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Dual thinking for scientists

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Recent studies provide compelling evidence for the idea that creative thinking draws upon two kinds of processes linked to distinct physiological features, and stimulated under different conditions. In short, the

Recent studies provide compelling evidence for the idea that creative thinking draws upon two kinds of processes linked to distinct physiological features, and stimulated under different conditions. In short, the fast system-I produces intuition whereas the slow and deliberate system-II produces reasoning. System-I can help see novel solutions and associations instantaneously, but is prone to error. System-II has other biases, but can help checking and modifying the system-I results. Although thinking is the core business of science, the accepted ways of doing our work focus almost entirely on facilitating system-II. We discuss the role of system-I thinking in past scientific breakthroughs, and argue that scientific progress may be catalyzed by creating conditions for such associative intuitive thinking in our academic lives and in education. Unstructured socializing time, education for daring exploration, and cooperation with the arts are among the potential elements. Because such activities may be looked upon as procrastination rather than work, deliberate effort is needed to counteract our systematic bias.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2015

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Regime Shift in Fertilizer Commodities Indicates More Turbulence Ahead for Food Security

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Recent human population increase has been enabled by a massive expansion of global agricultural production. A key component of this “Green Revolution” has been application of inorganic fertilizers to produce

Recent human population increase has been enabled by a massive expansion of global agricultural production. A key component of this “Green Revolution” has been application of inorganic fertilizers to produce and maintain high crop yields. However, the long-term sustainability of these practices is unclear given the eutrophying effects of fertilizer runoff as well as the reliance of fertilizer production on finite non-renewable resources such as mined phosphate- and potassium-bearing rocks. Indeed, recent volatility in food and agricultural commodity prices, especially phosphate fertilizer, has raised concerns about emerging constraints on fertilizer production with consequences for its affordability in the developing world. We examined 30 years of monthly prices of fertilizer commodities (phosphate rock, urea, and potassium) for comparison with three food commodities (maize, wheat, and rice) and three non-agricultural commodities (gold, nickel, and petroleum). Here we show that all commodity prices, except gold, had significant change points between 2007–2009, but the fertilizer commodities, and especially phosphate rock, showed multiple symptoms of nonlinear critical transitions. In contrast to fertilizers and to rice, maize and wheat prices did not show significant signs of nonlinear dynamics. From these results we infer a recent emergence of a scarcity price in global fertilizer markets, a result signaling a new high price regime for these essential agricultural inputs. Such a regime will challenge on-going efforts to establish global food security but may also prompt fertilizer use practices and nutrient recovery strategies that reduce eutrophication.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2014-05-01