Harry Reid and Howard Dean among gallery of rogues:
August 26th, 2010
Harry Reid and Howard Dean among gallery of rogues:
August 26th, 2010
Glenn Greenwald details Pentagon lying about Wikileaks’ attempts to secure Pentagon cooperation in removing from documents it released information that might identify Afghan sources. Just as it is doing currently, the Pentagon refused cooperation:
When the controversy first arose over the lack of redactions in the war documents released by WikiLeaks, the website insisted that, using theNew York Times as an intermediary, it had asked the Obama administration for help in removing names of Afghans before releasing the documents, a claim the Pentagon vehemently denied. The New York Times, needless to say, sided with the Government — that’s what the NYTdoes — but they did so by simultaneously confirming the truth of WikiLeaks’ version of events. From the Associated Press article, July 31, on that controversy:
Also on Saturday, a New York Times reporter who has been the newspaper’s liaison with Assange, dismissed Assange’s claim that WikiLeaks had offered to let U.S. government officials go through leaked documents to ensure that no innocent people were identified. Assange told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview that aired Thursday that the New York Times had acted as an intermediary and that the White House hadn’t responded to the offer.
Times reporter Eric Schmitt told the AP that on the night of July 23, at White House spokesman’s Robert Gibbs’ request, he relayed to Assange a White House request that WikiLeaks not publish information that could lead to people being physically harmed.
The next evening, Schmitt said, Assange replied in an e-mail that WikiLeaks was withholding 15,000 documents for review. Schmitt said Assange wrote that WikiLeaks would consider recommendations made by the International Security Assistance Force “on the identification of innocents for this material if it is willing to provide reviewers.”
Schmitt said he forwarded the e-mail to White House officials and Times editors.
“I certainly didn’t consider this a serious and realistic offer to the White House to vet any of the documents before they were to be posted, and I think it’s ridiculous that Assange is portraying it that way now,” Schmitt wrote to the AP.
On Friday, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said it was “absolutely, unequivocally not true” that WikiLeaks had offered to let U.S. government officials go through the documents to make sure no innocent people were identified.
Do you see what happened there? Schmitt, wanting to side with his Pentagon friends, publicly suggested that Assange was lying when he claimed that he offered to allow the Government to suggest redcations, even as Schmitt himself acknowledged that “Assange wrote that WikiLeaks would consider recommendations made by the International Security Assistance Force ‘on the identification of innocents for this material if it is willing to provide reviewers’,” an offer Schmitt says he conveyed to the White House. In other words, Schmitt defended the Pentagon’s denials that Assange made this offer even as he himself described the very events which proved Assange was telling the truth. At the very least, WikiLeaks clearly indicated its willingness to have government officials review the documents and make recommendations about redactions — something those officials refused to do.
Greenwald then discusses the current Pentagon dissimulation regarding Wikileaks efforts to sanitize the remaining 15,000 documents. He then speculates on motivation:
Why would the DoD refuse to offer this assistance? WikiLeaks — in response to Pentagon threats — has already stated emphatically that these documents are going to be released no matter what. No rational person would doubt that they mean this. Wouldn’t it be vastly preferable — from the Government’s perspective — to have those documents released with the names of Afghan sources redacted, rather than force WikiLeaks to guess at what needs to be withheld? The Pentagon routinely conveys to media outlets preparing to release classified documents its views about what specifically ought to be withheld, notwithstanding its objections to the release of all information. Why would they not do the same here?
After the last release, the Pentagon very flamboyantly accused WikiLeaks of endangering the lives of innocent Afghans, even accusing them of having ”blood on their hands” (despite the absence of a single claim that anyone was actually harmed from the release of those documents). If Pentagon officials are truly concerned about the well-being of Afghan sources identified in these documents — rather than exaggerating and exploiting that concern in order to harm WikiLeaks’ credibility — wouldn’t they be eager to help WikiLeaks redact these documents? That would be the behavior one would expect if these concerns were at all genuine.
Instead, the Pentagon is doing the opposite: first lying by denying that WikiLeaks ever sought this help, then refusing to provide it in response. In the conflict between the U.S. Government and WikiLeaks, it is true that one of the parties seems steadfastly indifferent to the lives of Afghan civilians. Despite the very valid criticisms that more care should have been exercised before that first set of documents was released, the party most guilty of that indifference is not WikiLeaks.
I’ve found in life that when I am wrong the best thing to do is just come right out and admit it.
Here goes: I was wrong. Wikileaks, based on the evidence that the DoD has presented, did its level best to work with the DoD to redact any names that might harm innocent Afghans. The Pentagon not only lied about it, but has even refused to cooperate going forward.
The blood, if there is to be any, is on the Pentagon’s hands. It’s that simple. [Emphasis added.]
Meanwhile, this morning brings the rather suspicious news that Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been charged with rape and molestation in Sweden. While no details are available, Assange has denied the charges:
The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.
It would not be surprising if this was an attempt to shut down, or at least discredit, Wikileaks.
UPDATE: More information on the Swedish accusation (apparently not actually “charges”) from the AP is here.
August 21st, 2010
Remember when the Bush administration was distorting science to support their policy preferences? Well, the Obama administration, in this area as in so many others, is mimicking the Bush administration’s worst habits. They are issuing rosy “analyses” of the oil in the gulf, supposedly “reviewed” by scientists within and outside the Federal government. Strange thing, all of the named “reviewers” deny ever reviewing the report. Meanwhile the reports conclusions re being disputed by independent scientists. Dan Froomkin reports:
In responding to the growing furor over the public release of a scientifically dubious and overly rosyfederal report about the fate of the oil that BP spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA director Jane Lubchenco has repeatedly fallen back on one particular line of defense — that independent scientists had given it their stamp of approval.
Back at the report’s unveiling on August 4, Lubchenco spoke of a “peer review of the calculations that went into this by both other federal and non-federal scientists.” On Thursday afternoon, she told reporters on a conference call: “The report and the calculations that went into it were reviewed by independent scientists.” The scientists, she said, were listed at the end of the report.
“What we were trying to do was give the Incident Command something that they could at least start with,” said Ed Overton, an emeritus professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University. “But these are estimates. There’s a difference between data and estimates.”
Overton said NOAA asked him: “How much did I think would evaporate?” He responded with some ideas, but noted: “There’s a jillion parameters which are not very amenable to modeling.”
He said he didn’t know what NOAA did with his input. “I pretty much did my estimates and let that go,” he said.
And Overton bridled at the way the report was presented — with very precise percentages attributed to different categories. For instance, the report declared that 24 percent of the oil had been dispersed.
“I didn’t like the way they say 24 percent. We don’t know that,” Overton said. “They could have said a little bit more than a quarter, a little bit less than a quarter. But not 24 percent; that’s impossible.”
Michel Boufadel is on the list, but told HuffPost he did not review the report or its calculations. And the Temple University environmental engineer also said its specificity was inappropriate.
“When you look at that dispersed amount, and it says 8 percent chemically dispersed and 16 percent naturally dispersed, there’s a high degree of uncertainty here,” he said. “Naturally dispersed could be 6 or it could be 26.”
Ron Goodman, a 30-year veteran of Exxon’s Canadian affiliate who now runs his own consulting company, was incorrectly listed on the report with an academic affiliation: “U. of Calgary.” He is only an adjunct there. He said he responded to a series of questions from NOAA — “and that was it.”
And once the report came out, he said, “I was concerned that the amount dispersed was very low. I think it was higher by maybe a factor of two or three.”
But all the scientists on that list contacted by the Huffington Post for comment this week said the exact same thing: That although they provided some input to NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), they in no way reviewed the report, and could not vouch for it.
The skimpy, four-page report dominated an entire news cycle earlier this month, with contented administration officials claiming it meant that three fourths of the oil released from BP’s well was essentially gone — evaporated, dispersed, burned, etc. But independent scientists are increasingly challenging the report’s findings and its interpretation — and they are expressing outrage that the administration released no actual data or algorithms to support its claims.
HuffPost reached seven of the 11 scientists listed on the report. One declined to comment at all, six others had things to say.
In addition to disputing Lubchenco’s characterization of their role, several of them actually took issue with the report itself.
In particular, they refuted the notion, as put forth by Lubchenco and other Obama administration officials, that the report was either scientifically precise or an authoritative account of where the oil went.
The Obama officials officials copied the Bush officials in respect, the loaded their “independent reviewers” with individuals with close links to the oil industry:
Also worth noting: Four of the “independent scientists” listed on the report work for the oil industry, have until recently, and/or work for consulting companies that do business with the oil industry.
Strange, isn’t it, that the Obama administration wants to run the fall campaign against the Bush administration?
August 20th, 2010
Despite the Obama administration’s claim that they wanted to close Guantanamo, they are still fighting tooth and nail to retain people who should never have been in US custody in the first place. The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reports on one prisoner who the Pentagon wanted released six years ago in 2004.Despite this, and despite his sever psychological symptoms, the Obama administration still refuses to release him:
U.S. still holds detainee Pentagon wanted freed in 2004
By Carol Rosenberg
An emotionally ill detainee still being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was first recommended for release by the Pentagon in 2004, according to a federal judge whose ruling ordering that the man be freed was made public this week.
Despite the Pentagon’s recommendation, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Bush administration adopted the military assessment and put Adnan Abdul Latif, now about 34, on an approved transfer list. By then, however, the issue of transferring prisoners to Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, was mired in a diplomatic standoff over whether the Arabian Peninsula nation could provide security assurances and rehabilitate suspected radicalized Guantanamo detainees.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy disclosed the timeline in a heavily censored 28-page ruling made public on Monday night that ordered Latif set free. Latif is the 38th Guantanamo captive to be found by a federal judge to be illegally detained at the remote U.S. Navy base.
Kennedy first ordered the Obama administration to arrange for Latif’s release “forthwith” on July 21. But a Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, said government lawyers were still deciding Tuesday night whether to appeal to a higher court.
“Why they continue to defend holding him is unfathomable,” said David Remes, Latif’s free-of-charge attorney. “Adnan’s case reflects the Obama administration’s complete failure to bring the Guantanamo litigation under control.”
Latif, held at Guantanamo since Jan. 18, 2002, has said for years that he had suffered a head injury in his teens and was in Pakistan and Afghanistan seeking Islamic charity medical care before his capture.
The U.S. Justice Department countered that Latif was seen at an al Qaida guest house and trained with the terror movement.
But in the portion of the judge’s ruling made public Kennedy noted that the Pentagon’s own military intelligence analysis found no eyewitness to back up the claim, only war-on-terror captives who had seen him in U.S. prison camps.
Kennedy quoted from a 2004 Defense Department report that recommended he be sent home and said Latif “is not known to have participated in combatant/terrorist training.”
The government had “not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Latif was in Afghanistan to train and fight with” either the Taliban or Al Qaida, Kennedy wrote.
Latif’s lawyer said the Yemeni has spent long periods of his captivity in the Guantanamo psychiatric ward after repeated suicide attempts and reacted with despair to the judge’s ruling.
“He sees death as his only way out,” Remes said.
Latif has covered himself in excrement, thrown blood at the lawyer, swallowed shards of metal and tried to eat glass in dozens of self-harm episodes, Remes said.
Latif was brought to meet his lawyer last week in a padded green garment held together by Velcro called a “suicide smock,” according to Remes, who said he had been stripped of his underwear. Prison camp guards have put the smocks on display for reporters during camp tours and said in the past they also had acquired suicide-proof underwear.
Pentagon records show Latif was measured at 5-feet-4-inches and weighed 114 pounds on his arrival at the prison camps on Jan. 18, 2002. Remes said by last week he had been weighed at 93.
More than half of the 176 captives currently at Guantanamo are Yemeni citizens, a portion of whom an Obama Task Force has approved for transfer home.
But the White House has frozen most Yemeni transfers following the aborted Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner by a Nigerian man who said he was trained in Yemen.
August 20th, 2010
Steven Reisner and playwright Patricia Davis discuss psychologists and US torture on GRITtv with Guest host Esther Arma:
August 20th, 2010
As US “combat troops” leave Iraq, leaving only 50,000 troops there for combat, both Robert Fisk and Alexander Cockburn point out that the US suffered a massive defeat in this major test of its ability to “shock and awe” the world into submission.
Instead, the millions of American soldiers who have passed through Iraq have brought the Iraqis a plague. From Afghanistan – in which they showed as much interest after 2001 as they will show when they start “leaving” that country next year – they brought the infection of al-Qa’ida. They brought the disease of civil war. They injected Iraq with corruption on a grand scale. They stamped the seal of torture on Abu Ghraib – a worthy successor to the same prison under Saddam’s vile rule – after stamping the seal of torture on Bagram and the black prisons of Afghanistan. They sectarianised a country that, for all its Saddamite brutality and corruption, had hitherto held its Sunnis and Shias together.
And because the Shias would invariably rule in this new “democracy”, the American soldiers gave Iran the victory it had sought so vainly in the terrible 1980-88 war against Saddam. Indeed, men who had attacked the US embassy in Kuwait in the bad old days – men who were allies of the suicide bombers who blew up the Marine base in Beirut in 1983 – now help to run Iraq. The Dawa were “terrorists” in those days. Now they are “democrats”. Funny how we’ve forgotten the 241 US servicemen who died in the Lebanon adventure. Corporal David Breeze was probably two or three-years-old then.
But the sickness continued. America’s disaster in Iraq infected Jordan with al-Qa’ida – the hotel bombings in Amman – and then Lebanon again. The arrival of the gunmen from Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp in the north of Lebanon – their 34-day war with the Lebanese army – and the scores of civilian dead were a direct result of the Sunni uprising in Iraq. Al-Qa’ida had arrived in Lebanon. Then Iraq under the Americans re-infected Afghanistan with the suicide bomber, the self-immolator who turned America’s soldiers from men who fight to men who hide.
Anyway, they are busy re-writing the narrative now. Up to a million Iraqis are dead. Blair cares nothing about them – they do not feature, please note, in his royalties generosity. And nor do most of the American soldiers. They came. They saw. They lost. And now they say they’ve won. How the Arabs, surviving on six hours of electricity a day in their bleak country, must be hoping for no more victories like this one.
No, the Empire Doesn’t Always Win
By Alexander Cockburn
“The US isn’t withdrawing from Iraq at all—it’s rebranding the occupation…. What is abundantly clear is that the US…has no intention of letting go of Iraq any time soon.” So declared Seumas Milne of the Guardian on August 4.
Milne is not alone among writers on the left arguing that even though most Americans think it’s all over, Uncle Sam still rules the roost in Iraq. They point to 50,000 US troops in ninety-four military bases, “advising” and training the Iraqi army, “providing security” and carrying out “counterterrorism” missions. Outside US government forces there is what Jeremy Scahill calls the “coming surge” of contractors in Iraq, swelling up from the present 100,000. “The advantage of an outsourced occupation,” Milne writes, “is clearly that someone other than US soldiers can do the dying to maintain control of Iraq.”
“Can Iraq now be regarded as a tolerably secure outpost of the American system in the Middle East?” Tariq Ali asked in New Left Review earlier this year. He answered himself judiciously: “[Iraqis] have reason to exult, and reason to doubt.” But the thrust of his analysis depicts Iraq as still the pawn of the US empire, with a “predominantly Shia army—some 250,000 strong…trained and armed to the teeth to deal with any resurgence of the resistance.”
The bottom line, as drawn by Milne and Ali, is oil. Milne gestures to the “dozen 20-year contracts to run Iraq’s biggest oil fields that were handed out last year to foreign companies.”
Is it really true that, though the US troop presence has dropped by almost 100,000 in eighteen months, Iraq is as much under Uncle Sam’s imperial jackboot as it was in, say, 2004, even though US troops no longer patrol the streets? If Iraq’s political affairs are under US control, how come the US Embassy—deployed in its Vatican City–size compound, mostly as vacant as a foreclosed subdivision in Riverside, California—cannot knock Iraqi heads together and bid them form a government? Those 50,000 troops broiling in their costly bases are scarcely a decisive factor in Iraq’s internal affairs. Neither are the private contractors, whose military role should not be oversold, unless the Shiites are supposed to quail before ill-paid Peruvians, Ugandan cops and the like.
Is a Shiite-dominated government really to America’s taste and nothing more than its pawn? It was Sistani, denounced by Ali as America’s creature, who called Bush on his pledge of free elections in 2005, thus downsizing the excessive representation of the Sunnis, who chose to boycott the elections anyway. And if all this was a devious ploy to break “the Iraqi resistance,” by which Ali means the Sunnis, why does the United States constantly invoke the menace of Shiite Iran and decry its influence in Iraq?
If the Sunni “resistance,” honored without qualification by Ali, ever had a strategy beyond a sectarian agenda, it wasn’t advanced by blowing up Shiite pilgrims and setting off bombs in marketplaces. Muqtada al-Sadr, lamented by Ali as sidelined by the United States and Sistani, has been described as the “kingmaker” since his success in the parliamentary election this past March.
If this really was a “war for oil,” it scarcely went well for the United States. Run your eye down the list of contracts the Iraqi government awarded in June and December 2009. Prominent is Russia’s Lukoil, which, in partnership with Norway’s Statoil, won the rights to West Qurna Phase Two, a 12.9 billion–barrel supergiant oilfield. Other successful bidders for fixed-term contracts included Russia’s Gazprom and Malaysia’s Petronas. Only two US-based oil companies came away with contracts: ExxonMobil partnered with Royal Dutch Shell on a contract for West Qurna Phase One (8.7 billion barrels in reserves); and Occidental shares a contract in the Zubair field (4 billion barrels), in company with Italy’s ENI and South Korea’s Kogas. The huge Rumaila field (17 billion barrels) yielded a contract for BP and the China National Petroleum Company, and Royal Dutch Shell split the 12.6 billion–barrel Majnoon field with Petronas, 60-40.
Throughout the two auctions there were frequent bleats from the oil companies at the harsh terms imposed by the auctioneers representing Iraq, as this vignette from Reuters about the bidding on the northern Najmah field suggests: “Sonangol also won the nearby 900-million-barrel Najmah oilfield in Nineveh…. Again, the Angolan firm had to cut its price and accept a fee of $6 per barrel, less than the $8.50 it had sought. ‘We are expecting a little bit higher. Can you go a little bit higher?’ Sonangol’s exploration manager Paulino Jeronimo asked Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to spontaneous applause from other oil executives. Shahristani said, ‘No.’”
So either the all-powerful US government was unable to fix the auctions to its liking or the all-powerful US-based oil companies mostly decided the profit margins weren’t sufficiently tempting. Either way, the “war for oil” isn’t in very good shape.
Ali and Milne are being credulous in taking at face value declarations by US officials that the United States is not wholly withdrawing and will stay in business in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Those officials don’t want to see their influence go to zilch, so they have to maintain that their power in Iraq is only a little affected by the steady reduction of troops.
The left—or a substantial slice of it—snatches defeat from the jaws of a decisive victory over US plans for Iraq by proclaiming that America has established what Milne calls “a new form of outsourced semi-colonial regime to maintain its grip on the country and region.” Yes, Iraq is in ruins—always the default consequence of American imperial endeavors. The left should hammer home the message that the US onslaught on Iraq, in terms of its proclaimed objectives, was a strategic and military disaster. That’s the lesson to bring home.
August 20th, 2010
Paul Krugman on the cult of human sacrifice sweeping our political elite:
As I look at what passes for responsible economic policy these days, there’s an analogy that keeps passing through my mind. I know it’s over the top, but here it is anyway: the policy elite — central bankers, finance ministers, politicians who pose as defenders of fiscal virtue — are acting like the priests of some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods
After explaining, he poses this question:
So here’s the question I find myself asking: What will it take to break the hold of this cruel cult on the minds of the policy elite? When, if ever, will we get back to the job of rebuilding the economy?
August 20th, 2010
A reminder of one President who had guts:
If only we had a President like Jed Bartlett. He wouldn’t have to say “Yes we can” because he would actually try.
August 20th, 2010
The organization Democracy for America, founded by Howard Dean (formerly Dean for America) has broken with its founder over the New York mosque construction. DFA sent out the following email late today:
Over the last week we’ve heard a lot from DFA members around the country asking for action to protect the rights of religious freedom for all Americans and I couldn’t agree more.
I don’t get upset much. I mean, I get ticked off at Republicans and Democrats (and at really bad customer service!), but that’s why I work with you at DFA. Because when we get upset, we don’t stew in it and hope it goes away. We do something about it.
The controversy around the building of a Muslim Community Center at 51 Park in New York City should upset all of us. It definitely upsets me. Shortly after the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, much of this country came together. But there were a number of other, smaller tragedies occurring all over the country as a result of the attacks. People who “looked like terrorists” were victims of harassment, intimidation, and outright violence.
That includes me, and every member of my immediate family in different instances. My response was to protest the coming wars. My family did something different, though. They started going to Mosque. It did more than renew their faith — it provided a sense of community and safety during a very dark time for us. But for the last nine years, at least, people have been trying to block the construction of mosques all over the country.
Now, let’s be clear, the subject of the highest profile Muslim structure, 51 Park in New York City, will have a basketball court and a culinary school. Two floors will have a prayer room. The other eleven will host movie nights, performances, group dinners, etc — it’s basically a Muslim YMCA, open to everyone. These moderate Muslims are doing everything we could ask of them. They’re trying to build a bridge in the communities they live in, trying to show the world that Muslims are cool and interesting and diverse, and proving that being a Muslim does not equal being a terrorist.
But they’re being thrown under the bus by our elected leaders, egged on by some of the ugliest elements of the right-wing. Well-intentioned leaders of the Democratic Party are getting caught up in the fray as well, some of them seeking to find common ground with an implacable opposition. It’s not helping.
This isn’t just a Manhattan problem. Right now, there is opposition to mosques in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Southern California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, and dozens of other locations across our nation. Where would they move? If public pressure can be brought to bear to take down the most high-profile Muslim community center in liberal NYC, then these other places don’t even have a chance, Ground Zero connection or not.
Frankly, this isn’t about Ground Zero. This is about America. This is about freedom. This is about people and there seems to be no place that Muslim people can go without being harassed.
The harassment has to stop, and that starts with you and me.
I think most people agree that Muslims have the right to worship. But these efforts to harass Muslims are based in fear, prejudice, and ignorance. Removing a community center doesn’t solve these problems. But talking about religious freedom — really engaging people — can open people’s minds, and blunt the prejudice.
I pledge to do it myself.
I pledge today to stand up for religious freedom right now. We cannot wait another day to defend the rights of all Americans to worship if they want, where they want, and when they want. I will not wait for the conversation to come to me; I will start the conversation now. Please join me in making the pledge to fight for our universal American values of acceptance and respect for religious freedom.
I need you, in your community, to have those challenging conversations with people you know.
It’s time to be pro-active in support of the values that define what we stand for and who we are as Americans. After you take the pledge, please follow up and share the conversations you’ve had. I think we’ll all find them inspiring to share.
Arshad Hasan, Executive Director
Democracy for America
August 19th, 2010
Amalia Rosenblum in Haaretz reports that the open source concept is emerging in biomedical research, leading to a major new development in Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis for an unusually small investment of monetary resources. Furthermore, the results are being shared with little regard for traditional “intellectual property” rights which impede rapid dissemination and utilization of newly-generated knowledge:
A daring initiative for the good of humanity
Business must follow science in democratizing knowledge in the Internet age.
By Amalia Rosenblum
The ability to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease based on a spinal fluid test has made significant progress, media outlets around the world reported last week. This progress joins breakthrough studies after decades in which Alzheimer’s research hardly advanced and the disease could only be diagnosed conclusively by an autopsy.
Progress has been made possible by collaboration among scientists, universities, the U.S. administration and large pharmaceutical companies. They aim to disseminate the findings and discoveries immediately, free of charge, waiving scientists’ intellectual property rights. The project, incorporated under the name Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, was launched in 2003 and has cost some $100,000. In American terms, the price of one day of war has produced a generational leap in researching one of the most agonizing diseases known to mankind.
Such a low cost underlines the absurd way the race for money and prestige limits the development of critical tests and medicines. A number of factors combine to create a reality almost contradictory to the Hippocratic oath. The main ones are the U.S. administration’s restricted funding for university research and the Bayh-Dole Act, which since the 1980s has let drug companies finance university studies in exchange for exclusive control of the patents and influence over research objectives.
In view of this, the ethos of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative is inspiring. Instead of having small study groups keeping their knowledge secret until publication for fear of losing funds or prestige, scientists now dare to unite resources and information. The idea is seen as innovative in especially competitive areas of medical research. A similar study focusing on Parkinson’s disease was launched recently with $40 million in funding. Similar initiatives are underway in scleroderma (an autoimmune disease ), Huntington’s disease, asthma and heart failure among young women.
But in a wider cultural perspective, this may be seen not as an academic upheaval but an expansion of the new paradigm of know-how based on the Internet revolution – the Wiki or open-source concept. This concept is based on collaboration, transparency and availability of research and development. Entire computer systems are based, at least partially, on open-source software. This philosophy holds that private ownership of content does not serve humanity. Take it from the millions of people who turn to Wikipedia as their first step in seeking information – this idea is contagious.
The problem, of course, is that a similar trend has not yet occurred in the economy. In other words, no sound business model has been designed to accompany the democratization of knowledge or the immediacy and joy of spreading content on the Web.
Scientists, like pilots, teachers, artists and bus drivers, must make a living, of course. And drug companies cannot be expected to risk billions of dollars on experiments and research without making appropriate profits. But as the Alzheimer researchers’ initiative shows, the Internet revolution will spare no Old World monopoly – because nobody can write a patent on the human aspiration for knowledge and answers.
August 19th, 2010
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