Arquivo mensal: agosto 2012

Árvores ‘semeiam’ chuva na região da Amazônia, diz estudo da USP (G1)

Sem as plantas, clima da área seria drasticamente alterado, afirma cientista. Estudo publicado na ‘Science’ foi feito junto com a Universidade Harvard.

Rafael SampaioDo Globo Natureza, em São Paulo

Vista aérea da floresta amazônica  (Foto: AFP)

Vista aérea da vegetação na Amazônia; árvores ‘criam’ condições para chuva, segundo pesquisa  (Foto: AFP)

Cientistas da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) descobriram que a formação das chuvas na região da Amazônia está muito mais ligada à floresta do que o imaginado anteriormente. Um estudo inédito, publicado na revista “Science”, aponta que as plantas emitem sais de potássio que “semeiam” as nuvens, formando as partículas aerossóis responsáveis por causar chuva.

Sem a floresta, o clima e as chuvas na região seriam alterados de forma drástica, disse para o G1 o professor de física da USP Paulo Artaxo, coordenador brasileiro do estudo. A pesquisa foi realizada em conjunto com cientistas das tradicionais universidades de Berkeley e Harvard (nos Estados Unidos) e com o Instituto Max Planck, na Alemanha.

Antes do estudo, acreditava-se que os aerossóis responsáveis pelas chuvas eram gerados por reações químicas no ar, afirma Artaxo. A pesquisa revelou que este conceito está errado.

“Uma quantidade significativa das gotículas [de chuva] contém potássio, elemento de emissão direta das plantas, que não é formado na atmosfera”, diz o cientista. A descoberta significa, segundo o pesquisador, que os processos biológicos das árvores controlam as chuvas na Amazônia “muito mais do que se pensava”.

Esta “ligação íntima” entre a biodiversidade da floresta e o clima não existe em áreas de vegetação rasteira, diz Artaxo. No cerrado e na caatinga, por exemplo, o elo entre clima e as plantas é bem menor. Isso acontece porque os sais de potássio são emitidos pelas folhas das árvores. “A floresta tem um índice de área folhada muito maior do que as gramíneas”, afirma.

Árvore destruída em área de queimada ilegal na floresta amazônica (Foto: Antonio Scorza/AFP)Árvore destruída em área de queimada ilegal na floresta amazônica (Foto: Antonio Scorza/AFP)

Planeta
Para o professor, a descoberta adiciona um elemento à forma como a vida controla a formação da atmosfera e do clima no planeta. “Não é só através da fotossíntese e da respiração, não é só pela emissão dos gases de efeito estufa, mas também as partículas aerossóis são controladas por processos biológicos”, diz ele.

O processo de criação das chuvas pelas plantas existe em todas as áreas de mata tropical, segundo o pesquisador. “Esse mecanismo não é peculiar nem único da floresta amazônica. Ele vale para qualquer vegetação arbórea, mas não gramínea.”

A descoberta só foi possível graças ao uso de grandes equipamentos científicos conhecidos como aceleradores de partículas, similares ao Grande Colisor de Hádrons (LHC, na sigla em inglês). Um acelerador pode fazer com que partículas atinjam velocidade próxima à da luz, como é o caso do LHC, um túnel circular de 27 km localizado entre a Suíça e a França.

Os aparelhos usados no estudo coordenado por Artaxo ficam nos EUA e na Alemanha, e são batizados de Advanced Light Source (ALS, na sigla em inglês) e Bessy 2, respectivamente.

O equipamento, segundo o cientista, acelera elétrons em uma energia muito alta. Eles batem em um alvo e produzem raio-X, que pode ser colidido com as partículas aerossóis e permitir que elas sejam analisadas. Com essa “radiografia” foi possível descobrir o potássio contido nas gotículas. Sem esta tecnologia, avalia Artaxo, a descoberta não aconteceria.

Anúncios

New DNA Analysis Shows Ancient Humans Interbred with Denisovans (Scientific American)

A new high-coverage DNA sequencing method reconstructs the full genome of Denisovans–relatives to both Neandertals and humans–from genetic fragments in a single finger bone

By Katherine Harmon  | Thursday, August 30, 2012

denisovan genome finger boneFRAGMENT OF A FINGER: This replica of the Denisovan finger bone shows just how small of a sample the researchers had to extract DNA from.Image: Image courtesy of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Tens of thousands of years ago modern humans crossed paths with the group of hominins known as the Neandertals. Researchers now think they also met another, less-known group called the Denisovans. The only trace that we have found, however, is a single finger bone and two teeth, but those fragments have been enough to cradle wisps of Denisovan DNA across thousands of years inside a Siberian cave. Now a team of scientists has been able to reconstruct their entire genome from these meager fragments. The analysis adds new twists to prevailing notions about archaic human history.

“Denisova is a big surprise,” says John Hawks, a biological anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who was not involved in the new research. On its own, a simple finger bone in a cave would have been assumed to belong to a human, Neandertal or other hominin. But when researchers first sequenced a small section of DNA in 2010—a section that covered about 1.9 percent of the genome—they were able to tell that the specimen was neither. “It was the first time a new group of distinct humans was discovered” via genetic analysis rather than by anatomical description, said Svante Pääbo, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute (M.P.I.) for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, in a conference call with reporters.

Now Pääbo and his colleagues have devised a new method of genetic analysis that allowed them to reconstruct the entire Denisovan genome with nearly all of the genome sequenced approximately 30 times over akin to what we can do for modern humans. Within this genome, researchers have found clues into not only this group of mysterious hominins, but also our own evolutionary past. Denisovans appear to have been more closely related to Neandertals than to humans, but the evidence also suggests that Denisovans and humans interbred. The new analysis also suggests new ways that early humans may have spread across the globe. The findings were published online August 30 in Science.

Who were the Denisovans?
Unfortunately, the Denisovan genome doesn’t provide many more clues about what this hominin looked like than a pinky bone does. The researchers will only conclude that Denisovans likely had dark skin. They also note that there are alleles “consistent” with those known to call for brown hair and brown eyes. Other than that, they cannot say.

Yet the new genetic analysis does support the hypothesis that Neandertals and Denisovans were more closely related to one another than either was to modern humans. The analysis suggests that the modern human line diverged from what would become the Denisovan line as long as 700,000 years ago—but possibly as recently as 170,000 years ago.

Denisovans also interbred with ancient modern humans, according to Pääbo and his team. Even though the sole fossil specimen was found in the mountains of Siberia, contemporary humans from Melanesia (a region in the South Pacific) seem to be the most likely to harbor Denisovan DNA. The researchers estimate that some 6 percent of contemporary Papuans’ genomes come from Denisovans. Australian aborigines and those from Southeast Asian islands also have traces of Denisovan DNA. This suggests that the two groups might have crossed paths in central Asia and then the modern humans continued on to colonize the islands of Oceania.

Yet contemporary residents of mainland Asia do not seem to posses Denisovian traces in their DNA, a “very curious” fact, Hawks says. “We’re looking at a very interesting population scenario”—one that does not jibe entirely with what we thought we knew about how waves modern human populations migrated into and through Asia and out to Oceania’s islands. This new genetic evidence might indicate that perhaps an early wave of humans moved through Asia, mixed with Denisovans and then relocated to the islands—to be replaced in Asia by later waves of human migrants from Africa. “It’s not totally obvious that that works really well with what we know about the diversity of Asians and Australians,” Hawks says. But further genetic analysis and study should help to clarify these early migrations.

Just as with modern Homo sapiens, the genome of a single individual cannot tell us exactly what genes and traits are specific to all Denisovans. Yet, just one genome can reveal the genetic diversity of an entire population. Each of our genomes contains information about generations far beyond those of our parents and grandparents, said David Reich, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology–Harvard University Broad Institute and a co-author on the paper. Scientists can compare and contrast the set of genes on each chromosome—passed down from each parent—and extrapolate this process back through the generations. “You contain a multitude of ancestors within you,” Reich said, borrowing from Walt Whitman.

The new research reveals that the Denisovans had low genetic diversity—just 26 to 33 percent of the genetic diversity of contemporary European or Asian populations. And for the Denisovans, the population on the whole seems to have been very small for hundreds of thousands of years, with relatively little genetic diversity throughout their history.

Curiously, the researchers noted in their paper, the Denisovan population shows “a drastic decline in size at the time when the modern human population began to expand.”

Why were modern humans so successful whereas Denisovans (and Neandertals) went extinct? Pääbo and his co-authors could not resist looking into the genetic factors that might be at work. Some of the key differences, they note, center around brain development and synaptic connectivity. “It makes sense that what pops up is connectivity in the brain,” Pääbo noted. Neandertals had a similar brain size–to-body ratio as we do, so rather than cranial capacity, it might have been underlying neurological differences that could explain why we flourished while they died out, he said.

Hawks counters that it might be a little early to begin drawing conclusions about human brain evolution from genetic comparisons with archaic relatives. Decoding the genetic map of the brain and cognition from a genome is still a long way off, he notes—unraveling skin color is still difficult enough given our current technologies and knowledge.

New sequencing for old DNA
The Denisovan results rely on a new method of genetic analysis developed by paper co-author Matthias Meyer, also of M.P.I. The procedure allows the researchers to sequence the full genome by using single strands of genetic material rather than the typical double strands required. The technique, which they are calling a single-stranded library preparation, involves stripping the genetic material down to individual strands to copy and avoids a purification step, which can lose precious genetic material.

The finger bone—just one disklike phalanx—is so small that it does not contain enough usable carbon for dating, the researchers note. But by counting the number of genetic mutations in a genome and comparing them with other living relatives, such as modern humans and chimpanzees, given assumed rates of mutations since breaking with a last common ancestor, “for the first time you can try to estimate this number into a date and provide molecular dating of the fossil,” Meyer said. With the new resolution, the researchers estimate the age of the bone to 74,000 to 82,000 years ago. But that is a wide window, and previous archaeological estimates for the bone are a bit younger, ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 years old. These genetic estimations are also still in limbo because of ongoing debate about the average rate of genetic mutations over time, which could skew the age. “Nevertheless,” the researchers noted in their paper, “the results suggest that in the future it will be possible to determine dates of fossils based on genome sequences.”

This new sequencing approach can be used for any DNA that is too fragmented to be read well through more traditional methods. Meyer noted that it could come in handy for analysis of both ancient DNA and contemporary forensic evidence, which also often contains only fragments of genetic material.

Hawks is excited about the new sequencing technology. It is also helpful to have a technology developed specifically for the evolutionary field, he notes. “We’re always using the new techniques from other fields, and this is a case where the new technique is developed just for this.”

Hawks himself has heard from the researchers that have worked with the Denisovan samples that “the Denisovan pinky is just extraordinary” in terms of the amount of DNA preserved in it. Most bone fragments would be expected to contain less than 5 percent of the individual’s endogenous DNA, but this fortuitous finger had a surprising 70 percent, the researchers noted in the study. And many Neandertal fragments have been preserved in vastly different states—many are far worse off than this Denisovan finger bone.

The new sequencing approach could also improve our understanding of known specimens and the evolutionary landscape as a whole. “It’s going to increase the yield from other fossils,” Hawks notes. Many of the Neandertal specimens, for example, have only a small fraction of their genome sequenced. “If we can go from 2 percent to the whole genome, that opens up a lot more,” Hawks says. “Going back further in time will be exciting,” he notes, and this new technique should allow us to do that. “There’s a huge race on—it’s exciting.”

The Denisovans might be the first non-Neandertal archaic human to be sequenced, but they are likely not going to be the last. The researchers behind this new study are already at work using the new single-strand sequencing technique to reexamine older specimens. (Meyer said they were working on reassessing old samples but would not specify which specimens they were studying—the mysterious “hobbit” H. floresiensis would be a worthy candidate.) Pääbo suggests Asia as a particularly promising location to look for other Denisovan-like groups. “I would be surprised if there were not other groups to be found there in the future,” he said.

Taking this technique to specimens from Africa is also likely to yield some exciting results, Hawks says. Africa, with its rich human evolutionary history, holds the greatest genetic diversity. The genomes of contemporary pygmy and hunter–gatherer tribes in Africa, for example, have roughly as many differences as do those of European modern humans and Neandertals. So “any ancient specimen that we find in Africa might be as different from us as Neandertals,” Hawks says. “Anything we find from the right place might be another Denisovan.”

To Bring Back the Extinct (Edge)

A Conversation with Ryan Phelan [8.28.12]

 One of the fundamental questions here is, is extinction a good thing? Is it “nature’s way?” And if it’s nature’s way, who in the world says anyone should go about changing nature’s way? If something was meant to go extinct, then who are we to screw around with it and bring it back? I don’t think it’s really nature’s way. I think that the extinction that we’ve seen since man is 99.9 percent caused by man.

RYAN PHELAN is the Executive Director of Revive and Restore, a project within The Long Now Foundation, with a mission to provide deep ecological enrichment through extinct species revival.


[ ED. NOTE: The following conversation took place at the seventh annual Science Foo Camp (SciFoo), hosted by Nature, Digital Science, O’Reilly Media, and Google, August 3 – 5, 2012, at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. Special thanks to Philip Campbell of Nature, Timo Hannay of Digital Science, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media (“Foo” stands for “friends of O’Reilly”), and Chris DiBona and Cat Allman of Google. —JB ]


TO BRING BACK THE EXTINCT

[RYAN PHELAN:] The big question that I’m asking right now is: If we could bring back an extinct species, should we? Could we? Should we? How does it benefit society? How does it advance the science? And the truth is, we’re just at the beginning of trying to figure all this out. I got inspired really thinking about this through my involvement with George Church, and I’ve been on the periphery of an organization that he started called The Personal Genome Project. Over the last seven years I’ve been working primarily in personalized medicine, keeping my eye on the application of genomic medicine in different areas, and the growth of genomics and the shockingly drop in the sequencing price, and the cost of sequencing, and what that means to all different areas of science.

One thing led to another and we started talking with George about what it would mean if we could actually apply this towards the de-extinction of species. It turns out, of course, that in George’s lab he’s pioneering in all these methods. Right now, George’s approach of basically editing the genome starts to make the concept of bringing something back really plausible.


Video[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/hvFkg4C8YAA?p=1 width=”320″ height=”210″] 


There are right now probably three different methods that are being used to contemplate bringing back species. The most traditional is what they refer to as back breeding, and we see that going on right now with the ancient cattle called aurochs. Basically, what they do is they start by taking the strains of cattle that are closest to the ancient aurochs and try to breed back in much the way they do with plant biology and hybridization.

The other area that is being done is in cloning, and the best example of that is with the Spanish Pyrenean ibex (a wild mountain goat). They actually were able to get some cellular matter from the last remaining ibex to clone. The Spanish scientists that did all that work feel that that cloning is completely viable. The truth is that when they did that ibex, it only lasted seven minutes, because of a particular lung frailty. That’s quite common in cloning anything. That is just something that cloning technology has to deal with, so he feels really confident if he had funding he could clone an extinct species now without a problem, and solve the lung issue.

The third concept is the one that we’re focused on right now: genome editing that George Church is pioneering. The way it would work (and again, I’m not the scientist here, George is better to explain it) the idea would be to take the most closely related extant living species and actually compare it genomically with the extinct species, and basically gene by gene match it, and edit it accordingly.

The species of choice right now that we’re looking at helping, aiding, and abetting, is the passenger pigeon, and the passenger pigeon, as you may know, is an iconic bird that had flocks in the billions just over a hundred years ago. A hundred and fifty years ago the passenger pigeon darkened the sky when it would pass. They say that these flocks were so thick in the sky that when they passed it could take a mile for a flock of birds to go by. They would darken the sky. It’s an amazing concept. We don’t have anything like that today. When that happened, it went from being the most prolific bird, and in just 30 years to being extinct. Why does that matter? Well, it matters for a lot of reasons. What was going on ecologically there? What did that bird bring to that whole eastern deciduous forest? God knows, it had a tremendous impact. I think we’re just now trying to figure out what would that impact might be like today if you were to reintroduce it.

The idea with the passenger pigeon is to take a closely related relative, which is the and-tailed pigeon, and sequence that genome. We’re sequencing that right now at Harvard, with an intern that we’re helping to fund, named Ben Novak. Right now we’re in the process of doing that work, and then they will basically edit the band-tail genome until the band-tail walks, and talks, and flies like a passenger pigeon. That’s how resurgence will occur.

We’re using the term “resurgence” because as you can imagine, there’s a lot of controversy over if you could bring back an extinct species, is it invasive? Would it become an invasive species? And is this a bad thing?

We’re in the process of starting a new organization. It’s called Revive and Restore. If we were to say it has a mission, it’s to help rethink extinction, to basically bring back extinct species if it’s the right thing to do. We’re contemplating the ethics involved in all this. This fall we’ll have a conference that we’re sponsoring in Washington DC, and I think it’s going to be thrilling. We’re bringing in 25 to 35 the scientists from all over the world that are actually doing extinction work— from the Korean team that’s working on the wooly mammoth, to the New Zealand and Australian teams that are de-extincting some species yet to be identified. They’re calling it the Lazarus Project. We don’t really know what it is. It could be the Moa. There are different theories about what it is. But, hopefully, in the fall we’ll learn more about that.

We’ll be talking with these scientists about the different technologies that they’re deploying, of which this genome hybridization technique that George is doing is going to be one and I’m sure there are others. We’ll be talking about the ethics of re-wilding. It’s one thing to actually bring back a species in the lab. It’s another to actually release it into the wild. And so we’ll be talking to scientists that are working in captive breeding, like the San Diego Zoo, with the California ondor. We’ll be talking with the frozen zoos that are doing this kind of banking of genetic material, and trying to figure out what kind of ethical framework we could create, so that when these scientists actually start to succeed in these fields we can somehow socialize this in the public discourse.

What I fear, quite honestly, is backlash that we’ve seen around genetically modified foods, that these organisms will be deemed genetically modified, which, of course, they are. This is genome engineering, and there may be way too much of a concern over what happens when they go into the wild.

One of the fundamental questions here is, is extinction a good thing? Is it “nature’s way”? And if it’s nature’s way, who in the world says anyone should go about changing nature’s way? If something was meant to go extinct, then who are we to screw around with it and bring it back? I don’t think it’s really nature’s way. I think that the extinction that we’ve seen since man is 99.9 percent caused by man.

I’m going to just take the passenger pigeon as an example, not because it’s my favorite bird, but because it’s so iconic. If we are the ones that are responsible for blasting it out of the sky, do we have a little bit of responsibility to think about bringing it back now that we have science that can easily allow for it? I say “easily,” but in the scheme of things, it’s still going to be a lot of heavy lifting to help make this happen.

What does all this mean to the average citizen? A good example of a reintroduction of a species is the peregrine falcon. The peregrine falcon had actually gone extinct as a species in the East. For many of us bird lovers, we love the peregrine falcon. We love seeing that bird fly and soar like it does. But, it was really only through captive breeding and a reintroduction of a sub-species from the Rocky Mountain area that we even have a peregrine now flourishing on the East Coast. Where the peregrine falcon really wants to nest is on bridges or on the sides of skyscrapers, and that bird is now evolving into a bird that is better adapted for working in an urban environment.

What’s going to happen is, even if we were to have a passenger pigeon, they’re not going to be in the flocks of the billions any more. Their impact with agriculture will be lessened, because of an obvious reduction in size. The truth is, if anything happened with that bird, we know it’s a tremendous game bird that people loved, and probably people would be shooting it for good meat, good game.

One question is: If you could actually bring back anything, would you bring back the California grizzly bear? A species that could eat people? Well, we recently were at the California Academy of Sciences, up front and personal with “Monarch”, the last California grizzly, a beautiful specimen there, and we were joking, and not really joking, saying, “Well, what if you could genome edit the California grizzly so that it didn’t like the taste of people?” That would be kind of interesting! Big megafauna, good for the land, but take the fear of it out for people. The truth is all of this could someday be possible.

Some people have said to us, “Well, are you one click away from “Jurassic Park” here?” The truth is, we’re not. “Jurassic Park” was a good movie, if that, but the science is not there at all today, and the reason for that is that we don’t have a close relative of the dinosaurs. We just don’t have it. The only reason that this concept of bringing back an extinct species works right now is if you can take those genomes and actually edit them based on either a close living relative, or you’ve got viable cell tissue, and we don’t have that. So right now that one is not a worry. But could it be someday? Sure.

The concept of Revive and Restore is an idea that might well blossom on the West Coast, here in Silicon Valley, but the truth is that the pressures that I think all these scientists who are working in de-extinction worldwide will feel will be around this whole question of: Who are you to play God and bring back an extinct species? Who are you to introduce something that could be “invasive”? Whether it’s in academia or it’s being done in industry, I think the science is going to be challenged around this really intriguing issue. That’s why I think an organization like Revive and Restore can actually help with the public discourse.

Somebody has to responsibly help the industry and academia think through these heady issues, and I think we’re going to start that dialogue this fall. But in the absence of it, what we’re going to see is the, “Oh, my God, we’re cloning this dangerous species again,” or we’re doing something horrific with our chicken to avoid the Avian flu. These things are going to happen.

Everyone wants to bring up the Neanderthals, and interestingly enough, anyone who’s working around the Neanderthal genome is reluctant to participate in our fall workshop, because they last thing they want is to be criticized or implicated in bringing back a Neanderthal. It’s just verboten.

I’ve been dealing with this whole genetic exceptionalism now for almost a decade with personalized medicine. There has always been a hypersensitivity to anything genetic and I’m looking forward to when we get over that.


The most interesting part of all this is going to be where the science goes, what we learn from doing this. It’s not going to be necessarily about bringing back something. It’s going to be about what we learn.

Just like everything that we know that’s really innovative in science, you never know the unintended benefits or what the outcomes are going to be. Specifically, around the study of extinct species we’re going to probably learn what made them vulnerable to extinction. The implications for endangered species are tremendous. We don’t really know why things go extinct. We can surmise, but right now we could actually start to look at the genetic level, at what some of these contributory factors were, and I think that’s really exciting.

THE REALITY CLUB:

Jennifer Jacquet:  To the question of who is Ryan Phelan, or anybody else, to bring an extinct species back I would counter: who was anyone to make these animals extinct to begin with?  An estimated 869 species have gone officially and, so far, irreversibly extinct just since the 16th century, and 290 more species are considered critically endangered and possibly extinct — and in almost all cases the finger points to humans.  Many of these disappearances, like the Tasmanian tiger, the Great auk, and the Steller’s sea cow, were precipitated by a relatively small group that never asked their fellow earthlings, let alone future generations, if they wanted these animals gone forever.  Should the entire group have been queried, my guess is that its majority, certainly in the case of the large, delicate, and vegetarian Steller’s sea cow, would have answered in a resounding “No.”  (Admittedly the response might be different in the case of the saber-toothed cat, for instance, which went extinct not long after the invention of farming.)  To be in favor of human-induced extinction seems one of the pillars of myopia.

But what is a genome edited songbird brought back from extinction to do against the poachers in the Mediterranean?  What happens when the reconstituted baby Yangtze River dolphin (last seen in 2005) is released into still sullied Chinese waters?  We already have captive-bred tigers, but that hasn’t stopped the habitat fragmentation and human takeover that has led to fewer than 3500 wild tigers (there were 100,000 in 1900) today in India.  In other words, does this technical solution, which is elegant and scientifically interesting, as Phelan points out, distract from old boring problems?  Or does it necessitate more work on pollution, habitat loss, and human behavior because the species that would be the usual victims now have a shot at immortality?

Neil Armstrong Carried Argentine Soccer Team Pennant to the Moon (Fox News)

Published August 26, 2012

Armstrong-moon-ART.jpg

New York City welcomes the Apollo 11 crew in a showering of ticker tape down Broadway and Park Avenue August 13, 1969 in a parade termed as the largest in the city’s history. Pictured in the lead car, from the right, are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, who died earlier this weekend, carried a pennant belonging to Argentina’s Independiente de Avellaneda on his history-making 1969 trip to the Moon.

Armstrong, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 82 due to complications from recent heart surgery, confirmed during a November 1969 trip to Buenos Aires that he carried the souvenir to the Moon.

The first man to walk on the Moon visited Argentina’s capital along with Apollo 11 crewmates Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins as part of a global tour organized by NASA.

Armstrong landed on the Moon with Aldrin on July 20, 1969, in the lunar module Eagle while Collins circled overhead aboard the command module Columbia.

The space pioneer said he had carried the pennant to the Moon, confirming statements by team officials that had been called into question by the public in Argentina at the time.

Hector Rodriguez, who served as Independiente’s public affairs chief at the time, proposed making Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins honorary partners in the team before Apollo 11’s voyage to the Moon.

“If they are going to be the greatest heroes of the century, they have to be Independiente partners,” Rodriguez said at the time.

Team management agreed to the deal and the three astronauts were registered as partners, with Aldrin as No. 80,399, Armstrong as No. 80,400 and Collins as No. 80,401.

Identification cards bearing photos provided by the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires were sent to the United States along with club pennants and gear for the astronauts’ children.

Armstrong thanked the team for its gesture in a May 1969 letter and said he wished to “be able to visit Buenos Aires soon and that circumstances will allow me to accept your invitation to visit the club,” an event that never took place.

Rodriguez was invited to a reception held for the astronauts in Buenos Aires by U.S. Ambassador to Argentina John Davis Lodge.

Armstrong said during the reception that the Independiente pennant brought the astronauts good luck on the trip to the Moon.

The story makes partners and fans of Independiente, which has won a record seven Libertadores Cups, proud.

The team, however, is currently struggling and could be relegated from Argentina’s First Division, something that has never happened before.

Chimpanzees Create ‘Social Traditions’: Unique Handclasp Grooming Behavior Reveals Local Difference (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2012) — Researchers have revealed that chimpanzees are not only capable of learning from one another, but also use this social information to form and maintain local traditions.

Wrist-to-wrist grooming handclasp. (Credit: Mark Bodamer)

A research collaboration between the Gonzaga University and the Max Planck Institute shows that the way in which chimpanzees groom each other depends on the community to which they belong. Specifically, it is the unique handclasp grooming behaviour that reveals this local difference.

The specific behaviour that the researchers focused on was the ‘grooming handclasp’, a behaviour where two chimpanzees clasp onto each other’s arms, raise those arms up in the air, and groom each other with their free arm. This behaviour has only been observed in some chimpanzee populations. The question remained whether chimpanzees are instinctively inclined to engage in grooming handclasp behaviour, or whether they learn this behaviour from each other and pass it on to subsequent generations.

Edwin van Leeuwen and Katherine Cronin of the Comparative Cognitive Anthropology research group of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics led by Daniel Haun conducted their observations between 2007 and 2012 at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia. At Chimfunshi, a mix of wild- and captive-born chimpanzees live in woodlands in some of the largest enclosures in the world. The Max Planck team collaborated with students from Gonzaga University led by Mark Bodamer, a team of local chimpanzee caretakers, and Roger Mundry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in order to collect and comprehend the detailed chimpanzee data.

Previous research suggested that the grooming handclasp might be a cultural phenomenon, just like humans across cultures engage in different ways of greeting each other. However, these suggestions were primarily based on observations that some chimpanzee communities handclasp and others don’t — not whether there are differences between communities that engage in handclasping. Moreover, the early observations could have been explained by differences in genetic and/or ecological factors between the chimpanzee communities, which precluded the interpretation that the chimpanzees were exhibiting ‘cultural’ differences.

The present research shows that even between chimpanzee communities that engage in the grooming handclasp, subtle yet stable differences exist in the styles that they prefer: one chimpanzee group highly preferred the style where they would grasp each other’s hands during the grooming, while another group engaged much more in a style where they would fold their wrists around each other’s wrists.

“We don’t know what mechanisms account for these differences,” van Leeuwen says. “But our study at least reveals that these chimpanzee communities formed and maintained their own local grooming traditions over the last 5 years. Our observations may also indicate that chimpanzees can overcome their innate predispositions, potentially allowing them to manipulate their environment based on social constructs rather than on mere instincts.”

Apart from the different style preferences of the chimpanzee communities, the research team also observed that the grooming handclasp behaviour was a long-lasting part of the chimpanzees’ behavioural repertoire: the behaviour was even transmitted to the next generation of potential handclaspers.

“By following the chimpanzees over time, we were able to show that 20 young chimpanzees gradually developed the handclasp behaviour over the course of the five-year study. The first handclasps by young individuals were mostly in partnership with their mothers. These observations support the conclusion that these chimpanzees socially learn their local tradition, and that this might be evidence of social culture,” Bodamer explains.

“Continued monitoring of these groups of chimpanzees will shed light on the question of how these group-traditions are maintained over time and potentially even why the chimpanzees like to raise their arms up in the air during social grooming in the first place,” van Leeuwen adds.

Journal Reference:

  1. Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen, Katherine A. Cronin, Daniel B. M. Haun, Roger Mundry and Mark D. Bodamer. Neighbouring chimpanzee communities show different preferences in social grooming behaviourProceedings of the Royal Society B, August 29, 2012

Twitter Data Crunching: The New Crystal Ball (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 29, 2012) — Fabio Ciulla from Northeastern University, Boston, USA, and his colleagues demonstrated that the elimination of contestants in TV talent shows based on public voting, such as American Idol, can be anticipated. They unveiled the predictive power of microblogging Twitter signals–used as a proxy for the general preference of an audience–in a study recently published in EPJ Data Science.

The authors considered the voting system of these shows as a basic test to assess the predictive power of Twitter signals. They relied on the overlap between Twitter users and show audience to collect extremely detailed data on social behaviour on a massive scale. This approach provided a unique and unprecedented opportunity to apply network science to social media. Social phenomena can thus be studied in a completely unobtrusive way. Previously, Twitter has already been used to forecast epidemics spreading, stock market behaviour and election outcomes with varying degrees of success.

In this study, the authors demonstrated that the Twitter activity during the time span limited to the TV show airing and the voting period following it correlated with the contestants’ ranking. As a result, it helped predict the outcome of the votes. This approach offers a simplified version helping to analyse complex societal phenomena such as political elections. Unlike previous voting systems, Twitter offers a quantitative indicator that can act as proxy for what is occurring around the world in real time, thereby anticipating the outcome of future events based on opinions.

Ciulla and colleagues also showed that the fraction of tweets that included geolocalisation information enabled to internationally map the fan base of each contestant. They identified a strong influence by the geographical origin of the votes, suggesting a different outcome to the show, if voting had not been limited to US voters.

Journal Reference:

  1. Fabio Ciulla, Delia Mocanu, Andrea Baronchelli, Bruno Goncalves, Nicola Perra, Alessandro Vespignani. Beating the news using Social Media: the case study of American IdolEPJ Data Science, 2012; 1 (1): 8 DOI:10.1140/epjds8

Gene That Predicts Happiness in Women Discovered (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2012) — A new study has found a gene that appears to make women happy, but it doesn’t work for men. The finding may help explain why women are often happier than men, the research team said.

A new study has found a gene that appears to make women happy, but it doesn’t work for men. The finding may help explain why women are often happier than men. (Credit: © Yuri Arcurs / Fotolia)

Scientists at the University of South Florida (USF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute reported that the low-expression form of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is associated with higher self-reported happiness in women. No such association was found in men.

The findings appear online in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry.

“This is the first happiness gene for women,” said lead author Henian Chen, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, USF College of Public Health.

“I was surprised by the result, because low expression of MAOA has been related to some negative outcomes like alcoholism, aggressiveness and antisocial behavior,” said Chen, who directs the Biostatistics Core at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. “It’s even called the warrior gene by some scientists, but, at least for women, our study points to a brighter side of this gene.”

While they experience higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders, women tend to report greater overall life happiness than do men. The reason for this remains unclear, Chen said. “This new finding may help us to explain the gender difference and provide more insight into the link between specific genes and human happiness.”

The MAOA gene regulates the activity of an enzyme that breaks down serontin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain — the same “feel-good” chemicals targeted by many antidepressants. The low-expression version of the MAOA gene promotes higher levels of monoamine, which allows larger amounts of these neurotransmitters to stay in the brain and boost mood.

The researchers analyzed data from a population-based sample of 345 individuals — 193 women and 152 men — participating in Children in the Community, a longitudinal mental health study. The DNA of study subjects had been analyzed for MAOA gene variation and their self-reported happiness was scored by a widely used and validated scale.

After controlling for various factors, ranging from age and education to income, the researchers found that women with the low-expression type of MAOA were significantly happier than others. Compared to women with no copies of the low-expression version of the MAOA gene, women with one copy scored higher on the happiness scale and those with two copies increased their score even more.

While a substantial number of men carried a copy of the “happy” version of the MAOA gene, they reported no more happiness than those without it.

So, why the genetic gender gap in feeling good?

The researchers suspect the difference may be explained in part by the hormone testosterone, found in much smaller amounts in women than in men. Chen and his co-authors suggest that testosterone may cancel out the positive effect of MAOA on happiness in men.

The potential benefit of MAOA in boys could wane as testosterone levels rise with puberty, Chen said. “Maybe men are happier before adolescence because their testosterone levels are lower.”

Chen emphasizes that more research is needed to identify which specific genes influence resilience and subjective well-being, especially since studies of twins estimate genetic factors account for 35 to 50 percent of the variance in human happiness.

While happiness is not determined by a single gene, there is likely a set of genes that, along with life experiences, shape our individual happiness levels, Chen said. “I think the time is right for more genetic studies that focus on well-being and happiness.”

“Certainly it could be argued that how well-being is enhanced deserves at least as much attention as how (mental) disorders arise; however, such knowledge remains limited.”

The study by Chen and colleagues was supported by the National Institutes of Health and a USF proposal enhancement grant.

Journal Reference:

  1. Henian Chen, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst, Elena Gorodetsky, Stephanie Kasen, Kathy Gordon, David Goldman, Patricia Cohen. The MAOA gene predicts happiness in womenProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 2012; DOI:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2012.07.018

Beliefs Drive Investors More Than Preferences (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2012) — If experts thought they knew anything about individual investors, it was this: their emotions lead them to sell winning stocks too soon and hold on to losers too long.

But new research casts doubt on this widely held theory that individual investors’ decisions are driven mainly by their feelings toward losses and gains. In an innovative study, researchers found evidence that individual investors’ decisions are primarily motivated by their beliefs about a stock’s future.

“The story is not about whether an investor hates losing or loves gains — it’s not primarily a story about preferences,” said Itzhak Ben-David, co-author of the study and assistant professor of finance at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

“It is a story about information and speculation. The investor has a belief about where a stock is headed and that’s what he acts on. Investors act more on their beliefs than their preferences.”

Ben-David conducted the study with David Hirshleifer of the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. Their results appear in the August 2012 issue of the journal Review of Financial Studies.

The researchers studied stock transactions from more than 77,000 accounts at a large discount broker from 1990 through 1996 and did a variety of analyses that had never been done before. They examined when investors bought individual stocks, when they sold them, and how much they earned or lost with each sale.

The result was a radical rethinking of why individual investors sell winning stocks and hold on to losers.

The findings don’t mean that investors don’t have an aversion to losses and a desire to sell winners, Ben-David said. But the trading data suggests that these feelings aren’t dominating their decisions.

“People have a variety of reasons for trading stocks, which may include tax issues, margin calls, and an aversion to losses. These all may play a role, but what we show that beliefs are dominant for the trading of retail investors.”

The tendency to sell winners too early and to keep losers too long has been called the “disposition effect” by economists.

“The disposition effect has been well-documented. The question is what we make of it. A lot of people look at the data and interpret it as meaning that the typical retail investor is irrational, simply reacting to their feelings about gains and losses,” he said.

“But what we find is that, looking at the data, we can’t really learn about their preferences. We don’t learn about what they like or don’t like. Surely, they don’t like to lose money — but their reasons for selling stocks are more complex than that.”

The simplest test was to see what investors do when a stock is trading just slightly higher or lower than the price they paid — in other words a small winner or a small loser.

If investors really did make stock trades based simply on their pleasure in making money and their aversion to realizing losses, a small winner should lead to more sales than a small loser.

But this study found that investors were not clearly more likely to sell when it was a small winner than when it was a small loser.

Another piece of evidence against the theory that investors’ decisions are driven by their aversion to realizing losses was the fact that, the more a stock lost value, the more likely investors were to sell it.

“If investors had an aversion to realizing losses, larger losses should reduce the probability they would sell, but we found the opposite — larger losses were associated with a higher probability of selling,” Ben-David said.

Interestingly, the stocks that investors sell the least are those that did not have a price change since purchase.

Another clue is the fact that men and frequent traders were more likely than others to sell winning stocks quickly to reap their profits and sell losers quickly to cut their losses.

“Past research has shown that overconfidence in investing is associated with men and frequent traders,” Ben-David said. “They have a belief in their superior knowledge and so you would expect them to buy and sell more quickly than others as they speculate on stock prices. That’s exactly what we found. They are engaged in belief-based trading.”

The researchers also examined when investors were more likely to buy additional shares of a stock that they had previously purchased. They found that the probability of buying additional shares is greater for shares that lost value than it was for shares that gained value.

That shouldn’t happen if investors are really acting on emotions rather than beliefs, Ben-David said.

“If you buy additional shares of a stock that has lost value, that suggests you are acting on your beliefs that the stock is really a winner and other people have just not realized it yet,” he said.

“You wouldn’t buy additional shares of a losing stock if your biggest motivation was to avoid realizing losses.”

However, Ben-David noted that just because investors act on beliefs rather than feelings doesn’t mean they are acting rationally.

“They may be overconfident in their own abilities. It is a different kind of irrationality from being averse to selling losers,” Ben-David said.

This study’s suggestion that investors act more on beliefs than preferences is likely to make waves in the economics profession, he said.

“In economics, these two stories are very different. Beliefs and preferences are very different concepts, and it is important to distinguish them and how they affect investors. Many economists had thought that an irrational aversion to selling losers was crucial for the trading decisions of retail investors.”

Journal Reference:

  1. I. Ben-David, D. Hirshleifer. Are Investors Really Reluctant to Realize Their Losses? Trading Responses to Past Returns and the Disposition EffectReview of Financial Studies, 2012; 25 (8): 2485 DOI:10.1093/rfs/hhs077

Skeptical Uses of ‘Religion’ in Debate on Climate Change (The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media)

Michael Svoboda   August 27, 2012

Religion’ and religion-inspired terms — savior, prophet, priests, heretic, dogma, crusade — are regularly used in efforts to influence public attitudes about climate change. But how does this language work, and on whom?

Over the past several months The Yale Forum has published a series of articles describing how major religious groups across America address climate change. Within the broader societal debate on this issue, however, the voices heard in these pieces may be outnumbered by those of a group with a very different take on the connections between religion and the environment: climate skeptics.

Since 2005, in op-eds published in newspapers (The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Post, and The Washington Times), in magazines (Forbes, National Review, The Weekly Standard), and online (Fox News and Townhall and also climate-specific websites like Watts Up with That), conservative commentators have repeatedly described global warming as a religion.

So how does this use of religious language affect the public understanding of climate change? To answer this question, the Forum analyzed more than 250 op-eds, blog posts, and books published between 2005 and the present. The results suggest that this religious language may be most effective in fortifying the opinions of those using it: Calling global warming a “religion” effectively neutralizes appeals to “the scientific consensus.”

Taking the Measure of the Meme

To take your own quick measure of the global-warming-as-religion (hereafter GWAR) meme, try two related searches at Google: first search for “climate change” and “religion,” then for “global warming” and “religion.” The top ten items from the Forum‘s two most recent searches (20 items in all) broke down as follows:

  • 10% were by religious groups calling for action on climate change,
  • 25% were about religious groups calling for action on climate change,
  • 10% were against religious groups opposed to action on climate,
  • 50% described concern for global warming as a religion, and
  • 5% rebutted those who described concern for global warming as a religion.

Based on this sample, one is more likely to encounter an article or op-ed about global warming as a religion than an article or op-ed explaining how or whether a particular religious group addresses climate change.

The dominance of the GWAR meme is even greater when one looks specifically at conservative venues. Over the past year, approximately 100 op-ed pieces that touched on global warming were published in nationally recognized conservative newspapers and/or by nationally syndicated columnists whose work is aggregated by Townhall. Ten of these pieces equated accepting the science on global warming with religious belief; none offered a religious argument for action on climate change.

During the peak years of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006–2008), the ratio was far higher. Roughly 40% of the more than 150 conservative op-eds penned in response to the documentary, to its Academy Award, or to Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize included language (prophet, priests, savior, crusade, faith, dogma, heresy, faith, etc.) that framed concern for climate change as a religious belief. Some drew that analogy explicitly. (See, for example, Richard Lindzen’s March 8, 2007, op-ed piece forThe Wall Street Journal and The Daily Mail (UK) — “Global Warming: The Bogus Religion of Our Age.”)

And since then several climate skeptics — Christopher Horner (2007), Iain Murray (2008), Roy Spencer (2008), Christopher Booker (2009), Ian Wishart (2009), Steve Goreham (2010), Larry Bell (2011), Brian Sussman (2012), and Robert Zubrin (2012) — have included the GWAR meme in their books.

A Brief History of the Global-Warming-as-Religion Meme

The global-warming-as-religion meme is an offshoot of the environmentalism-as-religion meme, which, according to New American Foundation fellow and Arizona State University Law Professor Joel Garreau, can be traced back to religious critiques of Lynn White’s 1967 essay in Science, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” By pinning the ecological blame on the Judaeo-Christian tradition’s instrumental view of nature, these authors argued, White seemed to call for the revival of nature worship.

Elements of these early critiques were reworked in what is perhaps the most well-known instance of the environmentalism-as-religion argument, Michael Crichton’s speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 2003.

The first* example of the more specific global-warming-as-religion claim appears to be the aside in Republican Senator James Inhofe’s January 4, 2005, “update” to his “greatest hoax” speech: “Put simply, man-induced global warming is an article of religious faith.” Using slightly different language, Inhofe repeated this charge a few months later in his “Four Pillars of Climate Alarmism” speech.**

In between these two speeches, in a February 16, 2005, editorial for Capitalism Magazine by American Policy Center President Tom DeWeese, the GWAR meme gained titular status: “The New Religion Is Global Warming.”

But the most fully developed version of the global-warming-as-religion analogy is the nearly 5,000-word essay published on the Web in 2007 by retired British mathematician John Brignell — who cites Crichton’s 2003 speech in his opening paragraph.

The more generic environmentalism-as-religion meme now seems confined to Earth Day, which Emory University economics professor Paul Rubin described in an April 22, 2010, WSJ op-ed piece as environmentalism’s “holy day.” Two recent examples, from this past April, were provided by former business consultant W.A. Beatty and by Dale Hurd, a “news veteran” for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

The GWAR meme appears as opportunities — cool summers; early, late, or heavy snowstorms; or scandals — arise. And its meaning can vary accordingly.

Nature/Climate as Sacred

Some of the first American “environmentalists” — David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir — often used religious language. Nature was where they most vividly experienced the presence of God. But when contemporary environmentalists use quasi-religious language without explicitly avowing a particular faith, their opponents may suspect that nature itself has become the object of their worship. When James Lovelock named his homeostatic model of the planet and its atmosphere after the ancient Greek earth goddess, Gaia, he provided a new ground for this suspicion.

For conservatives, there are strong and weak versions of this charge.

The strong charge is “paganism,” that environmentalists or climate activists/scientists worship nature in ways akin to the practices of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman empires in which the ancient Jews and early Christians lived. This strong charge is typically leveled by evangelicals who publicly profess their own faith. Physicist James Wanliss and his colleagues — whose book and dvd,Resisting the Green Dragon, offer “A Biblical Response to One of the Greatest Deceptions of the Day” — provide perhaps the most vivid example.

The weak version reduces the charge of paganism to misplaced values. Very arch religious language may still be used, but the meaning is now metaphorical. In these more frequent instances of the GWAR meme, conservatives accuse climate activists/scientists of essentializing climate, of being too willing to slow or even disable our economic engine because they believe Earth has an “optimal climate.”

Climate Science as Cult

“Cult” implies that a given set of beliefs or practices is arcane, outside the mainstream, and insular. Someone embedded in a cult will not acknowledge conflicting evidence. So whenever new facts or dramatic events challenge the validity of climate science, at least in the minds of conservative skeptics, “cult of global warming” op-eds appear. Major snowstorms, cold snaps, and years that fail to surpass 1998′s average annual temperature provide these new “facts.”

Odd religious news can also prompt “cult of global warming” op-eds. The third no-show of Harold Camping’s apocalypse provided the prompt, last fall, for op-eds by Michael Barone and Derek Hunter. (The “cult” in the title of Michael Barone’s piece, however, may be the work of the Post’s editor; thesame piece appeared under a different title in The Washington Examiner.)

Climate Science as Corrupt Orthodoxy

But it’s hard to depict a thoroughly institutionalized effort like climate science as a cult. The international undertaking that is science is more plausibly compared with the Roman Catholic Church. And for climate skeptics, the best of the many possible instances of that church is the Roman Catholic Church of the late Renaissance, the church that condemned both Luther and Galileo.

The very Nobel public profiles of Al Gore and the IPCC, from 2006 to 2008, prompted many comparisons with priests and popes, cardinals and curia. Add in carbon offsets and the Reformation riffs practically wrote themselves. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer’s March 16, 2007,column in Time exemplifies this subgenre:

In other words, the rich reduce their carbon output by not one ounce. But drawing on the hundreds of millions of net worth in the Kodak theatre [for the “carbon-neutral” 2007 Academy Awards], they pull out lunch money to buy ecological indulgences. The last time the selling of pardons was prevalent — in a predecessor religion to environmentalism called Christianity — Martin Luther lost his temper and launched the Reformation.

(It should be noted, however, that climate activists and environmental journalists have themselves sometimes written about their ecological “sins.”)

While green hypocrisy was the primary target of Krauthammer’s 2007 column, orthodoxy and dogma are always at least secondary targets in this use of the GWAR meme. And shots were taken at them in a February 9, 2007, National Review column by Rich Lowry; a May 30, 2008, Washington Post column by Charles Krauthammer; a March 9, 2009, Townhall piece by Robert Knight; a January 13, 2010, Townhallcolumn by Walter E. Williams; a November 29, 2011, Wall Street Journal column by Bret Stephens; and, most recently, an April 26, 2012, post by David Solway. This is the most common use of the GWAR meme.

Dissenting Religions and the Scientific Consensus

But one might argue that by depicting climate scientists and activists as members of an aloof and self-serving (and possibly self-deluding) priesthood, conservatives are themselves engaged in religious posturing, for self-righteous dissent is part of the DNA of the western religious tradition.

Ancient Israel was a small country surrounded by much more powerful empires. Some heroes of the Bible — e.g., Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — worked as trusted bureaucrats within state-ecclesiastical systems based on cosmologies they did not believe in. When ordered to consent to the beliefs of their rulers, they refused.

During the Protestant Reformation religious dissent often became political dissent. Today’s evangelicals are dissenters from mainstream denominations that dissented first from the Church of England and then from King George. Now they dissent from Washington.

But in the U.S., Roman Catholics too can view themselves as a dissenting minority, as, for example, when the Catholic Bishops objected to parts of the new healthcare law.

In fact, Americans are so primed for dissensus that both sides in the climate debate find it plausible to claim the mantle of Galileo.


In the run-up to the December 2009 conference in Copenhagen, cartoonists Michael Ramirez and David Horsey published cartoons that drew exactly opposite conclusions from the history of science, including Galileo’s conflict with the Roman Catholic Church regarding Copernicus’s heliocentric model of the solar system.

Within this charged religious history, a steadfast minority (of Jews, early Christians, Protestants, or Puritans) has been correct more often than the majority, than the broader cultural consensus (of Egyptians/Assyrians/Babylonians/Persians, Greeks/Romans, Roman Catholics, or Anglicans). Thus the GWAR meme not only legitimizes dissent (because everyone is entitled to his or her own religious views), it also provides emotional reinforcement for it (because the “official” religion is almost always “false”). The Protestant vs. Catholic variant of the meme also reinforces climate skeptics’ narratives about greedy and scheming scientists and/or self-serving elites. For those who use it, the GWAR meme effectively inoculates them against “the scientific consensus.”

Managing the Meme

Much has been said and published by religious leaders trying to promote action on climate change. But these messages must compete against the global-warming-as-religion meme reinforced regularly in op-eds sent out by The Wall Street Journal to its two million plus subscribers and, more frequently, in columns posted by Townhall for its two million unique monthly visitors.

Are there counter-measures for this meme?

In his summer 2010 article in The New Atlantis, Joel Garreau, New American Foundation fellow and Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values (Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University), traced the emergence of environmentalism as a secular religion. In that piece, Gerreau speculated that “the two faces of religious environmentalism — the greening of mainstream religion and the rise of carbon Calvinism — may each transform the political and policy debate over climate change.” In response to an e-mailed query from The Yale Forum, after stressing that he did not “conflate faith-based environmentalism with the scientific study of climate,” Garreau explained his “pragmat[ic]” outlook:  ”I just lay out the facts (as startling as they may be to some), observe that faith-based systems are ubiquitous in history, and then ask, in public policy terms, how you deal with this situation.”

Garreau said he is not surprised that “climate change deniers [might] wish to point out the ironies of faith-based environmentalism rising up in parallel with scientific environmentalism.” But he said he does not think that would have much effect. He suggested no countermeasures but did anticipate a possible line of attack: “It would hardly be surprising if there were a few under-examined pieties in their own world view.”

From the title of University of Maryland School of Public Policy professor Robert H. Nelson’s 2010 book,The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, one might infer that the playing field for climate policy might be leveled by calling attention to the equally religious faith in economics, in economic growth in particular. But what would be gained from a “religious” standoff between economics and environmentalism? In response to an e-mail question, Nelson listed three benefits:

First, … it helps us to understand … the … intensity of the disagreements about climate policy. Second, it offers a note of caution to all participants, given [that past] religious disagreements have too often escalated beyond all reason …. Third, … [s]eeing economics and environmentalism as religions, and discussing them as such, [would bring their] core value assumptions to the surface.

In other words, pushing back with the same religious language might be an effective countermeasure, at least initially. Then, Nelson added,  ”a secular religious ‘ecumenical movement’” could perhaps resolve the tensions between economics and environmentalism.

One clearly should proceed with caution in pursuing any “religious” countermeasures. The cultural and historical associations evoked by religious language do not necessarily favor “consensus,” especially a consensus presented in authoritative terms. In American history, religious groups have splintered far more often than they have united.

Bottom line: Climate communicators should expect and prepare for religious language. But they should weigh the subtle cultural messages religious language carries before deciding whether or how to use or respond to it.

*If readers know of an earlier example, please send the reference and/or the link to the author.
**Brian McCammack’s September 2007 
American Quarterly article, “Hot Damned America: Evangelicalism and the Climate Policy Debate,” pointed the way to these two speeches by Senator Inhofe.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda (PhD, Hermeneutics) is an Asst. Prof. of Writing at The George Washington University. Previously the owner of an academic bookstore, he now tracks and analyzes efforts to communicate climate change, including the stream of research and policy published by NGOs. E-mail: msvoboda@yaleclimatemediaforum.org

Intriguing Habitats, and Careful Discussions of Climate Change (N.Y.Times)

THE ANIMAL LIFEBOAT

Gretchen Ertl for The New York TimesPacific Sea nettle jellyfish at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Zoos and aquariums are working to include educational elements about the environment without alienating visitors.

By 

Published: August 26, 2012

BOSTON — Sitting on an artificial mangrove island in the middle of the ray and shark “touch tank,” Lindsay Jordan, a staff member at the New England Aquarium, explained the rays’ eating habits as children and their parents trailed fingers through the water. “Does anyone know how we touch these animals when we are not at the aquarium?” she asked.

The children’s faces turned up expectantly.

“The ocean absorbs one-third of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions,” Ms. Jordan said, explaining that it upsets the food chain. “When you turn on your car, it affects them.”

Downstairs, next to the jellyfish tanks, a rhyming video told how the jellyfish population was exploding in the wild because they thrive in warmer waters. In the main room, a staff member pointed to a rare blue lobster, saying that some lobsters have been scuttling out of Massachusetts and settling in cooler climes to the north.

With many zoos and aquariums now working with conservation organizations and financed by individuals who feel strongly about threatened habitats and species, managers have been wrestling with how aggressive to be in educating visitors on the perils of climate change.

Surveys show that American zoos and aquariums enjoy a high level of public trust and are ideally positioned to teach.

Yet many managers are fearful of alienating visitors — and denting ticket sales — with tours or wall labels that dwell bleakly on damaged coral reefs, melting ice caps or dying trees.

“You don’t want them walking away saying, ‘I paid to get in, I bought my kid a hot dog, I just want to show my kid a fish — and you are making me feel bad about climate change,’ ” said Paul Boyle, the senior vice president for conservation and education at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Some zoos and aquariums have therefore held back, relegating the theme to, say, a sign about Arctic melting in the polar bear exhibit. But many have headed in the other direction, putting climate change front and center in a way that they hope will inspire a young generation of zoogoers.

Working with cognitive scientists and experts in linguistics and anthropology, a coalition of aquariums set out in 2008 to develop a patter that would intrigue rather than daunt or depress the average visitor. After the group was pleased with the script, it secured a grant of about $1 million last year from the National Science Foundation to train staffs across the nation. This month, the foundation awarded the group an additional $5.5 million for a five-year education effort.

Dr. Boyle said that most of the association’s 224 members now have some sort of climate message.

The form varies from subtle to pointed. The zoos in Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio, for instance, have installed prominent solar arrays over their parking lots to power exhibits and set an example. The San Diego Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago have made their exhibits of polar bears and other Arctic species more direct about the threats posed by global warming.

So far the feedback has largely been positive, officials at most zoos say.

Ariella Camera, a counselor with a summer program run by Boston Rising, an antipoverty group, said some of her charges recently took part in a game at the New England Aquarium that taught them what emits carbon dioxide (many factories, most cars) and what absorbs it (trees and the ocean). They were then challenged to balance the two.

Afterward the students struck up a lively conversation about their carbon footprints, Ms. Camera said. “It was a very engaging presentation,” she said.

Such anecdotes gratify Howard Ris, the aquarium’s president. “We would like as many people, if not everyone, to leave encouraged to take action,” he said.

Others are dubious that it will work. “Zoos have been making claims about their educational value for 150 years,” said Jeffrey Hyson, a cultural historian and the director of the American studies program at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. The zoos “say a lot more about what they think they are doing than they can really demonstrate.”

Zoo managers acknowledge that they initially struggled with the challenge of delivering bad news.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Dr. Boyle noted, some zoos and aquariums made a big push to emphasize threats like the depletion of the earth’s ozone layer, the razing of rain forests by loggers and farmers and the overfishing of the Pacific. Electronic boards toted up the numbers of acres being cleared, and enlarged photographs depicted denuded landscapes.

Surveys of visitors showed a backlash. “For lots of reasons, the institutions tended to approach the issues by talking about the huge scale of the problems,” Dr. Boyle said. “They wanted to attract people’s attention, but what we saw happening over time was that everyday people were overwhelmed.” It did not help that a partisan split had opened in the United States over whether global warming was under way, and whether human activity was the leading cause.

At the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Brian Davis, the vice president for education and training, says to this day his institution ensures its guests will not hear the term global warming. Visitors are “very conservative,” he said. “When they hear certain terms, our guests shut down. We’ve seen it happen.”

Such hesitancy inspired the group of leading aquariums to develop, test and refine their model, which comes off as casual and chatty.

Word choices matter, research showed. The FrameWorks Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies how people process abstract concepts, found the phrase “greenhouse gas effect” perplexed people. “They think it is a nice place for plants to grow,” said FrameWorks’ president, Susan Bales. So her group advised substituting “heat-trapping blanket” to describe the accumulation of gases in the atmosphere.

Today’s guides also make a point of encouraging groups to focus first on the animals, leaving any unpleasant message for later.

At the New England Aquarium’s giant reef tank, visitors peered over the side and watched sand tiger sharks, sea turtles and tropical fish swim around a giant coral reef. As a diver entered the tank to feed the fish, a guide explained that the smaller ones tend to hide in coral for safety.

A few minutes passed before she told the crowd that corals around the world are bleaching and dying because of a pronounced rise in ocean temperature and acidity.

Upon leaving, the visitors were briefed on positive steps they could take, like using public transportation or bikes and being cautious about energy consumption.

Yet sometimes, the zoo animals are so entrancing that a climate-related message may fall on deaf ears.

Leanne Gaffney, who recently brought four high school students from a summer enrichment program to the New England Aquarium, said they were fascinated by creatures like leafy sea dragons and tropical snakes, but not so much by how their habitats were faring.

“They are teenage boys,” she said. “Mostly they just wanted to see the anacondas.”

Ape ‘genius’ smarter than the average chimp (Discovery News)

Geniuses exist among non-humans, but no one attribute constitutes intelligence.

By Jennifer Viegas – Mon Aug 27, 2012 06:01 AM ET

Chimp

Natasha, who appears in this photo, outperformed other chimps on tests given by researchers to measure intelligence. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology/Esther Herrmann

Certain apes appear to be much smarter than others, with at least one chimpanzee now called “exceptional” when compared to other chimps.

The standout chimp, an adult female in her 20s named Natasha, scored off the charts in a battery of tests. The findings, published in the latest Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, suggest that geniuses exist among non-humans, but that no one attribute constitutes intelligence.

Instead, a perfect storm of abilities seems to come together to create the Einsteins of the animal kingdom. Natasha’s keepers at the Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary in Uganda knew she was special even before the latest study.

“The caretakers named Natasha as the smartest chimpanzee, precisely the same chimpanzee that our tests had revealed to be exceptional,” study authors Esther Herrmann and Josep Call of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology wrote.

“All three of the most experienced caretakers included Natasha in their lists (of the most intelligent chimps),” they added.

Natasha has made headlines over the months for her attention-grabbing antics. For instance, she repeatedly escaped her former enclosure, surrounded by an electric fence. She did this by tossing branches at the fence until she didn’t see a spark, letting her know that the power was off.

She also learned how to tease humans, beckoning them to throw food her way, only to spray the unsuspecting person with water.

Herrmann and Call decided to study this chimp, along with numerous others, to see if there really are chimp prodigies among non-human great apes. To do this, the researchers created a multi-part mental challenge consisting of eight tasks.

chimp"WATCH VIDEO: See how chimp family groups cope with the death of a close relative. (Caution: Images may be disturbing to some viewers.)

For the first task, the chimps had to find hidden food, testing their spatial knowledge. For the second, the chimps wielded a tool — avoiding a trap — to again obtain a food reward. The remaining tasks demonstrated understanding of things like color, size and shape.

“We identified some individuals who consistently scored well across (the) multiple tasks,” wrote the authors, who again made note of Natasha, who aced nearly every task.

The researchers could not identify “a general intelligence factor.” They instead indicate that ape intelligence might be a bundling of skills related to learning, tool usage, understanding of quantities, and an ability to reach conclusions based on evidence and reasoning.

As the saying goes, necessity may be the mother of invention and, at least in some cases, one reason behind chimp cleverness.

Call, for example, told Discovery News about chimps that make tools for extracting termites out of mounds. The process requires several steps.

“They uproot the stem or use their teeth to clip the stem at the base and then remove the large leaf from the distal end by clipping it with their teeth before transporting the stem to the termite nest, where they complete tool manufacture by modifying the end into a ‘paint brush’ tip by pulling the stem through their teeth, splitting the probe lengthwise by pulling off strands of fiber, or separating the fibers by biting them,” he said.

As for why only some chimps go through such an elaborate process, “a lot depends on the ecological constraints and needs,” he said.

In terms of other animals, Herrmann and Call mention the dogs Rico and Chaser, who knew the meaning of hundreds of words.

“Interestingly,” the scientists point out, “all of these dogs (considered to be very smart) are border collies. And many of their owners reported that they did not train the dogs to play the fetching game; it was the dogs who trained them!”

The jury is still out on what exactly constitutes such cleverness. The researchers propose that more studies be conducted, with “tasks that capture cognitive, motivational and temperament dimensions.”

That’s because, in part, a willingness to learn and a positive attitude seem to make as big of a difference in dogs, chimps and other animals as they do in humans.

NEWS: Zoo Chimp Makes Elaborate Plots to Attack Humans

NEWS: Chimps Are Self-Aware

NEWS: Chimps Have Better Sex Than Humans

Study Reveals Human Drive for Fair Play (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2012) — People will reject an offer of water, even when they are severely thirsty, if they perceive the offer to be unfair, according to a new study funded by the Wellcome Trust. The findings have important implications for understanding how humans make decisions that must balance fairness and self-interest.

It’s been known for some time that when humans bargain for money they have a tendency to reject unfair offers, preferring to let both parties walk away with nothing rather than accept a low offer in the knowledge that their counterpart is taking home more cash.

In contrast, when bargaining for food, our closes relatives chimpanzees will almost always accept an offer regardless of any subjective idea of ‘fairness’.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL wanted to see whether humans would similarly accept unfair offers if they were bargaining for a basic physiological need, such as food, water or sex.

The team recruited 21 healthy participants and made 11 of them thirsty by drip-feeding them a salty solution, whilst the remainder received an isotonic solution that had a much smaller effect on their level of thirst. To obtain an objective measure of each individual’s need for water, the team measured the salt concentration in their blood. The participants’ subjective perception of how thirsty they were was assessed using a simple rating scale.

The participants then separately took part in an ultimatum game. They were given instructions that two of them had been randomly selected to play a game to decide the split of a 500ml bottle of water that could be consumed immediately. One of them would play the part of ‘Proposer’ and decide how the bottle should be split. The other would be a ‘Responder’ who could either accept the split and so drink the water offered to them, or reject the split so that both parties would get nothing. The participants knew that they would have to wait a full hour after the end of the game before they would have access to water.

In reality, all of the participants played the part of the Responder. They were presented with two glasses of water with a highly unequal offer that they were told was from the Proposer: the glass offered to them contained 62.5ml, an eighth of the original bottle of water, and the other contained the remaining seven eighths that the Proposer wanted to keep for themselves. They had fifteen seconds to decide whether to accept or reject the offer.

The team found that, unlike chimpanzees, the human participants tended to reject the highly unequal offer, and here that was the case even if they were severely thirsty. The participants’ choices were not influenced by how thirsty they actually were, as measured objectively from the blood sample. However, they were more likely to accept the offer if they subjectively felt that they were thirsty.

Dr Nick Wright, who led the study, explains: “Whether or not fairness is a uniquely human motivation has been a source of controversy. These findings show that humans, unlike even our closest relatives chimpanzees, reject an unfair offer of a primary reward like food or water — and will do that even when severely thirsty. However, we also show this fairness motivation is traded-off against self-interest, and that this self-interest is not determined by how their objective need for water but instead by their subjective perception of thirst. These findings are interesting for understanding how subjective feelings of fairness and self-interested need impact on everyday decisions, for example in the labour market.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Nicholas D. Wright, Karen Hodgson, Stephen M. Fleming, Mkael Symmonds, Marc Guitart-Masip, Raymond J. Dolan.Human responses to unfairness with primary rewards and their biological limitsScientific Reports, 2012; 2 DOI: 10.1038/srep00593

A quem serve negar o impacto PCC? (Caros Amigos)

Publicado em Sexta, 24 Agosto 2012 14:26

Por Daniel Hirata, Adalton Marques, Gabriel Feltran e Karina Biondi

“Ao ser citada em um relatório com uma redução que posiciona a cidade abaixo da linha imaginária do índice “epidêmico”, as políticas governamentais de segurança ganham enorme respaldo nacional e internacional”

As taxas de homicídios são atualmente o grande parâmetro de avaliação das políticas de segurança em todo o mundo. Assim como a cotação do dólar e a taxa de juros para a política monetária, as flutuações das taxas de homicídios vêm sendo parâmetro de avaliação da gestão pública: cidades que conseguem reduções expressivas são vistas como modelos de ”boas práticas” a replicar. São Paulo foi incluída recentemente, no relatório de 2011 do Onudoc (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), como um ‘case’ na redução da taxa de homicídios em comparação com outras cidades latino americanas e brasileiras. Ao ser citada em um relatório desse tipo, sobretudo com uma redução que posiciona a cidade abaixo da linha imaginária do que é considerado um índice “epidêmico”, as políticas governamentais de segurança ganham enorme respaldo nacional e internacional.

Crédito Eleitoral

Sabe-se bem como esse ganho foi capitalizado rapidamente pelo governo paulista durante a última década. Contudo, esse crédito eleitoral e, acima de tudo, político-administrativo, não foi usufruído sem que, bem longe das razões governamentais, se constituísse um lastro que sustenta outra história acerca da redução das taxas de homicídios.

Nossas pesquisas voltaram os olhos precisamente para esta versão, levando a sério aquilo que se insiste em considerar anômico: o que dizem presos e moradores das periferias de São Paulo sobre a violência, a segurança e os homicídios. Nessa mesma direção, desde 2005, temos registrado entre eles relatos da política de “paz” do PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) em prisões e “quebradas”, e a importância dos seus “debates” na redução dos homicídios por ali. Sabe-se que, nesses territórios, desde a primeira metade dos anos 2000, “não se pode mais matar” sem o aval do “Comando”.

“A emergência dessa forma de regulação torna complexa a deslegitimação da “segurança pública” nas periferias, onde a repressão é sua única face: seja pela política de encarceramento em massa, pela militarização da gestão pública ou pelos achaques a que seus moradores são constantemente submetidos”

A emergência dessa forma de regulação torna complexa a deslegitimação da “segurança pública” nas periferias, onde a repressão é sua única face: seja pela política de encarceramento em massa, pela militarização da gestão pública ou pelos achaques a que seus moradores são constantemente submetidos. O impacto dessas políticas nas estatísticas é evidente, embora silenciado ativamente e sistematicamente por governos e imprensa e rejeitado por ‘think tanks’ que disputam o tema segurança pública, assim como fora praticamente desconsiderado em nossas universidades há poucos anos.

Fator PCC

Há uma razoável concordância entre os especialistas de que a violência e o homicídio são fenômenos históricos e multidimensionais. Nesse sentido, é claro que o PCC não é a única causa dessa redução. Mas digamos francamente: é um absurdo fingir que o PCC não é central para compreender esse fenômeno. Em São Paulo, há muito mais mistérios por detrás da redução dos homicídios do que supõe nossa vã criminologia. Mas, principalmente, há muito mais evidências ofuscadas sob o holofote das suposições.

Afirmamos, portanto, que os sucessivos governos do PSDB em São Paulo não são os únicos fiadores da redução da taxa de homicídios no Estado, nem mesmo os majoritários. E, ao invés de atribuirmos a fiança majoritária ao PCC, preferimos falar de sua centralidade, da importância inegável de sua política de “paz entre os ladrões” para a queda dos homicídios em São Paulo.

Etnografia

Nossa aferição não é sociométrica; antes, se trata de uma problematização etnográfica. Além do que, sabe-se que os critérios de construção dessas medidas são polêmicos e cheios de controvérsias. No Rio de Janeiro, por exemplo, onde esse tipo de controvérsia emerge de forma mais visível publicamente, uma pesquisa recente do Núcleo de Estudos da Cidadania, Conflito e Violência Urbana (NECVU) sobre os “autos de resistência” problematiza a leitura fácil sobre as taxas de homicídio justamente quando volta a atenção para onde os olhos dos governos insistem em não olhar: a atuação das polícias.

“Ao largo das condecorações fáceis dos responsáveis pela miraculosa queda dos homicídios, preferimos seguir os rastros das “guerras” que continuam a aterrorizar a periferia – ainda que suas manifestações mais espetaculares tenham se tornado cíclicas”

Ao largo das condecorações fáceis dos responsáveis pela miraculosa queda dos homicídios, preferimos seguir os rastros das “guerras” (categoria usada por “ladrões” e por policiais) que continuam a aterrorizar a periferia – ainda que suas manifestações mais espetaculares tenham se tornado cíclicas. É notório em nossas pesquisas que parte das dinâmicas que produzem mortes na cidade estão relacionadas aos jogos de poder entre coletivos criminais e corporações policiais, em suas atividades oficiais e extra oficiais. A atual intensificação do caráter repressivo e militar das políticas de segurança não apenas acentua a “lógica da guerra” no controle oficial do crime, como também aumenta os custos e os conflitos operantes nos mercados extra oficiais de proteção, cujos desfechos letais são muito frequentes no cotidiano dos alvos preferenciais desse controle.

Equilíbrios Instáveis

Neste momento, ao contrário do discurso oficial que insiste em negar a existência do PCC e exibe a polícia de São Paulo como a mais eficaz do Brasil, a cidade presencia diversos assassinatos em todas as regiões da Grande São Paulo. O fato é que tanto a atuação do PCC como a das polícias são feitas a partir de equilíbrios instáveis, construídos pelas suas heterogeneidades internas e pelas relações entre ambos. Quando algo desestabiliza esse encadeamento sensível os acordos se rompem e os ciclos de mortes são detonados sem que nem mesmo seus participantes consigam identificar os autores: guerras estancadas começam a correr subterraneamente, acertos adiados passam a acontecer entre grupos com interesses conflitantes sem declaração aberta, acordos são suspensos secretamente, de modo que sempre é possível culpar o “outro lado” pela morte que não se pode nomear o autor nem as razões.

Enquanto não escancararmos com pesquisa rigorosa a caixa de pandora dessas relações para ao menos dar início ao debate, continuaremos sem qualquer resposta pública, digna, para as dezenas de assassinatos que voltaram a marcar a Grande São Paulo, bem como sem uma explicação satisfatória que correlacione a política de “pacificação” do PCC com os surtos de combate entre Estado e crime.


Daniel Hirata é pesquisador do Núcleo de Estudos da Cidadania, Conflito e Violência Urbana (NECVU) da UFRJ; Adalton Marques é doutorando do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia Social da UFSCar (PPGAS-UFSCar); Gabriel Feltran é sociólogo, docente da UFSCar e membro do Centro de Estudos da Metrópole (CEM) da universidade e Karina Biondi é doutoranda do PPGAS-UFSCar

 

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Mães de Maio pede ação de Dilma para conter ataques em SP

Bonobo genius makes stone tools like early humans did (New Scientist)

13:09 21 August 2012 by Hannah Krakauer

Kanzi the bonobo continues to impress. Not content with learning sign language or making up “words” for things like banana or juice, he now seems capable of making stone tools on a par with the efforts of early humans.

Even a human could manage this <i>(Image: Elizabeth Rubert-Pugh (Great Ape Trust of Iowa/Bonobo Hope Sanctuary))</i>

Even a human could manage this (Image: Elizabeth Rubert-Pugh (Great Ape Trust of Iowa/Bonobo Hope Sanctuary))

Eviatar Nevo of the University of Haifa in Israel and his colleagues sealed food inside a log to mimic marrow locked inside long bones, and watched Kanzi, a 30-year-old male bonobo chimp, try to extract it. While a companion bonobo attempted the problem a handful of times, and succeeded only by smashing the log on the ground, Kanzi took a longer and arguably more sophisticated approach.

Both had been taught to knap flint flakes in the 1990s, holding a stone core in one hand and using another as a hammer. Kanzi used the tools he created to come at the log in a variety of ways: inserting sticks into seams in the log, throwing projectiles at it, and employing stone flints as choppers, drills, and scrapers. In the end, he got food out of 24 logs, while his companion managed just two.

Perhaps most remarkable about the tools Kanzi created is their resemblance to early hominid tools. Both bonobos made and used tools to obtain food – either by extracting it from logs or by digging it out of the ground. But only Kanzi’s met the criteria for both tool groups made by early Homo: wedges and choppers, and scrapers and drills.

Do Kanzi’s skills translate to all bonobos? It’s hard to say. The abilities of animals like Alex the parrot, who could purportedly count to six, and Betty the crow, who crafted a hook out of wire, sometimes prompt claims about the intelligence of an entire species. But since these animals are raised in unusual environments where they frequently interact with humans, their cases may be too singular to extrapolate their talents to their brethren.

The findings will fuel the ongoing debate over whether stone tools mark the beginning of modern human culture, or predate our Homo genus. They appear to suggest the latter – though critics will point out that Kanzi and his companion were taught how to make the tools. Whether the behaviour could arise in nature is unclear.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1212855109

Piauí: chantagem eleitoral para entregar água (Outras Mídias)

30 DE AGOSTO DE 2012

Chefes políticos aproveitam-se da seca e condicionam chegada de caminhões-pipa a eleição de seus candidatos

Por Tânia Martins, no Piauí Sempre Verde

[Título original: “No interior do Piauí só tem água quem vota no político que está no poder”]

Neste momento em que cerca de um milhão de pessoas do semiárido do Piauí, estão atravessando uma das mais longas secas já vista por essas bandas, denúncias apontam que políticos das regiões atingidas estão aproveitando a dor das famílias para se beneficiarem através da troca de água por voto. Os exemplos são muitos e ocorrem desde a área da Chapada do Araripe, próximo a divisa com o Ceará, na região de Picos e de São Raimundo Nonato, no Sudeste do Estado.

No município de Simões, a 470 quilometros de Teresina as entidades Cáritas Brasileira e Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores do Estado-MPA. Garantem que cabos eleitorais conseguem manipular a distribuição da água, entregando a metade do tanque do carro-pipa deixando a outra metade para distribuir em troca de voto ou vendendo a preços exorbitantes.

As denúncias assim também ocorrem no Sul e Sudeste, onde milhares de famílias estão sem água a pelos menos dez meses. Segundo o coordenador da Cárita no Piauí, Carlos Humberto, na zona rural dos municípios da região de São Raimundo Nonato, trabalhadores rurais denunciaram que famílias que não apoiam políticos que estão no comando, ficam sem água. Segundo ele, embora o sertanejo tema denunciar os chefes políticos, alguns relataram o crime para o Correio Brasiliense, que esteve na região e publicou a denúncia. “A publicação da reportagem foi o que motivou a Cárita lançar a campanha “Não Toque Seu Voto Por Água”, em todo o semiárido nordestino.

Carlos Humberto lembra que o Comitê Estadual de Combate a Seca não tem representantes da sociedade civil, apenas instituições governamentais. Já Afonso Galvão, representante do MPA sustenta que a troca de voto por água está ocorrendo na região de Picos, porém, os trabalhadores preferem não denunciar pois temem não receberem o pouco de água que têm direito. “Existem comunidades que ficam distantes da água mais de 30 quilometros, se não for o carro-pipa, elas morrem de sede, como vem acontecendo com os animais., essas pessoas nunca que vão querer denunciar os políticos”, diz.

Ele conta que o Exército tem conhecimento da troca e venda, porém, como vem ocorrendo em muitos municípios não tem como dar conta. Já na Seção Operação Pipa no 25° Batalhão, em Teresina, a informação é que o controle de distribuição é rigoroso. Segundo um dos militares envolvido no trabalho, o comandante responsável, coronel Humberto Silva Marques, encontra-se em viagem para as regiões, apurando denúncias como as relatadas nas áreas atingidas.

Ele adianta que nos 70 municípios onde o Exercíto atua no Piauí, chefes políticos não têm acesso a fichas que dão direito a água sendo as mesmas entregues direto em mãos dos beneficiários. Na região de Simões e Socorro do Piauí, que, segunda as entidades estão vendendo água do carro-pipa por R$ 250, o trabalho é coordenado pelo o Batalhão de Cratéus-CE e que vai passar para o controle do 25° em data posterior. Os demais municípios, mais de 80, ficam sob a responsabilidade da Defesa Civil do Estado.

A Defesa da Defesa Civil também nega que esteja havendo manipulação da água. Segundo o Diretor de Unidade da Defesa Civil do Estado, Jerry Hebert, a instituição é dotada de dez fiscais que estão regularmente em campo fiscalizando a operação e até o momento não há registro de desvio de água por políticos. “Sabemos que não existe sistema seguro totalmente, mas, na medida do possível estamos trabalhando para evitar que ocorra”, assegura e diz que as Comissões da Defesa Civil dos Municípios, também fiscalizam a distribuição.
Lançamento da Campanha

No próximo dia 5, a Articulação no Semi-Árido (ASA) vai lançar a campanha Não Troque Seu Voto por Água. O objetivo é alertar, fiscalizar e denunciar os abusos no uso eleitoreiro da água, conforme denúncias de trabalhadores rurais. O evento será na Praça Rio Branco, na oportunidade será lançado também o Grito dos Excluídos.

Tânia Martins é Jornalista Ambiental

Climate Science as Culture War (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

ENVIRONMENT

The public debate around climate change is no longer about science—it’s about values, culture, and ideology.

By Andrew J. Hoffman | 18 | Fall 2012

earth_first_members_environmentSouth Florida Earth First members protest outside the Platts Coal Properties and Investment Conference in West Palm Beach. (Photo by Bruce R. Bennett/Zum Press/Newscom)

In May 2009, a development officer at the University of Michigan asked me to meet with a potential donor—a former football player and now successful businessman who had an interest in environmental issues and business, my interdisciplinary area of expertise. The meeting began at 7 a.m., and while I was still nursing my first cup of coffee, the potential donor began the conversation with “I think the scientific review process is corrupt.” I asked what he thought of a university based on that system, and he said that he thought that the university was then corrupt, too. He went on to describe the science of climate change as a hoax, using all the familiar lines of attack—sunspots and solar flares, the unscientific and politically flawed consensus model, and the environmental benefits of carbon dioxide.

As we debated each point, he turned his attack on me, asking why I hated capitalism and why I wanted to destroy the economy by teaching environmental issues in a business school. Eventually, he asked if I knew why Earth Day was on April 22. I sighed as he explained, “Because it is Karl Marx’s birthday.” (I suspect he meant to say Vladimir Lenin, whose birthday is April 22, also Earth Day. This linkage has been made by some on the far right who believe that Earth Day is a communist plot, even though Lenin never promoted environmentalism and communism does not have a strong environmental legacy.)

I turned to the development officer and asked, “What’s our agenda here this morning?” The donor interrupted to say that he wanted to buy me a ticket to the Heartland Institute’s Fourth Annual Conference on Climate Change, the leading climate skeptics conference. I checked my calendar and, citing prior commitments, politely declined. The meeting soon ended.

I spent the morning trying to make sense of the encounter. At first, all I could see was a bait and switch; the donor had no interest in funding research in business and the environment, but instead wanted to criticize the effort. I dismissed him as an irrational zealot, but the meeting lingered in my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that he was speaking from a coherent and consistent worldview—one I did not agree with, but which was a coherent viewpoint nonetheless. Plus, he had come to evangelize me. The more I thought about it, the more I became eager to learn about where he was coming from, where I was coming from, and why our two worldviews clashed so strongly in the present social debate over climate science. Ironically, in his desire to challenge my research, he stimulated a new research stream, one that fit perfectly with my broader research agenda on social, institutional, and cultural change.

Scientific vs. Social Consensus

Today, there is no doubt that a scientific consensus exists on the issue of climate change. Scientists have documented that anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases are leading to a buildup in the atmosphere, which leads to a general warming of the global climate and an alteration in the statistical distribution of localized weather patterns over long periods of time. This assessment is endorsed by a large body of scientific agencies—including every one of the national scientific agencies of the G8 + 5 countries—and by the vast majority of climatologists. The majority of research articles published in refereed scientific journals also support this scientific assessment. Both the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science use the word “consensus” when describing the state of climate science.

And yet a social consensus on climate change does not exist. Surveys show that the American public’s belief in the science of climate change has mostly declined over the past five years, with large percentages of the population remaining skeptical of the science. Belief declined from 71 percent to 57 percent between April 2008 and October 2009, according to an October 2009 Pew Research Center poll; more recently, belief rose to 62 percent, according to a February 2012 report by the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change. Such a significant number of dissenters tells us that we do not have a set of socially accepted beliefs on climate change—beliefs that emerge, not from individual preferences, but from societal norms; beliefs that represent those on the political left, right, and center as well as those whose cultural identifications are urban, rural, religious, agnostic, young, old, ethnic, or racial.

Why is this so? Why do such large numbers of Americans reject the consensus of the scientific community? With upwards of two-thirds of Americans not clearly understanding science or the scientific process and fewer able to pass even a basic scientific literacy test, according to a 2009 California Academy of Sciences survey, we are left to wonder: How do people interpret and validate the opinions of the scientific community? The answers to this question can be found, not from the physical sciences, but from the social science disciplines of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and others.

To understand the processes by which a social consensus can emerge on climate change, we must understand that people’s opinions on this and other complex scientific issues are based on their prior ideological preferences, personal experience, and values—all of which are heavily influenced by their referent groups and their individual psychology. Physical scientists may set the parameters for understanding the technical aspects of the climate debate, but they do not have the final word on whether society accepts or even understands their conclusions. The constituency that is relevant in the social debate goes beyond scientific experts. And the processes by which this constituency understands and assesses the science of climate change go far beyond its technical merits. We must acknowledge that the debate over climate change, like almost all environmental issues, is a debate over culture, worldviews, and ideology.

This fact can be seen most vividly in the growing partisan divide over the issue. Political affiliation is one of the strongest correlates with individual uncertainty about climate change, not scientific knowledge.1 The percentage of conservatives and Republicans who believe that the effects of global warming have already begun declined from roughly 50 percent in 2001 to about 30 percent in 2010, while the corresponding percentage for liberals and Democrats increased from roughly 60 percent in 2001 to about 70 percent in 2010.2 (See “The Growing Partisan Divide over Climate Change,” below.)

 

Climate change has become enmeshed in the so-called culture wars. Acceptance of the scientific consensus is now seen as an alignment with liberal views consistent with other “cultural” issues that divide the country (abortion, gun control, health care, and evolution). This partisan divide on climate change was not the case in the 1990s. It is a recent phenomenon, following in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty that threatened the material interests of powerful economic and political interests, particularly members of the fossil fuel industry.3 The great danger of a protracted partisan divide is that the debate will take the form of what I call a “logic schism,” a breakdown in debate in which opposing sides are talking about completely different cultural issues.4

This article seeks to delve into the climate change debate through the lens of the social sciences. I take this approach not because the physical sciences have become less relevant, but because we need to understand the social and psychological processes by which people receive and understand the science of global warming. I explain the cultural dimensions of the climate debate as it is currently configured, outline three possible paths by which the debate can progress, and describe specific techniques that can drive that debate toward broader consensus. This goal is imperative, for without a broader consensus on climate change in the United States, Americans and people around the globe will be unable to formulate effective social, political, and economic solutions to the changing circumstances of our planet.

Cultural Processing of Climate Science

When analyzing complex scientific information, people are “boundedly rational,” to use Nobel Memorial Prize economist Herbert Simon’s phrase; we are “cognitive misers,” according to UCLA psychologist Susan Fiske and Princeton University psychologist Shelley Taylor, with limited cognitive ability to fully investigate every issue we face. People everywhere employ ideological filters that reflect their identity, worldview, and belief systems. These filters are strongly influenced by group values, and we generally endorse the position that most directly reinforces the connection we have with others in our referent group—what Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan refers to as “cultural cognition.” In so doing, we cement our connection with our cultural groups and strengthen our definition of self. This tendency is driven by an innate desire to maintain a consistency in beliefs by giving greater weight to evidence and arguments that support preexisting beliefs, and by expending disproportionate energy trying to refute views or arguments that are contrary to those beliefs. Instead of investigating a complex issue, we often simply learn what our referent group believes and seek to integrate those beliefs with our own views.

Over time, these ideological filters become increasingly stable and resistant to change through multiple reinforcing mechanisms. First, we’ll consider evidence when it is accepted or, ideally, presented by a knowledgeable source from our cultural community; and we’ll dismiss information that is advocated by sources that represent groups whose values we reject. Second, we will selectively choose information sources that support our ideological position. For example, frequent viewers of Fox News are more likely to say that the Earth’s temperature has not been rising, that any temperature increase is not due to human activities, and that addressing climate change would have deleterious effects on the economy.5 One might expect the converse to be true of National Public Radio listeners. The result of this cultural processing and group cohesion dynamics leads to two overriding conclusions about the climate change debate.

First, climate change is not a “pollution” issue. Although the US Supreme Court decided in 2007 that greenhouse gases were legally an air pollutant, in a cultural sense, they are something far different. The reduction of greenhouse gases is not the same as the reduction of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, or particulates. These forms of pollution are man-made, they are harmful, and they are the unintended waste products of industrial production. Ideally, we would like to eliminate their production through the mobilization of economic and technical resources. But the chief greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is both man-made and natural. It is not inherently harmful; it is a natural part of the natural systems; and we do not desire to eliminate its production. It is not a toxic waste or a strictly technical problem to be solved. Rather, it is an endemic part of our society and who we are. To a large degree, it is a highly desirable output, as it correlates with our standard of living. Greenhouse gas emissions rise with a rise in a nation’s wealth, something all people want. To reduce carbon dioxide requires an alteration in nearly every facet of the economy, and therefore nearly every facet of our culture. To recognize greenhouse gases as a problem requires us to change a great deal about how we view the world and ourselves within it. And that leads to the second distinction.

Climate change is an existential challenge to our contemporary worldviews. The cultural challenge of climate change is enormous and threefold, each facet leading to the next. The first facet is that we have to think of a formerly benign, even beneficial, material in a new way—as a relative, not absolute, hazard. Only in an imbalanced concentration does it become problematic. But to understand and accept this, we need to conceive of the global ecosystem in a new way.

This challenge leads us to the second facet: Not only do we have to change our view of the ecosystem, but we also have to change our view of our place within it. Have we as a species grown to such numbers, and has our technology grown to such power, that we can alter and manage the ecosystem on a planetary scale? This is an enormous cultural question that alters our worldviews. As a result, some see the question and subsequent answer as intellectual and spiritual hubris, but others see it as self-evident.

If we answer this question in the affirmative, the third facet challenges us to consider new and perhaps unprecedented forms of global ethics and governance to address it. Climate change is the ultimate “commons problem,” as ecologist Garrett Hardin defined it, where every individual has an incentive to emit greenhouse gases to improve her standard of living, but the costs of this activity are borne by all. Unfortunately, the distribution of costs in this global issue is asymmetrical, with vulnerable populations in poor countries bearing the larger burden. So we need to rethink our ethics to keep pace with our technological abilities. Does mowing the lawn or driving a fuel-inefficient car in Ann Arbor, Mich., have ethical implications for the people living in low-lying areas of Bangladesh? If you accept anthropogenic climate change, then the answer to this question is yes, and we must develop global institutions to reflect that recognition. This is an issue of global ethics and governance on a scale that we have never seen, affecting virtually every economic activity on the globe and requiring the most complicated and intrusive global agreement ever negotiated.

Taken together, these three facets of our existential challenge illustrate the magnitude of the cultural debate that climate change provokes. Climate change challenges us to examine previously unexamined beliefs and worldviews. It acts as a flash point (albeit a massive one) for deeper cultural and ideological conflicts that lie at the root of many of our environmental problems, and it includes differing conceptions of science, economics, religion, psychology, media, development, and governance. It is a proxy for “deeper conflicts over alternative visions of the future and competing centers of authority in society,” as University of East Anglia climatologist Mike Hulme underscores in Why We Disagree About Climate Change. And, as such, it provokes a violent debate among cultural communities on one side who perceive their values to be threatened by change, and cultural communities on the other side who perceive their values to be threatened by the status quo.

Three Ways Forward

If the public debate over climate change is no longer about greenhouse gases and climate models, but about values, worldviews, and ideology, what form will this clash of ideologies take? I see three possible forms.

The Optimistic Form is where people do not have to change their values at all. In other words, the easiest way to eliminate the common problems of climate change is to develop technological solutions that do not require major alterations to our values, worldviews, or behavior: carbon-free renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, geo-engineering, and others. Some see this as an unrealistic future. Others see it as the only way forward, because people become attached to their level of prosperity, feel entitled to keep it, and will not accept restraints or support government efforts to impose restraints.6Government-led investment in alternative energy sources, therefore, becomes more acceptable than the enactment of regulations and taxes to reduce fossil fuel use.

The Pessimistic Form is where people fight to protect their values. This most dire outcome results in a logic schism, where opposing sides debate different issues, seek only information that supports their position and disconfirms the others’, and even go so far as to demonize the other. University of Colorado, Boulder, environmental scientist Roger Pielke in The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics describes the extreme of such schisms as “abortion politics,” where the two sides are debating completely different issues and “no amount of scientific information … can reconcile the different values.” Consider, for example, the recent decision by the Heartland Institute to post a billboard in Chicago comparing those who believe in climate change with the Unabomber. In reply, climate activist groups posted billboards attacking Heartland and its financial supporters. This attack-counterattack strategy is symptomatic of a broken public discourse over climate change.

The Consensus-Based Form involves a reasoned societal debate, focused on the full scope of technical and social dimensions of the problem and the feasibility and desirability of multiple solutions. It is this form to which scientists have the most to offer, playing the role of what Pielke calls the “honest broker”—a person who can “integrate scientific knowledge with stakeholder concerns to explore alternative possible courses of action.” Here, resolution is found through a focus on its underlying elements, moving away from positions (for example, climate change is or is not happening), and toward the underlying interests and values at play. How do we get there? Research in negotiation and dispute resolution can offer techniques for moving forward.

Techniques for a Consensus-Based Discussion

In seeking a social consensus on climate change, discussion must move beyond a strict focus on the technical aspects of the science to include its cultural underpinnings. Below are eight techniques for overcoming the ideological filters that underpin the social debate about climate change.

Know your audience | Any message on climate change must be framed in a way that fits with the cultural norms of the target audience. The 2011 study Climate Change in the American Mind segments the American public into six groups based on their views on climate change science. (See “Six Americas,” below.) On the two extremes are the climate change “alarmed” and “dismissive.” Consensus-based discussion is not likely open to these groups, as they are already employing logic schism tactics that are closed to debate or engagement. The polarity of these groups is well known: On the one side, climate change is a hoax, humans have no impact on the climate, and nothing is happening; on the other side, climate change is an imminent crisis that will devastate the Earth, and human activity explains all climate changes.

climate_change_chart_six_americas 

The challenge is to move the debate away from the loud minorities at the extremes and to engage the majority in the middle—the “concerned,” the “cautious,” the “disengaged,” and the “doubtful.” People in these groups are more open to consensus-based debate, and through direct engagement can be separated from the ideological extremes of their cultural community.

Ask the right scientific questions | For a consensus-based discussion, climate change science should be presented not as a binary yes or no question,7 but as a series of six questions. Some are scientific in nature, with associated levels of uncertainty and probability; others are matters of scientific judgment.

  • Are greenhouse gas concentrations increasing in the atmosphere? Yes. This is a scientific question, based on rigorous data and measurements of atmospheric chemistry and science.
  • Does this increase lead to a general warming of the planet? Yes. This is also a scientific question; the chemical mechanics of the greenhouse effect and “negative radiative forcing” are well established.
  • Has climate changed over the past century? Yes. Global temperature increases have been rigorously measured through multiple techniques and strongly supported by multiple scientific analyses.In fact, as Yale University economist William Nordhaus wrote in the March 12, 2012, New York Times, “The finding that global temperatures are rising over the last century-plus is one of the most robust findings in climate science and statistics.”
  • Are humans partially responsible for this increase? The answer to this question is a matter of scientific judgment. Increases in global mean temperatures have a very strong correlation with increases in man-made greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. Although science cannot confirm causation, fingerprint analysis of multiple possible causes has been examined, and the only plausible explanation is that of human-induced temperature changes. Until a plausible alternative hypothesis is presented, this explanation prevails for the scientific community.
  • Will the climate continue to change over the next century? Again, this question is a matter of scientific judgment. But given the answers to the previous four questions, it is reasonable to believe that continued increases in greenhouse gases will lead to continued changes in the climate.
  • What will be the environmental and social impact of such change? This is the scientific question with the greatest uncertainty. The answer comprises a bell curve of possible outcomes and varying associated probabilities, from low to extreme impact. Uncertainty in this variation is due to limited current data on the Earth’s climate system, imperfect modeling of these physical processes, and the unpredictability of human actions that can both exasperate or moderate the climate shifts. These uncertainties make predictions difficult and are an area in which much debate can take place. And yet the physical impacts of climate change are already becoming visible in ways that are consistent with scientific modeling, particularly in Greenland, the Arctic, the Antarctic, and low-lying islands.

In asking these questions, a central consideration is whether people recognize the level of scientific consensus associated with each one. In fact, studies have shown that people’s support for climate policies and action are linked to their perceptions about scientific agreement. Still, the belief that “most scientists think global warming is happening” declined from 47 percent to 39 percent among Americans between 2008 and 2011.8

Move beyond data and models | Climate skepticism is not a knowledge deficit issue. Michigan State University sociologist Aaron McCright and Oklahoma State University sociologist Riley Dunlap have observed that increased education and self-reported understanding of climate science have been shown to correlate with lower concern among conservatives and Republicans and greater concern among liberals and Democrats. Research also has found that once people have made up their minds on the science of the climate issue, providing continued scientific evidence actually makes them more resolute in resisting conclusions that are at variance with their cultural beliefs.9 One needs to recognize that reasoning is suffused with emotion and people often use reasoning to reach a predetermined end that fits their cultural worldviews. When people hear about climate change, they may, for example, hear an implicit criticism that their lifestyle is the cause of the issue or that they are morally deficient for not recognizing it. But emotion can be a useful ally; it can create the abiding commitments needed to sustain action on the difficult issue of climate change. To do this, people must be convinced that something can be done to address it; that the challenge is not too great nor are its impacts preordained. The key to engaging people in a consensus-driven debate about climate change is to confront the emotionality of the issue and then address the deeper ideological values that may be threatened to create this emotionality.

Focus on broker frames | People interpret information by fitting it to preexisting narratives or issue categories that mesh with their worldview. Therefore information must be presented in a form that fits those templates, using carefully researched metaphors, allusions, and examples that trigger a new way of thinking about the personal relevance of climate change. To be effective, climate communicators must use the language of the cultural community they are engaging. For a business audience, for example, one must use business terminology, such as net present value, return on investment, increased consumer demand, and rising raw material costs.

More generally, one can seek possible broker frames that move away from a pessimistic appeal to fear and instead focus on optimistic appeals that trigger the emotionality of a desired future. In addressing climate change, we are asking who we strive to be as a people, and what kind of world we want to leave our children. To gain buy-in, one can stress American know-how and our capacity to innovate, focusing on activities already under way by cities, citizens, and businesses.10

This approach frames climate change mitigation as a gain rather than a loss to specific cultural groups. Research has shown that climate skepticism can be caused by a motivational tendency to defend the status quo based on the prior assumption that any change will be painful. But by encouraging people to regard pro-environmental change as patriotic and consistent with protecting the status quo, it can be framed as a continuation rather than a departure from the past.

Specific broker frames can be used that engage the interests of both sides of the debate. For example, when US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu referred in November 2010 to advances in renewable energy technology in China as the United States’ “Sputnik moment,” he was framing climate change as a common threat to US scientific and economic competitiveness. When Pope Benedict XVI linked the threat of climate change with threats to life and dignity on New Year’s Day 2010, he was painting it as an issue of religious morality. When CNA’s Military Advisory Board, a group of elite retired US military officers, called climate change a “threat multiplier” in its 2006 report, it was using a national security frame. When the Lancet Commission pronounced climate change to be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century in a 2009 article, the organization was using a quality of life frame. And when the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington, D.C., think tank, connected climate change to the conservation ideals of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, they were framing the issue as consistent with Republican values.

One broker frame that deserves particular attention is the replacement of uncertainty or probability of climate change with the risk of climate change.11 People understand low probability, high consequence events and the need to address them. For example, they buy fire insurance for their homes even though the probability of a fire is low, because they understand that the financial consequence is too great. In the same way, climate change for some may be perceived as a low risk, high consequence event, so the prudent course of action is to obtain insurance in the form of both behavioral and technological change.

Recognize the power of language and terminology | Words have multiple meanings in different communities, and terms can trigger unintended reactions in a target audience. For example, one study has shown that Republicans were less likely to think that the phenomenon is real when it is referred to as “global warming” (44 percent) rather than “climate change” (60 percent), but Democrats were unaffected by the term (87 percent vs. 86 percent). So language matters: The partisan divide dropped from 43 percent under a “global warming” frame to 26 percent under a “climate change” frame.12

Other terms with multiple meanings include “climate denier,” which some use to refer to those who are not open to discussion on the issue, and others see as a thinly veiled and highly insulting reference to “Holocaust denier”; “uncertainty,” which is a scientific concept to convey variance or deviation from a specific value, but is interpreted by a lay audience to mean that scientists do not know the answer; and “consensus,” which is the process by which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forms its position, but leads some in the public to believe that climate science is a matter of “opinion” rather than data and modeling.

Overall, the challenge becomes one of framing complex scientific issues in a language that a lay and highly politicized audience can hear. This becomes increasingly challenging when we address some inherently nonintuitive and complex aspects of climate modeling that are hard to explain, such as the importance of feedback loops, time delays, accumulations, and nonlinearities in dynamic systems.13 Unless scientists can accurately convey the nature of climate modeling, others in the social debate will alter their claims to fit their cultural or cognitive perceptions or satisfy their political interests.

Employ climate brokers | People are more likely to feel open to consider evidence when a recognized member of their cultural community presents it.14 Certainly, statements by former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. James Inhofe evoke visceral responses from individuals on either side of the partisan divide. But individuals with credibility on both sides of the debate can act as what I call climate brokers. Because a majority of Republicans do not believe the science of climate change, whereas a majority of Democrats do, the most effective broker would come from the political right. Climate brokers can include representatives from business, the religious community, the entertainment industry, the military, talk show hosts, and politicians who can frame climate change in language that will engage the audience to whom they most directly connect. When people hear about the need to address climate change from their church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, for example, they w ill connect the issue to their moral values. When they hear it from their business leaders and investment managers, they will connect it to their economic interests. And when they hear it from their military leaders, they will connect it to their interest in a safe and secure nation.

Recognize multiple referent groups | The presentation of information can be designed in a fashion that recognizes that individuals are members of multiple referent groups. The underlying frames employed in one cultural community may be at variance with the values dominant within the communities engaged in climate change debate. For example, although some may reject the science of climate change by perceiving the scientific review process to be corrupt as part of one cultural community, they also may recognize the legitimacy of the scientific process as members of other cultural communities (such as users of the modern health care system). Although someone may see the costs of fossil fuel reductions as too great and potentially damaging to the economy as members of one community, they also may see the value in reducing dependence on foreign oil as members of another community who value strong national defense. This frame incongruence emerged in the 2011 US Republican primary as candidate Jon Huntsman warned that Republicans risk becoming the “antiscience party” if they continue to reject the science on climate change. What Huntsman alluded to is that most Americans actually do trust the scientific process, even if they don’t fully understand it. (A 2004 National Science Foundation report found that two thirds of Americans do not clearly understand the scientific process.)

Employ events as leverage for change | Studies have found that most Americans believe that climate change will affect geographically and temporally distant people and places. But studies also have shown that people are more likely to believe in the science when they have an experience with extreme weather phenomena. This has led climate communicators to link climate change to major events, such as Hurricane Katrina, or to more recent floods in the American Midwest and Asia, as well as to droughts in Texas and Africa, to hurricanes along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, and to snowstorms in Western states and New England. The cumulative body of weather evidence, reported by media outlets and linked to climate change, will increase the number of people who are concerned about the issue, see it as less uncertain, and feel more confident that we must take actions to mitigate its effects. For example, in explaining the recent increase in belief in climate change among Americans, the 2012 National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change noted that “about half of Americans now point to observations of temperature changes and weather as the main reasons they believe global warming is taking place.”15

Ending Climate Science Wars

Will we see a social consensus on climate change? If beliefs about the existence of global warming are becoming more ideologically entrenched and gaps between conservatives and liberals are widening, the solution space for resolving the issue will collapse and the debate will be based on power and coercion. In such a scenario, domination by the science-based forces looks less likely than domination by the forces of skepticism, because the former has to “prove” its case while the latter merely needs to cast doubt. But such a polarized outcome is not a predetermined outcome. And if it were to form, it can be reversed.

Is there a reason to be hopeful? When looking for reasons to be hopeful about a social consensus on climate change, I look to public opinion changes around cigarette smoking and cancer. For years, the scientific community recognized that the preponderance of epidemiological and mechanistic data pointed to a link between the habit and the disease. And for years, the public rejected that conclusion. But through a process of political, economic, social, and legal debate over values and beliefs, a social consensus emerged. The general public now accepts that cigarettes cause cancer and governments have set policy to address this. Interestingly, two powerful forces that many see as obstacles to a comparable social consensus on climate change were overcome in the cigarette debate.

The first obstacle is the powerful lobby of industrial forces that can resist a social and political consensus. In the case of the cigarette debate, powerful economic interests mounted a campaign to obfuscate the scientific evidence and to block a social and political consensus. Tobacco companies created their own pro-tobacco science, but eventually the public health community overcame pro-tobacco scientists.

The second obstacle to convincing a skeptical public is the lack of a definitive statement by the scientific community about the future implications of climate change. The 2007 IPCC report states that “Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. … [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is very likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.” Some point to the word “likely” to argue that scientists still don’t know and action in unwarranted. But science is not designed to provide a definitive smoking gun. Remember that the 1964 surgeon general’s report about the dangers of smoking was equally conditional. And even today, we cannot state with scientific certainty that smoking causes lung cancer. Like the global climate, the human body is too complex a system for absolute certainty. We can explain epidemiologically why a person could get cancer from cigarette smoking and statistically how that person will likely get cancer, but, as the surgeon general report explains, “statistical methods cannot establish proof of a causal relationship in an association [between cigarette smoking and lung cancer]. The causal significance of an association is a matter of judgment, which goes beyond any statement of statistical probability.” Yet the general public now accepts this causal linkage.

What will get us there? Although climate brokers are needed from all areas of society—from business, religion, military, and politics—one field in particular needs to become more engaged: the academic scientist and particularly the social scientist. Too much of the debate is dominated by the physical sciences in defining the problem and by economics in defining the solutions. Both fields focus heavily on the rational and quantitative treatments of the issue and fail to capture the behavioral and cultural aspects that explain why people accept or reject scientific evidence, analysis, and conclusions. But science is never socially or politically inert, and scientists have a duty to recognize its effect on society and to communicate that effect to society. Social scientists can help in this endeavor.

But the relative absence of the social sciences in the climate debate is driven by specific structural and institutional controls that channel research work away from empirical relevance. Social scientists limit involvement in such “outside” activities, because the underlying norms of what is considered legitimate and valuable research, as well as the overt incentives and reward structures within the academy, lead away from such endeavors. Tenure and promotion are based primarily on the publication of top-tier academic journal articles. This is the signal of merit and success. Any effort on any other endeavor is decidedly discouraged.

The role of the public intellectual has become an arcane and elusive option in today’s social sciences. Moreover, it is a difficult role to play. The academic rules are not clear and the public backlash can be uncomfortable; many of my colleagues and I are regular recipients of hostile e-mail messages and web-based attacks. But the lack of academic scientists in the public debate harms society by leaving out critical voices for informing and resolving the climate debate. There are signs, however, that this model of scholarly isolation is changing. Some leaders within the field have begun to call for more engagement within the public arena as a way to invigorate the discipline and underscore its investment in the defense of civil society. As members of society, all scientists have a responsibility to bring their expertise to the decision-making process. It is time for social scientists to accept this responsibility.

Notes

1 Wouter Poortinga et al., “Uncertain Climate: An Investigation into Public Skepticism
About Anthropogenic Climate Change
,” Global Environmental Change, August 2011.
2 Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap, “The Politicization of Climate Change and Polarization
in the American Public’s Views of Global Warming, 2001-2010
,” The Sociological
Quarterly
 52, 2011.
3 Clive Hamilton, “Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change,” paper presented
to the Climate Controversies: Science and Politics conference, Brussels, Oct. 28, 2010.
4 Andrew Hoffman, “Talking Past Each Other? Cultural Framing of Skeptical and Convinced
Logics in the Climate Change Debate
,” Organization & Environment 24(1), 2011.
5 Jon Krosnick and Bo MacInnis, “Frequent Viewers of Fox News Are Less Likely to
Accept Scientists’ Views of Global Warming
,” Woods Institute for the Environment,
Stanford University, 2010.
6 Jeffrey Rachlinski, “The Psychology of Global Climate Change,” University of Illinois
Law Review
 1, 2000.
7 Max Boykoff, “The Real Swindle,” Nature Climate Change, February 2008.
8 Ding Ding et al., “Support for Climate Policy and Societal Action Are Linked to Perceptions
About Scientific Agreement
,” Nature Climate Change 1, 2011.
9 Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer, “Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in
Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs
,” Psychological Science 22(1), 2011.
10 Thomas Vargish, “Why the Person Sitting Next to You Hates Limits to Growth,”
Technological Forecasting and Social Change 16, 1980.
11 Nick Mabey, Jay Gulledge, Bernard Finel, and Katherine Silverthorne, Degrees of Risk:
Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security
, Third Generation Environmentalism,
2011.
12 Jonathan Schuldt, Sara H. Konrath, and Norbert Schwarz, “‘Global Warming’ or
‘Climate Change’? Whether the Planet Is Warming Depends on Question Wording
,”
Public Opinion Quarterly 75(1), 2011.
13 John Sterman, “Communicating Climate Change Risks in a Skeptical World,” Climatic
Change
, 2011.
14 Dan Kahan, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Donald Braman, “Cultural Cognition of Scientific
Consensus
,” Journal of Risk Research 14, 2010.
15 Christopher Borick and Barry Rabe, “Fall 2011 National Survey of American Public
Opinion on Climate Change
,” Brookings Institution, Issues in Governance Studies,
Report No. 45, Feb. 2012.

Language and China’s ‘Practical Creativity’ (N.Y.Times)

 

AUGUST 22, 2012

By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW

Every language presents challenges — English pronunciation can be idiosyncratic and Russian grammar is fairly complex, for example — but non-alphabetic writing systems like Chinese pose special challenges.

There is the well-known issue that Chinese characters don’t systematically map to sounds, making both learning and remembering difficult, a point I examine in my latest column. If you don’t know a character, you can’t even say it.

Nor does Chinese group individual characters into bigger “words,” even when a character is part of a compound, or multi-character, word. That makes meanings ambiguous, a rich source of humor for Chinese people.

Consider this example from Wu Wenchao, a former interpreter for the United Nations based in Hong Kong. On his blog he has a picture of mobile phones’ being held under a hand dryer. Huh?

The joke is that the Chinese word for hand dryer is composed of three characters, “hong shou ji” (I am using pinyin, a system of Romanization used in China, to “write” the characters in the English alphabet.)

Group them as “hongshou ji” and it means “hand dryer.” Group them as “hong shouji” and it means “dry the mobile phone.” (A shouji is a mobile phone.)

Good fodder for serious linguists and amateur language lovers alike. But does a character script also exert deeper effects on the mind?

William C. Hannas is one of the most provocative writers on this today. He believes character writing systems inhibit a type of deep creativity — but that its effects are not irreversible.

He is at pains to point out that his analysis is not race-based, that people raised in a character-based writing system have a different type of creativity, and that they may flourish when they enter a culture that supports deep creativity, like Western science laboratories.

Still, “The rote learning needed to master Chinese writing breeds a conformist attitude and a focus on means instead of ends. Process rules substance. You spend more time fidgeting with the script than thinking about content,” Mr. Hannas wrote to me in an e-mail.

But Mr. Hannas’s argument is indeed controversial — that learning Chinese lessens deep creativity by furthering practical, but not abstract, thinking, as he wrote in “The Writing on the Wall: How Asian Orthography Curbs Creativity,” published in 2003 and reviewed by The New York Times.

It’s a touchy topic that some academics reject outright and others acknowledge, but are reluctant to discuss, as Emily Eakin wrote in the review.

How does it work?

“Alphabets used in the West foster early skills in analysis and abstract thinking,” wrote Mr. Hannas, emphasizing the views were personal and not those of his employer, the U.S. government.

They do this by making readers do two things: breaking syllables into sound segments and clustering these segments into bigger, abstract, flexible sound units.

Chinese characters don’t do that. “The symbols map to syllables — natural concrete units. No analysis is needed and not much abstraction is involved,” Mr. Hannas wrote.

But radical, “type 2” creativity — deep creativity — depends on being able to match abstract patterns from one domain to another, essentially mapping the skills that alphabets nurture, he continued. “There is nothing comparable in the Sinitic tradition,” he wrote.

Will this inhibit China’s long-term development? Does it mean China won’t “take over the world,” as some are wondering? Not necessarily, Mr. Hannas said.

“You don’t need to be creative to succeed. Success goes to the early adapter and this is where China excels, for two reasons,” he wrote. First, Chinese are good at improving existing models, a different, more practical type of creativity, he wrote, adding that this practicality was noted by the British historian of Chinese science, Joseph Needham.

Yet there is a further step to this argument, and this is where Mr. Hannas’s ideas become explosive.

Partly as a result of these cultural constraints, China has built an “absolutely mind-boggling infrastructure” to get hold of cutting-edge foreign technology — by any means necessary, including large-scale, apparently government-backed, computer hacking, he wrote.

For more on that, see a hard-hitting Bloomberg report, “Hackers Linked to China’s Army seen from E.U to D.C.”

Non-Chinese R.&D. gets “outsourced” from its place of origin, “while China reaps the gain,” Mr. Hannas wrote, adding that many people believed this was “normal business practice.”

“In fact, it’s far from normal. The director of a U.S. intelligence agency has described China’s informal technology acquisition as ‘the greatest transfer of wealth in history,’ which I regard as a polite understatement,” he said.

Mr. Hannas has co-authored a book on this, to appear in the spring. It promises to shake things up. Watch this space.

Signs of divine intervention for Republicans? (Washington Post)

By , Published: August 21, 2012

Has God forsaken the Republican Party?

Well, sit in judgment of what’s happened in the past few days:

●A report comes out that a couple dozen House Republicans engaged in an alcohol-induced frolic, in one case nude, in the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is believed to have walked on water, calmed the storm and, nearby, turned water into wine and performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

●Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri’s Republican nominee for Senate, suggests there is such a thing as “legitimate rape” and purports that women’s bodies have mysterious ways to repel the seed of rapists. He spends the next 48 hours rejecting GOP leaders’ demands that he quit the race.

●Weather forecasts show that a storm, likely to grow into Hurricane Isaac, may be chugging toward . . . Tampa, where Republicans will open their quadrennial nominating convention on Monday.

Coincidence? Or part of some Intelligent Design?

By their own logic, Republicans and their conservative allies should be concerned that Isaac is a form of divine retribution. Last year, Rep. Michele Bachmann, then a Republican presidential candidate, said that the East Coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene — another “I” storm, but not an Old Testament one — were attempts by God “to get the attention of the politicians.” In remarks later termed a “joke,” she said: “It’s time for an act of God and we’re getting it.”

The influential conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck said last year that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami were God’s “message being sent” to that country. A year earlier, Christian broadcaster and former GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson tied the Haitian earthquake to that country’s“pact to the devil.”

Previously, Robertson had argued that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for abortion, while the Rev. John Hagee said the storm was God’s way of punishing homosexuality. The late Jerry Falwellthought that God allowed the Sept. 11 attacks as retribution for feminists and the ACLU.

Even if you don’t believe God uses meteorological phenomena to express His will, it’s difficult for mere mortals to explain what is happening to the GOP just now.

By most earthly measures, President Obama has no business being reelected. No president since World War II has won reelection with the unemployment rate north of 7.4 percent. Of the presidents during that time who were returned to office, GDP growth averaged 4.7 percent during the first nine months of the election year — more than double the current rate.

But instead of being swept into office by the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression, Republicans are in danger of losing an election that is theirs to lose. Mitt Romney, often tone-deaf, has allowed Obama to change the subject to Romney’s tax havens and tax returns. And congressional Republicans are providing all kinds of reasons for Americans to doubt their readiness to assume power.

The Politico report Sunday about drunken skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee gave House Republicans an unwanted image of debauchery — a faint echo of the Capitol page scandal that, breaking in September 2006, cemented Republicans’ fate in that November’s elections. The 30 Republican lawmakers on the “fact-finding” mission to Israel last summer earned a rebuke from Majority Leader Eric Cantor and attracted the attention of the FBI. The naked congressman, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), admitted in a statement: “[R]egrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit.”

A boozy frolic at a Christian holy site might have been a considerable embarrassment for the party, but it was eclipsed by a bigger one: Akin’s preposterous claim on a St. Louis TV program that pregnancy is rare after a “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Republican leaders spent the next 48 hours trying to shut Akin’s whole thing down, but after a period of panic (a no-show on Piers Morgan’s show led the CNN host to show his empty chair and call him a “gutless little twerp”), Akin told radio host Mike Huckabee on Tuesday that he would fight the “big party people” and stay in the race.

The big party people had a further complication: In Tampa on Tuesday, those drafting theGOP platform agreed to retain a plank calling for a constitutional amendment banning abortion without specifying exceptions for cases of rape. In other words, the Akin position.

For a party that should be sailing toward victory, there were all the makings of a perfect storm. And, sure enough: Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service forecast that “Tropical Depression Nine” would strengthen into a hurricane, taking a northwesterly track over Cuba on Sunday morning — just as Republicans are arriving in Florida.

What happens next? God only knows.

O poder das mulheres nas famílias (O Globo)

São 22 milhões que assumiram a responsabilidade em 38,7% dos lares

CÁSSIA ALMEIDA e LETÍCIA LINS

Publicado:27/08/12 – 23h06 / Atualizado:28/08/12 – 11h58

<br /><br /> Maria Pamposa de Lima, 47 comanda sua casa há 17 anos e criou 5 filhos sozinha, na foto os filhos Fabiane de Lima, 27, Fabio Lins Lima da Silva, 22 e o neto David Venicius, 7.<br /><br /> Foto: Hans von Manteuffel / Hans von ManteuffelMaria Pamposa de Lima, 47 comanda sua casa há 17 anos e criou 5 filhos sozinha, na foto os filhos Fabiane de Lima, 27, Fabio Lins Lima da Silva, 22 e o neto David Venicius, 7.HANS VON MANTEUFFEL / HANS VON MANTEUFFEL

RECIFE E RIO – No Nordeste é cada vez mais comum domicílios comandados por mulheres, tanto na capital quanto no interior. E ocorre em duas condições: quando a mulher mora só com os filhos, ou quando tem companheiro, mas é ela quem manda nas finanças e se considera chefe da família. Nas estatísticas, as mulheres são as responsáveis em 38,7% dos domicílios, o que representa 22 milhões de unidades, de acordo com o último censo demográfico do IBGE, de 2010. No levantamento anterior, em 2000, essa chefia feminina estava em 24,9% dos lares.

O casamento ruim não prende mais as mulheres. É o caso de Maria Pamposa de Lima, de 48 anos que, desde os 31 anos, luta sozinha para criar os cinco filhos. Já trabalhou em reciclagem quando morava em um barraco de lona e pedaços de madeira. Hoje está no mercado formal de trabalho atuando como servente em um bar no bairro de Casa Forte, na zona norte da capital pernambucana. Ela deixou marido porque ele bebia muito, exigia dinheiro para alimentar o vício e terminou morrendo de cirrose hepática.

Ela ganha um salário mínimo e complementa a renda familiar juntando as latas de cerveja do restaurante. Dos cinco filhos, quatro moram com ela, dois trabalham e só uma chegou à universidade, Fabiana. A jovem trabalha na prefeitura de Moreno, onde entrou por concurso, e estuda pedagogia. Afirma que a mãe é pobre, que viveu e vive em muita dificuldade, mas que criou a família baseada nos princípios da ética, da moral, da honestidade e de amor ao próximo.

— Moramos muito tempo em casa de invasão (hoje substituída por uma de alvenaria) e nossa vida foi muito sofrida. Mas ninguém na família se envolveu com drogas — diz Fabiana.

Além das latinhas para reforçar o orçamento, Maria transformou um dos quartos da casa em uma lojinha que lhe rende um pequeno aluguel.

‘Cuido de tudo: do negócio ao dinheiro’

Vizinha de Pamposa, Maria Jocelma da Silva, de 37 anos, tem uma história diferente. Ela vive com o companheiro, Ademilton Bispo de Melo, de 47 anos, mas se considera a chefe da família. Jocelma montou um pequeno restaurante em uma sala da residência e o marido trabalho como cozinheiro.

—Aqui a chefe sou eu. Cuido de tudo, do negócio, das compras, das finanças. O dinheiro espicha na minha mão. Se eu deixar com ele acaba logo, justifica.

Ademiltom afirma que apesar do machismo nordestino, não dá importância à situação:

—Não ligo não. Vivemos em união e é tudo com ela, a casa, o negócio, o dinheiro. Hoje a mulher faz tudo, é engenheira, é peão de obra, é cobradora no ônibus e é até presidente.

VEJA TAMBÉM

Leia mais sobre esse assunto em http://oglobo.globo.com/economia/o-poder-das-mulheres-nas-familias-5918850#ixzz252DcZoN0 © 1996 – 2012. Todos direitos reservados a Infoglobo Comunicação e Participações S.A. Este material não pode ser publicado, transmitido por broadcast, reescrito ou redistribuído sem autorização. 

George Will, Doomsday, and the Straw-Man Sighting (steadystate.org)

by Brian Czech

A funny thing happened on the way to this column. Right when I was ready to accuseWashington Post columnist George Will of building another straw man to tear apart, one of Will’s straw men appeared! It’s as if Will himself cued it up, as I’ll describe in a bit.

Meanwhile don’t get me wrong. Will isn’t right about a lot. He has long been loose with the facts on environmental issues, denying the causes and effects of resource scarcity, pollution, and climate change. His vision of perpetual economic growth is neoclassical naiveté. He displayed it again with “Calls for doomsday remain unheeded.”

Will stubbornly remains a fawning fan of the late perpetual growther Julian Simon. No one likes to criticize the deceased, and Will counts on this and other social conventions to protect himself from critique. (Recently he hid behind society’s respect for Native American tribes to shoot at federal government clean-air efforts.) But it’s not a fair tactic, I’m not falling for it, and Simon was no saint anyway. Simon’s culminating book (The Ultimate Resource 2) was the shoddiest semblance of “scholarship” I’ve ever seen, as I described at length in Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train. For Will to stick with Simon after all this time is a red flag over the teeny terrain of his scientific credentials.

Will has even been sucked into the junk-science vortex of Bjorn Lomborg, Simon’s disciple and darling of pro-growth propagandists like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Will thinks “potential U.S. gas resources have doubled in the last six years,” as if even potential (not just economic) gas resources change with technology! No stranger to bad facts, Will says, “One of [Paul] Ehrlich’s advisers, John Holdren, is President Barack Obama’s science adviser.” In reality it was the other way around: Ehrlich was Holdren’s adviser. In other words Will uses a mistaken claim to unleash a twice-removed, guilt-by-association attack, all in one sentence!

Despite the fact that Will has the combined credibility of Barry Bonds and BP Oil on environmental and sustainability affairs, there are reasons for empathizing with him at times. In fact, one reason plopped in my inbox this morning! The sender, a sustainability activist, first quoted from a website of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, “The CASSE position calls for a desirable solution — a steady state economy with stabilized population and consumption — beginning in the wealthiest nations and not with extremist tactics.” Then he went on to complain:

“Unfortunately, there is no ‘desirable solution’ — I wish there were… Industrialism is by its very nature a temporary phenomenon; in the process of perpetuating it we consume the natural resources — primarily finite, non-replenishing, and increasingly scarce NNRs — that enable it. Unfortunately the chickens are coming home to roost now — instead of 1,000 years from now — and there’s nothing that we as a species can or will do about it, except suffer the inevitable consequences.”

So when George Will talks pejoratively about “calls for doomsday,” he’s got that one legitimate point, at least. For someone (a sustainability activist no less) to claim there is no desirable solution to the problem of uneconomic growth is defeatist at best, and patently false besides. Just because a solution — such as a steady state economy running at optimal size — is difficult to achieve does not mean it is out of the question or undesirable. What we should all agree on is that perpetual growth is out of the question, and then strive for the best alternative, handling the growing pains (or in this case, the de-growing pains) along the way.

Next, to paint “industrialism” with such a broad brush that it cannot be sustained, period, is another target on the straw man’s back. We should expect Mr. Will to hit that bulls-eye every time. First of all, de-industrializing is no panacea; it’s easy to envision an unsustainable, non-industrial economy hell-bent on growth. More to the point, who is to say we cannot sustain some industrial capital and production, especially with the use of renewable resources (picture a sawmill running on hydropower), for such a very long time that no one would consider it unsustainable. The problem is perpetual growth — always expanding the capital base and trying to produce more — regardless of the mechanical means by which that growth occurs.

And then, to top it off with, “there’s nothing that we as a species can or will do about it, except suffer the inevitable consequences,” almost makes me wonder who is farther from the truth: Will or the sustainability activist. After all, the activist is either not doing anything “about it” after all, or considers himself too exceptional to be part of the human species. But I don’t, and CASSE doesn’t. We are trying to do something about it. That is, we’re advancing the steady state economy — a desirable solution — instead of sitting on our doomed derrières while lamenting the forces of “industrialism.”

I never thought I’d agree with George Will on a matter of sustainability, but I’ll admit one thing: The caricatures he constructs are not always comprised of straw. Doomsday straw does exist but, unfortunately, some sustainability activists wear it too well.

Calls for doomsday remain unheeded (Washington Post)

By George Will

11:15 PM, Aug 20, 2012

WASHINGTON — Sometimes the news is that something was not newsworthy. The United Nation’s Rio+20 conference — 50,000 participants from 188 nations — occurred in June, without consequences. A generation has passed since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which begat other conferences and protocols (e.g., Kyoto). And, by now, apocalypse fatigue — boredom from being repeatedly told the end is nigh.

This began two generations ago, in 1972, when we were warned (by computer models developed at MIT) that we were doomed. We were supposed to be pretty much extinct by now, or at least miserable. We are neither. So, what when wrong?

That year begat “The Limits to Growth,” a book from the Club of Rome, which called itself “a project on the predicament of mankind.” It sold 12 million copies, staggered The New York Times (“one of the most important documents of our age”) and argued that economic growth was doomed by intractable scarcities. Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish academic and “skeptical environmentalist,” writing in Foreign Affairs, says it “helped send the world down a path of worrying obsessively about misguided remedies for minor problems while ignoring much greater concerns,” such as poverty, which only economic growth can ameliorate.

MIT’s models foresaw the collapse of civilization because of “nonrenewable resource depletion” and population growth. “In an age more innocent of and reverential toward computers,” Lomborg writes, “the reams of cool printouts gave the book’s argument an air of scientific authority and inevitability” that “seemed to banish any possibility of disagreement.” Then — as now, regarding climate change — respect for science was said to require reverential suspension of skepticism about scientific hypotheses. Time magazine’s story about “The Limits to Growth” exemplified the media’s frisson of hysteria:

“The furnaces of Pittsburgh are cold; the assembly lines of Detroit are still. In Los Angeles, a few gaunt survivors of a plague desperately till freeway center strips … Fantastic? No, only grim inevitability if society continues its present dedication to growth and ‘progress.’”

The modelers examined 19 commodities and said 12 would be gone long before now — aluminum, copper, gold, lead, mercury, molybdenum, natural gas, oil, silver, tin, tungsten and zinc. Lomborg says:

Technological innovations have replaced mercury in batteries, dental fillings and thermometers, mercury consumption is down 98 percent and its price was down 90 percent by 2000. Since 1970, when gold reserves were estimated at 10,980 tons, 81,410 tons have been mined and estimated reserves are 51,000 tons. Since 1970, when known reserves of copper were 280 million tons, about 400 million tons have been produced globally and reserves are estimated at almost 700 million tons. Aluminum consumption has increased 16-fold since 1950, the world has consumed four times the 1950 known reserves, and known reserves could sustain current consumption for 177 years. Potential U.S. gas resources have doubled in the last six years. And so on.

The modelers missed something — human ingenuity in discovering, extracting and innovating. Which did not just appear after 1972.

Aluminum, Lomborg writes, is one of earth’s most common metals. But until the 1886 invention of the Hall-Heroult process, it was so difficult and expensive to extract that “Napoleon III had bars of aluminum exhibited alongside the French crown jewels, and he gave his honored guests aluminum forks and spoons while lesser visitors had to make do with gold utensils.”

Forty years after “The Limits to Growth” imparted momentum to environmentalism, that impulse now is often reduced to children indoctrinated to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Lomborg calls recycling “a feel-good gesture that provides little environmental benefit at a significant cost.” He says “we pay tribute to the pagan god of token environmentalism by spending countless hours sorting, storing and collecting used paper, which, when combined with government subsidies, yields slightly lower-quality paper in order to secure a resource” — forests — “that was never threatened in the first place.”

In 1980, economist Julian Simon made a wager in the form of a complex futures contract. He bet Paul Ehrlich (whose 1968 book “The Population Bomb” predicted “hundreds of millions of people” would starve to death in the 1970s as population growth swamped agricultural production) that by 1990 the price of any five commodities Ehrlich and his advisers picked would be lower than in 1980. Ehrlich’s group picked five metals. All were cheaper in 1990.

The bet cost Ehrlich $576.07. But that year he was awarded a $345,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and half of the $240,000 Crafoord Prize for ecological virtue. One of Ehrlich’s advisers, John Holdren, is President Barack Obama’s science adviser.

George F. Will writes about foreign and domestic politics and policy for the Washington Post Writers Group. Email:georgewill@washpost.com.

Media Violence Consumption Increases the Relative Risk of Aggression, Analysis Shows (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2012) — As president of the International Society for Research on Aggression (IRSA) and with consent of the organization’s elected council, Craig Anderson appointed an international Media Violence Commission last December to prepare a public statement on the known effects of media violence exposure, based on the current state of scientific knowledge.

The Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of psychology appointed 12 IRSA researchers to the commission, including Douglas Gentile, an ISU associate professor of psychology.

The Media Violence Commission’s research-based report concludes that the research clearly shows that media violence consumption increases the relative risk of aggression, defined as intentional harm to another person that could be verbal, relational, or physical. The report is published in the September/October issue of the journal Aggressive Behavior.

“Basically, the commission looked at, ‘What does the research literature say?'” Anderson said. “In addition, we asked them to make some recommendations, if they chose to do so, about public policy. It really was kind of an open-ended charge.”

Members took a fair and balanced look at the research

A well-known researcher on the effects of media on children, Gentile says commission members took a fair and balanced look at all of the existing research to see if they could achieve consensus, and then summarized what they found.

In their report, the commission wrote that aside from being sources of imitation, violent images — such as scenes in movies, games or pictures in comic books — act as triggers for activating aggressive thoughts and feelings already stored in memory. If these aggressive thoughts and feelings are activated over and over again because of repeated exposure to media violence, they become chronically accessible, and thus more likely to influence behavior.

“One may also become more vigilant for hostility and aggression in the world, and therefore, begin to feel some ambiguous actions by others (such as being bumped in a crowded room) are deliberate acts of provocation,” the commission wrote in the report.

The commission recommends that parents know what media their children and adolescents are using. Rating systems often provide too little detail about media content to be helpful, and in any case, are not substitutes for parents’ watching, playing, or listening to the media their children use.

“Parents can also set limits on screen use (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 and no more than one to two hours total screen time per day for children/youth 3-18), and should discuss media content with their children to promote critical thinking when viewing,” the researchers wrote. “Schools may help parents by teaching students from an early age to be critical consumers of the media and that, just like food, the ‘you are what you eat’ principle applies to healthy media consumption.”

The commission recommends improving media ratings

While most public policy has focused on restricting children’s access to violent media, the commission found that approach to have significant political and legal challenges in many countries. For that reason, it recommends putting efforts into improving media ratings, classifications, and public education about the effects of media on children.

“Improving media ratings really has two pieces. One is that the media ratings themselves need to be done by an independent entity — meaning, not by an industry-influenced or controlled system,” said Anderson, himself a leading researcher of the effects of violent media on children. “They need to be ratings that have some scientific validity to them.

“But the other piece is education, and if parents aren’t educated — not just about what the ratings system does, but also about why it’s important for them to take control of their child’s media diet — then it doesn’t matter how good the ratings system is, because they’re going to ignore it anyway,” he added.

Anderson hopes the final report will have value to child advocacy groups.

“Having such a clear statement by an unbiased, international scientific group should be very helpful to a number of child advocacy groups — such as parenting groups — in their efforts to improve the lives of children,” he said.

Journal Reference:

  1. Media Violence Commission, International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA). Report of the Media Violence CommissionAggressive Behavior, Volume 38, Issue 5, September/October 2012, Pages: 335%u2013341 DOI: 10.1002/ab.21443

The Role of Genes in Political Behavior (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2012) — Politics and genetics have traditionally been considered non-overlapping fields, but over the past decade it has become clear that genes can influence political behavior, according to a review published online August 27th in Trends in Genetics. This paradigm shift has led to novel insights into why people vary in their political preferences and could have important implications for public policy.

“We’re seeing an awakening in the social sciences, and the wall that divided politics and genetics is really starting to fall apart,” says review author Peter Hatemi of the University of Sydney. “This is a big advance, because the two fields could inform each other to answer some very complex questions about individual differences in political views.”

In the past, social scientists had assumed that political preferences were shaped by social learning and environmental factors, but recent studies suggest that genes also strongly influence political traits. Twin studies show that genes have some influence on why people differ on political issues such as the death penalty, unemployment and abortion. Because this field of research is relatively new, only a handful of genes have been implicated in political ideology and partisanship, voter turnout, and political violence.

Future research, including gene-expression and sequencing studies, may lead to deeper insights into genetic influences on political views and have a greater impact on public policy. “Making the public aware of how their mind works and affects their political behavior is critically important,” Hatemi says. “This has real implications for the reduction of discrimination, foreign policy, public health, attitude change and many other political issues.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Peter K Hatemi and Rose McDermott. The Genetics of Politics: Discovery, Challenges and ProgressTrends in Genetics, August 27, 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2012.07.004