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Saturday, December 18, 2004

japantoday > world U.S. accused of using Africans as guinea pigs for AIDS  tests

Saturday, December 18, 2004 at 08:12 JST
JOHANNESBURG — President Thabo Mbeki's ruling party published a stinging attack Friday on top U.S. health officials, accusing them of treating Africans like "guinea pigs" and lying to promote a key AIDS drug.
The criticism reinforces fears of doctors and activists that new questions about the testing of nevirapine could halt use of the drug that's credited with protecting thousands of African babies from catching HIV from their mothers.

The article, published in the online journal ANC Today, was responding to reports this week that U.S. health officials withheld criticism of a nevirapine study before President George W Bush launched a 2002 plan to distribute the drug in Africa.
Documents obtained by AP show Dr Edmund C Tramont, chief of the National Institutes of Health's AIDS division, rewrote an NIH report to omit negative conclusions about the way a U.S.-funded drug trial was conducted in Uganda, and later ordered the research to continue over the objections of his staff. Tramont's staff worried about record-keeping problems, violations of federal patient safeguards and other issues at the Uganda research site.
"Dr Tramont was happy that the peoples of Africa should be used as guinea pigs, given a drug he knew very well should not be prescribed," the article said. "In other words, they entered into a conspiracy with a pharmaceutical company to tell lies to promote the sales of nevirapine in Africa, with absolutely no consideration of the health impact of those lies on the lives of millions of Africans."
Smuts Ngonyama, an African National Congress spokesman and editor of the journal, said the article was an opinion piece by a member and didn't reflect official party policy. He wouldn't identify the author.
In the United States, the Rev Jesse Jackson called for a U.S. congressional investigation and demanded nevirapine no longer be distributed in Africa.
"This was not a thoughtful and reasonable decision, but a crime against humanity," Jackson said Thursday in Chicago. "Research standards and drug quality that are unacceptable in the U.S. and other Western countries must never be pushed onto Africa."
Dr H Clifford Lane, the NIH's No. 2 infectious disease specialist and one of Tramont's bosses, has said an internal review cleared Tramont of scientific misconduct.
He said Tramont changed the report because he was more experienced than his safety experts and had an "honest difference of opinion." Tramont has also argued that Africans in the midst of an AIDS crisis deserved some leniency in meeting tough U.S. safety standards.
Activists in South Africa accused the Health Department and ruling party officials of putting out misleading statements that could frighten patients off their treatment, and worried that governments may now halt use of single-dose nevirapine before alternatives are available.
"NIH may be guilty of a cover up of bad research protocols, in which case we would be the first to want them held accountable," said Zackie Achmat, head of the Treatment Action Campaign. "But there is no doubt in my mind about the safety of nevirapine."
Achmat also accused Mbeki of hiding behind an anonymous article.
Some 70% of the 45 million people worldwide infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Studies have shown that a single dose of nevirapine to an infected woman during labor and another dose to her newborn can reduce the chances of HIV transmission by up to 50%. Nevirapine is also used in combination with other drugs to prolong the lives of AIDS patients.
Subsequent research has confirmed the safety and efficacy of nevirapine in protecting newborns, the World Health Organization says. But there's evidence pregnant women who receive a single dose can develop resistance to the drug that can compromise their future AIDS treatment.
WHO recommends nevirapine be used in combination with other drugs where possible — a strategy that has reduced transmission to less than 1 percent in wealthier countries. But it says resistance concerns must be weighed against the practicality of administering a single dose of nevirapine in impoverished African countries.
In July, South Africa's Medicines Control Council recommended that nevirapine only be used in combination with other drugs because of the resistance concerns.
The Health Department this week welcomed U.S. concerns about the quality of nevirapine research in Uganda, saying it supported its cautious attitude to the drug.
Until this year, Mbeki's government refused to provide anti-retroviral drugs through the public health system, citing safety and cost concerns. A coalition of doctors and AIDS activists won a 2002 Constitutional Court order requiring the government to immediately expand a pilot nevirapine program to all infected pregnant women. (Wire reports)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Japan approves visa for Taiwan's ex-president to visit - Dec 16, 2004

Japan approves visa for Taiwan's ex-president to visit - Dec 16, 2004

Dec 16, 2004
Japan approves visa for Taiwan's ex-president to visit

TOKYO - Japan plans to issue a visa for Taiwan's former President Lee Teng-hui to visit this year, the government said on Thursday, a decision that China has urged Japan to reverse or risk damaging Tokyo's relations with Beijing.

Beijing insists that self-ruled Taiwan is a part of its territory and opposes contact between the island's government and other countries - even visits by former Taiwanese leaders - that might imply it is an independent country.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said the decision wouldn't change Tokyo's policy of having diplomatic ties with China but not with Taiwan.

'I want to make it clear that Japan doesn't support Taiwanese independence,' he said at a news conference.

Mr Lee wants to come to Japan as a private citizen for a sightseeing trip with his family during the year-end holidays, the spokesman said.

Mr Hosoda said the 81-year-old Lee, who visited in 2001 to receive treatment for a heart condition, has promised not to engage in any political activities while he is in Japan. He also stressed the importance of Tokyo's relations with China.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on Thursday urged Japan to cancel Mr Lee's visa, warning that he would use the trip to promote Taiwan's formal independence.

He also said that allowing the visit 'will have a negative impact on relations between China and Japan'.

Mr Koizumi told reporters that Japan has no reason to turn down Mr Lee's application and tried to downplay the impact on ties with Beijing.

'Japan will continue to place great importance on its friendship with China,' he said.

Mr Lee infuriated Beijing when he was president by seeking to raise Taiwan's international profile and push China to deal with the island as an equal. China argues that foreign governments provide a platform for Mr Lee's political views by allowing him to visit. -- AP

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - U.S. missile defense test fails - Dec 15, 2004 - U.S. missile defense test fails - Dec 15, 2004

U.S. missile defense test fails
Interceptor shuts down, does not launch

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An interceptor missile failed to launch early Wednesday in what was to have been the first full flight test of the U.S. national missile defense system in nearly two years.

The Missile Defense Agency has attempted to conduct the test several times this month, but scrubbed each one for a variety of reasons, including various weather problems and a malfunction on a recovery vessel not directly related to the equipment being tested.

A target missile carrying a mock warhead was successfully launched as scheduled from Kodiak, Alaska, at 12:45 a.m. EST, in the first launch of a target missile from Kodiak in support of a full flight test of the system.

However, the agency said the ground-based interceptor "experienced an anomaly shortly before it was to be launched" from the Ronald Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean 16 minutes after the target missile left Alaska.

An announcement said the interceptor experienced an automatic shutdown "due to an unknown anomaly."

The agency gave no other details and said program officials will review pre-launch data to determine the cause for the shutdown.

The military is in final preparations to activate missile defenses designed to protect against an intercontinental ballistic missile attack from North Korea or elsewhere in eastern Asia.

Wednesday's test was to have been the first in which the interceptor used the same booster rocket that the operational system would use.

In earlier testing of tracking and targeting systems, which critics derided as highly scripted, missile interceptors went five-for-eight in hitting target missiles.

The New York Times > Technology > Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database

The New York Times > Technology > Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database: "The New York Times
December 14, 2004
Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database
The New York Times
December 14, 2004
Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database

Google, the operator of the world's most popular Internet search service, plans to announce an agreement today with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web.

It may be only a step on a long road toward the long-predicted global virtual library. But the collaboration of Google and research institutions that also include Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library is a major stride in an ambitious Internet effort by various parties. The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections.

Google - newly wealthy from its stock offering last summer - has agreed to underwrite the projects being announced today while also adding its own technical abilities to the task of scanning and digitizing tens of thousands of pages a day at each library.

Although Google executives declined to comment on its technology or the cost of the undertaking, others involved estimate the figure at $10 for each of the more than 15 million books and other documents covered in the agreements. Librarians involved predict the project could take at least a decade.

Because the Google agreements are not exclusive, the pacts are almost certain to touch off a race with other major Internet search providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo. Like Google, they might seek the right to offer online access to library materials in return for selling advertising, while libraries would receive corporate help in digitizing their collections for their own institutional uses.

"Within two decades, most of the world's knowledge will be digitized and available, one hopes for free reading on the Internet, just as there is free reading in libraries today," said Michael A. Keller, Stanford University's head librarian.

The Google effort and others like it that are already under way, including projects by the Library of Congress to put selections of its best holdings online, are part of a trend to potentially democratize access to information that has long been available to only small, select groups of students and scholars.

Last night the Library of Congress and a group of international libraries from the United States, Canada, Egypt, China and the Netherlands announced a plan to create a publicly available digital archive of one million books on the Internet. The group said it planned to have 70,000 volumes online by next April.

"Having the great libraries at your fingertips allows us to build on and create great works based on the work of others," said Brewster Kahle, founder and president of the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based digital library that is also trying to digitize existing print information.

The agreements to be announced today will allow Google to publish the full text of only those library books old enough to no longer be under copyright. For copyrighted works, Google would scan in the entire text, but make only short excerpts available online.

Each agreement with a library is slightly different. Google plans to digitize nearly all the eight million books in Stanford's collection and the seven million at Michigan. The Harvard project will initially be limited to only about 40,000 volumes. The scanning at Bodleian Library at Oxford will be limited to an unspecified number of books published before 1900, while the New York Public Library project will involve fragile material not under copyright that library officials said would be of interest primarily to scholars.

The trend toward online libraries and virtual card catalogs is one that already has book publishers scrambling to respond.

At least a dozen major publishing companies, including some of the country's biggest producers of nonfiction books - the primary target for the online text-search efforts - have already entered ventures with Google and Amazon that allow users to search the text of copyrighted books online and read excerpts.

Publishers including HarperCollins, the Penguin Group, Houghton Mifflin and Scholastic have signed up for both the Google and Amazon programs. The largest American trade publisher, Random House, participates in Amazon's program but is still negotiating with Google, which calls its program Google Print.

The Amazon and Google programs work by restricting the access of users to only a few pages of a copyrighted book during each search, offering enough to help them decide whether the book meets their requirements enough to justify ordering the print version. Those features restrict a user's ability to copy, cut or print the copyrighted material, while limiting on-screen reading to a few pages at a time. Books still under copyright at the libraries involved in Google's new project are likely to be protected by similar restrictions.

The challenge for publishers in coming years will be to continue to have libraries serve as major influential buyers of their books, without letting the newly vast digital public reading rooms undermine the companies' ability to make money commissioning and publishing authors' work.

From the earliest days of the printing press, book publishers were wary of the development of libraries at all. In many instances, they opposed the idea of a central facility offering free access to books that people would otherwise be compelled to buy.

But as libraries developed and publishers became aware that they could be among their best customers, that opposition faded. Now publishers aggressively court librarians with advance copies of books, seeking positive reviews of books in library journals and otherwise trying to influence the opinion of the people who influence the reading habits of millions. Some of that promotional impulse may translate to the online world, publishing executives say.

But at least initially, the search services are likely to be most useful to publishers whose nonfiction backlists, or catalogs of previously published titles, are of interest to scholars but do not sell regularly enough to be carried in large quantities in retail stores, said David Steinberger, the president and chief executive the Perseus Books Group, which publishes mostly nonfiction books under the Basic Books, PublicAffairs, Da Capo and other imprints.

Based on his experiences with Amazon's and Google's commercial search services so far, Mr. Steinberger said, "I think there is minimal risk, or virtually no risk, of copyrighted material being misused." But he said he would object to a library's providing copyrighted material online without a license. "If you're talking about the instantaneous, free distribution of books, I think that would represent a problem," Mr. Steinberger said.

For their part, libraries themselves will have to rethink their central missions as storehouses of printed, indexed material.

"Our world is about to change in a big, big way," said Daniel Greenstein, university librarian for the California Digital Library of the University of California, which is a project to organize and retain existing digital materials.

Instead of expending considerable time and money to managing their collections of printed materials, Mr. Greenstein said, libraries in the future can devote more energy to gathering information and making it accessible - and more easily manageable - online.

But Paul LeClerc, the president and chief executive of the New York Public Library, sees Web access as an expansion of libraries' reach, not a replacement for physical collections. "Librarians will add a new dimension to their work," Mr. LeClerc said. "They will not abandon their mission of collecting printed material and keeping them for decades and even centuries."

Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have long vowed to make all of the world's information accessible to anyone with a Web browser. The agreements to be announced today will put them a few steps closer to that goal - at least in terms of the English-language portion of the world's information. Mr. Page said yesterday that the project traced to the roots of Google, which he and Mr. Brin founded in 1998 after taking a leave from a graduate computer science program at Stanford where they worked on a "digital libraries" project. "What we first discussed at Stanford is now becoming practical," Mr. Page said.

At Stanford, Google hopes to be able to scan 50,000 pages a day within the month, eventually doubling that rate, according to a person involved in the project.

The Google plan calls for making the library materials available as part of Google's regular Web service, which currently has an estimated eight billion Web pages in its database and tens of millions of users a day. As with the other information on its service, Google will sell advertising to generate revenue from its library material. (In it existing Google Print program, the company shares advertising revenue with the participating book publishers.)

Each library, meanwhile, will receive its own copy of the digital database created from that institution's holdings, which the library can make available through its own Web site if it chooses.

Harvard officials said they would be happy to use the Internet to share their collections widely. "We have always thought of our libraries at Harvard as being a global resource," said Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard.

At least initially, Google's digitizing task will be labor intensive, with people placing the books and documents on sophisticated scanners whose high-resolution cameras capture an image of each page and convert it to a digital file.

Google, whose corporate campus in Mountain View, Calif., is just a few miles from Stanford, plans to transport books to a copying center it has established at its headquarters. There the books will be scanned and then returned to the Stanford libraries. Google plans to set up remote scanning operations at both Michigan and Harvard.

The company refused to comment on the technology that it was using to digitize books, except to say that it was nondestructive. But according to a person who has been briefed on the project, Google's technology is more labor-intensive than systems that are already commercially available.

Two small start-up companies, 4DigitalBooks of St. Aubin, Switzerland, and Kirtas Technologies of Victor, N.Y., are selling systems that automatically turn pages to capture images.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 > Taiwan's Chen resigns as party chairman

Story Print Friendly: "aiwan's Chen resigns as party chairman

TAIPEI - Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian took the blame for a legislative election defeat and resigned as the leader of his party on Tuesday, a move that could help ease political feuding that has caused severe gridlock in parliament.

Mr Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its allies were stunned when an opposition alliance - which was disorganised and beset with squabbling - won last weekend's legislative election, taking 114 of the 225 seats.

Before his weekly party meeting, Mr Chen told reporters he was quitting his chairman post. 'Ah-bian will accept all of the criticism and blame for the election loss,' he said, referring to himself by his nickname.

He said that he hoped a new chairman would make Taiwan more 'unified, stable, prosperous and progressive'.

Mr Chen's resignation might signal that he'll try to go back to his original strategy of being a 'president for all the people' who focuses on building consensus rather than pushing a party line.

When he was elected in 2000, he promised that he would distance himself from his party and be a non-partisan president who represented all citizens. He also tried to create Taiwan's first coalition government.

But opposition parties refused to cooperate with him, saying that they could not work together with the government because it was their duty to check and balance Mr Chen's administration. During the past four years, the opposition has blocked most of his major initiatives.

Mr Sun Ta-chuan, political science professor of National Dong Hwa University, said Mr Chen alienated moderate voters mainly because he 'jumped to the front line and sharpened the confrontation with the opposition'.

Mr Sun wrote in an opinion piece in the China Times newspaper on Tuesday: 'The low voter turnout indicated people were disgusted with the overheated political scene.' -- AP

Sunday, December 12, 2004

japantoday > asia Taiwan opposition wins parliamentary  majority

Sunday, December 12, 2004 at 07:22 JST
TAIPEI — Taiwan's opposition parties won Saturday's parliamentary polls, handily defeating President Chen Shui-bian's pro-independence alliance following a neck-and-neck race.
The Nationalist Party (KMT) and its allies that adopt a moderate and reconciliatory position toward China won a combined 114 seats in the 225-seat Legislative Yuan to maintain control of the unicameral chamber, according to results released by the Central Election Commission. (Kyodo News)