Fact-Checking – An Effective Weapon Against Misinformation?

 

Picture/Credit: Anne-Marie Miller/iStock.com

Starting out as a science writer, I fact-checked articles for a popular science magazine. Having pored over the text and checked each name, date and statement, it was satisfying to know that the reader would find facts, not fiction, on the pages. Invisible to the reader, this kind of fact-checking in journalism was used by TIME magazine and the New Yorker as early as the 1920s.

Today, anyone who reads the news is likely to have noticed another kind of fact-check: articles and media coverage examining the accuracy of reported claims or rumours, with politicians a common target. As independent checks, they are a way to tackle misinformation.

Fact-checking activity has increased dramatically within the last decade, long before the terms ‘fake news’ and ‘post-fact’ began popping up in headlines. In a recent census, there were 149 active projects in 53 countries. They include groups within the traditional media, like the BBC in the UK, and independent charities and NGOs like Germany’s Correct!v’s Echtjetzt. Not surprisingly, politics and economics dominate. A handful of projects, such as SciCheck and Détecteur de Rumeurs, are dedicated to science.

The rise of the fact-check is partly a response to the deluge of misinformation accompanying the internet and social media: never before could dubious claims be shared so easily, widely and quickly.

Fact-checking is also, however, a chance to document issues more thoroughly than in routine news reporting. An important goal of journalists is to cover all points of view to maintain impartiality. However this, along with increasingly under-resourced newsrooms and tight deadlines, can ironically result in false balance and misleading coverage. Coverage of climate change is a classic example.

“There’s been mounting pressure on journalists to call out false statements by politicians or by other interests in their reporting,” says Lucas Graves, a fact-checking researcher at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in the UK and former journalist.

Empowering the public to help them make political decisions is a high priority for many fact-checkers, as is improving public political discourse and making politicians more accountable.

There are many cases where fact-checks have forced politicians to change their rhetoric, says Graves. Last year, for example, the UK’s Channel 4 FactCheck forced Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State for Health, to correct parliamentary records after he stated 30,000 more mental health professionals had joined the National Health Service since his government took office. The true figure was 692.

One notable experimental study in the US even demonstrated that reminding politicians of the threat of a fact-check significantly reduced the number of negatively-rated fact-checks they received.

That said, such ‘wins’ are by no means universal. While there are reports that political parties do monitor fact-checks in the media, politicians don’t often acknowledge critical checks of their claims.

But how do the public respond to fact-checks? Overall, a huge body of literature on the subject suggests they have a modest corrective effect, says Graves. But it’s complicated.

First of all, a person must encounter a fact-check for it to have any effect: a significant stumbling block. To date, there hasn’t been much investigation into this. Exacerbating the issue are the media preferences of individuals with particular political beliefs. “People are much less likely to see, in the United States for instance, a fact-check of Donald Trump by PolitiFact if they’re watching Fox News,” comments Graves.

 

Fact-checking is booming. In the latest census, there were 149 active projects worldwide. Credit: Duke Reporters’ Lab

 

In any case, can we assume that once someone sees a fact-check, their misplaced beliefs are then corrected? This is the premise of the deficit model, a term coined by science communicators in the 1980s.

In reality, humans are more complex creatures with ideological beliefs, emotions and identities. Evidence on the benefits of vaccination, for example, is unlikely to persuade a parent with a strong distrust of conventional medicine to vaccinate their child against measles.

One particular phenomenon, confirmation bias, means that individuals favour information that aligns with their existing beliefs more readily than that which doesn’t. The anti-vaccine parent is therefore less receptive to information from vaccine proponents.

In a related phenomenon, the backfire effect, misplaced beliefs can even be reinforced. Demonstrated in a 2010 study, volunteers believed more strongly that there were weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq in the run-up to the second Gulf War after they read an article describing how no such evidence was found.

Subsequent research, however, showed that the effect is rare and consequently less concerning for fact-checkers. Political scientists Ethan Porter and Thomas Wood studied the responses of individuals with a range of political beliefs to factual corrections of claims by politicians. “By and large, citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their ideological commitments,” they concluded.

The same study demonstrated, nevertheless, that individuals are happier to accept a correction of a claim that supports their beliefs, agreeing with previous research. Also, crucially, even if an individual accepts a politician has made a false claim, it does not mean they will change their beliefs on political policies. Likewise, a separate study has shown, they are unlikely to change their vote.

All in all, how society responds to fact-checking is nuanced and complex. Facts, so dear to scientists, are just one piece of the puzzle. One thing is clear, though: social sciences research is crucial to provide hard evidence on what works and what doesn’t. Equipped with this, fact-checkers can reach out most effectively, encouraging more constructive dialogue on the big issues that affect us all – including those involving science.

 

The Conversation is one of 149 organisations currently accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network. Conditions for accreditation include transparency in procedures, management and funding.

 

 

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Science Should Prepare for a Marathon

Science can no longer be complacent about its role in society. Global inequality and dissatisfaction with the global financial system that is perceived to perpetuate this inequality has led many into the arms of populists. In a highly polarised environment, it is not only political and financial mechanisms that are being called into question, but also scientific facts. A ‘post-truth era’ has arrived in which scientific evidence is no longer necessarily perceived as the gold standard. Last year, it wasn’t only the scientific enterprise in general that was beleaguered: the institutions of science and learning and scientists themselves also came under attack in numerous places around the globe, from Hungary to Turkey

These tempests have acted as a jolt that has awakened the scientific community and supporters of science into action. Many scientists now acknowledge that they must invest more time and effort in communicating not only scientific results but also the nature of scientific investigation to the public. Huge numbers, provoked in particular by the politics of US president Donald Trump, also felt moved to take a visible stance in support of science. A worldwide March for Science took place on 22 April 2017, in which people from more than 600 cities around the world took to the streets. This year, supporters all over the world will march again on 14 April 2018. A prominent supporter of this initiative is Helga Nowotny, Vice-President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and former President of the European Research Council. Nowotny was the first signatory of the Vienna March for Science, and gave the closing speech at the event in 2017. 

 

More than 2000 people participated in the Vienna March for Science on 22 April 2017. Photo: © March for Science Vienna

More than 2000 people participated in the Vienna March for Science on 22 April 2017. Photo: © March for Science Vienna

Why have you given your support to the March for Science?

Helga Nowotny: For a long time, it has been said that science has facts and society deals with values. It is finally time to abolish this separation – it no longer applies! Because science is also based on values. One of these values is the freedom to ask questions and to step into the unknown. At the same time, facts don’t fall from the sky, but are the result of a long process of scientific investigation. As scientists, we need to better convey how we arrive at facts. We should have more confidence in people’s power of judgement, whilst also helping them to acquire this power. This is necessary if we want to transform information into knowledge.

 

Do scientists then need to communicate more? Has their reticence contributed to the current situation?

HN: Of course, one can always communicate more. However, I would like to stress that science cannot be isolated from what is happening in society, and when politicians push science to the side or try to instrumentalise it, then this creates space for populists of all kinds. The scientific community needs to understand that it cannot fully insulate itself from political events, because it is part of society. It is important to realise that science is not the primary target of ‘alternative facts’. However, it is confronted with considerable collateral damage. Around 2,000 people participated in the Vienna March for Science. In total, an estimated 1.1 million people worldwide took to the streets in support of science on 22 April 2017.

 

The initiative for a March for Science came about as a direct reaction to the politics of US President Trump. Why have people now in parallel also taken to the streets in Vienna or Munich?

HN: It is important to stress that this was a march FOR science and was not a march against something. Of course, the current political situation in the USA played a subliminal role, but the march cannot be reduced to an anti-Trump demonstration. Rather, the intention was to raise the profile of science. A post-truth mentality appears to be characteristic of these troubled times.

 

 

Helga Nowotny was speaking as a panellist at a press talk on 'Science in a Post-Truth Era' during the 67th Lindau Meeting. Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Helga Nowotny during a press talk on ‘Science in a Post-Truth Era’ at the 67th Lindau Meeting. Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

What dangers does it pose?

HN: Above all, through the constantly changing positions of US president Trump, we can see how unstable and volatile the geopolitical situation has become. This has effects worldwide. One element of the post-truth mentality is the irresponsible handling of solid findings. Such an attitude is particularly dangerous at present due to the enormous problems that we face, not least climate change.

 

Is the current situation unique in history?

HN: What is unique is the strong entanglement with economic processes. The pursuit of economic growth is, as before, a driving force in society, and from the point of view of politicians, science and technology are the engines of this growth. The great progress that has been made, for example, in smart technologies, is quite remarkable, but we need to address the problem of the jobs that are being lost in this way.

 

Where do things go from here after the March for Science? Are you optimistic this current movement will change anything?

HN: This is the beginning of a process. I think all who took part in the March for Science agreed on that point. As the Vienna City Marathon took place the day after the march, I would like to use it as a metaphor. One march won’t do it: Science should prepare for a marathon!

 

 

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Regulating Synthetic Biology When Its Risks Are Unknown

Synthetic biology uses tools from genetic engineering to design, create, and assemble living organisms with a particular function. Picture/Credit: artoleshko/iStock.com

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In the fast-moving world of synthetic biology, discoveries are closely tied to their social implications. Synthetic biologists use tools from genetic engineering to design, create and assemble — sometimes from scratch — living organisms with a particular function. Commercial kits let high school students create bacteria that smell like bananas, a company uses engineered yeast to produce an anti-malaria drug on a large scale, and researchers have created a microbe that alters bee behaviour.

Although these applications are playful and practical, the tools of synthetic biology might eventually be used in other ways. Potential environmental, public health and national security risks from an uncontrolled release of a synthetic organism are unknown, making it difficult to imagine ways to regulate the products of synthetic biology.

But that doesn’t stop researchers and social scientists from trying: About 120 people attended a session about the relationship between technology development and risk governance in synthetic biology on the morning of the third day of the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in mid-February. Political debates surrounding genetically modified organisms provide clues to potential sticking points in synthetic biology regulation, and scientists can contribute to policy discussions.

 

Risks unknown

During the session, Andrew Ellington, a biochemist at the University of Texas, Austin, described one of his projects that could have future national security implications. Ellington and his colleagues wanted to engineer a microbe to influence bee behaviour. If successful, the researchers imagined feeding Africanized bees customised probiotics to make them less aggressive or giving probiotics to pollinating bees that encourage foraging at pesticide-free plants to prevent colony collapse disorder.

Ellington and his team engineered microbes to produce L-dopamine, a chemical signal in the brain that affects learning. Then they fed the engineered microbe to bees and gave the bees an electric shock at the same time they released a specific smell. Bees with the engineered microbe in their guts extended their stinger at the smell, learning to anticipate a shock, slightly faster than normal bees. They also retained that learned knowledge longer than normal bees.

Ellington said his team wants to test these dopamine-producing microbes in mice — and eventually humans — as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease. But considering testing behaviour-altering microbes in humans raises large social questions: Could these engineered organisms be a potential security threat? What are the health and environmental risks if those organisms become uncontrolled?

Existing regulatory pathways analyse risks from nanomaterials, genetically engineered crops and chemical weapons by considering the health and environmental impacts should these materials spread through the air, water or soil. These systems are effective when the hazards are well understood, the risks of exposure known and the materials can be controlled.

But traditional risk assessments don’t apply to synthetic biology, says Igor Linkov, who leads the Risk and Decision Science Team at the US Army Corps of Engineers. Synthetically engineered organisms are often designed to pass their genetic changes to their offspring. This means their uncontrolled release could spread genetic information that impacts other species.

 

Lessons from GMOs

 Clues to important components of effective regulatory systems for synthetic biology can be found in the history of genetically modified organisms. In 2014, Jennifer Kuzma, an expert in governance of emerging technologies at North Carolina State University, tracked the evolution of policies involving GMO insects and plants and found that the pacing of the policy process did not allow time for public participation. Environmental and consumer groups responded by pressuring policy makers, forcing them to take actions that advanced the regulatory process into new phases.

But sometimes, hurdles in a regulatory process keep new products from reaching consumers. Thomas Bostick, Chief Operating Officer at Intrexon, shared the company’s experience trying to bring a genetically modified salmon to market in the US. The AquAdvantage salmon contains a gene so that it grows to market weight in half the time of current salmon, while eating 75% less feed and staying healthy without vaccines or antibiotics. This genetically engineered salmon could also be produced in inland facilities, eliminating disease and parasites that spread into surrounding marine ecosystems from the open cages of typical salmon farms.

The larger of these genetically engineered salmons expresses a growth hormone that allows it to reach market size in half the time as its sister. Picture/credit: AquaBounty Technologies

 

But much of the 20-year development of this salmon has been held up in regulatory battles, Bostick says. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the AquAdvantage salmon as safe to eat, but it can’t yet be sold in stores. In 2016 and 2017, a bill specifically requiring labeling of the AquAdvantage Salmon as a genetically engineered organism caused the FDA to block imports of any genetically engineered salmon. Now the FDA is waiting for the US Department of Agriculture to decide on labelling requirements before it can pass regulations allowing the salmon to be sold in stores. The regulatory system needs flexibility to accept innovation, Bostick says.

 

Participatory and anticipatory governance

Kuzma offered several ways to improve risk assessments for synthetic biology applications. First, the policy process needs to operate from a middle ground that respects the knowledge and process of science while also acknowledging the value-based concerns of citizens. The system also needs a combination of participation and anticipation.

There are several models for processes of rulemaking that could be useful for synthetic biology. Kuzma describes one that she developed, along with Christopher Cummings, at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. This model could help policymakers evaluate synthetic biology risks. The researchers interviewed 48 synthetic biology experts regarding case studies of four research projects: biomining using highly engineered microbes in situ, “cyberplasm” for environmental detection, de-extinction of the passenger pigeon, and engineered plant microbes to fix nitrogen on non-legumes.

For each case study, the interviewees scored how much information was available in each of eight categories: (1) human health risks, (2) environmental health risks, (3) unmanageability, (4) irreversibility, (5) the likelihood that a technology will enter the marketplace, (6) lack of human health benefits, (7) lack of environmental benefits and (8) anticipated level of public concern.

Then the researchers plotted the average score for each category in a given case study on an octagonal chart to show the relationship between all the categories. A deficit in environmental or human health risks might suggest more research in that area, while low health risks and high public concern might warrant an outreach campaign. The same tool could be used early in regulation development to gauge the perspective of concerned citizens too.

Questions about how to regulate synthetic biology are not just for social scientists to wrestle. Communicating policy implications of research, along with associated uncertainties, is part of responsible conduct for researchers worldwide, says the IAP, a global network of science academies, in a 2012 report. “There’s a role for the scientific community to be involved with discussions about implications, concerns, and governance from the conception of research to funding to execution,” says Katherine Bowman, at the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

Harnessing the Power of Technology for Health Care

 

Smartphone-based apps are driving a revolution in health care. However, we are likely at the beginning of a long road. Many approaches lack validation and excessive use of technology itself also has detrimental impacts on mental well-being.

The ubiquity of smartphones and social media is a compelling reason for their use to monitor and even improve mental health. If everybody is already carrying around a highly advanced piece of technology in their pockets, then why not harness that potential? The sophisticated sensors with which such devices are equipped means that they can be used to continuously and unobtrusively gather a wealth of information without any input from the users themselves, so-called ‘passive sensing’. This approach predates the invention of smartphones and is already widely used to track sleep and physical activity, for instance. Its very unobtrusiveness is what makes it so promising as a tool to track mental health, an area where sensitivity and inconspicuousness are often paramount. In currently used mental health applications, such passive sensing often involves capturing data on location, physical activity as well as call and text activity. These data are then interpreted by the software to determine whether the user is showing signs of depression, loneliness or stress. Initial studies have shown that this approach can be feasible and suitable for assessing mental health and compares favourably with traditional approaches. Yet, a significant issue for ‘passive sensing’ using smartphones is data security. Not only must all data be securely transmitted or encrypted, but of equal importance, the use of personal data by third-parties is a concern that must be addressed. Further, it remains unclear how best to combine ‘passive sensing’ with care and treatment by mental health professionals.

Another passive approach to monitoring mental health involves the use of machine-learning algorithms that scour a person’s social media posts for language and patterns that may indicate depression or that a person is contemplating harming themselves. However, there are significant concerns connected with this approach. For one, it remains questionable how companies like Facebook use the data that they glean. Indeed, it appears that the company’s plans have already run foul of strict EU laws on online privacy, and last year, Facebook was forced to deny that even though it was evaluating the emotional state of users, it was not passing on such information to third parties for advertising purposes. Moreover, Facebook is remaining reticent on the exact methods that they are using to flag worrying online behaviour as well as how the algorithms have been validated. The issue remains fraught to say the least.

So-called ‘digital therapies’, applications that monitor a user’s mood on a daily basis and suggest activities that developers claim promote mental well-being, represent a more active approach to using technology to improve mental health. Recent years have seen a striking proliferation of such resources, and thousands are now available. Indeed, this huge choice coupled with the fact that many seem to lack any rigorous scientific validation has led the chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Smartphone App Evaluation Task Force to describe the situation as “…like the Wild West of health care”. A recent meta-analysis sought to bring some clarity to this issue and to sort the wheat from the chaff. The authors of this study analysed data from 18 randomised controlled trials and concluded that there were indeed significant positive effects associated with these tools.

 

Digital therapies monitor the user’s mood and suggest actions to promote well-being. Photo/Credit: Martin Dimitrov/iStock.com

In another randomised control trial, currently ongoing in Spain, the app iFightDepression is being tested. It has been developed in an initiative of the European Alliance Against Depression with the aim of helping “individuals to self-manage their symptoms of depression and to promote recovery.” The tool, which is based on the principles of cognitive-behavioural therapy, is guided, meaning that while it is based on self-management, it is also intended that users are supported by doctors and trained mental health professionals. 

Aside from considerations of data security and validation, another major concern related to the use of technology for mental health relates to the potentially corrosive effects of indiscriminate and immoderate use of technology and social media on a person’s well-being. Even social media giant Facebook has now admitted that users who spend time “passively consuming information” are likely to feel the worse for it. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has called for technology and social media to be regulated like the tobacco industry as he believes they are similarly addictive and also pose risks to mental health, while the influential philanthropist George Soros has described social media companies as a “menace” whose “days are numbered”. Some researchers have even stridently claimed that the massive spike in depression in U.S. teenagers seen from 2012 onwards can be attributed primarily to the explosion in smartphone use.

There are some obvious challenges on the road ahead. For instance, if symptoms are at least partially caused by technology, is a technology-based solution really the right one? Also, how do we ensure that sensitive personal data does not fall into the hands of bad actors or is used in ways that compromise our right to privacy? Last but not least, the rampant growth in this sector means that efforts to evaluate the large number of different apps and approaches have not kept up, and potential users are faced with a huge number of products of dubious effectiveness. Like the Wild West, the technology-based approach to monitoring and improving mental health may be full of opportunity, but the lack of regulation and of a basis in hard scientific evidence also represents a danger.

A Symphony of Science, Peace and Education

In his speech at the presentation of Peter Badge’s ‘Nobel Heroes’ on 22 September 2017 at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Bishop emeritus Gunnar Stålsett stressed the importance of science in times of global tensions. The former Vice Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee was appointed a member of the Honorary Senate of the Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in 2013.

 

Gunnar Stålsett at the Lindau Meeting in 2016. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Gunnar Stålsett at the Lindau Meeting in 2016. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

“The Nobel Peace Center is like the eye of the storm. Irma, Maria, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump: in diverse ways they all wreak havoc for millions of people, and threaten disaster for our entire human habitat. To stem these destructive tides of extreme weather and human folly, we need the wisdom of science and the calm of common sense. Against hatred and intolerance we need education and civil courage. This is what Nobel science and Nobel peace is about. This is what we celebrate today: a confluence of academic knowledge and moral conviction. This is wisdom. This makes peace great again.

Every day, we are reminded of great threats to the human family and to our entire habitat. We are on the brink of a nuclear war. Hundreds of millions of lives are threatened by starvation and climatic catastrophes causing mass migration. National, ethnic and cultural extremism affect every region of the world. Violent religious extremism is seen in every religion. Hatred defeats the love of neighbours.

Against hatred and intolerance we need education and civil courage. This is what Nobel science and Nobel peace is about. 

The will of Alfred Nobel emphasised fraternity, not enmity, between nations, the reduction of standing armies, not an escalation in the development of weapons of mass destruction, peace congresses, not unilateralism. His are practical steps even in the 21st century. The concerted efforts of people of good will across social, ethnic, cultural and religious divides, from one generation to the next, are what will bring about a better tomorrow. In a vulnerable world, there are victims and there are heroes. Sometimes heroes sadly fail. Sometimes victims win the day.

In the eye of the storm, it is still but not silent. Peace is dissent, expressed in loud protest. I believe we are all grieved by the tragic onslaught on the Rohingya Muslim population of Myanmar, not forgetting the tragedies of Syria and Yemen – to name but a few of the places where death and destruction reign.

Alfred Nobel wanted to strengthen those who conferred the greatest benefit to mankind. That is his legacy. That is our privilege. Here, in this centre, in the spirit of Nobel, we humbly affirm a foundation of shared human values on which to build the future. Peace is personal. The great Swedish humanist, Dag Hammarskjøld, the General Secretary of the United Nations who died in the pursuit of peace, speaks in words of prayer of the inner challenge we all face: “If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.”

Thank you, Countess Bettina Bernadotte, for inviting me to offer a few remarks on this special occasion. I have been greatly inspired by your leadership of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. You have continued the wise direction of your predecessors, your father Lennart and your mother Sonja. With eminent supporters and co-workers, such as Professor Wolfgang Schürer and Nikolaus Turner, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and its institutions have become the most significant academic encounter worldwide between Nobel Laureates and the new generations of scientists.

Whether Lindau or Stockholm or Oslo, we are united at the crossroads of human endeavour for peace and justice.

The occasion here today, the launching of Peter Badge’s ‘Nobel Heroes’, connects Lindau, Stockholm and Oslo as different members in one Nobel family, all dedicated to promoting the will of Alfred Nobel, through a symphony of science, peace and education. Peter has used his personal and professional skills to promote the Nobel legacy. No one has met more laureates literally, face-to-face, than he has. Through his photographic genius, we are brought closer to personalities who have contributed to fulfil the vision of Alfred Nobel. Life itself makes it impossible to isolate academic, scientific dedication from the challenges of responsible citizenship. I share the wish of Nobel Laureate in Physics Steven Chu when he says “I hope you, the young Lindau scientists, will be moved to use your considerable talents to help enrich and save the world.” In a nutshell, this is what science is about. This is what peace is about. This is the highest aspiration of the human intellect and the shared yearning of humanity. Whether Lindau or Stockholm or Oslo, we are united at the crossroads of human endeavour for peace and justice.

Let one example suffice: in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, the abolition of weapons of mass destruction has most frequently been highlighted by the Prize Committee. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in 1955 issued the Mainau Declaration against the use of nuclear weapons. In 2015, Nobel Laureates initiated the Mainau Declaration on Climate Change. Both were signed by many laureates from all sciences. And both issues are shaping the agenda of heads of states this week at the United Nations.

Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Laureate 2011, at the presentation of Peter Badge's 'Nobel Heroes' at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo

Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Laureate 2011, at the presentation of Peter Badge’s ‘Nobel Heroes’ at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. Photo/Credit: Nobel Peace Center

The presence here today of one of the Nobel Laureates of 2011, Tawakkol Karman, reminds us of the importance of women for peace and in the struggle for freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of faith and freedom from fear caused by oppression and war. Again, by bringing all laureates together, Peter Badge’s work helps us to transcend the categories of sciences, literature and peace and to see ourselves as one mankind in one global community with one mission.

Through the images of Nobel Laureates of all prizes, Peter Badge conveys a message without words. Through his lens we sense the greatness of the human mind and the depth of the human heart. I see his work, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, as an instrument for peace.

Congratulations on your message of hope, your testimony of perseverance and not least, your trust in the human genius for good. Your interpretation of the past offers healing for the future.”

 

Steidl Nobel Heroes

 

 

 

 

 

 

In summer 2017, renowned German publisher Gerhard Steidl released the coffee table book ‘Nobel Heroes’ (ISBN 978-3-95829-192-8). It compiles 400 portraits of Nobel Laureates by German photographer Peter Badge. The project, commissioned by the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, is supported by the German foundation Klaus Tschira Stiftung.

 

This speech and other highlights of 2017 can be found in the Annual Report.

Richard Thaler: No Regular Economist

Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago has been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences “for his contributions to behavioural economics”. This column, written by his first behavioural collaborator, provides a personal perspective on the development of three key areas of research to which the new laureate has been a major contributor: people’s limited rationality, their perceptions about fairness, and their lack of self-control.

 

A bowl of cashew nuts inspired Thaler to a thought experiment in behavioural economics. Picture/Credit: Altayb/iStock.com

A bowl of cashew nuts gave Thaler the idea of performing a thought experiment on self-control. Picture/Credit: Altayb/iStock.com

 

Behavioural economist Richard Thaler is the 2017 recipient of the economics Nobel Prize. Yet, despite having been president of the American Economic Association (AEA) in 2016, he is no regular economist. In fact, Stanford economist and past AEA president Robert Hall once characterised Thaler as his “favourite offbeat economist”.

The award marks Thaler’s transition from the fringe to the mainstream. But it is instructive to look back at the time when his views were regarded as offbeat by mainstream economists. To be sure, Hall is a mainstream economist and an excellent one at that. As chair of the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Hall often makes the call on when the US officially enters and exits recessions. His academic work teaches us how to establish equitable and efficient consumption taxation in a world of rational actors.

By contrast, Thaler’s academic work teaches us to beware of the limits of assuming that the world is populated by rational actors. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences identified the following three areas to which he has been a major contributor: limited rationality; perceptions about fairness; and lack of self-control.

In the mid-1970s, I began to work with Thaler on two of these issues and eventually applied his insights to the third. With this as context, I would like to provide a personal perspective on how these three key ideas developed.

Before getting down to details, I need to say something about what Richard Thaler does better than any other economist: he constructs simple and incisive thought experiments. Most economists, including me, are trained to think in terms of formal models. Thaler is more of a qualitative thinker. As I will explain, he is able to pierce through the formality to get right to the soft spot of where those models are unrealistic in key ways.

Lack of Self-Control

Cashew nuts are calorie-rich – and I like them a lot. I have in my office a bowl of cashews, which look very tempting, but fortunately for me, these cashews are not real, but ceramic. I got them as a souvenir at a gathering to celebrate Thaler’s 70th birthday. There is a self-control story behind the cashews.

In the 1970s, Thaler and his wife threw a dinner party for some friends. Before they served dinner, they placed a large bowl of cashews in front of their hungry guests. The guests began to devour the cashews and soon realised that continuing to do so would interfere with their ability to enjoy dinner. But they couldn’t stop. The cashews were too tempting. So they begged Thaler to take the bowl away.

What would you do if you were really hungry, the cashews were in easy reach and you knew that continuing to eat them would ruin your dinner? To a neoclassically trained economist, asking that the cashews be removed is puzzling – and Thaler was trained as a neoclassical economist.

Classical Greek philosophers taught that rational human beings choose the best means to achieve their desired ends. The neoclassical approach formalises ‘choosing the best’ as a problem in mathematical optimisation. In the neoclassical approach, people are assumed to optimise without effort. If they think that eating more cashews is not optimal, they don’t need somebody else to prevent them from doing so; they can costlessly choose to do something other than eat more cashews.

Thaler realised that his dinner guests were not acting rationally in the face of temptation, at least not rationally in the sense of being neoclassically rational. He engaged in one of his thought experiments, asking himself what would prevent him from reaching for more cashews when he didn’t want to eat more cashews. That question led him to think about an internal dialogue within his brain between the part of his brain that was ‘planning’ to stop eating cashews and the part of his brain that was actually ‘doing’ the reaching and eating.

Like Thaler, my interest in self-control also stemmed from issues about eating. But in my case, it was because I became intrigued by my wife’s research on the role of healthcare professionals in treating eating disorders – not as compelling as the cashew story!

In any event, Thaler and I managed to find each other and began to collaborate on a formal economic model that would capture how people make decisions when their internal planners and doers fail to agree (Thaler and Shefrin 1981, Shefrin and Thaler 1988).

Limited Rationality

Some credit unions offer a programme called Christmas Clubs. People who join such a club regularly deposit funds during the course of a year into a special account, with the goal of having a balance at year-end that will fund their Christmas gifts.

When Thaler and I first worked on our self-control model, Christmas Clubs were more popular, offered by many banks and, moreover, did not pay interest, even though interest rates on savings accounts were much higher than they are today. This meant that people who used the clubs to save for gifts earned less interest than they could have by just using a regular savings account.

From a neoclassical perspective, someone who joins a Christmas Club and forgoes interest is operating in the interior of his or her budget set, a clear violation of neoclassical rationality. Were these people that stupid?

Some people choose to have too much of their income withheld to pay income tax, in order to get a large tax refund. Less money withheld means more money to invest for a return. Do people not understand the time value of money? Are they that stupid? How about you? Would you withhold at the lowest rate allowable by law?

In a neoclassical world, the answer to the previous two questions is yes, people are that stupid. But hold on a minute. In a world where planners need to deal with difficult doers, which can lead to a lack of self-control, it might be perfectly sensible for people to join Christmas Clubs and for people to have too much tax withheld in order to receive large tax refunds.

Both behaviours might lead to higher savings than would otherwise occur and, if higher savings is the goal, then such behaviours might be eminently reasonable. In theory, the behaviours might not be neoclassically rational, but in practice they might well be ‘good enough’; and as the late economics Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon noted, going for what’s good enough is “satisficing behaviour” that is “boundedly rational”.

Christmas Clubs and tax over-withholding are not foolproof. People can rob their Peters to pay their Pauls. Someone with a severe self-control problem might borrow heavily during the year using her credit card, to the extent that when the year-end arrives, she finds herself compelled to use the proceeds from her Christmas Club to pay her credit card balance rather than to purchase gifts. Perverse? Yes. Boundedly rational? I don’t think so.

People need enough impulse control to prevent perverse behaviour. There are at least three ways for doing so:

  • The first way is using willpower. Of course, if willpower were easy to exert, then there would be no need for Christmas Clubs or tax over-withholding.
  • The second way is through external enforcement: no credit cards at all, which raises all kinds of issues, not the least being the consequences of not having a credit history.
  • The third way is through internal enforcement, using habits.

Planner-doer theory suggests that people segregate their wealth into separate ‘mental accounts’, such as take-home pay, liquid assets, future income and home equity. Mental accounting habits are ‘pecking order’ rules that specify the order in which different accounts are accessed.

Many people find it easiest to spend first from take-home pay. If they wish to spend more than their take-home pay, the first place they go is to their liquid assets (such as checking or savings account balances, bonds and stocks). If these are insufficient, then people can borrow or, as a last resort, dip into their home equity by borrowing or selling their property.

Mental accounts can be somewhat arbitrary. Their levels are not finely tuned. Therefore, following mental accounting rules can lead people to appear as if they are not operating at the margin. But operating at the margin is not the goal – someone can operate at the margin and overspend very easily.

Thaler pointed out that people use all kinds of mental accounts. One of his thought experiments involves a person who mows their own lawn, but would never mow any part of their neighbour’s lawn for compensation.

Thaler suggests that such behaviour is unlikely to involve operating at the margin by setting marginal benefit equal to marginal cost. By this he means that the property line is arbitrary and, in a neoclassical sense, he might be right. But people might use boundaries as rule parameters, just as much as they use boundaries to separate types of wealth (take-home pay, liquid assets, etc.).

Thaler wrote: mental accounting matters (Thaler 1980, 1985). Now mental accounting might not be neoclassically rational. But given the limits of the human mind, it might be sensible – and good enough. Moreover, striving for perfect rationality might be counterproductive, with the end result being an outcome that is not good enough.

Perceptions of Fairness

In the late summer of 2017, a series of hurricanes struck the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Houston and Florida. After Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida, local residents registered over 8,000 complaints of price gouging with the state Attorney General’s office. These complaints mostly related to excessive prices being asked for water, ice, food and fuel.

Why are Florida residents complaining about price gouging? Do they not realise that keeping a lid on prices in these circumstances means that demand will exceed supply and that, as a result, some would-be purchasers will be rationed? Do they not realise that keeping a lid on the prices of these items lowers incentives to increase supply? From a neoclassical point of view, preventing the increase of prices to perceived gouging levels, irrationally induces rationing and insufficient supply.

Thaler, together with his colleagues Daniel Kahneman and Jack Knetsch, suggest an alternative way of thinking about market clearing prices (Kahneman et al. 1986a, 1986b). The alternative stems from Thaler’s concept of ‘transaction utility’ – the psychological pleasure or pain associated with how good of a deal a person associates with a transaction.

In the fairness framework, people have notions of reference transactions that they deem to be ‘fair’. Media reports indicate that some Florida hotels doubled their hotel rates in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Paying double for the normal price of a hotel room generates the experience of loss – negative transaction utility, if you like – if there is no corresponding increase in the costs that the hotel incurs as a result of the hurricane.

According to the fairness framework, hotels that charge double but do not incur higher costs are acting unfairly. In contrast, hotels that charge double to cover higher costs and do not reap additional profits as a result are acting fairly.

These are the rules of fairness that people follow. Fairness matters, just as mental accounting matters. Many people would rather be rationed and arrange for alternative accommodation than be gouged. If they feel pain from perceived unfair treatment, it is by no means obvious that the maintenance of fair prices that do not clear markets is necessarily irrational.

Conclusion

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman received the 2002 economics Nobel Prize for his work on ‘prospect theory’, a way of understanding how people make decisions under conditions of risk and uncertainty. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted that Kahneman had done this work together with the late Amos Tversky. Prospect theory, first published in 1979, was foundational for the development of behavioural economics and finance. That said, without Thaler, I am not sure that prospect theory would have had the traction it ultimately had.

There is much to say about Thaler’s accomplishments, beyond the three specific issues discussed above. Thaler was the first economist to reach out to Kahneman and Tversky, and he did so in the mid-1970s. It was Thaler who saw the connection between his fledgling thought experiments, such as the lawn-mowing example, and prospect theory.

 

Richard H. Thaler. Picture/Credit: By Chatham House, CC BY 2.0

Richard H. Thaler. Picture/Credit: By Chatham House, CC BY 2.0

It was Thaler’s entrepreneurial talents that found ways to bring open-minded economists together with Kahneman, Tversky and their psychology colleagues. In part, he did so through his efforts to secure support from the Sloan Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation and eventually the NBER.

It was Thaler who wrote an ‘Anomalies’ column for the Journal of Economics Perspectives, which regularly piqued economists’ interest about the shortcomings of neoclassical thinking.

It was Thaler who, together with Shlomo Benartzi, ingeniously applied our work on self-control to help people save more, through their Save More Tomorrow (SMT) programme.

And it was Thaler who, together with Cass Sunstein, extended insights gained from SMT to develop ‘nudging’, the idea of using ‘choice architecture’ based on behavioural insights to induce people to make better decisions. This concept has had widespread influence in both US and UK public policy.

Richard Thaler’s accomplishments certainly merit his being awarded the 2017 economics Nobel Prize. For those accomplishments, we are all the better.

 

References

Kahneman, D, J L Knetsch and R H Thaler (1986a), “Fairness and the Assumptions of Economics”, Journal of Business 59(4): S285-300.

Kahneman, D, J L Knetsch and R H Thaler (1986b) “Fairness as a Constraint on Profit Seeking: Entitlements in the Market”, American Economic Review 76(4): 728-41.

Shefrin, H M and R H Thaler (1988), “The Behavioral Life-Cycle Hypothesis”, Economic Inquiry26(4): 609-43.

Thaler, R H (1980), “Toward A Positive Theory of Consumer Choice”, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 1(1): 39-60.

Thaler, R H (1985), “Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice”, Marketing Science 4: 1999-214.

Thaler, R H and H M Shefrin (1981), “An Economic Theory of Self-Control”, Journal of Political Economy 89(2): 392-406.

 

This article was first published by VoxEU.

Integrating Economics With Psychology – Prize in Economic Sciences 2017

Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago has been awarded this year’s Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel ‘for his contributions to behavioural economics’.

‘Thaler’s contributions have built a bridge between the economic and psychological analyses of individual decision-making’, the members of the Prize Committee said in their announcement of this year’s laureate. Speaking by telephone to the press conference, Thaler summarised the main impact of his work as being that ‘Economic agents are human and economic models have to incorporate that’. When asked whether he will act ‘humanly’ in spending the prize money, he joked ‘I will try to spend it as irrationally as possible!’

 

Econ FeatureRichard H. Thaler, laureate of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2017. Picture/Credit: Nobel Media, Illustration by N. Elmehed

 

Thaler’s research incorporates psychologically realistic views into analyses of economic decision-making, relaxing what was once the standard assumption that everyone in the economy is rational and selfish. The Nobel citation focuses on three areas of achievement: ‘by exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences and lack of self-control, he has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes’.

Limited rationality: Thaler has developed the theory of mental accounting, which explains how people simplify financial decision-making by creating separate accounts in their minds. He also showed how ‘loss aversion’ explains why people value the same item more highly when they own it than when they don’t.

Social preferences: Thaler has shown how people’s concerns about fairness may stop firms from raising prices in periods of high demand, but not in times of rising costs. With colleagues, he devised the ‘dictator game’, an experimental tool for measuring people’s attitudes to fairness.

Lack of self-control: Thaler has demonstrated how succumbing to short-term temptation is an important reason why we fail in our long-term plans to save for old age or make healthier lifestyle choices. His idea of ‘nudges’ is intended to help people exercise better self-control.

 

 

Originally from East Orange, New Jersey, Thaler attended Case Western Reserve University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1967. Soon after, he attended the University of Rochester where he received a master’s degree in 1970 and a PhD in 1974. Since 1995, he has been at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he is Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics and director of the Center for Decision Research.

Alongside Robert Shiller, co-recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, Thaler is co-director of the Behavioral Economics Project at the National Bureau of Economic Research, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation. He is co-author with Cass Sunstein of the bestselling book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008) in which the concepts of behavioural economics are used to tackle many of society’s major problems. And he has even made an appearance in a Hollywood film, explaining the ‘hot hand fallacy’ in The Big Short.

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings offers sincere congratulations to the new laureate and hopes to hear from him in person about his research at the next Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences in 2020.

Towards a Nuclear-Free World

 

The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 is awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

 

Press release by the Norwegian Nobel Comittee:

“We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time. Some states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and there is a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea. Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth. Through binding international agreements, the international community has previously adopted prohibitions against land mines, cluster munitions and biological and chemical weapons. Nuclear weapons are even more destructive, but have not yet been made the object of a similar international legal prohibition.

Through its work, ICAN has helped to fill this legal gap. An important argument in the rationale for prohibiting nuclear weapons is the unacceptable human suffering that a nuclear war will cause. ICAN is a coalition of non-governmental organizations from around 100 different countries around the globe. The coalition has been a driving force in prevailing upon the world’s nations to pledge to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. To date, 108 states have made such a commitment, known as the Humanitarian Pledge.

Furthermore, ICAN has been the leading civil society actor in the endeavour to achieve a prohibition of nuclear weapons under international law. On 7 July 2017, 122 of the UN member states acceded to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. As soon as the treaty has been ratified by 50 states, the ban on nuclear weapons will enter into force and will be binding under international law for all the countries that are party to the treaty.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware that an international legal prohibition will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear weapon ban treaty. The Committee wishes to emphasize that the next steps towards attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear-armed states. This year’s Peace Prize is therefore also a call upon these states to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Five of the states that currently have nuclear weapons – the USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China – have already committed to this objective through their accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970. The Non-Proliferation Treaty will remain the primary international legal instrument for promoting nuclear disarmament and preventing the further spread of such weapons.

It is now 71 years since the UN General Assembly, in its very first resolution, advocated the importance of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon-free world. With this year’s award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to pay tribute to ICAN for giving new momentum to the efforts to achieve this goal.

The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has a solid grounding in Alfred Nobel’s will. The will specifies three different criteria for awarding the Peace Prize: the promotion of fraternity between nations, the advancement of disarmament and arms control and the holding and promotion of peace congresses. ICAN works vigorously to achieve nuclear disarmament. ICAN and a majority of UN member states have contributed to fraternity between nations by supporting the Humanitarian Pledge. And through its inspiring and innovative support for the UN negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, ICAN has played a major part in bringing about what in our day and age is equivalent to an international peace congress.

It is the firm conviction of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that ICAN, more than anyone else, has in the past year given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigour.

Oslo, 6 October 2017″

Kazuo Ishiguro Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

Nobel Prize Literature 2017 Ishiguro

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 is awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” Ishiguro, born 8 November 1954 in Nagasaki, Japan, grew up in the United Kingdom, where he first graduated in English and Philosophy at the University of Kent, and later went on to study Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. His first novel A Pale View of Hills was published in 1982. Already in his early works, his writing deals with the themes of memory, time and self-delusion. Among his most renowned works are the novels The Remains of the Day (1989) and Never Let Me Go (2005), which were turned into films, as well as When We Were Orphans (2000). In several of his works, including in his collection of short stories Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (2009), music plays an important role. Ishiguro published his seventh and latest novel The Buried Giant in 2015.

This post is based on the biobibliographical notes provided by the Swedish Academy.

 

Only as Strong as the Weakest Link: Global Food Supply Chains

This article appeared in a shorter form in the German newspaper Handelsblatt on August 24, 2017.

A ‘Marshall Plan for Africa’ – 300 million Euro in total. This is Angela Merkel’s bold development promise ahead of the Federal election. Germany has also placed Africa at the heart of its G20 presidency. So the future chancellor, whoever it is, needs a solid development strategy. This strategy should put farmers’ needs first and leverage the scientific expertise of companies, like Mars, that are networked throughout Africa through their supply chains.

As Bill Gates has said, “if you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture.” This is why I am joining the best economists in the world at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Germany 22—26 August. We are convening an event to discuss economic inequality, agriculture and the role of businesses.

 

I was discussing economic inequality at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences with economists Romesh Vaitilingam, Eric Maskin (Nobel Laureate) and Devaki Ghose.

I was discussing economic inequality at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences with economists Romesh Vaitilingam, Eric Maskin (Nobel Laureate) and Devaki Ghose.

 

Why is this such an important issue? Over 475 million of the world’s 570 million farms are smaller than two hectares. Even though these smallholder farms produce over 80% of the world’s food, 80% of the global population deemed “chronically hungry” are farmers. This is the 80-80 paradox.

Agricultural supply chains in food-insecure regions like Africa need an upgrade — but this won’t happen without a concerted and long-term effort. Look at China, where they managed the ‘structural transformation’ from a mostly farming to a mostly industrial economy well. From 1952 to 2004, the structure of China’s economy shifted, from agriculture providing half the country’s GDP to providing only 14% in 2004. During this transition, the non-farm rural sector boomed – services, transport, processing, etc. The rural non-farm sector went from providing almost none of the GDP to more than one-third. Importantly, the Chinese government sent engineers and scientists into the countryside to transfer knowledge and technology to farmers and encourage non-farm business growth. Knowledge sharing combined with better infrastructure linkages between small farmers, processing facilities and retailing companies lies at the core of China’s success.  

Yet, while we can take inspiration from China, replicating the transformation process of a highly regulated, state-managed economy is not feasible elsewhere. Many governments do not have the capacity to effect these changes. I believe multinational corporations can fill this void. Companies need to be part of the international development strategy and leverage their unique position at the apex of global supply chains to share technical skills and cutting-edge innovation.

Indeed, this is already starting to happen. For example, the staple food crops grown by African smallholder farmers are finally getting attention. Traditionally, crops suited to Western climatic conditions, like potato, wheat and corn, have received all the scientific investment. Their yield, for example, has increased by a factor of five or six since the 1930s. The yield of traditionally African crops, on the other hand, is much the same as it was 100 years ago.

 

The average yield of maize and wheat has tripled since 1961 whereas the yield of millet, a crop traditionally grown in areas of Africa and India, has only increased by 50 percent

The average yield of maize and wheat has tripled since 1961 whereas the yield of millet, a crop traditionally grown in areas of Africa and India, has only increased by 50 percent.

 

Through a lack of R&D, finger millet, Bambara groundnut, teff and other staple African crops are still vulnerable to disease, pests and drought. The resulting low yields mean that African farmers have too little food to feed their families. It is no wonder that 80% of the global population deemed “chronically hungry” are farmers.

When we saw that this was happening, a group of uncommon collaborators came together for one of the most ambitious projects in the history of plant science. Mars, NEPAD, Illumina, BGI, WWF, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Agroforestry Centre and others partnered to sequence 101 African orphan crop genomes to accelerate breeding programs and improve food security for the farmers who depend on these crops. The genomes are being made available to the public so that plant breeders everywhere can breed new cultivars of the African crops with higher yields and more resistance to disease, pests and climate change. Better crops create jobs and can stimulate the rural non-farm sector in Africa. African seed companies will spring up to distribute the new cultivars to farmers; transport companies will bring surplus to markets; processors will take on the role of making food ready for the consumer, and so on.

 

Taro is a traditional crop in areas of Africa and one of the 101 crops whose genomes we are sequencing to improve nutrition, yield and resistance to drought, diseases and pests. Picture/Credit: karimitsu/iStock.com

Taro is a traditional crop in areas of Africa and one of the 101 crops whose genomes we are sequencing to improve nutrition, yield and resistance to drought, diseases and pests. Picture/Credit: karimitsu/iStock.com

 

We welcome the German government’s initiative to boost development aid to Africa, but to maximize the impact of taxpayers’ money, we need more inclusive private-public partnerships to play their role and bring the Marshall Plan for Africa to life. An inclusive approach is the only way to address one of the travesties of our age: people who grow food that don’t have enough to eat.