Nature and Science as [the] top social science journals too?

I was a little surprised by this, since publishing in Nature and Science is sometimes viewed as a "second tier" prospect in the social sciences:

An average social science article published in Nature (2000-2010) is more heavily cited than an average article in any social science journal, with a "citation impact" of 51 (see the Reuter's article here).

The second best place to get your social science article? Science (citation impact = 35).

Nature and Science don't publish many social science articles, 65 and 80 respectively over the last decade, but the articles they publish seem to do well.  For reference, note the citation impact for top economics-only journals (Quarterly Journal of Economics is top in 2008 with citation impact = 5) and the top political science-only journals (Political Analysis is top in 2007 with citation impact = 2.5).

A standard critique of Reuter's citation impact measure is that it counts an article's citations over a fairly short window of time just following that article's publication (2 years).  In the social sciences, articles may remain as unpublished working papers for several years, preventing many of their citations from being counted in Reuter's analysis. Is this long lag in publication timing driving Reuters' finding?  Probably not.  Reuter's also publishes a measure of impact that spans a longer time window following an article's publication: the 28 years from 1981-2008.  Giving an article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics almost thirty years to accumulate citations still leaves its average citation count (49) just behind a the two-year citation count for an article in Nature (51).  Similarly, the long-run citation count for The American Political Science Review is 31, just behind the two-year citation count for Science (35).

[If you're interested in citations and the structure of human knowledge more generally, see this earlier post.]


Email yourself from Matlab

(I'm trying to get back in the habit of posting the most useful scripts from the piles of code I've been generating.  Step 1: start small.)

I wrote this little function to email me from Matlab.  Its very convenient for telling you when a long script finishes (or crashes).

It's simple to use: type "email_me('message to yourself')"

If you type no second argument (for the email's body) than it just sends you the time.

When you first install the function, open it up and change the first three lines of code to match your gmail account info.  You can specify that it sends email from a different account, so if you're anxious about typing your password somewhere, you can just open a new gmail account for Matlab-only uses.  [I'm not 100% sure if it will work for non-gmail accounts.]


$20B/yr to air condition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

When I've presented my work on thermal stress and economic productivity (also see herehere, here and here for related work) most people's first response is, "so... poor countries should use more air conditioning?" to which is say "Yes, but..." and then discuss the fact that air conditioning isn't exactly cheap if you have $1000/year to live on (so this investment may not always be worth it for poor individuals). To do this, I usually point out that and AC costs at least $100 to buy and $10/month (at least) in electricity costs.  But my casual back of the envelope estimates of operational costs might be way off.  I had been assuming that electricity and ACs could be obtained in a poor country for the same price I can get these goods in New York.  I was probably being too optimistic.

Listening to NPR today, I heard this report:
The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion. 
That's more than NASA's budget. It's more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It's what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia. 
"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus' chief logistician in Iraq. 
Why does it cost so much? 
To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than "improved goat trails," Anderson says. "And you've got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way." 
Anderson calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack. Free-standing tents equipped with air conditioners in 125 degree heat require a lot of fuel. Anderson says by making those structures more efficient, the military could save lives and dollars.
This suggests the annual price of AC for each of our 70,000 troops is $31,428.57 per soldier, two orders of magnitude over my ~$200 back of the envelope estimate. I'm certain that this price is not the actual consumer price that we would observe for air conditioners being used by residents in the long-run, but it's so much larger than my previous estimate that I may have to reconsider how effective I think AC expansion is for mitigating the economic impact of high temperatures.


Nature Outlook Issue on Biofuels

Nature put together a nice compilation of articles on the many issues associated with biofuels. Available articles for free online here (listed below).

Introduction: Next generation biofuels

Proponents of biomass-based fuels push for sustainability against a steady tide of conflicting analysis, but can advanced biofuels cut the mustard? 

Agriculture: Beyond food versus fuel
The most controversial aspect of biofuels is the perceived competition for farmland. Will advances in biofuels and agriculture send this trade-off speeding towards the history books? 

Fuel options: The ideal biofuel
A biomass-based fuel needs to be cheap and energy dense. Gasoline sets a high standard. 

Lignocellulose: A chewy problem
The inedible parts of plants are feeding the next generation of biofuels. But extracting the energy-containing molecules is a challenging task. 

Algae: The scum solution
The green slime that covers ponds is an efficient factory for turning sunlight into fuel, but growing it on an industrial scale will take ingenuity. 

Perspective: Don't foul the water
Shifting from corn to perennial crops in making biofuels is essential to save clean water, argues Jeremy Martin 

Local benefits: The seeds of an economy
Biofuels could help poor nations modernize, but scaling up aid supported projects to commercial operations is far from easy. 

Perspective: A new hope for Africa
Bioenergy could help bring food security to the world's poorest continent, say Lee R. Lynd and Jeremy Woods. 

Policy: Fuelling politics
Biofuels have been hailed as key to reducing our fossil-fuel dependence, yet their environmental and social impacts remain uncertain. A complex task lies ahead for policy makers. 

Perspective: Lessons from Brazil
Thirty five years of experience has taught one of the world's leading biofuels producers several essential lessons, which other countries should heed, says Marcia Moraes. 


A geological perspective on humanity: comparing human and volcanic CO2 emissions

I think this was my favorite paper this week.  It is both important, thoughtful and amusing (I think the author was trying to be dryly funny; but if not, my apologies).  Most of all, it's slightly mind-blowing.  I don't think my commentary enriches it, so below are simply my favorite quotes from it, with emphasis added. (Main figure at bottom)

Ultrashort summary: In order to emit CO2 at the same rate as humans, we would need Mt. St Helens to erupt violently every 2.5 hrs. 

[Update: Gerlach posted about this article on RealClimate here]
Terry Gerlach
Cascades Volcano Observatory (Emeritus), U.S.Geological Survey,Vancouver,Wash.

The climate change debate has revived and reinforced the belief, widespread among climate skeptics, that volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities [Gerlach, 2010; Plimer, 2009]. In fact, present-day volcanoes emit relatively modest amounts of CO2, about as much annually as states like Florida, Michigan, and Ohio...

The projected 2010 anthropogenic CO2 emission rate of 35 gigatons per year is 135 times greater than the 0.26-gigaton-per-year preferred estimate for volcanoes....

Volcanic emissions include CO2 from erupting magma and from degassing of unerupted magma beneath volcanoes. Over time, they are a major source for restoring CO2 lost from the atmosphere and oceans by silicate weathering, carbonate depo- sition, and organic carbon burial [Ber- ner, 2004]. Global estimates of the annual present-day CO2 output of the Earth’s degas- sing subaerial and submarine volcanoes range from 0.13 to 0.44 billion metric tons (gigatons) per year [Gerlach, 1991; Allard, 1992; Varekamp et al., 1992; Sano and Wil- liams, 1996; Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998]; the preferred global estimates of the authors of these studies range from 0.15 to 0.26 gigaton per year....

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions—responsible for a projected 35 gigatons of CO2 in 2010 [Friedlingstein et al., 2010]— clearly dwarf all estimates of the annual present-day global volcanic CO2 emission rate. Indeed, volcanoes emit significantly less CO2 than land use changes (3.4 giga- tons per year), light-duty vehicles (3.0 giga- tons per year, mainly cars and pickup trucks), or cement production (1.4 gigatons per year). Instead, volcanic CO2 emissions are comparable in the human realm to the global CO2 emissions from flaring of waste gases (0.20 gigaton per year) or to the CO emissions of about 2 dozen full-capacity 1000-megawatt coal-fired power stations (0.22 gigaton per year), the latter of which constitute about 2% of the world’s coal-fired electricity-generating capacity. More meaningful, perhaps, are the comparable annual CO2 emissions of nations such as Pakistan (0.18 gigaton), Kazakhstan (0.25 gigaton), Poland (0.31 gigaton), and South Africa (0.44 gigaton)."

The nearly 9-hour duration of both the Mount St. Helens and Pinatubo paroxysms gives average CO2 emission rates of about 0.001 and 0.006 gigaton per hour, respectively. Intriguingly, the anthropogenic CO2 emission rate of 35 gigatons per year— equivalent to 0.004 gigaton per hour—is similar. So, for a few hours during paroxysms, individual volcanoes may emit about as much or more CO2 than human activities. But volcanic paroxysms are ephemeral, while anthropogenic CO2 is emitted relent- lessly from ubiquitous sources. On average, humanity’s ceaseless emissions release an amount of CO2 comparable to the 0.01 giga- ton of the 1980 Mount St. Helens paroxysm every 2.5 hours...

Several dilemmas arise from the belief that volcanic CO2 emissions exceed the 35-gigaton-per-year anthropogenic CO2 emis- sion. For example, a global volcanic CO2 output exceeding 35 gigatons per year would imply that the annual mass of volcanic CO2 emissions is more than 3 times greater than the likely annual mass of erupted magma (~10.8 gigatons per year [Crisp, 1984])... 
Scaling up all active subaerial volcanoes [to emit the same amount as humanity] evokes a landscape with the equivalent of about 9500 active present-day volcanoes...
Scaling up CO2 releases of volcanic paroxysms to the 35-gigaton anthropogenic CO2 emission level is also revealing. For example, scaling up the 0.05-gigaton CO2 release of the 15 June 1991 Mount Pinatubo paroxysm to the current anthropogenic CO2 emission level requires 700 equivalent paroxysms annually. Similarly, scaling the 0.01-gigaton CO2 release of the 18 May 1980 Mount St. Hel- ens paroxysm requires 3500 equivalent paroxysms annually...

click to enlarge


Ideology in science

"In science, ideology tends to corrupt; absolute ideology [corrupts] absolutely"
-Robert Nisbet

That's from Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies, a remarkably in depth and fascinating book on the history of cancer and our attempts to treat it. That quote starts out the section detailing the push towards more empirically grounded treatments and away from surgeon preference and beliefs. Like much of the rest of the book, it manages to be frustrating, compelling, inspirational, and heart breaking all at once.

I'm finishing it up now and recommend it highly, even if your interest in oncology (or the life sciences, for that matter) is only passing. Mukherjee's subtitle is "A Biography of Cancer," but it is as much a biography of oncology itself, and all the foibles, hyped enthusiasm, and ideologically-driven resistance to change come across as uncomfortably familiar to someone working across fields.

On a side note: is it just me or does scientific writing by medical doctors sound and feel fundamentally different from all other scientific writing? It might be the reliance on narrative and case study, or it might simply be the tone; regardless, it always feels very "doctor-y" to me...


In praise of twoishness

Andrew Gelman has a great piece up on his blog about how the universal trait across good statistical techniques is the use of two separate models:
This commonality across these very different statistical procedures suggests to me that thinking on parallel tracks is an important and fundamental property of statistics. Perhaps, rather than trying to systematize all statistical learning into a single inferential framework (whether it be Neyman-Pearson hypothesis testing, Bayesian inference over graphical models, or some purely predictive behavioristic approach), we would be better off embracing our twoishness.
You can read the rest here, and it's worth it. Though I have to say my immediate thought is "...well, if going from one to two models is good, what about adding a third for robustness?" Though perhaps really that's just another way of thinking about what we normally consider to be "sub-versions" of a model, e.g., deciding to cluster one's standard errors.


Paleoclimate papers on climactic changes and civilization collapse

My recent work led me to these three interesting paleo papers. All of these groups seem to come from chemistry-oriented paleoclimate backgrounds, so their methods are something like the inverse of regression discontinuity (RD) research design that we're taught in econometrics class.  The RD approach would take some known exogenous break in an independent variable (here climate), and then looking for responses in dependent variables (here civilization stability).  But these groups all do the reverse. Since, they know when civilizations collapsed (more or less) from archeological records, they look in tree cores or marine sediments for evidence of sharp changes in the climate that match the timing of collapse. (I'd be curious to hear what other statisticians/econometricians think about this; particularly if there is a "right" way to do hypothesis-testing with this inverted approach.)

(Geology, 2000)

H. M. Cullen, P. B. deMenocal, S. Hemming, G. Hemming, F. H. Brown, T. Guilderson and F. Sirocko

The Akkadian empire ruled Mesopotamia from the headwaters of the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers to the Persian Gulf during the late third millennium B.C. Archeological evidence has shown that this highly developed civilization collapsed abruptly near 4170 ± 150 calendar yr B.P., perhaps related to a shift to more arid conditions. Detailed paleoclimate records to test this assertion from Mesopotamia are rare, but changes in regional aridity are preserved in adjacent ocean basins. We document Holocene changes in regional aridity using mineralogic and geochemical analyses of a marine sediment core from the Gulf of Oman, which is directly downwind of Mesopotamian dust source areas and archeological sites. Our results document a very abrupt increase in eolian dust and Mesopotamian aridity, accelerator mass spectrometer radiocarbon dated to 4025 ± 125 calendar yr B.P., which persisted for 300 yr. Radiogenic (Nd and Sr) isotope analyses confirm that the observed increase in mineral dust was derived from Mesopotamian source areas. Geochemical correlation of volcanic ash shards between the archeological site and marine sediment record establishes a direct temporal link between Mesopotamian aridification and social collapse, implicating a sudden shift to more arid conditions as a key factor contributing to the collapse of the Akkadian empire.

Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization
(Science 2003)

Gerald H. Haug, Detlef Günther, Larry C. Peterson, Daniel M. Sigman, Konrad A. Hughen and Beat Aeschlimann

In the anoxic Cariaco Basin of the southern Caribbean, the bulk titanium content of undisturbed sediment reflects variations in riverine input and the hydrological cycle over northern tropical South America. A seasonally resolved record of titanium shows that the collapse of Maya civilization in the Terminal Classic Period occurred during an extended regional dry period, punctuated by more intense multiyear droughts centered at approximately 810, 860, and 910 A.D. These new data suggest that a century-scale decline in rainfall put a general strain on resources in the region, which was then exacerbated by abrupt drought events, contributing to the social stresses that led to the Maya demise.

Climate as a contributing factor in the demise of Angkor, Cambodia
(PNAS 2009)

Brendan M. Buckleya, Kevin J. Anchukaitis, Daniel Penny, Roland Fletcher, Edward R. Cook, Masaki Sano, Le Canh Nam, Aroonrut Wichienkeeo, Ton That Minh, and Truong Mai Hong

The “hydraulic city” of Angkor, the capitol of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia, experienced decades-long drought interspersed with intense monsoons in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that, in combination with other factors, contributed to its eventual demise. The climatic evidence comes from a seven-and-a-half century robust hydroclimate reconstruction from tropical southern Vietnamese tree rings. The Angkor droughts were of a duration and severity that would have impacted the sprawling city’s water supply and agricultural productivity, while high-magnitude monsoon years damaged its water control infrastructure. Hydroclimate variability for this region is strongly and inversely correlated with tropical Pacific sea surface temperature, indicating that a warm Pacific and El Niño events induce drought at interannual and interdecadal time scales, and that low-frequency variations of tropical Pacific climate can exert significant influence over Southeast Asian climate and society.


Year One: 12,000 pageviews and 12 comments

For our blog's approximate first birthday, I just added a pageview counter.  The most conspicuous issue, which Jesse and I discussed at lunch today, is that our total pageviews exceed our total comments by three orders of magnitude.  This isn't a problem, per se, it was just stark.

If you have ideas for how to make Fight Entropy more comment-friendly, please leave a comment...


Gender *within* aid organizations

The always interesting Chris Blattman directs us to a rather sobering article on gender issues within NGOs:

Ben Ramalingam’s recent post ‘Gender bias as an emergent property in international agencies‘ discusses how the aid industry has fallen short in walking the talk on gender. Ben basically says that agencies love building other people’s capacity around gender. Yet as with so many things agencies and aid organizations like advising on, our own capacity is in a fairly sorry state.

Ben notes that micro-level and informal attitudes and dynamics add up to an overall institutional bias against women at international development agencies. I’d hazard to say that most women face a gender bias, whether working in their home countries or afar, whether at an agency headquarters or in a ‘developing country’ where gender awareness programs are implemented, whether ex-pat or local contract. Above and beyond the gender dynamic specifically in development agencies is an overall gender bias working against women in many (most?) societies. This goes beyond what an INGO can address, but one could argue that if development agencies were really committed to addressing gender bias, they would start ‘at home.’ How many agencies have actually looked closely at their own set-up and made serious improvements before embarking on a ‘gender’ program or campaign externally?

It's an interesting read the whole way through. Tangentially relevant is the anonymous author's Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like page, which made me laugh quite a bit. Though often rather uncomfortably...

AGU Fall Meeting 2011

You can search for possible sessions here.

A very nice overview / explanation of the meeting is here via our colleagues at Skeptical Science.

Of possible interest to Fight Entropy readers are these two small but promising sessions...

NH19: Sustainable Development: Long-Term Science and Policy Challenges

Sponsor: Natural Hazards (NH)
Co-Sponsor(s): Atmospheric Sciences (A), Education (ED), Geodesy (G), Global Environmental Change (GC), Hydrology (H), Nonlinear Geophysics (NG), Near Surface Geophysics (NS), Ocean Sciences (OS), Public Affairs (PA), Seismology (S), Tectonophysics (T), Volcanology, Geochemistry, and Petrology (V)


John Mutter
Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs

Geoffrey McCarney
Columbia University

Jesse Anttila-Hughes
Columbia University

Description: The challenges of sustainable development - equitably improving global human welfare while preserving the environment for future generations - demand research at the nexus of the social and natural sciences. Changes in environmental risk (e.g. due to climate change and/or human interaction with the environment) present challenges to all human societies, but the implications for long-term science and policy development differ depending on context. For example, developing countries face constraints, vulnerabilities, and social dynamics that make their interaction with geophysical hazards complex and nuanced. Papers in this session will explore the nature of this context-dependent interaction between natural and social systems.

U43: Social Impacts of Climate Change and Climate Variability

Sponsor: Union (U)


David Lobell
Stanford University

Solomon Hsiang
Princeton University

Mark Cane
Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs

Michael Oppenheimer
Princeton University

Description: Current climate variability and future climate changes both have the potential to impact society in important and complex ways. However, the scale and scope of climate impacts on society remain largely unknown. This session will focus on recent advances in the detection and modeling of climate impacts using quantitative methods. The session will examine (1) novel pathways through which climate variability or climate change will influence societies and (2) novel techniques for detecting and modeling the influence of climate on societies. This session is open to work that examines any of the multiple mechanisms through which global climate change or climate variability influence social, political, agricultural or economic systems.


Agriculture under climate change

Ram pointed me to a nice feature article in the NYT from last week on the subject, featuring many researchers we know.

There's also a nice data graphic that they put together here. [In an earlier post, we provided the same SAGE dataset over the period1700-1990 for exploration in Google Earth]


Trends in weather deaths

Jesse pointed me to this opinion piece in the WSJ about weather related deaths in the US, thinking I should comment on it.  I have lots of comments on it, but I'm saving several of them for a paper I'm working on with Daiju Narita (stay tuned...).  But in the meantime, interested folks can see this recent article (by Betsy Wiesendanger at Columbia B-School's magazine Chazen Global Insights) about my related work with Daiju.


Death threats for climate researchers

Australia's already ugly debate over a carbon tax has just gotten uglier, with a host of climate scientists reporting that they are receiving death threats:

The revelation of the death threats follows a week of bitter exchanges between the government and the opposition in the wake of a pro-carbon price TV advert featuring actor Cate Blanchett.

The Australia National University (ANU) in Canberra said that it has moved a number of its climate scientists to a secure facility after they received a large number of threatening emails and phone calls.

Ian Young, ANU's vice-chancellor, told ABC national radio that the threats had worsened in recent weeks.

"Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time," he said.

Unfortunately, I doubt that this phenomenon is somehow uniquely Australian. And given the similarity between the US and Australia (especially in media coverage...) it makes me feel more than a bit queasy about the path to carbon regulation on our end.


Reconsidering the war on drugs

Last week, the Global Commission on Drug Policy published their Report which argues that a "War on Drugs" policy is an inefficient use of public resources.  The commission is an impressive group (which includes, among others, Kofi Annan, Paul Volcker and Richard Branson) but the report has been [predictably] rejected by leaders in the US and Mexico (despite the comission being convened by Latin American leaders that include former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo).  I was intrigued by the fact that these leaders were explicitly trying to maximize social welfare subject to budget constraints, so I took a look for myself.  I particularly appreciate the report's first "principle":
Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction of harm to the health, security and welfare of individuals and society. 
In the 50 years since the United Nations initiated a truly global drug prohibition system, we have learned much about the nature and patterns of drug production, distribution, use and dependence, and the effectiveness of our attempts to reduce these problems. It might have been understandable that the architects of the system would place faith in the concept of eradicating drug production and use (in the light of the limited evidence available at the time). There is no excuse, however, for ignoring the evidence and experience accumulated since then. Drug policies and strategies at all levels too often continue to be driven by ideological perspectives, or political convenience, and pay too little attention
to the complexities of the drug market, drug use and drug addiction....  
click to enlarge
This reminds us that drug policies were initially developed and implemented in the hope of achieving outcomes in terms of a reduction in harms to individuals and society – less crime, better health, and more economic and social development. However, we have primarily been measuring our success in the war on drugs by entirely different measures – those that report on processes, such as the number of arrests, the amounts seized, or the harshness of punishments. These indicators may tell us how tough we are being, but they do not tell us how successful we are in improving the ‘health and welfare of mankind’.
I found the report thoughtful and the overall conclusions eerily reminiscent of John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s 1932 remark during Prohibition
When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.
and reflected in this simple wikipedia graph

I don't think any of this is surprising to economists.  The demand for drugs is highly inelastic, so prices will rise dramatically if supply is restricted.  The burden of "taxation" (in this case, the energy the drug industry must expend to evade tough policies) is easily passed from suppliers onto consumers in the form of higher prices.  No surprises here, just basic principles from public finance.

Below are the key findings of the report.
Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows: 
End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.

Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada. Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses. Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.  
Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent. Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere.

Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. The most successful prevention efforts may be those targeted at specific at-risk groups.

Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. Law enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals, communities and national security. 
Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation. Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA. Ensure that the international conventions are interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory policies.

Break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now. 



Our colleague Johannes points us to AidData.org:
AidData is a collaborative initiative to provide products and services that promote the dissemination, analysis, and understanding of development finance information. At the core of the AidData program is the AidData web portal, which is a gateway to nearly 1 million records of development finance activities from donors around the world. Complementing the work of the OECD, whose Creditor Reporting System (CRS) is the official source of statistics for all OECD member countries, the AidData portal aims to provide access to development finance activities from a wide range of donors in an accessible format. In addition to providing access to these data, the team works on other projects that make it easier to access and analyze aid information, such as geocoding.

These are the guys behind the World Bank's Mapping for Results platform, previously covered here. Their blog ("First Tranche") is particularly worthwhile.

Mountain bike races as commentary on urban infrastructure?

I don't think the organizers of this meant for this to be commentary, but what does it say about the design/organization of your urban infrastructure when professional athletes are using it as a venue for mountain bike racing?  A corollary: if professional athletes find your "walk to school/work" this challenging, what does that mean for normal people who are just trying to get themselves or their goods/services to market?

[I hope my cynicism doesn't ruin these videos for you, since they are amazing athletic/artistic feats.  Thanks to Mina for sending these.]


Recent advances in Lagrangian atmospheric transport models

I liked this brief review article in Eos of some recent advances in the modeling of chemical transport models. Excerpt below, since the article is behind a pay-wall.

click to enlarge
Lagrangian models (LMs) track the movement of fluid parcels in their moving frame of reference. As such, scientists using LMs are forced, in a way, to imagine themselves moving with the parcel and experiencing the effects of advection, turbulence, and changes in the parcel’s environment.
LMs have advanced in sophistication over recent decades, allowing them to be used increasingly for both scientific and societal purposes. For example, it is common practice now for researchers around the world to apply LMs to examine a wide spectrum of geophysical phenomena. Atmospheric chemists can track intercontinental transport of pollution plumes [Stohl et al., 2002] or airborne radioactivity [Wotawa et al.,2006]. By running LMs backward in time [Flesch et al., 1995; Lin et al., 2003], instrumentalists can establish the source regions of observed atmospheric species with high computational efficiency [Ryall et al., 2001]. Therefore, LMs are being used increasingly to quantify sources and sinks of greenhouse gases by combining simulations with observations in an inverse modeling framework [Trusilova et al., 2010]. Such “top-down”emissions estimation is receiving growing acceptance as an independent tool to test the veracity of emissions inventories and to verify adherence to treaties. 
A recent indication of the tremendous societal importance of LMs was their role in predicting the spread of volcanic ash from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano inIceland. Figure 1 demonstrates the power ofLMs to accurately track the multiday dispersion of a plume as it eventually transforms into a complicated filamentary structure. The example further demonstrates the great potential of applying LMs in combination with data assimilation and inverse modeling to improve source estimates and the simulation of hazardous plumes.
As Lagrangian modeling increases in complexity and popularity, it is imperative to reexamine the physical foundations and implementation aspects of LMs used today.From this, scientists can build a road map of further steps needed to move Lagrangian modeling forward and to ensure its successful application in the future.
As opposed to Eulerian models (which use grid cells that are fixed in place), LMs are known to create minimal numerical diffusion and thus are capable of preserving gradients in tracer concentration. Additionally,Lagrangian integration is numerically stable, meaning that models can take bigger time steps. Furthermore, the Lagrangian framework is a natural way to model turbulence,as it is a closer physical analog to the pathways traced by eddies.
These advantages served as the inspiration from which Lagrangian particle dispersion models (LPDMs) have evolved, in which air parcels are modeled as infinitesimally small particles that are transported with random velocities representing turbulence. LPDMs often track many thousands to millions of particles in three dimensions and are more sophisticated than simple trajectory or puff models. With the availability of computational resources, full three-dimensional LPDM simulations that were expensive to run just a decade ago are now routinely carried out.