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:

Agencies join forces to share data

The US government is considering a massive plan to store almost all scientific data generated by federal agencies in publicly accessible digital repositories.

Data sharing: the next generation
The Internet has already become a place for people to share knowledge, opinions, music and videos. Now, in a slightly geekier aspect of the same trend, social software is allowing people to share data too. More than 1 million data sets have been uploaded to the data-sharing site Swivel since its launch in December. And on 23 January, IBM labs launched Many Eyes, which allows users to visualize their data with tools previously available only to experts.

FEATURE: Forensic science: Ghost buster
An Italian scientist revived the hunt for the mafia’s boss of bosses

Blogs to the rescue!
The US government should use the power of the Internet to engage citizens directly in relief operations, say two computer scientists. Use of wikis, blogs and other ‘community’ tools could help to coordinate responses to natural or man-made emergencies.

FEATURE Energy efficiency: Super savers: Meters to manage the future
“Switch off the washing machine or dryer for the next 3 minutes, and let me buy, at 10 cents per kilowatt hour, 20% of your solar energy output.” Such instant electronic transactions between electricity distributors and smart electric meters in millions of homes and businesses are set to add some badly needed intelligence to the electricity grid, bringing greater efficiency and reliability.

Fridges could save power for a rainy day

Refrigerated warehouses might soon be used to store not just food, but gigawatts of electricity. A plan dreamt up in the Netherlands could see the giant fridges acting as massive batteries. They would buffer swings in supply and demand from electricity created from renewable sources.

Rebels hold their own in journal price war
Last August, the entire editorial board of the Elsevier journal Topology quit in a row over pricing. Now they are setting up a non-profit competitor to be published by the London Mathematical Society. The Journal of Topology, announced last week, will launch next January and will cost US$570 per year, compared with Topology’s $1,665.
It’s not the first such move. Over the past eight years, around a dozen cheap or open-access journals have been created to compete directly with an expensive commercial journal, many by editorial boards that had quit the original publication in protest. So, do the cheaper journals fare better than their rivals?

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress