Saturday, October 30, 2004

Good News for Open Source Movement
Bad News for 1000 Points of Light

The previous three posts all expressed a pessimistic tone.  It is time for something optimistic.  The last one, The Real Deal, Same as the Old Deal, spoke of the way in which the government of the USA is acting to favor large business over local development.  So here is a counterpoint:

UNDP-APDIP International Open Source Network

Welcome to the International Open Source Network, Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP) an initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The International Open Source Network (IOSN) is a Center of Excellence for FOSS in the Asia-Pacific Region. It shapes its activities around Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) technologies and applications. Via a small secretariat, the IOSN is tasked specifically to facilitate and network FOSS advocates and human resources in the region. The vision is that developing countries in the Asia-Pacific Region can achieve rapid and sustained economic and social development by using affordable yet effective FOSS ICT solutions to bridge the digital divide.
Of course, this is not a program backed by the government of the USA.  But they are doing good things around the world.  A few examples are shown here, from the IOSN news and upcoming events columns:
NGOs to receive free open source tech training 2004-10-25
Linux Installfest AUT, CBD Campus, New Zealand, 2004-10-31
Pak Con - Pakistan's Hacking Convention Karachi, Pakistan, 2004-11-19
Linux Bangalore/2004 J.N.Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, 2004-12-01
AsiaSource 2005 Bangalore, India, 2005-01-28
The medical information industry is involved, too.  There is an open source project named WorldVistA, which is refining an Linux-based medical records system.  This is based upon a system originally developed by the US Veteran's Affairs hospitals. 
Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, a Healthcare Information System (HIS). VistA is widely believed to be the largest integrated HIS in the world. It was originally developed and maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), based on the systems software architecture and implementation methodology developed by the U.S. Public Health Service jointly with the National Bureau of Standards. It is designed to provide a high-quality medical care environment for the country's military veterans. VistA has a proven track record of supporting a large variety of clinical settings and medical delivery systems.

VistA is in production today at hundreds of healthcare facilities across the country from small outpatient clinics to large medical centers. The software is currently used by the Indian Health Service and a number of other healthcare organizations around the world.

Donate to this projectDonate to WorldVistA

Cover Art for first issue of PLOS MedicineMany scientific journals are available free online to scholars in developing countries.  Examples include the ten journals published by the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, and many others.  The Public Library of Science just published their first online medical journal, which is completely open-access. 

In addition, there is a site that offers free full-text access to many medical books.  It's called FreeBooks4Doctors, but is open to anyone.  I noticed, though, that not all the links are kept up-to-date.  For example, the link to:
John F. Greden, Editor
Treatment of Recurrent Depression
Review of Psychiatry, Volume 20, Number 5
2001 - American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 189 pp; 2.6 MByte
ISBN 1-58562-025-4
is broken; the correct link is here.  Parenthetically, Dr. Greden is the Chair of the Dept. of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan. 

George H.W. Bush popularized the phrase, "a thousand points of light."  This stood for a conservative political philosophy that meant that the government should not be involved in so many social programs.  The ideas is that if the government does not do it, nongovernmental organizations will spring up to do the same job, without taxpayer funding.  It is a nice idea, and it might even work.  The development of open-source software, and medical information, illustrates this nicely.  But the concept of "a thousand points of light" will work only if, and this is a big if, the government does not actively get in the way.  For example, in Iraq, the US government could let the people form farming cooperatives.  Instead, they put legislation in place (1-article 2-copy of law) that prevents farmers from saving their seeds.  This, essentially, puts American agribusiness is the place of a social function that could be served by local cooperatives:
In 2002, FAO estimated that 97 percent of Iraqi farmers used saved seed from their own stocks from last year's harvest or purchased from local markets. When the new law - on plant variety protection (PVP) - is put into effect, seed saving will be illegal and the market will only offer proprietary "PVP-protected" planting material "invented" by transnational agribusiness corporations. The new law totally ignores all the contributions Iraqi farmers have made to development of important crops like wheat, barley, date and pulses. Its consequences are the loss of farmers' freedoms and a grave threat to food sovereignty in Iraq. In this way, the US has declared a new war against the Iraqi farmer.
George W. Bush has takes his father's idea, corrupted it, and turned into A Thousand Points of Profit.

OK, I promised an optimistic article.  It turned out to be not so optimistic.

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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