Arquivo mensal: agosto 2011

Beyond space-time: Welcome to phase space (New Scientist)

08 August 2011 by Amanda Gefter
Magazine issue 2824

A theory of reality beyond Einstein’s universe is taking shape – and a mysterious cosmic signal could soon fill in the blanks

Does some deeper level of reality lurk beneath? (Image: Luke Brookes)

IT WASN’T so long ago we thought space and time were the absolute and unchanging scaffolding of the universe. Then along came Albert Einstein, who showed that different observers can disagree about the length of objects and the timing of events. His theory of relativity unified space and time into a single entity – space-time. It meant the way we thought about the fabric of reality would never be the same again. “Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade into mere shadows,” declared mathematician Hermann Minkowski. “Only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”

But did Einstein’s revolution go far enough? Physicist Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, doesn’t think so. He and a trio of colleagues are aiming to take relativity to a whole new level, and they have space-time in their sights. They say we need to forget about the home Einstein invented for us: we live instead in a place called phase space.

If this radical claim is true, it could solve a troubling paradox about black holes that has stumped physicists for decades. What’s more, it could set them on the path towards their heart’s desire: a “theory of everything” that will finally unite general relativity and quantum mechanics.

So what is phase space? It is a curious eight-dimensional world that merges our familiar four dimensions of space and time and a four-dimensional world called momentum space.

Momentum space isn’t as alien as it first sounds. When you look at the world around you, says Smolin, you don’t ever observe space or time – instead you see energy and momentum. When you look at your watch, for example, photons bounce off a surface and land on your retina. By detecting the energy and momentum of the photons, your brain reconstructs events in space and time.

The same is true of physics experiments. Inside particle smashers, physicists measure the energy and momentum of particles as they speed toward one another and collide, and the energy and momentum of the debris that comes flying out. Likewise, telescopes measure the energy and momentum of photons streaming in from the far reaches of the universe. “If you go by what we observe, we don’t live in space-time,” Smolin says. “We live in momentum space.”

And just as space-time can be pictured as a coordinate system with time on one axis and space – its three dimensions condensed to one – on the other axis, the same is true of momentum space. In this case energy is on one axis and momentum – which, like space, has three components – is on the other (see diagram).

Simple mathematical transformations exist to translate measurements in this momentum space into measurements in space-time, and the common wisdom is that momentum space is a mere mathematical tool. After all, Einstein showed that space-time is reality’s true arena, in which the dramas of the cosmos are played out.

Smolin and his colleagues aren’t the first to wonder whether that is the full story. As far back as 1938, the German physicist Max Born noticed that several pivotal equations in quantum mechanics remain the same whether expressed in space-time coordinates or in momentum space coordinates. He wondered whether it might be possible to use this connection to unite the seemingly incompatible theories of general relativity, which deals with space-time, and quantum mechanics, whose particles have momentum and energy. Maybe it could provide the key to the long-sought theory of quantum gravity.

Born’s idea that space-time and momentum space should be interchangeable – a theory now known as “Born reciprocity” – had a remarkable consequence: if space-time can be curved by the masses of stars and galaxies, as Einstein’s theory showed, then it should be possible to curve momentum space too.

At the time it was not clear what kind of physical entity might curve momentum space, and the mathematics necessary to make such an idea work hadn’t even been invented. So Born never fulfilled his dream of putting space-time and momentum space on an equal footing.

That is where Smolin and his colleagues enter the story. Together with Laurent Freidel, also at the Perimeter InstituteJerzy Kowalski-Glikman at the University of Wroclaw, Poland, and Giovanni Amelino-Camelia at Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, Smolin has been investigating the effects of a curvature of momentum space.

The quartet took the standard mathematical rules for translating between momentum space and space-time and applied them to a curved momentum space. What they discovered is shocking: observers living in a curved momentum space will no longer agree on measurements made in a unified space-time. That goes entirely against the grain of Einstein’s relativity. He had shown that while space and time were relative, space-time was the same for everyone. For observers in a curved momentum space, however, even space-time is relative (see diagram).

This mismatch between one observer’s space-time measurements and another’s grows with distance or over time, which means that while space-time in your immediate vicinity will always be sharply defined, objects and events in the far distance become fuzzier. “The further away you are and the more energy is involved, the larger the event seems to spread out in space-time,” says Smolin.

For instance, if you are 10 billion light years from a supernova and the energy of its light is about 10 gigaelectronvolts, then your measurement of its location in space-time would differ from a local observer’s by a light second. That may not sound like much, but it amounts to 300,000 kilometres. Neither of you would be wrong – it’s just that locations in space-time are relative, a phenomenon the researchers have dubbed “relative locality”.

Relative locality would deal a huge blow to our picture of reality. If space-time is no longer an invariant backdrop of the universe on which all observers can agree, in what sense can it be considered the true fabric of reality?

That is a question still to be wrestled with, but relative locality has its benefits, too. For one thing, it could shed light on a stubborn puzzle known as the black hole information-loss paradox. In the 1970s, Stephen Hawking discovered that black holes radiate away their mass, eventually evaporating and disappearing altogether. That posed an intriguing question: what happens to all the stuff that fell into the black hole in the first place?

Relativity prevents anything that falls into a black hole from escaping, because it would have to travel faster than light to do so – a cosmic speed limit that is strictly enforced. But quantum mechanics enforces its own strict law: things, or more precisely the information that they contain, cannot simply vanish from reality. Black hole evaporation put physicists between a rock and a hard place.

According to Smolin, relative locality saves the day. Let’s say you were patient enough to wait around while a black hole evaporated, a process that could take billions of years. Once it had vanished, you could ask what happened to, say, an elephant that once succumbed to its gravitational grip. But as you look back to the time at which you thought the elephant had fallen in, you would find that locations in space-time had grown so fuzzy and uncertain that there would be no way to tell whether the elephant actually fell into the black hole or narrowly missed it. The information-loss paradox dissolves.

Big questions still remain. For instance, how can we know if momentum space is really curved? To find the answer, the team has proposed several experiments.

One idea is to look at light arriving at the Earth from distant gamma-ray bursts. If momentum space is curved in a particular way that mathematicians refer to as “non-metric”, then a high-energy photon in the gamma-ray burst should arrive at our telescope a little later than a lower-energy photon from the same burst, despite the two being emitted at the same time.

Just that phenomenon has already been seen, starting with some unusual observations made by a telescope in the Canary Islands in 2005 (New Scientist, 15 August 2009, p 29). The effect has since been confirmed by NASA’s Fermi gamma-ray space telescope, which has been collecting light from cosmic explosions since it launched in 2008. “The Fermi data show that it is an undeniable experimental fact that there is a correlation between arrival time and energy – high-energy photons arrive later than low-energy photons,” says Amelino-Camelia.

Still, he is not popping the champagne just yet. It is not clear whether the observed delays are true signatures of curved momentum space, or whether they are down to “unknown properties of the explosions themselves”, as Amelino-Camelia puts it. Calculations of gamma-ray bursts idealise the explosions as instantaneous, but in reality they last for several seconds. While there is no obvious reason to think so, it is possible that the bursts occur in such a way that they emit lower-energy photons a second or two before higher-energy photons, which would account for the observed delays.

In order to disentangle the properties of the explosions from properties of relative locality, we need a large sample of gamma-ray bursts taking place at various known distances ( If the delay is a property of the explosion, its length will not depend on how far away the burst is from our telescope; if it is a sign of relative locality, it will. Amelino-Camelia and the rest of Smolin’s team are now anxiously awaiting more data from Fermi.

The questions don’t end there, however. Even if Fermi’s observations confirm that momentum space is curved, they still won’t tell us what is doing the curving. In general relativity, it is momentum and energy in the form of mass that warp space-time. In a world in which momentum space is fundamental, could space and time somehow be responsible for curving momentum space?

Work by Shahn Majid, a mathematical physicist at Queen Mary University of London, might hold some clues. In the 1990s, he showed that curved momentum space is equivalent to what’s known as a noncommutative space-time. In familiar space-time, coordinates commute – that is, if we want to reach the point with coordinates (x,y), it doesn’t matter whether we take xsteps to the right and then y steps forward, or if we travel y steps forward followed by x steps to the right. But mathematicians can construct space-times in which this order no longer holds, leaving space-time with an inherent fuzziness.

In a sense, such fuzziness is exactly what you might expect once quantum effects take hold. What makes quantum mechanics different from ordinary mechanics is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: when you fix a particle’s momentum – by measuring it, for example – then its position becomes completely uncertain, and vice versa. The order in which you measure position and momentum determines their values; in other words, these properties do not commute. This, Majid says, implies that curved momentum space is just quantum space-time in another guise.

What’s more, Majid suspects that this relationship between curvature and quantum uncertainty works two ways: the curvature of space-time – a manifestation of gravity in Einstein’s relativity – implies that momentum space is also quantum. Smolin and colleagues’ model does not yet include gravity, but once it does, Majid says, observers will not agree on measurements in momentum space either. So if both space-time and momentum space are relative, where does objective reality lie? What is the true fabric of reality?

Smolin’s hunch is that we will find ourselves in a place where space-time and momentum space meet: an eight-dimensional phase space that represents all possible values of position, time, energy and momentum. In relativity, what one observer views as space, another views as time and vice versa, because ultimately they are two sides of a single coin – a unified space-time. Likewise, in Smolin’s picture of quantum gravity, what one observer sees as space-time another sees as momentum space, and the two are unified in a higher-dimensional phase space that is absolute and invariant to all observers. With relativity bumped up another level, it will be goodbye to both space-time and momentum space, and hello phase space.

“It has been obvious for a long time that the separation between space-time and energy-momentum is misleading when dealing with quantum gravity,” says physicist João Magueijo of Imperial College London. In ordinary physics, it is easy enough to treat space-time and momentum space as separate things, he explains, “but quantum gravity may require their complete entanglement”. Once we figure out how the puzzle pieces of space-time and momentum space fit together, Born’s dream will finally be realised and the true scaffolding of reality will be revealed.


  1. The principle of relative locality by Giovanni Amelino-Camelia and others (

Amanda Gefter is a consultant for New Scientist based in Boston

Devagar e sempre (FSP)

JC e-mail 4317, de 08 de Agosto de 2011.

Movimento ‘Slow Science’ defende o direito de cientistas fugirem da corrida pelo grande número de publicações e priorizarem qualidade da pesquisa.

Um movimento que começou na Alemanha está ganhando, aos poucos, os corredores acadêmicos. A causa é nobre: mais tempo para os cientistas fazerem pesquisa. Quem encabeça a ideia é a organização “Slow Science” (, criada por cientistas gabaritados da Alemanha.

Aderir ao movimento significa não se render à produção desenfreada de artigos em revistas especializadas, que conta muitos pontos nos sistemas de avaliação de produção científica. Hoje, quem publica em revistas científicas muito lidas e mencionadas por outros cientistas consegue mais recursos para pesquisa.

Por isso, os cientistas acabam centrando seu trabalho nos resultados (publicações). “Somos uma guerrilha de neurocientistas que luta para que o modelo midiático de produção científica seja revisto”, disse à Folha o neurocientista Jonas Obleser, do Instituto Max Planck, um dos criadores do “Slow Science”. O grupo chegou a criar um manifesto, no final do ano passado, em que proclama: “Somos cientistas, não blogamos, não tuitamos, temos nosso tempo”.

“A ciência lenta sempre existiu ao longo de séculos. Agora, precisa de proteção.” O documento está na porta da geladeira do laboratório do médico brasileiro Rachid Karam, que faz pós-doutorado na Universidade da Califórnia em San Diego.

“O manifesto faz sentido. Temos de verificar os dados antes de tirarmos conclusões precipitadas”, analisa. “A ‘Slow Science’ nos daria tempo para analisar uma hipótese em profundidade e tirar conclusões acertadas.”

De acordo com Obleser, o número de cientistas simpatizantes do movimento está crescendo, “especialmente na América Latina”. “Mas não é preciso se filiar formalmente. Basta imprimir o manifesto e montar guarda no seu departamento”, diz.

O Slow Science é um braço do já conhecido “Slow Food”, que defende uma alimentação mais lenta e saudável, tanto no preparo quanto no consumo dos alimentos. Na ciência, a ideia é pregar a pesquisa que não se paute só pelo resultado rápido.

Ceticismo – “É improvável que o ritmo de fazer pesquisa seja diminuído por meio de um acordo mundial em que cada cientista assume o compromisso de desacelerar seus trabalhos”, diz o especialista em cientometria (medição da produtividade científica) Rogério Meneghini. Ele é coordenador científico do Projeto SciELO, que reúne publicações da América Latina com acesso livre.

Para Meneghini, o “Slow Science” é um movimento “anêmico” num contexto em que a rapidez do fluxo de ideias e informações acelera as descobertas. “Parece uma reivindicação de um velho movimento com uma roupagem nova. É certamente a sensação de quem está perdendo as pernas para correr”, conclui.
(Folha de São Paulo)

The Mathematics of Changing Your Mind (N.Y. Times)

Published: August 5, 2011

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne introduces Bayes’s theorem in her new book with a remark by John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”

Illustration by Shannon May

THE THEORY THAT WOULD NOT DIE. How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines and Emerged Triumphant From Two Centuries of Controversy. By Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, 320 pp. Yale University Press. $27.50.

Bayes’s theorem, named after the 18th-century Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes, addresses this selfsame essential task: How should we modify our beliefs in the light of additional information? Do we cling to old assumptions long after they’ve become untenable, or abandon them too readily at the first whisper of doubt? Bayesian reasoning promises to bring our views gradually into line with reality and so has become an invaluable tool for scientists of all sorts and, indeed, for anyone who wants, putting it grandiloquently, to sync up with the universe. If you are not thinking like a Bayesian, perhaps you should be.

At its core, Bayes’s theorem depends upon an ingenious turnabout: If you want to assess the strength of your hypothesis given the evidence, you must also assess the strength of the evidence given your hypothesis. In the face of uncertainty, a Bayesian asks three questions: How confident am I in the truth of my initial belief? On the assumption that my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate? And whether or not my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate? One proto-Bayesian, David Hume, underlined the importance of considering evidentiary probability properly when he questioned the authority of religious hearsay: one shouldn’t trust the supposed evidence for a miracle, he argued, unless it would be even more miraculous if the report were untrue.

The theorem has a long and surprisingly convoluted history, and McGrayne chronicles it in detail. It was Bayes’s friend Richard Price, an amateur mathematician, who developed Bayes’s ideas and probably deserves the glory that would have resulted from a Bayes-Price theorem. After Price, however, Bayes’s theorem lapsed into obscurity until the illustrious French mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace extended and applied it in clever, nontrivial ways in the early 19th century. Thereafter it went in and out of fashion, was applied in one field after another only to be later condemned for being vague, subjective or unscientific, and became a bone of contention between rival camps of mathematicians before enjoying a revival in recent years.

The theorem itself can be stated simply. Beginning with a provisional hypothesis about the world (there are, of course, no other kinds), we assign to it an initial probability called the prior probability or simply the prior. After actively collecting or happening upon some potentially relevant evidence, we use Bayes’s theorem to recalculate the probability of the hypothesis in light of the new evidence. This revised probability is called the posterior probability or simply the posterior. Specifically Bayes’s theorem states (trumpets sound here) that the posterior probability of a hypothesis is equal to the product of (a) the prior probability of the hypothesis and (b) the conditional probability of the evidence given the hypothesis, divided by (c) the probability of the new evidence.

Consider a concrete example. Assume that you’re presented with three coins, two of them fair and the other a counterfeit that always lands heads. If you randomly pick one of the three coins, the probability that it’s the counterfeit is 1 in 3. This is the prior probability of the hypothesis that the coin is counterfeit. Now after picking the coin, you flip it three times and observe that it lands heads each time. Seeing this new evidence that your chosen coin has landed heads three times in a row, you want to know the revised posterior probability that it is the counterfeit. The answer to this question, found using Bayes’s theorem (calculation mercifully omitted), is 4 in 5. You thus revise your probability estimate of the coin’s being counterfeit upward from 1 in 3 to 4 in 5.

A serious problem arises, however, when you apply Bayes’s theorem to real life: it’s often unclear what initial probability to assign to a hypothesis. Our intuitions are embedded in countless narratives and arguments, and so new evidence can be filtered and factored into the Bayes probability revision machine in many idiosyncratic and incommensurable ways. The question is how to assign prior probabilities and evaluate evidence in situations much more complicated than the tossing of coins, situations like global warming or autism. In the latter case, for example, some might have assigned a high prior probability to the hypothesis that the thimerosal in vaccines causes autism. But then came new evidence — studies showing that permanent removal of the compound from these vaccines did not lead to a decline in autism. The conditional probability of this evidence given the thimerosal hypothesis is tiny at best and thus a convincing reason to drastically lower the posterior probability of the hypothesis. Of course, people wedded to their priors can always try to rescue them from the evidence by introducing all sorts of dodges. Witness die-hard birthers and truthers, for example.

McGrayne devotes much of her book to Bayes’s theorem’s many remarkable contributions to history: she discusses how it was used to search for nuclear weapons, devise actuarial tables, demonstrate that a document seemingly incriminating Colonel Dreyfus was most likely a forgery, improve low-resolution computer images, judge the authorship of the disputed Federalist papers and determine the false positive rate of mammograms. She also tells the story of Alan Turing and others whose pivotal crypto-analytic work unscrambling German codes may have helped shorten World War II.

Statistics is an imperialist discipline that can be applied to almost any area of science or life, and this litany of applications is intended to be the unifying thread that sews the book into a coherent whole. It does so, but at the cost of giving it a list-like, formulaic feel. More successful are McGrayne’s vivifying sketches of the statisticians who devoted themselves to Bayesian polemics and counterpolemics. As McGrayne amply shows, orthodox Bayesians have long been opposed, sometimes vehemently, by so-called frequentists, who have objected to their tolerance for subjectivity. The nub of the differences between them is that for Bayesians the prior can be a subjective expression of the degree of belief in a hypothesis, even one about a unique event or one that has as yet never occurred. For frequentists the prior must have a more objective foundation; ideally that is the relative frequency of events in repeatable, well-defined experiments. McGrayne’s statisticians exhibit many differences, and she cites the quip that you can nevertheless always tell them apart by their posteriors, a good word on which to end.

John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, is the author of several books, including “Innumeracy” and, most recently, “Irreligion.”

A saúde em 2021 (Fapesp)

JC e-mail 4315, de 04 de Agosto de 2011.

Um dos grandes desafios a serem enfrentados pelo setor de saúde no Brasil em 2021 será o crescimento no número de idosos com o consequente aumento que se pode esperar nos quadros gerais de diversas doenças.

A constatação foi feita por especialistas de diversas áreas durante o Fórum Internacional Saúde em 2021, realizado nos dias 2 e 3 de agosto, em São Paulo, pela Associação Paulista pelo Desenvolvimento da Medicina (SPDM).

Dividido em seis módulos, “Brasil no mundo em 2021”, “O sistema de saúde brasileiro em 2021”, “Profissionais da saúde em 2021”, “Informação, comunicação e saúde”, “Ética na saúde” e “Mercado e complexo industrial da saúde em 2021”, o evento teve por objetivo identificar prováveis cenários do setor, assim como debater possíveis estratégias para a próxima década.

“O envelhecimento é inevitável e essa geração de idosos já nasceu”, disse Rubens Ricupero, diretor da Faculdade de Economia da Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado (FAAP), em palestra no fórum.

Ricupero citou dados do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) para destacar o envelhecimento populacional no país. Em 2001, 14,5 milhões de brasileiros (ou 9,1% do total) tinham acima de 60 anos. Em 2009, já eram 21,6 milhões (11,3%). Em 2025, a estimativa é que os idosos serão mais de 30 milhões (ou 15% do total). “Isso promoverá um grande impacto na economia do país”, disse.

De acordo com Maurício Lima Barreto, professor titular do Instituto de Saúde Coletiva da Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA), problemas como diabetes e obesidade se tornarão ainda mais crônicos nas próximas décadas e, junto a novas doenças, poderão levar a um “estresse” no sistema de saúde brasileiro. “Temos de resolver os velhos problemas para podermos lidar com os novos no futuro”, ressaltou.

Para isso, o Brasil terá de investir ainda mais em ciência, tecnologia e inovação no setor. Isso tem ocorrido no Estado de São Paulo, por exemplo, em que a área de saúde é a maior destinatária dos recursos destinados pela FAPESP ao apoio à pesquisa.

“Em 2010, a Fapesp investiu R$ 215,3 milhões em pesquisas na área de saúde, o que representa 27,61% do total investido pela Fundação”, destacou Celso Lafer, presidente da Fapesp, no Fórum Internacional Saúde em 2021.

O desembolso da Fapesp com a Linha Regular – que compreende todas as modalidades de Bolsas e de Auxílios Regulares, excluindo as bolsas e os auxílios concedidos no âmbito dos Programas Especiais e dos Programas de Pesquisa para Inovação Tecnológica – totalizou R$ 595,91 milhões em 2010, correspondendo a 76,4% de todo o valor gasto pela Fundação. A área do conhecimento que recebeu maior volume de recursos dentro da Linha Regular foi saúde, com R$ 186,81 milhões (31,35%).

Glaucius Oliva, presidente do Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) e coordenador do Centro de Biotecnologia Molecular Estrutural, um dos Centros de Pesquisa, Inovação e Difusão (CEPIDs) da Fapesp, reforçou essa necessidade de investimentos no setor de saúde.

Segundo ele, o País também precisa superar a pequena presença de doutores no setor industrial. “Em 2008, 80% dos doutores atuavam em educação. Isso, dois anos após o doutoramento. O restante estava na administração pública e menos de 1% atuava com pesquisas em empresas”, ressaltou.

Para que a pesquisa avance para além do universo acadêmico, Oliva destacou a necessidade de internacionalizar ainda mais a ciência brasileira, assim como avanços na multi, inter e transdisciplinaridade. “O maior desafio é traduzir o conhecimento científico para a sociedade. E, para isso, precisamos de mais doutores nas empresas”, disse.

Mais informações:
(Agência Fapesp)

Stuff white people like: denying climate change (Grist)


2 AUG 2011 4:11 PM

There’s a study running soon in the journalGlobal Environmental Change called “Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States.” It analyzes poll and survey data from the last 10 years and finds that … are you sitting down? … conservative white men are far more likely to deny the threat of climate change than other people.

OK, that’s no surprise to anyone who’s been awake over the last decade. But the paper goes beyond that to put forward some theories aboutwhy conservative white men (CWM) are so loathe to accept climate change. The explanation is some mix of the following, all of which overlap in various ways:

    • First there’s the “white male effect” — generally speaking, white males are less concerned with a variety of risks. This probably has to do with the fact that they are less exposed to risk than other demographics, what with running things and all.
    • Then, as Chris Mooney notes, there’s the “social dominance orientation” of conservatives, who see social life as following the law of the jungle. One’s choice is to dominate or be dominated; that is the natural order of things. Such folk are leery of climate change solutions premised on fairness or egalitarianism.
  • Then there are the well-understood “system-justifying tendencies” of conservatives. The authors explain that conservatives …

    … strongly display tendencies to justify and defend the current social and economic system. Conservatives dislike change and uncertainty and attempt to simplify complexity. Further, conservative white males have disproportionately occupied positions of power within our economic system. Given the expansive challenge that climate change poses to the industrial capitalist economic system, it should not be surprising that conservative white males’ strong system-justifying attitudes would be triggered to deny climate change.

  • Finally, there’s “identity-protective cognition,” a notion borrowed from Dan Kahan at Yale. (See this PDF.) Here’s how Kahan and colleagues sum it up:

    We propose that variance in risk perceptions — across persons generally, and across race and gender in particular — reflects a form of motivated cognition through which people seek to deflect threats to identities they hold, and roles they occupy, by virtue of contested cultural norms.

    “Motivated cognition” refers to reasoning done in service of justifying an already held belief or goal. It helps explain why the CWM who know the most about climate science are the most likely to reject it; they learn about it in order to reject it. See Chris Mooney’s great piece on that. Point being: when facts (or the implications of those facts) threaten people’s social identities, they tend to dismiss the facts rather than the identity.

To all these reasons, I’d add “epistemic closure,” the extraordinary way that the modern right has constructed a self-contained, hermetically sealed media environment in which conservatives can be protected from ever encountering a contrary view. It’s an accelerant to all the tendencies described above.

Anyway, as you can see, the rejection of climate science among CWM is basically overdetermined. Climate change threatens their values, their privileges, and their worldview. They are reacting as one would expect them to react.

8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance (AlterNet)

July 31, 2011

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green, 2011).

Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance to domination.

Young Americans-even more so than older Americans-appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it. A 2010 Gallup poll asked Americans ‘Do you think the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire?” Among 18- to 34-years-olds, 76 percent of them said no. Yet despite their lack of confidence in the availability of Social Security for them, few have demanded it be shored up by more fairly payroll-taxing the wealthy; most appear resigned to having more money deducted from their paychecks for Social Security, even though they don’t believe it will be around to benefit them.

How exactly has American society subdued young Americans?

1. Student-Loan Debt. Large debt-and the fear it creates-is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt.

Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt. In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life.

2. Psychopathologizing and Medicating Noncompliance. In 1955, Erich Fromm, the then widely respected anti-authoritarian leftist psychoanalyst, wrote, ‘Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1980, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Ronald Reagan president, and an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) disruptive mental disorders for children and teenagers such as the increasingly popular ‘oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include ‘often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” ‘often argues with adults,” and ‘often deliberately does things to annoy other people.”

Many of America’s greatest activists including Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, ‘I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010); a major reason for this, according to theJournal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving antipsychotic drugs have nonpsychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other disruptive disorder (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients).

3. Schools That Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy. Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990, John Taylor Gatto upset many in attendance by stating: ‘The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.” A generation ago, the problem of compulsory schooling as a vehicle for an authoritarian society was widely discussed, but as this problem has gotten worse, it is seldom discussed.

The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students. Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of ‘inert concern” in which ‘caring”-in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action-is considered ‘ethical.” School teaches us that we are ‘moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school-its demand for compliance-teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.

4. ‘No Child Left Behind” and ‘Race to the Top.” The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as ‘No Child Left Behind” and ‘Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by corporatocracy-sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities.

5. Shaming Young People Who Take Education-But Not Their Schooling-Seriously. In a 2006 survey in the United States, it was found that 40 percent of children between first and third grade read every day, but by fourth grade, that rate declined to 29 percent. Despite the anti-educational impact of standard schools, children and their parents are increasingly propagandized to believe that disliking school means disliking learning. That was not always the case in the United States. Mark Twain famously said, ‘I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Toward the end of Twain’s life in 1900, only 6 percent of Americans graduated high school. Today, approximately 85 percent of Americans graduate high school, but this is good enough for Barack Obama who told us in 2009, ‘And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.”

The more schooling Americans get, however, the more politically ignorant they are of America’s ongoing class war, and the more incapable they are of challenging the ruling class. In the 1880s and 1890s, American farmers with little or no schooling created a Populist movement that organized America’s largest-scale working people’s cooperative, formed a People’s Party that received 8 percent of the vote in 1892 presidential election, designed a ‘subtreasury” plan (that had it been implemented would have allowed easier credit for farmers and broke the power of large banks) and sent 40,000 lecturers across America to articulate it, and evidenced all kinds of sophisticated political ideas, strategies and tactics absent today from America’s well-schooled population. Today, Americans who lack college degrees are increasingly shamed as ‘losers”; however, Gore Vidal and George Carlin, two of America’s most astute and articulate critics of the corporatocracy, never went to college, and Carlin dropped out of school in the ninth grade.

6. The Normalization of Surveillance. The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities?

7. Television. In 2009, the Nielsen Company reported that TV viewing in the United States is at an all-time high if one includes the following ‘three screens”: a television set, a laptop/personal computer, and a cell phone. American children average eight hours a day on TV, video games, movies, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other technologies (not including school-related use). Many progressives are concerned about the concentrated control of content by the corporate media, but the mere act of watching TV-regardless of the programming-is the primary pacifying agent (private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards).

Television is a dream come true for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see; fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a ‘divide and conquer” strategy; TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities; and regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video games is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this ‘virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.

8. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism. American culture offers young Americans the ‘choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the ‘opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.

These are not the only aspects of our culture that are subduing young Americans and crushing their resistance to domination. The food-industrial complex has helped create an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. The prison-industrial complex keeps young anti-authoritarians ‘in line” (now by the fear that they may come before judges such as the two Pennsylvania ones who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated). As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: ‘All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”

TV 10 weather forecasts worse than a crap shoot (City Pulse)

Media Muckraker
November 12, 2002

The surprise 3.1-inch snowfall last Monday, Dec. 2, resulted in more than 100 Lansing area accidents. Little did I know, as I chugged my car on U.S. 127 that morning, that over 20 of those accidents were taking place at the I-96 exchange just up around the bend. Fortunately, before I arrived at the ice-slick, my instincts got the better of me and I averted a possible accident by turning off I-127 early.

No thanks to the weathermen of WILX-10 (who share double duty as the forecasters for the Lansing State Journal). They had forecast snow, but had never said how much, hinting at just an inch or so.

Then it happened again. On Tuesday, Rockcole, Provenzano and Drummond predicted a low temperature “near 10.” In fact the mercury fell to 18 degrees below zero, the day’s lowest temperature since 1869!

How could the weathermen be so wrong? I decided to do a little weather muckraking.

In Britain, earlier this year, Ben Magoo wondered about the accuracy of the BBC’s weather reporting after the sunny vacation day they predicted for him turned out soggy. “Is the super computer in the [BBC] office accurately modeling the world’s climate, or is it resting its brain and picking out sun and rain symbols at random? We will find the answer!” Magoo developed a computer program to automatically analyze their weather data at 10 sites, including York, the Tower of London and Cambridge. Here’s what he found at Cambridge:

Cambridge, England | Days Monitored: 126
Days Ahead

Incredibly, the chance of the next day’s forecast being right was just 55 percent. Note that Magoo ignored the same-day predictions, making “the assumption that predicting today’s weather is dead simple, so the BBC couldn’t possibly get this wrong.” Really now?

Turning to Lansing, I analyzed 14 days of WILX-LSJ forecasts between Nov. 24 and Dec. 7. I determined a forecast to be in error if at least one of the following occurred: 1) the predicted temperature was incorrect by 5 degrees or more (for either the high or low); 2) precipitation did not occur as predicted (e.g… they predicted snow, but there was none, or the converse), or 3) the precipitation prediction was off by 100% or more (e.g.,. they predicted 1 inch of snow, but it snowed 3 inches, a 200 percent difference).

Lansing, MI | Days Monitored: 14
Days Ahead
Same Day

Remarkably, my analysis demonstrated that the WILX-LSJ forecasters were unable to predict the day’s weather – for the same day – a full seven of 14 days (50 percent)! The British chap had evidently presumed way too much. Distant predictions tended to be about 50/50, with fifth day a poor 20 percent.

You’d figure that predicting the weather a few hours hence would be a breeze. But they missed 3.1 inches of snow on Dec. 2 and were off by 28 degrees on Dec. 3. On Nov 29, the LSJ predicted that day’s weather would have a high in “the upper 30s,” which was significantly lower than the actual high of 46. And on Dec. 4, the LSJ predicted a low temp in the “low teens,” which was a far cry (for the freezing news carriers delivering the newspaper to your doorstep) from the actual low of 4 degrees below zero.

All tolled, of 60 days forecast, the accuracy rate was just 43 percent. Don’t believe it? Check it out for yourself, the evidence is in the library (the other TV weathermen do not have evidence so accessible). Lansing’s numbers are remarkably close to the Cambridge study, suggesting that this level of miscalculation might be consistent over the entire year.

One moral is to not rely on the forecasts to plan time off work.

At the very least, weathermen should humbly state the truth; there is a 50/50 chance that our forecasts will be wrong in at least one important area.Incompetence? Arrogance? It goes much deeper than that.

In Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Jack comments on the weather thus, “Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.” To which Gwendolen Fairfax replies, “Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me so nervous.”

It’s true. Weather forecasts are less about the weather than about cementing social relations – telling you who has authority. While weather seems so bloody innocuous, in fact, culturally speaking, the weather forecast is a covert agent of social control.

It doesn’t matter to the mainstream media bosses that weathermen are wrong most of the time (if they even know it). What’s important is that weathermen exude an aura of certainty (precision numbers) while expressing an undercurrent of fear (of the possible storm). Just like the IRS, the traffic cop or your boss, no matter how wrong, he’s the person in charge – with certainty. There’s no way out. That’s one hidden message.

The good news is that they’re wrong!

Here’s what needs to be done. Lose the “Stormtracker” and hire a muckraker. Don’t circumvent serious issues like the amount of PCBs in the morning’s snowfall, or the amount of soot in a Lansing fog. And tell the viewers/readers where the historic danger spots are (like I-127& I-96) before the next snowstorm.

Here’s my forecast. Under the current corporate structure, they’ll never do it.

Alex Peter Zenger is the pen name for the Media Muckraker. It is inspired by the work of John Peter Zenger, one of the founding fighters for press freedom in the United States.

Let’s Take Back the Sky! (City Pulse)

by Brian McKenna
November 7, 2001

Saturday, Nov. 3, just hours before the planned confrontation with the enemy, our intelligence assessed its radar, consulted U.S. satellite imagery and identified the front. It would be a good day for bombing, “sunny with a high of 58 degrees.”

The U.S. war on Afghanistan?

No, Stormtracker 6’s weather prediction efforts for the Spartan/Wolverine football game, Michigan’s civil war.

Historically, weather forecasting came of age with the D-Day assault on Normandy Beach in 1944. A half-century later weather-work still retains its militant glow.

Consider the language. Channel 10’s “Sky Team” and “Stormtracker 6” punctuate their TV reports with alerts, watches, warnings, outbreaks, damage, hazards and threats. Like the Joint Chiefs, they monitor the scene with satellites, radar, chase vans, web cams and computerized maps. On occasion, they’ll interrupt our TV viewing with dire warnings of impending disaster, using the shrill three-note cry of the Emergency Broadcast System, originally intended for nuclear alerts. Channel 6’s WLNS will even e-mail you the warnings upon request.

The shift in terminology from the innocuous “weather report” to the ominous “Stormtracker 6” serves notice of a perennial threat.

There are rarely serious storm-related casualties in Lansing, yet Channels 6 and 10 have three full-time weathercasters apiece (yet not a single full-time environmental reporter).

What’s going on? According to several media critics, the latent function of the weather forecast is to reassure you that our boys (the “Sky Team”) are patrolling the heavens and carefully tracking any potential invaders. It’s 11 o’clock prayers, a psychological tonic. All is right with the world as you lay your head upon the pillow.

It’s no mistake that TV weather borrows the metaphorical ammunition of football and war. For, at its heart, U.S. culture is awash in fear and aggression. Has been for decades. And the “cultural cops,” be they Marines, Spartans or middle-aged weathermen with video map-clickers, are on guard, making us safe from “The Other.” Be they terrorists, a football rival or a storm.

Weather has become “the discourse of reactionary time,” says Alex Cockburn, social critic. Weather is supposed to be about our ability to “undergo or endure the action of the elements” in the open air. But weather reporters usually restrict analysis of those elements to the “natural” ones like H2O, lightning and tornadoes. Missing is coverage of human-made elements or compounds like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury and hundreds of toxic chemicals spewing from General Motors car assembly plants, the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s coal fired utility or our car exhausts. These airborne elements – totaling hundreds of thousands of tons per year — account for untold levels of Lansing-area disease from cancer, hypertension and asthma.

There is some positive political movement around the edges of weather reporting. The cultural pressure on weathermen to report allergy alerts, ozone action days and high ultraviolet radiation days has highlighted the fact that, like it or not, weathermen are influential educators about nature and the environment.

Ironically, some local weathermen yearn to be seen as environmentalists. Channel 6 meteorologists highlight their relationship with the Ebersole Environmental Center, where once a month they escort a class of Lansing’s public school students for a nature study. Their Web site even has several links to interesting “Science and Astronomy” sites. Sadly, these fact-filled portals into the ecological and astronomical worlds are marginal to the TV show, where a de-politicized rhetoric of temperatures, clouds and the obvious abound.

Let’s imagine that TV weatherfolk really covered “the elements” in all their ecological diversity. Let’s fantasize about weathermen who enlighten, not just put us to sleep. Here are two items that I would have reported on last week:

October 2001 was the fourth wettest on record. It rained 5.69 inches. That equates to 123.5 million gallons of raw sewage that overflowed into the Grand River last month, a record amount for October.

On Thursday, Nov. 1, an environmental group named PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) released the third report that was suppressed by the Ingham County Health Department (the others are on water and food). It found an asthma epidemic among African American youth and particularly high asthma rates in the 48915 area code. (See the report at:

I’d include stories or guest spots by naturewatch folk in every broadcast. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the red salamander had just come out of hibernation that day? Or that the full moon was rising on the “Give Peace a Chance” concert next Saturday night?

Some People’s Climate Beliefs Shift With Weather (Columbia University)

Study Shows Daily Malleability on a Long-Term Question

ThermometerPhoto by domediart, Flickr

Social scientists are struggling with a perplexing earth-science question: as the power of evidence showing manmade global warming is rising, why do opinion polls suggest public belief in the findings is wavering? Part of the answer may be that some people are too easily swayed by the easiest, most irrational piece of evidence at hand: their own estimation of the day’s temperature.

In three separate studies, researchers affiliated with Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) surveyed about 1,200 people in the United States and Australia, and found that those who thought the current day was warmer than usual were more likely to believe in and feel concern about global warming than those who thought the day was unusually cold. A new paper describing the studies appears in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

“Global warming is so complex, it appears some people are ready to be persuaded by whether their own day is warmer or cooler than usual, rather than think about whether the entire world is becoming warmer or cooler,” said lead author Ye Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Columbia Business School’s Center for Decision Sciences, which is aligned with CRED. “It is striking that society has spent so much money, time and effort educating people about this issue, yet people are still so easily influenced.”  The study says that “these results join a growing body of work show that irrelevant environmental information, such as the current weather, can affect judgments. … By way of analogy, when asked about the state of the national economy, someone might look at the amount of money in his or her wallet, a factor with only trivial relevance.”

Ongoing studies by other researchers have already provided strong evidence that opinions on climate and other issues can hinge on factors unrelated to scientific observations. Most pointedly, repeated polls have shown that voters identifying themselves as political liberals or Democrats are far more likely to believe in human-influenced climate change than those who identify themselves as conservatives or Republicans. Women believe more than men, and younger people more than older ones. Other, yet-to-be published studies at four other universities have looked at the effects of actual temperature—either the natural one outside, or within a room manipulated by researchers—and show that real-time thermometer readings can affect people’s beliefs as well. These other studies involve researchers at New York University, Temple University, the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley.

In the current paper, respondents were fairly good at knowing if it was unusually hot or cold–perceptions correlated with reality three quarters of the time—and that the perception exerted a powerful control on their attitude. As expected, politics, gender and age all had the predicted influences: for instance, on the researchers’ 1-to-4 scale of belief in global warming, Democrats were 1.5 points higher than Republicans. On the whole though, after controlling for the other factors, the researchers found that perceived temperatures still had nearly two-thirds the power as political belief, and six times the power as gender, to push someone one way or the other a notch along the scale. (The coming NYU/Temple study suggests that those with no strong political beliefs and lower education are the most easily swayed.)

In one of the studies described in the paper, the researchers tried to test the earnestness of the responses by seeing how many of those getting paid $8 for the survey were willing to donate to a real-life charity, Clean Air-Cool Planet. The correlation was strong; those who said it was warmer donated an average of about $2; those who felt it was cooler gave an average of 48 cents.

The researchers say the study not only points to how individuals’ beliefs can change literally with the wind. Li says it is possible that weather may have influenced recent large-scale public opinion polls showing declining faith in climate science. Administered at different times, future ones might turn out differently, he said. These polls, he pointed out, include the national elections, which always take place in November, when things are getting chilly and thus may be empowering conservative forces at a time when climate has become a far more contentious issue than in the past. (Some politicians subsequently played up the heavy snows and cold of winter 2009-2010 as showing global warming was a hoax—even though scientists pointed out that such weather was probably controlled by short-term atmospheric mechanisms, and consistent with long-term warming.) “I’m not sure I’d say that people are manipulated by the weather. But for some percentage of people, it’s certainly pushing them around.” said Li.

The other authors are Eric J. Johnson, co-director of the Center for Decision Sciences; and Lisa Zaval, a Columbia graduate student in psychology.

Original link:

The great difficulty with good hypotheses

“There is one great difficulty with a good hypothesis. When it is completed and rounded, the corners smooth and the content cohesive and coherent, it is likely to become a thing in itself, a work of art. It is then like a finished sonnet or a painting completed. One hates to disturb it. Even if subsequent information should shoot a hole in it, one hates to tear it down because it once was beautiful and whole.”

From The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck.