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 26, 2007

Families of Bulgarian nurses meet France’s presidential candidates

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 7:28 pm

The families of the Bulgarian nurses met today in Paris separately with Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy. Both candidates pledged to make resolution of the case a priority if elected, and to have it on the agenda at the next EU summit on 22 June. This high-level political support is a very important, and welcome, development in the case.

It’s a pity therefore that there is a slightly bitter aftertaste of political recuperation. TF1, one of the main national TV channels here, again demonstrated its political impartiality by running images of the meeting with Sarkozy as headline evening news, but failing to even mention that the nurses’ families met with Royal. Both meetings were arranged by a coalition of European NGOs and individuals, of which I’m part of.

Moreover the families also met, not only with Royal, but Jack Lang, Royal’s adviser — who a few weeks ago visited the nurses in their prison in Libya — and Robert Badinter, who as Socialist interior minister under Mitterrand, abolished the death penalty in France, and has long been a solid supporter of the nurse’s case, and also contributed his political sagesse and experience to the cause. Political credit should be given in such human rights issues — even by electoral and parochial TF1 — where it is due.

April 25, 2007

Virtual Globes and environmental science

Filed under: GIS,Google Earth,Open data,Semantic web,Standards,Uncategorized — admin @ 10:51 am

The UK National Institute for Environmental eScience (NIEeS) recently organized a scientific workshop at Cambridge University on environmental research applications of Google Earth and other virtual globes; some of the presentations are now available online here.

April 18, 2007

Bush commends Darfur Google Earth layers; I recount the history of the project

Filed under: Blogging,GIS,Google Earth,Open data,Uncategorized — admin @ 9:11 pm

For what it’s worth, Georges Bush tonight commended the Darfur layers in Google Earth built by a group of volunteers (including yours truly), and endorsed by Google and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. On tonight, I tell the story of how this project evolved.

To read more of that history, see below:

Nature on France’s presidential elections

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:06 pm

In the week of the first round of France’s presidential elections, Nature takes a unique 9-page look at what the incoming president will mean for French research. Segolene Royal, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Bayrou, the only contenders in the race who might ultimately win the presidency, go into unprecedented detail on their plans for French science and technology in response to Nature’s questions.


April 10, 2007

Genocide information in Google Earth

Filed under: GIS,Google Earth,Justice,Open data,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:12 pm

I’m pleased to let you know about Crisis in Darfur, a Google Earth layer that assembles data, photographs, and eyewitness testimony and which will be officially announced today by Google and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. It will appear in Google Earth under the Global Awareness layer in the left hand panel of Google Earth .

April 6, 2007

Send Senators Joseph Biden and Patrick Leahy an appeal on the Libya death penalty case

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 6:02 pm

Physicians for Human Rights has launched a web page to send a message to the US administration on the need to resolve speedily the case of the medics facing the death penalty in Libya. You can access the sign on page here. Bloggers, please sign up, and forward this link to other bloggers/media. See PHR’s recent letter to Colonel Gaddafi here.

Bianca Jagger to support medics in Libya

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 5:55 pm

Bianca Jagger will arrive in Bulgaria tomorrow to lend support to the “You are not alone” campaign.

George Michael will also hold a concert in May in Bulgaria to back the cause. The two join a list of celebrities moved by the double tragedy; the children infected with HIV, and these health professionals unfairly imprisoned and sentenced to death.

Let’s hope their support can help mobilize public opinion to galvanize ongoing political and diplomatic efforts to alleviate both tragedies.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to visit Libya next week

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 5:36 pm

I’ve already posted on the public ambivalence of the US State Dept on the Libya death penalty trial — see post here.

John Negroponte, the number 2 in the State Dept will visit Libya next week, the highest-ranking US official to visit Libya since the US and Libya resumed full diplomatic relations last May. The talks will focus on Darfur. The US must ensure that the case of the six condemned medics is also high on the agenda.

See Reuters report here

“Justice in Libya? Let Scientific Evidence Prevail”

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 5:24 pm

That’s the title of a recent editorial in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, one of the top journals in this field. You can access the full article here.
Concluding paragraph:

How will this sad and deplorable episode end? Six foreign health care workers have now been jailed in Libya for ∼8 years, reportedly tortured, and now once again (on 19 December 2006) sentenced to death. Appeals are being considered, and ransom negotiations continue. Assuming the presumption of innocence as a basis for a fair trial, it must be stated that, by any objective standard, there is no scientific evidence to convict anyone of deliberately infecting unfortunate Libyan children. Moreover, epidemiologic and molecular evidence demonstrates that the HIV strain that caused the nosocomial outbreak was circulating in the hospital before the arrival of the foreign health care workers, and poor hygiene standards, such as the reuse of needles, were reportedly widespread. We can only hope that world pressure will continue until this miscarriage of justice is reversed. As noted by Ahuja et al., what has happened in Libya has sent “a chilling message to all health care workers who choose to work in difficult circumstances to deliver life-saving care to HIV-1–infected or at-risk people worldwide” [9, p. 924]. At a time when enormous progress is being made in the rollout of antiretroviral drugs to the developing world, we can ill afford such chilling messages. Let us all continue to exert whatever individual and collective pressure we can to bring this injustice to an end.

April 4, 2007

10 major US medical groups call for release of hostages in Libya

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 9:33 pm

In the run up to the Supreme Court hearing of the appeal of 5 Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor in the death penalty trial in Libya — expected as soon as end month — there will be growing international activity. On 23 March, 10 major medical associations wrote to Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi arguing the case for the release of what some describe as political and judicial hostages. A coalition of European organizations will be launched this month also.

Exclusive: Joan of Arc’s relics exposed as forgery made from Egyptian mummy

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:34 pm

I’ve a quirky but fascinating exclusive in a news article in tonight’s Nature. Here’s the link.


The relics of St Joan of Arc are not the remains of the fifteenth-century French heroine after all, according to European experts who have analysed the sacred scraps. Instead, they say the relics are a forgery, made from the remains of an Egyptian mummy.

Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist obtained permission to study the relics — cloth, a human rib and a cat femur — from the French church last year. He says he was “astonished” by the results. “I’d never have thought that it could be from a mummy.”

The researchers used a range of techniques to investigate the remains, including mass, infrared and atomic-emission spectrometry, electron microscopy, pollen analysis and, unusually, the help of the leading ‘noses’ of the perfume industry: Sylvaine Delacourte from Guerlain, and Jean-Michel Duriez from Jean Patou.

A series of clues led to conclusion that the relics were of the mummy origin, reinforced by carbon-14 analysis dating the remains to between the third and sixth centuries BC. And the spectrometry profiles of the relics matched those from Egyptian mummies from the period, and not those of burnt bones. Charlier points out that mummies were used in Europe during the Middle Ages in pharmaceutical remedies.

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:

Nature launches avian flu site

Filed under: avian influenza,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:33 pm

Nature helped launch interest in addressing the risks of a flu pandemic back in 2005. One of may favourites still is the fictional blog I wrote; The flu pandemic: were we ready?

Since then awareness of the threat has grown and there is extensive blog and media coverage on developments, as well as governmental and other sites providing information.
As an archive of reliable scientific information, Nature has now brought all its avian flu content together on one site, with almost all on free access. Here’s the link.

Powered by WordPress