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Why did One Laptop Per Child fail?

Over at UN Dispatch, Alanna Shaikh has a thought-provoking eulogy for Nicholas Negroponte's fizzling One-Laptop-Per-Child program:

Americans wanted the OLPC. We fell in love with its tremendous promise and adorable shape. (note: I own an OLPC) We were the first market it conquered. OLPC launched a give one-get one promotion that let individuals pay $400 to donate one laptop and receive one for themselves. It was a huge success, except that OLPC wasn’t set up for that kind of customer order fulfillment. Laptops arrived far later than promised, and several thousand orders were simply lost.

Once the laptop finally started arriving in the developing world, its impact was minimal. We think. No one is doing much research on their impact on education; discussions are largely theoretical. This we do know: OLPC didn’t provide tech support for the machines, or training in how to incorporate them into education. Teachers didn’t understand how to use the laptops in their lessons; some resented them. Kids like the laptops, but they don’t actually seem to help them learn.

It’s time to call a spade a spade. OLPC was a failure. ...

As Shaikh suggests, OLPC is a classic case of a development program more tailored to the tastes and interests of its funders, than the needs of the people it was supposed to help. Back to the drawing board. 

PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images

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China rushes swine flu vaccine into production

China's food and drug administration has approved the world's first vaccine for the H1N1 virus and the government has announced plans to 5 percent of the Chinese population by the end of this year. Not everyone's so sure about it though:

Skeptics, however, have a hard time believing that a one-dose vaccine lacking a special substance called an adjuvant -- which primes the body to react to the dead virus and produce antigens against it more efficiently and effectively -- can work as well as a two-dose one.

"It would be hard for me to imagine a single-shot vaccine without an adjuvant," says Barry R. Bloom, the former dean of Harvard's School of Public Health. "My understanding in trials here is that you need more than one shot with just the straight virus to get a good enough immune response."

The study that preceded the vaccine's approval tested it on 1,614 participants from age three to over 60, according to Sinovac's head of investor relations, Helen Yang.

Stanford researcher David B. Lewis, who is involved in studies that test how adjuvants can improve seasonal flu vaccines, says it could be misleading to lump the results of all age groups together.

 The WHO has also expressed some reservations about the size of China's vaccination plan, noting that "adverse effects that are too rare to show up in a large clinical trial could become apparent when much larger numbers of people receive the vaccine."

Given the speed at which China rushed this vaccine into production and the past record of the country's pharmaceutical industry, I think I would take my chances with the swine flu.