Food and agricultural news:
- This column by Mark Bittman has gotten a lot of love from my friends. For years, the argument of junk food producers has been that in moderation, even sweets and fats can be part of a healthy diet. One recent study investigated whether diets of different fat/carbohydrate/protein amounts led to different weight loss results, showing that a Atkins-like diet is more successful. Mayor Bloomberg rejoices! But Marion Nestle digs deeper into the study and finds that the study was under highly controlled conditions, and the diet only lasted 4 weeks. So while I usually love Mark Bittman, I'm disappointed that his column relies on standard news-cycle hype of a single scientific article. [Update:] Here's a good rebuttal, showing that a calorie is a calorie, whether it's from fat or sugar or protein. I prefer Nestle's approach:
"--If you want to lose weight, eat less (it worked well for the subjects in this study).
--It may help to avoid excessive consumption of sugars and easily absorbed carbohydrates.
--Once you’ve lost weight, adjust your calorie intake to maintain the weight loss.
--And understand that science has no easy answers to the weight-loss problem."
- A recent book on the history of tomato production, and a handful of recent scientific articles that explain how the flavor and sweetness of heirloom varieties have been bred out of modern varieties in favor of uniformity and efficiency. The tomato's been a lightening rod for controversy, from Jim Hightower's Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times in 1973, to the Flavr Savr GMO tomato debacle in the 1990s, to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers movement which protests against the low wages and terrible working conditions of farm workers in Florida. If you're feeling academic, this article will give you a good overview of the politics of agricultural research over the past 40 years. If you're feeling completely non-academic, enjoy some Stephen Colbert testifying about migrant farm workers and salad bars: "Apparently, even the invisible hand doesn't want to pick beans." If you're feeling like you might want to make a dirty joke, go read about cucumber straighteners (and stay for a bit about the history of agricultural tools).
- The heatwave in the Midwest is pretty bad for corn. Earlier this year, a warm spring and subsequent frost devastated cherry crops in Michigan. Cut it out, climate change!
- Organic gets too big for its own good, and PLoS Medicine journal hits Big Food with a good dose of science.
Science policy goings-ons:
- The Dark Side of Scientific Rationality and Liberal Policy Failure. A must-read from the Breakthrough Institute, with heavy use of quotes from Dan Sarewitz. Sarewitz outlines his argument on the shortcomings of using linear, purely rational thinking to attempt to solve complex global problems. The climate change policy crowd can learn from past mistakes.
- Why Are Republicans Picking on Political Science. Congressional support for federal funding of science is historically bipartisan; after all, innovation is as American as apple pie, and congress people in districts with universities and industries are always trying to bring home the bacon. But recent budget-fights have coalesced around the NSF, and lately, its funding of political science. It doesn't help that most scientists identify as Democrats, and very few as Republican. And it's also true that the public is politically polarized around issues like climate change, regardless of levels of education. This latest study teases out some of the core values of science funding, finding that among the general public, Republicans are pretty luke-warm about them while Democrats and Independents are more likely to be somewhat supportive.
- U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there. Surprise, surprise: loading up the supply-side doesn't always work.
Finally, please enjoy this article on how academic writing can be sexy, but usually isn't. (Also I couldn't help myself from meme-ifying Bill Cronon. With the utmost respect for him!)