Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

April 4, 2007

Millennium development holes

Nature recently published an Editorial “Millennium development holes” on problems with the underlying data used to assess progress to the goals.


Every year, the UN rolls out reports with slick graphics, seemingly noting with precise scientific precision progress towards the goals. But the reports mask the fact that the quality of most of the underlying data sets is far from adequate. Moreover, the indicators often combine very different types of data, making aggregation and analysis of the deficient data even more complicated.

There are decent data for just a handful of indicators, such as child mortality, but for most of the 163 developing countries, many indicators do not even have two data points for the period 1990–2006. And few developing countries have any data for around 1990, the baseline year. It is impossible to estimate progress for most of the indicators over less than five years, and sparse poverty data can only be reliably compared over decades.

Meanwhile, here are links to a few of my recent articles:

November 30, 2006

Blog anniversary, and latest news

This blog is 1 year old today. I’d like to say thanks to all of you for visiting, and often getting in touch.

It’s been an eventful year, with content mostly a mix of posts — too-infrequent :-) — on GIS, avian flu and public health, computing, and, of late, the venue for disseminating information on the Libya HIV case, and the campaign to free the six medical workers facing the death penalty — see here and here.

I’ve an article in today’s Nature — Amazon puts network power online — on an interesting form of computing-on-demand from Amazon, that might appeal to many scientists — it is in beta. It costs $0.10 per computing hour, and to store data for $0.15 per gigabyte per month. To get started, see the FAQ, and a guide here.


April 16, 2006

Easter avian flu map update

Map update

This weekend’s update adds a minor change to make it easier to see the latest human cases and animal outbreaks. The initial screen will by default only show — in yellow — those events that have occured since the last map update (see screenshots below). Download the new maps directly to Google Earth by clicking here. For a more detailed explanation of the new maps, click here.

March 22, 2006

The future of computing; science in 2020

Barely a month after Google Earth made the front cover of Nature, computing is back on the cover again. Tomorrow’s issue contains a big special on the future of scientific computing. All the articles are free, thanks to sponsorship from Microsoft; the special was produced in conjunction with the 2020 report published today by an international group of experts convened by Microsoft. The special is, however, of course completely editorially-independent of Microsoft

The special, by journalists and top computing experts, looks at some of the key emerging technologies and concepts that look set to have a major impact on scientific computing by 2020. I’ve a three pager on “sensor webs” – “2020 computing: Everything, everywhere” — in it; there is also a short pop-up box — “Batteries not included” — on the problems of powering these small remote devices.

December 15, 2005

SETI@home moves home

Filed under: Distributed computing — admin @ 3:47 pm

I’ve a story in today on the BOINC platform developed by SETI@home as a sort of distributed supercomputing operating system for the Internet. SETI@home itself moves onto the new platform today.


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