01 March 2006

There's No INSTEDD without Open Access

An interesting story in eWeek.com. Larry Brilliant, newly-appointed head of the Google.org philanthropic foundation, wants to set up a dedicated search engine that will spot incipient disease outbreaks.

The planned name is INSTEDD: International Networked System for Total Early Disease Detection - a reference to the fact that it represents an alternative option to just waiting for cataclysmic infections - like pandemics - to happen. According to the article:

Brilliant wants to expand an existing web crawler run by the Canadian government. The Global Public Health Intelligence Network monitors about 20,000 Web sites in seven languages, searching for terms that could warn of an outbreak.

What's interesting about this - apart from the novel idea of spotting outbreaks around the physical world by scanning the information shadow they leave in the digital cyberworld - is that to work it depends critically on having free access to as much information and as many scientific and medical reports as possible.

Indeed, this seems a clear case where it could be claimed that not providing open access in relevant areas - and the range of subjects that are relevant is vast - is actually endangering the lives of millions of people. Something for publishers and their lawyers to think about, perhaps.

9 comments:

papadavo said...

Being open IS critical to INSTEDD, and the extension of the GPHIN crawler will need access to HUMINT well beyond the cybershadow tracked by GPHIN.I believe you are right in assuming the necessity for Larry's project to be"open" and this will require some really innovative work in parts of the world where openness is not part of the culture or is suppressed by the government or local power-wielders.

Dave Davison

glyn moody said...

Let's keep our fingers crossed, then.

Dallas112263 said...

Open Access is Critical!

The info crawling aspect is just one of the approaches to an Pandemic Early Warning System. Another is the simple awareness of an open clearinghouse for this sort of information. If the netroots has demonstrated anything it is the power of the Network, the work of many hands in community together. The awareness that an open and independent clearinghouse exists that will always protect anonymity will circumvent to a large extent the filter that Governments could try to impose. Shine the light and the cockroaches run for the shadows...

This network of physicians and other healthcare providers will be a world-wide network with both real time blogging and an email alert system; it could also be available in a limited form to the public. A virtual panic button if you will, we will also need to back it up with a telephone based system… Who ya gonna call? 1-800-INSTEDD…

Call it HUMINT or just caring people in communication with each other, the critical skill will be in the analysis and follow-up to the mass of information that the Network will create. For this task we will need eyes and ears in every nation, a network of reporters with the local knowledge needed to provide perspective. To create this network and allow it to operate freely a gold standard of privacy and security must be established and maintained. INSTEDD must be the Swiss bank of the healthcare world, trusted by those who feed it and those it feeds. In order to rise above the political tensions of the world it needs to be seen as completely non-political and without guile.

Our culture has a relatively short collective memory; it was not so very long ago that the most powerful people in the United States were from the local health department! They had the power to detain and confine, without warrant or other legal review, anyone they deemed a threat to public health… In many nations of the world this is still the case or worse. There are powerful economic and political forces at work who would wish to “minimize” the impact of disease, as we saw in the initial reaction of the Chinese Govt to SARS. Any nation dependent on tourism and airline travel is also in this category. But it is the very nature of international travel that makes this system so important. What exists today in Hong Kong can be in San Francisco tomorrow and in all over Des Moines in a week…

An ounce of prevention…

RGJ/Dallas112263

glyn moody said...

Absolutely - let's hope they get the message in time....

Joel said...

Amazing to me that with known diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and even measles killing millions each year the "innovation" being offerred by Google Foundation is to set up systems to find *new* epidemics.

How about finding better ways to address the epidemics we already have?

glyn moody said...

I think the Bill Gates Foundation already has a monopoly on those....

Anonymous said...

CUT EXPENDITURES, HELP FARMERS, IMPROVE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, REDUCE POLLUTION,REDUCE FUEL CONSUMPTION

Getting rid of U.S Farm Subsidies is a very cost effective way of helping the whole Third World and does much more --
#1 - It saves U.S. taxpayer several BILLIONS OF DOLLARS spent on subsidies!
#2 - Our farm subsidies have meant the dumping of grain, soy beans and cotton on Mexico, Mexican farmers now have to cross the border to earn a living. To solve this we are spending a billion or so fencing them out. Removal of subsidies would end factory farms and could reduce border crossings.
#3 - The average bite of food in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles to reach our tables. Think of the cost of subsidized gas and highways to say nothing of the increased global pollution caused by unnecessary fuel consumption.
#4 – Venezuela, a major source of highway asphalt has halted all asphalt exports to the U.S. Reducing the need to transport food 1,500 miles will diminish our need of same.
#5 - The subsidized grain fields of the Midwest along the tributaries of the Mississippi River are destroying the Mississippi Delta's fishing due to fertilizer runoff.
#6 - Virtually all of the small farm communities of the entire Midwest have been pushed out of business by factory farms subsidized by our government. Removal of subsidies would end factory farms.
#7 - Because of all of the medical problems caused by factory farmers of animals and chickens, the health restrictions and paper work and legal requirements are so huge that the small farmer wishing to market at home is financially unable to do so. Note the almost total lack of roadside food stands along country roads today!
#8 - Penicillin is already useless in disease prevention and new antibiotic drugs have to be invented to kill germs now resistant to previously effective drugs. Could this be caused by the injection of tens of thousands of animals with all kinds of antibiotics before they are allowed in feed lots? Removal of subsidies would end factory farms.
#9 - Women are being advised not to eat red meat (lamb, goats, pigs, or beef) more than three times a week because of the injection of ALL of these animals with hormones to make them grow faster. Removal of subsidies would end factory farms.
#10 - 70% 0f these factory farms AND about the same percentage of farm subsidies go to mega farm owners in Washington and New York -- NOT to millions of small taxpaying farmers.

THEREFORE, ridding the U.S. of Farm Subsidies would:
- Save many billions of dollars in taxes to enrich the rich.
- Make possible the rebirth of small farms delivering healthy local produce plus the prosperity of farmers who can then PAY taxes..
- Raise the cost of corn syrup, a primary cause of obesity, hopefully replacing it with more healthy sweeteners.
- Allow Third World countries to compete with the U.S. in supplying farm produce to other countries. Our unfair subsidy country flies in the face of the rest of the world and has made numerous nations disgruntled with us where we need more cooperation.

glyn moody said...

Not quite sure what that has to do with open access, but otherwise sounds reasonable....

liz said...

agreed - farm subsidies suck - and as soon as you start thinking bigger than your community you are an evil capitalist making profits at the health expense of your customers. But this will not stop disease outbreaks! I'm not saying that we shouldn't help feed the third world - b/c you're right - it is insulting considering that we have the resources and intelligence collectively to feed the whole world but were it not for our greed and egos. But once again - this will not stop disease outbreaks. GPHIN and INSTEDD are not looking for "new diseases" - they are targeting potential epidemics before they explode and cause massive worldwide casualties. The power in those little bugs is unreal! Cholera - a disease that we in the US have not experienced since 1911 - still kills 150,000 people a year! No - knowledge is power - and this knowledge will give us the power to react and prevent our own extinction.