Category Archives: Features

Credit: Phil Thuma

A matter of trust

Health researchers and workers use their training and the treatments available to them to prevent and treat illness. But they cannot bring their expertise to bear if they do not have the trust of the people that they are trying to treat.

This August, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, communities in the midst of an Ebola outbreak continued traditional rural burial practices that include touching bodies, despite health workers’ advice on sanitary burials. Residents in the village of Manbangu burnt down a health centre and injured an Ebola health-care worker after one resident died of Ebola. Sometimes fear and misinformation drive even more violent behaviour: in a 2014 outbreak of the disease in Guinea, residents of the village of Womey killed a group of eight visiting health workers, journalists and government officials.

Read the rest of this feature in Nature Outlook: [html] [pdf].

Squeezing water from a drying Himalayan desert

When water does come to the former Kingdom of Lo, in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, it is often sudden and violent. A storm may boil over a mountain ridge, a glacial dam may collapse, or meltwater may surge through a gorge. But slower, less-visible changes are forcing the region’s farmers and herders to reconsider their relationship with water and each other.

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The next step on the energy ladder

Sandwip Island in southern Bangladesh almost has it all. It sits in the estuary of the Meghna River, which washes the island with rich, fertile silt, while plentiful sunlight helps coconuts, mangoes and pineapples to grow. It was once home to pirates but now thrives on honest trade. The main downside is that none of the 350,000 people living on the island have a connection to the national grid.

For years, only the wealthier Sandwip residents could generate electricity, by buying small diesel generators. About a decade ago, Bangladesh began promoting solar home systems (SHSs): small, stand-alone, rooftop photovoltaic devices that can reach poorer households. But power generation on an individual scale has drawbacks. There is a limited supply of subsidized diesel, so generators cannot be on all day, and they are noisy, polluting and have high maintenance costs owing to the low-quality fuel that is often used. And a typical SHS provides a maximum output of just 500 watts — enough for a few light bulbs and a mobile-phone charger, but too little for a hand blender or water pump.

To thrive, small enterprises need dependable electricity around the clock. So in the absence of the national grid, Sandwip went for the next best thing: a hybrid solar–diesel minigrid.

Read the rest of this feature in Nature Outlook’s Energy Transition issue: [html] [pdf].

Wenting Li/SAPIENS

When Ex-convicts Become Criminologists

One fresh, sunny morning this spring, a dozen ex-convicts gathered around a table in a back room down a quiet side street of London. Considering the company, the scene was sedate. Someone with a manslaughter conviction stubbed out a cigarette. Onetime drug dealers snacked on croissants. A man with tattoos covering his substantial forearms shuffled reading material on a table. Someone who once served a prison sentence for embezzlement put a kettle on and offered the others tea.

No police officer would worry about this crowd: It was an academic congregation of so-called convict criminologists.

Over the past few decades, some ex-convicts have turned to academia, aiming to put their experience “inside” to good use. They use their knowledge of the criminal justice system to select research questions and design studies. They use their history to gain prisoners’ trust. And they work to counteract what they see as a strong bias in academic criminology toward the perspectives of authorities in the criminal justice system.

Read the rest of this feature in SAPIENS: [html] [pdf].
Pacific Standard also republished the feature: [html] [pdf].