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SEATTLE — The Seattle area, home to both Microsoft and Amazon, is a potent symbol of the affordable housing crisis that has followed the explosive growth of tech hubs. Now Microsoft, arguing that the industry has an interest and responsibility to help people left behind in communities transformed by the boom, is putting up $500 million to help address the problem.
Microsoft’s money represents the most ambitious effort by a tech company to directly address the inequality that has spread in areas where the industry is concentrated, particularly on the West Coast. It will fund construction for homes affordable not only to the company’s own non-tech workers, but also for teachers, ﬁreﬁghters and other middle- and low-income residents.
Microsoft’s move comes less than a year after Amazon successfully pushed to block a new tax in Seattle that would have made large businesses pay a per-employee tax to fund homeless services and the construction of affordable housing. The company said the tax created a disincentive to create jobs. Microsoft, which is based in nearby Redmond, Wash., and has few employees who work in the city, did not take a position on the tax.
The debate about the rapid growth of the tech industry and the inequality that often follows has spilled across the country, particularly as Amazon, with billions of taxpayer subsidies, announced plans to build major campuses in Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Va., that would employ a total of at least 50,000 people. In New York, elected ofﬁcials and residents have raised concerns that Amazon has not made commitments to support affordable housing.
Analysis of surveys from US, France and Germany could also have implications for science communication in other ﬁelds
Analysis of surveys from US, France and Germany could also have implications for science communication in other ﬁelds
The most extreme opponents of genetically modiﬁed foods know the least about science but believe they know the most, researchers have found.
The ﬁndings from public surveys in the US, France and Germany suggest that rather than being a barrier to the possession of strongly held views, ignorance of the matter at hand might better be described as a fuel.
“This is part and parcel of the psychology of extremism,” said Philip Fernbach, a researcher at the University of Colorado and co-author of the 2017 book The Knowledge Illusion. “To maintain these strong counter-scientiﬁc consensus views, you kind of have to have a lack of knowledge.”
Fernbach and others analysed surveys completed by nationally representative samples of the US, French and German public. Those who took part were asked about their attitudes to GM foods and given instructions on how to judge their understanding of the topic. Next, they completed a scientiﬁc literacy test. Among the statements the participants had to wrestle with were: “Ordinary tomatoes do not have genes, whereas genetically modiﬁed tomatoes do” (false), and “the oxygen we breathe comes from plants” (true).
The results from more than 2,500 respondents revealed the curious trend. “What we found is that as the extremity of opposition increased, objective knowledge went down, but self-assessed knowledge went up,” Fernbach said.
“The extremists are more poorly calibrated. If you don’t know much, it’s hard to assess how much you know,” Fernbach added. “The feeling of understanding that they have then stops them from learning the truth. Extremism can be perverse in that way.”
The ﬁnding has echoes of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the observation from social psychology that incompetence prevents the incompetent from recognising their incompetence. A case in point is the bank robber who was bafﬂed to be caught after rubbing lemon juice into his face in the belief it would make him invisible to security cameras.
Fernbach believes that his ﬁndings, reported in Nature Human Behaviour, could have major implications for science and policy communication. One long-held, but rather unsuccessful, belief in the ﬁeld of communications is that better education is the way to counter anti-scientiﬁc attitudes.
“Our research shows that you need to add something else to the equation,” Fernbach said. “Extremists think they understand this stuff already, so they are not going to be very receptive to education. You ﬁrst need to get them to appreciate the gaps in their knowledge.”
Graham O’Dwyer, a politics lecturer at Reading University with a speciﬁc interest in human irrationality, welcomed the study. “It carries a clear argument that is very convincing, and it also feeds into a wider set of concerns in relation to ignorance, overconﬁdence, and erroneous views in our present times.”
Beyond parallels with the Dunning-Kruger effect, O’Dwyer said two other cognitive biases may feed into the trend Fernbach observed. The ﬁrst is “active information avoidance”, where people reject information that would help them understand the world because it clashes with their existing beliefs. The second is the “backﬁre effect”, which describes how people can become entrenched in their original positions after rejecting new information.
“This is often used to explain why many Americans refuse to believe in evolution and why so many Americans feel that vaccination is harmful to children,” O’Dwyer said. “It also ﬁgures into the debates on global warming and makes correcting erroneous beliefs highly challenging.”
The partial government shutdown is inﬂicting far greater damage on the U. S. economy than the Trump administration previously estimated, the White House acknowledged.
President Trump’s economists have now doubled projections of how much economic growth is being lost each week.
They originally estimated the partial shutdown would subtract 0.1 percentage point from economic growth every two weeks. Now, they see that loss happening every week the shutdown lasts, according to a CNBC report citing an unnamed ofﬁcial.
The economy grew at a 2.8 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to an estimate by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
The partial shutdown — the longest in U. S. history — is in its fourth week.
On Tuesday, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett acknowledged that the partial shutdown’s economic effects are a “little bit worse” than the administration ﬁrst thought.
During an interview on the Fox Business Network, Hassett, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, noted that White House economists had originally miscalculated the rate of damage in part because they failed to account for government contractors.
About 4.1 million people work under federal contracts, but there are no ofﬁcial numbers on the number of contractors affected by the shutdown.
“We’ve got a very large federal workforce with a majority of employees who are not on Uncle Sam’s direct payroll,” New York University federal workforce expert Paul Light told NPR earlier this month. “They will not get paid for this unpaid vacation, and I’m not sure how they’ll recover if this shutdown continues much longer.”
In 2007, the company and three of its top executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that Purdue had misrepresented the dangers of OxyContin, and they paid $634.5 million in ﬁnes. The Sacklers were not accused of any wrongdoing and have not faced personal legal consequences over the drug.
But last June, Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, sued eight members of the Sackler family, along with the company and numerous executives and directors, alleging that they had misled doctors and patients about OxyContin’s risks. The suit also claimed that the company aggressively promoted the drug to doctors who were big prescribers of opioids, including physicians who later lost their licenses.
The court ﬁling released on Tuesday also asserts that Sackler family members were aware that Purdue Pharma repeatedly failed to alert authorities to scores of reports the company had received that OxyContin was being abused and sold on the street. The company also used pharmacy discount cards to increase OxyContin’s sales and Richard Sackler, who served as Purdue Pharma’s president from 1999 to 2003, led a company strategy of blaming abuse of the drug on addicts, the suit claimed.
In 1995, when the Food and Drug Administration approved OxyContin, it allowed Purdue Pharma to claim that the opioid’s long-acting formulation was “believed to reduce” its appeal to drug abusers compared with traditional painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin.
At a gathering shortly afterward to celebrate the drug’s launch, Mr. Sackler boasted that “the launch of OxyContin tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white,” according to a document cited in the legal complaint.
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Company sales representatives told doctors that OxyContin couldn’t be abused and were trained to say that the drug had an addiction risk for patients of “less than one percent,” a claim that had no scientiﬁc backing. Within a few years, Purdue Pharma was selling more than $1 billion worth of OxyContin annually.
But abuse of the drug quickly grew as teenagers and others discovered that all they needed to do was to crush OxyContin to get access to large amounts of a pure narcotic, oxycodone, contained in the pills.
On October 19, 2017, astronomers at the University of Hawaii spotted a strange object travelling through our solar system, which they later described as “a red and extremely elongated asteroid.” It was the ﬁrst interstellar object to be detected within our solar system; the scientists named it ’Oumuamua, the Hawaiian word for a scout or messenger. The following October, Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, co-wrote a paper (with a Harvard postdoctoral fellow, Shmuel Bialy) that examined ’Oumuamua’s “peculiar acceleration” and suggested that the object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth’s vicinity by an alien civilization.” Loeb has long been interested in the search for extraterrestrial life, and he recently made further headlines by suggesting that we might communicate with the civilization that sent the probe. “If these beings are peaceful, we could learn a lot from them,” he told Der Spiegel.
I recently spoke by phone with Loeb, who was frustrated that scientists saw ’Oumuamua too late in its journey to photograph the object. “My motivation for writing the paper is to alert the community to pay a lot more attention to the next visitor,” he told me. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed why Loeb thinks we need to consider the possibility that ’Oumuamua was sent by aliens, the dangers of unscientiﬁc speculation, and what belief in an advanced extraterrestrial civilization has in common with faith in God.
Your explanation of why ’Oumuamua might be an interstellar probe may be hard for laypeople to understand. Why might this be the case, beyond the fact that lots of things are possible?
There is a Scientiﬁc American article I wrote where I summarized six strange facts about ’Oumuamua. The ﬁrst one is that we didn’t expect this object to exist in the ﬁrst place. We see the solar system and we can calculate at what rate it ejected rocks during its history. And if we assume all planetary systems around other stars are doing the same thing, we can ﬁgure out what the population of interstellar objects should be. That calculation results in a lot of possibilities, but the range is much less than needed to explain the discovery of ’Oumuamua.
There is another peculiar fact about this object. When you look at all the stars in the vicinity of the sun, they move relative to the sun, the sun moves relative to them, but only one in ﬁve hundred stars in that frame is moving as slow as ’Oumuamua. You would expect that most rocks would move roughly at the speed of the star they came from. If this object came from another star, that star would have to be very special.
What are some of the other strange facts?
When it was discovered, we realized it spins every eight hours, and its brightness changed by at least a factor of ten. The fact that its brightness varies by a factor of ten as it spins means that it is at least ten times longer than it is wide. We don’t have a photo, but, in all the artists’ illustrations that you have seen on the Web, it looks like a cigar. That’s one possibility. But it’s also possible that it’s a pancake-like geometry, and, in fact, that is favored.
What would be the meaning of a pancake-like geometry—
Wait. The most unusual fact about it is that it deviates from an orbit that is shaped purely by the gravitational force of the sun. Usually, in the case of comets, such a deviation is caused by the evaporation of ice on the surface of the comet, creating gases that push the comet, like the rocket effect. That’s what comets show: a cometary tail of evaporated gas. We don’t see a cometary tail here, but, nevertheless, we see a deviation from the expected orbit. And that is the thing that triggered the paper. Once I realized that the object is moving differently than expected, then the question is what gives it the extra push. And, by the way, after our paper appeared, another paper came out with analysis that showed very tight limits on any carbon-based molecules in the vicinity of this object.
What is the significance of that?
It means that there is no evidence of gas that relates to the evaporation of ice. We don’t see the telltale signatures of cometary tail. Moreover, if it was cometary activity, then we would expect the spin period of this object to change, and we don’t see that. All of these things are indicative of the fact that it is nothing like a comet that we have seen before in the solar system. And it is also nothing like an asteroid. Its brightness varies by a factor of ten, and the maximum you typically observe is a factor of three. It has a much more extreme geometry, and there is some other force pushing it. The question is, what’s providing this force, and that was the trigger for our paper.
The only thing that came to my mind is that maybe the light from the sun, as it bounces off its surface, gives it an extra push. It’s just like a wind bouncing off a sail on a sailboat. So we checked that and found that you need the thickness of the object to be less than a millimetre in order for that to work. If it is indeed less than a millimetre thick, if it is pushed by the sunlight, then it is maybe a light sail, and I could not think of any natural process that would make a light sail. It is much more likely that it is being made by artiﬁcial means, by a technological civilization.
I should say, just as background, I do not view the possibility of a technological civilization as speculative, for two reasons. The ﬁrst is that we exist. And the second is that at least a quarter of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy have a planet like Earth, with surface conditions that are very similar to Earth, and the chemistry of life as we know it could develop. If you roll the dice so many times, and there are tens of billions of stars in the Milky Way, it is quite likely we are not alone.
So this civilization would be out of the solar system and in the galaxy?
In the galaxy. It may be dead by now, because we don’t take good care of our planet. Imagine another history, in which the Nazis have a nuclear weapon and the Second World War ends differently. You can imagine a civilization that develops technology like that, which would lead to its own destruction.
It’s possible that the civilization is not alive anymore, but it did send out a spacecraft. We ourselves sent out Voyager I and Voyager II. There could be a lot of equipment out there. The point is that this is the very ﬁrst object we found from outside the solar system. It is very similar to when I walk on the beach with my daughter and look at the seashells that are swept ashore. Every now and then we ﬁnd an object of artiﬁcial origin. And this could be a message in a bottle, and we should be open-minded. So we put this sentence in the paper.
It’s different, of course, but the way you said that reminded me of an argument I have heard for creationism, which is that if you ﬁnd a watch on the beach, you know it must be man-made, and, since our eyes are as complex as a watch, we must also be designed by a creator.
An advanced technological civilization is a good approximation to God. Suppose you took a cell phone and showed it to a caveperson. The caveperson would say it was a nice rock. The caveperson is used to rocks. So now imagine this object—’Oumuamua—being the iPhone and us being the cave people. We look at it and say it’s a rock. It’s just an unusual rock. The point of this analogy is that, for a caveperson, the technologies we have today would have been magic. They would have been God-given.
Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer quoted in one of the pieces on your paper, wrote, “In science we must ask ourselves, ‘Where is the evidence? Not’ ”—
Hold on. “ ‘Not where is the lack of evidence so that I can ﬁt in any hypothesis that I like?’ ” [Bailer-Jones, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, in Heidelberg, Germany, has identiﬁed four possible home stars for ’Oumuamua, and was asked to respond to Loeb’s light-sail theory by NBC.]
Well, it’s exactly the approach that I took. I approached this with a scientiﬁc mind, like I approach any other problem in astronomy or science that I work on. The point is that we follow the evidence, and the evidence in this particular case is that there are six peculiar facts. And one of these facts is that it deviated from an orbit shaped by gravity while not showing any of the telltale signs of cometary outgassing activity. So we don’t see the gas around it, we don’t see the cometary tail. It has an extreme shape that we have never seen before in either asteroids or comets. We know that we couldn’t detect any heat from it and that it’s much more shiny, by a factor of ten, than a typical asteroid or comet. All of these are facts. I am following the facts.
Last year, I wrote a paper about cosmology where there was an unusual result, which showed that perhaps the gas in the universe was much colder than we expected. And so we postulated that maybe dark matter has some property that makes the gas cooler. And nobody cares, nobody is worried about it, no one says it is not science. Everyone says that is mainstream—to consider dark matter, a substance we have never seen. That’s completely ﬁne. It doesn’t bother anyone.
But when you mention the possibility that there could be equipment out there that is coming from another civilization—which, to my mind, is much less speculative, because we have already sent things into space—then that is regarded as unscientiﬁc. But we didn’t just invent this thing out of thin air. The reason we were driven to put in that sentence was because of the evidence, because of the facts. If someone else has a better explanation, they should write a paper about it rather than just saying what you said.
One of your responses to these criticisms was, “I follow the maxim of Sherlock Holmes: ‘When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ ” But when it comes to things we can’t explain or don’t understand, don’t we often turn to concepts that do exist in popular culture and society—
No. No! No. Let me give you a better example for the kind of argument you are making. The multiverse is a mainstream idea—that anything that can happen will happen an inﬁnite number of times. And I think that is not scientiﬁc, because it cannot be tested. Whereas the next time we see an object like this one, we can contemplate taking a photograph. My motivation, in part, is to motivate the scientiﬁc community to collect more data on the next object rather than argue a priori that they know the answer. In the multiverse case, we have no way of testing it, and everyone is happy to say, “Ya!”
Another mainstream idea is the extra dimension. You see that in string theory, which gets a lot of good press, and awards are given to members of that community. Not only has it not been tested empirically for almost forty years now but there is no hope it will be tested in the next forty years. And yet your friend has no problem with that! Whoever you are quoting has no problem with the multiverse, with string theory. No problem!
We don’t know what the person, Coryn Bailer-Jones, thinks about these things, to be clear.
He never complains about it, he never mentions it.
I don’t even know it’s a “he,” and I don’t know his or her opinions.
The point I was trying to make is that we live in a culture where people talk about aliens.
No, but that’s different.
Hold on. Let me ﬁnish. The term U. F.O., in popular usage, has basically come to mean aliens of some sort. My question is whether we tend to see things that we can’t know or understand through the prism of things we have heard about since we were kids. Aren’t we more likely to see something like an alien society as an explanation than something we maybe can’t even comprehend or put into words?
I don’t enjoy science ﬁction because there are things in science ﬁction that violate the laws of physics. I like science and I like ﬁction separately. The main argument against any of the U. F.O. stories that you may have heard about is that the technology of detection have improved dramatically over the past few decades. We have cameras that are far better than we used to have, and nevertheless the evidence remains marginal. And so that is why there is no scientiﬁc credibility to U.F.O.s.
What we are talking about today is part of science. We have seen an object from outside the solar system, and we are trying to ﬁgure what it is made of and where it came from. We don’t have as much data as I would like. Given the data that we have, I am putting this on the table, and it bothers people to even think about that, just like it bothered the Church in the days of Galileo to even think about the possibility that the Earth moves around the sun. Prejudice is based on experience in the past. The problem is that it prevents you from making discoveries. If you put the probability at zero per cent of an object coming into the solar system, you would never ﬁnd it!
Have your religious beliefs, or beliefs about God, changed in any way in the time you have been studying astronomy?
I am not religious. Why do you make that assumption?
I didn’t. I was wondering if your thoughts had changed one way or the other.
First of all, it depends on what you mean by God. But if you take something that is zero and multiple it by any number, it remains zero. I was secular to start with. I am not religious. I am struck by the order we ﬁnd in the universe, by the regularity, by the existence of laws of nature. That is something I am always in awe of, how the laws of nature we ﬁnd here on Earth seem to apply all the way out to the edge of the universe. That is quite remarkable. The universe could have been chaotic and very disorganized. But it obeys a set of laws much better than people obey a set of laws here. My work as a scientist is purely based on evidence and rational thinking. That’s all.
The grain-growing region in the High Plains of America—known as America’s breadbasket—relies entirely on the Ogallala Aquifer. But long term unsustainable use of the aquifer is forcing states in the region to face the prospect of a regional economic disaster. As the High Plains states reach the verge of a major crisis, the states have taken different approaches to conservation with varying results.
The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce, and it has long been an essential component of American agriculture. The High Plains region—where the aquifer lies—relies on the aquifer for residential and industrial uses, but the aquifer’s water is used primarily for agricultural irrigation. The agricultural demands for Ogallala water in the region are immense, with the aquifer ultimately being responsible for thirty percent of all irrigation in the United States. The Ogallala Aquifer has long been unable to keep up with these agricultural demands, as the aquifer recharges far slower than water is withdrawn.
Aside from the obvious agricultural ramiﬁcations from the Ogallala’s depletion, recent studies have shown that groundwater depletion also has a severe effect on freshwater ecosystems in the region. Each state has had to confront the issue in their own way, but the depletion of the aquifer has become severe enough to warrant the attention of the federal government as well. At the state level, the focus has been on maintaining an orderly depletion of the aquifer rather than developing a plan for sustainable use. However, some states have achieved some level of success in slowing down the aquifer’s depletion. Kansas, for example, has recently achieved mild success by adopting a program that put conservation in the hands of the State’s farmers. On the other hand, Nebraska has seen more success than Kansas by being tougher on farmers and exercising its enforcement powers. The federal government has also set up ﬁnancial and technical assistance for farmers who commit to conservation and is funding large-scale pipeline projects to bring in water to the more desperate areas of the High Plains.
The Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, underlies eight different states, stretching across America’s High Plains from South Dakota down to Northern Texas. It is an unconﬁned aquifer that is recharged almost exclusively by rainwater and snowmelt, but given the semiarid climate of the High Plains, recharge is minimal. In some areas, the water table is dropping as much as two feet a year, but recharge in the aquifer only averages around three inches annually.
The aquifer provides nearly all of the water for residential, industrial, and agricultural uses in the High Plains region. Irrigated agriculture is particularly straining on the aquifer as the region is responsible for one-ﬁfth of the wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle produced in the United States. The High Plains actually leads the entire Western Hemisphere in irrigation with fourteen million acres irrigated annually, primarily in Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas. Accordingly, farming accounts for an astounding ninety-four percent of groundwater use in the region.
The resulting strain on the aquifer has been apparent for decades as recharge in the semiarid region has been unable to keep up with such a high demand. Because of the continuous decline in the aquifer, some areas that traditionally relied on the aquifer for irrigation are now unable to do so. “We are basically drying out the Great Plains,” according to Kurt Fausch, a professor at Colorado State University who studies the Ogallala. In Western Kansas, for example, water levels have declined by up to sixty percent in some areas as the gap between what is withdrawn for irrigation and what is recharged continues to expand. In northwest Texas, so much water has been pumped and so little recharged that irrigation has largely depleted the aquifer in the area.
Without Ogallala water, significant portions of the High Plain’s agriculture and related businesses are entirely unsustainable, which could threaten the existence of entire towns whose economies are dependent on water drawn from the aquifer. There are global implications as well, as the region produces one-sixth of the world’s grain produce. A study from Kansas State University predicted that the aquifer would be seventy percent depleted by 2060 if irrigation practices do not change. However, the study further predicted that the aquifer could potentially last up to one hundred more years if all farmers in the region cut their use by twenty percent.
Aside from the devastating effects on agriculture, a study recently published by a team of stream ecologists concluded that depletions to the Ogallala Aquifer are also leading to ﬁsh extinctions in the region. Streams and rivers that depend on the aquifer are drying out after decades of over-pumping. The study found pumping to be associated with collapses of large-stream ﬁsh and the simultaneous expansion of small-stream ﬁsh. This creates a catalyst for biotic homogenization, which in turn leads to less resilient aquatic communities and loss of ecosystem functions. The study predicts an additional loss of 286 kilometers of stream by 2060, as well as the continued replacement of large-stream ﬁsh by ﬁsh suited for smaller streams.
The High Plains states are accustomed to periods of water shortages, and, accordingly, these states have all established the statutory or regulatory power to strictly control groundwater use. However, while the High Plains states all have the legislative authority to regulate use of the Ogallala aquifer to ensure sustainable use, some states have been more or less hesitant to exercise those powers. Those states that do not strictly regulate groundwater have instead chosen to leave conservation in part to the water users themselves. Two states in particular have highly diverged in their approach to regulating groundwater—Kansas and Nebraska. Each state has legislation in place allowing the government to force farmers to reduce water use, but while Nebraska has actively used that power, Kansas has been much more hesitant.
In Kansas, the state’s chief engineer has the statutory power to designate an Intensive Groundwater Use Control Area to preserve the aquifer when required by the conditions. In exercising that power, the chief engineer can dramatically cut water applications for farmers and close applications for new water rights. The chief engineer has exercised that power several times in the last few decades, but Kansas state ofﬁcials are often reluctant to do so. The director of the Kansas Water Ofﬁce, Tracy Streeter, said, “We think it’s a harsh method. We would like to see groups of irrigators come together and work out a solution.”
Accordingly, the Kansas State Legislature amended the state’s water laws to allow groups of farmers and irrigators to voluntarily create Local Enhanced Management Areas (“LEMA(s)”) where they can implement their own groundwater conservation plans. These plans are then subject to approval by the state. Once approved, the plan becomes legally binding. One group of farmers has set up a ninety-nine square mile conservation zone where they agreed to a twenty percent reduction in irrigation for ﬁve years. After four years, they have steadily achieved their twenty percent reduction rate while, significantly, not seeing a reduction in profits. Some of their success has also been due in part to the implementation of drip irrigation and more sophisticated irrigation water management.
While that is a step in the right direction, this group of farmers is still the only group that has submitted a plan in Kansas. This arrangement has proven its potential for success, but the question remains on whether it is scalable for the rest of the state. The fact that only one group has formed is likely due to how difﬁcult it is to create one—here, talks lasted three years before boundaries were agreed upon, and members of the group said they had to change their whole mindset and culture to come to an agreement.
Nebraska has taken a tougher stance than Kansas, and consequently has had more success in combating aquifer depletion. The Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act allows the state government to limit irrigators’ water allocations as well as implement programs such as rotating water permits. Nebraska has also compromised with farmers, adopting a system like Kansas that empowers farmers and gives them control—so long as they come up with a plan to reduce use of the aquifer. The approach the state has taken has allowed Nebraska to sustain water levels—or at least slow depletion—in the Ogallala Aquifer better than most other High Plains states. Despite their success, however, the aquifer in Nebraska is still continuously depleting, and annual allocations to farmers have been steadily decreasing.
Interstate compacts—created and enforced through federal law—have played a critical role in driving state efforts to curtail groundwater use. For example, part of the reason Nebraska has taken such a tough stance on groundwater pumping is because of their obligations to Kansas under the Republic River Compact. The Compact apportions Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas each a supply of “virgin water” that is undepleted by human activity from the Republican River Basin, which is primarily drained by the Republican River and its tributaries. Much of the water from the Basin passes through Nebraska before entering Kansas via the Republican River, and Nebraska must limit water consumption to comply with the state’s obligations to Kansas under the Compact. As the Ogallala aquifer feeds into the Republican River, Nebraska has had to limit its use of the aquifer to comply with the Compact, which has resulted in a more sustainable use of the aquifer but also lowers crop yields for farmers.
The federal government itself has addressed the issue of the depleting Ogallala by instituting the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative. The Initiative works by providing technical and ﬁnancial assistance to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that use less water, improve water quality, and keep croplands productive. The Initiative beneﬁts agricultural producers by cutting costs for water, cutting costs for energy to power irrigation systems, and increasing crop yields. Extending the life of the aquifer also beneﬁts the public at large, as the public directly beneﬁts from irrigation with Ogallala water.
In New Mexico, circumstances are more critical, prompting the federal government to take a more drastic approach. In eastern New Mexico specifically, the Ogallala aquifer has depleted to the point of crisis. To make matters worse, alternative sources of water in the area are primarily located along the border with Texas, where oil and gas development dominates water use. For its part, New Mexico has started reviewing hydrological information before renewing or approving new access to drill wells that involve using Ogallala water. The federal government has also stepped in, investing in a pipeline project called the Ute pipeline, which has recently required an additional investment of ﬁve million dollars. The project is designed to eventually bring billions of gallons of drinking water to eastern New Mexico from nearby Ute Lake.
The Governor of Kansas, after seeing the success of the one and only LEMA group in the state, has recently declared that Kansas has been producing real results towards water conservation and that Kansas’s status as a breadbasket for the nation has been secured. However, it is important to remember to contextualize this success; it is only one group in an area less than one hundred square miles, meaning that the Ogallala is far from saved. And while there is value in allowing farmers to voluntarily take the reins in conserving the Ogallala, it is clear that they are not jumping at the opportunity to do so. The farmers themselves have commented that it is going to take a whole change of culture in the region to see the results that the Kansas legislature envisioned from the LEMA program—an uphill battle that certainly will not happen overnight. Nebraska is at least seeing some more substantial results from their hardline policies, which may be the direction the High Plains states need to take to avoid a major crisis. While the Ogallala may not be able to be completely saved at this point, it is certainly worth preserving for as long as possible, and states should not hold back in using their enforcement powers to do so.
Image: A storm rolls over a ﬁeld of summer wheat on the High Plains in Kansas. Wikipedia user James Watkins, Creative Commons.
Edwin Gutentag et al., U. S. Geological Survey, Geohydrology of the High Plains Aquifer in Parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming (1984).
Governor issues statement on attainability of sustainable yield from Ogallala Aquifer, HAYS POST (July 20, 2017), https://www.hayspost.com/2017/07/20/governor-issues-statement-on-attainability-of-sustainable-yield-from-ogallala-aquifer.
Jane Little, The Ogallala Aquifer: Saving a Vital U. S. Water Source, Scientiﬁc Am. (March 1, 2009), https://www.scientiﬁcamerican.com/article/the-ogallala-aquifer.
Joshua Perkin et al., Groundwater Declines Are Linked To Changes in Great Plains Stream Fish Assemblage (B. L. Turner ed. 2017).
Karen Dillon, Ogallala water continues to pour onto farm ﬁelds despite decades of dire forecasts, Lawrence J.-World (Sept. 27, 2014), http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2014/sep/27/ogallala-water-continues-pore-farm-ﬁelds-despite.
Susan Bryan, Effort to Bring Water to Eastern New Mexico Inches Along, U. S. News (July 14, 2017), https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/new-mexico/articles/2017-07-14/effort-to-bring-water-to-eastern-new-mexico-inches-along.
Virginia McGuire, Water-Level and Recoverable Water in Storage Changes High Plains Aquifer (2017).
The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-owned Journal of Informetrics resigned Thursday in protest over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work.
Today, the same team is launching a new fully open-access journal called Quantitative Science Studies. The journal will be for and by the academic community and will be owned by the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI). It will be published jointly with MIT Press.
The editorial board of the Journal of Informetrics said in a statement that they were unanimous in their decision to quit. They contend that scholarly journals should be owned by the scholarly community rather than by commercial publishers, should be open access under fair principles, and publishers should make citation data freely available.
Elsevier said in a statement that it regretted the board’s decision and that it had tried to address their concerns.
“Since hearing of their concerns, we have explained our position and made a number of concrete proposals to attempt to bridge our differences,” Tom Reller, vice president of global communications at Elsevier, said in a statement. “Ultimately they decided to step down and we respect that decision and wish them the best in their future endeavors.”
Elsevier’s response to the board’s requests can be accessed in full here.
This is not the ﬁrst time the editorial board of an Elsevier-owned journal has quit to start a competing journal. In 2015, the editorial board of top linguistics journal Lingua made headlines by leaving their posts and announcing plans to start a rival open-access publication called Glossa.
Like Lingua, the Journal of Informetrics is considered one of the top journals in its ﬁeld. It was started in 2007 and focuses on research of measures used to assess the impact of academic research, including bibliometrics, scientometrics, webometrics and altmetrics.
There have been similar editorial revolts at journals owned by other publishers, many predating the Lingua case, but this method of so-called ﬂipping journals from subscription-based access to completely open access is still relatively unusual.
The resignations of the Journal of Informetrics editorial team comes at a time of considerable scrutiny for Elsevier. Last month the publisher lost two large European customers — the Max Planck Society and the Hungarian Consortium — after rejecting their proposals to change its subscription model. Elsevier is also locked in negotiations with the University of California System, which has similarly threatened not to renew its contract unless the publisher changes how it charges customers to publish and access research.
Ludo Waltman, editor in chief of the Journal of Informetrics, intends to step down from his role and become editor in chief of the new journal when his current contract with Elsevier expires. His end date has not yet been determined. Waltman said the editorial board has agreed to review all accepted submissions to the journal but will not review any new submissions.
“The most important thing is that authors who currently have manuscripts under submission should not suffer negative consequences from the current situation,” he said. “This is something on which Elsevier and the editorial board are in agreement.”
Cassidy Sugimoto, president of ISSI and a former member of the JOI editorial board, said the decision to resign was not easy. The board has been negotiating with Elsevier for more than 18 months, she said.
Waltman said that it was, however, quickly obvious that some of the requests made by the board were “non-negotiable for Elsevier.”
Sugimoto said that ISSI, a scholarly society whose members were heavily involved in the production of JOI, wanted greater control of the Elsevier-owned journal but were told by the publisher that its ownership was not up for discussion.
“The editorial board were members of ISSI, the reviewers were members of ISSI. Our society was actively participating in the labor of this journal without any remuneration,” she said.
Proposals to transition the journal from hybrid to fully open access and reduce the journal’s article-processing charges were also rejected, said Vincent Larivière, interim editor in chief of the new journal QSS. He said another sticking point was that the editorial board wanted the citation data in the journal’s articles to be freely available because this information is very important to researchers in the ﬁeld. Elsevier said in its response to the board that it offers unrestricted access to some journal data, but it is not willing to make journal article reference lists available for free.
Elsevier launched the Journal of Informetrics in collaboration with the scientiﬁc community, the publisher said. Founding JOI editor Leo Egghe thanked the publisher for its role in developing and managing the journal in his ﬁnal editorial in 2014. The publisher intends to keep the Journal of Informetrics running and will move to appoint a new editorial team and board, it said.
Johan Rooryck, president of the Fair Open Access Alliance, said JOI is the sixth journal that his organization has helped to ﬂip in the past four years.
“We have developed a blueprint to help journal editors leave big publishers and launch new journals,” he said.
Rooryck, who was editor of Lingua and now leads Glossa, said the most challenging aspect of starting a new open-access journal is securing funding to ensure it survives. He said Glossa is doing well and has more submissions now than Lingua did. Lingua has been described as a “zombie” journal by some scholars, but it continues to receive hundreds of submissions.
QSS is being launched with some ﬁnancial support from the MIT Libraries. In order to make all articles open access, the journal will charge an article-processing charge of $600 for ISSI members and $800 for nonmembers — significantly less than the $1,800 Elsevier charged. For researchers without the ability to pay to have their articles be open access, their fees will be covered for three years by the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB).
Representatives of MIT Libraries and MIT Press would not disclose how much ﬁnancial support they are offering the new journal.
Nick Lindsay, director of journals and open access for MIT Press, said the press has a “long-standing commitment to open access across both its books and journals” and is a natural home for the journal because of its interest in data science. Lindsay said when ISSI approached him about creating a new journal, he “jumped at the chance to work with them.”
Chris Bourg, director of MIT Libraries, said ﬁnancial support for QSS is “part of a deliberate strategy of using our resources to support the kinds of changes in scholarly communication and access that are consistent with our vision: a world where enduring, abundant, equitable, and meaningful access to information serves to empower and inspire humanity.”
There has been speculation recently that Elsevier may have offered extra money to journal editors who were considering resigning and launching rival journals. ScienceGuide published an article in December alleging the offer of extra payment.
Reller, Elsevier’s spokesman, tweeted in response, “ScienceGuide has it wrong: Nearly all of our 20,000 handling editors are compensated for their fantastic work and conversations about the right amount occur all the time. There is nothing particular about that now in the context of ‘ﬂipping’ journals.”
Rooryck said he believes the rumor is true, but the publisher has denied that any such activity occurred.
JOI’s editor in chief, Waltman, said he receives several thousand euros a year for his work on the journal and was not offered any more money to stay. No one else on the editorial board receives any compensation from Elsevier, said Sugimoto.
For his part, Larivière said he has no regrets or sadness about leaving JOI behind.
“A journal is a shell. It’s what’s inside the shell that counts,” he said. “What we’ll have at this new journal is exactly the same group of people, the same topics, the same science.”
American investors have lost the ﬁercest advocate they may have ever had.
John Clifton Bogle, founder of Vanguard Group and a crusader for investors’ rights for more than three decades, died in Bryn Mawr, Pa., on Wednesday at age 89. The company announced Mr. Bogle’s death.
“If all investors had heeded his ideas, they would be hundreds of…
Doctor burnout is becoming a huge problem, according to new research, which ﬁnds that nearly half of all physicians feel completely depleted, to the point where one in seven have contemplated suicide.
The annual Medscape report, released Wednesday, ﬁnds that on average, 44 percent of the medical professionals your existence depends on report feeling stressed out to the point where they’ve considered leaving the ﬁeld altogether.
A higher percentage of these wiped-out life-savers are women, according to the survey of more than 15,000 doctors.
“It’s alarming,” says Brunilda Nazario, lead medical director at WebMD, which owns Medscape. “These numbers haven’t changed, and the problem just continues to be a trend, despite increasing programs to address wellness,” such as “nutrition and exercise programs, or more time off.”
The reason for the scary numbers isn’t what you would think: Most doctors say it’s the level of paperwork and data input they’ve had to do since medical records went digital. Doctors end up spending about 45 minutes per patient visit on tasks like “inputting data codes for the visit,” Nazario says, leaving little face-to-face time with patients.
“[Doctors] are spending an enormous amount of time taking in data during physician-patient visits,” she says. “I know during my last visit for my physician, I think the doctor spent no more than two minutes looking at me. They were looking at a computer screen.”
The result is scary: “I dread coming to work,” one neurologist says in the report.
A family physician says the stress is taking a toll on her physically: “I’m having recurrent miscarriages.”
“I’m drinking more and have become less active,” an anesthesiologist says.
Though most doctors say the depression doesn’t affect their patient care, 35 percent say they ﬁnd themselves getting exasperated with their patients, and 14 percent say they make errors they wouldn’t normally make.
Nazario says that while burnout is common among workers, for doctors, it can seem worse because all the schooling and training they’ve undergone can feel like a waste when most of their day is spent typing codes into their medical software.
“It’s almost like being a cog in a wheel, where they’re going through the motions of what’s necessary, not necessarily using all the knowledge that she or he has gained in the years of training,” Nazario says.
And though it changes every year, in 2018, urologists reported the highest rate of burnout and depression (54 percent), followed closely by neurologists (53 percent).
Nazario says she’s not sure why urologists are this year’s most burnt out, but that doctors who work longer hours tend to have higher levels of burnout, according to the survey.
“I don’t think physicians blame the patients,” she says. “It’s pretty clear that they feel this is a system-wide health care situation.”
On the other hand, the doctors who were happiest on the job?