Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How many new countries will there be in Europe in 2050?

While recently most new countries have been evolving in the Balkans, the Western Europe does not seem immune from it as well.
Last fall the Economist asked: "If Belgium did not already exist, would anyone nowadays take the trouble to invent it?". Belgium is divided along its linguistic lines between french-speaking Walloonia and dutch-speaking Flemish region. They only vote for their own political parties, thus after last election it took 9 months to agree upon a new government. Now, the new prime minister has decided to resign, so new talks about the viability of the country emerge. Certain Ideas of Europe blog is asking: "Time to dissolve Belgium?".
Also, recently i talked with some friends of my friend from Catalonia, a region in Spain. And it struck me, that there are many people want to break free from the Spanish rule there. And then there are of course the Basques and the Scottish...
One more question is, how would these countries become part of EU (if they want it, of course)? If the Catalans managed to break free from Spain, it is hard to see Spain allowing them to join the EU. And if Belgium would break up into two new countries, would Brussels be outside of EU until the new countries go through their accession periods?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Copenhagen Consensus - "Stop Kyoto!"

Second Copenhagen Consensus Expert Panel has published their analysis about where global aid and development projects could do most good for least amount of money (read here). And for second time in a row climate change is the worst case - a huge investment for rather limited and unpredictable gain.
This finding was based in part on research by a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the group that shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize – who noted that spending $800 billion over 100 years solely on mitigating emissions would reduce inevitable temperature rises by just 0.2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Even taking into account some of the key environmental damage from warming, we would lose money on the investment, with returns of just $685 billion.
It makes little sense for the world to impoverish itself by embracing a poor solution to one problem when there are more pressing challenges that can be resolved at smaller expense.
So maybe the developing world is right to say that if rich countries want to establish expensive schemes for carbon trading or carbon tax, they may do it, but having millions of poor people to feed and nurse, the less well off regions must focus on more burning issues.
So what were the most yielding foreign aid projects? Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc); The Doha development agenda; Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization); Expanded immunization coverage for children. Simple and rather cheap ideas that would make a huge difference to the living quality of hundreds of millions of people in the poor world.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Alzheimer's Disease

Some biotech blogging:
Technology Review reports that a Californian company Satoris has developed a simple blood test that can detect Alzheimer's Disease (AD) 2 years before clinicians.
Currently, AD can only be definitely diagnosed after death, and before that clinicians define Alzheimer's as dementia for which they have found no other reason. So a good diagnostic tool is certainly required.
However, two issues arise. The company says that their test is "nearly 90% accurate". That might sound good, but then again for a 70-year-old, the probability of having a AD is around 0,5%. Now, imagine that we test million 70-year-olds and 5 000 of them have AD. Our test is able to detect 4 500 of them. But also the test gives us 10% false positives among the healthy 995 000, which amounts to 99 500 cases. Alltogether we receive 104 000 positive test results but only 4 500 of them actually have the disease. So all of a sudden, our 90% accurate test can only give us a 4,3% probability of a person having AD.
The other problem is reported in the article:
However, until there are better treatments for Alzheimer's disease, [David] Michelson [vice president of neuroscience at Merck] says that diagnostic tests will be most useful as a research tool because "what's the use of confirming a diagnosis early if you can't do anything about it, if you don't have a treatment that could change what can happen?"
Alzheimer's Disease certainly remains one of the most important challenges for pharmaceutical companies, but most obviously a real breakthrough is nowhere in sight. Well, they have 39 years before i turn 65 and enter the risk group!