Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monthly Journal Article Summaries (coming soon)

For the last several years, I've sent monthly summaries of the journal articles I've read that I found useful enough to be worth passing on to a handful of colleagues. I've been reluctant to make those public to avoid having to worry about whether I'm being diplomatic / fair enough in characterizing them, but I've decided to just go for it. Let me know if you have any thoughts or reactions in the comments.

I usually send these out around the first of each month, but here's one from last year that includes one of my favorite papers of 2016:

Social Science:
If you ever play a role in hiring new staff, please read this article (if not the paper it's based on, Kang et al 2016), and even if you never hire people, I'd still encourage you to read it:
I guarantee you will find it fascinating, and hopefully useful as well (the full paper is also a page-turner; well written, a great experimental design, and full of surprises to me as a white male). Essentially the authors found that statements by employers encouraging diversity in applicants to a job harms minorities. The reason is that some minorities "whiten" their resume to make it less apparant that they are a minority, which in turn increases their chances of proceeding to an interview (e.g. they found a fictious black candidate was 2.5 times as likely to be invited to proceed to an actual interview if they whitened both their name and experience than if they applied with an unwhitened resume). Statements encouraging diversity led applicants to not whiten their resumes, but by encouraging them not to hide their identity, less minorities get hired. It's kind of a complex 3-part study but it's really clear if you put in the time to read it. The lead author helpfully sent me several suggestions of what we can do to improve in hiring, from blind initial screenings (removing names to reduce cues about gender and ethnicity), to education on unconscious bias, and many more. I've put these below as a p.s.

Kowalski and Jenkins 2015 is a nice paper emphasizing that having a clearly defined leadership structure is more important to make collaborative groups function well than having good connections between all of the members. In other words, having someone to coordinate and make it clear what everyone's role is was found to be more important than a more egalitarian (but unclear) setup. However, this paper is based on a very small sample so I wouldn't consider it definitive.

Kniss et al 2016 is a nice overview of some of the trade-offs between organic and conventional agriculture. They find a consistent 20% yield gap for organic, but argue since that higher yields only lead to less farmland area (and presumably more habitat) in certain circumstances, this may be worthwhile given the other benefits. You can read a summary of the paper here:

Baur et al 2016 is the latest from TNC California and their partners about specialty crop farmers (fruits, vegetables, and nuts) that are being pushed to clear habitat around their farms (due to concerns about E Coli which have been proved to be unfounded). In addition to summarizing the earlier findings from this research, they conducted a detailed survey showing how much variation there is in implementing food safety practices, as well as perceptions of farmers about those practices. Pressure from auditors and food buyers may be responsible; they call for clearer guidelines that allow for some flexibility in improving food safety.

Ryals et al 2016 found that a single application of compost (which breaks down more slowly than inorganic fertilizer) to rangelands boosted grassland productivity (more food for cattle), grass N content (more nutritious grass), and didn't impact invasive species. However, one of their two sites showed a decline in native species and the other showed mixed results on natives. Sometimes fertilization is proposed as a way to increase carbon sequestration, although it has to be done carefully to avoid nitrous oxide emissions from the fertilizer and from manure which can counteract the gains in C (and this paper doesn't account for that).

Baidoo et al 2016 is not very well written or clear, but it does show that botanical insecticides (garlic and hot pepper) are viable forms of pest control for cabbage. Essentially while they did not kill as many pests as a synthetic insecticide, they also were much lower cost, didn't kill as many natural enemies of the pests, and were less persistent in the environment. The authors actually found a better benefit:cost ratio for the botanical controls than the synthetic one, even without price premiums for organic pest control.


p.s. Here are the suggestions from Dr. Kang about how to improve diversity when hiring:
"Initial blind screening (replacing names from resumes and letters with random IDs) is an excellent way to start. Another great step is to start educating people about unconscious bias. Making people aware of these biases and how they might affect the hiring process is a critical step.

Other things you can try are diversifying the search committee, emphasizing the goal of a fair process (people sometimes get defensive about diversity because they think that it antithetical to a search for excellence - reassure people that excellent people will still rise to the top in a fair search), spend sufficient time and attention evaluating everyone on the short list/those that come in for an interview (we are more likely to fall back on stereotypes and prejudices when we are under time pressure), base decisions on concrete information in the application package (this means that discussions of fit have to be grounded in the application not based on peripheral concerns), create very clear criteria for evaluation and don't discuss anything outside of this list, and make sure any criteria/question applied to one candidate is applied to every candidate."


Kang SK, DeCelles KA, Tilcsik A, Jun S. Whitened resumes: Race and self-presentation in the labor market. Adm Sci Q. 2016; doi:10.1177/0001839216639577

Kowalski AA, Jenkins LD. The role of bridging organizations in environmental management : examining social networks in working groups. Ecol Soc. 2015;20: 16. doi:10.5751/ES-07541-200216

Kniss AR, Savage SD, Jabbour R. Commercial Crop Yields Reveal Strengths and Weaknesses for Organic Agriculture in the United States. 2016; 1–16. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161673

Baur P, Driscoll L, Gennet S, Karp DS. Inconsistent food safety pressures complicate environmental conservation for California produce growers. Calif Agric. 2016;70: 142–151. Available: http://calag.ucanr.edu/archive/?article=ca.2016a0006

Ryals R, Eviner VT, Suding KN, Silver WL. Grassland compost amendments increase plant production without changing plant communities production without changing plant communities. Ecosphere. 2016;7. doi:10.1002/ecs2.1270

Baidoo PK, Mochiah MB. Comparing the Effectiveness of Garlic (Allium sativum L.) and Hot Pepper (Capsicum frutescens L.) in the Management of the Major Pests of Cabbage Brassica oleracea (L.). Sustain Agric Res. 2016;5: 83. doi:10.5539/sar.v5n2p83