Increasing frequency of drought and decreasing yields for soybeans

Soybeans are one of the major food crops globally–along with corn, rice, and wheat.  The midwestern United States (particularly Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Indiana) may be the primary production area for soybeans on the planet.

Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere have many negative climate change impacts.  However, a long-held view (from research since at least 1997) has been that elevated CO2 may actually enhance production/yields in plants like soybeans–from the CO2 fertilization effect (CFE).  In fact, research had indicated that the CFE was expected in many cases “to mitigate the effect of drought on crop productivity”, and offset crop losses due to drought and heat stress.”  This finding had led some to conclude that climate change is not so bad for agriculture.

However, more recent research does not support this view–including research involving wheat and grasses as well as soybeans.  The yield stimulation effect of CO2 “may be far less than expected under future growing conditions that are characterized by concurrent increases in CO2 and drought intensity.”

Research by Jin, et al. (2018) found that multiple climate models project that the frequency of drought in the U.S. Midwest will increase to once every other year by 2050 (from once every 5 years at present).  “The increased frequency of drought conditions poses a formidable challenge to maintaining soybean yield progress, in part by diminishing the potential benefits of elevated CO2.”  And, the U.S. Midwest is a much more favorable environment for growing crops compared to drier regions like parts of Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa.  There, any anticipated benefits of increased CO2 are likely even less and climate change disruption to crop yields will likely be even more.

While genetic engineering of soybeans and a major shift to irrigation could help “stabilize soybean yield,” the challenges are formidable and diverse.

Will society accept more genetically-modified crops?  And, as droughts become more frequent and more intense, where would the extra water come from for greatly-expended irrigation?  What choices will we make between water for people and water for crops?  And, what about heat stress?  The research projects “a sharp decline” in soybean yields in the period 2071-2090 as a result of greater heat stress alone.

Greater heat, more frequent and intense droughts, rising CO2 levels happening all at the same time–all these factors point to plateaus and declines in major food crop yields globally within the lifetimes of us and our children.

(Kevin Engel, December 1, 2018)

For more information about the impacts of climate change on agriculture, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Narcissism and social media–a match made in heaven?

Since the earlier days of social media, researchers have looked at the relationship between narcissism and social media use.  Narcissism is a personality type “marked by a grandiose sense of self-importance, low communion with others, and feelings of entitlement.”  People with extreme forms of narcissism may be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) which is “characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiose behaviors, excessive need for admiration, and empathy deficits.”

Interest in this topic has increased since a significant portion of the use of social media seems to fit the needs of narcissists, plus some individuals prominent in politics, sports, technology, and other areas seem to exhibit strong narcissistic tendencies.

McCain and Campbell (2018) have done a meta-analytic review of over 60 studies (since 2008) that have been published in this area.  Their findings “suggest that grandiose narcissism is positively related to” the amount of time spent using social media, the frequency of new posts and tweets, the number of friends and followers, and the frequency of posting pictures of themselves (selfies).

In other words, people exhibiting grandiose narcissism spend more time, post or tweet more often, have larger numbers of friends and followers, and more frequently post their own pictures on social media.

Singh, Farley, and Donahue (2018) looked especially at the relationship between narcissism and the frequency of sending/posting selfies.  They found–like McCain and Campbell–that grandiose narcissism was most consistently associated with various social media behaviors, including “frequency of selfie posting, perceived attractiveness of selfies, tags/comment/like behaviors”, etc.

Again, grandiose narcissists posted/tweeted their own pictures more frequently “through a motivation for others to show interest and admiration.”

Narcissism and social media use is a burgeoning area for study with potentially broad implications globally for our society and the ways that we collectively make choices/decisions–political, social, economic, and more.

(Kevin Engel, November 26, 2018)

For more information about psychological phenomena, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

We never forget how to ride a bicycle? Why not?

I’m almost 60; increasingly, I sporadically forget names of people I’ve met even fairly recently; I’ll draw a sudden blank on my own phone number; I’ll even forget the name of a restaurant I was at a week ago.  Yet, I rarely ride a bicycle these days, but I could go to the garage right now, jump on a bike, and ride away.  The balancing, the pedaling, little riding tricks from when I was in elementary school–I remember them all.  Why don’t I forget those?

“Different types of memories are stored in distinct regions of our brains.”  And, “long-term memory is divided into two types: declarative and procedural.”  With declarative memory–recollections of experiences (the Sporting Kansas City soccer game I attended several years ago) or knowledge of facts (what “OECD” stands for)–we know it and “can communicate the memories to others” … if we haven’t forgotten it.

But, skills–like riding a bicycle–are different; they are procedural memories.  “This type of memory is responsible for performance.”  Based on experimentation over decades, procedural memory “is more resistant to both loss and trauma.”

Why?  For one, the brain structures that process procedural memories (the basal ganglia) are more “protected in the brain’s center”–less likely to be damaged by brain trauma.  What is not clear yet is why procedural memories “are not as easily forgotten as declarative” memories.

Still, it is known that simple sequences of movements (like riding a bike) that “we internalize, even far in the past, are typically preserved for a lifetime.”

Read the article (Boris Suchan, Scientific American, November 15, 2018).

For more information about psychological phenomena, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Extreme rainfall will continue

New research indicates “that any particular place on the globe gets half its annual rainfall–on average–in just 12 days” out of the year.  Which particular days varies, of course, from “place to place and season to season … but the pattern holds worldwide.”

In the study, daily rainfall from 1999 to 2014 at 185 sites located worldwide was analyzed.  The research also used 36 climate models to “assess how rainfall trends might change in the future” especially between the years 2085 and 2100.

Based on the continued inaction by many today, it will very likely be an even warmer world by 2100 with the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) likely doubling or more from today’s levels.  Under that scenario–between 2085 and 2100–the prediction is that “any particular locale can expect half a year’s rainfall to occur in just 11 days” (even faster than today).  Plus, future rainfall is likely to be even more uneven than rainfall today–more periods of little or no rain (more drought) interspersed with a few instances of even more extreme rain leading to flooding, mudslides, and more.  Half of the increase in rainfall will happen in the wettest 6 days each year.  Today and especially by 2085 to 2100, “society needs to take measures to deal with little change most of the time and a handful of events with much more rain.”

All of this makes sense–a warmer world holds more moisture (water vapor) in the atmosphere and, thus, our extreme rainfall events of today will likely become “even more extreme.”

Read the article (Sid Perkins, Science, November 15, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

You have the power to make your own decisions about issues important to your life–use it!

Knowledge brings understanding; more fully understanding an issue (immigration, health care, abortion, border security, taxation, tariffs, climate change, etc., etc.) reduces fear and anxiety about that issue.  Many people and organizations across the political spectrum push fear to make you act in a way that they want.

Make an effort to better understand the issues that are important in your life.  Remember that the truth is often complex; be skeptical of simple answers.  The big issues that affect millions are hard to solve, and any true solution is usually a compromise.  As Oscar Wilde said “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

So, make the effort to gain knowledge and understand, reduce the fear and anxiety, set your own value on information important to your life; make your own decisions–do not let others make important decisions for you!

To gain understanding, to reduce fear, to make your own decisions, try these guidelines —

Seek information, not affirmation: understand the algorithm-driven thought bubble of social media; social media can surround you with people and bots who seem to share many of your opinions.  That may seem comforting, but true understanding of an issue usually requires breaking that bubble and going outside your comfort zone.

Source + Motivation = Value:  always go to the original source of the information, if you can.  And, think about the context in which that information was produced; what was the motivation of the people who created that information–commercial, political, religious, etc.?  You can decide for yourself the real value of that information.

Dig deeper–do not rely on just one source of information:  in order to truly understand, look for evidence that supports and contradicts a finding, an analysis, an assertion.  Seek opinions other than your own.

See a list of questions to help you think about the value of information important to your life (Kevin Engel, November 15, 2018).

Buses are still the future of public transit

In these days of Uber and Lyft, the proliferation of electric scooters, and other individual ride services, it may seem that the best way to move people around a city is to go small–vans, cars, and other dial-a-ride type services.  The big bus is out; microtransit is in.

But, it’s not; “the best way to get the most people around a city efficiently and cheaply” is still large, fixed-route buses.

Why is microtransit inefficient?  Especially in a lower density environment–like a city suburb–a driver in a smaller van responding to individual requests for rides and not following a fixed path, can only make 4 to at best 7 stops in an hour; meaning that the smaller van may carry only 4 to 7 people during that hour.  In comparison, especially in a higher-density environment (inside a city), large fixed-route buses carry on average 12 to 45 people an hour.  And, in many cases, in dense cities like Philadelphia, USA, “the number can exceed 80” people per hour.

In addition, it might seem that a smaller van or car would be cheaper to run than a large bus.  But, as long as a human driver is involved, at least 70% of the operating cost of passenger transport is labor–paying the driver’s wages.  “The driver’s time is far more expensive than maintenance, fuel,” and other costs of operating a vehicle.  Because of that, a driver of a larger bus is more efficient than a driver of a smaller vehicle.  “The ‘to your door’ convenience offered by microtransit is so expensive per rider that it cannot possibly scale to the volumes of people traveling in a city.”

But, microtransit certainly has its niche such as serving disabled persons or “low-income people living in a hard-to-serve place.”  But, it will never be a high-ridership tool for an urban transit agency.

“Fixed public transit deploys large vehicles flowing along a set path, and riders gathering at stops to use them.”  The buses or trains can follow a fairly straight line “and they don’t need to stop once for every customer.”  “It is one of the best ideas in the history of transportation.”

Read the article (Jarrett Walker, The Atlantic, October 31, 2018).

For more information about public transportation and moving people around a city, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.