S. in return for earlier disputes over Obama’s trip to the region, the WikiLeaks cables and a scandal over the arrival of a Venezuelan-American businessman with $800,000 in his suitcase in 2007. “I think it’s childish, ridiculous, rude and unnecessary,” said Guelar, who currently advises the opposition party PRO on international affairs. “All the country should have done was leave the undeclared cargo on the plane until it could be sent back when the plane departs.”

jueves, 20 de enero de 2011

Cholera vaccine plan splits experts

Opinion is divided over how to tackle the disease in Haiti.

About 200,000 people in Haiti have been sickened by cholera since the outbreak began in October.S. PLATT/GETTY
Rarely heard in Haiti before October, 'cholera' is now an insult that children fling at one another in the teeming camps that still house more than a million people displaced by last January's devastating earthquake. Graffiti blames the disease on either the current administration — now in a contested election crisis — or the United Nations. The disease is as much a fixture in people's lives as the endless piles of rubble that remain uncleared a year after the quake.

Last week, as the country remembered the 230,000 people killed in the disaster, officials of international health agencies fine-tuned their recommendations for moving forwards with a large-scale cholera-vaccination programme. It is a controversial idea that, just months ago, with little vaccine available and the epidemic spreading rapidly, was shunned as impractical and probably ineffectual (see Nature 468, 483–484; 2010).

Now, with emergency care centres in place, at least in the most heavily populated areas, health officials can finally look ahead and think about how a vaccination programme might combat a disease that has become entrenched in the country.

However, Nature 's interviews with key partners in the proposed vaccination effort reveal significant disputes on how to proceed. Most experts in the international community recommend a limited pilot project that would determine whether to scale up and how to use cholera vaccines in future outbreaks elsewhere. The Haitian government, caught in a febrile political environment and fearful that those denied vaccination might feel resentful, is demanding immediate, broad coverage.

With no recent exposure to cholera, Haiti's population lacks natural immunity and the disease has spread quickly. Roughly 3,800 have died, with another 189,000 falling ill, since 21 October, when cholera was first recognized as the culprit. At the end of October, a local medical aid agency, GHESKIO, supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), proposed vaccinating children under five living in two slums that have not yet reported large outbreaks. "There are 200,000 people without any toilets. They collect it and dump it in the sea," says Jean-Claude Mubalama, UNICEF's chief of health in Haiti for the past five years. "If cholera arrives there, it will be very bad."

The Haitian ministry of health (MSPP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) rejected the proposal, pointing out that not enough vaccine was available. They also feared that vaccination would foster a false sense of security, causing people to relax sanitary measures; and that it would take resources away from treating the sick, or from vaccine drives against measles and other diseases. "The voice of reason was to focus on saving lives," says Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the WHO's regional office. "I had driven around Port-au-Prince and seen dead bodies in the street."

In December, however, an expert committee convened by the WHO decided that vaccination should be tried, partly because they had located extra sources of the only WHO-approved vaccine, Dukoral, an expensive two-dose vaccine made by Crucell, based in Leiden, the Netherlands. On 13 January, the expert committee, including representatives from the WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), UNICEF, the US National Vaccine Program Office and others, held a teleconference to fine-tune a vaccination plan that could form the basis of a more detailed WHO-coordinated campaign strategy. The committee is recommending a pilot project using the currently available 250,000–300,000 doses of Dukoral, and the creation of a stockpile of the vaccine for the future.

The vaccination effort "can't be done nationwide and it won't have a major public-health impact", says Andrus, but it could reveal just how effective the vaccine would be in a mass immunization of a population already widely affected by cholera. Dukoral has not been used on such a scale before, although studies of thousands of people have shown it to be about 80% effective. The committee has not worked out where the campaign would be focused. "You can find areas where cholera is endemic, and that may give you a targeted population where it may have a larger impact," suggests Médecins Sans Frontières epidemiologist Kate Alberti.

The campaign could also help to reach the country's remote rural populations, which have a higher mortality rate. Although vaccine drives in Africa and elsewhere have faced resistance, Haitian people are eager to be vaccinated, says François Lacapère, a vaccine expert for PAHO/WHO in Haiti. Yet many Haitians are also sceptical of aid agencies' motives. Suggestions that foreigners accidentally introduced the disease (see 'How did the outbreak begin?') have given rise to unfounded rumours. Some people living in a camp that was once the Petionville golf course in Port-au-Prince, for example, make completely unsubstantiated claims that they have seen UN staff poisoning reservoirs in an attempt to further debilitate Haiti so that international powers can take over.

Even if the programme can win enough trust, using the world's entire stockpile of doses would still leave most Haitians without vaccine — a controversial prospect for the beleaguered government. Jean Ronald Cadet, the MSPP's vaccination programme manager, says the country is "90%" ready to go ahead with a campaign — but not on the small scale the WHO-convened expert group envisages.
“The bacterium won’t go away. It has established itself.”
Asked about the small pilot project proposed by the group, Cadet says "No way," shaking his head. He insists that Haiti would only consider starting to vaccinate with more than 1 million doses, with a goal of eventually reaching 6 million people. "It would depend on the pressure that the international community can put on manufacturers." Who would pay for the doses? "The international community," he says. "They brought us cholera, they have to take responsibility for taking care of it."

But mass vaccination of millions of people would necessitate much more vaccine production. About 1 million doses exist of another vaccine, Shanchol, which might be approved for use by the WHO by March (it is already approved for use in India). If production of both vaccines went into overdrive, Lacapère estimates that about 5 million doses could be prepared annually. This availability would be dependent on an advance-purchase decision, and with a six-month lag time to delivery.

Epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France, says that if vaccination is going to be tried, it should be done on a large scale. "I think it can be helpful, but it should be given to millions of people in order to expect a notable effect," he says. But he doesn't see a large campaign as practical. "This will cost a lot and will require time to get a sufficient number of doses. I would prefer this money be used to improve water-supply networks and to reinforce sanitation activities," he adds. In an unpublished paper, Piarroux presents data on a large cholera outbreak in Darfur, Sudan, that happened just two years after a mass-vaccination programme, suggesting that any coverage might be of limited duration.

Others hope for a more aggressive approach. Matthew Waldor, an infectious-disease expert at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, says public-health officials should consider trying Peru-15, a live attenuated vaccine being developed by a consortium including Harvard Medical School and the NIH. Peru-15 is not yet in phase III trials, but has been proved safe and effective in thousands of patients, Waldor says.
Whatever approach is tried, one thing is certain: cholera is there to stay. It is likely that the bacteria now have a stronghold in Haiti's water, says Alberti. "Then you have a constant transmission between humans and the aquatic environment." With poor sanitation, little access to clean water and difficulties in reaching people to treat them — not least due to gang warfare in the slums — the country can expect repeated outbreaks, Alberti says.
Andrus agrees: "The bacterium won't go away. It has established itself."


martes, 21 de diciembre de 2010

Response required

Blogs and online comments can provide valuable feedback on newly published research. Scientists need to adjust their mindsets to embrace and respond to these new forums for debate.

You may have seen claims that scientists at NASA have discovered a bacterium that can replace the phosphorus in its DNA with arsenic. You may have heard that this could help the hunt for aliens. You may even have heard that the 'arsenic bacterium' is itself an alien. What you will not have seen or heard is a detailed response from NASA and the scientists involved to online criticism of their work. In the face of worldwide attention on their paper (F. Wolfe-Simon et al. Science doi:10.1126/science.1197258; 2010), which NASA and the team deliberately courted, the researchers have stuck their heads in the digital sand.

lunes, 6 de diciembre de 2010

Heavy fire on Science paper

The following has been extracted from "The Guardian"´s website today.

12.42pm: David Dobbs, blogging at Wired Science, reacts to the backlash from sceptical scientists:

"If the paper is as weak as these critiques hold, Nasa appears to have been not just overzealous but reckless — and Science not only went along for the ride, cheering wildly, but put all the gas in the car."

He also points the finger at the research embargo setup as it stands:
"Here's the problem: When a paper is still under embargo and we journalists call an outside expert to get comment on it, the expert has often not actually seen the paper yet, since, well, it's under embargo. If time allows (often not, since one usually has only a few days and everyone is busy) then you can send the expert(s) the paper, and they can read the paper and get back. But as the experts usually lack time to compare impressions with peers, few will go out on a limb and really lay into a paper under those circumstances. You usually get either "This looks interesting, with a few caveats I'd like to note" or "I'd rather not comment."

You'll rarely get an outright dismissal. They lack the time and probably the taste for the trouble it'll make."

He neatly sums up Nasa's media-baiting press release and the subsequent disappointment of science writers and journalists:
"We thought we were getting cupcakes. Some of us wanted cupcakes. Who doesn't want cupcakes? Now everybody's got humble pie in front of them, quite a bit to eat yet, and no dessert on the menu."

Monday 12.08pm: Lots of stern criticism of the research and Nasa's PR over the weekend. Microbiologist Rosie Redfield at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, says the paper in Science, "doesn't present any convincing evidence that arsenic has been incorporated into DNA (or any other biological molecule)". Blogging at RRResearch, Redfield analyses the methodology of the research in detail. Her conclusion?

"Bottom line: Lots of flim-flam, but very little reliable information. The mass spec measurements may be very well done (I lack expertise here), but their value is severely compromised by the poor quality of the inputs. If this data was presented by a PhD student at their committee meeting, I'd send them back to the bench to do more cleanup and controls."

People commenting on the post have encourage Redfield to submit her analysis to Science for publication as a letter, which she says she will do.
There appears to be a lot of support for Redfield's view. Under the headline "Alien biology hype" on his blog, palaeoanthropologist John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focuses on the lack of controls in the research.

"I'm no microbiologist, but I read the paper carefully because it seemed to be such an interesting result if true. And the paper simply does not include the controls to show that arsenate has been taken up as part of the DNA. All the other claims in the press accounts of the discovery – for example, the idea that the organisms could substitute arsenate for phosphate in ATP – were complete fiction."


miércoles, 1 de diciembre de 2010

Daily pill could prevent HIV infection

The first demonstration that drugs commonly taken to treat HIV can also prevent infection in the first place was published this week (23 November).

Anti-retroviral medicines taken by 2,500 men reduced infection rates by nearly three-quarters, found the clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The US$43.6 million study included men from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and the United States. All had had sex with men, and all carried no HIV antibodies in their blood at the beginning of the study, meaning they were not yet infected.

Those who took the antiretrovirals, as a daily pill, 90 per cent of the time had a 73 per cent reduction in their risk of becoming infected. Those with high levels of the drugs in their blood showed an even greater degree of protection, at 92 per cent.
The study "provides the first proof" that pills that control HIV in infected people can also help prevent new infections, said Robert Grant, an HIV researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, in the United States, the study's lead author.

Further studies are needed to see whether the results apply to other at-risk populations. But questions remain about whether such a strategy would work as an HIV prevention policy, with issues of cost and access in regions such as Africa.
"There, we can't even get anti-retrovirals to the people that need them," much less those who are not yet infected, said Daniel Halperin, an HIV prevention expert at Harvard School of Public Health, United States.

Link to full article in Nature


domingo, 28 de noviembre de 2010

Cracks in your concrete? You need ‘BacillaFilla’

A bacteria that can knit together cracks in concrete structures by producing a special ‘glue’ has been developed by a team of students at Newcastle University.

The genetically-modified microbe has been programmed to swim down fine cracks in the concrete. Once at the bottom it produces a mixture of calcium carbonate and a bacterial glue which combine with the filamentous bacterial cells to ‘knit’ the building back together.

Ultimately hardening to the same strength as the surrounding concrete, the ‘BacillaFilla’ – as it has been aptly named – has been developed to prolong the life of structures which are environmentally costly to build.

Designed as part of a major international science competition in the USA, the students have scooped Gold for their research.

Joint project instructor Dr Jennifer Hallinan explains: “Around five per cent of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions are from the production of concrete, making it a significant contributor to global warming.

“Finding a way of prolonging the lifespan of existing structures means we could reduce this environmental impact and work towards a more sustainable solution.

“This could be particularly useful in earthquake zones where hundreds of buildings have to be flattened because there is currently no easy way of repairing the cracks and making them structurally sound.”

As part of the research, the students have not only considered the advantages of their engineered bacteria, but also the potential risks to the environment.

The BacillaFilla spores only start germinating when they make contact with concrete – triggered by the very specific pH of the material – and they have an in-built self-destruct gene which means they would be unable to survive in the environment.

Once the cells have germinated, they swarm down the fine cracks in the concrete and are able to sense when they reach the bottom because of the clumping of the bacteria.

This clumping activates concrete repair, with the cells differentiating into three types: cells which produce calcium carbonate crystals, cells which become filamentous acting as reinforcing fibres and cells which produce a Levans glue which acts as a binding agent and fills the gap.

The nine students, whose backgrounds range from computer science, civil engineering and bioinformatics to microbiology and biochemistry, took part in the International Genetically Engineered Machines contest (iGEM), is run out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Boston.

The aim is to get together a team of students from a variety of backgrounds to design and genetically engineer a bacterium to do something novel and useful.

Over 130 teams took part in this year’s event and it is now the third time Newcastle University has won Gold. The team instructors were Professor Neil Wipat and Dr Jennifer Hallinan, and the advisors were Dr Wendy Smith, Dr Matthew Pocock, Dr Colin Davies, Dr Jem Stach and Professor Colin Harwood.

Professor Neil Wipat added: “The students have done extremely well – this is a great achievement. Their work will now be used as a basis for research which is being carried out here at the University.”


lunes, 15 de noviembre de 2010

GM mosquito wild release takes campaigners by surprise

Katherine Nightingale

11 November 2010

GM mosquitoes were released on the islands last year — but only publicised last month

Experts in the safety of genetically modified (GM) organisms have expressed concern over the release of GM mosquitoes into the wild on the Cayman Islands, which was publicised internationally only last month — a year after their initial release.

The trial of the OX513A strain of the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito, developed by UK biotechnology company Oxitec, was carried out on Grand Cayman island by the Cayman Islands' Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) in 2009, followed by a bigger release between May and October this year. Together they represent the first known release of GM mosquitoes anywhere in the world.

Unpublished results of the trials, showing that the GM male mosquitoes competed with wild males, were presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual meeting in the United States, last week (4 November).

The male GM mosquitoes mate with normal females to produce larvae that die unless the antibiotic tetracycline is present. In tetracycline's absence an enzyme accumulates to a toxic level, killing the larvae. The developers hope the strategy could be combined with other mosquito control methods to reduce transmission in dengue-prone areas.

Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist and co-director of EcoNexus — a UK-based non-profit research organisation — expressed surprise that the trials had occurred, saying that they had not been mentioned at the fifth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety — which addresses international safety issues relating to GM organisms — in Nagoya, Japan, last month.

She described the lack of publicity surrounding the trials as "worrying, both from the scientific perspective as well as public participation perspective".

Steinbrecher said that until a full, long-term environmental assessment of the Cayman trials has been carried out, the recently announced Malaysian trials of the same strain should not go ahead.

Just over three million male mosquitoes were released in the Cayman Islands this year. Oxitec sent the GM eggs to the islands, which are a British overseas territory, and they were hatched and grown at the MRCU.

Angela Harris, senior researcher at MRCU, told SciDev.Net that her unit consulted with several Cayman Islands' government departments beforehand.

"Currently there is a draft biosafety bill, and despite the fact that this bill has not yet been implemented we carried out a risk analysis and review of the trial as if this bill was already in place."

She said that there had been a newspaper article and public consultation within the Cayman Islands.

Aedes aegypti mosquito by Flickr/Marco Gaiani

Luke Alphey, research director at Oxitec, said an extensive risk analysis was carried out and "we did lots of engagement work in Cayman, but no special effort either to spread the word internationally or not to [do so]". On the sidelines of a press conference in London today he said that he had not wanted to publicise the trial until the results were known. He did not know what the Nagoya meeting was, he said. An environmental assessment of the trial site is now being carried out.

Alphey said that the experiment complied with the Cartagena Protocol because prior informed consent was obtained from the Cayman government.

John Marshall, of Imperial College London, who has argued that the Cartagena Protocol needs overhauling to deal with the special demands of GM insects, said: "Because the mosquitoes aren't going to spread to other countries, it's a national issue. I think Oxitec has done everything they needed to do."

The wild mosquito population in a 16-hectare urban area is believed to have been reduced by about 80 per cent. The next step for Oxitec, said Alphey, is to test the strategy in conjunction with other mosquito control methods.

Kathy Jo Wetter, a researcher with the ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Cooperation), a Canada-based organisation that promotes the socially responsible development of technologies, said ETC was unaware of the release.

"Oxitec considers its trial 'successful' just days after the experiment has ended," she said. "But unintended impacts on the environment cannot be known, and Oxitec's unproven technology could make things worse in the long term. There is no possibility of recall if something goes wrong — who takes responsibility in that case?"

"Extreme techno-fixes require extreme precaution," she added.

Alphey said they are waiting for approval for the release of GM mosquitoes in Brazil, Panama and the United States.


viernes, 29 de octubre de 2010

Hundreds accompany Kirchner's cortège towards the cemetery

The plane that was transferring the coffin of late Néstor Kirchner arrived at Río Gallegos Airport, Santa Cruz province, at 5:30pm. Currently, hundreds accompany the cortège towrads a local cemetery where the burial will take place. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and both her children, Florencia and Máximo Kirchner, escorted the remains of the ex president along with Ministers and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Earlier, they had participated in the second day of the funeral service at the Government House. Thousands of Argentines flooded the streets despite the heavy rain that was hitting Buenos Aires. Kirchner's remains were driven around the City in a several-car convoy, which was received and applauded by a huge crowd all the way to Jorge Newbery Metropolitan Airport.

The wake service was held with no interruptions during the night, for the doors of the Government House were open for anyone to enter the premises to give the former president a last goodbye. The whole service lasted for 26 hours, and it is said that thousands of people entered the the Salón de los Patriotas Latinoamericanos hall per hour. At noon, the doors were closed.

During the last hours of the wake, the President hugged and greeted several followers, activists, unionists, officials and whoever entered the premises to give her condolences. People sang the national anthem, shouted "Cristina, be strong!" and addressed her with messages claiming for the president to continue working for the people. The service closing time was delayed due to the amount of people willing to give the former president a last farewell.

After the wake was over, a funeral cortège was driven around the City. The several-car convoy procession that led the cortège of Kirchner's remains was received by thousands of Argentines. It is to pass around Leandro N. Alem Street, Córdoba, 9 de Julio, Libertador avenues and Salguero and Rafael Obligado streets until it gets to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery Airport. The corpse is to be transferred to Santa Cruz province, where it is set to be buried in the city of Río Gallegos this afternoon.

A "private family ceremony" will be held at the local cemetery, where President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and both her children Máximo and Florencia will be present.

The wake recorded a massive response. Yesterday, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and both her children, Florencia and Máximo, gave former president Néstor Kirchner an official last farewell at the Government House. Latin American heads of state arrived at the presidential house and expressed their condolences to the President. People constantly flooded the streets of the City.

Ministers, government officials and Kirchner's family members were also present, along with ex-football star Diego Maradona. After almost twelve hours, Fernández de Kirchner left the wake with her children and headed to the presidential residence in Olivos, Buenos Aires province.

Half-mast flags and signs that read "Néstor forever! Cristina, be strong!" were seen everywhere in the country as people took to the streets, lured by Kirchner's funeral service. Everyone was allowed to enter the Government House to see the former president for the last time, whose corpse was placed in the Salón de los Patriotas Latinoamericanos hall.

Latin American presidents were also present at the Government House. Bolivian Evo Morales was the first one to land in Buenos Aires. He was later followed by Ecuadorean head of state Rafael Correa, who warmly hugged Fernández de Kirchner and expressed his sorrow over the death of her husband. Chilean leader Sebastián Piñera and Uruguyan José "Pepe" Mujica, along with the presidents of Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil also made an appearence.

Former president Néstor Kirchner died Wednesday morning of a cardiac arrest. His doctor stated it was "a sudden death."


miércoles, 27 de octubre de 2010

Néstor Kirchner, Former Argentine President, Dies


Filed at 10:16 a.m. ET

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner died Wednesday after suffering heart attacks, state television reported.

The husband of Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez succumbed heart trouble as the couple waited in their home in the Patagonian city of Calafate to be counted in the nation's census. Fernandez was at his side when he died, state television reported.

Kirchner, 60, had undergone an antioplasty after a heart attack in September.

Kirchner a likely candidate in next year's presidential elections, was secretary general of the South American alliance known as Unasur and also served as a congressman and leader of the Peronist party.

There was no immediate confirmation of his death from the presidency, but the news immediately had great impact in Argentina.

"A great patriot has died," said Juan Carlos Dante Gullo, a ruling party congressman, to state TV. "This will leave a huge hole in Argentine politics. We will have to follow his example. Argentina has lost one of its greatest men."

The leader of the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, said Kirchner "gave his life for his country."

"Our country needed this man so much. He was indispensable," she told Radio Continental.

Kirchner served as president from 2001-2007, bringing Argentina out of severe economic crisis and encouraging changes in Argentina's justice system that set in motion dozens of human rights trials involving hundreds of dictatorship-era figures who had previously benefited from an amnesty.

He recently was appointed secretary general of the Union of South American Republics, or Unasur, and was preparing for an intense 2011 election campaign in which either he or his wife would run again to maintain their hold on power.


Associated Press Writers Vicente Panetta and Mayra Pertossi contributed to this report.


lunes, 25 de octubre de 2010

Suspect in Ferreyra Killing to be Interrogated

Favale (left) and Minister of Economy Boudou (right)at Boudou's restaurant.

by Helen Morgan, 25 October 2010.

Cristian Favale, the main suspect for the murder of Mariano Ferreyra, turned himself in to the Federal Police yesterday. A member of the Workers’ Party (Partido Obrero), 23-year-old Ferreyra was shot dead last week during a protest of left-wing labour and union groups protesting job losses in the area. Favale was expected to be interrogated today following his surrender.

In an unexpected series of events, Favale allegedly published comments on his Facebook profile declaring his innocence prior to turning himself in. While reaffirming his innocent stance to the press, Favale acknowledged that the shot that killed the railway worker may have come from the group of which he was part.

Favale’s surrender comes after a nationwide warrant for his arrest was issued. It also follows the order for the arrest of Pablo Diaz, Favale’s co-worker, who is suspected to have “recruited” the group who attacked the demonstrators.

His attorney for the case, Sergio D’Amico, stated that Favale was present at the demonstration but that he was not armed, and that he did not fire the gun which killed Ferreyra. Several witnesses have come forward identifying Favale as the demonstrator from the opposition group who fired against the union and labour protesters last week.

Two other protesters were victims of the shooting, including Nelson Aguirre Elsa Rodriguez who remains in a critical condition.

President Cristina Fernández wrote yesterday via her Twitter account that she was hopeful that “justice shall be made” regarding Ferreyra’s murder.


jueves, 21 de octubre de 2010

Subway lines may halt service, City and much of the country set to be paralized by strike

24-hour strike called by CTA umbrella union

The city and much of the country is set to be paralyzed today due to a strike called in protests to the death of 23-year old Mariano Ferreyra, who was shot in the chest and killed yesterday during a violent confrontation between railroad workers and members of the leftist Worker's Party (Partido Obrero). Subway lines may go on strike later in the day.

Subway and railroad union workers are currently taking measures to repudiate the murder of Pablo Ferreyra.

According to subway authorities, turnstiles are to be released after 3 pm, allowing for the free entry of passengers onto subway cars, although B Line spokesman Claudio Dellecarbonara said it was "very likely" all subway lines would go on strike.

"We will make the announcement sometime in the morning," he said.

At the same time, railroad union workers will interrupt the Roca train line service at the Avellaneda station.

LAN airlines workers will also go on strike after noon, for which no LAN flights will be leaving from the Aeroparque Metropolitan Airport.

The Panamericana remained blocked by activists for over three hours this morning, who were protesting the young man's death.

A few minutes after 6 am, Kraft workers completely blocked the Panamericana in the General Pacheco area to protest the murder. Activists decided to lift the roadblock moments after 9:30 am.

However this was only the first protest of the day, since many more roadblocks and pickets are going to take place across the city and the Buenos Aires province.

The CTA Argentine Central Workers' umbrella unión also called for all unions to join a 24-hour strike and a march to the Plaza de Mayo in protest of the incidents.

"Due to the actions of the railworkers union, who in collusion with the Federal Police, attacked a demonstration of outsourced workers with firearms and killed Mariano Ferreyra, the CTA has decided to call a nationwide strike and a march to the Plaza de Mayo."

The umbrella union said they intend to find those "directly responsible" for the murder and repeated that the march would begin at the intersection of Corrientes and Callao.

CTA leader Hugo Yasky insisted on the need to find the perpetrators of the crime, and said that nobody "should be looking the other way."

"There can't be any impunity," he said, and closed by stating that somebody "has to put a stop to union thugs."

Mr. Fernández also reacted to yesterday's accusations by City Mayor Mauricio

Macri, who blamed him for not intervening and stopping the clash in time.

"This is a generous country. The mayor is indicted over accusations of being involved in an illegal wiretappings case and he shouldn't even be in office," he said.

He blasted him for "having the nerve to point fingers at other government officials as if he were the most pristine of politicians, when his administrations is a total failure."


lunes, 11 de octubre de 2010

Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics

Lawrence H. Summers (right) joined Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner as President Obama spoke about the nation's financial health in January.

By Charles Ferguson

The Obama administration recently announced that Larry Summers is resigning as director of the National Economic Council and will return to Harvard early next year. His imminent departure raises several questions: Who will replace him? What will he do next? But more important, it's a chance to consider the hugely damaging conflicts of interest of the senior academic economists who move among universities, government, and banking.

Summers is unquestionably brilliant, as all who have dealt with him, including myself, quickly realize. And yet rarely has one individual embodied so much of what is wrong with economics, with academe, and indeed with the American economy. For the past two years, I have immersed myself in those worlds in order to make a film, Inside Job, that takes a sweeping look at the financial crisis. And I found Summers everywhere I turned.

Consider: As a rising economist at Harvard and at the World Bank, Summers argued for privatization and deregulation in many domains, including finance. Later, as deputy secretary of the treasury and then treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, he implemented those policies. Summers oversaw passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed Glass-Steagall, permitted the previously illegal merger that created Citigroup, and allowed further consolidation in the financial sector. He also successfully fought attempts by Brooksley Born, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the Clinton administration, to regulate the financial derivatives that would cause so much damage in the housing bubble and the 2008 economic crisis. He then oversaw passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which banned all regulation of derivatives, including exempting them from state antigambling laws.

After Summers left the Clinton administration, his candidacy for president of Harvard was championed by his mentor Robert Rubin, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, who was his boss and predecessor as treasury secretary. Rubin, after leaving the Treasury Department—where he championed the law that made Citigroup's creation legal—became both vice chairman of Citigroup and a powerful member of Harvard's governing board.
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Over the past decade, Summers continued to advocate financial deregulation, both as president of Harvard and as a University Professor after being forced out of the presidency. During this time, Summers became wealthy through consulting and speaking engagements with financial firms. Between 2001 and his entry into the Obama administration, he made more than $20-million from the financial-services industry. (His 2009 federal financial-disclosure form listed his net worth as $17-million to $39-million.)

Summers remained close to Rubin and to Alan Greenspan, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve. When other economists began warning of abuses and systemic risk in the financial system deriving from the environment that Summers, Greenspan, and Rubin had created, Summers mocked and dismissed those warnings. In 2005, at the annual Jackson Hole, Wyo., conference of the world's leading central bankers, the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Raghuram Rajan, presented a brilliant paper that constituted the first prominent warning of the coming crisis. Rajan pointed out that the structure of financial-sector compensation, in combination with complex financial products, gave bankers huge cash incentives to take risks with other people's money, while imposing no penalties for any subsequent losses. Rajan warned that this bonus culture rewarded bankers for actions that could destroy their own institutions, or even the entire system, and that this could generate a "full-blown financial crisis" and a "catastrophic meltdown."

When Rajan finished speaking, Summers rose up from the audience and attacked him, calling him a "Luddite," dismissing his concerns, and warning that increased regulation would reduce the productivity of the financial sector. (Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and Alan Greenspan were also in the audience.)

Soon after that, Summers lost his job as president of Harvard after suggesting that women might be innately inferior to men at scientific work. In another part of the same speech, he had used laissez-faire economic theory to argue that discrimination was unlikely to be a major cause of women's underrepresentation in either science or business. After all, he argued, if discrimination existed, then others, seeking a competitive advantage, would have access to a superior work force, causing those who discriminate to fail in the marketplace. It appeared that Summers had denied even the possibility of decades, indeed centuries, of racial, gender, and other discrimination in America and other societies. After the resulting outcry forced him to resign, Summers remained at Harvard as a faculty member, and he accelerated his financial-sector activities, receiving $135,000 for one speech at Goldman Sachs.

Then, after the 2008 financial crisis and its consequent recession, Summers was placed in charge of coordinating U.S. economic policy, deftly marginalizing others who challenged him. Under the stewardship of Summers, Geithner, and Bernanke, the Obama administration adopted policies as favorable toward the financial sector as those of the Clinton and Bush administrations—quite a feat. Never once has Summers publicly apologized or admitted any responsibility for causing the crisis. And now Harvard is welcoming him back.

Summers is unique but not alone. By now we are all familiar with the role of lobbying and campaign contributions, and with the revolving door between industry and government. What few Americans realize is that the revolving door is now a three-way intersection. Summers's career is the result of an extraordinary and underappreciated scandal in American society: the convergence of academic economics, Wall Street, and political power.

Starting in the 1980s, and heavily influenced by laissez-faire economics, the United States began deregulating financial services. Shortly thereafter, America began to experience financial crises for the first time since the Great Depression. The first one arose from the savings-and-loan and junk-bond scandals of the 1980s; then came the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, the Asian financial crisis; the collapse of Long Term Capital Management, in 1998; Enron; and then the housing bubble, which led to the global financial crisis. Yet through the entire period, the U.S. financial sector grew larger, more powerful, and enormously more profitable. By 2006, financial services accounted for 40 percent of total American corporate profits. In large part, this was because the financial sector was corrupting the political system. But it was also subverting economics.

Over the past 30 years, the economics profession—in economics departments, and in business, public policy, and law schools—has become so compromised by conflicts of interest that it now functions almost as a support group for financial services and other industries whose profits depend heavily on government policy. The route to the 2008 financial crisis, and the economic problems that still plague us, runs straight through the economics discipline. And it's due not just to ideology; it's also about straightforward, old-fashioned money.

Prominent academic economists (and sometimes also professors of law and public policy) are paid by companies and interest groups to testify before Congress, to write papers, to give speeches, to participate in conferences, to serve on boards of directors, to write briefs in regulatory proceedings, to defend companies in antitrust cases, and, of course, to lobby. This is now, literally, a billion-dollar industry. The Law and Economics Consulting Group, started 22 years ago by professors at the University of California at Berkeley (David Teece in the business school, Thomas Jorde in the law school, and the economists Richard Gilbert and Gordon Rausser), is now a $300-million publicly held company. Others specializing in the sale (or rental) of academic expertise include Competition Policy (now Compass Lexecon), started by Richard Gilbert and Daniel Rubinfeld, both of whom served as chief economist of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division in the Clinton administration; the Analysis Group; and Charles River Associates.

In my film you will see many famous economists looking very uncomfortable when confronted with their financial-sector activities; others appear only on archival video, because they declined to be interviewed. You'll hear from:

Martin Feldstein, a Harvard professor, a major architect of deregulation in the Reagan administration, president for 30 years of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and for 20 years on the boards of directors of both AIG, which paid him more than $6-million, and AIG Financial Products, whose derivatives deals destroyed the company. Feldstein has written several hundred papers, on many subjects; none of them address the dangers of unregulated financial derivatives or financial-industry compensation.

Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the first George W. Bush administration, dean of Columbia Business School, adviser to many financial firms, on the board of Metropolitan Life ($250,000 per year), and formerly on the board of Capmark, a major commercial mortgage lender, from which he resigned shortly before its bankruptcy, in 2009. In 2004, Hubbard wrote a paper with William C. Dudley, then chief economist of Goldman Sachs, praising securitization and derivatives as improving the stability of both financial markets and the wider economy.

Frederic Mishkin, a professor at the Columbia Business School, and a member of the Federal Reserve Board from 2006 to 2008. He was paid $124,000 by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce to write a paper praising its regulatory and banking systems, two years before the Icelandic banks' Ponzi scheme collapsed, causing $100-billion in losses. His 2006 federal financial-disclosure form listed his net worth as $6-million to $17-million.

Laura Tyson, a professor at Berkeley, director of the National Economic Council in the Clinton administration, and also on the Board of Directors of Morgan Stanley, which pays her $350,000 per year.

Richard Portes, a professor at London Business School and founding director of the British Centre for Economic Policy Research, paid by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce to write a report praising Iceland's financial system in 2007, only one year before it collapsed.

And John Campbell, chairman of Harvard's economics department, who finds it very difficult to explain why conflicts of interest in economics should not concern us.

But could he be right? Are these professors simply being paid to say what they would otherwise say anyway? Unlikely. Mishkin and Portes showed no interest whatever in Iceland until they were paid to do so, and they got it totally wrong. Nor do all these professors seem to make policy statements contrary to the financial interests of their clients. Even more telling, they uniformly oppose disclosure of their financial relationships.

The universities avert their eyes and deliberately don't require faculty members either to disclose their conflicts of interest or to report their outside income. As you can imagine, when Larry Summers was president of Harvard, he didn't work too hard to change this.

Now, however, as the national recovery is faltering, Summers is being eased out while Harvard is welcoming him back. How will the academic world receive him? The simple answer: Better than he deserves.

While making my film, we wrote to the presidents and provosts of Harvard, Columbia, and other universities with detailed questions about their conflict-of-interest policies, requesting interviews about the subject. None of them replied, except to refer us to their Web sites.

Academe, heal thyself.

Charles Ferguson is director of the new documentary Inside Job and the 2007 documentary No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq.


Argentina to file formal complaint to UN over Malvinas issue

UN Security Council renewed criticism

Argentine Ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Argüello assured the country is to file a formal complaint to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as a way of deepening the claim over the military action being deployed in the Malvinas Islands. Previously, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner channeled the protest through British Ambassador in Buenos Aires.

According to Argüello's words, "Argentina will request UN Secretary-General to hand a copy of the formal complaint to every British employer working in the island, as a way of stating the claim, which we consider a violation to the United Nations resolution."

Argüello went further: "We plan to renew our claim to the General Assembly, for he had already requested for aid to be sent as regards restoring the British-Argentine bilateral relations." The Argentine UN Ambassador assured "the United Kingdom has been failing to comply with several UN resolutions all these past years, for example, the country should not refuse to negotiate diplomatically over the islands sovereignty."

Argüello concluded: "President Fernández de Kirchner has been pointing out the issue before the UN General Assembly for years. We need to democratize the United Nations, for the Security Council should not be deciding on matters it is competent about."


U.S. Apologizes for Syphilis Tests in Guatemala


From 1946 to 1948, American public health doctors deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans — prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers — with venereal diseases in what was meant as an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin.

American tax dollars, through the National Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture.

If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics.
“However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear,” said Susan M. Reverby, the professor at Wellesley College who brought the experiments to light in a research paper that prompted American health officials to investigate.

The revelations were made public on Friday, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized to the government of Guatemala and the survivors and descendants of those infected. They called the experiments “clearly unethical.”

“Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health,” the secretaries said in a statement. “We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.”

In a twist to the revelation, the public health doctor who led the experiment, John C. Cutler, would later have an important role in the Tuskegee study in which black American men with syphilis were deliberately left untreated for decades. Late in his own life, Dr. Cutler continued to defend the Tuskegee work.

His unpublished Guatemala work was unearthed recently in the archives of the University of Pittsburgh by Professor Reverby, a medical historian who has written two books about Tuskegee.

President Álvaro Colom of Guatemala, who first learned of the experiments on Thursday in a phone call from Mrs. Clinton, called them “hair-raising” and “crimes against humanity.” His government said it would cooperate with the American investigation and do its own.

The experiments are “a dark chapter in the history of medicine,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Modern rules for federally financed research “absolutely prohibit” infecting people without their informed consent, Dr. Collins said.

Professor Reverby presented her findings about the Guatemalan experiments at a conference in January, but nobody took notice, she said in a telephone interview Friday. In June, she sent a draft of an article she was preparing for the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Policy History to Dr. David J. Sencer, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control. He prodded the government to investigate.

In the 1940s, Professor Reverby said, the United States Public Health Service “was deeply interested in whether penicillin could be used to prevent, not just cure, early syphilis infection, whether better blood tests for the disease could be established, what dosages of penicillin actually cured infection, and to understand the process of re-infection after cures.”

It had difficulties growing syphilis in the laboratory, and its tests on rabbits and chimpanzees told it little about how penicillin worked in humans.

In 1944, it injected prison “volunteers” at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary in Indiana with lab-grown gonorrhea, but found it hard to infect people that way.
In 1946, Dr. Cutler was asked to lead the Guatemala mission, which ended two years later, partly because of medical “gossip” about the work, Professor Reverby said, and partly because he was using so much penicillin, which was costly and in short supply.

Dr. Cutler would later join the study in Tuskegee, Ala., which had begun relatively innocuously in 1932 as an observation of how syphilis progressed in black male sharecroppers. In 1972, it was revealed that, even when early antibiotics were invented, doctors hid that fact from the men in order to keep studying them. Dr. Cutler, who died in 2003, defended the Tuskegee experiment in a 1993 documentary.
Deception was also used in Guatemala, Professor Reverby said. Dr. Thomas Parran, the former surgeon general who oversaw the start of Tuskegee, acknowledged that the Guatemala work could not be done domestically, and details were hidden from Guatemalan officials.

Professor Reverby said she found some of Dr. Cutler’s papers at the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught until 1985, while she was researching Dr. Parran.
“I’m sifting through them, and I find ‘Guatemala ... inoculation ...’ and I think ‘What the heck is this?’ And then it was ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.’ My partner was with me, and I told him, ‘You aren’t going to believe this.’ ”

Fernando de la Cerda, minister counselor at the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, said that Mrs. Clinton apologized to President Colom in her Thursday phone call. “We thank the United States for its transparency in telling us the facts,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of reparations for survivors or descendants, Mr. de la Cerda said that was still unclear.

The public response on the Web sites of Guatemalan news outlets was furious. One commenter, Cesar Duran, on the site of Prensa Libre wrote: “APOLOGIES ... please ... this is what has come to light, but what is still hidden? They should pay an indemnity to the state of Guatemala, not just apologize.”

Dr. Mark Siegler, director of the Maclean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago’s medical school, said he was stunned. “This is shocking,” Dr. Siegler said. “This is much worse than Tuskegee — at least those men were infected by natural means.”

He added: “It’s ironic — no, it’s worse than that, it’s appalling — that, at the same time as the United States was prosecuting Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity, the U.S. government was supporting research that placed human subjects at enormous risk.”

The Nuremberg trials of Nazi doctors who experimented on concentration camp inmates and prisoners led to a code of ethics, though it had no force of law. In the 1964 Helsinki Declaration, the medical associations of many countries adopted a code.
The Tuskegee scandal and the hearings into it conducted by Senator Edward M. Kennedy became the basis for the 1981 American laws governing research on human subjects, Dr. Siegler said.

It was preceded by other domestic scandals. From 1963 to 1966, researchers at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island infected retarded children with hepatitis to test gamma globulin against it. And in 1963, elderly patients at the Brooklyn Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital were injected with live cancer cells to see if they caused tumors.

Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting from Mexico City.


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