Sunday, May 22, 2005


Space conventions are the sort of place where you meet men with too many pins in their lapels and wide eyes. On my first evening in DC, last Thursday, I met a man in the lobby who was convinced that there are trees on Mars... or at least some sort of foliage. "It's in the pictures!" he explained, his eyes widening. He also seemed to think that there was some kind of alien base on the far side of the Moon. You have been warned.

Monday, May 02, 2005


The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, editorialised on malaria a week an a half ago. It said that rising rates of malaria may be the fault of an international group trying to halt the spread of the disease called Roll Back Malaria. I thought this was a fascinating story (the journal obviously did too as it put out a press release on it) but as I looked into it, I couldn't find any support for the ideas in it.

The result of my investigation led me to some conclusions. For one thing it is not clear that the global burden of malaria is actually increasing. Any global rise could be down to better monitoring of cases.
In southern Africa, there is a problem. Resistant forms of the parasite have been emerging and causing havoc. The Lancet believes that more information should have been given to these countries earlier on about how the nature of the disease was changing. The trouble is, had the information been given it does not mean that the treatment or the money to pay for the treatment would have been available. It has only been very recently that problems of the supply of artemesin (a drug that treats these resistant forms of the disease) have been overcome. And bottlenecks in supply of this product (derived from natural sources) are still an issue.
I find it hard to agree with the conclusion that the group Roll Back Malaria "does more harm than good" but that is what the Lancet says in its press release so it must be true.

The editorial is found here. My piece in The Economist is here but requires a subscription.

Payment where it is due

In March I took a ten-day trip to Panama. While I was there, I was struck by a number of interesting connections. The Panama canal is crucial to the economy of Panama, and is absolutely vital for the swift transit of goods around the world. Yet because the canal is operated by a series of freshwater locks, the whole system depends on a continuing supply of water from the environment. It turns out that this fact has not escaped the scientists who work in Panama, nor the money men and various plans are already underway to try and reforest the canal watershed in order to maintain a regular supply of water. In researching the piece, it became clear that this is very much part of an emerging approach to the environment that involves payments for environmental services--and that science is the key to defining and quantifying these for economists. The result was a three-page article in The Economist that was tied to a cover and leader (op-ed) about rescuing environmentalism. The full article can be read free online from the link below.

Environmental economics
Are you being served?

Apr 21st 2005 | PANAMA CITY

Environmental entries are starting to appear on the balance sheet. Perhaps soon, the best things in life will not be free

AT THE Miraflores lock on the Panama Canal it is possible to watch the heartbeat of international trade in action. One by one, giant ships piled high with multi-coloured containers creep through the lock's narrow confines and are disgorged neatly on the other side. If it were not for the canal, these ships would have to make a two-to-three-week detour around South America. That would have a significant effect on the price of goods around much of the world. It is therefore sobering to consider that each ship requires 200m litres of fresh water to operate the locks of the canal and that, over the years, this water has been drying up. (Continues...)