Media Mining 15 – Feb 24, 2012: Corruption in Equatorial Guinea, Jenner’s Smallpox Article, New York Smallest Carbon Footprint, NYC Improves Commo, Networked Knowledge, Journals Under Fire, Smoking Hazard, AIDS Vaccine, Injecting Tumors, Homeless Tunnels in Las Vegas, Thermoelectric Generators, and Spice History

Corruption in African nations isn’t remarkable news and is based on the sale of oil, but it does provide another example to compare with previous entries in an earlier blog. In this one Rob Walker investigates what’s happened to billions of dollars in oil revenues paid to the government of Equatorial Guinea. Listen online or go to the BBC, right click on “DocArchive: Assignment – Equatorial Guinea” and select “Save Link As…”

The other corruption entries are in this extract from the previous blog: NPR’s “Planet Money” Episode 331 focused on how knowledge of Greece’s debt was discovered and in classic fashion how the messenger was blamed. “Andreas Georgiou is the technocrat charged with running the Greek statistics office — the same office that, in the years leading up to the financial crisis, produced wildly distorted reports of Greece’s finances. So far, though, his efforts have been met with resistance, strikes and a criminal investigation that could lead to life in prison for Georgiou.” It’s at So that’s a form of corruption in Greece. Older podcasts about corruption in Chicago, India, Somalia and Sweden help define the concept and are available respectively from the BBC at,, and Mike Munger’s discussion about stories that explain profits with Russ Roberts on EconTalk at mentions greed that also seems relevant to any discussion about corruption. On the positive side and in direct contrast with Equatorial Guinea is what Norway did when it discovered oil as described in a 4:30 minute Planet Money episode. It’s a direct contrast with the situation in Equatorial Guinea.

Alan, Rich, and Dickson discuss Edward Jenner’s 1798 paper on cowpox vaccine, then move 200 years later to modern vaccines against norovirus, influenza H5N1, and more in this hundred minute TWIV 170 Rich gives a very clear summary of the pox, pointing out that if one is exposed to the airborne smallpox virus, you will get the disease. The fatality rate is thirty percent. Cowpox, which Jenner used to vaccine people,  kills only one percent. They then discuss a new pediatric vaccine in phase III trial that combines six vaccines into one shot. The combination vaccine will help protect from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), polio (polio virus types 1, 2, and 3), invasive disease caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b, and hepatitis B. The group discusses issues with combining vaccines. For instance, in this case none of them are live. The download site also has links to other topics, such as a plant-produced virus made by the Biodesign Institute, and the original Jenner paper.

David Owen of The New Yorker and author of argues that innovation and energy innovation have increased energy use rather than reduce it. Seemingly green changes do little to help the reduce humanity’s carbon footprint or are actually counter-productive. Only large reductions in consumption are likely to matter and that prescription is unappealing to most people. Owen points out that New York City is one of the greenest places to live because of the efficiencies of density. The conversation concludes with a discussion of how to best approach global warming given these seeming realities. Go to EconTalk, and download by right clicking on the title, David Owen on the Environment, Unintended Consequences, and The Conundrum.

Perhaps places with dense populations are greater centers of innovation. If so, internet communication should accelerate the process. Rachel Sterne heads the City of New York’s digital efforts, in which the city works to “democratize” city information with initiatives such as matching disadvantaged sixth-graders and their families with technology, providing WiFi in parks and libraries, creating on-line FAQs to provide general and specific to questions typically answered in most municipalities one-by-one, by phone. Sterne explains this process in a seventeen minute talk here. The site also has a slide show, but I couldn’t make it work.

In Too Big to Know David Weinberger who authored a book by the same name discusses for a half hour how we used to get our answers from books or experts. We’d nail down the facts and move on. But in the Internet age, knowledge has moved onto networks. There’s more knowledge than ever, of course, but it’s different. Business, science, education, and the government are learning to use networked knowledge to understand more than ever and to make smarter decisions than they could when they had to rely on mere books and experts. This is the greatest time in history to be a knowledge seeker, if you know how. Another interview of six minutes with the same author appears in On The Media.

While books may be doing well, technical journals are under fire. Late last month, a Cambridge Mathematician wrote a blog post that launched a massive boycott of the largest publisher of academic journals in the world. The boycott, now more than 6,000 academics strong, has ignited a discussion over the cost of, and access to, information published by academics. Rick Karr reports on rising discontent with the current academic publishing model in this seven minute segment. Elsevier is the largest for-profit publisher of these journals, some 2651 of them, and makes a profit of 36%. An exception is noted, the New England Journal of Medicine which makes material available after six months and immediately with critical pieces. It also produces a weekly twenty minute podcast.

“Since 1965, the percentage of American smokers has been cut in half, with far more men than women quitting. But, with the population increase, the total number of smokers has hardly changed. The number of former smokers in America has tripled in that time. Add to smokers, the vast number who’ve quit smoking, but whose lungs and bronchial passages have been damaged, and you get nearly a hundred million. The insidious thing about these diseases is that half the existing cases are undiagnosed. Thirty-five million Americans now live with chronic shortness of breath, many not realizing where it’s taking them. Tobacco remains as addictive as heroin and more deadly since it’s a legal over-the-counter drug. And lung cancer is only one of its modes of attack. Pulmonary disease is an equal threat.” A brief four minute summary of the subject is presented in a program called Engines of Our Ingenuityfrom KUHF, Houston. A transcript is also available.

The latest advances in treatment for HIV AIDS and tumors are presented by two representatives from two commercial research companies in this twenty minute talk here. A HIV vaccine tested on primates was seventy percent effective and is in Phase II tests on people. It can be used alone or combined with medicines used by AIDS sufferers. It’s produced by Geovacs. The tumor work concerns localizing chemotherapy by injecting it directly into tumors. It has been used on more than 400 patients and can be combined with chemotherapy to make it more effective with reduced damage to healthy cells. The work is being done by OncoSec.

In DocArchive: Assignment – America’s Poor the BBC’s Hilary Anderson examines what it means to be poor in the richest country in the world, a twenty-four minute segment that focuses on homeless people living in storm drains beneath Las Vegas. The title has to be found on the site and downloaded by right-clicking on it and “Save Link As…”

The Naked Scientists program presents a weekly digest of technical news. The latest episode focuses on thermoelectric generators (TEGs), starts off the program and runs about twenty-one minutes of the hour-long program. Over two-thirds of the energy in the fuel you put into your car is wasted, much of it out the exhaust pipe. The same is true of power stations, which are fifty percent efficient at best. Researchers are developing TEGs that turn this waste heat into electricity. Other items in the program include disguising cancer cells as Salmonella to produce effective anti-cancer vaccines, why the Y chromosome boosts heart attack risk, and a new drug that can reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s.”

An old entry slipped into the weekly download, from February of two years back, about the development of the spice market and how it changes over time, a seventeen minute program.  Spices are a timeless subject and their popularity varies. Listen online here or go here and scroll way down to  #148: Planet Money: When Cinnamon Moved Markets, right click the Media files and “Save File As…” A related set of two podcasts deal with the history of salt, called Salt-Part 1 and Part 2, from Canadian Broadcasting here.


About virginiajim

Retired knowledge nut.
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