Friday, July 28, 2006

A regional view

This certainly won't be new to anyone in the region but is important to summarize Latin America 's position in science and technology, and the results are terrible. In a report done by the Inter-American Development Bank (get the numbers here, also check the report on higher education) the data was hard to believe. As an example the whole region spends $11 billion in research and development, this might sound like an awful lot of money but now consider that a single asian country, South Korea, expends $12 billion, more than all the latin american region!

The reasons for this are difficult to pinpoint, but as far as I can say the whole topic isn't in the political agenda. In the past electoral process the candidates rarely mentioned it, maybe they just expected that inversions will arrive to a country that is unable to create any new product. In this regard Mexico registers the ludicrous amount of 82 patents a year! Argentina registers 62 patents and the regional leader, Brazil, registers 130 patents a year. There are many US universities that register many more patents. Let's compare this numbers with Asia, Japan registered 36 000 patents, South Korea around 3000 and China (that has comparable or higher levels of poverty) registered 300.

The research is sponsored mainly by the state which is a rare situation in the world. In the "communist" China 61% of R&D is paid by the bussiness sector in contrast with the 32% in Latin America. The bussiness sector inversion in R&D of course isn't the result of some philantropic ideology but the result of effective state policies, as an example many american universities get money for research from donations that many companies do in exchange of fiscal privileges. But don't expect that transnational companies will put their money in countries with high taxes, inefficient spending, legal uncertainty (remember Evo Morales seize of refineries and oil extraction plants or the seizure of bank deposits in Argentina in 2001).

Even more important, Latin America lacks the necessary human resources to attract R&D inversions that usually go to places like India or Singapur. Take the microprocessors company Intel as an example, most of the region's countries were shocked when Intel decided to move its inversions to Costa Rica (where president Arias removed the army and used those resources for education) instead of the obvious candidates: Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Even further in the past Intel had looked at the region for a big R&D plant but eventually decided to do it in Haifa, Israel (which is now under fire, literally). In this regard the educative levels are pathetic, in the PISA mathematics test the average score of mexican students was 385, the american students scored 483 and japanese students 534.

Which are the results of this lag in science, research and education? The results are that the region is the slowest-growing one in the development world, while Latin America is projected to grow by 3.7 percent in 2007, sub-Saharan Africa will grow by 5.4 percent, the Middle East and North Africa by 5.1 percent, South Asia by 6.2 percent, East Asia by 8.1 percent and Eastern Europe by 5.1 percent. It is imperative for the region to understand that the current situation is untenable: the oil prices won't be sky-high forever and the agricultural and metal export prices increase will certainly decrease in future.

In a region where its leaders speak about the recent export bonanza as the product of their economic wisdom, the future might be gray when the bonanza bubble bursts unless the correct measures are seized. Certainly science, research and education should be the prioritary model for the region's growth and as Ireland and Asiatic example shows, it works.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blasting out black holes from the galactic disk

A recent paper (1) shows that the black hole X-ray binary XTE J1118+480 might be an ejected black hole from the galactic disk. This system consists in a small star orbiting a black hole, it was discovered in the year 2000 and it was since then an interesting object because of its location in the metal poor galactic halo.

Using the 10 m Keck telescope the spectra of the small star has been observed and surprisingly enough it was very rich in metals (remember that in astronomy anything else from hidrogen and helium is considered as metal, this is because this elements are synthetized inside the cores of stars, elements heavier than iron are believed to form in supernova explosions) suggesting it might actually be a double star from the galactic disk (where the metal abundance is much higher than in the halo), when the massive star in the system went supernova it might caused an asymmetrical blast (by the so called "acoustic mechanism") that expelled the system from the galactuc disk (2).

After reading the paper it seems to me that the metallicity is way too high, it's even higher than the Sun, this means that

  • This is a relatively recent event so the star is from a later generation than the Sun, so it formed from a mollecular cloud with a higher metal abundance.
  • As I mentioned before some of this heavy elements are formed in supernova explosions, making the assymetric natal kick not so necesary, after all.

Because the estimated age of the small star is around 5 Gyr, so the first scenario is very likely and certainly (almost) discards the origin of this system inside a globular cluster.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


There is a recent report from UK universities about the most remarkable discoveries done in UK universities, in a previous post I had done a similar thing for the mexican case.

Despite some points in which I disagree, like the claim of the contraceptives which were first sintetized in 1951 by Luis Miramontes in Mexico who was aware of the contraceptive use of norethindrone (the work in 1961 by Herchel Smith produced cheaper contraceptive pills which is of course a significant advance, but it seems clear that the report try to sell the idea that contraceptive pills are an UK invention which is false), and also the CFC stuff where the really important role was played by Crutzen, Molina and Rowland (again the work of James Lovelock was an important precedent, but it seems to me they are trying to oversell it), this kind of reports are really important because many countries are facing serious problems with research budgets.

In the case of Mexico the situation is of near disaster with only 0.34% of the gross domestic product going to research despite some countries invest more of the 10%. This situation has only resulted in that most of the inversions in technology have gone to Asia where the situations is radically diferent, let's see how the new president faces this challenge.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

No the best possible outcome

We still don't have an official result of the elections, the cause is simple: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has acussed everyone of massive fraud, including the loss of 3 million votes (the votes were indeed in the Prelimary Results Program, so this was completely disproved) and has threatned threatened with massive protests and said: "The stability of the country is at stake" (1). The prelimary results with 98.5 of the votes counted showed that PAN won by around 1% (around 400 000 votes), after counting the 3 million votes that are hold the PAN still wins by 0.6% (250 000 votes). With such a close election, has said Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador "The political stability of the country hangs in the balance." and it seems clear he simply won't accept his defeat soon.

This photo actually portraits very well my impressions of this protests, the placard says "fraud" next to the the latest elections since 1988 (actually the election of 1988 is widely regarded as fraudulent, and even one of the candidates died on suspicious circunstances after the election), despite since 1994 the IFE has organized the elections and all of them had been considered as valid by international organizations. The top of the placard acusses of the fraud the PAN, PRI (their principal competitors) and TV Azteca (this is completely ridiculous, despite it dubious antecedents I don't see how this TV network can alter the ballot boxes). I won't even comment about the URSS flag...

This is one of the worst scenarios, the PRD won't accept its defeat, and the stocks have already lost 4.3%. The IFE has decidied to recount every vote tallie.

As of 8:59 PM the results are PRD: 36.45 and PAN:34.83 but many districts in which PAN had most of the votes aren't counted yet. Wait, now at 9:15 are rumors the count has halted!!!

Update: The rumor was simply false and the stocks have been stable recently, this recount has actually showed the same results: in the preliminary results Calderón won by 0.6%, in the recount he won by 0.57%. Obrador has impugned the election and has treatened with more protests, has acussed the IFE of being a corrupt and fraudulent institution, called Vicente Fox a traitor to the country and even acussed his own representants of selling out. This will only affect his own political future, personally I just want him to shut up.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Not yet...

We still don't have an official winner of the election, the election is simply too close for call and the results will be announced until wednesday. It seems that Felipe Calderon has won but we only have 9% of the votes counted, in the election for legislators exit polls show that PAN has 35% of the votes and PRD a 31%.

Despite who turns out to be the next president, the PRI which ruled for more than 70 years before Vicente Fox has now falled to the third place! I don't have any idea if the PRI is prepared for this. The other source of concern regards Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who has hinted won't accept a defeat by a close margin, there are some concerns about movilizations, but let's wait until wednesday for that.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Elections day

Today we have elections for president and in some states (including Jalisco, where I live) we also have governor elections.

Amazingly enough, Mexico city has what I perceive as two rather good candidates: Demetrio Sodi and Beatriz Paredes, the amazing part is not only having decent candidates, but that the exit polls show that Marcelo Ebrard who was sacked by Vicente Fox after Ebrard refused to help three federal police officers who were lynched in Tlahuac is winning with 52% of the votes! During the hours long incident which ended in the death of two of them and included officers' pleas for help in national TV, authorities refused to send any kind of reinforcements, later videos showed that Ebrard was aware of the situation but refused to act because he was in a precampaign act. He also famous for wasting millions of dollars for Giuliani's services that didn't improve the security in Mexico city at all. The only reason I find for this is that PRD has been able to emulate the structure of PRI the party that ruled Mexico for more than 70 years, after all most of the people surrounding Ebrard and Obrador are well known members of Carlos Salinas de Gortari cabinet.

Andres Manuel López Obrador was Mexico City's mayor at the time of the incident and said that he would never use the public force, even in extreme situations as lynchings, he also mocked of the million of participants in march demanding the end of the recent insecurity wave, when months later were released TV ads showing victims of kidnappings and encounters with criminals he said he was the"victim of a complot". A few months before members of his cabinet were videotaped receiving millionare bribes from Carlos Ahumada and Carlos Ponce (the minister of finances) was videotaped gambling huge amounts of money in Las Vegas, a few days ago Ahumada's wife threatened to show more videos involving more López Obrador collaborators, and later suffered an attempt on her life, this videos are now believed to be lost. He is now the leading candidate for the presidency, don't even try to ask me why.

In the local election for governor Emilio González Marquez seems to be the winner of the elections, at least from exit polls that show he has 46% of the votes. The campaign for local elections was pathetic, even worse than the federal one and just consisted in a trade of insults and acussations, including acussations of narcotrafic, corruption and homesexuality. Of course this only results in most people view of politcs as the less honorable job in the world.

Law prohibits the release of any kind of result regarding the federal election before 9 PM in local media, I don't know if this blog is considered as a local media, but I will remain on the safe side. Maybe some international media releases some information, surely a web search can help in that regard.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Still alive

After a brief hiatus I'm back to action. Actually it seems a lot of things happened recently including a failure of Hubble's main camera, an expresident got a warrant order, and, of course, the World Cup (Mexico lost against Argentina...), and I still can't believe what happened to Denice Denton. Meanwhile I have been deciding where to go for vacations, a small town in Austria seems quite interesting...