Arquivo mensal: fevereiro 2012

The Importance Of Mistakes (NPR)

February 28, 2012

It takes a lot of cabling to make the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus (OPERA) run at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory (LNGS) in Italy.Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images. It takes a lot of cabling to make the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus (OPERA) run at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory (LNGS) in Italy.

How do people handle the discovery of their own mistake? Some folks might shrug it off. Some folks might minimize its effect. Some folks might even step in with a lie. Most people, we hope, would admit the mistake. But how often do we expect them to announce it to the world from a hilltop. How often do we expect them to tell us — in the clearest language possible — that they screwed up, providing every detail possible about the nature of the mistake?

That’s exactly what’s required in science. As embarrassing as it might seem to most people, admitting a mistake is really the essence of scientific heroism.

Which brings us, first, to faster-than-light neutrinos and then to climate science.

Last week rumors began to circulate that the (potential) discovery of neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light may get swept into the dustbin of scientific history. The news (rumors really) first circulated via Science Insider.

“According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer.”


The story goes on to say that once the cable was tightened the Einstein-busting result disappeared. While “sources familiar with the experiment” might not seem enough to start singing funeral dirges, (who was the source, Deep Neutrino?), CERN released its own statement that points in a similar direction. No one can say for sure yet, but it appears that the faster-than-light hoopla is likely to go away.

So what are we to make of this? A loose cable seems pretty lame on the face of it. “Dude, Everybody with a cable box and a 32-inch flat screen knows you got to check the cable!”

There is no doubt that, as mistakes go, researchers running the neutrino experiments would rather have something a bit more sexy to offer if their result was disproven. (How about tiny corrections due to seismic effects?) Still, I’m betting the OPERA experiment had a heck of a lot more cables than your TV so, perhaps, we should be more understanding.

More importantly, no matter how it happens making mistakes is exactly what scientists are supposed to do. “Our whole problem is to make mistakes as fast possible,” John Wheeler once said.

What make science so powerful is not just the admission of mistakes but also the detailing of mistakes. While the OPERA group might now wish they had waited a bit longer to make their announcement, there is no shame in the mistake in-and-of itself. If they step into the spotlight and tell the world what happened, then they deserve to be counted as heroes just as much as if they’d broken Einstein’s theory.

And that is where we can see the connection to climate, evolution and all the other fronts in the ever-expanding war on science. Last week at the AAAS meeting in Vancouver, Nina Fedoroff, a distinguished agricultural scientist and president of that body, made a bold and frightening statement (especially for someone in such a position of authority). Fedoroff told her audience, as The Guardian reported:

“‘We are sliding back into a dark era,’ she said. ‘And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.'”

See video:

The spectacle of watching politicians fall over each other to distance themselves from research validated by armies of scientists is more than depressing. Our current understanding of climate, for example, represents the work of thousands of human beings all working to make mistakes as fast possible, all working to root out error as fast as possible. There is no difference between what happens in climate science or evolutionary biology and any other branch of science.

Honest people asking the best of themselves push forward in their own fields. They watch their work and those of their colleagues closely, always looking for mistakes, cracks in reasoning, subtle flaws in logic. When they are found, the process is set in motion: critique, defend, critique, root out. When science deniers trot out the same tired talking points, talking points with no scientific validity, they ignore (or fail to understand) their argument’s lack of credibility.

Eventually, science always finds its mistakes. Eventually we find some kind of truth, unless, of course, mistakes are forced on us from outside of science. That, however, is an error of another kind entirely.

Stadium ban for EU hooligans undermines civil rights (The Limping Messenger blog)

February 3, 2012 by Tjebbe van Tijen

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL STADIUM BAN FOR HOOLIGANS… Ahmed Aboutaleb major of the City of Rotterdam rejoices today the European Parliament initiative for an European level implementation of banning locally convicted football hooligans from all EU stadiums. (1) This law initiative has been long in the making. An earlier document by the Council of the European Union “Resolution of the Council on preventing and restraining football hooliganism through the exchange of experience, exclusion from stadiums and media policy” dates back to the year 1997:

The responsible Ministers invite their national sports associations to examine, in accordance with national law, how stadium exclusions imposed under civil law could also apply to football matches in a European context.

However much I dislike football hooligans this is a juridical precedent which will have far reaching negative consequences for civil rights in general. Not only does it create yet another centrally managed person database that can be accessed by all EU police forces (like data on persons DNA, illegal migrants and so on) it is a further step in constructing a ‘central EU police force’ with all its inherent dangers. Such an EU-wide anti-hooligan law also means multiplied condemnation – for a big part of the European continent – on the basis of a local conviction.

Together with actual proposals (in the Netherlands) for ‘whole sale mass arrests’, not only hooligan “leaders”, but also of their “followers” (‘meeloophooligens’ is the Dutch term), we can be certain that such an extra-national banning and black-listing power, will be abused in ways beyond our imagination. Once such a law and its enforcement has been put into effect, other ‘social distinct groups’ whose behaviour is classified as unruly can get the same routine treatment in the future. The Council of Europe document of 1997 cited above speaks of “preventing and containing of disorder”, so one need not to be surprised when other forms of ”disorder” will be handled in the long run in the same way. For instance, when we take in account the frequent attempts by politicians – defending employers interest – to criminalise strike actions, trade union activists could be databased and blacklisted with the same ‘anti-hooligan routine’.

(1) It is interesting to note that the ‘hooligan-ban’ proposals in the European Parliament plenary session of February 2. 2012, was part of a bundle of all kind of measures related to sport listed in this order: – Promote sport for girls; – Blacklist hooligans; – Make doping a criminal offence; – Regulate sport agents; -Combine learning and training. The resolution – thus packaged – has been passed with 550 votes in favour, 73 against and 7 abstentions. In the section of hooligans is also this sentence: “MEPs also call on Member States and sports governing bodies to commit to tackling homophobia and racism against athletes.” Something problematic in the sense of ‘civil rights’ has been hidden inside a package of mostly emancipatory proposals.

When It Comes to Accepting Evolution, Gut Feelings Trump Facts (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Jan. 19, 2012) — For students to accept the theory of evolution, an intuitive “gut feeling” may be just as important as understanding the facts, according to a new study.

In an analysis of the beliefs of biology teachers, researchers found that a quick intuitive notion of how right an idea feels was a powerful driver of whether or not students accepted evolution — often trumping factors such as knowledge level or religion.

“The whole idea behind acceptance of evolution has been the assumption that if people understood it — if they really knew it — they would see the logic and accept it,” said David Haury, co-author of the new study and associate professor of education at Ohio State University.

“But among all the scientific studies on the matter, the most consistent finding was inconsistency. One study would find a strong relationship between knowledge level and acceptance, and others would find no relationship. Some would find a strong relationship between religious identity and acceptance, and others would find less of a relationship.”

“So our notion was, there is clearly some factor that we’re not looking at,” he continued. “We’re assuming that people accept something or don’t accept it on a completely rational basis. Or, they’re part of a belief community that as a group accept or don’t accept. But the findings just made those simple answers untenable.”

Haury and his colleagues tapped into cognitive science research showing that our brains don’t just process ideas logically — we also rely on how true something feels when judging an idea.

“Research in neuroscience has shown that when there’s a conflict between facts and feeling in the brain, feeling wins,” he says.

The researchers framed a study to determine whether intuitive reasoning could help explain why some people are more accepting of evolution than others. The study, published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, included 124 pre-service biology teachers at different stages in a standard teacher preparation program at two Korean universities.

First, the students answered a standard set of questions designed to measure their overall acceptance of evolution. These questions probed whether students generally believed in the main concepts and scientific findings that underpin the theory.

Then the students took a test on the specific details of evolutionary science. To show their level of factual knowledge, students answered multiple-choice and free-response questions about processes such as natural selection. To gauge their “gut” feelings about these ideas, students wrote down how certain they felt that their factually correct answers were actually true.

The researchers then analyzed statistical correlations to see whether knowledge level or feeling of certainty best predicted students’ overall acceptance of evolution. They also considered factors such as academic year and religion as potential predictors.

“What we found is that intuitive cognition has a significant impact on what people end up accepting, no matter how much they know,” said Haury. The results show that even students with greater knowledge of evolutionary facts weren’t likelier to accept the theory, unless they also had a strong “gut” feeling about those facts.

When trying to explain the patterns of whether people believe in evolution or not, “the results show that if we consider both feeling and knowledge level, we can explain much more than with knowledge level alone,” said Minsu Ha, lead author on the paper and a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Teaching and Learning.

In particular, the research shows that it may not be accurate to portray religion and science education as competing factors in determining beliefs about evolution. For the subjects of this study, belonging to a religion had almost no additional impact on beliefs about evolution, beyond subjects’ feelings of certainty.

These results also provide a useful way of looking at the perceived conflict between religion and science when it comes to teaching evolution, according to Haury. “Intuitive cognition not only opens a new door to approach the issue,” he said, “it also gives us a way of addressing that issue without directly questioning religious views.”

When choosing a setting for their study, the team found that Korean teacher preparation programs were ideal. “In Korea, people all take the same classes over the same time period and are all about the same age, so it takes out a lot of extraneous factors,” said Haury. “We wouldn’t be able to find a sample group like this in the United States.”

Unlike in the U.S., about half of Koreans do not identify themselves as belonging to any particular religion. But according to Ha, who is from Korea, certain religious groups consider the topic of evolution just as controversial as in the U.S.

To ensure that their results were relevant to U.S. settings, the researchers compared how the Korean students did on the knowledge tests with previous studies of U.S. students. “We found that the both groups were comparable in terms of the overall performance,” said Haury.

For teaching evolution, the researchers suggest using exercises that allow students to become aware of their brains’ dual processing. Knowing that sometimes what their “gut” says is in conflict with what their “head” knows may help students judge ideas on their merits.

“Educationally, we think that’s a place to start,” said Haury. “It’s a concrete way to show them, look — you can be fooled and make a bad decision, because you just can’t deny your gut.”

Ha and Haury collaborated on this study with Ross Nehm, associate professor of education at the Ohio State University. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The right’s stupidity spreads, enabled by a too-polite left (Guardian)

Conservativism may be the refuge of the dim. But the room for rightwing ideas is made by those too timid to properly object

by George Monbiot, The Guardian

Self-deprecating, too liberal for their own good, today’s progressives stand back and watch, hands over their mouths, as the social vivisectionists of the right slice up a living society to see if its component parts can survive in isolation. Tied up in knots of reticence and self-doubt, they will not shout stop. Doing so requires an act of interruption, of presumption, for which they no longer possess a vocabulary.

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.

It is by no means the first such paper. There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly “different” others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking.

But, drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the “critical pathway” from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to “rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order” and “emphasise the maintenance of the status quo”. Even for someone not yet renowned for liberal reticence, this feels hard to write.

This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies.

But what we now see among their parties – however intelligent their guiding spirits may be – is the abandonment of any pretence of high-minded conservatism. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative strategists have discovered that there is no pool so shallow that several million people won’t drown in it. Whether they are promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US, that man-made climate change is an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, or that the deficit results from the greed of the poor, they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics”. The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society”.

Lofgren complains that “the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital centre today”. The Republican party, with its “prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science” is appealing to what he calls the “low-information voter”, or the “misinformation voter”. While most office holders probably don’t believe the “reactionary and paranoid claptrap” they peddle, “they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base”.

The madness hasn’t gone as far in the UK, but the effects of the Conservative appeal to stupidity are making themselves felt. This week the Guardian reported that recipients of disability benefits, scapegoated by the government as scroungers, blamed for the deficit, now find themselves subject to a new level of hostility and threats from other people.

These are the perfect conditions for a billionaires’ feeding frenzy. Any party elected by misinformed, suggestible voters becomes a vehicle for undisclosed interests. A tax break for the 1% is dressed up as freedom for the 99%. The regulation that prevents big banks and corporations exploiting us becomes an assault on the working man and woman. Those of us who discuss man-made climate change are cast as elitists by people who happily embrace the claims of Lord Monckton, Lord Lawson or thinktanks funded by ExxonMobil or the Koch brothers: now the authentic voices of the working class.

But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. Confronted with mass discontent, the once-progressive major parties, as Thomas Frank laments in his latest book Pity the Billionaire, triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”. They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism.

Yes, conservatism thrives on low intelligence and poor information. But the liberals in politics on both sides of the Atlantic continue to back off, yielding to the supremacy of the stupid. It’s turkeys all the way down.

Twitter: @georgemonbiot

Climate and the culture war (The Washington Post)

By Michael Gerson, Published: January 16, 2012

The Washington Post

The attempt by Newt Gingrich to cover his tracks on climate change has been one of the shabbier little episodes of the 2012 presidential campaign. His forthcoming sequel to “A Contract with the Earth” was to feature a chapter by Katharine Hayhoe, a young professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas Tech University. Hayhoe is a scientist, an evangelical Christian and a moderate voice warning of climate disruption.

Then conservative media got wind. Rush Limbaugh dismissed Hayhoe as a “climate babe.” An Iowa voter pressed Gingrich on the topic. “That’s not going to be in the book,” he responded. “We told them to kill it.” Hayhoe learned this news just as she was passing under the bus.

A theory about the role of carbon dioxide in climate patterns has joined abortion and gay marriage as a culture war controversy. Climate scientists are attacked as greenshirts and watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside). Skeptics are derided as flat-earthers. Reputations are assaulted and the e-mails of scientists hacked.

A few years ago, the intensity of this argument would have been difficult to predict. In 2005, then-Gov. Mitt Romney joined a regional agreement to limit carbon emissions. In 2007, Gingrich publicly endorsed a cap-and-trade system for carbon.

What explains the recent, bench-clearing climate brawl? A scientific debate has been sucked into a broader national argument about the role of government. Many political liberals have seized on climate disruption as an excuse for policies they supported long before climate science became compelling — greater federal regulation and mandated lifestyle changes. Conservatives have also tended to equate climate science with liberal policies and therefore reject both.

The result is a contest of questioned motives. In the conservative view, the real liberal goal is to undermine free markets and national sovereignty (through international environmental agreements). In the liberal view, the real conservative goal is to conduct a war on science and defend fossil fuel interests. On the margin of each movement, the critique is accurate, supplying partisans with plenty of ammunition.

No cause has been more effectively sabotaged by its political advocates. Climate scientists, in my experience, are generally careful, well-intentioned and confused to be at the center of a global controversy. Investigations of hacked e-mails have revealed evidence of frustration — and perhaps of fudging but not of fraud. It is their political defenders who often discredit their work through hyperbole and arrogance. As environmental writer Michael Shellenberger points out, “The rise in the number of Americans telling pollsters that news of global warming was being exaggerated began virtually concurrently with the release of Al Gore’s movie, ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’”

The resistance of many conservatives to arguments about climate disruption is magnified by class and religion. Tea Party types are predisposed to question self-important elites. Evangelicals have long been suspicious of secular science, which has traditionally been suspicious of religious influence. Among some groups, skepticism about global warming has become a symbol of social identity — the cultural equivalent of a gun rack or an ichthus.

But however interesting this sociology may be, it has nothing to do with the science at issue. Even if all environmentalists were socialists and secularists and insufferable and partisan to the core, it would not alter the reality of the Earth’s temperature.

Since the 1950s, global temperatures have increased about nine-tenths of a degree Celsius — the recent conclusion of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project — which coincides with a large increase in greenhouse gasses produced by humans. This explanation is most consistent with the location of warming in the atmosphere. It best accounts for changing crop zones, declining species, thinning sea ice and rising sea levels. Scientists are not certain about the pace of future warming — estimates range from 2 degrees C to 5 degrees C over the next century. But warming is already proceeding faster than many plants and animals can adapt to.

These facts do not dictate a specific political response. With Japan, Canada and Russia withdrawing from the Kyoto process, the construction of a global regulatory regime for carbon emissions seems unlikely and may have never been possible. The broader use of nuclear power, the preservation of carbon-consuming rain forests and the encouragement of new energy technologies are more promising.

But any rational approach requires some distance between science and ideology. The extraction and burning of dead plant matter is not a moral good — or the proper cause for a culture war.

The Top 10 Worst Things About Working in a Lab (Science)

By Adam Ruben

January 27, 2012

I have found that, no matter what the context, I will click on nearly any article with a number and a superlative in the title. I don’t really need to know anything about cheeseburgers that I don’t already know, but call an article “The Eight Best Cheeseburgers You’ve Never Heard Of” or “The Five Largest Cheeseburgers That Appeared in Films,” and suddenly I’ve got a bit of required reading to do.

And now, so do you.

Maybe you’re an ordinary person, not a scientist (we call you “Non-scis” behind your backs), and you’ve just clicked here for some light lunchtime reading. But if you’re a scientist, perhaps you can relate as we identify … drumroll please …

The top 10 worst aspects of working in a lab.

10. Your non-scientist friends don’t understand what you do.
Even when talking about their jobs to outsiders, your friends in other professions can summarize their recent accomplishments in understandable ways. For example, they can say, “I built an object,” or “I pleased a client,” or, if your friend works on Wall Street, “I ate a peasant.” But what can you say? “I cured … um, well, I didn’t really cure it, but I discovered … well, ‘discovered’ is too strong a word, so let’s just say I tested … well, the tests are ongoing and are causing new questions to arise, so … yeah. Stop looking at me.” At least you’re doing better than your friends with Ph.D.s in the humanities, who would answer, “I put sheets on my mom’s basement couch.”

9. The scientist who is already the most successful gets credit for everything anyone does.
If you discover something, your principal investigator (PI) gets credit. If you write a paper, your PI gets credit. If you submit a successful grant proposal, your PI gets credit (and money). And what do you get? If you’re lucky, you get to write more papers and grant proposals to bolster your PI’s curriculum vitae.

8. Lab equipment is expensive and delicate. And you, you’re not so coordinated. Nope. Not so much.
Oops! You could pay to replace this one broken piece, or you could hire another postdoc.

7. Sometimes experiments fail for a reason. Sometimes experiments fail for no reason.
As anyone who works in a lab knows, things that work perfectly for months or years can suddenly stop working, offering no explanation for the change. (In this way, lab experiments are like Internet Explorer®.) This abrupt and inexplicable failure changes your work to meta-work, as you stop asking questions about science and start asking questions about the consistency of your technique. You can waste years saying things like, “When I created the sample that worked, I flared my nostril in a weird way. So this week, I’ll try to repeat what I did last week but with more nostrils flarin’!”

6. Your schedule is dictated by intangible things.
Freaking cell lines, needing to be tended on a regular basis regardless of your dinner plans. Freaking galaxies visible only in the middle of the night. If it weren’t for your lab work you’d have such a vivacious social life! Sure. That’s why you have no social life. It’s the lab work.

5. Science on television has conditioned you to expect daily or weekly breakthroughs.
Have you ever had a breakthrough in the lab? Yeah, me neither. Sure, I’ve had successful experiments, which usually means that the controls worked and no one was injured. But a real, eureka, run-down-the-hallway-carrying-a-printout, burst-into-a-room-full-of-military-personnel-and-call-the-President-even-though-it’s-three-in-the-morning breakthrough? Not yet. Unless you count the programmable coffee maker that, after much cajoling, made decent coffee at the appropriate time. Maybe I should publish that.

4. Your work is dangerous.
People say their jobs are killing them, but you work with things that could actually kill you — things like caustic chemicals, infectious agents, highly electrified instruments, and angry PIs.

CREDIT: Hal Mayforth

3. Labs are not conducive to sex.
Unless you work in a sex lab, which may or may not be a real thing, it’s unlikely you can convince anyone to crawl under your lab bench with you (“Just ignore the discarded pipette tips, baby”) and, as protein biophysicists say, put their zinc fingers in your leucine zipper. But hey, prove me wrong, people.

2. You have to dress like a scientist.
When I worked at an amusement park, I had to wear a purple polo shirt tucked into khaki shorts with giant white sneakers, so I suppose things could be worse. But some of our (scientists’) uniform choices are pretty unflattering. Disposable shoe covers look like you stepped in two shower caps. Safety goggles trap humidity as though you’re cultivating a rainforest on your face. And white lab coats with collars and lapels make men look like nerds and women look like men who look like nerds.

1. You can feel time creeping inexorably toward your own death.
If you think I’m being melodramatic, you were obviously never a grad student or postdoc. As a grad student or postdoc, you spend longer than you’ve planned working on something less interesting than you’d believed, all while earning less money than you assumed reasonable with an endpoint that’s less tangible and less probable than you thought possible.

If this was the kind of article with a “Comments” section, you’d scroll there and see people berating the spoiled scientist for complaining about his work when there are far worse jobs in the world. You’d also see anonymous nastiness, blatant ignorance, and a rant about Ron Paul.

Luckily, there is no “Comments” section (thanks, Science!), so I can preemptively tell you that yes, I know there are worse jobs than “scientist” — “baby thrower,” for example, or “cow exploder.” But this is Science, so if you want to read about the top 10 worst aspects of being a cow exploder, go borrow a copy of Cow Exploder Digest. And wash your hands after reading it.

And yes, I know that there are great aspects of working in a lab as well. You get to work with your hands. You experience the beauty of a well-designed experiment. You can even ask questions about the universe and, occasionally, answer them. But since these last points were neither in list format nor preceded by an overreaching superlative, I’ll understand if you’ve already stopped reading.

Adam Ruben, Ph.D., is a practicing scientist and the author of Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School.

Entrevista con el antropólogo estadunidense James Scott: Los movimientos autónomos causan miedo a los movimientos sociales formales y al Estado (Desinformémonos)

“Los grandes cambios radicales no han sucedido como producto de una legislación o elecciones; han sucedido en las calles, en levantamientos que amenazan con salirse de control”.


Ciudad de México. James Scott es profesor de Ciencias Políticas y Antropología en la Universidad de Yale y director de estudios agrarios en la misma institución.

Su trabajo se ha centrado en la manera que la gente de abajo se opone a la dominación. En diversos libros como “Economía moral del campesino: subsistencia y rebelión en Asia suroriental” “Armas del débil: formas diarias de resistencia campesina” y “Los dominados y el arte de la resistencia”, Scott teoriza sobre la manera en que el pueblo resiste a la autoridad y trata de describir las interacciones entre dominados y opresores.

En la siguiente entrevista con Desinformémonos, el investigador y antropólogo habla sobre la forma en que las experiencias autónomas pueden funcionar alejadas del Estado y sobre el impacto que pueden tener a mediano y largo plazo los movimientos sociales que surgen espontáneamente y que no tienen jerarquía.

¿Cómo los movimientos y experiencias autónomas pueden ocupar espacios del Estado- nación?

Históricamente los movimientos sociales han pedido cosas concretas al Estado. Empiezan con la idea de que el Estado es algo dado.

Los movimientos autónomos deben ver cómo hacer para crear espacios autogestionados, como centros sociales de capacitación y de educación, que no sean una imitación del Estado. Y esto incluye también a las ocupaciones.

Un movimiento autónomo debe crear lo más posible, dentro de un espacio que esté fuera del Estado para poder crear algo distinto. Esto no es fácil, pero sólo pedir cosas al Estado, de acuerdo con sus leyes y sus reglas, no es estar creando autonomía.

La mayoría de los movimientos sociales en la historia han creado estructuras que son parecidas al Estado, son jerárquicas. Tienen un nombre, una organización, eligen representantes y copian la estructura del Estado. Son pequeños Estados.

Hablando de mi propio país, los Estados Unidos, creo que cada movimiento progresivo y radical que ha tenido éxito, ha sido producto de irrupciones masivas, no organizadas, que no llegan de los movimientos sociales existentes. Como los movimientos por los derechos civiles y por el voto de las mujeres que surgieron de manera espontánea, fuera de movimientos sociales organizados.

Estos movimientos radicales no tienen jerarquía, así que el Estado no tiene con quién hablar (negociar). No hay liderazgos. Son movimientos populares sin estructura jerárquica, así que no los pueden cooptar.

La paradoja de la democracia es que – supuestamente – debe crear un sistema para hacer posibles cambios sociales a gran escala, sin violencia y sin irrupciones, mediante un proceso legal en el que se eligen personas; pero el hecho es que los grandes cambios radicales no han sucedido como producto de una legislación o elecciones, sino que han sucedido en las calles, en levantamientos que amenazan con salirse de control y en los que las élites estaban asustadas, aterrorizadas y tomaron cartas en el asunto rápidamente para poder apagar la revuelta.

¿Qué experiencias organizativas comunitarias han logrado hacer cambios alternativos y radicales alejados de la estructura de Estado?

El autor uruguayo Raúl Zibechi habla de muchos ejemplos de movimientos autónomos en América Latina que, de acuerdo con él, han logrado organizarse alternativamente; Zibechi habla de comunidades de base que han construido interrelaciones con otras comunidades y que después pueden movilizarse juntas en movimientos sociales más grandes.

Otro ejemplo se ha dado en Estados Unidos. Se trata de Occupy Wall Street, un movimiento espontáneo, que empezó con 200 ó 300 personas, y luego mucha gente de Cleveland, San Francisco y muchas ciudades más comenzaron a imitarlos; ésta es la clase de cosas que nadie podía haber predicho, nadie puede organizar estas revueltas, pero cuando suceden se debe saber tomar ventaja de la situación. Estas cosas nacen de forma espontáneas y nadie de nosotros sabe qué forma tomarán; pero después, el rol de los movimientos sociales deberá ser ayudar a estas ocupaciones espontáneas a logar un calendario.

El hecho es que aunque haya capacidad para la movilización autónoma local y ésta sea el punto central de las resistencias, no importa tanto hasta qué punto estos grupos logren o no sus objetivos inmediatas, pues lo realmente importante es que están creando redes que son un muy valioso recurso para la movilización popular.

Si surgen ocupaciones espontáneas, hay que aprovechar la capacidad de los movimientos autónomos locales de crear redes sociales.

¿Qué impacto pueden tener en el largo plazo los movimientos espontáneos que no tienen organización, ni planeación, y que no se acercan al Estado ni lo golpean directamente?

Los movimientos sociales organizados y jerarquizados, la mayoría de los que conocemos, fueron creados por la base del levantamiento popular, pero estas organizaciones no crearon nada por sí mismas en términos de cambios en el Estado; sin embargo, todos los movimientos sociales formales, que son pequeños Estados, están aterrorizados también por las revueltas de los de abajo, así que si quieres cambiar un movimiento, hay que amenazarlo desde abajo, desde los movimientos espontáneos. Los movimientos autónomos causan mucho miedo a los movimientos sociales formales y al Estado.

Strange History: Mass Hysteria Through the Years (Discovery)

Analysis by Benjamin Radford
Mon Feb 6, 2012 05:28 PM ET

The news media has been abuzz recently about a seemingly mysterious illness that has nearly two dozen students at LeRoy High School in western New York twitching and convulsing uncontrollably.

Most doctors and experts believe that the students are suffering from mass sociogenic illness, also known as mass hysteria. In these cases, psychological symptoms manifest as physical conditions.

Sociologist Robert Bartholomew, author of several books on mass hysteria including The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes, explained to Discovery News that “there are two main types of contagious conversion disorder. The most common in Western countries is triggered by extreme, sudden stress; usually a bad smell. Symptoms typically include dizziness, headaches, fainting and over-breathing, and resolve within about a day.”

In contrast, Bartholomew said, “The LeRoy students are experiencing the rarer, more serious type affecting muscle motor function and commonly involves twitching, shaking, facial tics, difficulty communicating and trance states. Symptoms appear slowly over weeks or months under exposure to longstanding stress, and typically take weeks or months to subside.”

Mass hysteria cases are more common than people realize and have been reported all over the world for centuries. Here’s a look at some famous — and bizarre — cases of mass hysteria in history.

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

Many cases of mass hysteria are spawned by reports of strange or mysterious odors. One of the most famous cases occurred in 1944 when residents of Mattoon, Ill., reported that a “mad gasser” was loose in the small town.

It began with one woman named Aline Kearney, who smelled something odd outside her window. Soon she said her throat and lips were burning, and she began to panic when she felt her legs becoming paralyzed. She called police, and her symptoms soon subsided. Her husband, upon returning home later, reported glimpsing a shadowy figure lurking nearby. The “gas attack” (as it was assumed to be) on Mrs. Kearney was not only the gossip of the neighborhood but also reported in the local newspaper, and soon others in the small town reported odd odors and experiencing short-lived symptoms such as breathlessness, nausea, headache, dizziness and weakness. No “mad gasser” was ever found, and no trace of the mysterious gas was detected.

The French Meowing Nuns

Before 1900 many reports of mass hysteria occurred within the context of religious institutions. European convents in particular were often the settings for outbreaks. In one case the symptoms manifested in strange collective behavior; a source from 1844 reported that “a nun, in a very large convent in France, began to meow like a cat; shortly afterwards other nuns also meowed.

At last all the nuns meowed together every day at a certain time for several hours together.” The meowing went on until neighbors complained and soldiers were called, threatening to whip the nuns until they stopped meowing. During this era, belief in possession (such as by animals or demons, for example) was common, and cats in particular were suspected of being in league with Satan. These outbreaks of animal-like noises and behaviors usually lasted anywhere from a few days to a few months, though some came and went over the course of years.

The Pokémon Panic

A strange and seemingly inexplicable outbreak of bizarre behavior struck Japan in mid-December 1997, when thousands of Japanese schoolchildren experienced frightening seizures after watching an episode of the popular cartoon “Pokémon.” Intense flashes of light during the show triggered relatively harmless and brief seizures, nausea, and headaches. Doctors diagnosed some of the children with a rare, pre-existing condition called photosensitive epilepsy, in which bright flashing lights used in the cartoon can trigger the symptoms.

But experts were unable to explain what had happened to the remaining thousands of other children who reported symptoms; the vast majority of them did not have photosensitive epilepsy. Finally, the mystery was solved in 2001, when it was discovered that the symptoms found in most children were caused by mass hysteria, triggered by the initial wave of epileptic seizures.

The McMinnville School Poison Gas Episode

Nearly 200 students and teachers were hospitalized during a mysterious outbreak of illness at Warren County High School in McMinnville, Tenn., in November 1998. A local newspaper, the Southern Standard, ran the headline “Students Poisoned: Mysterious Fumes Sicken Almost 100 at High School.” It began when a teacher reported smelling a gasoline-like odor in her classroom that made her sick. A few of her students then also became sick, and the school was closed for testing.

No contamination was found, nor any medical or environmental cause for the symptoms, which included headache, dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. Following a clean bill of health, the school reopened, and soon a second cluster of students fell ill and closed down the school a second time. All recovered from the attack.

As these cases show, the LeRoy high school incident is only one of many strange episodes of mass sociogenic illness — and there will be more.

Environment agency becomes crunch issue in Rio talks (Agence France-Presse)

By Richard Ingham (AFP) – 05.Feb.2012

PARIS — The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is emerging as a hot issue in preparations for June’s Rio conference, styled as a once-in-a-generation chance to restore a sick planet to good health.

The US is fighting a proposal, backed according to France by least 100 countries, for transforming UNEP from a poorly noticed, second-string unit into a planetary super-agency.

Environmentalists have long complained that Nairobi-based UNEP, set up in 1972 as an office of the UN and with a membership of only 58 nations, lacks clout to deal with the globe’s worsening ills.

These range from climate change, water stress and over-fishing to species loss, deforestation and ozone-layer depletion.

But the environmental mess also coincides with the crisis of capitalism, which greens say is blind to the cost for Nature in its relentless quest for growth.

The fateful intertwining of these problems points to a unique chance of a solution at the June 20-22 “Rio+20” conference, they argue.

With possibly scores of leaders in attendance, the 20-year follow-up to the famous Earth Summit has the declared aim of making growth both greener and sustainable.

“The new capitalism which emerges from the crisis has to be environmental, or it won’t be new,” French Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said on Tuesday.

The key vehicle would be UNEP, which according to the vaguely-worded French proposal would be changed into the World Environment Organisation.

It would become the UN’s 16th “specialised” agency alongside the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and so on.

To the outsider, this may sound at best like a bit of terminological tinkering — at worst, just another bureaucracy-breeding machine.

Experts, though, say status change could be surprisingly far-reaching.

Specialised UN agencies have high degrees of autonomy, enabling them to set agendas, frame international norms, stir up interest in dormant issues and sometimes poke their noses into areas of national sovereignty.

At its most ambitious, a World Environment Organisation would embrace not just the member-states which fund it but also business, green and social groups, becoming a very loud voice indeed.

It could intrude into sensitive areas such as trans-border use of water resources, fishery quotas and habitat use — and even monitor environmental standards for trade in goods and services.

According to Kosciusko-Morizet’s ministry, more than 30 European countries back the French proposal, along with 54 countries in Africa, plus Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Chile, Uruguay and others.

But in a US presidential election year where green issues — especially foreign ones — are easily trumped by domestic politics, Washington has set down a marker.

“We do not believe that international efforts on the environment and sustainable development would be improved by creating a new specialised agency on the environment,” a State Department official told AFP.

“We prefer to work towards a strengthened role for UNEP, as well as better coordination across the UN system in integrating environment into development, and in working towards sustainable development.”

Canada, like the US, says it prefers a smarter, better-connected UNEP.

Tensions over this are now emerging at preparatory talks on the “zero draft,” a document that will be finessed into June’s all-important summit communique.

“The Americans have come out guns blazing,” said Farooq Ullah, head of policy and advocacy at a London-based NGO called Stakeholder Forum.

“The risk, of course, is not necessarily that they would veto it (a super-UNEP) but that they would pull out their funding for it. A big part of UNEP’s funding comes from the Americans, so it would be a major blow,” he stressed.

Could the dispute rip Rio apart? Or could it doom it to dismal compromise, as many view the outcome of 2009 Copenhagen climate summit?

“The biggest risk with these things that have a lot of interest is that if you push too far too quickly and it becomes too contentious, it will just be negotiated out,” warned Ullah.

Lucien Chabason of a French thinktank, the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), said the outcome did not have to be dramatic.

“One can imagine a mixture of the two ideas, in which Rio adopts a position in principle to beef up UNEP and launch a negotiation process,” he said.

Farmers in Mozambique trying to adapt farming to climate change (

Published 29 January, 2012 11:15:00 Living on Earth

Rui Alberto Campira hoes the soil. He’s part of a group of farmers who received a grant from Save the Children to grow cash crops. (Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety.)

As the rain and water in Mozambique becomes less predictable and less suited to subsistence farming, aid groups and the local government are trying to help some change the way they farm so they’re not so paralyzed by a flood or a drought. But there’s a lot of work to do.

Over the past two decades, Mozambique has suffered more than its fair share of weather disasters.

The east African nation has seen more devastating cyclones, droughts and floods than any country on the continent. Farmers in Mozambique have been particularly hard hit. This year alone, torrential rains in the mountains sent flood waters onto fields below, submerging tens of thousands of acres of crops.

And now, farmers are in the midst of another rainy season, which started in December.

Officials at Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management have to prepare for rescue operations this time of year. Figueredo de Araujo, the institute’s information manager, said the emergency operations center is equipped with rescue boats as well as warehouses with various goods for humanitarian assistance: maize flour, tents, tarps, boots and rain coats among them.

Caia, where Mozambique’s main highway crosses the Zambezi river, sits in the middle of a vast, flat, floodplain that is home to nearly a million people. In 2000, the area was hit by the worst flooding in memory. The floods killed 700 people, displaced 100,000, and cost Mozambique a 1.5 percent loss in GDP through destruction of crops.

To Belem Monteiro, the emergency center’s director, much of Mozambique’s misfortune is a matter of geography.

“The fact that we have a problem is not news to us: given its location, Mozambique could only be vulnerable to these changes in climate,” Monteiro said.

Nearly 80 percent of Mozambican families are subsistence farmers, relying on rain-fed agriculture to produce their food. After the 2000 floods, farmers near the Zambezi River repeatedly lost their homes and crops.

“In the past, it happened every five years, now we have annual emergencies, which shows that the situation has changed,” Monteiro said.

But that’s presented a major challenge for the disaster management institute, which was conceived to intervene during freak emergencies, but has been forced to evolve to a permanent mission.

Some 30 miles from Caia, a resettlement zone called Tchetcha Um is home to some 5,000 families who were moved to higher ground. The organization Save the Children has partnered with the government in a program promoting livelihood resilience, diversifying their income sources, said Clemente Lourenço, a project officer for the group.

Farmer Rui Alberto Campira received a grant from Save the Children in 2009, which enabled he and 11 other farmers to built a 5-acre farm where they can grow crops for both consumption at home and sale at the local market. Campira says the soil is great for cash crops.

“It’s good. Especially for tomatoes. Tomatoes, onions, cabbage, collard greens. That’s what we usually plant here. There we only plant maize. Maize and sweet potatoes,” Campira said of his former home.

The land he’s farming now will also flood during the rainy season, but the irrigation system the grant enabled him to install allows him to farm during the dry season, when cash crops would typically die.

About 55 associations like Campira’s have formed in Caia district, not just growing cash crops, but trading in fish, beans, and clothing, and using animal traction to plow fields. Save the Children funds about 4500 farmers across three provinces.

Joao Novage is raising seven goats, as part of another association. The grant originally bought 40 goats that have in turn born another 20.

“When I see that I have 12 or 13 goats, I’ll take four and sell them to buy school supplies and clothes for my children. Children are our wealth. They’ll bring a better future for us,” Novage said.

Though the projects have been wildly successful, everyone admits they serve an insignificant portion of the population at this point. It remains to be seen if they can be expanded to make a measurable difference in the unger and poverty around this portion of east Africa.