Author Archives: rdmyers75@hotmail.com

evidence-based restoration

If ecosystem restoration hasn’t been based on evidence in the past, what has it been based on?

Evidence-based restoration in the Anthropocene—from acting with purpose to acting for impact

The recognition that we are in the distinct new epoch of the Anthropocene suggests the necessity for ecological restoration to play a substantial role in repairing the Earth’s damaged ecosystems. Moreover, the precious yet limited resources devoted to restoration need to be used wisely. To do so, we call for the ecological restoration community to embrace the concept of evidence-based restoration. Evidence-based restoration involves the use of rigorous, repeatable, and transparent methods (i.e. systematic reviews) to identify and amass relevant knowledge sources, critically evaluate the science, and synthesize the credible science to yield robust policy and/or management advice needed to restore the Earth’s ecosystems. There are now several examples of restoration-relevant systematic reviews that have identified instances where restoration is entirely ineffective. Systematic reviews also serve as a tool to identify the knowledge gaps and the type of science needed (e.g. repeatable, appropriate replication, use of controls) to improve the evidence base. The restoration community, including both scientists and practitioners, needs to make evidence-based restoration a reality so that we can move from best intentions and acting with so-called “purpose” to acting for meaningful impact. Doing so has the potential to serve as a rallying point for reframing the Anthropocene as a so-called “good” epoch.

The Wizard and the Prophet

Charles Mann, author of 1491, has a new book called The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World.

Here’s the Amazon description:

From the best-selling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493–an incisive portrait of the two little-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment, laying the groundwork for how people in the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow’s world.

In forty years, Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups–Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, nonpolemical new book. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose! The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug, whose research, in effect, wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. Innovate! was Borlaug’s cry. Only in that way can everyone win! Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces–food, water, energy, climate change–grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author’s insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Earth.

I made my own attempt to reconcile these world views a few years ago. My conclusion was that it is theoretically possible to grow without exceeding limits, if almost all innovation that occurs is aimed at transcending those limits. In the real world, I don’t think there is any evidence our species is capable of that. What is more likely is that technology helps us grow until we come up against the limits, then we experience a setback that takes us back under the limits, then eventually we start again. We may push the limits a little further each time, but the setbacks can be long and painful enough to ruin entire human lifetimes. If I am right, we haven’t even finished the first cycle yet as a planetary civilization. Mann’s book 1491, along with Jared Diamond’s Collapse, were instrumental in helping me to realize that regional and even continental cultures have experienced major setbacks before.

Polarization, Partisanship and Junk News Consumption over Social Media in the US

Maybe this is just the Brits picking on us. Or, maybe they are onto something.

Vidya Narayanan, Vlad Barash, John Kelly, Bence Kollanyi, Lisa-Maria Neudert, and Philip N. Howard. “Polarization, Partisanship and Junk News Consumption over Social Media in the US.” Data Memo 2018.1. Oxford, UK: Project on Computational Propaganda. comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk

What kinds of social media users read junk news? We examine the distribution of the most significant sources of junk news in the three months before President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address. Drawing on a list of sources that consistently publish political news and information that is extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, masked commentary, fake news and other forms of junk news, we find that the distribution of such content is unevenly spread across the ideological spectrum. We demonstrate that (1) on Twitter, a network of Trump supporters shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups put together; (2) on Facebook, extreme hard right pages—distinct from Republican pages—share the widest range of known junk news sources and circulate more junk news than all the other audiences put together; (3) on average, the audiences for junk news on Twitter share a wider range of known junk news sources than audiences on Facebook’s public pages.

I hadn’t heard the term computational propaganda before. Here is how they describe it:

The Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) investigates the interaction of algorithms, automation and politics. This work includes analysis of how tools like social media bots are used to manipulate public opinion by amplifying or repressing political content, disinformation, hate speech, and junk news.

We use perspectives from organizational sociology, human computer interaction, communication, information science, and political science to interpret and analyze the evidence we are gathering. Our project is based at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

So in other words, we are all being manipulated by some very old and tired ideas using powerful new technologies Hitler and Stalin could only have dreamed of.

January 2018 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • Larry Summers says we have a better than even chance of recession in the next three years. Sounds bad, but I wonder what that stat would look like for any randomly chosen three year period in modern history.
  • The United States is involved in at least seven wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Pakistan. Nuclear deterrence may not actually the work.
  • Cape Town, South Africa is in imminent danger of running out of water. Longer term, there are serious concerns about snowpack-dependent water supplies serving large urban populations in Asia and western North America.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

precision nutrition

Lancet has an article on precision nutrition and diabetes. Precision nutrition is the idea of a diet tailored specifically to an individual based on analysis of factors such as their genetics, proteins, and gut bacteria.

Precision nutrition for prevention and management of type 2 diabetes

Precision nutrition aims to prevent and manage chronic diseases by tailoring dietary interventions or recommendations to one or a combination of an individual’s genetic background, metabolic profile, and environmental exposures. Recent advances in genomics, metabolomics, and gut microbiome technologies have offered opportunities as well as challenges in the use of precision nutrition to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. Nutrigenomics studies have identified genetic variants that influence intake and metabolism of specific nutrients and predict individuals’ variability in response to dietary interventions. Metabolomics has revealed metabolomic fingerprints of food and nutrient consumption and uncovered new metabolic pathways that are potentially modified by diet. Dietary interventions have been successful in altering abundance, composition, and activity of gut microbiota that are relevant for food metabolism and glycaemic control. In addition, mobile apps and wearable devices facilitate real-time assessment of dietary intake and provide feedback which can improve glycaemic control and diabetes management. By integrating these technologies with big data analytics, precision nutrition has the potential to provide personalised nutrition guidance for more effective prevention and management of type 2 diabetes. Despite these technological advances, much research is needed before precision nutrition can be widely used in clinical and public health settings. Currently, the field of precision nutrition faces challenges including a lack of robust and reproducible results, the high cost of omics technologies, and methodological issues in study design as well as high-dimensional data analyses and interpretation. Evidence is needed to support the efficacy, cost-effectiveness, and additional benefits of precision nutrition beyond traditional nutrition intervention approaches. Therefore, we should manage unrealistically high expectations and balance the emerging field of precision nutrition with public health nutrition strategies to improve diet quality and prevent type 2 diabetes and its complications.

I don’t want to be cynical, but I can imagine a scenario where this technology really catches on, but is accessible only to the rich. The result would be the rich living much longer than the rest of us (and they already live longer).