Friday, December 25, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The next step: personalized, self-managed, timely, cost-effective care
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IT in Healthcare Overview Innovation for the healthcare enterprise
Integrated digital hospital
How does the integrated digital hospital streamline workflows and improve care?
- Launch video (WMV 6MB)
Healthcare IT's business value
Intel and Cerner helped Banner Health, one of the largest U.S. nonprofit healthcare systems, evaluate the bottom-line impact of a holistic-care transformation initiative.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
France will continue to use data taken from a Geneva private bank in its drive against tax evasion, its budget minister said on Tuesday, a day after French officials agreed to share the client lists with Switzerland.
“Of course they can be used. The French judicial procedure will continue,” Eric Woerth told reporters on the sidelines of a visit to China with Prime Minister François Fillon.
Despite Swiss protests, French tax authorities have been using information secured from Herve Falciani, a former HSBC computer specialist, who has admitted stealing client data from HSBC’s private banking arm in Geneva.
On Monday, Paris agreed to return the data after Switzerland threatened not to ratify a tax treaty that would make it easier for French authorities to go after taxpayers who had salted away funds in Swiss bank accounts.
A Swiss finance ministry spokeswoman said on Monday the French move left a number of questions open and said these would have to be resolved between the two governments.
“The essential question is what France is prepared to do with the data,” she said.
By Ben Geman
Negotiators for China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, are resisting calls to allow their pledged emissions curbs to be subject to international verification and monitoring.
But U.S. officials at the talks emphasized to reporters on Tuesday that “transparency” must be a vital part of an international climate accord, and that talks between the U.S. and China are continuing. The U.S. is right behind China as the world’s No. 2 emitter.
The stakes are high.
Several Capitol Hill lawmakers say whether and to what degree nations allow international monitoring of their efforts will influence the Senate struggle to pass climate legislation next year.
“I don’t think you can do anything without it,” said centrist Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) when asked about the need to verify China’s emissions pledges.
Several other centrist lawmakers, such as Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), have said action by China is vital to securing their support for domestic emissions curbs.
China has pledged to curb its emissions intensity — that is, emissions per unit of GDP — by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, relative to 2005 levels.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a liberal who strongly backs mandatory U.S. emissions curbs, also said the China verification issue is important.
“There is a sense that we have been burned on the free trade agreements in terms of noncompliance,” Whitehouse said.
In addition to his own concerns, Whitehouse said that an absence of outside verification of China’s efforts would provide fuel for critics of climate legislation.
“It helps the opponents of the bill who argue it will lead to an exodus of jobs because of comparative advantage problems,” he said.
The House approved a sweeping climate and energy bill in June to curb U.S. emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, and the U.S. is provisionally offering these targets at the Copenhagen talks, subject to final congressional action.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to bring a climate and energy package to the floor this spring.
They say China should live up to pledges made during a bilateral meeting between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao last month in which both nations endorsed the view that emissions-reduction efforts should be transparent.
An American official said the U.S. wants an agreement at the talks that provides an “adequate sense of clarity about what other countries are doing and them having adequate clarity about what we are doing.”
“What we are looking for is for China and other developing countries to enter into a regime or system of transparency and verification, whichever word you want to choose, that would allow us to get a good sense of what their implementation is,” the official said on a conference call with reporters.
The official said there are ongoing “intensive” and “constructive” conversations, and that the U.S. is “hopeful” about an agreement, but hardly guaranteed it.
“I think they want to get a deal, but we will have to see how things go,” the official said.Chinese officials have said their emissions plan will be a firm and binding target domestically, but have criticized the idea of subjecting their actions to outside monitoring.
Obama’s bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November yielded a similar pledge of transparency. “This is about giving meaning and substance to those provisions they have already agreed to,” a second senior administration official said.
India subsequently pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 20 to 25 percent by 2020.
The verification question is one of several roiling the talks, which are scheduled to culminate Friday with the participation of President Obama and scores of other world leaders.
Negotiators are seeking a broad international political accord on emissions cuts, finance from rich nations for adaptation to climate change in developing countries and other issues.
Monday, December 14, 2009
By Alan Boyle
to the world of atoms, molecules and subatomic particles.
How do you summarize the past 50 years of discoveries in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics? And how do you predict what breakthroughs will be made in the next 50 years? That kind of challenge would be doubly daunting for any one person - but fortunately, we have a huge crowd of science fans to help with the task.
Coming up with the top 50 sagas in science is one of the ways that the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing plans to mark its 50th anniversary in 2010. The council began its work in 1960, in the wake of the first satellite launch, to help researchers and writers get the word out about the new era in science and technology that was dawning back then.
The end of the year is a fitting time to review the highlights of the past 12 months, and the end of the decade provides an opportunity to look back at the top stories of the previous 10 years. But the chance for a 50-year perspective doesn't come along too often, so the rules have to be different.
For this list, we're focusing on research milestones that have generated headlines through the years. You won’t find listings for events in the realm of science, space and medicine that may have generated huge headlines but did not involve advances in research - for example, the Challenger shuttle disaster of 1986 and the Columbia tragedy of 2003. However, we are including the Sputnik launch in 1957 as part of the '60s timeline, in part because it seemed to serve as a fitting start for the past five decades of discoveries.
To engineer a list of 50 science sagas that are evenly distributed over five decades, you need to combine some developments and separate others. A single item on the list encapsulates five decades of particle physics, while no fewer than eight items document the revolution in genetics.
Strangely enough, you'll find that a lot of the stories we're talking about today trace their roots back to the 1960s. The Large Hadron Collider, for example, builds upon theories and experiments that are more than 40 years old. The Internet we know and love got its start in 1969. The effort to send humans beyond Earth orbit dominated the decade, and a renewed effort is much on NASA's mind today.
This list draws upon the input of other science writers, including members of CASW's board, but it’s not set in stone. We welcome your comments about breakthroughs we may have missed. Perhaps there are some science sagas we’ve addressed in a single phrase that deserve a more extended mention. Or maybe there’s a better way to explain the significance of a particular science saga.
This week, we're going to roll the list out day by day, decade by decade. Here are the milestones we've come up with for the 1960s:
1. Satellites: Russia launches Sputnik, opening the space race. America responded with the 1958 launch of Explorer 1, the first satellite to produce a significant scientific return - namely, the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt. The first successful weather satellite (TIROS 1) and the first communication relay satellite (ECHO) were launched in 1960. The space race and the satellite revolution kicked scientific and technological progress into high gear – and created greater demand for science news coverage.
2. ‘The Pill’: The first oral contraceptive is introduced. The Food and Drug Administration's approval of Enovid-10 ushered in the era of "the Pill." Few medications have had such a widespread impact on society and social norms.
3. The laser: First working laser is put into operation. Theodore Maiman's optical-light ruby laser followed up on earlier research by Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, who developed the first maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) in 1954. The 1964 movie “Goldfinger” may have portrayed it as a killer ray, but the device came to have user-friendly applications ranging from eye surgery to DVD players to supermarket checkouts.
4. Cracking the DNA code: Biochemist Marshall Nirenberg and his colleagues publish the first of a series of papers laying out how DNA's genetic code is translated within the cell. The cracking of the code built upon Watson and Crick's discovery of DNA's double helix almost a decade earlier, and opened the way for the genetic revolution to come.
5. Plate tectonics: Geologists Harry Hess and Robert Dietz propose that seafloor spreading and subduction are basic parts of the mechanism for plate tectonics - a finding that led to the rapid acceptance of the tectonic theory behind Earth's large-scale geologic changes. The study of paleomagnetism led scientists to conclude that Earth's magnetic poles periodically reversed, providing an important geological dating method.
6. The environmental movement: Marine biologist Rachel Carson's masterwork, "Silent Spring," is published. The environmental concerns voiced in the book helped spark a grassroots movement that led the federal government to create the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and phase out the use of DDT in 1972.
7. Quasars: The first quasar - quasi-stellar radio source - is discovered by Dutch astronomer Maarten Schmidt. Scientists eventually determine that quasars are compact regions in the center of active galaxies that mark the presence of a supermassive black hole. The discovery was a key turning point in our understanding of galactic development and structure.
8. Quarks and all that: The quark model of particle physics is proposed. The ideas put forth by physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig touched off a decades-long quest to find the subatomic particles that matched the theory, including the J/Psi particle (found in 1974), the W and Z bosons (1983) and the top quark (2004-2005). The quest continues today at America's Fermilab and Europe's Large Hadron Collider, where scientists hope to detect the Higgs boson, the last particle predicted by the Standard Model.
9. Big bang's afterglow: Cosmic microwave background radiation is discovered by radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, an achievement that earned them a Nobel Prize in 1978. The background radiation serves as the fossil imprint of the big bang and has helped astronomers determine the geometry of the universe. The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), launched in 1989, was a landmark space mission that followed up on Penzias and Wilson's discovery by mapping variations in the background radiation.
10. Heart transplants: First human-to-human heart transplant is performed. Dr. Christiaan Barnard's operation in South Africa prolonged his patient's life by only 18 days, but helped set the stage for rapid progress in medical transplantation techniques. Stanford heart surgeon Norman Shumway was an early pioneer in transplant medicine, and Denton Cooley and Domingo Liotta made a significant contribution in 1969 with the first human implantation of an artificial heart.
11. Moon landing: Humans make first landing on the moon. The Apollo series of moon surface missions, beginning with Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, marked the climax of the decade-long U.S.-Soviet space race and also led to fresh scientific insights into the origins of Earth and the moon.
12. Internet: First node is connected on ARPAnet, the predecessor to the modern Internet. What began as an research project to develop a nuke-proof communication system ended up revolutionizing academic exchange - and eventually modern society. Twenty years after the Internet's birth, CERN's Tim Berners-Lee brought the global network to a higher level with the invention of the World Wide Web.
We'll continue the list on Tuesday with the milestones of the 1970s. If you can't wait for future installments, you can see the full timeline on CASW's Web site.
As long as we're talking about timelines, please suggest some of the milestones we might see on a timeline stretching from 2010 to 2060. My favorites include private-sector spaceflight to Mars and beyond, hints of life (or at least livability) beyond Earth, fusion power, more widely available terrestrial solar power and space solar power, cell-based therapies and increasingly intelligent machines. What are yours?
To get the creative juices flowing, here are some additional perspectives on the 50 years (and five years) to come:
- The world in 2058
- Five frontier technologies
- Why the future goes flooey
- Edge: The next 50 years
- Popular Mechanics: Miracles of the next 50 years
- Isaac Newton's prediction for 2060: The end of the world
ABOUT COSMIC LOG
Quantum fluctuations in space, science, exploration and other cosmic fields... served up regularly by MSNBC.com science editor Alan Boyle since 2002.
Alan Boyle covers the physical sciences, anthropology, technological innovation and space science and exploration for MSNBC.com. He is a winner of the AAAS Science Journalism Award, the NASW Science-in-Society Award and other honors; a contributor to "A Field Guide for Science Writers"; and a member of the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.photo credit: Jenny Moltar / NASA
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
COPENHAGEN — The United States for the first time outlined a dual path toward cutting greenhouse gases that would involve both President Barack Obama’s administration and the U.S. Congress to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Speaking Wednesday at a U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson described her agency’s decision that greenhouse gases should be regulated as complementary to U.S. legislation — not an effort to supplant the work of Congress.
The EPA on Monday gave the president a new way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions when the agency determined that scientific evidence clearly shows they are endangering Americans’ health. That means the EPA could regulate those gases without the approval of the U.S. Congress.
The EPA decision was welcomed by other nations in Copenhagen that have called on the U.S. to boost its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The full U.S. Senate has yet to take up legislation that cleared the Senate environment committee and calls for greenhouse gases to be cut by 20 percent by 2020, a target that was scaled back to 17 percent in the House after opposition from coal-state Democrats.
“We need legislation” to remove any uncertainty that businesses might have, Jackson added. “The reason for legislation is to take that question out of their minds. … We will work closely with our Congress to pass legislation to lower ourgreenhouse gases more than 80 percent by 2050.”
Jackson said the U.S. would take “reasonable efforts” and also “meaningful, common sense steps” to cut emissions, but didn’t provide specifics.
Negotiators on Wednesday, meanwhile, worked to bridge the chasm between rich and poor countries over how to share the burden of fighting climate change, and the top U.S. climate envoy, Todd Stern, highlighted the Obama administration’s efforts to curb greenhouse emissions.
“We are under no illusion this is going to be easy,” Stern said. “But I think an agreement is there to be had if we do this right.”
Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan, the head of the 135-nation bloc of developing countries, said the $10 billion a year that has been proposed to help poornations fight climate change paled in comparison to the more than $1 trillion already spent to rescue financial institutions.
“If this is the greatest risk that humanity faces, then how do you explain $10 billion?” he said. “Ten billion will not buy developing countries’ citizens enough coffins.”
China, which has recently overtaken the United States as the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, strongly protested a blunder that prevented a top diplomat from entering the vast Bella Center where the 192-nation U.N. climate conference is being held.
Su Wei, the director general of China’s climate change negotiation team, told the meeting he was “extremely unhappy” that a Chinese minister was barred from entry three days in a row.
Su called the incident “unacceptable” and expressed anger that U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer was not informed. De Boer pledged to investigate and “make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Meanwhile, small island nations, poor countries and those seeking money from the developed world to preserve their tropical forests were among those upset over competing draft texts attributed to Denmark and China outlining proposed outcomes for the historic Dec. 7-18 summit.
Some of the poorest nations feared too much of the burden to curb greenhouse gases is being hoisted onto their shoulders. They are seeking billions of dollars in aid from the wealthy countries to deal withclimate change, which melts glaciers that raise sea levels worldwide, turns some regions drier and threatens food production.
Diplomats from developing countries and climate activists complained the Danish hosts pre-empted the negotiations with their draft proposal, which would allow rich countries to cut feweremissions while poorer nations would face tougher limits on greenhouse gases and more conditions on getting funds.
“When a process is flawed then the outcome is flawed,” Raman Mehta, ActionAid’s program manager in India, said of the Danish proposal. “If developing countries don’t have a concrete indication of the scale of finances, then you don’t get a deal — and even if you do, it’s a bad deal.”
A sketchy counterproposal attributed to China would extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 industrial nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming by an average 5 percent by 2012, compared with 1990 levels.
The Chinese text would incorporate specific new, deeper targets for the industrialized world for a further five to eight years. However, developing countries including China would be covered by a separate agreement that encourages taking action to controlemissions but not in the same legally binding way.
Poorer nations believe the two-track approach would best preserve the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” recognized by the Kyoto treaty.
The U.N.’s weather agency unveiled data Tuesday showing that this decade is on track to become the hottest since records began in 1850, with 2009 the fifth-warmest year ever. The second warmest decade was the 1990s.
In Rome, Greenpeace activists climbed halfway up the Colosseum at dawn Wednesday to press for a historic climate deal at the Copenhagen conference.
Friday, December 4, 2009
By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN
The biggest news story of last week?
O.K., maybe it was Oprah Winfrey announcing she was going to call it quits with her daytime show in 2011.
But it’s a close call. Though Oprah sucked up a lot of the media oxygen, last Thursday was an important day in Washington, too, with a couple of Winfrey-worthy aha! moments that could shake up the world of finance.
Representative Ron Paul of Texas won committee approval of a far-reaching amendment that would give Congress vast new authority over the Federal Reserve. The Fed has long enjoyed Lone Ranger autonomy, but that will quickly end if the final bill passes.
Representative Brad Miller, Democrat of North Carolina, and Representative Dennis Moore, Democrat of Kansas, added their own bell-ringer for voters still outraged over bailouts: the next time the government has to step in and rescue a company, secured creditors will take a hit, too.
That would be a huge shift in the way bondholders are treated. Up to now, they’ve been kept whole, even as others have been asked to share the pain. Otherwise, some feared, creditors might get spooked, and lending might seize up.
The amendment, which also was approved by the committee, already has a nickname: “The Bair-Miller-Moore Haircut” (credit goes to Ira Stoll on his FutureOfCapitalism.com blog). The Bair reference is, of course, to Sheila C. Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
One other amendment was added, as well. Representative Paul E. Kanjorski of Pennsylvania proposed giving regulators power to undo firms deemed to be too big to fail.
All of these amendments, which are part of a 300-page bill to reform the financial industry that is making its way around the House of Representatives, are intended to help quiet some of the outrage over the bailout.
The Federal Reserve, which has printed money in exchange for assets from the nation’s banks, has long operated opaquely. It is virtually impossible to size up its balance sheet.
So on its face, the Paul amendment seems well intended. After all, who can argue with a little more sunlight?
But consider these words of caution from Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire: “Congress has demonstrated time and again its inability to manage the nation’s fiscal policy, illustrated by our staggering national debt in excess of $12 trillion. So how can anyone think that its involvement in monetary policy would be good for the country?”
So any unintended consequences of the amendment — what Senator Gregg calls “a dangerous move by this Congress to pander to the populist anger” — could indeed lead to less independence for the Federal Reserve, and the result ultimately may not be good for the economy.
That has been Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s line all along. He does not want the Fed to be a puppet of Congress. And on that score, he is probably right. Could Paul Volcker have raised interest rates in the early 1980s to nosebleed levels if Congress were pulling strings? What would happen in an election year? Interest rates would invariably go down, only to go up again later.
Representative Paul, of course, doesn’t just want oversight of the Federal Reserve, he wants to dismantle it entirely. He has a dog in this fight and it is snarling: he has a book out called “End the Fed.” In an interview with my colleague, Cyrus Sanati, Mr. Paul told him, “It’s not pandering, it’s listening.”
“The people are angry because they are finding out what the Fed is doing,” he added.
The other amendment, the Bair-Miller-Moore Haircut is potentially even more controversial.
It calls for secured creditors of banks — the top creditors on the totem pole — to be entitled to receive only 80 percent, not 100 percent, of the money they put up if a bank is taken over in receivership or a conservatorship by the government.
That is a hot-button idea because, for the last year, many critics have asked why bondholders were protected by the government. Again, at a gut level, it seems fair for secured creditors to take a haircut if the taxpayer if going to bail them out.
Again, not so simple in practice. Because of the new risk, banks would find it more expensive to raise money — especially so when they run into problems.
Who wants to lend money to a bank when there is a chance the government is going to come in and take it over, so that even a secured creditor at the top of the food chain is going to lose something?
Joseph Abate, a Barclays Capital analyst, made this point in a research report, too: “In any situation where it appears that a large firm is about to fail, secured lenders will rapidly head for the exit and terminate as many of their repo transactions as possible. No secured lender will want to be left in a trade with a bank in receivership where the regulators have converted the transaction into an unsecured loan at 80 percent of the original amount.”
In other words, Mr. Abate contends, “It would likely make secured funding to large institutions much more ‘flighty.’ ”
Indeed, there is an argument that the amendment will make the system more risky, not less so.
“Large systemically important firms would become more vulnerable to liquidity runs — of the sort seen last fall,” the Barclays report said.
All these proposals are well intentioned, and with a bit of refining, they may ultimately be the right solutions. But as we learned with the bailouts, they may come with unintended consequences.
By Hilary Potkewitz
Hottest hedgie is shorting dollar, mortgages
Paulson alum Paolo Pellegrini correctly saw the subprime mortgage collapse coming. Now he bets against the greenback and says mortgage-backed securities will fall more.The new-age Nostradamus of the hedge fund world is at it again. Paulson & Co. alum Paolo Pellegrini, who presciently predicted the subprime mortgage collapse two years ago, is foretelling an even weaker U.S. dollar and continued collapse of mortgage-backed securities.
The acclaimed investor is shorting both in his approximately $230 million hedge fund, PSQR Management, which next month will be opening to outside investors for the first time.
The Manhattan-based fund has been operating since April 2008, when Mr. Pellegrini seeded it with $100 million of his own money. The firm claims returns of 130% since inception.
During the home-buying frenzy of 2007, as co-manager of Paulson's Credit Opportunity Funds, Mr. Pellegrini started shorting mortgage-backed securities. Other investors scoffed.
A year later, Messrs. Paulson and Pellegrini emerged the victors, pocketing about $20 billion when the subprime mortgage market collapsed.
Mr. Pellegrini left Paulson last year to start PSQR. In May, he hired former Merrill Lynch Chief International Economist Alex Patelis to serve as his firm's chief economist.
The U.S. dollar fell to a 15-month low against a basket of foreign currencies early this week, yet Messrs. Pellegrini and Patelis predict it has further to fall, according to PSQR's latest investor report and marketing materials.
“We remain fundamentally skeptical about the ability of the U.S. dollar and of U.S. dollar-denominated fixed-income assets to retain their value,” they wrote, explaining their intentions to heavily short both U.S. mortgage-backed securities and the dollar.
“We can't predict which will go down, or which will go down more, but we believe [both] will go down a lot.”
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