Arquivo mensal: maio 2013

Subcommittee Reviews Legislation to Improve Weather Forecasting (Subcommittee on Environmen, House of Representatives, USA)

MAY 23, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Subcommittee on Environment today held a hearing to examine ways to improve weather forecasting at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Witnesses provided testimony on draft legislation that would prioritize weather-related research at NOAA, in accordance with its critical mission to protect lives and property through enhanced weather forecasting. The hearing was timely given the recent severe tornadoes in the mid-west and super-storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-Utah): “We need a world-class system of weather prediction in the United States – one, as the National Academy of Sciences recently put it, that is ‘second to none.’ We can thank the hard-working men and women at  NOAA and their partners throughout the weather enterprise for the great strides that have been made in forecasting in recent decades.  But we can do better. And it’s not enough to blame failures on programming or sequestration or lack of other resources. As the events in Moore, Oklahoma have demonstrated, we have to do better. But the good news is that we can.”

Experts within the weather community have raised concern that the U.S. models for weather prediction have fallen behind Europe and other parts of the world in predicting weather events.The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act, draft legislation discussed at today’s hearing, would build upon the down payment made by Congress following Hurricane Sandy and restore the U.S. as a leader in this field through expanded computing capacity and data assimilation techniques.

Rep. Stewart: “The people of Moore, Oklahoma received a tornado warning 16 minutes before the twister struck their town. Tornado forecasting is difficult but lead times for storms have become gradually better. The draft legislation would prioritize investments in technology being developed at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma, which ‘has the potential to provide revolutionary improvements in… tornado… warning lead times and accuracy, reducing false alarms’ and could move us toward the goal of being able to ‘warn on forecast.’”

The following witnesses testified today:

Mr. Barry Myers, Chief Executive Officer, AccuWeather, Inc.

Mr. Jon Kirchner, President, GeoOptics, Inc.

“O governo está preparando uma tragédia”, afirmam indígenas (Xingú Vivo)

29/5/2013

A situação é grave na Usina Hidrelétrica Belo Monte. Os indígenas que ocupam pelo terceiro dia e pela segunda vez no mês o principal canteiro da barragem temem que uma tragédia de grandes proporções aconteça, com a autorização judicial da entrada da polícia para efetuar o despejo. Para eles, o governo está ameaçando repetir o confronto ocorrido na aldeia Teles Pires em novembro do ano passado, onde a Polícia Federal assassinou um indígena Munduruku e deixou dezenas de outros feridos.

Em coletiva à imprensa, Candido Waro declarou que os indígenas ocupados não irão cumprir a reintegração de posse. “Nós não vamos sair. Nós vamos morrer aqui, o governo vai matar todo mundo”, afirmou a liderança munduruku em coletiva à imprensa. O indígena reafirmou que o governo não tem cumprido com as exigências constitucionais no processo de consulta.

“O governo está preparando uma tragédia”, afirma Paygomuyatpu Munduruku. “Nós não vamos sair daqui. O governo tem nos ignorado, ofendido, humilhado, assassinado”. Para ele, está claro que o governo está tentando sufocar o movimento. “Ele já matou uma vez e vai matar de novo. Eles mataram porque nós somos contra as barragens”, explica. Os indígenas se mostraram “ofendidos” com a declaração do ministro Gilberto Carvalho à rede Globo de que ele não teria sido “comunicado oficialmente” sobre a vontade dos Munduruku de se reunirem com o governo federal.

VIOLÊNCIA POLICIAL

Além da pressão do governo federal, os indígenas têm sofrido diariamente ameaças e intimidações dos policiais que residem no canteiro de obras, e daqueles que estão cercando o empreendimento. O vídeo abaixo, registrado por um indígena dentro da ocupação, mostra um policial intimidando e ameaçando os manifestantes, ao apontar armas e dizer que vai “quebrar” um indígena.

Para o grupo que ocupa o canteiro, a única saída é que o governo federal, na figura do ministro Gilberto Carvalho ou da presidente Dilma Rousseff, vão ao canteiro e se comprometam a cumprir a pauta dos indígenas. Eles exigem a suspensão de todos os estudos e obras de barragens que afetem seus territórios até que sejam consultados como previsto por lei.

Confira a entrevista do antropólogo Renzo Taddei sobre o processo de licitação do Maracanã (Yahoo! Esporte Interativo)

Autor de estudo sobre torcidas organizadas, Renzo comentou tentativa infundada dos dirigentes do futebol brasileiro em erradicar as torcidas organizadas

Por Amanda Duarte, Gabriel Mansour e Pedro Muxfeldt | Yahoo! Esporte Interativo – ter, 28 de mai de 2013 02:22 BRT

Imagem de protesto da torcida do XV de Piracicaba contra aumento do valor dos ingressos. (Foto: Reprodução Facebook)Yahoo! Esporte Interativo – Imagem de protesto da torcida do XV de Piracicaba contra aumento do valor dos ingressos. (Foto: Reprodução Facebook)

Autor de diversas pesquisas sobre o fenômeno das torcidas organizadas no Brasil e na Argentina, o antropólogo Renzo Taddei falou com exclusividade ao Yahoo! Esporte Interativo sobre a proposta de elitização do público do Maracanã contida no estudo de viabilidade econômica realizado pela IMX Venues.

Professor da Escola de Comunicação da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Renzo também falou sobre a proposta de transformação do estádio em centro de entretenimento e, estudioso do assunto, enxergou conexão entre a política de aumento do valor dos ingressos com a tentativa de exclusão das organizadas dos estádios de futebol, algo que, para o acadêmico, não acontecerá da maneira prevista devido às ligações próximas entre as diretorias de clubes e suas torcidas e uma falha na visão que os comandantes do futebol e a mídia têm dos grupos de torcedores organizados. Confira a entrevista na íntegra:

Yahoo! Esporte Interativo: O estudo de viabilidade econômica do complexo do Maracanã prevê, textualmente, a “mudança do perfil do público e consequente aumento do valor médio dos ingressos”. Qual sua visão sobre esse processo de elitização do público dos estádios que já vem ocorrendo?

Renzo Taddei. (Foto: Esporte Essencial)

Renzo Taddei: Não está claro ao que exatamente o estudo se refere: se ao aumento da renda das classes populares, o que significa que o público se mantém o mesmo, ainda que seu “perfil” de consumo mude, ou à substituição das classes populares por classes médias e ricas, via encarecimento dos ingressos. Essas alternativas não são excludentes; em termos financeiros, podem até levar aos mesmos resultados. Em termos sociais e políticos, no entanto, são coisas muito diferentes.

Existe uma distinção importante a ser feita: uma coisa é um investimento privado ser economicamente viável, outra é uma política pública ser democrática e eficaz. Infelizmente o governo do Rio de Janeiro parece confundir as coisas: permitir que a iniciativa privada elabore políticas públicas é mais do que um erro político, é um tiro no próprio pé. No Brasil, como em diversos lugares do mundo, o futebol é muito mais do que um negócio, tem um papel importante na vida de muitas coletividades; o que o governo tem dificuldade de enxergar é que reduzir o futebol a um mero bom negócio pode ter consequências sociais funestas.

O futebol poderia ser um instrumento poderosíssimo na construção de uma sociedade melhor, dada a penetração que tem em diversos públicos e setores da sociedade. Para isso, deveria ser usado em conjunção com políticas públicas sérias e inteligentes. Se os gestores públicos soubessem usar o futebol com inteligência, seria possível até argumentar que ele deveria ser subsidiado. Mas, infelizmente, já há muitas décadas o futebol é controlado por interesses financeiros pouco comprometidos com objetivos e metas sociais maiores; a forma como o dinheiro que vem da transmissão televisiva define os rumos do esporte mostra como este é refém do mercado.

Ao usar critérios mercadológicos para julgar o valor de uma boa ideia, o governo permite que o apartheid social brasileiro se estenda às políticas sociais nas áreas de lazer e cultura.

Y!EI: Em outros pontos do estudo, fala-se na necessidade de transformar o complexo esportivo do Maracanã em “centro de entretenimento”. Que efeitos sociais a transformação de um símbolo cultural do Rio de Janeiro como o Maracanã em abrigo de shoppings e hotéis, como está previsto no estudo, podem causar?

RT: Colocando de forma direta, trata-se da transformação do mais importante espaço de comunhão que temos no Brasil em mais um espaço de segregação. A atratividade financeira do projeto faz com que nossos governantes se façam cegos ao papel simbólico do futebol, através do qual se dá um bocado da vida social das pessoas desse país, em todas as suas regiões e de todas as classes sociais. O futebol une gente que em outras ocasiões encontra-se separada em credos e partidos políticos distintos – credos e partidos que, via de regra, não funcionam com base em regras claras e conhecidas por todos, e num contexto em que os jogos sempre começam do zero a zero e o fair play é valorizado.

Cartaz “ensina” forma de comemorar com dizeres “Pense em seu patrocinador sob todas as circunstâncias”. (Foto: …

Ainda que não intencionalmente – ou, quem sabe, intencionalmente -, shoppings centers e hotéis são espaços de segregação, onde descamisados e gente de chinelo não entra. Aqui estou falando das dimensões simbólicas do futebol; vai da solução arquitetônica mesclar isso tudo e ver até onde o espírito do futebol vai ser descaracterizado.

De qualquer forma, para que um hotel exista num estádio haverá que se instalar barreiras e restrições à mobilidade das massas que hoje não existem. Não vejo como o resultado possa ser bom, em qualquer dimensão que não seja estritamente financeira, e apenas para quem vai investir no projeto. Em minha opinião, essa é apenas mais uma etapa do processo, apoiado pela Fifa, pela CBF e pelas federações estaduais, que transforma o futebol em refém do capital financeiro. Só não vê que parte do comportamento das torcidas é uma reação negativa a isso tudo quem não quer – e há um bocado de gente em postos importantes que efetivamente não tem qualquer interesse em enxergar isso.

Basta seguir os perfis das torcidas em redes sociais e ver a forma como elas se manifestam contra o que chamam de “futebol moderno”, que é nada mais do que o futebol refém do capital financeiro – das verbas de patrocínio que definem regras e formas de funcionamento do esporte, dos contratos que induzem os jogadores a estabelecerem relações muito superficiais com os times em que atuam, dentre muitas outras coisas.

Y!EI: Já nos dias de hoje, jogos às vezes de pouco apelo dos campeonatos estaduais, por exemplo o Carioca, têm ingressos com preços que chegam a R$ 80. Neste cenário, são nas torcidas organizadas onde mais se concentram integrantes das classes mais pobres da sociedade. O processo de “demonização” das organizadas pode ser entendido como um outro passo para a retirada da população pobre – especialmente jovem e negra – dos estádios?

Movimento de contestação vem ganhando adeptos no país. (Foto: Reprodução Facebook)

RT: Sem dúvida. Mas isso só se dá porque há uma compreensão muito ruim, por parte do poder público e da mídia, de como funcionam as torcidas organizadas. Elas nunca deixarão de estar nos estádios, porque na maioria das vezes suas lideranças não pagam os ingressos. Há uma relação entre os clubes e as torcidas que não está considerada nessa abordagem econômica, porque esse é uma questão da política interna do futebol.

Os próprios dirigentes facilitam a entrada das organizadas, porque elas são parte fundamental do fenômeno e do espetáculo que é o futebol, e os jogadores e dirigentes reconhecem isso. É mais fácil ver isso quando se joga de visitante: muitas vezes quem vai ao jogo é apenas a torcida organizada, que viajou mil, dois mil quilômetros, em veículos mal conservados e lentos, apenas para assistir o jogo e voltar para casa.

Num estádio hostil, uma torcida atuante, que canta e demonstra apoio ao time pode afetar positivamente o estado psicológico dos jogadores do seu time – não há jogador ou técnico que não reconheça isso.

Por outro lado, é equivocado achar que os torcedores mais pobres estão nas torcidas organizadas. Algumas torcidas têm um faturamento alto, de atividades legais. O que se está confundindo aqui é a forma como as elites pensam o mundo, com seus maniqueísmos e preconceitos, e a forma como o mundo do futebol efetivamente existe; as duas coisas não são equivalentes, obviamente. O futebol não se resume à divisão de classes sociais, exatamente porque em grande parte do tempo funciona como elemento de comunhão social, e não de divisão. Transformar o futebol de acordo com a visão que as elites têm da divisão de classes sociais é assassinar o espírito do esporte, o que pra mim deveria ser crime inafiançável.

Veja também:

– Especial Maracanã PARTE 1: Empresa de Eike prevê mudança no perfil do público
– Especial Maracanã PARTE 2: Sociólogo analisa processo de elitização
– CBF não vai liberar Neymar para jogo de despedida na Vila Belmiro

‘Beautiful Game’ becomes ‘Pricey Game’ with World Cup, Confed Cup changing Brazilian soccer (Washington Post/AP)

By Associated Press, Published: May 28

RIO DE JANEIRO — It’s an image as Brazilian as Carnival or Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue.

Drummers pound out a Samba rhythm. Swaying to the beat, fans sing and saunter up and down the aisles waving flags the size of bedsheets, seeming oblivious to the match below.

Little by little this picturesque mayhem in Brazilian soccer stadiums is disappearing, and ticket prices are soaring despite the toned-down version being sold.

The “Beautiful Game” has become the “Pricey Game.”

This year’s Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup, the first in this South American country in 64 years, are speeding the changes. The national game is getting a different look with the use of numbered seating, a transformation that’s been going on for several years.

This might seem like a small thing, but it’s big in Brazil.

For decades, Brazilians simply raced into the stadiums and grabbed the best spots — some sitting, others standing in a crush amid thousands of others. At the Confederations Cup and World Cup, the seats will be assigned, and they won’t come cheaply. As an example, the least expensive seats for Sunday’s exhibition game between Brazil and England — the first major test event at Rio de Janeiro’s renovated Maracana Stadium — will be 90 reals ($45).

That’s 30 times more than the cheapest seat eight years ago at the historic stadium.

The Brazil-England match comes only days before the opening of the Confederations Cup, the eight-team warmup for the World Cup that starts on June 15. Maracana is the venue for the title game June 30 — and the World Cup final.

“The giant price change means there is a shift concerning the kind of people that are going to the new stadiums,” said Erick Omena de Melo, a native of Rio de Janeiro who is working on a doctorate in city planning at Oxford University in England. “It was previously a much more diverse place in the stadiums. But as the economy in Brazil changes, they are converting these stadiums to a much more middle-class, upper-middle class or even upper-class place that is much less for the lower-middle class and poor.”

Traditional general admission is being eliminated with luxury boxes and modern seating taking over at the six stadiums being used for the Confederations Cup, and the additional six that are to be ready for the World Cup. This change has already filtered down to the country’s heavily indebted club teams and is sure to take some of the spontaneity out of what Brazilians call “futebol” (pronounced foo-chee-BOHL).

Brazilian fans used to play a major role in the drama. These days they’re staying away. Average attendance for matches in Major League Soccer in the United States is higher than attendance for first-division matches in Brazil, which likes to call itself the “Home of Football.”

“What’s being done so far is transferring a European model to Brazil,” said Omena de Melo, who is working on a book about the social history of Maracana. “But Brazil is really different. It’s a totally different atmosphere at a football game. The changes are seen by many as a huge aggression against the traditional fans, the traditional crowds at football matches.”

Officials counter that ticket prices in Brazil are still below European levels, and that new and refurbished stadiums will improve safety that is needed in a country where soccer-related crime and violence is common. In addition, Brazil would never have been awarded the World Cup — and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — without a pledge to upgrade crumbling stadiums and tighten security.

The South American country is spending an estimated $3.5 billion on new stadiums and refurbishments, though most of the project has run behind schedule. The need to work 24-7 to finish the venues will run up the costs by millions more. FIFA has complained openly about the delays, acknowledging the Confederations Cup will be a maze of unfinished work.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke has admitted that “not all operational arrangements will be 100 percent,” then warned “this will be impossible to repeat for the FIFA World Cup.”

The new national stadium in Brasilia opened at a cost of more than $590 million, the most expensive of the 12 World Cup venues. But it has no local team to call it home, and many say it’s a “white elephant.”

It will host the opening of the Confederations Cup on June 15 with Brazil facing Japan.

Another stadium is going up in Manaus in the northern state of Amazonas — again with no local team. It’s the same in the southwestern city of Cuiaba, also without a team in Brazil’s top league.

Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo — a Brazilian Communist Party member — defends the stadiums as “centers for sports and nonsports events,” and suggested they would be good places for businesses to hold conventions, shows and fairs.

Omena de Melo countered that the “gentrification” eliminates the diversity.

“Football in Brazil has been a kind of antenna that captures all the different values in Brazilian culture and correlates them into one,” Omena de Melo said. “This sort of informality has existed for a century in these stadiums.”

He used the example of Maracana to show how prices have soared.

The stadium has been closed twice for refurbishment since in the last decade. When it was closed in 2005 to be redone for the 2007 Pan American Games, Omena de Melo’s research showed the cheapest ticket was about $1.50.

In 2010, when it was closed again to be refurbished for next year’s World Cup, the cheapest ticket was about $20.

The Maracana was opened again a few weeks ago. Its capacity has been reduced to just under 79,000 — it held more than 170,000 for the final match of the 1950 World Cup — and plans call for it to be eventually shared by Brazilian clubs Flamengo and Fluminense.

In a country where the official minimum monthly salary is $339, the cheapest ticket for the Brazil-England match will be about $45 — 30 times the price of the cheapest ticket only eight years ago and out of reach for most Cariocas, the term for residents of Rio.

Rio de Janeiro sports journalist Telmo Zanini defended the rising prices and said adjusting to the seating changes will be easy in Rio and Sao Paulo in the prosperous southeast, but more difficult in provincial cities.

He cited a recent case in the city of Belo Horizonte “where people took seats and didn’t want to give them up when the ticketholders arrived. So police or stewards had to be called in.”

He said ticket prices had been rising for a long time, and declined to blame the World Cup. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are two of the world’s most expensive cities. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of tomatoes recently sold for $6.50 at some Rio de Janeiro supermarkets, where a standard can of shaving cream costs $12. Shaving gel goes for $15.

“Poor people also can’t buy tickets in England or the United States,” Zanini said. “It’s a question of the market. You don’t see poor people buying tickets for Los Angeles Lakers games. The World Cup is not the only reason. Ticket prices have been going up for a long time. But with the World Cup stadiums we will have better quality stadiums. Some people have not gone to games previously because they did not feel safe.”

Marcello Campos, a 29-year-old fan of Rio club Flamengo who goes to at least one match a week, called the changes “a little difficult.”

“It’s going to be a challenge for the people who are used to the low prices; people who don’t have money to buy a ticket for 80 reals ($40) or 100 reals ($50). It’s expensive now.”

He said getting people to stay in numbered seats would be even tougher.

“It’s impossible for me to watch a football game sitting,” Campos said. “I’m too nervous to be sitting. I’ll need to fix that in my mind, to concentrate on sitting.”

He said the changes would be beneficial, imposing organization on chaos.

“We need to change the culture. It kind of gives everyone equal rights, not just those who show up first.”

Benefiting from many of the changes is a multinational consortium that won a contract in May from the state of Rio de Janeiro to run Maracana for 35 years. The consortium is made up of Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht, Los Angeles-based Sports and entertainment company AEG, and the sport and entertainment company IMX, which is owned by Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista.

Critics say the deal gives the Rio de Janeiro state government less money than it invested in the venue and will lead to the demolition of an indigenous museum, a public school and some athletics facilities in the area. A public prosecutor estimated that $615 million in public money has been spent on Maracana since 2005, raising questions why a private consortium should reap most of the profits from taxpayer money.

The Brazilian soccer great Pele has come out against the privatization, saying the famous stadium “must be of the people, for the Brazilian people.” Others have also questioned selling off what has been traditionally a public space to private interests.

Omena de Melo cautioned that the new stadiums will not eliminate soccer-related violence.

“Violence tied to football could still be there, even after the gentrification,” he said. “If people can’t get inside the stadiums, they are going to get violent outside. You can’t isolate the stadium from the society where it exists. Brazilian society has a lot of problems caused by inequality, and violence is one of them.”

A mulher que encolheu o cérebro humano (O Globo)

Suzana Herculano é a primeira brasileira a falar na prestigiada conferência TED

Ela debaterá o cérebro de 86 bilhões de neurônios (e não 100 bilhões, como se acreditava) e como o homem se diferenciou dos primatas 

Publicado:24/05/13 – 7h00; Atualizado:24/05/13 – 11h41

Suzana Herculano-Houzel, professora do Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas da UFRJFoto: Guito Moreto

Suzana Herculano-Houzel, professora do Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas da UFRJ Guito Moreto

Neurocientista da UFRJ, Suzana Herculano-Houzel é a primeira brasileira a participar da TED (Tecnologia, Entretenimento e Design, em português) — prestigiada série de conferências que reúne grandes nomes das mais diversas áreas do conhecimento para debater novas ideias. Suzana falará no dia 12 de junho, sob o tema “Ouça a natureza”, e destacará suas descobertas únicas sobre o cérebro humano.

Sobre o que vai falar na TED?

Vou falar sobre o cérebro humano e mostrar como ele não é um cérebro especial, uma exceção à regra. Nossas pesquisas nos revelaram que se trata apenas de um cérebro de primata grande. O notável é que passamos a ter um cérebro enorme, do tamanho que nenhum outro primata tem, nem os maiores, porque inventamos o cozimento dos alimentos e, com isso, passamos a ter um número enorme de neurônios.

O cozimento foi fundamental para nos tornarmos humanos?

Sim, burlamos a limitação energética imposta pela dieta crua. E a implicação bacana e irônica é que, com isso, conseguimos liberar tempo no cérebro para nos dedicarmos a outras coisas (que não buscar alimentos), como criar a agricultura, as civilizações, a geladeira e a eletricidade. Até o ponto em que conseguir comida cozida e calorias em excesso ficou tão fácil que, agora, temos o problema inverso: estamos comendo demais. Por isso, voltamos à saladinha.

Se alimentarmos orangotangos e gorilas com comida cozida eles serão tão inteligentes quanto nós?

Sim, porque não seriam limitados pelo número reduzido de calorias que conseguem com a comida crua. Claro que nós fizemos uma inovação cultural ao inventar a cozinha. Tem uma diferença entre dar comida cozida para o animal e ele ter o desenvolvimento cultural do cozimento. Mas, ainda assim, se em todas as refeições eles tiverem acesso à comida cozida, daqui a 200 mil ou 300 mil anos eles terão o cérebro maior. Com a alimentação que têm hoje, não é possível terem um cérebro maior dado o corpo grande que têm. É uma coisa ou outra.

Somos especiais?

A gente não é especial coisa alguma. Somos apenas um primata que burlou as regras energéticas e conseguiu botar mais neurônios no cérebro de um jeito que nenhum outro animal conseguiu. Por isso estudamos os outros animais e não o contrário.

Persistem ainda mitos sobre o cérebro? Como o dos 100 bilhões de neurônios, que seus estudos demonstraram que são, na verdade, 86 bilhões?

Sim, eles continuam existindo, mesmo na neurociência. O nosso trabalho já é muito citado como referência. As coisas estão mudando. E o mais legal é que é por conta da ciência tupiniquim, o que eu acho maravilhoso. Mas vemos que é um processo, que ainda tem muita gente que insiste no número antigo.

O novo manual de diagnóstico de doenças mentais dos EUA (que serve de referência para todo o mundo, inclusive para a OMS) foi lançado na semana passada em meio à controvérsia. Especialistas acham que são tantos transtornos que praticamente não resta mais nenhum espaço para a normalidade. Qual a sua opinião?

Acho que essa discussão é muito necessária, justamente para reconhecermos o que são as variações ao redor do normal e quais são os extremos problemáticos e doentios de fato. Então, a discussão é importante, ótima a qualquer momento. Mas acho também que há muita informação errada e sensacionalista circulando, sobretudo sobre o déficit de atenção. As estatísticas variam muito de país para país, às vezes porque varia o número de médicos que reconhece a criança como portadora do distúrbio. E acho que ainda há um problema enorme, um medo enorme do estereótipo da doença mental. Até hoje ainda existe uma resistência louca em ir a um psiquiatra. E acho que, pelo contrário, ganhamos muito reconhecendo que existem transtornos e que eles podem ser tratados.

Ainda há muito estigma?

O maior problema hoje em dia é que é feio ter um distúrbio no cérebro. Perceba que nem estou falando em transtorno mental. Precisar de remédio para o cérebro é terrível. E temos tanto a ganhar reconhecendo os problemas, fazendo os diagnósticos. O cérebro é tão complexo, tem tanta coisa para dar errado, que o espantoso é que não dê problema em todo mundo sempre. Então, acho normal que boa parte da população tenha algum problema, não me espanta nem um pouco. E, uma vez que se reconhece o problema, que se faz o diagnóstico, há a opção de poder tratar. Se dispomos de um tratamento, por que não usar?

O presidente dos EUA, Barack Obama, recentemente anunciou uma inédita iniciativa de reunir pesquisadores dos mais diversos centros para estudar exclusivamente o cérebro. O que podemos esperar de tamanho esforço científico?

Não só o cérebro, mas o cérebro em atividade. Obama quer ir além do que já tinham feito — estudar a função de diferentes áreas — e entender como se conectam, como falam umas com as outras, ter ideia desse funcionamento integrado, dessa interação. Essa é uma das grandes lacunas do conhecimento: entender como as várias partes do cérebro funcionam ao mesmo tempo. Não sabemos como o cérebro funciona como um todo; é uma das fronteiras finais do conhecimento.

Não sabemos como o cérebro funciona?

Como um todo, não. Sabemos o que as partes fazem, mas não sabemos como se dá a conversa entre elas. Não sabemos a origem da consciência, da sensação do “eu estou aqui agora”. Que áreas são fundamentais para isso? É esse tipo de conhecimento que se está buscando, do cérebro funcionando ao vivo e em cores, em tempo real.

O objetivo não é estudar doenças, então?

Não, o grande objetivo é estudar consciência, memória; entender como o cérebro reúne emoção e lógica, coisas que são fruto da ação coordenada de várias partes. Claro que desse conhecimento todo podem surgir implicações para o Alzheimer e outras doenças. Mas, na verdade, falar em doenças é uma roupagem usada pela divulgação do programa para o público assimilar melhor. Existe esse preconceito de que a ciência só vale quando resolve uma doença.

Leia mais sobre esse assunto em http://oglobo.globo.com/ciencia/a-mulher-que-encolheu-cerebro-humano-8482825#ixzz2UFWUvdYn © 1996 – 2013. Todos direitos reservados a Infoglobo Comunicação e Participações S.A. Este material não pode ser publicado, transmitido por broadcast, reescrito ou redistribuído sem autorização.

Ants and Carnivorous Plants Conspire for Mutualistic Feeding (Science Daily)

May 22, 2013 — An insect-eating pitcher plant teams up with ants to prevent mosquito larvae from stealing its nutrients, according to research published May 22 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Mathias Scharmann and colleagues from the University of Cambridge and the University Brunei Darussalam.

The carnivorous pitcher plant Nepenthes bicalcarata (A) and the ant Camponotus schmitzi (B) team up to fight fly larvae (C) that steal the plant’s prey. (Credit: Scharmann M, Thornham DG, Grafe TU, Federle W (2013) A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63556. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063556)

The unusual relationship between insect-eating pitcher plants and ants that live exclusively on them has long puzzled scientists. The Camponotus schmitzi ants live only on one species of Bornean pitcher plants (Nepenthes bicalcarata), where they walk across slippery pitcher traps, swim and dive in the plant’s digestive fluids and consume nectar and prey that fall into the trap. Though the benefits to the ants are obvious, it has been harder to tell what exactly the plants gain. However, plants that harbor the insects grow larger than those that do not, suggesting a mutualistic relationship exists between the two.

In this new study, researchers demonstrated a flow of nutrients from ants to their plant hosts, and found that plants colonized by insects received more nitrogen than those that did not host ants. Ants appeared to increase the pitchers’ capture efficiency by keeping traps clean, and also protected the plants by actively hunting mosquito larvae that otherwise bred in pitcher fluids and sucked up plant nutrients.

“Kneeling down in the swamp amidst huge pitcher plants in a Bornean rainforest, it was a truly jaw-dropping experience when we first noticed how very aggressive and skilled theCamponotus schmitzi ants were in underwater hunting: it was a mosquito massacre!” says Scharmann. “Later, when we discovered that the ants’ droppings are returned to the plant, it became clear that this unique behaviour could actually play an important role in the complex relationship of the pitcher plant with the ants.”

Based on these observations, the authors suggest that nutrients the pitchers would have otherwise lost to flies are instead returned to them as ant colony wastes. They conclude that the interaction between ants, pitcher plants and mosquito larvae in the pitcher represents a new type of mutualism, where animals can help mitigate the damage caused by nutrient thieves to a plant.

Journal Reference:

  1. Mathias Scharmann, Daniel G. Thornham, T. Ulmar Grafe, Walter Federle. A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna.PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (5): e63556 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0063556

Depression Linked to Telomere Enzyme, Aging, Chronic Disease (Science Daily)

May 23, 2013 — The first symptoms of major depression may be behavioral, but the common mental illness is based in biology — and not limited to the brain. In recent years some studies have linked major, long-term depression with life-threatening chronic disease and with earlier death, even after lifestyle risk factors have been taken into account.

The first symptoms of major depression may be behavioral, but the common mental illness is based in biology — and not limited to the brain. In recent years some studies have linked major, long-term depression with life-threatening chronic disease and with earlier death, even after lifestyle risk factors have been taken into account. (Credit: © diego cervo / Fotolia)

Now a research team led by Owen Wolkowitz, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, has found that within cells of the immune system, activity of an enzyme called telomerase is greater, on average, in untreated individuals with major depression. The preliminary findings from his latest, ongoing study will be reported today at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco.

Telomerase is an enzyme that lengthens protective end caps on the chromosomes’ DNA, called telomeres. Shortened telomeres have been associated with earlier death and with chronic diseases in population studies.

The heightened telomerase activity in untreated major depression might represent the body’s attempt to fight back against the progression of disease, in order to prevent biological damage in long-depressed individuals, Wolkowitz said.

The researchers made another discovery that may suggest a protective role for telomerase. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they found that, in untreated, depressed study participants, the size of the hippocampus, a brain structure that is critical for learning and memory, was associated with the amount of telomerase activity measured in the white blood cells. Such an association at a single point in time cannot be used to conclude that there is a cause-and-effect relationship with telomerase helping to protect the hippocampus, but it is plausible, Wolkowitz said.

Remarkably, the researchers also found that the enzyme’s activity went up when some patients began taking an antidepressant. In fact, depressed participants with lower telomerase activity at baseline — as well as those in whom enzyme activity increased the most with treatment — were the most likely to become less depressed with treatment.

“Our results are consistent with the beneficial effect of telomerase when it is boosted in animal studies, where it has been associated with the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus and with antidepressant-like effects, evidenced by increased exploratory behavior,” Wolkowitz said. Wolkowitz cautions that his new findings are preliminary due to the small size of the study and must be confirmed through further research.

The researchers also measured telomere length in the same immune cells. Only very chronically depressed individuals showed telomere shortening, Wolkowitz said.

“The longer people had been depressed, the shorter their telomeres were,” he said. “Shortened telomere length has been previously demonstrated in major depression in most, but not all, studies that have examined it. The duration of depression may be a critical factor.”

The 20 depressed participants enrolled in the study had been untreated for at least six weeks and had an average lifetime duration of depression of about 13 years. After baseline evaluation and laboratory measures, 16 of the depressed participants were treated with sertraline, a member of the most popular class of anti-depressants, the serotonin-selective-reuptake-inhibitors (SSRIs), and then evaluated again after eight weeks. There were 20 healthy participants who served as controls.

The ongoing study still is accepting depressed participants who are not now taking antidepressants. Wolkowitz’s team also studies chronic inflammation and the biochemical phenomenon of oxidative stress, which he said have often been reported in major depression. Wolkowitz is exploring the hypothesis that inflammation and oxidative stress play a role in telomere shortening and accelerated aging in depression.

“New insights into the mechanisms of these processes may well lead to new treatments — both pharmacological and behavioral — that will be distinctly different from the current generation of drugs prescribed to treat depression,” he said. “Additional studies might lead to simple blood tests that can measure accelerated immune-cell aging.”

Wolkowitz’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health. He is on the scientific advisory board of Telome Health, Inc., a private biotechnology company.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The original article was written by Jeffrey Norris.

Luta contra o racismo no Brasil passa por salão de beleza (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo News)

Por Por Laura BONILLA CAL | AFP – 23/05/2013

A rede se dedica aos cabelos no estilo afro

A rede se dedica aos cabelos no estilo afro

A presidente da empresa, Leila Velez

A presidente da empresa, Leila Velez

Nada como um bom penteado para combater o racismo arraigado na sociedade brasileira, usando como armas principais tesouras e hidratantes para o cabelo.

Na periferia do Rio de Janeiro, uma rede de salões de beleza que se dedica a atender a negras e mulatas majoritariamente da classe C faz um grande sucesso.

Qual é a fórmula do êxito desta empresa que transforma o “afro” em cachos suaves, e que nega categoricamente a crença popular de que o cabelo crespo é ruim? O crescimento econômico do Brasil, que na última década permitiu que 40 milhões de brasileiros integrassem a classe média por meio de programas sociais do governo.

Dos 194 milhões de brasileiros, 50,7% são negros ou mulatos, e os donos do Beleza Natural, esta peculiar rede de salões de beleza, estimam que 70% das mulheres brasileiras têm cabelo crespo.

“Você é linda porque é negra”

“Este salão é para a consumidora esquecida, invisível, para levantar a autoestima da cliente de baixa renda. Uma mulher acostumada a servir, que merece ser servida, e bem servida”, explica à AFP a presidente da empresa, Leila Velez, uma mulata de 38 anos que aos 16 era gerente de um McDonald’s no Rio.

Velez criou com dificuldades o Beleza Natural há 20 anos junto com familiares. Hoje dirige as 13 filiais da empresa e uma fábrica de produtos para os cabelos, que conta com 1.700 funcionários.

A fábrica produz 250 toneladas de produtos de uso capilar por mês, incluindo o “super relaxante” de cachos criado por sua cunhada Zica Assis, uma ex-empregada doméstica que fez experimentos durante dez anos com frutas, como o açaí, até chegar à fórmula do produto na varanda de sua casa, em uma favela.

Os lucros da rede, que tem salões localizados da periferia a áreas nobres da cidade, cresceram 30% anualmente nos últimos oito anos, segundo Velez, que não revela os resultados da empresa.

Seu sucesso é tamanho que caravanas com centenas de mulheres vindas de outros estados chegam a cada fim de semana para que as viajantes sejam atendidas nos salões.

“Acredito que 100% de seu sucesso esteja ligado à questão da raça. Existem no Brasil, devido a uma carga cultural, muitas mulheres negras que não aceitam seu cabelo porque não é liso, que é o ideal de beleza mais conhecido”, explicou à AFP Victor Cunha da Almeida, professor da escola de negócios da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro e coautor de uma tese sobre o “Beleza” e sua aposta na “base da pirâmide” social, a classe C, que chega a 54% da população.

“Aí está a diferença do Beleza Natural, que não quer alisar o seu cabelo, quer domá-lo, suavizar os cachos. Diz a mulher: ‘você é linda porque é negra, é linda porque tem os cabelos assim'”.

Bruna Mara, uma cliente, confirma. “Sempre usava o cabelo liso; aqui me convenceram de que meus cachos poderiam ficar bonitos, e é mais natural”, confessa esta secretaria de 24 anos.

Princesas

“Não havia locais onde uma mulher negra com cabelo crespo fosse tratada como princesa”, ressalta o professor Cunha.

Quando alguém entra no mundo do Beleza Natural, decorado em vermelho e rosa, cheio de espelhos e focos luminosos, com flores frescas e café, sente-se em qualquer bairro rico do mundo, ou em um cenário de novela.

“Temos espelhos de corpo inteiro, porque muitas clientes não têm isso em suas casas”, explica Velez.

José Jorge de Carvalho, antropólogo especialista em questões raciais da Universidade de Brasília, ressalta que, apesar de ser visto no exterior como um exemplo de diversidade, o Brasil “é um país muito racista”.

“Estes salões de beleza fazem parte de um esforço de combate ao racismo, para melhorar a auto-estima das mulheres negras de classes popular”, afirma Carvalho, que lamenta o elevado uso no Brasil de pranchas para alisar o cabelo, algumas delas esquentadas diretamente no fogo e que “fritam o cabelo”.

Uma nova classe média

Atualmente, a rede de salões atende 90.000 mulheres por mês.

“Esta é a nova classe média, produzindo para a nova classe média”, comemora Marcelo Neri, ministro interino de Assuntos Estratégicos, em declarações à AFP.

As rendas das populações negra e parda brasileira foram as que mais cresceram

entre 2001 e 2009, 43% e 48% respectivamente, contra 21% para os brancos, segundo Neri, especialista na classe média brasileira.

No entanto, as desigualdades ainda são enormes: 125 anos depois da abolição da escravatura, os brancos no Brasil recebem em média quase o dobro do que os negros.

Ser atendido no “Beleza” é acessível, mas não barato. Custa em média 80 reais (10% do salário mínimo), e para mantê-lo em casa são necessários produtos que custam 50 reais mensais.

Apesar disso, a maioria paga em dinheiro, outro sinal do aumento real de poder aquisitivo da nova classe média brasileira.

Geoengineering: Can We Save the Planet by Messing with Nature? (Democracy Now!)

Video: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/5/20/geoengineering_can_we_save_the_planet

Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia. He is the author of the new book, Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering.

Overheated rhetoric on climate change doesn’t make for good policies (Washington Post)

By Lamar Smith, Published: May 19, 2013

Lamar Smith, a Republican, represents Texas’s 21st District in the U.S. House and is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, claims that distort the facts hinder the legitimate evaluation of policy options. The rhetoric has driven some policymakers toward costly regulations and policies that will harm hardworking American families and do little to decrease global carbon emissions. The Obama administration’s decision to delay, and possibly deny, the Keystone XL pipeline is a prime example.

The State Department has found that the pipeline will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment and no significant effect on the climate. Recent expert testimony before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology confirms this finding. In fact, even if the pipeline is approved and is used at maximum capacity, the resulting increase in carbon dioxide emissions would be a mere 12 one-thousandths of 1 percent (0.012 percent). There is scant scientific or environmental justification for refusing to approve the pipeline, a project that the State Department has also found would generate more than 40,000 U.S. jobs.

Contrary to the claims of those who want to strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions and increase the cost of energy for all Americans, there is a great amount of uncertainty associated with climate science. These uncertainties undermine our ability to accurately determine how carbon dioxide has affected the climate in the past. They also limit our understanding of how anthropogenic emissions will affect future warming trends. Further confusing the policy debate, the models that scientists have come to rely on to make climate predictions have greatly overestimated warming. Contrary to model predictions, data released in October from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit show that global temperatures have held steady over the past 15 years, despite rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the facts that are clear, however, are that U.S. emissions contribute very little to global concentrations of greenhouse gas, and that even substantial cuts in these emissions are likely to have no effect on temperature. Data from the Energy Information Administration show, for example, that the United States cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent between 2005 and 2012 while global emissions increased by 15 percent over the same period.

Using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a Science and Public Policy Institute paper published last month found that if the United States eliminated all carbon dioxide emissions, the overall impact on global temperature rise would be only 0.08 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Further confounding the debate are unscientific and often hyperbolic claims about the potential effects of a warmer world. In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama said that extreme weather events have become “more frequent and intense,” and he linked Superstorm Sandy to climate change.

But experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have told the New York Times that climate change had nothing to do with Superstorm Sandy. This is underscored by last year’s IPCC report stating that there is “high agreement” among leading experts that trends in weather disasters, floods, tornados and storms cannot be attributed to climate change. While these claims may make for good political theater, their effect on recent public policy choices hurts the economy.

Last spring the Environmental Protection Agency proposed emissions standards that virtually prohibit new coal-fired power plants. As we await implementation of these strict new rules, additional regulations that will affect existing power plants, refineries and other manufactures are sure to follow. Analyses of these measures by the American Council for Capital Formation, which studies economic and environmental policy, show that they will raise both electricity rates and gas prices — costing jobs and hurting the economy — even as the EPA admits that these choices will have an insignificant impact on global climate change (a point former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson confessed during a Senate hearing in 2009).

Instead of pursuing heavy-handed regulations that imperil U.S. jobs and send jobs (and their emissions) overseas, we should take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us. Designing an appropriate public policy response to this challenge will require that we fully assess the facts and the uncertainties surrounding this issue, and that we set aside the hyped rhetoric.

Read more from PostOpinions: Greg Sargent: Now can we talk about climate change? The Post’s View: Carbon tax is best option Congress has Matthew Stepp: The limits of renewable energy Stephen Stromberg: In State of the Union, Obama threatens Congress on climate change. And that’s a good thing.

‘Boys Will Be Boys’ in U.S., but Not in Asia (Science Daily)

May 22, 2013 — A new study shows there is a gender gap when it comes to behavior and self-control in American young children — one that does not appear to exist in children in Asia. 

Boys will be boys. A new study shows there is a gender gap when it comes to behavior and self-control in American young children — one that does not appear to exist in children in Asia. (Credit: © Vesna Cvorovic / Fotolia)

In the United States, girls had higher levels of self-regulation than boys. Self-regulation is defined as children’s ability to control their behavior and impulses, follow directions, and persist on a task. It has been linked to academic performance and college completion, in past studies by Oregon State University researchers.

In three Asian countries, the gender gap in the United States was not found when researchers directly assessed the self-regulation of 3-6 year olds. The results appear in the new issue of the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

“These findings suggest that although we often expect girls to be more self-regulated than boys, this may not be the case for Asian children,” said Shannon Wanless, lead author of the study.

Wanless began conducting the research during her doctoral studies at Oregon State University under Megan McClelland, an associate professor in OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families. Wanless is now on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh.

One interesting part of the researcher’s findings: Although there were no gender differences in self-regulation when the children were directly assessed using a variety of school-readiness tasks, teachers in Asia perceived girls as performing better on self-regulation even when they actually performed equally to boys.

“Teachers are rating children’s behavior in the classroom environment, which has a lot of distractions and is very stimulating,” Wanless said. “It is possible that boys in the Asian countries were able to self-regulate as well as girls when they were in a quiet space (the direct assessment), but were not able to regulate themselves as well in a bustling classroom environment (teacher ratings).”

In addition, McClelland said cultural expectations of girls’ behavior versus that of their male peers may be influencing teachers’ assessments.

“In general, there is more tolerance for active play in boys than in girls,” McClelland said. “Girls are expected to be quiet and not make a fuss. This expectation may be coloring some teachers’ perceptions.”

The researchers conducted assessments with 814 children in the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and China. Their study showed that U.S. girls had significantly higher self-regulation than boys, but there were no significant gender differences in any Asian societies. In addition, for both genders, directly assessed and teacher-rated self-regulation were related to many aspects of school readiness in all societies for girls and boys.

“We know from previous research that many Asian children outperform American children in academic achievement,” McClelland said. “Increasingly, we are seeing that there is also a gap when it comes to their ability to control their behavior and persist with tasks.”

Wanless said this study paves the way for future research to explore why there is such a large gender gap in the United States, and what can be learned from Asian schools.

“What can we learn from Asian cultural and teaching practices about how we can support girls and boys to be successful in school?” she said. “When we see differences in developmental patterns across countries it suggests that we might want to look at teaching and parenting practices in those countries and think about how they might apply in the United States.”

Both researchers emphasized the importance of working with young children, regardless of gender or culture, on their self-regulation skills. Practicing games such as Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light are a few ways that parents can work with their children to help them learn how to follow instructions, persist on a task, and listen carefully.

“In our study, self-regulation was good for academic achievement for boys and girls,” Wanless said. “That means this skill is important for both genders and we should be supporting self-regulatory development for all children, especially boys. Low self-regulation in preschool has been linked to difficulties in adulthood, so increased focused on supporting young boys’ development can have long-term positive benefits.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Shannon B. Wanless, Megan M. McClelland, Xuezhao Lan, Seung-Hee Son, Claire E. Cameron, Frederick J. Morrison, Fu-Mei Chen, Jo-Lin Chen, Su Li, Kangyi Lee, Miyoung Sung. Gender differences in behavioral regulation in four societies: The United States, Taiwan, South Korea, and ChinaEarly Childhood Research Quarterly, 2013; 28 (3): 621 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2013.04.002

Oldest Evidence of Split Between Old World Monkeys and Apes: Primate Fossils Are 25 Million Years Old (Science Daily)

May 15, 2013 — Two fossil discoveries from the East African Rift reveal new information about the evolution of primates, according to a study published online in Nature this week led by Ohio University scientists. 

Artist’s reconstruction of Rukwapithecus (front, center) and Nsungwepithecus (right). (Credit: Mauricio Anton)

The team’s findings document the oldest fossils of two major groups of primates: the group that today includes apes and humans (hominoids), and the group that includes Old World monkeys such as baboons and macaques (cercopithecoids).

Geological analyses of the study site indicate that the finds are 25 million years old, significantly older than fossils previously documented for either of the two groups.

Both primates are new to science, and were collected from a single fossil site in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania.Rukwapithecus fleaglei is an early hominoid represented by a mandible preserving several teeth. Nsungwepithecus gunnelli is an early cercopithecoid represented by a tooth and jaw fragment.

The primates lived during the Oligocene epoch, which lasted from 34 to 23 million years ago. For the first time, the study documents that the two lineages were already evolving separately during this geological period.

“The late Oligocene is among the least sampled intervals in primate evolutionary history, and the Rukwa field area provides a first glimpse of the animals that were alive at that time from Africa south of the equator,” said Nancy Stevens, an associate professor of paleontology in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine who leads the paleontological team.

Documenting the early evolutionary history of these groups has been elusive, as there are few fossil-bearing deposits of the appropriate age, Stevens explained. Using an approach that dated multiple minerals contained within the rocks, team geologists could determine a precise age for the specimens.

“The rift setting provides an advantage in that it preserves datable materials together with these important primate fossils,” said lead geologist Eric Roberts of James Cook University in Australia.

Prior to these finds, the oldest fossil representatives of the hominoid and cercopithecoid lineages were recorded from the early Miocene, at sites dating millions of years younger.

The new discoveries are particularly important for helping to reconcile a long-standing disagreement between divergence time estimates derived from analyses of DNA sequences from living primates and those suggested by the primate fossil record, Stevens said. Studies of clock-like mutations in primate DNA have indicated that the split between apes and Old

World monkeys occurred between 30 million and 25 million years ago.

“Fossils from the Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania provide the first real test of the hypothesis that these groups diverged so early, by revealing a novel glimpse into this late Oligocene terrestrial ecosystem,” Stevens said.

The new fossils are the first primate discoveries from this precise location within the Rukwa deposits, and two of only a handful of known primate species from the entire late Oligocene, globally.

The scientists scanned the specimens in the Ohio University’s MicroCT scanner, allowing them to create detailed 3-dimensional reconstructions of the ancient specimens that were used for comparisons with other fossils.

“This is another great example that underscores how modern imaging and computational approaches allow us to address more refined questions about vertebrate evolutionary history,” said Patrick O’Connor, co-author and professor of anatomy in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

In addition to the new primates, Rukwa field sites have produced several other fossil vertebrate and invertebrate species new to science. The late Oligocene interval is interesting because it provides a final snapshot of the unique species inhabiting Africa prior to large-scale faunal exchange with Eurasia that occurred later in the Cenozoic Era, Stevens said.

A key aspect of the Rukwa Rift Basin project is the interdisciplinary nature of the research team, with paleontologists and geologists working together to reconstruct vertebrate evolutionary history in the context of the developing East African Rift System.

“Since its inception this project has employed a multifaceted approach for addressing a series of large-scale biological and geological questions centered on the East African Rift System in Tanzania,” O’Connor said.

The team’s research, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society, underscores the integration of paleontological and geological approaches that are essential for addressing complex issues in vertebrate evolutionary history, the scientists noted.

Co-authors on the study are Patrick O’Connor, Cornelia Krause and Eric Gorscak of Ohio University, Erik Seiffert of SUNY Stony Brook University, Eric Roberts of James Cook University in Australia, Mark Schmitz of Boise State University, Sifa Ngasala of Michigan State University, Tobin Hieronymus of Northeast Ohio Medical University and Joseph Temu of the Tanzania Antiquities Unit.

Journal Reference:

  1. Nancy J. Stevens, Erik R. Seiffert, Patrick M. O’Connor, Eric M. Roberts, Mark D. Schmitz, Cornelia Krause, Eric Gorscak, Sifa Ngasala, Tobin L. Hieronymus, Joseph Temu.Palaeontological evidence for an Oligocene divergence between Old World monkeys and apes.Nature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12161

No Idle Chatter: Malaria Parasites ‘Talk’ to Each Other (Science Daily)

May 15, 2013 — Melbourne scientists have made the surprise discovery that malaria parasites can ‘talk’ to each other — a social behaviour to ensure the parasite’s survival and improve its chances of being transmitted to other humans.

Professor Alan Cowman (left) and Dr Neta Regev-Rudzki have made the surprise discovery that malaria parasites can ‘talk’ to each other. This social behaviour ensures the parasite’s survival and improves its chances of being transmitted to other humans. (Credit: Image courtesy of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute)

The finding could provide a niche for developing antimalarial drugs and vaccines that prevent or treat the disease by cutting these communication networks.

Professor Alan Cowman, Dr Neta Regev-Rudzki, Dr Danny Wilson and colleagues from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Infection and Immunity division, in collaboration with Professor Andrew Hill from the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology showed that malaria parasites are able to send out messages to communicate with other malaria parasites in the body. The study was published today in the journal Cell.

Professor Cowman said the researchers were shocked to discover that malaria parasites work in unison to enhance ‘activation’ into sexually mature forms that can be picked up by mosquitoes, which are the carriers of this deadly disease.

“When Neta showed me the data, I was absolutely amazed, I couldn’t believe it,” Professor Cowman said. “We repeated the experiments many times in many different ways before I really started to believe that these parasites were signalling to each other and communicating. But we came to appreciate why the malaria parasite really needs this mechanism — it needs to know how many other parasites are in the human to sense when is the right time to activate into sexual forms that give it the best chance of being transmitted back to the mosquito.”

Malaria kills about 700,000 people a year, mostly children aged under five and pregnant women. Every year, hundreds of millions of people are infected with the malaria parasite,Plasmodium, which is transmitted through mosquito bites. It is estimated that half the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria, with the disease being concentrated in tropical and subtropical regions including many of Australia’s near neighbours.

Dr Regev-Rudzki said the malaria parasites inside red blood cells communicate by sending packages of DNA to each other during the blood stage of infection. “We showed that the parasites inside infected red blood cells can send little packets of information from one parasite to another, particularly in response to stress,” she said.

The communication network is a social behaviour that has evolved to signal when the parasites should complete their lifecycle and be transmitted back to a mosquito, Dr Regev-Rudzki said. “Once they receive this information, they change their fate — the signals tell the parasites to become sexual forms, which are the forms of the malaria parasite that can live and replicate in the mosquito, ensuring the parasites survives and is transmitted to another human.”

Professor Cowman said he hopes to see the discovery pave the way to new antimalarial drugs or vaccines for preventing malaria. “This discovery has fundamentally changed our view of the malaria parasite and is a big step in understanding how the malaria parasite survives and is transmitted,” he said. “The next step is to identify the molecules involved in this signalling process, and ways that we could block these communication networks to block the transmission of malaria from the human to the mosquito. That would be the ultimate goal.”

This project was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Victorian Government.

Journal Reference:

  1. Neta Regev-Rudzki, Danny W. Wilson, Teresa G. Carvalho, Xavier Sisquella, Bradley M. Coleman, Melanie Rug, Dejan Bursac, Fiona Angrisano, Michelle Gee, Andrew F. Hill, Jake Baum, Alan F. Cowman. Cell-Cell Communication between Malaria-Infected Red Blood Cells via Exosome-like VesiclesCell, 2013; DOI:10.1016/j.cell.2013.04.029

Schizophrenia Symptoms Eliminated in Animal Model (Science Daily)

May 22, 2013 — Overexpression of a gene associated with schizophrenia causes classic symptoms of the disorder that are reversed when gene expression returns to normal, scientists report. 

Overexpression of a gene associated with schizophrenia causes classic symptoms of the disorder that are reversed when gene expression returns to normal, scientists report. Pictured are (left to right) Drs. Lin Mei, Dongmin Yin and Yongjun Chen, Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. (Credit: Phil Jones, Georgia Regents University Photographer)

They genetically engineered mice so they could turn up levels of neuregulin-1 to mimic high levels found in some patients then return levels to normal, said Dr. Lin Mei, Director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

They found that when elevated, mice were hyperactive, couldn’t remember what they had just learned and couldn’t ignore distracting background or white noise. When they returned neuregulin-1 levels to normal in adult mice, the schizophrenia-like symptoms went away, said Mei, corresponding author of the study in the journal Neuron.

While schizophrenia is generally considered a developmental disease that surfaces in early adulthood, Mei and his colleagues found that even when they kept neuregulin-1 levels normal until adulthood, mice still exhibited schizophrenia-like symptoms once higher levels were expressed. Without intervention, they developed symptoms at about the same age humans do.

“This shows that high levels of neuregulin-1 are a cause of schizophrenia, at least in mice, because when you turn them down, the behavior deficit disappears,” Mei said. “Our data certainly suggests that we can treat this cause by bringing down excessive levels of neuregulin-1 or blocking its pathologic effects.”

Schizophrenia is a spectrum disorder with multiple causes — most of which are unknown — that tends to run in families, and high neuregulin-1 levels have been found in only a minority of patients. To reduce neuregulin-1 levels in those individuals likely would require development of small molecules that could, for example, block the gene’s signaling pathways, Mei said. Current therapies treat symptoms and generally focus on reducing the activity of two neurotransmitters since the bottom line is excessive communication between neurons.

The good news is it’s relatively easy to measure neuregulin-1 since blood levels appear to correlate well with brain levels. To genetically alter the mice, they put a copy of the neuregulin-1 gene into mouse DNA then, to make sure they could control the levels, they put in front of the DNA a binding protein for doxycycline, a stable analogue for the antibiotic tetracycline, which is infamous for staining the teeth of fetuses and babies.

The mice are born expressing high levels of neuregulin-1 and giving the antibiotic restores normal levels. “If you don’t feed the mice tetracycline, the neuregulin-1 levels are always high,” said Mei, noting that endogenous levels of the gene are not affected. High-levels of neuregulin-1 appear to activate the kinase LIMK1, impairing release of the neurotransmitter glutamate and normal behavior. The LIMK1 connection identifies another target for intervention, Mei said.

Neuregulin-1 is essential for heart development as well as formation of myelin, the insulation around nerves. It’s among about 100 schizophrenia-associated genes identified through genome-wide association studies and has remained a consistent susceptibility gene using numerous other methods for examining the genetics of the disease. It’s also implicated in cancer.

Mei and his colleagues were the first to show neuregulin-1’s positive impact in the developed brain, reporting in Neuron in 2007 that it and its receptor ErbB4 help maintain a healthy balance of excitement and inhibition by releasing GABA, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter, at the sight of inhibitory synapses, the communication paths between neurons. Years before, they showed the genes were also at excitatory synapses, where they also could quash activation. In 2009, the MCG researchers provided additional evidence of the role of neuregulin-1 in schizophrenia by selectively deleting the gene for its receptor, ErbB4 and creating another symptomatic mouse.

Schizophrenia affects about 1 percent of the population, causing hallucinations, depression and impaired thinking and social behavior. Babies born to mothers who develop a severe infection, such as influenza or pneumonia, during pregnancy have a significantly increased risk of schizophrenia.

Journal Reference:

  1. Dong-Min Yin, Yong-Jun Chen, Yi-Sheng Lu, Jonathan C. Bean, Anupama Sathyamurthy, Chengyong Shen, Xihui Liu, Thiri W. Lin, Clifford A. Smith, Wen-Cheng Xiong, Lin Mei.Reversal of Behavioral Deficits and Synaptic Dysfunction in Mice Overexpressing Neuregulin 1.Neuron, 2013; 78 (4): 644 DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.03.028

Brain Can Be Trained in Compassion, Study Shows (Science Daily)

May 22, 2013 — Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion — the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.

Investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. (Credit: © byheaven / Fotolia)

A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The report, published Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, investigates whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.

“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology. “Our evidence points to yes.”

In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”

Participants practiced with different categories of people, first starting with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate.

“It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

Compassion training was compared to a control group that learned cognitive reappraisal, a technique where people learn to reframe their thoughts to feel less negative. Both groups listened to guided audio instructions over the Internet for 30 minutes per day for two weeks. “We wanted to investigate whether people could begin to change their emotional habits in a relatively short period of time,” says Weng.

The real test of whether compassion could be trained was to see if people would be willing to be more altruistic — even helping people they had never met. The research tested this by asking the participants to play a game in which they were given the opportunity to spend their own money to respond to someone in need (called the “Redistribution Game”). They played the game over the Internet with two anonymous players, the “Dictator” and the “Victim.” They watched as the Dictator shared an unfair amount of money (only $1 out of $10) with the Victim. They then decided how much of their own money to spend (out of $5) in order to equalize the unfair split and redistribute funds from the Dictator to the Victim.

“We found that people trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money altruistically to help someone who was treated unfairly than those who were trained in cognitive reappraisal,” Weng says.

“We wanted to see what changed inside the brains of people who gave more to someone in need. How are they responding to suffering differently now?” asks Weng. The study measured changes in brain responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after training. In the MRI scanner, participants viewed images depicting human suffering, such as a crying child or a burn victim, and generated feelings of compassion towards the people using their practiced skills. The control group was exposed to the same images, and asked to recast them in a more positive light as in reappraisal.

The researchers measured how much brain activity had changed from the beginning to the end of the training, and found that the people who were the most altruistic after compassion training were the ones who showed the most brain changes when viewing human suffering. They found that activity was increased in the inferior parietal cortex, a region involved in empathy and understanding others. Compassion training also increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the extent to which it communicated with the nucleus accumbens, brain regions involved in emotion regulation and positive emotions.

“People seem to become more sensitive to other people’s suffering, but this is challenging emotionally. They learn to regulate their emotions so that they approach people’s suffering with caring and wanting to help rather than turning away,” explains Weng.

Compassion, like physical and academic skills, appears to be something that is not fixed, but rather can be enhanced with training and practice. “The fact that alterations in brain function were observed after just a total of seven hours of training is remarkable,” explains UW-Madison psychology and psychiatry professor Richard J. Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and senior author of the article.

“There are many possible applications of this type of training,” Davidson says. “Compassion and kindness training in schools can help children learn to be attuned to their own emotions as well as those of others, which may decrease bullying. Compassion training also may benefit people who have social challenges such as social anxiety or antisocial behavior.”

Weng is also excited about how compassion training can help the general population. “We studied the effects of this training with healthy participants, which demonstrated that this can help the average person. I would love for more people to access the training and try it for a week or two — what changes do they see in their own lives?”

Both compassion and reappraisal trainings are available on the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds’ website. “I think we are only scratching the surface of how compassion can transform people’s lives,” says Weng.

Other authors on the paper were Andrew S. Fox, Alexander J. Shackman, Diane E. Stodola, Jessica Z. K. Caldwell, Matthew C. Olson, and Gregory M. Rogers.

The work was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health; a Hertz Award to the UW-Madison Department of Psychology; the Fetzer Institute; The John Templeton Foundation; the Impact Foundation; the J. W. Kluge Foundation; the Mental Insight Foundation; the Mind and Life Institute; and gifts from Bryant Wanguard, Ralph Robinson, and Keith and Arlene Bronstein.

Journal Reference:

  1. H. Y. Weng, A. S. Fox, A. J. Shackman, D. E. Stodola, J. Z. K. Caldwell, M. C. Olson, G. M. Rogers, R. J. Davidson.Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to SufferingPsychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612469537

“eScience revoluciona a forma como se faz ciência” (Fapesp)

Novas ferramentas de computação possibilitam fazer ciência de forma melhor, mais rápida e com maior impacto, diz Tony Hey, vice-presidente da Microsoft Research (foto:E.Cesar/FAPESP)

16/05/2013

Por Elton Alisson

Agência FAPESP – Um software de visualização de dados astronômicos pela internet permite que cientistas em diversas partes do mundo acessem milhares de imagens de objetos celestes, coletadas por grandes telescópios espaciais, por observatórios e por instituições internacionais de pesquisa em astronomia.

Por meio desses dados, os usuários podem realizar análises temporais e combinar observações realizadas em vários comprimentos de onda de energia irradiada pelos corpos celestes, como raios X, radiação infravermelha, ultravioleta e gama e ondas de rádio, para elucidar os processos físicos que ocorrem no interior desses objetos e compartilhar suas conclusões.

Denominado World Wide Telescope, o software, que começou a ser desenvolvido em 2002 pela Microsoft Research, em parceria com pesquisadores da Universidade Johns Hopkins, nos Estados Unidos, é um exemplo de como as novas tecnologias da informação e comunicação (TICs) mudaram a forma como os dados científicos passaram a ser gerados, administrados e compartilhados, além da própria maneira como se faz ciência hoje, afirma Tony Hey, vice-presidente da Microsoft Research.

“Os telescópios espaciais, assim como as máquinas de sequenciamento genético e aceleradores de partículas, estão gerando um volume de dados até então nunca visto. Para lidar com esse fenômeno e possibilitar que os cientistas possam manipular e compartilhar esses dados, precisamos de uma série de tecnologias e ferramentas de ciência da computação que possibilitem fazer ciência de forma melhor, mais rápida e com maior impacto. É isso o que chamamos deeScience”, disse Hey durante o Latin American eScience Workshop 2013, realizado nos dias 14 e 15 de maio no Espaço Apas, em São Paulo.

Promovido pela FAPESP e pela Microsoft Research, o evento reuniu pesquisadores e estudantes da Europa, da América do Sul e do Norte, da Ásia e da Oceania para discutir avanços em diversas áreas do conhecimento possibilitados pela melhoria na capacidade de análise de grandes volumes de informações produzidas por projetos de pesquisa.

A cerimônia de abertura do evento foi presidida por Celso Lafer, presidente da FAPESP, e contou com a presença de Michel Levy, presidente da Microsoft Brasil, e de José Tadeu de Faria, superintendente do Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento no Estado de São Paulo, representando o ministro.

Também conhecida como ciência orientada por dados, a área de eScience integra pesquisas em computação a estudos nas mais variadas áreas por meio do desenvolvimento de softwares específicos para visualização e análise de informações.

A integração permite a interpretação dos dados, a formulação de teorias, testes por simulação e o levantamento de novas hipóteses de pesquisa com base em correlações difíceis de serem observadas sem o apoio da tecnologia da informação.

“Algumas tecnologias utilizadas na ciência da computação vão ajudar a resolver problemas científicos. Em contrapartida, a utilização dessas ferramentas para solucionar problemas científicos também possibilitará o próprio desenvolvimento da ciência da computação”, disse Hey, que foi professor da Universidade de Southampton, no Reino Unido.

Segundo Hey, a análise, visualização, prospecção (data mining, na expressão em inglês), preservação e compartilhamento de grandes volumes de dados representam grandes desafios não só na ciência hoje, mas também no setor privado.

Por isso, na opinião dele, é preciso treinar os cientistas para lidar com o big data – como é chamado o conjunto de soluções tecnológicas capaz de lidar com a acumulação contínua de dados pouco estruturados, capturados de diversas fontes e  da ordem de petabytes (quatrilhões de bytes) – tanto para realização de projetos científicos, como também para atuarem, eventualmente, em empresas. “O data scientist [cientista capaz de lidar com grandes volumes de dados] será um requisito imprescindível para o cientista”, disse Hey.

A ciência intensiva em dados não é nova, mas as escalas espaciais e temporais de estudos realizados atualmente sobre temas relacionados às mudanças climáticas globais, por exemplo, são cada vez maiores, exigindo novas ferramentas. Por meio de novas tecnologias da informação, também é possível analisar dados gerados em tempo real, como no monitoramento de hábitats.

De acordo com Hey, desde 1950 se começou a utilizar computadores para explorar, por meio de simulações, áreas da ciência até então inacessíveis. “No início, no entanto, os cientistas não sabiam o que era ciência da computação e os profissionais da computação não entendiam a complexidade dos problemas científicos”, disse.

“Foi necessária a realização de um trabalho conjunto, de longo prazo, para que os dois lados entendessem qual era a contribuição que cada um poderia dar em suas respectivas áreas, e iniciar o desenvolvimento de novos algoritmos, hardwaresoftware e da programação de linguagens para possibilitar a realização de experimentos em diversas áreas”, contou.

Oportunidades em temas ousados

Durante o evento da FAPESP e da Microsoft Research foram apresentados diversos projetos por pesquisadores que utilizam o eScience em diversos países, em áreas como energias renováveis, mudanças climáticas globais, transformações sociais, econômicas e políticas nas metrópoles contemporâneas, caracterização, conservação, recuperação e uso sustentável da biodiversidade, medicina e saúde pública.

Um desses projetos, coordenado pela professora Glaucia Mendes Souza, coordenadora do Programa FAPESP de Pesquisa em Bioenergia (BIOEN), pretende desenvolver um algoritmo para o sequenciamento do genoma da cana-de-açúcar e, com isso, possibilitar o desenvolvimento de variedades da planta com maior quantidade de sacarose e mais resistente a pragas e às mudanças climáticas.

“A colaboração entre a FAPESP e a Microsoft tem aberto para a comunidade científica do Estado de São Paulo inúmeras oportunidades de realizar pesquisas em temas ousados relacionados com o uso de tecnologias da informação em áreas como a de energia e meio ambiente”, disse Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, diretor científico da FAPESP, na sessão de abertura do workshop.

“Temos grandes expectativas em relação à eScience. Se soubermos utilizá-la adequadamente, ela poderá trazer grandes avanços não só em pesquisas mas também na própria maneira de se fazer ciência”, disse Brito Cruz.

Ele disse que a FAPESP planeja lançar em breve um programa voltado para apoiar pesquisas na área de eScience.

“Temos a clara convicção de que um papel importante da FAPESP é estar na vanguarda da inovação e do conhecimento, e consideramos muito importante o apoio à pesquisas em eScience, cuja aplicação em áreas como a de meio ambiente é inequívoca, mas que também apresenta um grande potencial de utilização nas Ciências Humanas, por exemplo”, disse Celso Lafer, presidente da FAPESP.

Levy destacou a parceria da Microsoft com a FAPESP e os investimentos em pesquisa e desenvolvimento realizados pela empresa no país. “A Microsoft tem aumentado seus investimentos na área de pesquisa e desenvolvimento no Brasil nos últimos anos e um dos mais importantes exemplos disso é a parceria bem sucedida que mantemos com a FAPESP”, afirmou.

Climate research nearly unanimous on human causes, survey finds (The Guardian)

Of more than 4,000 academic papers published over 20 years, 97.1% agreed that climate change is anthropogenic

, US environment correspondent

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 16 May 2013 00.01 BST

An iceberg melts in Greeland in 2007. Climate change. Environment. Global warming. Photograph: John McConnico/AP

‘Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary’. Photograph: John McConnico/AP

A survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals has found 97.1% agreed that climate change is caused by human activity.

Authors of the survey, published on Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the finding of near unanimity provided a powerful rebuttal to climate contrarians who insist the science of climate change remains unsettled.

The survey considered the work of some 29,000 scientists published in 11,994 academic papers. Of the 4,000-plus papers that took a position on the causes of climate change only 0.7% or 83 of those thousands of academic articles, disputed the scientific consensus that climate change is the result of human activity, with the view of the remaining 2.2% unclear.

The study described the dissent as a “vanishingly small proportion” of published research.

“Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary,” said John Cook of the University of Queensland, who led the survey.

Public opinion continues to lag behind the science. Though a majority of Americans accept the climate is changing, just 42% believed human activity was the main driver, in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre last October.

“There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception,” Cook said in a statement.

Guardian partners Climate Desk interview John Cook on his new paper

The study blamed strenuous lobbying efforts by industry to undermine the science behind climate change for the gap in perception. The resulting confusion has blocked efforts to act on climate change.

The survey was the most ambitious effort to date to demonstrate the broad agreement on the causes of climate change, covering 20 years of academic publications from 1991-2011.

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes, an historian at the University of California, San Diego,surveyed published literature, releasing her results in the journal Science. She too came up with a similar finding that 97% of climate scientists agreed on the causes of climate change.

She wrote of the new survey in an email: “It is a nice, independent confirmation, using a somewhat different methodology than I used, that comes to the same result. It also refutes the claim, sometimes made by contrarians, that the consensus has broken down, much less ‘shattered’.”

The Cook survey was broader in its scope, deploying volunteers from theSkepticalScience.com website to review scientific abstracts. The volunteers also asked authors to rate their own views on the causes of climate change, in another departure from Oreskes’s methods.

The authors said the findings could help close the gap between scientific opinion and the public on the causes of climate change, or anthropogenic global warming, and so create favourable conditions for political action on climate.

“The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW [anthropogenic, ie man-made, global warming] is a necessary element in public support for climate policy,” the study said.

However, Prof Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University who studies the forces underlying attitudes towards climate change, disputed the idea that educating the public about the broad scientific agreement on the causes of climate change would have an effect on public opinion – or on the political conditions for climate action.

He said he was doubtful that convincing the public of a scientific consensus on climate change would help advance the prospects for political action. Having elite leaders call for climate action would be far more powerful, he said.

“I don’t think people really want to come around to grips with the fact that climate change is a highly ideological issue and it is not amenable to the information deficit model,” he said.

“The information deficit model, this idea that if you just pile on more information people will get convinced, is just completely inadequate, he said. “It strengthens the people who actually read and pay attention but it is certainly not going to change or shift the opinions of others.”

Jon Krosnick, professor in humanities and social sciences at Stanford university and an expert on public opinion on climate change, said: “I assume that sceptics would say that there is bias in the editorial process so that the papers ultimately published are not an accurate reflection of the opinions of scientists.”

Tamed fox shows domestication’s effects on the brain (Science News)

Gene activity changes accompany doglike behavior

By Tina Hesman Saey

Web edition: May 15, 2013

download

Taming silver foxes (shown) alters their behavior. A new study links those behavior changes to changes in brain chemicals. Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. – Taming foxes changes not only the animals’ behavior but also their brain chemistry, a new study shows.

The finding could shed light on how the foxes’ genetic cousins, wolves, morphed into man’s best friend. Lenore Pipes of Cornell University presented the results May 10 at the Biology of Genomes conference.

The foxes she worked with come from a long line started in 1959 when a Russian scientist named Dmitry Belyaev attempted to recreate dog domestication, but using foxes instead of wolves. He bred silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes), which are actually a type of red fox with white-tipped black fur. Belyaev and his colleagues selected the least aggressive animals they could find at local fox farms and bred them. Each generation, the scientists picked the tamest animals to mate, creating ever friendlier foxes. Now, more than 50 years later, the foxes act like dogs, wagging their tails, jumping with excitement and leaping into the arms of caregivers for caresses.

At the same time, the scientists also bred the most aggressive foxes on the farms. The descendents of those foxes crouch, flatten their ears, growl, bare their teeth and lunge at people who approach their cages.

The foxes’ tame and aggressive behaviors are rooted in genetics, but scientists have not found DNA changes that account for the differences. Rather than search for changes in genes themselves, Pipes and her colleagues took an indirect approach, looking for differences in the activity of genes in the foxes’ brains.

The team collected two brain parts, the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, from a dozen aggressive foxes and a dozen tame ones. The prefrontal cortex, an area at the front of the brain, is involved in decision making and in controlling social behavior, among other tasks. The amygdala, a pair of almond-size regions on either side of the brain, helps process emotional information.

Pipes found that the activity of hundreds of genes in the two brain regions differed between the groups of affable and hostile foxes. For example, aggressive animals had increased activity of some genes for sensing dopamine. Pipes speculated that tame animals’ lower levels of dopamine sensors might make them less anxious.

The team had expected to find changes in many genes involved in serotonin signaling, a process targeted by some popular antidepressants such as Prozac. Tame foxes are known to have more serotonin in their brains. But only one gene for sensing serotonin had higher activity in the friendly animals.

In a different sort of analysis, Pipes discovered that all aggressive foxes carry one form of the GRM3 glutamate receptor gene, while a majority of the friendly foxes have a different variant of the gene. In people, genetic variants of GRM3 have been linked to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. Other genes involved in transmitting glutamate signals, which help regulate mood, had increased activity in tame foxes, Pipes said.

It is not clear whether similar brain chemical changes accompanied the transformation of wolves into dogs, said Adam Freedman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. Even if dogs and wolves now have differing brain chemical levels, researchers can’t turn back time to watch the process unfold; they can only guess at how domestication happened. “We have to reconstruct an unobservable series of steps,” he said. Pipes’ study is an interesting example of what might have happened to dogs’ brains during domestication, he said.

Clouds in the Head: New Model of Brain’s Thought Processes (Science Daily)

May 21, 2013 — A new model of the brain’s thought processes explains the apparently chaotic activity patterns of individual neurons. They do not correspond to a simple stimulus/response linkage, but arise from the networking of different neural circuits. Scientists funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) propose that the field of brain research should expand its focus.

A new model of the brain’s thought processes explains the apparently chaotic activity patterns of individual neurons. They do not correspond to a simple stimulus/response linkage, but arise from the networking of different neural circuits. (Credit: iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki)

Many brain researchers cannot see the forest for the trees. When they use electrodes to record the activity patterns of individual neurons, the patterns often appear chaotic and difficult to interpret. “But when you zoom out from looking at individual cells, and observe a large number of neurons instead, their global activity is very informative,” says Mattia Rigotti, a scientist at Columbia University and New York University who is supported by the SNSF and the Janggen-Pöhn-Stiftung. Publishing inNature together with colleagues from the United States, he has shown that these difficult-to-interpret patterns in particular are especially important for complex brain functions.

What goes on in the heads of apes

The researchers have focussed their attention on the activity patterns of 237 neurons that had been recorded some years previously using electrodes implanted in the frontal lobes of two rhesus monkeys. At that time, the apes had been taught to recognise images of different objects on a screen. Around one third of the observed neurons demonstrated activity that Rigotti describes as “mixed selectivity.” A mixed selective neuron does not always respond to the same stimulus (the flowers or the sailing boat on the screen) in the same way. Rather, its response differs as it also takes account of the activity of other neurons. The cell adapts its response according to what else is going on in the ape’s brain.

Chaotic patterns revealed in context

Just as individual computers are networked to create concentrated processing and storage capacity in the field of Cloud Computing, links in the complex cognitive processes that take place in the prefrontal cortex play a key role. The greater the density of the network in the brain, in other words the greater the proportion of mixed selectivity in the activity patterns of the neurons, the better the apes were able to recall the images on the screen, as demonstrated by Rigotti in his analysis. Given that the brain and cognitive capabilities of rhesus monkeys are similar to those of humans, mixed selective neurons should also be important in our own brains. For him this is reason enough why brain research from now on should no longer be satisfied with just the simple activity patterns, but should also consider the apparently chaotic patterns that can only be revealed in context.

Journal Reference:

  1. Mattia Rigotti, Omri Barak, Melissa R. Warden, Xiao-Jing Wang, Nathaniel D. Daw, Earl K. Miller, Stefano Fusi. The importance of mixed selectivity in complex cognitive tasksNature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12160

Pescador que atirou em boto diz que quase foi encantado e fica perturbado (Voz do Norte)

homem boto

Depois de atirar num boto que estava perturbando sua pescaria Valdecir da Costa Souza, 20, passou a apresentar perturbações psicológicas e afirma que os animais estão o atraindo. Além de ouvir vozes ele vê um homem sentado numa pedra no rio tentando levá-lo para a água e o problema está preocupando os familiares.

Tudo começou quando Valdecir participava de uma pescaria junto com o primo Natanael dos Santos, em uma comunidade do interior do Amazonas e alguns botos rasgavam as redes e comiam o peixe, momento que o pescador resolveu dar um tiro num dos animais.

Segundo conta o primo, imediatamente após o tiro, surgiram vários botos ao redor do barco que tentaram alagar a embarcação e eles não conseguiram continuar a pescaria. Mesmo depois do barco ter sido ancorado nas margens do rio os animais não foram embora, momento em que Valdecir começou a passar mal.

“Comecei a passar mal e apareceu um homem em cima de uma pedra branca no meio do rio que tentava levá-lo para a água. Ele me chamava e dizia que ai me levar”, contou o pescador ainda abatido, que no momento pedia socorro ao primo que afirmou que eram muitos botos e quando eles apareciam Valdecir começava a passar mal.

“Quando eu ficava perto do meu primo, que estava comigo na pescaria, eles se afastavam e o homem desaparecia”, conta ainda assustado em sua residência. Depois que chegou em casa o pescador deu muito trabalho a família que tinha que segurá-lo a força pois ele queria entrar no rio.

Segundo a tia do pescador, Lúcia dos Santos, todas as vezes que Valdecir sentia a presença dos botos ficava com a voz diferente e com muita força. “Não sei o que acontecia, ele começava a desmaiar depois queria entrar no rio. Eram nove homens e três mulheres para poder segurá-lo”, afirmou.

O pai pescador, José Alberto de Souza, 62, conta que também já foi vitima de um boto, quando estava com amigos madeireiros nas margens de um igarapé na fronteira com o Peru. Eles jogavam baralho quando sentiu algo estranho no corpo e via um homem sobre uma pedra no igarapé que tentava levá-lo para a água.

José Alberto afirma que tudo começou depois que seu pai desapareceu nas águas do Rio Juruá, encantado por um boto. “Meu estava numa canoa que naufragou e vários botos começaram a boiar no local, ele nunca foi encontrado. Depois ele apareceu para minha esposa dizendo que estava em um boto e que eu precisava desencantá-lo. Ela me disse antes mesmo dele aparecer três vezes, depois disso nunca mais voltou”, ressaltou.

[Acessado em 23 de maio de 2013]

Political Motivations May Have Evolutionary Links to Physical Strength (Science Daily)

May 15, 2013 — Men’s upper-body strength predicts their political opinions on economic redistribution, according to new research published inPsychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The principal investigators of the research — psychological scientists Michael Bang Petersen of Aarhus University, Denmark and Daniel Sznycer of University of California, Santa Barbara — believe that the link may reflect psychological traits that evolved in response to our early ancestral environments and continue to influence behavior today.

“While many think of politics as a modern phenomenon, it has — in a sense — always been with our species,” says Petersen.

In the days of our early ancestors, decisions about the distribution of resources weren’t made in courthouses or legislative offices, but through shows of strength. With this in mind, Petersen, Sznycer and colleagues hypothesized that upper-body strength — a proxy for the ability to physically defend or acquire resources — would predict men’s opinions about the redistribution of wealth.

The researchers collected data on bicep size, socioeconomic status, and support for economic redistribution from hundreds of people in the United States, Argentina, and Denmark.

In line with their hypotheses, the data revealed that wealthy men with high upper-body strength were less likely to support redistribution, while less wealthy men of the same strength were more likely to support it.

“Despite the fact that the United States, Denmark and Argentina have very different welfare systems, we still see that — at the psychological level — individuals reason about welfare redistribution in the same way,” says Petersen. “In all three countries, physically strong males consistently pursue the self-interested position on redistribution.”

Men with low upper-body strength, on the other hand, were less likely to support their own self-interest. Wealthy men of this group showed less resistance to redistribution, while poor men showed less support.

“Our results demonstrate that physically weak males are more reluctant than physically strong males to assert their self-interest — just as if disputes over national policies were a matter of direct physical confrontation among small numbers of individuals, rather than abstract electoral dynamics among millions,” says Petersen.

Interestingly, the researchers found no link between upper-body strength and redistribution opinions among women. Petersen argues that this is likely due to the fact that, over the course of evolutionary history, women had less to gain, and also more to lose, from engaging in direct physical aggression.

Together, the results indicate that an evolutionary perspective may help to illuminate political motivations, at least those of men.

“Many previous studies have shown that people’s political views cannot be predicted by standard economic models,” Petersen explains. “This is among the first studies to show that political views may be rational in another sense, in that they’re designed by natural selection to function in the conditions recurrent over human evolutionary history.”

Co-authors on this research include Aaron Sell, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

This research was supported by a grant from the Danish Research Council and a Director’s Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Journal Reference:

  1. M. B. Petersen, D. Sznycer, A. Sell, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby. The Ancestral Logic of Politics: Upper-Body Strength Regulates Men’s Assertion of Self-Interest Over Economic RedistributionPsychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612466415

“It’s happening now… The village is sinking” (The Guardian)

Residents of Newtok, Alaska, know they must evacuate, but who will pay the $130m cost of moving them?

› Children jump over ground affected by erosion in Newtok. Natural erosion has accelerated due to climate change, with large areas of land lost to the Ninglick River each year. Photograph: Brian Adams

Suzanne Goldenberg in Newtok, Alaska, with video by Richard Sprenger

One afternoon in the waning days of winter, the most powerful man in Newtok, Alaska, hopped on a plane and flew 1,000 miles to plead for the survival of his village. Stanley Tom, Newtok’s administrator, had a clear purpose for his trip: find the money to move the village on the shores of the Bering Sea out of the way of an approaching disaster caused by climate change.

Village administrator Stanley Tom stands at Mertarvik, the site of relocated Newtok. Photograph: Brian Adams Photography

Newtok was rapidly losing ground to erosion. The land beneath the village was falling into the river. Tom needed money for bulldozers to begin preparing a new site for the village on higher ground. He needed funds for an airstrip, He came back from his meetings in Juneau, the Alaskan state capital, with expressions of sympathy – but nothing in the way of the cash he desperately needed. “It’s really complicated,” he said. “There are a lot of obstacles.”

Those obstacles – financial, legal and a supremely frustrating bureaucratic process – had slowed down the move for so long that some in Newtok, which is about 400 miles south of the Bering Strait that separates the US from Russia, feared they would be stuck as the village went down around them, houses swallowed up by the river.

“It’s really alarming,” said Tom, slumped in an armchair a few hours after his return to the village. “I have a hard time sleeping, and I’m getting up early in the morning. I am worried about it every day.”

The uncertainty was tearing the village apart. It also began to turn the village against Tom.

Over the winter, a large group of villagers decided that their administrator was not up to the job. By the time he returned from this particular trip, the dissidents had voted to replace the village council and to sack Tom – a vote that he ignored.

“The way I see it, we need someone who knows how to do the work,” said Katherine Charles, one of Tom’s most vocal critics. “I feel like we are being neglected. We are still standing here and we don’t know when we are going to move. For years now we have been frustrated. I have to ask myself: why are we even still here?”

It’s been more than a decade since Tom took charge of running Newtok, and leading the village out of climate disaster to higher ground.

The ground beneath Newtok is disappearing. Natural erosion has accelerated due to climate change, with large areas of land lost to the Ninglick river each year. A study by the Army Corps of Engineers found the highest point in the village would be below water level by 2017. The proximity of the threat to Newtok means that its villages are likely to be America’s first climate refugees.

Officials in Anchorage say Tom has worked tirelessly to move the village out of the way of a rampaging river. Among the relatively small circle of bureaucrats and lawyers who concern themselves with the problems of small and remote indigenous Alaskan villages, the Newtok administrator has a stellar reputation. He has won leadership awards from Native American groups in the rest of the country.

Tom said he hoped to make a big push this summer, acquiring heavy equipment that locals could use to begin moving some of the existing houses over to the new village site at Mertarvik nine miles to the south.

“It’s really happening right now. The village is sinking and flooding and eroding,” he said. He said he was planning to move his own belongings to the new village site this summer – and that villagers should start doing the same.

But Tom, despite his lobbying missions to Juneau and strong reputation with government officials, has failed to inject federal and state officials with that same sense of urgency.

Melting permafrost, sea-level rise, erosion – these are some of the worst consequences of climate change for Alaska. But none of those elements in Newtok’s slow destruction are recognised as disasters under existing legislation.

That means there is no designated pot of money set aside for those affected communities – unlike cities or towns destroyed by floods or tornados.

We weren’t thinking of climate change when federal disaster relief legislation was passed.

Robin Bronen, a human rights lawyer in Anchorage. ‘This is completely a human rights issue’ Photograph: Richard Sprenger

“We weren’t thinking of climate change when federal disaster relief legislation was passed,” said Robin Bronen, a human rights lawyer in Anchorage who has made a dozen visits to Newtok. “Our legal system is not set up. The institutions that we have created to respond to disasters are not up to the task of responding to climate change.”

In Bronen’s view, Congress needed to rewrite existing disaster legislation to take account of climate change. Communities needed to be able to access those disaster funds — if not to rebuild in place, which is not feasible in Newtok’s case, then to move.

The authorities also had responsibility under the treaty agreements with indigenous Alaskan tribes to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of indigenous communities, she argued.

“This is completely a human rights issue,” Bronen said. “When you are talking about a people who have done the least to contribute to our climate crisis facing such dramatic consequences as a result of climate change, we have a moral and legal responsibility to respond and provide the funding needed so that these communities are not in danger.”

Until then, however, it was up to Tom to find new ways to prise funds out of an unresponsive bureaucracy. It turned out that he had a knack for it.

Government officials praised Tom for finding other sources of funds, such as development grants, and putting them to use for building the new village site. But it has been a laborious process for the remote village to find its way through the different funding agencies and a maze of competing regulations.

As Tom found out, each agency had its own set of rules. The state government would not build a school for fewer than 10 children. The federal government would not build an airstrip at a village without a post office. But the rules, from Newtok’s vantage point, appeared to have at least one point in common. They seemed to conspire against the village ever getting its move off the ground.

In 2011, Alaska’s government published a timetable for Newtok’s move, setting out dates for building an emergency centre, housing, an airstrip – all items on Tom’s list. Two years later, the plan is already behind schedule and the official who oversaw that original timetable said there was little chance of getting back on track.

Newtok is something that is probably going to play out over several decades unless it reaches a dire point where something has to be done immediately to keep the people safe

Larry Hartig, who heads Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation

“Newtok is something that is probably going to play out over several decades unless it reaches a dire point where something has to be done immediately to keep the people safe,” said Larry Hartig, who heads Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Officially, the government of Alaska remains committed to helping Newtok and all the other indigenous Alaskan villages that are threatened by climate change.

Almost all of Alaska’s indigenous villages – more than 180 – are experiencing the effects of climate change, including severe flooding and erosion. Some may be able to hold back rivers and sea, but others will have to move. About half a dozen villages, including Newtok, face extreme risks.

A mosaic of sea ice shifts across the Bering Sea, west of Alaska on 5 February, 2008. On either side of the Bering Strait (top centre) the land is blanketed with snow. Anchorage is located in the middle right-hand side of the image, at the top of the Cook Inlet. The village of Newtok is located north of Nunivak Island (middle), close to the coast on the lowland plain of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, one of the largest river deltas in the world, which mostly consists of tundra. Photograph: NASA/Aqua/MODIS

“I am not going to tell any community that they are not going to survive. If the residents want to survive, we will help them,” said Mead Treadwell, the state’s lieutenant governor.

But the cost of relocating just one village — Newtok — could run as high as $130m, according to an estimate by the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s more than $350,000 per villager. Multiply that by half a dozen, or several more times, and the cost of protecting indigenous Alaskan villages from climate change soon soars into the billions.

So far, Newtok has received a total of about $12m in state funds over the past four years, according to George Owletuck, a consultant hired by Tom to help with the move. Much of that has already gone, to build a barge landing, a few new homes, and an emergency evacuation centre – in case the village does not manage to move in time.

Officially, federal and state government agencies have spent some $27m getting Mertarvik ready, although a considerable share of that figure, some $6m, did not go directly to the relocation, said Sally Russell Cox, the state official overseeing the move. And there is still no major infrastructure completed at Mertarvik.

Would the government of Alaska commit to picking up the rest of the tab for Newtok and the other villages?

Alaska’s oil revenues have fallen off over the years. In 2012, the state slipped into second place for oil production behind North Dakota. Treadwell admitted the state government would not cover the entire cost of fortifying or moving all of the villages threatened by climate change.

“On the question of is there money to help them with one cheque? That is something there clearly is not,” he said.

Treadwell suggested some of the at-risk villages could raise funds by setting themselves up as hubs for oil companies hoping to drill in Arctic waters.

However, a number of oil companies have put their Arctic drilling plans on hold for 2013 and 2014. Treadwell admitted there was as yet no comprehensive climate change plan for Newtok and other villages. “I think it’s going to be piece by piece with each community and many different pots of money,” he said.

In the case of Newtok, Owletuck, the consultant, had big ideas for financing the move: growing fruit and vegetables hydroponically in green houses, or testing the possibilities of producing biofuels from algae.

He let it be known the village may even have found a mysterious benefactor. Owletuck said he’d had an approach from private individuals, whom he declined to name, wanting to donate $22m to the move.

None of those propositions have materialised, however. And after more than a decade of uncertainty about the future under climate change, the basic infrastructure of Newtok is coming apart.

The impact on Newtok

The rising sea due to erosion and climate change has dramatically altered Newtok Village and by 2027 is expected to cover nearly a third of the village. Historic shorelines digitized from USGS topographic maps and aerial photos. Source: Army Corps of Engineers

Snow covers up a lot of Newtok’s flaws: the open sewage pits, the broken board walk over mudflats, some of the abandoned snowmobile wrecks.

Newtok has for years been considered a “distressed village”, with average income of $16,000, well below the rest of the state. Fewer than half of adults in the village have paid work. But even within those dismal measures, conditions have sharply deteriorated in the years since the village has been planning to move.

Aside from the clinic and the school, most buildings are in a state of advanced dilapidation. The floor in the community hall sags like an old mattress. The community laundry is out of order.

In the cramped offices of the traditional council, where Tom works, the furniture dates from the 1970s or 1980s, mid-brown vinyl chairs where the casing has split open, revealing the dirty foam inside. It’s not unheard of to find families of 10 or 12 children living in houses of less than 800 sq ft – and none of those homes have flush toilets or running water.

Early mornings find the men of the household trudging out of their homes with 5 gallon buckets of waste, which get dumped at various spots on the edges of the village, including a small stream.

The diesel-powered generator was nearing the end of its life span. The water treatment plant was shut down last October after people began getting sick. Tom said there was contamination from leaking jet fuel at the airport.

For now, villagers are drawing water from the school, which had a separate system. But the school principal said he would have to cut that off in May to preserve the system for the schoolchildren.

Tom said there was nothing he could do. Government agencies would not fund improvements at the current village site, because of the plan to move. “There is no money to improve our community,” he said. “We are suspended from federal and state agencies and there is no way of improving our lives over here. The agencies do not want to work on both villages at once.”

By last October, frustration with the stalled move and conditions in the village exploded. Villagers accused their own council of failing to hold regular elections, and raised a petition to throw out the leaders and replace Tom.

Some accused him of presiding over a dictatorship in the village. Others speculated that he and the paid consultant, Oweituck, were plotting to rob the relocation funds.

One of the dissidents, a relative newcomer to the village, posted ferocious criticism of Tom on Facebook calling for rebellion.

The dissidents organised elections, voted out the old council and installed their own leaders. Tom ignored the result. “Let them cry all they want,” he said. “I don’t care. They are not going to help my community. I am way ahead of these guys.”

The upheavals in Newtok are sadly familiar to those who have worked with indigenous Alaskan villages confronting climate change. “I don’t think you would find one community that says they are happy with the pace that’s gone on,” said Patricia Cochran, director of the Alaska Native Science Commission.

“To be honest with you, I think the state and the feds have done a terrible job, not only in assessing the conditions that communities are living within but in responding to them,” she said. “Because these communities are listed as threatened and may potentially be relocated, they are not able to get any funds now for infrastructure that is being damaged right now.”

That leaves communities stuck in a limbo that can carry for years or even decades.

That’s what has become of Newtok. The effects are devastating, said Charles. Beyond all her anger she admitted was an all-enveloping fear. “Sometimes I get scared. I’m scared for my own family. How will I take care of them if the relocation doesn’t start right away?”

She had been waiting for years to see the beginnings of any new settlement in rural Alaska rising up on the rocky hill of Mertarvik: the airport, the barge landing, the school, the houses. None of it was there yet, and Charles said she was coming close to despair.

“It’s been going on for I don’t know how long, and I am beginning to lose hope.”

For Insurers, No Doubts on Climate Change (N.Y.Times)

Master Sgt. Mark Olsen/U.S. Air Force, via Associated Press. Damage in Mantoloking, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy. Natural disasters caused $35 billion in private property losses last year.

By EDUARDO PORTER

Published: May 14, 2013

If there were one American industry that would be particularly worried about climate change it would have to be insurance, right?

From Hurricane Sandy’s devastating blow to the Northeast to the protracted drought that hit the Midwest Corn Belt, natural catastrophes across the United States pounded insurers last year, generating$35 billion in privately insured property losses, $11 billion more than the average over the last decade.

And the industry expects the situation will get worse. “Numerous studies assume a rise in summer drought periods in North America in the future and an increasing probability of severe cyclones relatively far north along the U.S. East Coast in the long term,” said Peter Höppe, who heads Geo Risks Research at the reinsurance giant Munich Re. “The rise in sea level caused by climate change will further increase the risk of storm surge.” Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming.

“Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,” Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, told me last week. “It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.”

Yet when I asked Mr. Nutter what the American insurance industry was doing to combat global warming, his answer was surprising: nothing much. “The industry has really not been engaged in advocacy related to carbon taxes or proposals addressing carbon,” he said. While some big European reinsurers like Munich Re and Swiss Re support efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, “in the United States the household names really have not engaged at all.” Instead, the focus of insurers’ advocacy efforts is zoning rules and disaster mitigation.

Last week, scientists announced that the concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million — its highest level in at least three million years, before humans appeared on the scene. Back then, mastodons roamed the earth, the polar ice caps were smaller and the sea level was as much as 60 to 80 feet higher.

The milestone puts the earth nearer a point of no return, many scientists think, when vast, disruptive climate change is baked into our future. Pietr P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told my colleague Justin Gillis: “It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.” And it raises a perplexing question: why hasn’t corporate America done more to sway its allies in the Republican Party to try to avert a disaster that would clearly be devastating to its own interests?

Mr. Nutter argues that the insurance industry’s reluctance is born of hesitation to become embroiled in controversies over energy policy. But perhaps its executives simply don’t feel so vulnerable. Like farmers, who are largely protected from the ravages of climate change by government-financed crop insurance, insurers also have less to fear than it might at first appear.

The federal government covers flood insurance, among the riskiest kind in this time of crazy weather. And insurers can raise premiums or even drop coverage to adjust to higher risks. Indeed, despite Sandy and drought, property and casualty insurance in the United States was more profitable in 2012 than in 2011, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

But the industry’s analysis of the risks it faces is evolving. One sign of that is how some top American insurers responded to a billboard taken out by the conservative Heartland Institute, a prominent climate change denier that has received support from the insurance industry.

The billboard had a picture of Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who asked: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

Concerned about global warming and angry to be equated with a murderous psychopath, insurance companies like Allied World, Renaissance Re, State Farm and XL Groupdropped their support for Heartland.

Even more telling, Eli Lehrer, a Heartland vice president who at the time led an insurance-financed project, left the group and helped start the R Street Institute, a standard conservative organization in all respects but one: it believes in climate change and supports a carbon tax to combat it. And it is financed largely with insurance industry money.

Mr. Lehrer points out that a carbon tax fits conservative orthodoxy. It is a broad and flat tax, whose revenue can be used to do away with the corporate income tax — a favorite target of the right. It provides a market-friendly signal, forcing polluters to bear the cost imposed on the rest of us and encouraging them to pollute less. And it is much preferable to a parade of new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are having a debate on the right about a carbon tax for the first time in a long time,” Mr. Lehrer said.

Bob Inglis, formerly a Republican congressman from South Carolina who lost his seat in the 2010 primary to a Tea Party-supported challenger, is another member of this budding coalition. Before he left Congress, he proposed a revenue-neutral bill to create a carbon tax and cut payroll taxes.

Changing the political economy of a carbon tax remains an uphill slog especially in a stagnant economy. But Mr. Inglis notices a thaw. “The best way to do this is in the context of a grand bargain on tax reform,” he said. “It could happen in 2015 or 2016, but probably not before.”

He lists a dozen Republicans in the House and eight in the Senate who would be open to legislation to help avert climate change. He notes that Exelon, the gas and electricity giant, is sympathetic to his efforts — perhaps not least because a carbon tax would give an edge to gas over its dirtier rival, coal. Exxon, too, has also said a carbon tax would be the most effective way to reduce emissions. So why hasn’t the insurance industry come on board?

Robert Muir-Wood is the chief research officer of Risk Management Solutions, one of two main companies the insurance industry relies on to crunch data and model future risks. He argues that insurers haven’t changed their tune because — with the exception of 2004 and 2005, when a string of hurricanes from Ivan to Katrina caused damage worth more than $200 billion — they haven’t yet experienced hefty, sustained losses attributable to climate change.

“Insurers were ready to sign up to all sorts of actions against climate change,” Mr. Muir-Wood told me from his office in London. Then the weather calmed down.

Still, Mr. Muir-Wood notes that the insurance industry faces a different sort of risk: political action. “That is the biggest threat,” he said. When insurers canceled policies and raised premiums in Florida in 2006, politicians jumped on them. “Insurers in Florida,” he said, “became Public Enemy No. 1.”

And that’s the best hope for those concerned about climate change: that global warming isn’t just devastating for society, but also bad for business.

‘Não existem índios no Brasil’, diz escritor em abertura de congresso (G1)

22/05/2013 14h24 – Atualizado em 22/05/2013 14h40

Para ele, a palavra ‘índio’ surgiu de maneira equivocada e reduz os povos.

Autor de 43 livros, Daniel Munduruku abriu o evento em Poços de Caldas. 

Jéssica BalbinoDo G1 Sul de Minas

Daniel Munduruku é autor de 43 livros e falou durante abertura de Congresso (Foto: Jéssica Balbino/ G1)Daniel Munduruku é autor de 43 livros e falou durante abertura de Congresso (Foto: Jéssica Balbino/ G1)

Autor de 43 livros, o indígena Daniel Munduruku foi o palestrante convidado para a abertura do 10º Congresso do Meio Ambiente em Poços de Caldas (MG) nesta quarta-feira (22). O índio, que é doutor em educação e cursa pós-doutorado em literatura na Universidade Federal de São Carlos (Ufscar), falou sobre a ‘Mãe Terra e a Questão Indígena’  durante um bate-papo com os congressistas.

Em uma saudação na língua do povo ao qual pertence, abriu a fala e brincando, pediu licença a quem estava no ambiente. “Bom dia a todos os amigos aqui presentes, espero que este encontro seja tão bom para vocês como vai ser para mim”, saudou, em uma referência aos ancestrais. “Nossos avós diziam que quando vamos encontrar alguém, temos que ir com o coração aberto e alegre para que o encontro seja bom, desejando que as pessoas que estão no lugar se sintam da mesma forma”, pontuou, ao lembrar que estar conectado com o meio ambiente é estar conectado com a poesia do universo.

“A luta pelo meio ambiente é a luta de todo povo brasileiro” – Daniel Munduruku, escritor e doutor

“Vou falar de outras tantas coisas que não são meio ambiente, mas também são. Quero olhar nos olhos e conversar. Para começar, vou destacar que não sou índio e que não existem índios no Brasil. O que existem são povos. Eu sou Munduruku e pertencer a um povo é ter participação dentro de uma tradição ancestral brasileira. Quando eu digo que não existem índios, quero dizer que existe uma diversidade muito grande de ancestralidade. São pelo menos 250 povos indígenas e são faladas pelo menos 180 línguas no Brasil”, disse.

Para ele, a palavra ‘índio’ surgiu de maneira equivocada e reduz os povos. “Está ligada a uma série de conceitos e pré-conceitos. Normalmente ela está vinculada a coisas negativas, embora haja muito romantismo na história, a maioria do pensamento quer dizer que o  índio é um ser fora de moda, atrasado no tempo e selvagem. Alguém que está atrapalhando o progresso e continuamos reproduzindo um estereótipo que foi sendo passado ao longo da nossa história”, criticou.”

Público vindo de várias partes do Brasil debateu durante palestra (Foto: Jéssica Balbino/ G1)Público vindo de várias partes do Brasil debateu
durante palestra (Foto: Jéssica Balbino/ G1)

O bate-papo foi permeado por lembranças do indígena, que contou histórias sobre a própria vida, a fase de transição entre infância e adolescência e a perda do avô, que segundo ele, na tradição Munduruku, é quem transmite os ensinamentos dentro de uma família ou tribo. Com isso, ele chegou à dúvida dos presentes que era: como começou a escrever e se tornou acadêmico. “Quando meu avô morreu, me fez entender o que era ser Munduruku e eu sempre quis lembrar dele assim. Queria ser como ele, um contador de histórias. Demorei para saber como seria meu caminho, se seria na tribo ou na cidade, mas optei pela cidade e pela vida acadêmica e hoje estou aqui,  transmitindo estas histórias que são tão cheias de sabedoria de vida e de meio ambiente”, pontuou.

Em relação ao meio ambiente e aos questionamentos feitos pelo público, o indígena destacou a questão da evolução humana e no Brasil a construção de barragens. “O povo Munduruku está sofrendo com a construção das barragens, seja em Belomonte, seja em Rondônia, enfim, eles estão lutando para viver. A natureza e o ambiente que os índios vivem fazem parte da humanidade deles. Eles lutam para se manterem e lutam por um Brasil inteiro que não tem a consciência de perceber isso. A luta pelo meio ambiente é a luta de todo povo brasileiro”, finalizou.