Arquivo mensal: abril 2012

HISTORIAS OLVIDADAS DE BUENOS AIRES: UN HOMBRE DECIA HABER INVENTADO LA MAQUINA DE LA LLUVIA

Sucedió el 2 de enero de 1939, cuando un ingeniero llamado Juan Baigorri le aseguró al director de Meteorología que haría llover sobre la ciudad. Y llovió.

Héctor Gambini. DE LA REDACCION DE CLARIN.

Lunes 17.06.2002

“Como respuesta a la censura a mi procedimiento, regalo —por intermedio de Crítica— una lluvia a Buenos Aires para el 2 de enero de 1939″. La frase salió en el diario a fines del 38 y era un desafío público al director de Meteorología Nacional, para quien el autor de los dichos no era más que un embustero. Un ingeniero provocador que decía haber inventado la máquina de hacer llover.

Cuando llegó el 1° de enero, los porteños tenían el desafío tan presente que chocaban copas de madrugada con los ojos clavados en el cielo limpio. El día fue tan caluroso y húmedo que hasta la tarea de sentarse bajo la parra a mirar las nubes raquíticas que pasaban por Buenos Aires resultaba un entretenimiento cansador. Pero llegó la noche y nada.

En la mañana del 2, la ciudad volvió al trabajo. Y nada. Ni rastros de la lluvia. Pero no había viento ni para mover un pétalo de rosa. Y las nubecitas blancas y enfermizas de la tarde anterior iban echando cuerpo y color. Primero grises plomo. Después virando hacia el negro. Cada vez más. Hasta que una brisa de suspiro apareció de la nada con un aliento de humedad en suspensión. Gotitas sin peso ni para llegar al suelo. Y otras gotitas finas detrás, que ya tocaban el asfalto. Y otras gordas como ñoquis, que ahora hacían dibujos en los charcos incipientes. Enseguida,tormenta eléctrica y chaparrón violento. Una catarata que caía del cielo mientras Crítica paraba las rotativas para salir al mediodía con el título principal de la quinta edición, en tipografía catástrofe: “Como lo pronosticó Baigorri, hoy llovió”, debajo de una volanta que daba información acerca de lo que acababa de ocurrir en Buenos Aires:“Baigorri consiguió que tres millones de personas dirijan sus miradas al cielo”.

El tal Baigorri había nacido en Entre Ríos a fines del siglo anterior. Hijo de un militar amigo del general Roca, llegó a Buenos Aires para hacer la secundaria en el Colegio Nacional. Cuando egresó viajó a Italia para estudiar geofísica y se recibió de ingeniero en la Universidad de Milán.

En esos años —principios de la década del 30— comenzó a viajar por el mundo, contratado por diferentes petroleras. Estuvo en diversos países de Europa, Asia y Africa. Y también en Estados Unidos, desde donde volvió contratado por YPF.

Con su mujer y su hijo se instaló en Caballito. Junto a sus bultos de familia hizo trasladar desde el aeropuerto un aparato con antenas expandibles, que guardó celosamente en un placard. “Más o menos estoy adaptado a Buenos Aires, pero hay mucha humedad”, se quejaba.

Una mañana se decidió. Tomó unos aparatos y los utilizó para ir midiendo la humedad por los barrios porteños. Se paró frente a una casa de Araujo y Falcón, en Villa Luro. Las agujas le indicaban que era la zona más alta de cuanto había recorrido. Compró esa casa, que tenía un altillo perfecto para un laboratorio.

Allí se fue “desarrollando” la función de la extraña máquina, un artefacto que, a los dichos de Baigorri, provocaba que el cielo rompiese en lluvia cada vez que la encendiera. Según él, ocurría por un mecanismo de electromagnetismo que concentraba nubes en el área de influencia del aparato.

Era 1938 y los diarios hablaban de los recientes suicidios de Leopoldo Lugones y Alfonsina Storni. Y de los fraudes en las elecciones parlamentarias que ponían al presidente Roberto Ortiz al borde de la renuncia. River inauguraba el Monumental.

Baigorri buscaba demostrar que podía manejar la lluvia y buscó el patrocinio del Ferrocarril Central Argentino. El gerente inglés oyó la propuesta y sonrió, malicioso. “¿Y usted podría hacerlo en cualquier lugar?”, preguntó, tropezando con las palabras en español. Baigorri contestó que sí, y el inglés desafió, sarcástico: “Bueno, haga llover en Santiago del Estero”.

Hacia allí salió el ingeniero, con su extraña máquina y un perito agrónomo de acompañante, que viajaba para controlarlo. A los pocos días volvieron y el perito certificó que, en una estancia de una localidad llamada Estación Pinto, Baigorri se puso a trabajar y a las ocho horas llovió.

Su fama comenzó a crecer y llegó con él, en tren, a Buenos Aires. Hasta viajaron dos periodistas de The Times, de Londres, para entrevistarlo. En el otro rincón, el ingeniero Calmarini, director de Meteorología, salió a decir que todo era un invento infame o, a lo sumo, obra de la casualidad.

Aprovechando la polémica y con el tema instalado en la calle, Crítica fue a entrevistar a Baigorri. De allí salió el desafío para el 2 de enero. Ante el silencio de Meteorología, el ingeniero subió la apuesta: le mandó al funcionario nacional un paraguas de regalo . Junto al bulto, una tarjeta:“Para que lo use el 2 de enero”. Fue el día en que los porteños se desvelaron para mirar el cielo, esperando la lluvia.

Baigorri comenzó a viajar por el interior y a “hacer llover” con su máquina en diferentes localidades, con suerte dispar.

En 1951 fue asesor ad honórem del Ministerio de Asuntos Técnicos. Al año siguiente desempolvó su viejo invento y viajó a La Pampa. Llegó, encendió la batería y empezó a llover, aunque ya la gente dudaba de sus méritos:“Iba a llover de todos modos”, decían.

Baigorri se recluyó en un largo silencio. Ya viudo, pasaba horas en el altillo de Villa Luro. Leonor, la mujer que hoy vive en esa casa, contó a Clarín:“Cada vez que llovía la gente rodeaba la casa y se ponía a mirar hacia el altillo”. Allí mismo Baigorri se negó a atender a un emisario que decía venir en nombre de un empresario norteamericano para comprarle la fórmula. “Mi invento es argentino y será para exclusivo beneficio de los argentinos”, le contestó.

Anciano y solo, vendió la casa y se mudó a lo de un amigo francés, que le prestó una habitación en un departamento. Murió en el otoño de 1972, hace justo 30 años. Tenía 81 y había llegado al hospital solo, con problemas en los bronquios.

Nadie más supo de la extraña máquina de las antenas. Ni si Baigorri dejó un sucesor secreto para que la activara como homenaje durante su propio sepelio: cuando lo estaban enterrando, en el cementerio de la Chacarita, se largó a llover. 

Community Media: A Good Practice Handbook (UNESCO)

Compiled and edited by Steve Buckley

Published by UNESCO and available free online at:
http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002150/215097E.pdf

Among its activities to mark World Radio Day 2012, UNESCO has
launched a new good practice handbook with case studies of community
media from around the world. The publication draws on a diversity of
experiences to provide inspiration and support for those engaged in
community media practice and advocacy and to raise awareness and
understanding of community media among policy makers and other stakeholders.

13 February has been proclaimed by UNESCO as a date to celebrate
radio broadcast, improve international cooperation among radio
broadcasters and encourage decision-makers to create and provide
access to information through radio. Community Media: A Good Practice
Handbook is a compilation of 30 community radio and other community
media examples demonstrating successful approaches to strengthening
public voice.

“The value of this publication lies in the fact that it highlights
problems while at the same time offering possible solutions. It
presents a useful empirical basis for replicating time-tested
decisions about how community media can become an even more effective
element of a free, independent and pluralistic media system of any
democratic society. This book will be a useful reference to community
media practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, community
organizers, and other media development stakeholders.”

From the Foreword by Wijayananda Jayaweera, former Director,
Communication Development Division/IPDC, UNESCO, Paris

Income Inequality and Distrust Foster Academic Dishonesty (APS)

Lucy Hyde – Association for Psychological Science

College professors and students are in an arms race over cheating. Students find new sources for pre-written term papers; professors find new ways to check the texts they get for plagiarized material. But why are all these young people cheating? A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests one reason: income inequality, which decreases the general trust people have toward each other.

Lukas Neville, a doctoral student at Queen’s University in Ontario, was inspired to do the study by his own teaching experience. “I ran into the question of academic dishonesty firsthand,” he says. Like other instructors at universities across North America, he considered using services that automatically check students’ papers for plagiarized material. “But it got me thinking about the actual underlying mechanism that promotes or inhibits academic dishonesty.” He thought the answer might be trust; if students don’t trust each other, some of them might think they have to cheat to keep up with their unscrupulous classmates. And other research has shown that this kind of distrust is more likely to be found in places with high income inequality.

To look at the connection between trust, income inequality, and academic dishonesty, Neville took advantage of data from Google that breaks down search terms by state. Neville found data on searches on phrases like “free term paper,” “buy term paper,” and the names of cheating websites. He compared these to survey data on how trusting people are in each state and a measure of income inequality from the U.S. Census Bureau. He controlled for several other factors that could influence the number of searches, including how many students are in each state, how large the colleges in each state are, and average household income.

Indeed, the data showed that people who live in states with more income inequality were less trusting in general, and those states had more evidence of academic dishonesty. The next step, Neville says, will be to duplicate this finding using laboratory experiments, using pay structure to alter income inequality, then observing the effects on students’ trust and dishonest behavior.

If one of the root causes of cheating is distrust, this could explain why measures like honor codes work, Neville says: when students trust that other people aren’t cheating, they are less likely to cheat themselves. “As educators, there’s not much you can do about the level of inequality in society, but we do have the ability to help foster trust in our colleges and classrooms,” he says.

###

For more information about this study, please contact: Lukas Neville at lukasneville@tricolour.queensu.ca.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Do Economic Equality and Generalized Trust Inhibit Academic Dishonesty? Evidence From State-Level Search-Engine Queries” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Lucy Hyde at 202-293-9300 or lhyde@psychologicalscience.org.

Q&A: The Anthropology of Searching for Aliens (Wired)

By   – April 4, 2012 |  2:50 pm

The Allen Telescope Array, an interferometry project dedicated to SETI and radio astronomy in Hat Creek, California, at sunset.

Before we can understand an alien civilization, it might be useful to understand our own.

To help in this task, anthropologist Kathryn Denning of York University in Toronto, Canada studies the very human way that scientists, engineers and members of the public think about space exploration and the search for alien life.

From Star Trek to SETI, our modern world is constantly imagining possible futures where we dart around the galaxy engaging with bizarre alien races. Denning points out that when people talk about these futures, they often invoke the past. But they frequently seem to have a poor understanding of history.

For instance, in September at the 100 Year Starship Conference — a symposium created by DARPA for thinking about long-term spaceflight goals — Denning noted that the conference was framed as an extension of old traditions of exploration, for example mentioning Ferdinand Magellan as an exemplary hero who circumnavigated the globe. Not only did Magellan not circumnavigate the globe (he was dismembered in the Philippines before finishing the task), his mission was not entirely laudable.

Anthropologist Kathryn Denning studies the very human way that scientists, engineers, and members of the public think about space exploration and the search for alien life.

“It’s easy to forget that it’s also a story of slavery, war, betrayal, hardship, violence, and death — not just to those who signed up for the journey, but a lot of innocent bystanders,” Denning said during a talk March 30 at the Contact Conference, an annual meeting dedicated to speculation about SETI and space exploration. The misuse of the past matters when thinking about the future, she added, because it deludes people, giving them a poor understanding of how history actually moves.

Wired spoke to Denning about contact with extraterrestrials, the rhetoric of the Space Age, and what it means to be human in the universe.

Wired: What does the field of anthropology bring to thinking about space exploration and SETI?

Kathryn Denning: Anthropologists are good at looking at discourses, and the stories that people tell to structure their lives and their behavior. So there are anthropologists working on the discourse surrounding interstellar flight. And anthropologists have always worked on the phenomenon of UFO abductions and aliens on Earth and that sort of stuff.

With respect to SETI, one of the main contributions is just grounding all of that speculation about other civilizations in actual physical data. In terms of civilization or civilizations, we only have one example — Earth.

And there’s a lot of data here, which has been very poorly mined so far. If people are drawing generalizations about civilizations elsewhere in the universe that don’t even hold here on Earth, then maybe we should throw them out.

Wired: What are some instances of wrong ideas about civilization that get invoked in talking about extraterrestrials?

Denning: I think one good example is the variable of L, the lifetime of civilizations, which dominates the Drake equation. [An estimate of the number of intelligent extraterrestrials that could exist in our galaxy.]

The speculation on this has been frankly goofy sometimes. I mean you can make up basically any value of L that you like and justify it in some way. So people say we should try to use Earth’s data to look at it. We should ask what really does cause civilizations to collapse or revert to a lower order of complexity or technological regime.

And, well, we’re still working that one out actually. We have so much work to do and I think that’s important for people to understand that our models of civilization here on Earth are not as solid as popular culture frequently assumes them to be.

Similarly, many people hold outdated ideas regarding scenarios of contact. We have our iconic case studies, such as Columbus landing in the Americas or Cortez and the Aztecs. But most of those have been revamped with additional historical work in even just the last 30 or 40 years.

So when I hear that standard model of Columbus or Cortez, frankly I want to roll my eyes. For example [Steven] Hawking says — interminably and repeatedly — that when Columbus showed up in the Americas, well, that didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans. And therefore we should similarly be worried about trying to attract the attention of an alien civilization.

The problem is that it tends to misrepresent Earth’s history. These stories get invoked in models of contact with an alien society, but it’s a biased retelling of Earth’s history and it’s usually not a very good one.

The underlying narrative there is that it went poorly for the Native Americans because they were the inferior civilization. And, by extension, it would go poorly for us because the other party would be the superior civilization. But that simply wasn’t the case for the Native Americans.

One of the reasons I do the work I do is to try and have people get the history a little bit straighter.

Wired: There is an oft-heard narrative for alien contact: after we find a signal, it would revolutionize everything, and humanity would put aside their differences and come together as one. How do you take that narrative as an anthropologist?

Denning: One way to read that, in the most general sense, is that it’s a narrative that makes us feel better.

One of the things that astronomy and space exploration in the 20th century has done is force us to confront the universe in a way that we never did before. We had to start understanding that, yeah, asteroids impact the earth and can wipe out a vast proportion of life, and our planet is a fragile spaceship Earth.

I think this has given us this sort of kind of cosmic anxiety. And it would make us feel a whole lot better if we had neighbors and they were friendly and they could enlighten us.

One of the things that runs through the whole SETI discussion is our problems with technology. There is an inherent assumption that the equipment needed for communication across interstellar space would necessarily evolve in tandem with weapons of mass destruction. Therefore any society that survived long enough to make contact with us would have solved their technological problems.

I think that’s a very hopeful take on it. These stories of contact and what it would do for us, they’ve emerged in concert with these anxieties about the universe and questions about our technology. I think in some way it’s almost like a coping mechanism.

Wired: In terms of space exploration, you’ve said that it’s like we’re entering a new Space Age. Why do you say that and what does it mean?

Denning: I think the biggest difference from the past is the role of corporations. Obviously nation-states have always used contractors, but they’re now achieving a degree of independence that is unprecedented.

When you have private companies that are planning on flying not just to the moon but also to Mars, that’s new and that’s different. We don’t have the government systems in place to deal with that sort of stuff because the outer space treaty and all our international agreements are geared toward nation states.

There are new legal discourses emerging but nothing moves as fast as private enterprise. It’s been specifically set up to move quickly, so nothing moves as fast as, say, the X prize.

Wired: The 1950s/60s Space Age often invoked the rhetoric of colonization or frontierism in thinking about their goals. How do these ideas play out in modern space exploration?

Denning: The ideological stages of colonization are still well underway. As soon as you have technology on another world, that constitutes a de facto claim of some kind. So, in a way, everyone watching Spirit and Opportunity are watching Mars through these robot’s eyes.

That’s not just an interesting kind of little jaunt; it’s a way of making Mars not only human but also American. When you’re naming features on other worlds after people here, these things constitute claims.

For example, NASA renamed the Mars Pathfinder lander the “Carl Sagan Memorial Station.” Any archeologist or anthropologist will tell you that one of the most effective ways of colonizing territory, at least ideologically, is through your dead.

Wired: Is there something you’d like to see as the narrative of the new Space Age?

Denning: I’m going to borrow a term here from a scholar named Bill Kramer. He spoke at the 100-Year Starship Conference and he suggested that instead of boldly going, we humbly go.

To me that really encapsulates it. Instead of getting out there as quickly as possible and using the systems that we used here on Earth, like extracting resources as quickly as possible in order to fuel whatever it is that we’re trying to do. What if we went instead with a collaborative, conservationist stewardship in mind?

What if instead of making messes that we don’t know how to clean up, what if we slowed down a little bit? Because the urgency is manufactured. I mean, I want to see space continue to be explored. It’s cool, and there’s stuff out there that we would like to know.

It doesn’t have to be the answer to all of our needs. Sure, we can harvest sunlight from solar arrays in orbit around the Earth but that’s going to have its own technological problems and geopolitical implications.

But the main problem with energy and resources here on Earth isn’t always that we don’t have enough: it’s that the distribution is unequal, and simply harvesting more is not going to resolve that. Chances are it’s just going to continue to increase inequity, and that doesn’t work well for anyone.

I think what everybody should be learning is that these immense disparities cause profound instabilities, which you have to continue to have to deal with. So I just don’t see it as the answer.

Space colonization is held up as being the natural next stage in our social evolution. Not only that, it’s an absolute necessity for the survival of the species. But if we are our own existential threat, then how does that follow? Wherever we go, there we are.

So the suggestion that ever increasing technology is the solution to problems that have been created by our technology is barking mad.

Wired: In some sense, we have a deterministic view of history when it comes to space exploration: We will go from airplanes to spaceships to conquering the galaxy. Where does that narrative come from and what do you see as some of the downsides of it?

Denning: I think it comes from two places. One is a specific version of history that’s quite progressivist and techno-philic. It’s a version of history that says we just increase in our energy consumption, we increase in our complexity and we increase our goodness. It all ratchets up together, and it’s a kind of Singularity argument.

But it’s combined with this fundamentally apocalyptic view that the current order of things will one day be superseded by another. That’s kind of a Judeo-Christian thing. And it’s sort of a funny coincidence that the future is up there [points skyward]. In many popular space narratives, the heavens and Heaven really swap out. It sounds pretty glib but it’s so frequently suggested that it’s hard to dismiss.

The idea is that longevity – immortality, in fact — the future and our destiny are all up there. And there’s simply no logical reason that should be the case. We have no evidence suggesting we can live anywhere for long periods of time other than on this planet. In fact, the evidence is steadily accumulating that’s it’s going to be really hard to do anything else.

We have problems with bone loss and blindness. Plus we have no evidence that we can reproduce safely in space. These are fairly big stumbling blocks and so this vision of a happy shiny future in space, it’s just so mythic.

Wired: Do you see that as changing, do you think people are coming to understand the problems with the previous narratives?

Denning: I think some are and this is one of the glories of humanity. But we’ll always have a tremendous diversity of opinion.

You’re always going to have these people who think Heaven and the heavens are interchangeable. And they’re going to be looking toward the stars for all kinds of religious or quasi-religious purposes.

Then you’re going to have the extension of the planetary protection mode of thinking. The people who are fundamentally thinking about environmentalism and stewardship and inequity. And then you’re going to have the people interested in militarization, and so on.

You’re always going to have this diversity of viewpoints, of motivations, and behaviors, and I mean: Welcome to Earth.

Wired: You write in a paper (.pdf) that someone in “the physical sciences might say ‘aha, here you have X which, by analogy, means that you must have Y, which means you have Z.’” On the other hand, “a scholar in the human sciences will often not venture past X.”

Denning: Right, we rarely get as far as Z. Most of the time, anthropology is not working as explicitly with a predictive model, it’s a much more descriptive model.

Wired: How do you see that difference between the physical and social sciences play out in the SETI discourse?

Denning: I think there’s been a lot of interesting discussion around the question of whether or not decipherment of an extraterrestrial signal would be possible.

Anthropologists tend to assume the answer is, basically, no. Unless you’re in direct contact, it would be very difficult to establish enough common language. Whereas the physicists and mathematicians tend to say, ‘Well all you need is math.’

And then the anthropologists laugh and it goes on. Maybe that tells you more about the various disciplines than about whether or not contact is possible, but that’s an entertaining and interesting problem.

Wired: What do anthropologists say when they look at the enterprise of SETI? That is, what does it say about us as humans that we are searching for others like ourselves in the universe?

Denning: It’s an interesting question and you can look at it in different ways. In one sense, its just the extension of a long tradition on thinking about what might be out there, which has just gone through a new technological manifestation.

Some people ask me: When did we first start thinking that there might be extraterrestrial life? And my reply is: When did we start thinking that there might not be? The sky has always been very busy, and the default position has always been that it’s populated. That doesn’t mean anything but that ideological substrate has always been there.

Only 200 years ago, we thought there could be people on the moon. Then, we got a good look at the moon and saw, well there’s no Lunarians there. And then there were the Martians — Lowell and all that — and it wasn’t very long ago, less than 100 years ago. As our range of vision keeps on moving outwards, the aliens keep on moving outwards too. And that’s one way you can look at SETI; it’s the logical trajectory of an idea that’s always been around.

And, of course, you can look at it within a religious framework. Our 20th century western culture includes Christianity and beings populating the Heavens. But anthropologically speaking, SETI also could be seen as being a reaction to the collapse of traditional religion.

In a universe where you’re no longer expecting God to provide the order, we are forced to ask: where is the order? Where’s the sense to it all and what are we then a part of?

Image: Diana Goss

US police sentenced for Katrina killings (Al Jazeera)

The brother of Lance Madison (C) was shot dead on September 4, 2005, at the Danziger Bridge in new Orleans [Reuters]

Five ex-police officers given prison terms for roles in shootings and cover-up in days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Last Modified: 05 Apr 2012 01:03

The brother of Lance Madison (C) was shot dead on September 4, 2005, at the Danziger Bridge in new Orleans [Reuters]

Five former New Orleans police officers have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for their roles in deadly shootings of unarmed residents in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina.

The presiding judge lashed out at prosecutors for two hours on Wednesday on their handling of the case in which police shot six people at a bridge on September 4, 2005, killing two, less than a week after Katrina made landfall.

To make the shootings appear justified, officers conspired to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports. The case became the centerpiece of the US Justice Department’s push to clean up the troubled New Orleans Police Department.

Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon were convicted of federal firearms charges that carried mandatory minimum prison sentences of at least 35 years. Retired officer Arthur Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, was convicted of helping orchestrate the cover-up.

Faulcon, who was convicted on charges in both fatal shootings, faces the stiffest sentence of 65 years. Bowen and Gisevius each face 40 years, while Villavaso was sentenced to 38. Kaufman received the lightest sentence at six
years.

Community ‘disservice’

Afterward, US District Judge Kurt Engelhardt accused prosecutors of cutting overly lenient plea deals with five other officers who cooperated with the civil rights investigation. The former officers pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shooting and are already serving prison terms ranging from three to eight years.

“These through-the-looking-glass plea deals that tied the hands of this court … are an affront to the court and a disservice to the community,” Engelhardt said.

The judge also questioned the credibility of the officers who pleaded guilty and testified against those who went to trial.

In particular, the judge criticized prosecutors for seeking a 20-year prison sentence for Kaufman, yet Michael Lohman, who was the highest-ranking officer at the scene of the shooting, received four years under his deal for pleading guilty to participating in the cover-up.

‘Unbearable’ pain

Engelhardt heard several hours of arguments and testimony earlier on Wednesday from prosecutors, defense attorneys, relatives of shooting victims and the officers. Ronald Madison and 17-year-old James Brissette died in the shootings.

“This has been a long and painful six-and-a-half years,” said Lance Madison, whose 40-year-old, mentally disabled brother, Ronald, was killed at the bridge. “The people of New Orleans and my family are ready for justice.”

Madison individually addressed each defendant, including Faulcon, who shot his brother: “When I look at you, my pain becomes unbearable. You took the life of an angel and basically ripped my heart out.”

Madison also said he was horrified by Kaufman’s actions in the cover-up: “You tried to frame me, a man you knew was innocent, and send me to prison for the rest of my life.”

Lance Madison was arrested on attempted murder charges after police falsely accused him of shooting at the officers on the bridge. He was jailed for three weeks before a judge freed him.

None of the officers addressed the court before they were sentenced.

Chaotic aftermath

Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, leading to the collapse of levees and flooding an estimated 80 per cent of the city. New Orleans was plunged into chaos as residents who hadn’t evacuated were driven from their homes to what high places they could find.

Officers who worked in the city at the time but were not charged in the bridge case on Wednesday told Engelhardt of the lawlessness that followed the flood, and that they feared for their lives.

On the morning of September 4, one group of residents was crossing the Danziger Bridge in the city’s Gentilly area in search of food and supplies when police arrived.

The officers had received calls that shots were being fired. Gunfire reports were common after Katrina.

Faulcon was convicted of fatally shooting Madison, but the jury decided the killing didn’t amount to murder. He, Gisevius, Bowen and Villavaso were convicted in Brissette’s killing, but jurors didn’t hold any of them individually responsible for causing his death.

All five officers were convicted of participating in a cover-up.

MIT Predicts That World Economy Will Collapse By 2030 (POPSCI)

By Rebecca Boyle – Posted 04.05.2012 at 4:30 pm

Crowds and Haze in Shanghai Jeremy Vandel via Flickr

Forty years after its initial publication, a study called The Limits to Growth is looking depressingly prescient. Commissioned by an international think tank called the Club of Rome, the 1972 report found that if civilization continued on its path toward increasing consumption, the global economy would collapse by 2030. Population losses would ensue, and things would generally fall apart.

The study was — and remains — nothing if not controversial, with economists doubting its predictions and decrying the notion of imposing limits on economic growth. Australian researcher Graham Turner has examined its assumptions in great detail during the past several years, and apparently his latest research falls in line with the report’s predictions, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The world is on track for disaster, the magazine says.

The study, initially completed at MIT, relied on several computer models of economic trends and estimated that if things didn’t change much, and humans continued to consume natural resources apace, the world would run out at some point. Oil will peak (some argue it has) before dropping down the other side of the bell curve, yet demand for food and services would only continue to rise. Turner says real-world data from 1970 to 2000 tracks with the study’s draconian predictions: “There is a very clear warning bell being rung here. We are not on a sustainable trajectory,” he tells Smithsonian.

Is this impossible to fix? No, according to both Turner and the original study. If governments enact stricter policies and technologies can be improved to reduce our environmental footprint, economic growth doesn’t have to become a market white dwarf, marching toward inevitable implosion. But just how to do that is another thing entirely.

[Smithsonian]

Government Bureaucrats Still Unable to Write or Speak in Plain Language (Reason/Washington Post)

Ed Krayewski | April 10, 2012

Government transparencyThis week federal agencies are supposed to update Congress on progress made in implementing the Plain Writing Act, passed in 2010, which mandates that government documents be written in clear, plain language, not impenetrable legalese. The Washington Post reports federal agencies are a long way off from compliance.

Why? From the Post:

[W]ith no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.

In Plain English, that means the law lacks the substance to prevent federal agencies from simply creating new bureaucracies to say they’re in compliance with it, kind of like the “Paperwork Reduction Act” notice at the end of government forms.

*   *   *

Advocates of the Plain Writing Act prod federal agencies to keep it simple (Washington Post)

By Lisa Rein, Published: April 8

Federal agencies must report their progress this week in complying with the Plain Writing Act, a new decree that government officials communicate more conversationally with the public.Speaking plainly, they ain’t there yet.

Which leaves, in the eyes of some, a basic and critical flaw in how the country runs. “Government is all about telling people what to do,” said Annetta Cheek, a retired federal worker from Falls Church and longtime evangelist for plain writing. “If you don’t write clearly, they’re not going to do it.”

But advocates such as Cheek estimate that federal officials have translated just 10 percent of their forms, letters, directives and other documents into “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use,” as the law requires.Official communications must now employ the active voice, avoid double negatives and use personal pronouns. “Addressees” must now become, simply, “you.” Clunky coinages like “incentivizing” (first known usage 1970) are a no-no. The Code of Federal Regulations no longer goes by the abbreviation CFR.

But with no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.

What’s more, the law’s demand for clearer language seems like make-work to skeptics who say there is no money to pay for the promotion of clarity and that the status quo is the best path to accuracy.

“It’s definitely an ongoing battle,” said Glenn Ellmers, plain-writing coordinator for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “We’re trying pretty hard. But when you’re talking about something as complex as a nuclear power plant, you can’t get around specialized language. The really technical people take a little pride in using it.”

As a concession to them, the commission is simplifying only the cover letters of plant inspection reports, while leaving intact the highly technical and all-but-impenetrable text of the actual documents.

“Part of this is we have a change in culture,” said Ed Burbol, the Defense Department’s plain-language coordinator, who oversees two full-time staff members assigned to promoting clearer communication. “We’re going to encounter resistance.”

A retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, Burbol acknowledged that “some people here can write very well and some people can’t write at all,” a problem he attributes to the large number of service members who return to work as civilians.

Consider the next sentence: “This subpart identifies those products in which the Administrator has found an unsafe condition as described in Sec. 39.1 and, as appropriate, prescribes inspections and the conditions and limitations, if any, under which those products may continue to be operated.”

And here’s the revision of the sentence, a Federal Aviation Administration guideline, by the nonprofit Center for Plain Language: “Airworthiness directives specify inspections you must carry out, conditions and limitations you must comply with, and any actions you must take to resolve an unsafe condition.”

Cheek, the retired federal worker, still devotes at least 20 hours a week to the tiny nonprofit plain-language center she founded for federal employees. To inspire healthy competition when the law passed two years ago, the group started giving out annual awards for the best and worst of government-speak, including a Turn-Around prize for most improved agency. The annual ClearMark awards banquet, scheduled this year for May 22, is held at the National Press Club.In this era of shrinking government, advocates of plain writing say their causecan actually save money.

They cite Washington state’s “Plain Talk” program: A revamped letter tripled the number of businesses paying a commonly ignored use tax, bringing $2 million in new revenue in a year, according to law professor Joseph Kimble, author of a forthcoming book on the benefits of plain language.

And after the Department of Veterans Affairs revised one of its letters, calls to a regional call center dropped from about 1,100 a year to about 200, Kimble said.“People complain about government red tape and getting government out of your hair,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), House sponsor of the Plain Writing Act. “If every one of these forms was written in plain language, the number of contacts to federal agencies would plummet.” He’s started a “Stop B.S.” (for “Bureaucrat Speak”) campaign soliciting examples of badly written public documents.

The law exempts regulations from its mandate for clearer communication, although last fall the Obama administration ordered agencies to write a summary of their technical proposed or final regulations, and post it at the top of the text.

But Braley says that’s not enough. He’s introduced a bill to extend the law to the full text of regulations so ordinary people can understand them.

Americans have always loved plain talkers. But at some point, scholars point out, inscrutable language became associated with high status.

“A lot of people in government wield their jargon to make themselves seem very impressive,” said Karen Schriver, a plain-language expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

There have been many attempts to turn this trend around, including at the presidential level. Richard Nixon required that the Federal Register be written in “layman’s terms.” Jimmy Carter issued executive orders to make government regulations “cost-effective” and easy to understand. (Ronald Reagan rescinded the orders.)

The Clinton White House revived plain language as a major initiative, and Vice President Al Gore presented monthly “No Gobbledygook” awards to federal workers who translated jargon into readable language.

None of these efforts stuck, although some agencies — including Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service — took the mission seriously. The IRS won the Center for Plain Language’s top prize last year for “intelligible writing in public life.”

And then there is the difficulty of promoting revision while preserving precision. At a January meeting of the Plain Language Information & Action Network, a group of federal employees devoted to the cause, members from 20 federal agencies listened as Meredith Weberg, an editor at the Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office, described how she butted up against an “obstinate” boss.

In attempting to simplify a handbook for auditors, Weberg changed “concur” and “not concur” to “agree” and “disagree.” The manager changed it back.

One of her allies in the cause of plain writing had to, well, concur with the boss’s decision. “A concurring opinion says Justice so-and-so agrees with the conclusion of the court,” said Ken Meardan, who writes regulations for the Agriculture Department. “He may not agree” with the reasoning.

Weberg said she let this one go.

The new law is hitting larger obstacles.

“They didn’t really make it plain as to what my responsibilities are,” said the newly appointed plain-language coordinator at the Department of Transportation, describing her assignment from management. She looked bewildered.

Her counterpart at the U.S. Agency for International Development had an even bigger problem: She could not get behind an electronic firewall for online training.

“We have a lot of classified information,” Christine Brown told the group. “We’re not getting very far with this. No one has the resources.”

USAID has appointed a plain-language committee. But it is just starting to train its members to write plainly.

“A lot of people didn’t think this was the kind of thing you should do a law about,” Cheek said. “We’ll see if it works.”

As linguagens da psicose (Revista Fapesp)

Abordagem matemática evidencia as diferenças entre os discursos de quem tem mania ou esquizofrenia

CARLOS FIORAVANTI | Edição 194 – Abril de 2012

Como o estudo foi feito: os entrevistados relatavam um sonho e a entrevistadora convertia as palavras mais importantes em pontos e as frases em setas para examinar a estrutura da linguagem

Para os psiquiatras e para a maioria das pessoas, é relativamente fácil diferenciar uma pessoa com psicose de quem não apresentou nenhum distúrbio mental já diagnosticado: as do primeiro grupo relatam delírios e alucinações e por vezes se apresentam como messias que vão salvar o mundo. Porém, diferenciar os dois tipos de psicose – mania e esquizofrenia – já não é tão simples e exige um bocado de experiência pessoal, conhecimento e intuição dos especialistas. Uma abordagem matemática desenvolvida no Instituto do Cérebro da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) talvez facilite essa diferenciação, fundamental para estabelecer os tratamentos mais adequados para cada enfermidade, ao avaliar de modo quantitativo as diferenças nas estruturas de linguagem verbal adotadas por quem tem mania ou esquizofrenia.

A estratégia de análise – com base na teoria dos grafos, que representou as palavras como pontos e a sequência entre elas nas frases por setas – indicou que as pessoas com mania são muito mais prolixas e repetitivas do que as com esquizofrenia, geralmente lacônicas e centradas em um único assunto, sem deixar o pensamento viajar. “A recorrência é uma marca do discurso do paciente com mania, que conta três ou quatro vezes a mesma coisa, enquanto aquele com esquizofrenia fala objetivamente o que tem para falar, sem se desviar, e tem um discurso pobre em sentidos”, diz a psiquiatra Natália Mota, pesquisadora do instituto. “Em cada grupo”, diz Sidarta Ribeiro, diretor do instituto, “o número de palavras, a estrutura da linguagem e outros indicadores são completamente distintos”.

Eles acreditam que conseguiram dar os primeiros passos rumo a uma forma objetiva de diferenciar as duas formas de psicose, do mesmo modo que um hemograma é usado para atestar uma doença infecciosa, desde que os próximos testes, com uma amostra maior de participantes, reforcem a consistência dessa abordagem e os médicos consintam em trabalhar com um assistente desse tipo. Os testes comparativos descritos em um artigo recém-publicado na revista PLoS One indicaram que essa nova abordagem proporciona taxas de acerto da ordem de 93% no diagnóstico, enquanto as escalas psicométricas hoje em uso, com base em questionários de avaliação de sintomas, chegam a apenas 67%. “São métodos complementares”, diz Natália. “As escalas psicométricas e a experiência dos médicos continuam indispensáveis.”

“O resultado é bastante simples, mesmo para quem não entende matemática”, diz o físico Mauro Copelli, da Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE), que participou desse trabalho. O discurso das pessoas com mania se mostra como um emaranhado de pontos e linhas, enquanto o das com esquizofrenia se apresenta como uma reta, com poucos pontos. A teoria dos grafos, que levou a esses diagramas, tem sido usada há séculos para examinar as trajetórias pelas quais um viajante poderia visitar todas as cidades de uma região, por exemplo. Mais recentemente, tem servido para otimizar o tráfego aéreo, considerando os aeroportos como um conjunto de pontos ou nós conectados entre si por meio dos aviões.

“Na primeira vez que rodei o programa de grafos, as diferenças de linguagem saltaram aos olhos”, conta Natália. Em 2007, ao terminar o curso de medicina e começar a residência médica em psiquiatria no hospital da UFRN, Natália notava que muitos diagnósticos diferenciais de mania e de esquizofrenia dependiam da experiência pessoal e de julgamentos subjetivos dos médicos – os que trabalhavam mais com pacientes com esquizofrenia tendiam a encontrar mais casos de esquizofrenia e menos de mania – e muitas vezes não havia consenso. Já se sabia que as pessoas com mania falam mais e se desviam do tópico central muito mais facilmente que as com esquizofrenia, mas isso lhe pareceu genérico demais. 
Em um congresso científico em 2008 em Fortaleza ela conversou com Copelli, que já colaborava com Ribeiro e a incentivou a trabalhar com grafos. No início ela resistiu, por causa da pouca familiaridade com matemática, mas logo depois a nova teoria lhe pareceu simples e prática.

Para levar o trabalho adiante, ela gravou e, com a ajuda de Nathália Lemos e Ana Cardina Pieretti, transcreveu as entrevistas com 24 pessoas 
(oito com mania, oito com esquizofrenia e oito sem qualquer distúrbio mental diagnosticado), a quem pedia para relatar um sonho; qualquer comentário fora desse tema era considerado um voo da imaginação, bastante comum entre as pessoas com mania.

“Já na transcrição, os relatos dos pacientes com mania eram claramente maiores que os com esquizofrenia”, diz. Em seguida, ela eliminou elementos menos importantes como artigos e preposições, dividiu a frase em sujeito, verbo e objetos, representados por pontos ou nós, enquanto a sequência entre elas na frase era representada por setas, unindo dois nós, e assinalou as que não se referiam ao tema central do relato, ou seja, o sonho recente que ela pedira para os entrevistados contarem, e marcavam um desvio do pensamento, comum entre as pessoas com mania.

Um programa específico para grafos baixado de graça na internet indicava as características relevantes para análise – ou atributos – e representava as principais diferenças de discurso entre os participantes, como quantidades de nós, extensão e densidade das conexões entre os pontos, recorrência, prolixidade (ou logorreia) e desvio do tópico central. “É supersimples”, assegura Natália. Nas validações e análises dos resultados, ela contou também com a colaboração de Osame Kinouchi, da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) em Ribeirão Preto, e Guillermo Cecchi, do Centro de Biologia Computacional da IBM, Estados Unidos.

Resultado: as pessoas com mania obtiveram uma pontuação maior que as com esquizofrenia em quase todos os itens avaliados. “A logorreia típica de pacientes com mania não resulta só do excesso de palavras, mas de um discurso que volta sempre ao mesmo tópico, em comparação com o grupo com esquizofrenia”, ela observou. Curiosamente, os participantes do grupo-controle, sem distúrbio mental diagnosticado, apresentaram estruturas discursivas de dois tipos, ora redundantes como os participantes com mania, ora enxutas como os com esquizofrenia, refletindo as diferenças entre suas personalidades ou a motivação para, naquele momento, falar mais ou menos. “A patologia define o discurso, não é nenhuma novidade”, diz ela. “Os psiquiatras são treinados para reconhecer essas diferenças, mas dificilmente poderão dizer que a recorrência de um paciente com mania está 28% menor, por mais experientes que sejam.”

“O ambiente interdisciplinar do instituto foi essencial para realizar esse estudo, porque eu estava todo dia trocando ideias com gente de outras áreas. Nivaldo Vasconcelos, um engenheiro de computação, me ajudou muito”, diz ela. O Instituto do Cérebro, em funcionamento desde 2007, conta atualmente com 13 professores, 22 estudantes de graduação e 42 de pós, 8 pós-doutorandos e 30 técnicos. “Vencidas as dificuldades iniciais, conseguimos formar um grupo de pesquisadores jovens e talentosos”, comemora Ribeiro. “A casa em que estamos agora tem um jardim amplo, e muitas noites ficamos lá até as duas, três da manhã, falando sobre ciência e tomando chimarrão.”

Artigo científico
MOTA, N.B. et al
Speech graphs provide 
a quantitative measure of thought disorder 
in psychosis. PLoS ONE (no prelo).

Guerra linguística na Espanha (2004)

Camps pide una entrevista urgente a Zapatero para exigir respeto al valenciano (Terra Notícias)

12/11/2004

Tras constatar que el Gobierno hacía explícita su cesión ante el ultimátum lanzado por ERC, Camps advirtió ayer de que la denominación del valenciano ‘es innegociable’ y que la Generalitat ‘no va a permitir que en ninguna instancia o ámbito’ desaparezca esta denominación para referirse a la lengua que se habla en la Autonomía que gobierna.

Camps recordó que la Constitución y el Estatuto de Autonomía reconocen el valenciano como una de las cuatro lenguas cooficiales del Estado, por cuanto ‘recurrirá cualquier documento, memorándum o ponencia’ que contravenga la ley ‘en menosprecio de unas señas de indentidad que no serán moneda de cambio de nadie’.

El aviso de Camps llegó después de un día entero a la espera de una aclaración oficial sobre el contenido de la reunión de urgencia celebrada el martes entre Zapatero, Carod-Rovira y Josep Bargalló, en la que, según los republicanos, el presidente del Gobierno dio marcha atrás en su decisión de reconocer el valenciano en la UE, pese a haber elevado ya un ejemplar de la Constitución Europea traducido a esa lengua.

La Generalitat valenciana dio su respuesta después de que el secretario de Estado de Asuntos Europeos, Alberto Navarro, confirmara que el Gobierno decidirá el próximo día 22 una ‘denominación única’ para referirse al valenciano y al catalán en el memorándum sobre diversidad lingüística que presentará a la UE.

Camps consideró que esa decisión es un golpe en la línea de flotación del modelo territorial vigente, ya que ‘pone en riesgo el modelo autonómico porque cuestiona la competencia de exclusividad que la Generalitat tiene sobre la lengua valenciana’. En esta línea, Camps señaló que la polémica ‘afecta muy mal’ al clima de entendimiento y cordialidad sobre el que ha de debatirse la reforma de los Estatutos y de la Constitución promovida por el Ejecutivo.

‘Zapatero ha vuelto a ceder ante los radicales, ya lo hizo con la derogación del trasvase del Ebro, y demuestra que está dispuesto a cometer una ilegalidad para lograr el respaldo de ERC a los Presupuestos’, proclamó Camps. Y por ello pidió ‘lealtad y apoyo’ del resto de Autonomías, y exigió una reunión urgente con el presidente del Gobierno.

Camps pide una entrevista urgente a Zapatero para exigir respeto al valenciano (ABC Madrid, 12/11/2004): link

The ‘perfect chaos’ of π (The Guardian)

One of the most important numbers is irrational

GRRLSCIENTIST, by The Guardian

π has fascinated mathematicians, engineers and other people for centuries. It is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference (C) to its diameter (d);

This also explains why and how this number got its name: the lowercase Greek letter π was first adopted in 1706 as an abbreviation for this number because it is the first letter of the Greek for “perimeter”, specifically of a circle. This symbol is convenient because π is an irrational number, meaning that it cannot be expressed as a ratio of a/b, where a and b are integers, that its digits never terminate, and it does not contain an infinitely repeating sequence.

Even though we know that the decimal for π is approximately 3.14159, we actually do not know all its digits precisely: as of October 2011, we know that π has more than 10 trillion non-repeating digits, and the occurrence of these digits appears to be nearly perfectly statistically random. However, we do know that any given sequence of numbers with a finite length has a 100% probability that it will occur somewhere in π — which is the premise of this fun little π search engine. For example, my 8-digit university student ID number pops up after 3.24 million decimal places. My mobile number pops up after 9.69 million decimal places, although it does not show up within the first 200 million digits of π when I add the country and area codes. Where do your digits pop up in π?

Many formulae in mathematics, science, and engineering involve π, which makes it one of the most important mathematical constants. But who first rigorously calculated the value for this irrational number and how was it done? This interesting video explores those questions in more detail:

Those of you who enjoy music probably already know that there’s a song about π by the amazing British singer and songwriter, Kate Bush, where she sings its digits.

Is Some Homophobia Self-Phobia? (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Apr. 6, 2012) — Homophobia is more pronounced in individuals with an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires, a series of psychology studies demonstrates.

The study is the first to document the role that both parenting and sexual orientation play in the formation of intense and visceral fear of homosexuals, including self-reported homophobic attitudes, discriminatory bias, implicit hostility towards gays, and endorsement of anti-gay policies. Conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara, the research will be published the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” explains Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author.

“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” adds co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who helped direct the research.

The paper includes four separate experiments, conducted in the United States and Germany, with each study involving an average of 160 college students. The findings provide new empirical evidence to support the psychoanalytic theory that the fear, anxiety, and aversion that some seemingly heterosexual people hold toward gays and lesbians can grow out of their own repressed same-sex desires, Ryan says. The results also support the more modern self-determination theory, developed by Ryan and Edward Deci at the University of Rochester, which links controlling parenting to poorer self-acceptance and difficulty valuing oneself unconditionally.

The findings may help to explain the personal dynamics behind some bullying and hate crimes directed at gays and lesbians, the authors argue. Media coverage of gay-related hate crimes suggests that attackers often perceive some level of threat from homosexuals. People in denial about their sexual orientation may lash out because gay targets threaten and bring this internal conflict to the forefront, the authors write.

The research also sheds light on high profile cases in which anti-gay public figures are caught engaging in same-sex sexual acts. The authors cite such examples as Ted Haggard, the evangelical preacher who opposed gay marriage but was exposed in a gay sex scandal in 2006, and Glenn Murphy, Jr., former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation and vocal opponent of gay marriage, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old man in 2007, as potentially reflecting this dynamic.

“We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often themselves be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat,” says Ryan. “Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences,” Ryan says, pointing to cases such as the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard or the 2011 shooting of Larry King.

To explore participants’ explicit and implicit sexual attraction, the researchers measured the discrepancies between what people say about their sexual orientation and how they react during a split-second timed task. Students were shown words and pictures on a computer screen and asked to put these in “gay” or “straight” categories. Before each of the 50 trials, participants were subliminally primed with either the word “me” or “others” flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds. They were then shown the words “gay,” “straight,” “homosexual,” and “heterosexual” as well as pictures of straight and gay couples, and the computer tracked precisely their response times. A faster association of “me” with “gay” and a slower association of “me” with “straight” indicated an implicit gay orientation.

A second experiment, in which subjects were free to browse same-sex or opposite-sex photos, provided an additional measure of implicit sexual attraction.

Through a series of questionnaires, participants also reported on the type of parenting they experienced growing up, from authoritarian to democratic. Students were asked to agree or disagree with statements like: “I felt controlled and pressured in certain ways,” and “I felt free to be who I am.” For gauging the level of homophobia in a household, subjects responded to items like: “It would be upsetting for my mom to find out she was alone with a lesbian” or “My dad avoids gay men whenever possible.”

Finally, the researcher measured participants’ level of homophobia — both overt, as expressed in questionnaires on social policy and beliefs, and implicit, as revealed in word-completion tasks. In the latter, students wrote down the first three words that came to mind, for example for the prompt “k i _ _.” The study tracked the increase in the amount of aggressive words elicited after subliminally priming subjects with the word “gay” for 35 milliseconds.

Across all the studies, participants with supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation, while participants from authoritarian homes revealed the most discrepancy between explicit and implicit attraction.

“In a predominately heterosexual society, ‘know thyself’ can be a challenge for many gay individuals. But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying,” explains Weinstein. These individuals risk losing the love and approval of their parents if they admit to same sex attractions, so many people deny or repress that part of themselves, she said.

In addition, participants who reported themselves to be more heterosexual than their performance on the reaction time task indicated were most likely to react with hostility to gay others, the studies showed. That incongruence between implicit and explicit measures of sexual orientation predicted a variety of homophobic behaviors, including self-reported anti-gay attitudes, implicit hostility towards gays, endorsement of anti-gay policies, and discriminatory bias such as the assignment of harsher punishments for homosexuals, the authors conclude.

“This study shows that if you are feeling that kind of visceral reaction to an out-group, ask yourself, ‘Why?'” says Ryan. “Those intense emotions should serve as a call to self-reflection.”

The study had several limitations, the authors write. All participants were college students, so it may be helpful in future research to test these effects in younger adolescents still living at home and in older adults who have had more time to establish lives independent of their parents and to look at attitudes as they change over time.

Other contributors to the paper include Cody DeHaan, Andrew Przybylski, and Nicole Legate, all from the University of Rochester, and William Ryan, from the University of California in Santa Barbara.

New Understanding to Past Global Warming Events: Hyperthermal Events May Be Triggered by Warming (Science Daily)

These geological deposits make the Bighorn Basin area of Wyoming ideal for studying the PETM. (Credit: Aaron Diefendorf)

ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2012) — A series of global warming events called hyperthermals that occurred more than 50 million years ago had a similar origin to a much larger hyperthermal of the period, the Pelaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), new research has found. The findings, published in Nature Geoscience online on April 1, 2012, represent a breakthrough in understanding the major “burp” of carbon, equivalent to burning the entire reservoir of fossil fuels on Earth, that occurred during the PETM.

“As geologists, it unnerves us that we don’t know where this huge amount of carbon released in the PETM comes from,” says Will Clyde, associate professor of Earth sciences at the University of New Hampshire and a co-author on the paper. “This is the first breakthrough we’ve had in a long time. It gives us a new understanding of the PETM.” The work confirms that the PETM was not a unique event – the result, perhaps, of a meteorite strike – but a natural part of Earth’s carbon cycle.

Working in the Bighorn Basin region of Wyoming, a 100-mile-wide area with a semi-arid climate and stratified rocks that make it ideal for studying the PETM, Clyde and lead author Hemmo Abels of Utrecht University in the Netherlands found the first evidence of the smaller hyperthermal events on land. Previously, the only evidence of such events were from marine records.

“By finding these smaller hyperthermal events in continental records, it secures their status as global events, not just an ocean process. It means they are atmospheric events,” Clyde says.

Their findings confirm that, like the smaller hyperthermals of the era that released carbon into the atmosphere, the release of carbon in the PETM had a similar origin. In addition, the warming-to-carbon release of the PETM and the other hyperthermals are similarly scaled, which the authors interpret as an indication of a similar mechanism of carbon release during all hyperthermals, including the PETM.

“It points toward the fact that we’re dealing with the same source of carbon,” Clyde says.

Working in two areas of the Bighorn Basin just east of Yellowstone National Park – Gilmore Hill and Upper Deer Creek – Clyde and Abels sampled rock and soil to measure carbon isotope records. They then compared these continental recordings of carbon release to equivalent marine records already in existence.

During the PETM, temperatures rose between five and seven degrees Celsius in approximately 10,000 years — “a geological instant,” Clyde calls it. This rise in temperature coincided exactly with a massive global change in mammals, as land bridges opened up connecting the continents. Prior to the PETM, North America had no primates, ancient horses, or split-hoofed mammals like deer or cows.

Scientists look to the PETM for clues about the current warming of Earth, although Clyde cautions that “Earth 50 million years ago was very different than it is today, so it’s not a perfect analog.” While scientists still don’t fully understand the causes of these hyperthermal events, “they seem to be triggered by warming,” Clyde says. It’s possible, he says, that less dramatic warming events destabilized these large amounts of carbon, releasing them into the atmosphere where they, in turn, warmed the Earth even more.

“This work indicates that there is some part of the carbon cycle that we don’t understand, and it could accentuate global warming,” Clyde says.