Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Public utility


While basic access to clean water is critical, another important issue is the affordability of water access for people around the globe. Prior international work has highlighted that a large proportion of consumers could not afford water if priced at full cost recovery levels. Given growing concern about affordability issues due to rising water rates, and a comparative lack of work on affordability in the developed world, as compared to the developing world, more work is needed in developed countries to understand the extent of this issue in terms of the number of households and persons impacted. To address this need, this paper assesses potential affordability issues for households in the United States using the U.S. EPA’s 4.5% affordability criteria for combined water and wastewater services. Analytical results from this paper highlight high-risk and at-risk households for water poverty or unaffordable water services. Many of these households are clustered in pockets of water poverty within counties, which is a concern for individual utility providers servicing a large proportion of customers with a financial inability to pay for water services. Results also highlight that while water rates remain comparatively affordable for many U.S. households, this trend will not continue in the future. If water rates rise at projected amounts over the next five years, conservative projections estimate that the percentage of U.S. households who will find water bills unaffordable could triple from 11.9% to 35.6%. This is a concern due to the cascading economic impacts associated with widespread affordability issues; these issues mean that utility providers could have fewer customers over which to spread the large fixed costs of water service. Unaffordable water bills also impact customers for whom water services are affordable via higher water rates to recover the costs of services that go unpaid by lower income households.

Concepts: United States, Developed country, United Kingdom, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Developing country, Canada, Republic of China, Public utility


A defining aspect of human cooperation is the use of sophisticated indirect reciprocity. We observe others, talk about others, and act accordingly. We help those who help others, and we cooperate expecting that others will cooperate in return. Indirect reciprocity is based on reputation, which spreads by communication. A crucial aspect of indirect reciprocity is observability: reputation effects can support cooperation as long as peoples' actions can be observed by others. In evolutionary models of indirect reciprocity, natural selection favors cooperation when observability is sufficiently high. Complimenting this theoretical work are experiments where observability promotes cooperation among small groups playing games in the laboratory. Until now, however, there has been little evidence of observability’s power to promote large-scale cooperation in real world settings. Here we provide such evidence using a field study involving 2413 subjects. We collaborated with a utility company to study participation in a program designed to prevent blackouts. We show that observability triples participation in this public goods game. The effect is over four times larger than offering a $25 monetary incentive, the company’s previous policy. Furthermore, as predicted by indirect reciprocity, we provide evidence that reputational concerns are driving our observability effect. In sum, we show how indirect reciprocity can be harnessed to increase cooperation in a relevant, real-world public goods game.

Concepts: Scientific method, Natural selection, Observation, Experiment, Hypothesis, Reputation, Theoretical physics, Public utility


The BE microbiome is a naturally embedded biosensor in urban infrastructure that can be used to monitor environmental quality and human activity. There are many potential opportunities for leveraging BE microbial communities to guide urban design and public health policy.

Concepts: Health economics, Medicine, Universal health care, Health, Environment, Natural environment, Environmental quality, Public utility


Exposure to airborne biological hazards in an ever expanding urban transport infrastructure and highly diverse mobile population is of growing concern, in terms of both public health and biosecurity. The existing policies and practices on design, construction and operation of these infrastructures may have severe implications for airborne disease transmission, particularly, in the event of a pandemic or intentional release of biological of agents. This paper reviews existing knowledge on airborne disease transmission in different modes of transport, highlights the factors enhancing the vulnerability of transport infrastructures to airborne disease transmission, discusses the potential protection measures and identifies the research gaps in order to build a bioresilient transport infrastructure. The unification of security and public health research, inclusion of public health security concepts at the design and planning phase, and a holistic system approach involving all the stakeholders over the life cycle of transport infrastructure hold the key to mitigate the challenges posed by biological hazards in the twenty-first century transport infrastructure.

Concepts: Medicine, Epidemiology, Biology, Road, Security, Construction, Civil engineering, Public utility


“Omics” research poses acute challenges regarding how to enhance validation practices and eventually the utility of this rich information. Several strategies may be useful, including routine replication, public data and protocol availability, funding incentives, reproducibility rewards or penalties, and targeted repeatability checks.

Concepts: Scientific method, Utility, Reproducibility, Repeatability, Public utility


Agent-based modeling is a computational approach in which agents with a specified set of characteristics interact with each other and with their environment according to predefined rules. We review key areas in public health where agent-based modeling has been adopted, including both communicable and noncommunicable disease, health behaviors, and social epidemiology. Wealso describe the main strengths and limitations of this approach for questions with public health relevance. Finally, we describe both methodologic and substantive future directions that we believe will enhance the value of agent-based modeling for public health. In particular, advances in model validation, comparisons with other causal modeling procedures, and the expansion of the models to consider comorbidity and joint influences more systematically will improve the utility of this approach to inform public health research, practice, and policy. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Public Health Volume 39 is April 1, 2018. Please see for revised estimates.

Concepts: Health care, Public health, Health, Epidemiology, Model, According to Jim, Public utility


The launch of the US BRAIN and European Human Brain Projects coincides with growing international efforts toward transparency and increased access to publicly funded research in the neurosciences. The need for data-sharing standards and neuroinformatics infrastructure is more pressing than ever. However, ‘big science’ efforts are not the only drivers of data-sharing needs, as neuroscientists across the full spectrum of research grapple with the overwhelming volume of data being generated daily and a scientific environment that is increasingly focused on collaboration. In this commentary, we consider the issue of sharing of the richly diverse and heterogeneous small data sets produced by individual neuroscientists, so-called long-tail data. We consider the utility of these data, the diversity of repositories and options available for sharing such data, and emerging best practices. We provide use cases in which aggregating and mining diverse long-tail data convert numerous small data sources into big data for improved knowledge about neuroscience-related disorders.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Neuroanatomy, Neuroscience, Science, Research, Computational neuroscience, Public utility


To evaluate the utility of social media as a screening tool for professionalism by searching the accounts of 4(th) year medical students interviewing for Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency at Brown University before and after Match Day.

Concepts: Obstetrics, Physician, University, Gynecology, Medical school, Gynaecology, Obstetrics and gynaecology, Public utility


Inference of active regulatory cascades under specific molecular and environmental perturbations is a recurring task in transcriptional data analysis. Commercial tools based on large, manually curated networks of causal relationships offering such functionality have been used in thousands of articles in the biomedical literature. The adoption and extension of such methods in the academic community has been hampered by the lack of freely available, efficient algorithms and an accompanying demonstration of their applicability using current public networks.

Concepts: Causality, Molecular biology, Data, Academia, Philosophy of science, Metaphysics, Humanities, Public utility


One important use of genome-wide transcriptional profiles is to identify relationships between transcription levels and patient outcomes. These translational insights can guide the development of biomarkers for clinical application. Data from thousands of translational-biomarker studies have been deposited in public repositories, enabling reuse. However, data-reuse efforts require considerable time and expertise because transcriptional data are generated using heterogeneous profiling technologies, preprocessed using diverse normalization procedures, and annotated in non-standard ways. To address this problem, we curated 45 publicly available, translational-biomarker datasets from a variety of human diseases. To increase the data’s utility, we reprocessed the raw expression data using a uniform computational pipeline, addressed quality-control problems, mapped the clinical annotations to a controlled vocabulary, and prepared consistently structured, analysis-ready data files. These data, along with scripts we used to prepare the data, are available in a public repository. We believe these data will be particularly useful to researchers seeking to perform benchmarking studies-for example, to compare and optimize machine-learning algorithms' ability to predict biomedical outcomes.

Concepts: Gene expression, Algorithm, Disease, Transcription, Annotation, Biomarker, Public, Public utility