Nancy Scola

Nancy Scola is a writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Science Progress, Politics Magazine, AlterNet, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

Recent Articles

Confusing Us with Their Technical Mumbo Jumbo.

Deputy U.S. CTO Andrew McLaughlin raised hackles just before Thanksgiving by suggesting to an audience at the University of Nebraska law school that moral equivalence exists between an Internet Service Provider blocking what a customer can see and/or do on the Internet and, say, China blacking out Google searches for "Falun Gong." AT&T was understandably a bit miffed at being compared to censorious and repressive regimes, but their response threatens to cloud McLaughlin's otherwise reasonable point. They shade a distinction which is going to hover over the whole net-neutrality debate going forward. So let's just get rid of it right now, shall we, so that we can move on to constructive conversations about how we can ensure free and open networks. Network engineers will laugh at you when you suggest that networks have to be completely blind to the nature of the packets that travel across them. ISPs and engineers regularly massage traffic to get the Internet, which is a patchwork of...

Benedict Tells Leaders Food Insecurity is a Moral Failing.

At the U.N.'s big World Food Summit in Rome this week, Pope Benedict gave voice to a way of thinking about food that is both seemingly obvious and undervalued in development circles. You hear about the mismatch between the world's sustenance needs and the amount of readily available food attacked from the market angle -- treating food as products that would flow where they need to be if not for subsidies and other protectionist schemes. And you hear food security talked about from the structural-inefficiencies angle -- countries where there is food insecurity suffer from either underdeveloped agricultural industries or malevolent governments. Applying new biotech innovations or focusing on eliminating political bottlenecks thus becomes the goal. Benedict sees food security differently. Without ignoring the damage done by protectionism and corruption, or the promise of a new green revolution, Benedict is trying to reframe the debate from the bottom up. And at the base is the premise...

Supremes Question the Wisdom of Software Patents.

Seasoned observers took the wise cracks heard in the Supreme Court this week as a sign that the nine are doubting the wisdom of business methods patents. Sounds bland, but it's really quite provocative stuff. U.S. patent practice has evolved so that inventors win monopolies over ways of doing business, even when there's no tangible invention involved. That's likely to stop in short order. The court practically mocked the very idea of patenting creative ways of making a buck. What's extra intriguing, though, is that the Supreme Court went even further and threw into sharp relief the questionable thinking behind software patents, too. On the business method patent front, the justices dug deep into their reserves of sarcasm to find non-digital work practices that common sense suggests rightly belong to no one. How about horse whispering?, asked a mischievous Antonin Scalia . Sonia Sotomayor asked the attorney for the petitioner -- the creator of a method for hedging energy costs based on...

The Front Line in the War on Pirates.

Pirates of the song-ripping, not Somali, variety. Cory Doctorow passes along word that a draft version of an international agreement on copyright law has leaked, as have earlier documents from the hush-hush negotiations over what's called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Officials from the U.S., Japan, Switzerland and other countries have been hammering out the details of the trade agreement in far-flung places for the last five years or so. Round six -- with the participation of Obama's U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk -- happening this week in South Korea. What the draft text says about a new global regime for "Internet distribution and information technologies" is, says Cory, "very bad." And you can certainly make a strong argument that what's being debated this week would move forward the current front line of the copyright wars. You can also make a good case that that's exactly why we're seeing this latest battle in the copyright wars playing out in secured conference...

When Sharing Goes Wrong.

The upshot of the Washington Post 's revelation that a copy of the House's ethics committee's weekly status report was found floating around on a peer-to-peer file-sharing network is that (a) we suddenly know the names of a few more members of Congress on whom Zoe Lofgren's committee has its sights and (b) the prospects for passing legislation restricting file-sharing software have probably just gotten somewhat rosier. Efforts to get file-sharing software companies like LimeWire and Kazaa to put warning labels on their software have bounced around the Hill for what must be six years now, during which time you may well have moved onto iTunes and forgotten that file-sharing networks exist. A version sponsored by Mary Bono (R-CA) just passed out of committee last week that would dictate that P2P software companies put extensive warnings in their products on the risks they pose. The Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Association of America have, as an extension of the...

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