The Research Group on the Global Future's e-mail newsletter
06.12.1999 · Research Group on the Global Future
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Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP)
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999
-- Prince --
(1) Closing in on the human genome
(2) Global Public Policy Project
(3) Entering the 21st Century
(4) Arctic Ice Disappearing
(5) Noted in Passing
Before this last newsletter of 1999, Sascha, Douglas, Patrick, Juergen, and the rest of the staff of the Research Group on the Global Future would like to pause and wish all of our readers a happy holiday season. It's been a pleasure to read your comments throughout the year, and to see that your number is steadily increasing. We have great plans for 2000. If your computer survives Y2K, you'll receive the next edition of global_futures January 3, 2000.
(1) CLOSING IN ON THE HUMAN GENOME
On December 1, scientists from three countries announced that they had finished the sequencing of a complete human chromosome. This is the first chromosome to be completely equenced. (The chromosome in question is the second-shortest of 23 human chromosomes.) Their announcement, and the paper that was published in the scientific journal Nature (http://www.nature.com), mark a significant milestone in the path of the Human Genome Project, which intends to map the entire genetic sequence of human beings by 2002.
A report in the Washington Post noted two potential applications of this knowledge: "Scientists hope that by noting 'spelling errors' in the chromosomes of people with various diseases, they will be able to understand the molecular underpinnings of those ailments and develop new therapies. But first they must determine the normal sequences for each chromosome, as they now have for chromosome 22, the second smallest of the human chromosomes. ... Chromosomal sequence analysis also may provide insights into human evolution, because large chunks of molecular text in human chromosomes are very similar to certain DNA chunks in animal chromosomes. A comparison of those molecular scripts could reveal how and when various organisms branched off from one another and diverged over millions of years."
The Human Genome Project is the best known of major sequencing efforts, but mapping out genes in many different organisms is deeply embedding in mainstream medical research. Extensive efforts are underway to reach comprehensive understanding of the genetic structures of life forms as diverse as mice, rice, fruit flies, and the virus that causes AIDS. Another technical point to remember is that according to an international convention, a human chromosome may be declared "complete" when 95 percent of its sequence is known. Hoped-for medical or agricultural advances may yet depend on understanding the remining gaps in a chromosome sequence.
(2) GLOBAL PUBLIC POLICY PROJECT
The Global Public Policy Project examines the potential of one key potential policy instrument -- global public policy networks -- to strengthen the ability of the United Nations to act effectively and efficiently in the constantly changing global environment. Global public policy networks, like the global challenges they seek to address, reflect the underlying forces of globalization, particularly the continued and deep integration of national economies, and the information and communications revolution. These networks create bridges on a global scale between: the public sector (national, provincial/state and local governments, as well as intergovernmental organizations); the private sector; and civil society (particularly NGOs).
Trisectoral networks have the potential to pull diverse groups and resources together, address issues that no one sector can resolve by itself. Ultimately, global public policy networks represent a potential strategy for governments, businesses, and NGOs to address the challenges of interdependence and globalization in a participatory, effective, and sustainable manner well into the next century. The Project, which studies these networks and examines what makes them succeed or fail, is based in Washington D. C. and is directed by Wolfgang H. Reinicke and Francis Deng. It is part of the 'UN Vision project' which is sponsored by the United Nations Foundation.
Find out more about the project, its case studies, upcoming events and electronic discussions at
or by e-mail at
(3) ENTERING THE 21ST CENTURY
The World Bank is beginning to incorporate an increasingly important role for knowledge in is sustainable development strategies, according to the Banks publication, "Entering the 21st Century - World Development Report 1999/2000." (The report, which was published in English in August is now available in German; see http://www.worldbank.org for details.) The Banks central thesis is that knowledge is not the single determining factor for economic growth, but rather one of the central pre-conditions necessary for it. Solving problems of the information society in developing nations will require dramatic change, and the Bank aims to be part of the solution. The report gives numerous examples of how, through intelligent innovation, people in developing countries have also benefited from information technologies.
(4) ARCTIC ICE DISAPPEARING
>From the Washington Post of December 3:
"The amount of sea ice in Arctic waters is shrinking, on average, by about 14,000 square miles a year...probably because of global warming caused by human activity.
"That is the potentially controversial conclusion of a new international study that combined 46 years of data documenting the declining extent of Northern Hemisphere sea ice and analyzed the information using two leading computer programs that simulate world climate.
"At issue is one of the most ominous questions in science and environmental policy: Is the disappearance of so much ice the result of ordinary natural variations in Arctic conditions? Or is it the byproduct of global warming caused by civilization's release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?
"The results indicate less than a 2 percent probability that the melting of the past 20 years is due to normal climate variation. That is, a decline that large would be seen only about two out of 100 times in computer models that calculate the long-term interactions of water, air, land, sunlight and the like to simulate the way the world's climate changes naturally over time. The authors further found only a 0.1 percent chance that the whole 46-year trend could have occurred in the course of natural fluctuations.
"But when they compared the same data to the output of models incorporating recent greenhouse-gas and aerosol emissions, the computer and observed results were almost identical."
The results have been published in the latest issue of Science (http://www.sciencemag.org).
The key scientific question raised by the studies is whether or not such change falls within the normal variations of the earths climate. The fifty years for which we have data are a trivial amount of time in the context of long-term climate change. One potential problem with the model is that it predicts the same amount of variation over 5,000 years as it does for the 20th century. It is possible, then, that the model underestimates the natural amount of variability.
At the policy level, however, the problem is that by the time we have scientific certainty about global warming, it may be too late to take corrective actions.
For the full text of the Post article, see
(5) NOTED IN PASSING
1. "Calling all Internet citizens,
"We're trying to name the next decade, and we need your help! The end of the nineties is fast approaching, and before you know it, we'll be in the... what?? "
An amusing experiment in internet/media democracy:
As they add, "NameTheDecade.com is not a money-making venture, nor associated with any corporate entity whatsoever! It is simply a project started by a bunch of guys who realized that this is something the world needs. We'd really appreciate your help, and our only motivation is to try to get the world to figure out a solution for this problem!"
2. Win Treese publishes an irregular collection of internet-related statistics that offer a droll commentary on the development of the net, as well as its human side. The very first index from 1993 compared the growth rates of Gopher traffic and World Wide Web traffic. Six years later, you count as an insider if you know what Gopher is, and an old-timer if you ever actually used it. In a time when billions of dollars are being spent on internet advertising, here's another bit of perspective from the index of December 1993, "Number of Silicon Valley real estate agencies advertising with Internet mail addresses: 1." And a tip of the cap to a bit of internet lore, "Number of people on the Internet who know you're a dog: 0."
Six years later, we want instant service from the net, we find it almost everywhere in business, and we expect even greater changes to come. Some samples:
* Sale price of the domain name name "business.com", in millions of dollars: 7.5
* Estimated percentage of US small businesses with web sites: 37
* Estimated 1999 revenues of ISP market in the US, in billions of dollars: 15.1
Subscribe to the internet index by sending a message saying "subscribe" in the body to
(The internet index is inspired by Harper's Index, a feature in Harper's Magazine, and, naturally, a registered trademark of the Harper's Magazine Foundation.)
3. December 31, 1999 is not the end of the millennium, despite relentless global hype. Since the Christian calendar has no year zero, the first century ran from the year 1 AD to 100. The twenty-first century will not begin until January 1, 2001. But don't let that stop you from following Prince's advice at the beginning of this newsletter. We'll still be writing when the millenium really changes - in 2001.
global_futures also offers an interactive forum. Recommendations,letters, and tips are welcomed by the editors, particularly on the topics of the digital future, biotechnology, sustainability and the new economy. Send all feedback to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Sascha Meinert, Douglas Merrill, Patrick Meyer, Juergen Turek
Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research
Geschwister Scholl Institute
Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich
D-81675 Munich, Germany