Archive for December, 2010

End of year jobs.

Monday, December 27th, 2010

I’m at home playing with my new iPad. Santa brought it, so I must have been good enough! I even have been able to use it to review manuscripts. I am now free from my desktop computer tether. (To be honest, the view from my desk is pretty good.) As long as I stay within range of a wireless, I can work anywhere!

iPads got a lot of attention at the recent Wiley-Blackwell seminar. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before JAWRA online works off an iPad app?

AWRA’s offices are closed until after New Year’s, giving Susan and the staff a well-deserved break. Happy New Year to all our authors, reviewers, and editors … And our valued readers!

December 2010 Cover Photo

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The December 2010 issue is in members’ mailboxes. The cover photo was snapped during the 2009 National AWRA Conference in Seattle, during a Ferry Excursion Trip led by Pete Sturtevant. I stood on the back of the boat headed towards Bremerton, sheltered from the fierce wind, and did my best to steady the camera. The lights of Seattle present a splendid sight over the water.

Limits to the scientific method

Friday, December 17th, 2010

December 13, 2010 New Yorker article: “The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method,” by Johan Lehrer.

Mr. Lehrer reports on a strange effect beginning to be noticed in science journals: replicated experiments failing to confirm results reported in earlier papers. It’s not a matter of mistake or academic fraud. These are cases where protocols were followed as claimed and fully peer reviewed. What is going on?

Part of the effect may be probability. If 20 experiments reject the null hypothesis with 95 percent confidence, one of them is likely to be wrong. With more than 400,000 scientific papers published annually, you can do the math!

Another cause may be our reluctance to report experiments with negative results. “We looked, but didn’t find anything” is not exactly a hot ticket to tenure. So, we selectively write about positive results, and those Type I errors add up. To our credit, JAWRA has been willing to report negative findings, especially where they fail to confirm what one might expect. However, the vast majority of submittals remain positive findings.

I like to think peer-reviewed journals are the gold standard or journalism, especially compared to, say, Fox “News.” But, even we have limits. I guess the lesson here is to always be skeptical of what you read, and always be prepared to let the facts change your theory.

Why not trust the media? An example.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

MediaMatters just reported, “Fox boss ordered staff to cast doubt on climate science.” Apparently, every time viewers of Fox “News” hear a story on climate change, they are to be “IMMEDIATELY” reminded that critics question the theory.

I think we should implement something like this for the theory of gravity. Every time an author mentions, for example, water flows downhill, they are to immediately remind readers there are other points of view. Some say water flows uphill to money. Our scientific observations on gravity, after all, only go back to Galileo; is this long enough? Which way is “downhill” on a flat earth?

Slanting the news like this is ridiculous. Facts matter. Views not based on solid facts do not deserve “equal time” with real science. That’s one difference between Fox News and JAWRA.

Pesticide patterns

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

April 2011 (est.) article:Comparison of Two Parametric Methods to Estimate Pesticide Mass Loads in California’s Central Valley,” by Dina K. Saleh, David L. Lorenz, Joseph L. Domagalski.

Agricultural pesticides are applied at very specific times of the year, with the temporal pattern depending on the particular pesticide. Modelers often have simulated the annual seasonal pattern of pesticides in streams with (to simplify) a sine function. This article presents an alternative, the Seasonal Wave model (SeaWave), in which a pulse signal is used to describe the annual cycle of pesticide occurrence in a stream.

The authors test both models with four pesticides in California. They conclude, “… in watersheds with variable and intermittent pesticide applications, the SeaWave model would be more suitable to use, due to its robust capability of describing seasonal variation of pesticides concentrations in the watershed.”

[Please note: I have quoted and paraphrased freely from the article, but the interpretation is my own!]

High-frequency sampling

Monday, December 13th, 2010

April 2011 (est.) article:Surrogate Measures for Providing High Frequency Estimates of Total Suspended Solids and Total Phosphorus Concentrations,”  by Amber Spackman Jones, David K. Stevens, Jeffery S. Horsburgh, and Nancy O. Mesner.

Surrogate measures like turbidity, which can be observed with high frequency in situ, have potential for generating high frequency estimates of total suspended solids (TSS) and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations. The principle is simple. TSS and TP are relatively costly to sample (e.g. grab samples and wet chemistry). Scattering of light by turbidity in water can be measured continuously with simple probes. Relate this to TSS and TP and you have a continuous estimate of the latter two.

The problem is the relationship between turbidity and TSS and TP varies with a lot of things, and differs for every stream. The authors considered other possible variables for two streams in Utah, including discharge, temperature, day of year, hour of day, and hydrologic categorical variables, before concluding, “turbidity was the only explanatory variable that was a significant predictor of TSS at both sites, suggesting that turbidity alone is sufficient to estimate TSS across hydrologic conditions at these locations. … For TP at both sites, only turbidity and the spring snowmelt/base flow categorical variable were significant.”

I thought this paper did a particularly thorough job of examining the relationship in two streams in Utah, coming up with regressions both simple and robust. While not exactly breaking any new ground on a theoretical basis, I hold this paper out as an example of a good way to conduct an investigation.

[Please note: I have quoted and paraphrased freely from the article, but the interpretation is my own!]

Wiley-Blackwell Executive Seminar

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

I spent today downtown at the National Press Club attending the Wiley-Blackwell Executive Seminar, “New Business Models and Opportunities in Scholarly Publishing.” I always enjoy these seminars. Besides speakers on current, relevant topics, they provide the opportunity to think strategically about the role of JAWRA.

So, what were the insights this time?

  • Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard Law School), author of “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It,” contrasted two potential futures for content control in the future, one extremely loose (e.g. Wikipedia) and the other very strict (e.g. Kindle).
  • John Eileson (OC&C Strategic Consultants) noted cost per use now is a key metric for library decisions.
  • Kim Armstrong (Center for Library Initiatives) emphasized usage is key, even more important than Impact Factor. It is very difficult for small, independent journals to compete in this environment.
  • Paul Danter (Mobile IQ) pointed out the iPad and similar devices now provide a “lean back” experience similar to reading a book, in contract to “lean forward” technologies, like working on a desktop computer. “Lean back” has far more potential to replace paper.
  • Evelyn Jabri (American Chemical Society) related some interesting experiences linking social media to journal content. Clearly, content still is the most critical factor.
  • Steve Miron (John Wiley & Sons) talked about the hugely growing publishing market in China. In contrast to what was reported for American libraries, Impact Factor remains critical to success in China.

All presenters talked about iPad and apps from the user side, with their (admittedly generalized) conclusion that fancy apps are nice but of minor value. I was a little disappointed nobody talked about tech features from the authors’ standpoint, as some things like video could help in presenting concepts.

You won’t see any immediate changes in JAWRA from this seminar, but my experience is the ideas have a way of working into our planning. For the record, our switch to Wiley-Blackwell and to ScholarOne had its origin in this series.

Finally, I have to say something about the National Press Club. It’s full of history, and the halls are lined with photos of the movers and shakers who have spoken there. It makes an impression to be having lunch in the First Amendment Lounge, looking towards the White House.

JAWRA Blog honored

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Online Degree has named this blog one of the thirty best water conservation blogs!

Arsenic and old tap water

Monday, December 6th, 2010

December 2010 article:Costs of Arsenic Treatment for Potable Water in California and Comparison to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Affordability Metrics,” by Elizabeth J. Hilkert Colby, Thomas M. Young, Peter G. Green, and Jeannie L. Darby.

Removing arsenic is expensive — relatively. The median cost of compliance with the revised arsenic MCL for the surveyed systems was $1.95?1,000gallons (2008 dollars), which is 69% of the average cost of delivered tap water in the U.S. in 2008. 15% paid more than the USEPA’s affordability limit for drinking water ($16.06 ? 1,000 gallons). Compliance with the revised arsenic regulation in California can require significant investment, especially for SWS.

This is good information, but you need to place it into perspective: $16 bucks per thousand gallons still is far cheaper than bottled water.

[Please note: I have quoted and paraphrased freely from the article, but the interpretation is my own!]