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Posts Tagged ‘global food security

Science Policy Around the Web – June 06, 2017

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By: Kseniya Golovnina, PhD

Source: Flickr, by USDA, via Creative Commons     (CC BY 2.0)

Food Security

What if Food Crops Failed at the Same Time?

When one group of people is fighting with climate change and another considers it “mythical”, researchers specialized in the study of social-ecological systems are developing food supply risk assessment models. Food crops are one of the most important sources of human being existence, and less than one-fourth of the planet (“breadbaskets”) produces three-fourth of the staple crops that feed the world’s population. In fact, climate change could cause crop losses in most of the breadbaskets.

Two important factors included in the models are shocks to major land crop production and economy. Shocks like droughts and heat waves in Ukraine and Russia in 2007 and 2009 almost wiped out wheat crops, and caused global wheat prices to spike. And demand assessments project that food production may have to double by 2050 to feed a growing population. Together, the potential environmental and economic stresses are making the world food production system less resilient, and will affect both rich and poor nations. To measure the fragility of the system, researchers developed scenarios of small shocks (10 percent crop loss) and large shocks (50 percent crop loss). These were then applied to corn, wheat or rice output using an integrated assessment model, the Global Change Assessment Model, which was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Among the critical findings are that “breadbasket” regions respond to shocks in different ways. For example, South Asia, where most of the arable land is already in use, is quite unresponsive to shocks occurring elsewhere in the world, because the total amount of land in agricultural production cannot be changed significantly. In Brazil the situation is opposite, it has a lot of potential to bring new land into production if large shocks occur. However, cleaning Brazil’s forests requires significant effort and would add significantly to global climate change. Within the research agenda of the Pardee Center, these risks and preventive actions are discussed in more detail. The warning is clear: humankind needs to be aware and prepared for potential multiple “breadbaskets” failure if we want to reduce the potential for catastrophe. (Anthony Janetos, The Conversation)

Reproducibility in Science

Research Transparency: Open Science

Increasing amounts of scientific data, complexity of experiments, and the hidden or proprietary nature of data has given rise to the “reproducibility crisis” in science. Reproducibility studies in cancer biology have revealed that only 40 % or less peer-reviewed analyses are replicable. Another large-scale project attempting to replicate 100 recent psychology studies was successful in replicating less than 50% of the original results.

These findings are driving scientists to look for ways to increase study reliability, and make research practices more efficient and available for evaluation. A philosophy of open science, where scientists share their primary materials and data, makes analytical approaches more transparent and allows common research practices and standards to emerge more quickly. For scientific journals and associations, open science methods enable the creation of different ways to store and utilize data. Some journals are specifically dedicated to publishing data sets for reuse (Scientific DataJournal of Open Psychology Data), others require or reward open science practices like publicly posting materials and data.

The widespread use of online repositories to share study materials and data helps to store large data sets and physical materials to help mitigate the problems of reproducibility. However, open science practice is still very much in development, and faces some significant disincentives. Habits and reward structures are two major forces work against. Researchers are used to being close, and hide their data from being stolen. Journal editors tend to favor publishing papers that tell a tidy story with perfectly clear results. This causes researchers to omit “failed” studies that don’t clearly support their theories.

While efforts to overcome these obstacles are difficult, development of fully transparent science should be encouraged, as openness helps improve understanding, and acknowledges the truth that real data are often messy. (Elizabeth Gilbert and Katie Corker, The Conversation)


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Written by sciencepolicyforall

June 6, 2017 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – February 2, 2016

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.

Map representing scientific collaborations from 2005 to 2009 using data from Scopus. International cooperation. Credit: Computed by Olivier H. Beauchesne and Scimago Lab

Science Policy on a Global Scale

Global science engagement

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will have its annual meeting in Washington DC, from 11 to 15 February 2016. World leaders in science and policy will discuss major challenges, such as food security and health, facing the global community. Dr. Geraldine Richmond, President of the AAAS, says that nations need to employ ingenious ways to find solutions to the ever-increasing demands for food, energy, water, and a healthy environment, which are complex and interconnected problems. Dr. Richmond emphasizes the importance of international research partnerships and innovative approaches that assimilate perspectives and lessons from all over the world, including the developing countries. Such ‘Global Science Engagement’ will be the focus of this year’s AAAS meeting. Dr. Richmond cautions that isolationist views that undervalue international initiatives are unwise. For example, the United States spends billions of dollars providing clean drinking water to its people, but 90 percent of that water is flushed down the drain. Valuable lessons could be learnt from countries such as Namibia where recycled water has been consumed since 1969 with no adverse health consequences. Diversity in opinions, ideas, and experiences is essential to furthering creativity and innovation that is required to solve complex global problems. But scientists in developing countries face difficulties connecting with their peers in more advanced nations, for e.g. due to limited journal access, and people in the United States who are interested in global engagement have limited ways to do so. While commending the efforts of AAAS and other scientific societies in facilitating international engagements, Dr. Richmond calls for more efforts and commitment to strengthen such collaborations. (Geraldine Richmond, Science)

Zika Virus

New Weapon to Fight Zika: The Mosquito

The Zika virus is rapidly spreading in the Americas, and has been linked to a severe defect in brain development, microcephaly, in babies. The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, mainly the Aedes aegypti species, which also transmits deadly infections such as chikungunya, yellow fever and dengue fever. Efforts to develop vaccines against the virus are underway, but it may take many years, even a decade, before an effective vaccine can be given to the public. Experts argue that new methods are needed since the traditional ones, involving insecticides and reducing stagnant water to prevent mosquito breeding, aren’t enough.

The British company Oxitec has developed genetically engineered mosquitoes that transmit a lethal gene to their progeny, which die before reaching adulthood. These engineered mosquitoes have been successfully used to lower mosquito populations by more than 80 percent in certain parts of Brazil. Oxitec says this is an ecologically friendly approach because only one species is targeted, as opposed to chemical spraying that affects many organisms. But the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment has met with opposition. Another approach is to infect the mosquitoes with the bacterium Wolbachia, which makes it harder for the mosquitoes to transmit viruses. The bacteria can be passed through eggs, making this a self-sustaining method. Initial results in Brazil appear promising, encouraging trials on a larger scale. A third powerful approach is the use of gene-drives. Gene-drives allow for the propagation of a desired trait, for e.g. sterility, through a wild population. Though gene-drives have been tested in laboratory scales, it might be not so easy to deploy it in public yet, mainly because of concerns that it would be very difficult to reverse things if something undesirable happens.

Remarking on the three approaches, Dr. Peterson, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “We don’t know about the efficacy of any of them on a wide enough scale… For now, we’ve got to deal with what we have.” Experts say that the traditional methods of mosquito control need to be intensified, till we have proven the large-scale efficacies of the new approaches and/or developed an effective vaccine. (Andrew Pollack, The New York Times)

Scientific Integrity

How cases like Flint destroy public trust in science

While the Flint water crisis is being investigated, disturbing reports emerge about how studies that showed a problem in Flint’s drinking water were dismissed. In Fall 2015, a team of researchers in Virginia Tech, led by Dr. March Edwards, examined the lead content of drinking water in Flint homes. The study revealed that the 90th percentile reading was 27 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency considers 5 parts per billion a cause for concern, and 15 parts per billion as the limit above which the problem should be fixed. However, tests conducted by the city showed lead levels within safe limits. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality responded saying that the state was perplexed by the study results, but not surprised, given that Dr. Edwards’ “group specializes in looking for high lead problems.” According to reports, the city’s water testing results had been “revised by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to wrongly indicate the water was safe to drink.” The state officials attempted “to use power instead of logic and scientific reasoning to defend and hide their actions,” says Dr. Edwards. Similarly, studies done by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, pediatrics program director at Michigan’s Hurley Medical Center, were also initially criticized. Her study showed that the percent of children with elevated blood lead levels doubled, or tripled in some areas, after the change in water source. When the state later analyzed its data using the same approach as Dr. Hanna-Attisha, the results matched.

Dr. Naomi Oreskes, science historian at Harvard University, says that though these events may not classify as “science denials,” they constitute a less-defined category of “no one likes bad news.” “Why didn’t government officials take it seriously when scientists tried to raise an alarm?” she asks. When government officials responsible for people’s safety commit acts like these, it crushes the public’s faith in science, and exacerbates problems such as denial of climate change or the safety of vaccination. How do we prevent problems like Flint from reoccurring? The answer is not clear yet, but some suggestions include conducting better checks and balances by independent researchers not affiliated with the government, and not overlooking the role of universities in protecting public welfare. According to Dr. Aron Sousa, the work by Edwards and Hanna-Attisha should reinforce the public’s faith in good science. (Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 2, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – August 18, 2015

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By: Rebecca A. Meseroll, Ph.D.

Photo source via pixabay

Climate change and food supply policy

Global food supply imperiled by severe weather

In recent years, droughts and other severe weather conditions have contributed to crop failure and subsequent spikes in the global food price index measured by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Last week, the Global Food Security (GFS) program, released an in-depth report highlighting the potential risks to the worldwide food supply due to increasing extreme weather events brought on by climate change, as well as potential social, political, and economic consequences of a stressed global food supply. The report lays out a theoretical “plausible” worst-case scenario of a significant global production decrease of four major crops (rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans) simultaneously, based on actual data from years when these crops were affected by drought. Under the conditions of this worst-case scenario model, the GFS program report expects that developing nations would suffer the most, as people in those nations would likely go hungry, while other import-dependent nations could experience social and political upheaval as a result of rapidly increasing food prices. Meanwhile, consumers in richer, industrialized nations would be not be especially affected. The report makes several recommendations to prevent a future food supply catastrophe, including a call for increased research to understand the actual risk of the theoretical scenarios laid out in the report, improving governmental policies to buffer against spikes in the food supply market, and innovating agricultural techniques to improve productivity and production resilience in the face of extreme weather. (Erik Stokstad, ScienceInsider)

Clinical trials

Positive results for cardiovascular clinical trials in decline

A study published in PLoS One earlier this month found that there has been a steep decrease in positive results in a subset of clinical trials published since 2000, as compared to those published between 1970 to 2000. Specifically, the study examined the outcomes of all large randomized clinical trials supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) between 1970 and 2012 to evaluate drugs or dietary supplements that aimed to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease. A total of 55 trials met the researchers’ criteria, and were scored for whether they reported a positive, negative, or null result for the main outcome tested. In the trials conducted prior to 2000, 57% reported a positive result, in stark contrast to the mere 8% after 2000. The authors of the study conclude that the difference in outcomes is associated with the inception of preregistration of trials with, which was created by the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997 and requires trials to disclose their study design and expected outcomes before data collection begins. This suggests that an increase in transparency resulted in more stringent science, and also calls into question the results from the pre-2000 trials. Although the authors of this study note that the association of trial registration and the upward trend of null trial outcomes cannot be determined to be causal based on the limited dataset they present, the scientific ideal of impartiality is certainly encouraged by increased transparency and a priori identification of expected outcomes. (Chris Woolston, Nature)

Celebrity drug endorsements

Kardashian drug endorsement prompts FDA admonition

Prompted by an Instagram post in which Kim Kardashian extolled the virtues of the morning sickness drug Diclegis, the drug’s manufacturer, Duchesnay Inc., was issued a warning letter from the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion. Although Kardashian publicized her partnership with Duchesnay Inc., included links in her post to Diclegis’ safety information website, and encouraged women considering the drug to talk to their doctor about it, the FDA concluded that complete omission of any drug risk and limitation information was inconsistent with the FDA guidelines for celebrity drug endorsements and testimonials. One major limitation of Diclegis noted by Robert Dean, who penned the FDA’s warning letter, is that it has not been studied in women who suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition marked by severe and persistent nausea during pregnancy. Kardashian’s post has since been removed, but this episode raises the issue of how celebrity medical endorsements in general should be regulated, especially on social media platforms where advertisements can intermingle with other content more readily than it can in a clearly delineated commercial break on television or radio. (Christine Hauser, The New York Times)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

August 18, 2015 at 9:00 am