4.27.2012

An unusual number of goodies in Nature this week

A special Outlook issue reviewing the challenges of malaria control:

Nature Outlook: Malaria (Open access)
The war against the malaria parasite has raged for millennia, and still claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Resistance is a growing issue — for both the parasite to current therapy, and the mosquito to pesticides. Past attempts to eradicate malaria have failed. What will it take to finally subdue this deadly disease?


Commentary on the ivory tower:

Global issues: Make social sciences relevant
Luk Van Langenhove

Excerpt:
The social sciences are flourishing. As of 2005, there were almost half a million professional social scientists from all fields in the world, working both inside and outside academia. According to the World Social Science Report 2010 (ref. 1), the number of social-science students worldwide has swollen by about 11% every year since 2000, up to 22 million in 2006. 
Yet this enormous resource is not contributing enough to today's global challenges, including climate change, security, sustainable development and health. These issues all have root causes in human behaviour: all require behavioural change and social innovations, as well as technological development.... 
Despite these factors, many social scientists seem reluctant to tackle such issues. And in Europe, some are up in arms over a proposal to drop a specific funding category for social-science research and to integrate it within cross-cutting topics of sustainable development. This is a shame — the community should be grasping the opportunity to raise its influence in the real world.... 
Today, the social sciences are largely focused on disciplinary problems and internal scholarly debates, rather than on topics with external impact.... 
The main solution, however, is to change the mindset of the social-science community, and what it considers to be its main goal. If I were a student now, I would throw myself at global challenges and social innovations; I hope to encourage today's young researchers to do the same.


Meta-analysis of a famous question:

Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture
Verena Seufert, Navin Ramankutty & Jonathan A. Foley
Abstract: Numerous reports have emphasized the need for major changes in the global food system: agriculture must meet the twin challenge of feeding a growing population, with rising demand for meat and high-calorie diets, while simultaneously minimizing its global environmental impacts1, 2. Organic farming—a system aimed at producing food with minimal harm to ecosystems, animals or humans—is often proposed as a solution3, 4. However, critics argue that organic agriculture may have lower yields and would therefore need more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional farms, resulting in more widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss, and thus undermining the environmental benefits of organic practices5. Here we use a comprehensive meta-analysis to examine the relative yield performance of organic and conventional farming systems globally. Our analysis of available data shows that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rain-fed legumes and perennials on weak-acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions—that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others it at present cannot. To establish organic agriculture as an important tool in sustainable food production, the factors limiting organic yields need to be more fully understood, alongside assessments of the many social, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming systems.


Copyright Nature




And some interesting agent-based modeling from Nature Climate Change:

Emerging migration flows in a changing climate in dryland Africa
Dominic R. Kniveton, Christopher D. Smith & Richard Black

Fears of the movement of large numbers of people as a result of changes in the environment were first voiced in the 1980s (ref. 1). Nearly thirty years later the numbers likely to migrate as a result of the impacts of climate change are still, at best, guesswork2. Owing to the high prevalence of rainfed agriculture, many livelihoods in sub-Saharan African drylands are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate. One commonly adopted response strategy used by populations to deal with the resulting livelihood stress is migration. Here, we use an agent-based model developed around the theory of planned behaviour to explore how climate and demographic change, defined by the ENSEMBLES project3 and the United Nations Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs4, combine to influence migration within and from Burkina Faso. The emergent migration patterns modelled support framing the nexus of climate change and migration as a complex adaptive system5. Using this conceptual framework, we show that the extent of climate-change-related migration is likely to be highly nonlinear and the extent of this nonlinearity is dependent on population growth; therefore supporting migration policy interventions based on both demographic and climate change adaptation.

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