July 9, 2012

Summer vegetable-themed link harvest

Perhaps you've been drawn in by my clever title, which does sound like a delicious salad, but I sadly have no recipe to share with you. Instead, here's a snapshot of my favorite science/food policy articles this week. Per usual, many thanks to Arijit for curating interesting links on his blog.

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).
Science policy goings-ons:
Finally, please enjoy this article on how academic writing can be sexy, but usually isn't. 


  1. Interesting re: political science funding...my experience at DOE leads me to think that part of the problem with political science funding and why folks on the left don't speak up for it more strongly is that they and bureaucrats know it's politically risky. It is much, much easier to tar and feather a government agency with wacky accusations about them trying to control people, being a nanny state, etc. when they are researching social issues as opposed to natural science. It was extremely difficult at DOE to get any sort of support from the Hill or White House to, say, work on more policy analysis as opposed to just throwing more funding towards technology, and perhaps the "agency political risk" factor matters is partially responsible... In a rational political universe, you would be able to have an intelligent conversation about, say, how it's important to know how/when people conserve energy in order to develop good policies, but in the actual world we live in, proposing something like that will get you branded as a Communist somehow because it's easy to take social sciencey stuff out of context, and the higher-ups in agencies don't want to get embroiled in bullshit controversies.

  2. P.S. small housekeeping thing - I think you put the wrong address for the sexy academic writing hyperlink.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Miles! I fixed the links.


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