Showing posts from November, 2009

A seed of hope: corn genome sequenced

This just came in my inbox.  Let's hope they can do something good with it! National Science Foundation 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22230 "Where Discoveries Begin" For Immediate Release 11/19/2009 Media Contacts:    Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8310,      Jennifer Martin, U.S. Department of Agriculture, (202) 720-8188,      Caroline Arbanas, Washington University School of Medicine, (314) 286-0109, KERNELS OF TRUTH: RESEARCHERS SEQUENCE THE MAIZE (CORN) GENOME New, high-quality sequence will advance basic and applied research Sequence of maize genome. Credit: Image courtesty of Science/AAAS. Credit and Larger Version The completion of a high-quality sequence of the maize (corn) genome is announced in the cover story of the November 20, 2009, issue of Science. This new genome sequence reports the sequence of genes in maize and provides a detailed physical

via Mark Thoma, Jeffrey Sachs worries about transgressing our planet's boundaries

I'd really like to read the whole thing, but I don't have a subscription to Scientific American.  Maybe I'll buy a copy of the magazine at the airport tonight and read it on the way to DC. Here's Thoma's snippet : Transgressing Planetary Boundaries, by Jeff Sachs, Scientific American : We are eating ourselves out of house and home. ... The green revolution that made grain production soar gave humanity some breathing space, but the continuing rise in population and demand for meat production is exhausting that buffer. ... Food production accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions... Through the clearing of forestland, food production is also responsible for much of the loss of biodiversity. Chemical fertilizers cause massive depositions of nitrogen and phosphorus, which now destroy estuaries in hundreds of river systems and threaten ocean chemistry. Roughly 70 percent of worldwide water use goes to food production, which is implicated in groundwater

Questions from China about the Food Summit

A reporter (Xu Jingjing) from China's Life Week magazine writes with questions about the FAO's food summit.  Here are the questions and my answers: 1.        Do you think it is a productive summit? If it is, what are the most important outcomes? If it’s not, why this happens? I think it's great that the summit took place.  And there may be some productive results from it. But I'm an academic and am not very connected to international political events like this one.  It's hard for me to judge whether it is a success, or even how to measure the success of such events. 2.        Some comment said world leaders at the food summit on Monday rallied around a new strategy to fight global hunger and help poor countries feed themselves. Is it a substantial progress or just on rhetoric? I think I'll defer to my answer to question 1.  It's often hard for me to discern the difference between rhetoric and substance.  Maybe in 10 years I'll be able to look back a

How are we going to feed the world?

I'm trying out a new trick: embedding power point slides into a blog post. These are for today's panel discussion for International Education Week .  The topic:  "Genetically modified food crops: a solution to the global food crisis? " 2- 3:30 PM, Talley North Galler Here are my slides:

Is dynamic inconsistency really the problem with inflation targeting?

Okay, I should really heed Brad Delong's two rules regarding Paul Krugman : Remember that Paul Krugman is right. If your analysis leads you to conclude that Paul Krugman is wrong, refer to rule #1. But I've already stepped out of my field and way beyond where I have any business spouting off about what the Fed should do.  Maybe I'm just looking for someone to present a better argument for why inflation targeting is infeasible. Besides, I'm actually pitting Krugman against Krugman, since what I know about inflation targeting I learned from reading the one and only PK So the comments to my earlier post argue that dynamic inconsistency is the reason inflation targeting won't work.  I understand dynamic consistency, backward induction, and all that.  Or at least I hope I do, given I teach those fundamentals to each crop of 25 PhDs each year during their second semester of micro theory. For context, here is Krugman's argument against inflation targeting, d

A thoughtful critique of Gladwell (and by implication, other populist extremes)

Here Steven Pinker critiques Malcom Gladwell, nominally about his latest book What the Dog Saw And Other Adventures , but it is actually much broader than that. I don't have much to say about it.  Mainly I just wanted to save the link. But the reason I think this is important, and something I'd like to save, is that the subtle devices used by Gladwell, like the "Straw We" and perverse manipulation of uncertainties, are not unique to his writing.  These devices are ubiquitous.  These devices exploit our (a "Straw Our"?) collective discomfort with ambiguity. Update: Pinker smackdown alert (and, by implication, smackdown of me):  Gladwell's response to Pinker:       In one of my essays, I wrote that the position a quarterback is taken in the college draft is not a reliable indicator of his performance as a professional. That was based on the work of the academic economists David Berri and Rob Simmons, who, in a paper published the Journal of Produ

Krugman: Inflation targeting is the first best solution

So now Krugman says inflation targeting is the first-best solution to our economic problems. This is consistent with everything he wrote about Japan over a decade ago, and also consistent with a wide majority of non-crazy macro economists across the political spectrum. So why on earth has he not said this a lot more starting a long time ago? (Note that I've asked this question several times before--here are a couple early examples: 1 , 2 )  Krugman blames stupid economics.  He just sees misguided conventional wisdom against inflation as too much to overcome. Huh?  Krugman--the man who boldly, clearly, and effectively challenges establishment views on EVERYTHING--gets weak knees when it comes to inflation targeting? I see and get that inflation is a four-letter word among some crazy economists and much of the media.  But that's exactly why Krugman should be writing about it. Bernanke must have sympathy for this this view.  After all, it is what he spent much of his academ

Can biotechnology help fight world hunger?

I just found the transcript to forum from over nine years ago.  This seems like good reading in preparation for the panel discussion next week .  It's also good reading for anyone else who may be interested in the broader topic. Here's the lineup: CONGRESSIONAL HUNGER CENTER BIOTECH BRIEFING Congressional Hunger Center The Gold Room, 2168 Rayburn House Office Building, Capitol Hill June 29, 2000 9am-12pm For pdf version, click here. 09:00 - 09:30 Introduction: Rev. David Beckmann, Moderator President, Bread for the World, Congressional Hunger Center Board Member Opening Remarks: Rep. Tony Hall Sen. Richard Lugar Rep. Robert Ehrlich, Jr. Rep. Dennis Kucinich 09:30 - 10:20

Evolution of heat tolerance in corn: implications for climate change

I've just finished my lastest paper with Wolfram Schlenker.  It will be a chapter in a book "Climate Change: Past and Present" that will be published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Here's a link to the draft we're shipping off , and the abstract is below. We present new evidence on the relationship between weather and corn yields in Indiana between 1901 and 2005, extending earlier results for corn from 1950-2005. Indiana, a major corn-producing state has the best coverage of daily weather records for the early half of the 20th century. The effects of precipitation and extreme heat are shown to evolve over time as new seed varieties, supplemental irrigation systems and management practices are introduced. In particular, we find the detrimental effects of either too much or too little precipitation seems to have steadily diminished over time. In contrast, the evolution of tolerance to extreme heat is highly nonlinear, growing with the adoption of dou


This new book by Michael Specter is one I think I need to read: Here's a short interview with the author at NPR: In the interview anyway, Specter touches on some issues I've recently raised on this blog and that I will probably discuss in this upcoming panel discussion: Genetically modified foods – a solution for the global food crisis? THE IEW GLOBAL HEALTH PANEL ON TUESDAY NOVEMBER 17TH, FROM 2:00-3:30 PM, THE NORTH GALLERY OF TALLEY STUDENT CENTER (2ND FLOOR) WILL FEATURE A PANEL DISCUSSION ON A TOPIC OF LOCAL, NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL INTEREST. WITH CHANGING WEATHER PATTERNS, WATER SCARCITY, AND SOCIO-POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC CHALLENGES, WE MAY BE FACING A LOOMING GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS. WILL GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS BE THE ANSWER? COME AND JOIN A DISCUSSION WITH: DR. PEGGY BENTLEY, UNC-CH GLOBAL HEALTH DR.

How raising prices can reduce the cost of conservation

Many don't realize that the U.S. Department of Agriculture governs what is probably the world's largest conservation program: The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It's a big deal by at least two measures:  (1) the amount of land, currently about 34 million acres (a little smaller than the size of North Carolina or a little more than 10% of U.S. cultivated cropland); and (2) government expenditures, which are about 1.8 billion a year last time I checked, which swamps any other direct expenditures for the environment that I know of.  It's not all that much less than the total value of SO2 permits, which is about 3.0 billion a year. Some may say CRP isn't a conservation program, it's just another way to give money to farmers.  That  is probably part of it.  And part of it is to moderate total production and keep commodity prices higher for farmers not participating in CRP. But to me CRP looks a lot more like conservation program today than it did awhile back