FERN’s Friday Feed: Seeding the future

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

A seed company driven by taste and nutrition

FERN and The Washington Post

Row 7, chef Dan Barber’s new seed company, brings plant breeders and chefs together to develop seeds that can succeed in the marketplace without sacrificing flavor or nutritional content. “Breeders will use traditional techniques to marry the flavor of heirlooms with the vigor of modern plant varieties,” writes Sam Fromartz, FERN’s editor-in-chief. And at a time when the privatization of the seed business is a major problem, “[a]nything Row 7 develops will be publicly available for breeders to re-use … none of the seeds will be patented.”

How a food scientist turned shoddy data into viral studies


Allegations against Cornell’s Brian Wansink, once considered the leading expert on the behavioral science of eating, keep rolling in. This week, BuzzFeed reported on Wansink’s use of “p-hacking,” which the article describes as a “taboo practice of slicing and dicing a dataset for an impressive-looking pattern.” Wansink and his researchers used p-hacking to exaggerate the findings of their studies. “He’s so brazen about it, I can’t tell if he’s just bad at statistical thinking, or he knows that what he’s doing is scientifically unsound but he goes ahead anyway,” a professor told BuzzFeed.

3M’s paid expert allowed it to spin the science on dangerous chemicals

The Intercept

3M last week paid out an $850 million settlement in a Minnesota lawsuit, after the state alleged that the company covered up the public health risk of chemicals seeping from its plants into waterways. By settling, the company will avoid a much-awaited trial that could have provided more insight into the company’s practices and its use of a paid expert to spin the science on the safety of 3M’s chemicals. “They were just about to start a very public trial. All of this stuff was finally going to get out in the public domain with documents flashing on a screen,” an attorney told The Intercept. “It’s probably well worth the cost.”

When beer was the only beverage

Atlas Obscura

As recently as 100 years ago, pubs in London were open every morning, serving people on their way to work. It was a hangover from the days when everyone—men, women and children—drank beer throughout the day. “For what else could they drink?” writes Jessica Furseth. “The water often came from sewage-ridden sources such as the River Thames, and there were no soft drinks. Tea and coffee eventually arrived, but they were expensive, foreign imports and, even once they became more common, subject to heavy taxation.”

The deadly smog of Lahore


Every winter, thick black smoke from farmers clearing their fields joins with a host of pollutants from factories and automobiles to create a dense smog that settles across Lahore, Pakistan, inflicting many of the 11 million people who live there with “emphysema, lung disease, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and even death.” Pakistan’s air is among the most polluted in the world, and Lahore is the epicenter. On its worst days, the city’s air quality rivals that of Beijing and New Delhi for toxicity.

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