Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Science Commons

A captivating video promotes Science Commons, which

applies the Creative Commons philosophy and methodology to the world of scientific research. We leverage the existing CC infrastructure: open licenses for copyrighted works, commons deeds and metadata, international affiliations and more. We also extend the infrastructure into science where appropriate — creating CC-inspired contract suites for materials like cell lines or mice, or building open source platforms for knowledge management and data visualization. Part of our role is to serve as a social engineering group for scientists, and part attorney arguing on behalf of the public domain in science.
 Our aim is to clear the legal and technical pathway for accelerating discovery worldwide.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Edited volume on biobanks

The edited volume Ethical Issues in Governing Biobanks. Global Perspectives (Elger, Biller-Andorno, Mauron & Capron, eds., Ashgate 2008) is now available in print. I contributed with chapters on feedback to research participants, ownership of samples and data, public domain sharing and patents, and transfer of samples and data.
Link to table of contents.
Link to introduction.
Link to index.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The financial crisis

Interesting radio interview on the financial crisis. Here is the link to Jeff Frankel's Weblog.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Italian academia

Parco Burcina
Originally uploaded by tizianoj
A beautiful photo of the place in which I grew up made me think about how messy the condition of Italian academia is. On 11/29, a group of researchers from Bologna started the brilliant initiative of laying down the photos of about 1800 young researchers, most of them in their 30s as I am, so that people would literally walk on their faces while strolling in Bologna. The initiative is meant to indicate that the lack of stability and financial and professional rewards in Italian academia is such that researchers feels like if they are 'walked on' on a daily basis. Good luck to them!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To bring the tofu, or not bring the tofu?

An article for vegetarians who have family in the States….

Tofurky, the best-known substitute, draws mixed reviews. "Honestly, Tofurky is gross," says Ari Hershberg, who was a vegetarian for eight years. "You try and like it and you say you like it, but you really just want to be eating turkey like everyone else." (This may just be Hershberg: he went back to eating meat six years ago.) Others, like McLean, say that while vegetarian stuffing is well and good, Tofurky would be far too untraditional: "That's way too weird for my family."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bioethics and the US elections

A short article on the upcoming US election was published by the Agenda Coscioni (available in Italian here). In the article, I look at the political program of both candidates, Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama, with regard to embryonic stem cells. A lot has been said and written about this topic. The statements from both candidates are sufficiently clear, although a closer scrutiny reveals ambiguities and contradictions. However, politicians are accountable to standard that are different from philosophers, legal scholars, and other critical thinkers. What is interesting, and the primary focus of my article, that the candidates have rather different views of what is the appropriate role that science and technology ought to play in the political arena. While McCain sees the science and technology issues as extensions of the foreign policy and economic political platform (or business, depending how you define the terms!), Obama seems to take a more academic focus, where science is a political tool that can play a role in the global environment through excellent by knowledge rather than exclusion on national security grounds. I ground the argument in part on this article published by Nature. I wrote the piece at a time when the outcome of the election was much more uncertain and the economy was not so prominently on the front page of the campaign. Science has not been the main focus of the campaigns. In a few weeks, we will have a new President and in a few months we will see how his leadership will affect science and technology.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Human rights and TB control

The paper 'Limitations on human rights: are they justifiable to reduce the burden of TB in the era of MDR- and XDR-TB?', which I co-authored with colleagues at the World Health Organization has been published in Health and Human Rights. A more formal version will be published in the Fall.


Tuberculosis, in all its forms, poses a serious, demonstrable threat to the health of countless individuals as well as to health as a public good. MDR-TB and, in particular, the emergence of XDR-TB, have re-opened the debate on the importance, and nature, of treatment supervision for basic TB control and the management of drug-resistant TB. Enforcing compulsory measures regarding TB patients raises questions of respect for human rights. Yet, international law provides for rights-limiting principles, which would justify enforcing compulsory measures against TB patients who refuse to have diagnostic procedures or who refuse to be monitored and treated once disease is confirmed.

This article analyzes under what circumstances compulsory measures for TB patients may be enforced under international law. Compulsory measures for TB patients may, in fact, be justified on legal grounds provided that these measures are foreseen in the law, that they are used as a last resort, and that safeguards are in place to protect affected individuals. The deadly nature of the disease, its epidemiology, the high case fatality rate, and the speed at which the disease leads to death when associated with HIV are proven.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The devil in the dark chocolate

Food has become a hot commodity in academic discussions. I enjoyed reading this Lancet editorial on the benefits of eating chocolate:

...dark chocolate that is rich in flavanols induced coronary vasodilatation and improved coronary vascular function in 11 heart-transplant recipients compared with patients taking a cocoa-free control chocolate. Other studies have also suggested that dark chocolate has cardiovascular benefits...the devil in the dark chocolate is the fat, sugar, and calories it also contains.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Embryonic stem cells and the presidential race

I published a short commentary in Italian - God, science, and research: the challenge of the primaries - on the American presidential campaign and the embryonic stem cells (ESCs) debate.

In the piece, I note that, while general questions of biomedical research and its funding have not been to the forefront of the campaigns and the debates, the ESCs debates has. I then argue this state of affairs is primarily determined by the fact that because ESCs questions are intertwined with much burning questions: on one hand, freedom of religion and the proper role of government; on the other hand, questions of civil rights, and in particular the balancing of a woman’s right to chose to have an abortion against the interests of an embryo and a fetus.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lessig on Obama

Compelling ppt presentation by Larry Lessig on Obama (video)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Luca Cavalli- Sforza's comparative view of research

In A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey, Linda Stone and Paul Lurquin reports on Luca Cavalli- Sforza's comparative view of research in the UK and in the US. Here is an excerpt:

Cavalli's experience at Stanford during his trial year and later allowed him to form impressions of science in the United States as compared to elsewhere . . . science in England is highly efficient. This . . . is because researchers there are allowed their own niches, resulting in little redundancy . . . the United States, although good for doing research in terms of facilities, money, and the availability of collaborators in many fields, suffers from the "rat race," the drive to be first. This only creates unnecessary anxiety but also results in many scientists doing the same thing, hence a wasted duplication of effort.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Who said people had to eat meat three times a day?

Mark Bittman (NYTimes, 01/27/08) ends his article by quoting Polan's question: "Who said people had to eat meat three times a day?" In his article, Bittman provides an empirical account of why we should revisit the assumption that eating meat is good. Here some of the data:

  • The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons
  • Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050
  • Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total
  • An estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production
  • If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius
  • 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days
  • Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chicken
  • About two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption ... It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States
  • [Americans] consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein

Saturday, January 26, 2008

American economy

Wise words from Michael Kingsley on today's Time:

We need a "fiscal stimulus" the way a drunk needs another drink. Let's sober up first

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Italy's Malaise: La Vita Non É Cosí Dolce

On the columns of the New York Times, Ian Fisher wrote "Italy seems not to love itself." In spring 2007, the Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed 47 countries, and on a variety of issues -- life satisfaction, national conditions, immigration -- Italians had a distinctively negative outlook.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Investment Banker Donates $20 Million to Fund Stanford's Stem Cell Research, Therapeutic Efforts

A California investment banker (and a Stanford alumnus) and his wife have donated $20 million to Stanford University for stem cell research.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


This week's Economist reports on Saviano's Gomorrah, which has been translated and published in English by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. You can read the first chapter here. I really enjoyed reading it because of both the factual details in it and the its impressive narrative style. Each page is full of language discoveries, and keeps you wanting for more. For instances, the female mobsters are called the "submarines" because of their invisibility. Moreover, the male mobsters, who enjoy a life of power, fame and likely and desirable death are called the "samurai of liberalism." A very enjoyable and instructive reading that I recommend to all readers interested in going beyond the surface of Italian society--the "underworld", as the NY Times refers to.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Will the Humanities Save Us?

Although I disagree with the thesis presented in it, this is an interesting NYTimes post by Stanley Fish. I am more on Kronman's side, as characterized by Fish:

The humanities do this, Kronman explains, by exposing students to “a range of texts that express with matchless power a number of competing answers to this question.” In the course of this program – Kronman calls it “secular humanism” – students will be moved “to consider which alternatives lie closest to their own evolving sense of self.” As they survey “the different ways of living that have been held up by different authors,” they will be encouraged “to enter as deeply as they can into the experiences, ideas, and values that give each its permanent appeal.” And not only would such a “revitalized humanism” contribute to the growth of the self, it “would put the conventional pieties of our moral and political world in question” and “bring what is hidden into the open – the highest goal of the humanities and the first responsibility of every teacher.”