Archive for January, 2014

Why blogging helps improving your research productivity

Expiscor blogger Christopher Buddle found a positive correlation between his blogging activity and his research outputs, which let him to explore three potential reasons why blogging could help research productivity. Here, in a nutshell, are the reasons:

  1. The continous practice of writing texts allows you to write better and faster.
  2. Blogging allows expanding knowledge, also and in particular in fields which are not in one’s direct area of expertise. This, in turn, has various positive effects on research productivity (for learning which, just see the original post).
  3. Through blogging and the use of other social media, one becomes better connected to the community of researchers.

Definitely, all three reasons are true. And beyond this, blogging is also fun!

Virtual potato crop modeling: A comparison of genetic coefficients of the DSSAT-SUBSTOR potato model with breeding goals for developing countries

ReportVirtual crop modeling is the representation of future genetic improvements from plant breeding in crop growth simulation models through changes in genetic coefficients or other crop model parameters with the objective of analyzing ex-ante the impacts of improved traits on crop yields and assisting breeders in their breeding efforts.

As a first step towards virtual crop modeling for the potato crop, a new working paper provides a comparison of priority breeding targets for developing country regions with genetic coefficients and other parameters of the SUBSTOR-potato model, thereby showing the potential uses of the model for that purpose.

It is shown that SUBSTOR provides scope for virtual crop modeling. Out of nine priority target traits, five can currently be dealt with in model. Adaptation to long day conditions and heat tolerance can directly be represented by adjusting the genetic coefficients of the model. High yields and drought tolerance would require changes in parameters that are currently included in the model code. Earliness would require the implementation of a new parameter in the code. Additional traits related to crop quality and resistance to biotic stress factors will require more profound changes in either the model structure or the coupling of the crop growth model with disease models.

The full working paper Virtual potato crop modeling: A comparison of genetic coefficients of the DSSAT-SUBSTOR potato model with breeding goals for developing countries is available on ZENODO. The paper is intended as an entry point for discussions and further about how to best carry out virtual crop modeling for the potato crop.

The scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change

The latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

This statement reflects a scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. But how does this scientific consensus actually look like and how strong is it? Two studies explore this question more in detail.

In a first paper, Scientific Historian Naomi Oreskes at the University of California at San Diego analyses 928 papers on global climate change published between 1993 and 2003 to see how many of them endorse the consensus that climate change is real and is influenced by human activity and how many disagree with the consensus position. Her results show that none of the papers disagrees with the consensus.

A second paper by a team around John Cook of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland extends the analysis by Oreskes and examines abstracts of 11 944 scientific papers from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’.  Of the abstracts that express a position on anthropogenic climate change, 97.1% endorse the consensus position. Less than 2% of the papers reject the consensus.

The two studies show in a convincing manner that there is virtually no disagreement within the scientific community on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Disagreement or discussion rather exist about the speed and magnitude of climate change and on the measures required to tackle it.


Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S.A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., Way, R., Jacobs, P., Skuce, A., 2013. Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 024024.

IPCC, 2013. Summary for Policy Makers, in: Stocker, T., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor, M., Allen, S., Boschung, J., Nauels, A., Xia, Y., Bex, V., Midgley, P.M. (Eds.), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC, Switzerland.

Oreskes, N., 2004. The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science 306, 1686–1686.

[This blog post was inspired by the course Climate Change in Four Dimensions at]

Livestock and global change: Special feature in PNAS

Academics Against Mass Surveillance

Motivated by the past months’ revelations about the mass surveillance carried out by American and European intelligence agencies, academics have launched an initiative “Academics Against Mass Surveillance”, which so far is supported by over 350 signatories from across the globe.

The full text of the declaration is

Last summer it was revealed, largely thanks to Edward Snowden, that American and European intelligence services are engaging in mass surveillance of hundreds of millions of people.

Intelligence agencies monitor people’s Internet use, obtain their phone calls, email messages, Facebook entries, financial details, and much more. Agencies have also gathered personal information by accessing the internal data flows of firms such as Google and Yahoo. Skype calls are “readily available” for interception. Agencies have purposefully weakened encryption standards – the same techniques that should protect our online banking and our medical files. These are just a few examples from recent press reports. In sum: the world is under an unprecedented level of surveillance.

This has to stop.

The right to privacy is a fundamental right. It is protected by international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Without privacy people cannot freely express their opinions or seek and receive information. Moreover, mass surveillance turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt. Nobody denies the importance of protecting national security, public safety, or the detection of crime. But current secret and unfettered surveillance practices violate fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermine democracy.

The signatories of this declaration call upon nation states to take action. Intelligence agencies must be subjected to transparency and accountability. People must be free from blanket mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies from their own or foreign countries. States must effectively protect everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms, and particularly everyone’s privacy.

Good arguments for signing are given by Axel Arnbak on his blog Signing Mass Surveillance Declarations and Petitions: Should Academics Take a Stance?