October 05, 2005

Tangled Bank #38

Tangled Bank is a recurrent (monthly?) anthology of blog articles on various science topics, submitted by their authors or nominated by others. Issue #38 is hosted this month by GrrlScientist on her blog Living the Scientific Life. For this issue, I submitted one of my past posts: Art and Science Perverted. I encourage everyone to browse through the current issue, and perhaps submit some of their own reflections for future issues.

October 03, 2005

In defense of the roundabout

I’m still not done reading the book Critical Mass by Philip Ball, although it has been excellent up to now. There is a chapter in particular which describes the collective behaviour of pedestrians and drivers, and how it can be simulated with just a few basic assumptions (such as, obviously, avoiding collisions).

Ball describes in particular the work of Helbing and his colleagues in the 1990s. Using a code and assumptions that had already given convincing results for other settings, they simulated what kind of pedestrian trails develop across a square field to link entrance and exit points at the four corners of the square. The result is given in the picture included here. In fact, the tracks evolved first from two crossed paths that directly connected the corners (the black lines), but eventually attained the equilibrium which is seen in the picture (the blue path).

One thing that struck me, and which apparently didn’t strike Helbing or Ball is that, if you transpose this to roads, this picture is the exact analogue of the roundabout (or rotary intersection, if you prefer). In other words, the roundabout would be a more natural form of intersection than the more classical cross-shaped intersection. The Europeans seem to have understood this, as you can find a lot of roundabouts in their road system. But on American soil, they are a much rarer sight, which I think is a pity.

There are many advantages to roundabouts. Even if you need to slow down at their approach, the net result is a much more fluid and efficient traffic flow compared to the cross-shaped intersection with traffic lights. If you get lost (which can indeed happen to you as a tourist in Europe...), you can drive to the next roundabout and turn around to get back where you started from, instead of doing all those dangerous maneuvres (U-turns, etc.). But what I think are the main advantages are the reduction in air and noise pollution. The fact that traffic is more fluid and that there is a lot less stop-and-go involved with roundabouts, minimizes braking and accelerations from zero, which obviously reduces fuel consumption as well as noise (I would know; I live on a street corner!). According to this document from the city of San Diego, roundabouts are also found to be safer (less accidents) because of reduced speeds, and are considered to enhance aesthetics.

So let’s vote for more roundabouts! Next time your town plans a major overhaul of its traffic system, or if you are witness to a new urban development, why not try to influence city council. I’m convinced roundabouts could bring a major improvement to your quality of life, as a driver and as a citizen.

September 29, 2005

Wall Street will save the world!

(as read in unlinkable local newspaper...)

Following Katrina’s and Rita’s wrath, it seems investors on Wall Street have woken up to the possibility that global warming is making theirs a risky (or rather riskier) business. They are sensitizing their clients, and joining their voices to others who, for some time, have urged the government to take action regarding the causes of climate change.

Let’s be pragmatic! In a capitalist USA, why shouldn’t it be the financial sector that finally brings this (reticent) government to reason? Despite all the efforts of all those scientists and Sierra Clubs out there, why shouldn’t it be Wall Street that (indirectly) succeeds in curbing greenhouse-gas emissions? Let’s see what happens...

September 26, 2005

Introducing Science Bistro

Yesterday appeared a new player in the science blogosphere. It is called Science Bistro / the Culture of Science. I urge you to take a peek at this very-well constructed new site. There is something there for everyone. First of all, it is a magazine, where regular and occasional contributors can publish their thoughts on science or science-culture issues. In fact, anyone can post. (Your's truly has already published something under the name "The Practitioner".) Second, it is a radio show, although this part is not yet active. Similar issues will be debated on the radio shows. Third, it is a depository for snippets of information about science seen Elsewhere on the web. This part, on the left side of the web page, is active and impressively up-to-date. You can find here a more detailed description of the blog by its Editor.

Long live Science Bistro!

By the way, the new print issue of Seed Magazine will appear on newsstands worldwide on October 1st.

September 17, 2005

Defend Science!

If you are a scientist or a friend of science, and want to act (even symbolically) against any instances where science is perverted, where scientific fact is ignored or undermined (as is the tendency nowadays in the US Administration), I invite you to read the Defend Science statement found here. Even if you are not a US citizen, please add your name to the signatories list and make it grow!

September 13, 2005

A knotty situation

In recent times, prion diseases have often been at the forefront of science news. Prions are misshapen, misfolded proteins that are responsible for neuro-degenerative diseases such as BSE in cows, and its analogue in humans, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Last week, Nature.com carried a piece of news about new research in this field, which revealed that the deleterious effect of prions depends on their size; it is principally mid-sized prions that lead to disease, not short or very long prion strings.

We should be reminded that it is the shape of proteins, their folding pattern, and not just their composition, that gives them their function. This is what the new field of proteomics (or part of it) is all about. It is therefore not surprising that a misshapen protein will lead to malfunction, even though its composition is exactly the same as a normal protein.

The reason I’m mentioning this here is that I have a strong suspicion that proteomics, if not already the case, would strongly benefit from the input of some mathematics, notably from the fields of topology and knot theory. For instance, mathematicians are using knot theory to understand how centimetre-long DNA strands, all bundled up in the nucleus of each of our cells, are able to disentangle themselves when time comes for replication (i.e. when the two parts of the double helix separate).

Interestingly, there is also, I think, an opportunity for a channel to open between artists and scientists in the field of proteomics. For instance, the work of Natasha St. Michael (see image above), a Montreal-based bead artist, provides (at least for me) a sense of the complexity underlying protein folding. This impression comes not necessarily from the final result (which rather evokes higher-level biological structures or entities), but rather when one considers the complex process of bead-weaving that leads up to the final piece.

August 31, 2005

Physics of society

I have just started reading Philip Ball’s 2004 book “Critical Mass”. I intend to eventually give here a more detailed account of this book, but the few chapters I’ve read up to now have already prompted me to write this comment.

The book is basically about how the insights and tools of physics can be used to investigate phenomena occurring at the scale of human society (group behaviour, traffic, financial markets, business networking, etc.). The sub-field of physics involved here is statictical mechanics (many-body interactions), as well as the more recent notions of collective behaviour, complexity, emergence, etc. In short, the book makes the point that a “physics of society” truly exists.

This impelled me to revisit a rather bold statement I made here a few months ago, to the effect that physics is no longer the central science, having been replaced by biology in this position. My point then was that, contrary to physics, the results of biological research are more relevant to people, that biology is science at the human scale. The notion of a physics of society now requires a more qualified statement: some of physics is at the human scale. It is still true that biology currently ranks high among people’s concerns, in the media, and in the bodies that fund research. But physics is not only about smashing tiny particles in big accelerators, or about mind-boggling phenomena occurring on an astronomical scale. Physics is also about people.

August 05, 2005

Seed Rebirth

Great news for "science is culture" fans (like me), Seed Media Group is back on track. They revamped their website, and on July 15th announced what is apparently a major restructuring of their activities. Most importantly, they now have the support of new investors. Seed magazine should reappear on newsstands beginning this Fall, with more frequent issues. They also plan to expand into European markets.

Seed has consistently produced great content in the past, and is really a unique magazine. But, like many new magazine ventures, it has struggled. Let's hope this time around it sits on a stronger footing. Long live Seed!

June 10, 2005


OK, time to break my radio silence…

I had been wondering recently whether there was a place for science in the world of dance, in the same way that there is a ‘science-in-fiction’ movement in literature and dramatic art, and a ‘science-art’ (or sci-art) movement for the visual arts. A priori, dance seems to be mainly about emotion and human interaction, sometimes held together by a narrative. Is there a place in dance for scientific themes? Is there a place in our culture for what could be called, by analogy with the above, a ‘science-in-motion’ movement?

Apparently there is. This week’s issue of Nature carries a review of a new ballet piece called ‘Constant Speed’ from the Rambert Dance Company in the UK. This rather short dance creation (27-minutes long) was commissioned by UK’s Institute of Physics (IOP), to commemorate the so-called Einstein year, or World Year of Physics (see also World Years). According to the review, it is “stunning”.

After all, as the article mentions, there is a “similarity of language—space, time energy—between physics and dance”. One could also include in that shared language: movement and balance, and, as a dancer friend of mine noted, also gravity, weight, counterweight and levers… So there is a similarity of language which allows symbolism and metaphors from science (perhaps physics in particular) to reach us in a novel way, through the vehicle of human motion. This undoubtedly presents a challenge for the choreographer, but it seems that the result is compelling in the case of ‘Constant Speed’. This ballet will tour the UK starting in September 2005.

May 27, 2005

The blank Scrabble pieces

I am talking here about embryonic stem cells. Like the blank pieces in a Scrabble game, which can stand in for any letter you decide, stem cells are able to differentiate in any cell type (any tissue) that their environment dictates. Hence their huge potential in various therapies.

This week, the US House of Representatives passed a measure that will allow wider access to stem-cell lines for research purposes. These cells are taken from unused embryos at fertilization clinics, embryos that otherwise would be discarded.

Of course, this is good news for researchers, and for the many patients that could eventually benefit from this research.

The other reason to rejoice is that this move goes against restrictions imposed on such research by GWBush, back in August of 2001 (right before 9/11 transformed his presidency). As this measure is expected to pass easily through the US Senate, it is the proof that the US Government (including Republicans) can sometimes make the right decisions, despite its President. Of course, there is still a chance that GWB will veto the decision. But observers note that he hasn’t used his veto yet, and that it would be a mistake to do so in this case.

The 'Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act', as this measure is called, is not yet law. But there is reason to be confident that it will become so. To me, together with the difficulties that GWB is currently having in making some of his nominations, this gives an indication that we (non-Americans and Americans alike) may be able to actually survive the remaining three years or so of his presidency. But then again, maybe I’m just being my hopelessly optimistic self…

May 23, 2005

Another dangerous idea

Is the scientific worldview materialistic? To a degree, yes. Nature can be said to be composed solely of matter/energy (following Einstein’s famous E=mc^2, matter was redefined as a form of energy). But is matter/energy all that there is? Certainly, not all of what we experience is tangible. I’m not talking here about something like light. It’s true you cannot hold light in your hands. But light interacts physically with your eyes. It is a form of energy. In a general sense of the word, it is “tangible”.

What qualifies then as truly intangible? I take consciousness as an example. We experience our consciousness and that of others. Consciousness is something real. But is it a form of matter/energy? No. Consciousness emerges from the self-organized electrical activity of our highly-interconnected neurons. It has a physical substrate—it disappears when our brain ceases to function, and is affected by physical damage to or chemical imbalance in our brain—but it is itself unphysical. In addition, one cannot adopt a reductionist approach and describe consciousness in terms of individual neuronal states. An individual neuron is like an ant, while consciousness is like the organized and nonrandom behaviour of the ant colony. This leads us to information theory, where information is defined as nonrandomness.

In some sense, therefore, science is not truly materialistic, because part of what is real can only be described in terms of information, in terms of the emergent orderly behaviour of interacting material states. In other words, nature is made of matter/energy AND information.

To me, the most important and useful law of physics is the law of conservation of energy. Whether you characterize transformations of matter, movement, particle interactions, energy is always conserved in the process. One could say in fact that this is a tautology—energy could be defined as “that quantity which is conserved”. Even if this is so, this law is central to the day-to-day activity of the physical scientist. It is one of the main approaches for getting a grip on complicated phenomena. In other words, an equation stating the conservation of energy can get you started.

If the two concepts needed to describe reality are energy and information, and if energy is conserved, then one may ask whether information if conserved. Is there such a thing as conservation of information?

Of course, I’m not the first to ask this question. Browsing the internet provides a few answers. First of all, there seems to be a consensus that information is conserved at the level of quantum systems. This has to do with the fact that quantum mechanics is time-reversible.

When you jump to macroscopic systems, however, information appears not to be conserved. Boltzmann’s second law of thermodynamics states that in a many-bodied physical system governed by statistics, entropy (disorder) tends to increase. It would also be true to say that in such a system, information tends to decrease. Indeed, in information theory, information can be defined as the opposite of entropy (i.e., as having the opposite sign). What would be conserved then is not information, but rather the sum of entropy and information. As with energy, this sounds like a tautology.

So what are we left with. Conservation of information is probably not true in general, although the answer may depend on how exactly you define information. But it is an interesting idea to toy with.

The problem is that it is, in some regards, a dangerous idea. I’m mimicking here how the philosopher Daniel Dennett described evolution as “Darwin’s dangerous idea”, in the sense that to this day it is still controversial [of course, Dennett is in support of evolution]. My point here is that the concept of “conservation of information” is another "dangerous idea".

Google “conservation of information” and you will find, regrettably, that this idea, or this law, is stated by the proponents of the so-called “intelligent design” theory (namely by William Dembski) as invalidating evolution. I’m not really interested in knowing what is the rationale behind this, mainly because intelligent design is just creationism in pseudo-scientific disguise, and because there is overwhelming evidence that evolution (by natural selection) does occur.

But I find it unfortunate that interesting questions and ideas relevant to information theory have been hijacked, or perverted (see also here). We can also imagine that people with a religious agenda will go further and equate consciousness with information, as I did above, and therefore put forward a law of “conservation of information” in support of the idea that there is survival (conservation) of the soul after death of the body. In this embodiment, the concept of conservation of information is again a “dangerous idea”.

Ironically, I think death provides us in fact with a real proof that information, in the sense given by information theory, is not conserved. In most places where we peer into, the universe shows a tendency toward increasing disorder (entropy). One exception is living things, which are very orderly. Death is in fact a very significant event : at the very second life disappears from the body, the body starts to decay, to tend toward more disorder. The same is true of consciousness, which disappears at death at the same time that electrical activity ceases in the brain, leaving the brain to itself, a soup of decaying neurons.

Yes, death is a significant event in the sense that it provides a very convenient definition for life: life is a force that defies and cancels out the universe's natural tendency toward disorder. The moment life is gone, the universe gains back control.

May 13, 2005

Nanobots within us

This week, Nature’s web site features a newsstory about replicating robots. Of course, a replication where human intervention is still required, so there’s nothing to fear… The building blocks (literally) have to be placed at precise locations, so that a given robot can reach for them and make a copy of itself. We are very far from a runaway situation where robots would come to rule the world… For the time being, it’s just neat to watch the movie of their “supervised” replication. And by the way, there’s no sex involved…

Some people, in fact, have warned that nanotechnologies could lead to an “out of control” situation, in which tiny (invisible) nano-robots would come to reproduce, mutate, and colonize the world, just as normal lifeforms (like us) can do.

I feel, like most people, that this is very unlikely to happen on the basis of current nanotechnologies. This is mainly because of the materials involved (silicon, etc.), which require complex chemistry to produce, and which nanobots could not produce on their own.

Of course, one may imagine other form of nanotechnologies, based on elements more readily found in nature, such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, and which hypothetical nanobots could exploit to make copies of themselves.

But in fact, they are already here! Yes, they are called VIRUSES—carbon-based nanobots. It took billions of years for nature to evolve them. This is precisely why there’s not much to fear about our current attempts at making nanomachines. Viruses have a significant headstart. They are already highly talented at replicating, mutating, at inhabiting our bodies and colonizing the world (cf. HIV). This is where our attention should be focused.

May 06, 2005

World Years

Physicists around the world are celebrating... UNESCO declared 2005 the World Year of Physics, commemorating the centennary of Einstein's annus mirabilis which saw the publication of three of his landmark papers. In principle, this should provide an opportunity to communicate to the wider public what physics is all about. The problem is that very few people, outside of physicists, seem to be aware of this "World Year". I suspect that this is because physics is no longer the central science, having been replaced by biology. Not that biology is more fundamental than physics. It is rather that biology has matured as a science and now holds a central position in people's worldview. Biology is science at the human scale.

Soon enough, 2005 will be in the past, and there will be other "World Years" or "International Years". One that more people should be made aware of is the upcoming International Polar Year, in 2007-08. The last one was in 1957-58. The reason for raising awareness about the poles is that significant physical changes are now occurring in these remote regions. It is there that global warming is most evident. Warming in the Arctic is faster than anywhere else on the planet. The thinning of ice sheets and other changes are already affecting animal and human populations. Changes there also affect the rest of the world. Replacing ice by water in the Arctic sea leads to more global warming simply because water absorbs sunlight whereas ice reflects it back to space. And melting of glaciers on land mass (like Greenland) leads to a rise in sea levels.

By the way, for those who still doubt that anthropogenic global warming is real, our friends at RealClimate attracted our attention this week to a year-old paper in Science, which has been described as the "smoking gun" for global warming.

In this week's issue of Nature, there is news of the biggest ozone loss over the Arctic this year. With the success of the Montreal Protocol, which enforced the phasing-out of ozone-destroying CFCs, one had the impression that ozone holes were a thing of the past. But not so. Apparently, this record year has something to do with global warming. But the cause/effect link is not firmly established. The rationale behind this possible link is this: Ozone destruction requires the formation of clouds in the stratosphere. These clouds form only at very cold temperatures (below -80 C). And it turns out that colder temperatures at high altitudes can result from the presence of greenhouse gases, because these gases lock heat close to the Earth's surface.

The Nature web site also has a news story about a somewhat paradoxical observation: it seems that our air is getting cleaner because our industries have become less polluting (which is good news), but that, as a consequence, this may accelerate global warming. The reason is that because air is cleaner, it is more transparent, and therefore more sunshine reaches the Earth's surface. In other words, cleaning the air of particulates exacerbates the greenhouse effect. So it seems like a catch-22 situation... But there is a way out, which is simply to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This is of course what Kyoto is all about...

April 30, 2005

Art and science perverted

Hitler has often made the news in recent days and weeks. First, there was the controversy surrounding “Downfall”, the recent film which recounts Hitler’s last days. Then, in the exaggerated media frenzy surrounding the recent conclave at the Vatican, commentators noted that Ratzinger, the new pope, had been a member of the Hitler Youths in his innocent years (although he was anti-Nazi himself). And, today, it is the 60th anniversary of Hitler’s suicide. In the context of this scientifically-oriented blog, this gives me an opportunity to examine how Hitler’s master plan originated in a perversion of art and science.

Hitler was a failed artist. Early on, he had shown interest and some talent in drawing, but twice he failed to be admitted in Vienna’s art school. In the 1989 documentary “Architecture of Doom”, the filmmakers assembled various visual documents to demonstrate that Hitler’s interest in arts was evident throughout the Third Reich, notably in its characteristic architecture. I remember having been fascinated by this film because it depicted this period from a very unusual angle. It is fair to say that, from art, Hitler had perverted the notions of aesthetics, of form, of symmetry, and, consciously or not, had transposed them to the pursuit of the perfect human race.

Although the above about art is partly speculative, the idea that the Nazi’s racial purification program was a perversion of science, is itself clearly not. This program derived directly from the eugenics movement, which itself was a perversion of the (admittedly dubious) work of Sir Francis Galton at the end of the 19th century and of Mendel’s principles of heredity. It was the result of taking metaphors from science too far. A more or less harmless scientific theory was transformed into a pseudo-science in order to support a pre-existing racist ideology. The Nobel laureate (Physics, 1969) Murray Gell-Mann said: “one has to proceed with caution, in that much mischief has been done in the world by exaggerating the role of scientific metaphor in human affairs. […] The Nazi racial theories are, of course, a horrible example of misapplying metaphors from science.”

What Gell-Mann failed to say however is that the repressive eugenics movement that the Nazis espoused was imported from the United States. This disturbing fact is the theme of the very thoroughly-researched 2003 book entitled “War against the weak: Eugenics and America’s campaign to create a master race” by Edwin Black. I had read an article adapted from this book in the Nov. 2003 issue of Seed Magazine. It was a real eye-opener. Several excerpts are worth reproducing here.

Black describes the situation in America at the turn of the (other) century: “Elitists, utopians, and so-called ‘progressives’ fused their smoldering race fears and class biases with their desire to better society. They reinvented Galton’s eugenics as a repressive and racist ideology, with the intent to populate the earth with vastly more of their own socioeconomic and biological kind—and less or none of everyone else.”

This movement grew more and more organized. In 1911, the “American Breeders Association” produced a “Report of the Committee to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population” which put forward 18 solutions, including forced segregation, sterilization, marriage restrictions, even euthanasia. The latter measure was never implemented in the United States, but others were, notably sterilization. Eugenics, and the practice of sterilization, permeated national policy and state legislations, and were endorsed by the Supreme Court. In 1927, the Supreme Court Justice Holmes wrote, in a famous decision on sterilization: “It is better for all the world if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.” This was not Hitler, this issued from the Supreme Court of the United States of America! There were ultimately 60,000 sterilization surgeries performed in America…

Part of the reason the eugenics movement became so influential in the United States is that it received massive financial resources from corporate philanthropies such as the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. The next step was to propagate this ideology throughout the world. Success was apparently achieved in Canada, as well as in a few European countries, most notably Germany. Over several years, American philanthropies poured in millions of dollars in support of eugenic research programs in Germany.

Black writes: “Eventually, American eugenic ideas also came to the attention of Adolf Hitler, who studied American eugenic laws and rationales and legitimized his race hatred by medicalizing it and wrapping it in this more palatable façade. Indeed, Hitler was able to recruit more followers by claiming that science was on his side.” This last sentence illustrates exactly what I mean by science being perverted, being hijacked.

After 1933, Hitler could apply what he had learned from American practices. Black writes: “American raceologists were intensely proud to have inspired the purely eugenic state the Nazis were constructing. In those early years of the Reich, Hitler and his race hygienists carefully crafted eugenic legislation modeled on laws previously introduced across America, upheld by the Supreme Court, and routinely enforced.”

Of course, Hitler’s actions went much further than what had been perpetrated in America. As Black relates: “Ten years after Virginia passed its 1924 sterilization act, Joseph DeJarnette, superintendent of Virginia’s Western State Hospital, complained in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, ‘The Germans are beating us at our own game’.” Indeed, the 60,000 American sterilizations should be compared to the 6,000,000 “euthanasiae” performed by the Nazis.

All this is in the past. But in the same manner that we should always remember the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, we should also realize that the pseudo-scientific rationale that justified them originated in America. We heard recently of the Chinese people protesting against the silence of Japanese history books about the atrocities they committed in China. I propose that, in a similar way, American history books should relate the leading role of the United States in the eugenics movement, to accompany and put in perspective tales of their triumphal military involvement in WWII.

What is ironic is that the situation in America in terms of their rapport with the notion of life has revolved 180 degrees, at least in appearance. The power in place now holds life as sacred, from the first split-seconds of the embryo (cf. the pro-life stance) through the machine-prolonged state of the functionally dead (cf. the Terri Schiavo case). This is a far cry from the sterilizations and marriage restrictions that were routine on American soil less than a century ago.

The lesson to be learned here is that we should be careful that science is never distorted to suit or to justify ideological or political pursuits. Incidentally, it is again in the United States that there is at present the strongest tendency for this to happen: in reaction to the teaching of evolution, religious fundamentalists are pushing creationist (a.k.a. intelligent design) ideas under the disguise of “scientific” discourse; or scientific findings about climate change and global warming are discredited or simply ignored in order to preserve the American economy from any disruption. It is the responsibility of scientists to act as watchdogs. But it is also essential that the general public is accurately informed about scientific issues, so that, through the democratic process, it can prevent their governments from venturing on a slippery slope.

April 22, 2005

Non-profit Pharma

Philip Campbell, in yesterday's issue of Nature, dedicated his editorial to a subject I find extremely important: the development of cheap drugs for diseases that affect the South, but spare the wealthy North.

Large pharmaceutical companies (so-called Big Pharma) look for profitability, and therefore tend to develop only drugs that affect the North, where people are able to pay. So, while at least a million deaths are caused each year by malaria (90% in sub-saharian Africa), Big Pharma chooses to concentrate its efforts on developing drugs that treat erectile dysfunction (e.g. Viagra)...

Fortunately, things are beginning to change. Not that Big Pharma is doing anything. Instead, the last few years have seen the emergence of non-profit drug developers. Before reading Campbell's editorial, I knew only of OneWorldHealth. This non-profit pharmaceutical company, based in San Fransisco, was founded in 2000 by Victoria Hale, who was formerly at the FDA. She apparently had no difficulty recruiting top scientists from Big Pharma who had become disillusioned with the industry and wished to have a greater impact on people's lives, literally. She also received initial funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and relies essentially on donations. Campbell mentions a similar initiative in Europe: the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (instigated by Doctors without Borders).

Ironically, several potential drugs for the treatment of neglected diseases sit in academic and industrial labs. They are not exploited because of the financial hurdle that clinical studies represent and therefore the requirement that these drugs are eventually profitable. Organizations like OneWorldHealth sollicit the assistance of researchers in making these drug candidates known and available, thus ensuring that they are fully exploited.

I'm just spreading the word here... For someone with a pharmaceutical background, it's possible to volunteer some time to OneWorldHealth. For others, it's possible to donate some money.

Bono sings: “Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die”. I think this applies nicely to the situation I have just described.