Jack Nicas and Ana Lankes met with witches in Buenos Aires and in Lionel Messi’s hometown, Rosario, Argentina, for this article.
Dec. 17, 2022
Magalí Martínez knew something was off: The seemingly invincible soccer star Lionel Messi was scuffling on the soccer pitch. To her, it looked like he was afflicted with a supernatural curse that has roots in different cultures across history, the “evil eye.”
So Martínez, a self-proclaimed witch and part-time babysitter, got to work. She focused intensely on Messi, began repeating a prayer and drizzled a bit of oil into a bowl of water. If the oil remained dispersed, he was safe. If it collected in the middle, he was cursed.
“It came together like a magnet,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to cure him alone.”
She went to Twitter and called on her fellow witches across Argentina. “Evil-eye healing sisters, Messi is very affected,” she said. “I need your help.”
A thousand people shared her tweet, with many saying they, too, were witches and would work to protect Argentina’s golden boy.
Argentina has not lost since.
The bookkeepers have set their odds, gamblers have placed their bets and the experts have made their picks for Sunday’s World Cup final between Argentina and France, but their analysis of the matchup — focused on just the 22 players on the field — might not be considering a wild card: Argentina’s army of witches.Witches in Argentina have formed groups to give their soccer team a magic boost ever since the team’s first loss in the World Cup.Credit…Anita Pouchard Serra for The New York Times
In recent weeks, hundreds, if not thousands of Argentine women who call themselves “brujas,” or witches, have taken up arms — in the form of prayers, altars, candles, amulets and burning sage — to protect their nation’s beloved soccer team in its quest to secure a third World Cup title and its first in 36 years.
“We think of ourselves as agents that, from love, can take care, protect and sow happiness,” said Rocío Cabral Menna, 27, a witch and high-school teacher in Messi’s hometown, Rosario, who burns a bay leaf inscribed with her predicted score in a ceremony before each match. The players are competing on the field, she said, and at home, “the witches are taking care of them.”
The trend caught fire after Argentina’s shocking loss to Saudi Arabia in the opening match, causing Argentines to search for any way to help the team on which this nation of 47 million has pitted its hopes.
After that match, several witches started a WhatsApp group to instruct other witches on how to help the national team. They called it the Argentine Association of Witches, or La Brujineta, a play on “bruja” and “La Scaloneta,” Argentina’s nickname for its national team.
“I thought there were going to be 10 people at most,” said the group’s founder, Antonella Spadafora, 23, a witch who runs a convenience store in a city in northwest Argentina. Within days, more than 300 people had joined the group. Last week, there was so much demand that they started a Twitter account. It has gained 25,000 followers in seven days.
“We got tired of being closet witches,” said Andrea Maciel, 28, a witch and graphic designer in Buenos Aires who now helps manage the group.
The witches said their main focus is to use rituals to absorb negative energy from Argentina’s players and exchange it with good energy. That, however, leaves them exhausted.
“Headaches, dizziness, vomiting, muscle pain,” Spadafora said. “We are absorbing all the bad vibes,” she added. “It wears you down a lot, because these are very public figures who have so much negative energy from other people.”
So, to divide the burden, the group leaders now split the witches into groups before every match, each focused on protecting a certain player.
While many of the witches said they are working to look after Messi and his teammates, others are attempting to cast spells on opposing players, particularly the goalkeepers. One ritual involves freezing a slip of paper with the name of a player on it, saying a curse and then burning the frozen paper just before the match.
But the Brujineta group warned that trying to curse France could backfire, particularly because of the team’s star forward, Kylian Mbappé.
“We do not recommend freezing France, as their players are protected by dark entities and the energy can bounce back!!” the group announced on Twitter on Wednesday. “We saw very dark things in the French team and especially in Mbappé. Please share!!!”
The witches focused on the World Cup represent a wide variety of occult disciplines, more New Age than ancient and Indigenous. Practices include black magic, white magic, Wicca, Reiki, Tarot, astrology, and healers of the evil eye and other ailments.
Some women said they were born with special abilities, while others said they developed their skills through study. Several said they began practicing witchcraft as part of a growing feminist movement in Argentina that began in 2018 with the fight for legal abortion.
“I think we all have magic inside,” said Cabral Menna.
But the witches are far from the only Argentines trying to help their team in the supernatural realm. On game days, many more Argentines have been practicing some sort of cábala, or superstition designed to avoid causing any bad luck to their team. The cábalas often involve people sticking to the exact same routine if the team is winning, including where they watch the game, with whom, in what clothes, at what volume and on which channel.
The practice is so mainstream that millions of Argentines likely practice some sort of cábala, a word that derives from kabbalah, a Jewish mystical tradition. Cábalas have been especially pronounced this year after Argentina’s loss in its opening match.
Adrián Coria, Messi’s childhood coach in Rosario and later on the national team, said that he watched the first loss with his family in his living room. Then his wife and daughter sent him to a small cabin in the backyard for the second match. “Alone,” he said. He has since watched the rest of the World Cup there.
Cabral Menna, the witch from Rosario, said she and her mother watched Argentina’s first victory in her mother’s bedroom. “It’s the only part of the house without air conditioning,” she said. “It’s very hot. But we’re not going to move.”
And Sergio Duri, the owner of a restaurant in Rosario with Messi’s signature on the wall, said he now watches the matches in his kitchen with one dachshund, Omar, while his wife watches them in their bedroom with the other dachshund, Dulce. “If this comes out, everybody will know that we’re all completely crazy,” he said. “But these are cábalas, you know?”
The players are also practicing cábalas. Alejandro Gómez, Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo de Paul, three midfielders, have taken to walking around the pitch an hour before kickoff while chewing candy, a tradition they started last year when Argentina won the Copa América, South America’s premier soccer tournament.
So now the question for the witches is: What will happen on Sunday?
“We don’t want to give information as if we have the absolute last word,” Spadafora said. “But obviously we have started working, and obviously we have checked with most of the means at our disposal — esoteric means, for example, pendulums, Tarot, all the divination methods — and it indicates that Argentina is going to win.”
Azucena Agüero Blanch, a 72-year old professional fortune-teller once consulted by former President Carlos Menem, has also explained that she is working with magical stones to ensure an Argentina victory. “Many people who are pushing for Argentina to win have called on me to work on this,” she told an Argentine newspaper.
On Friday night, Martínez was in her candlelit home in Buenos Aires wearing a robe covered in tigers and lighting candles at an altar that included burned sandalwood; Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god; and a photo of Diego Maradona, the late Argentine soccer star who is something like a deity to many in this country.
Martínez said she has a series of methods to protect the national team, including a practice that involves swinging a pendulum, or a wooden cylinder on a string, above a player’s jersey number and then burning cotton doused with a mistletoe tincture. She said she follows the news for updates about players’ ailments and then uses the pendulum to help alleviate them. “The pendulum is the most powerful tool I have,” she explained.
She said she has also had psychic moments during matches. During Argentina’s match against Australia on Dec. 3, she said she had a vision of the Argentine forward Julián Álvarez celebrating a goal.
At 5:13 p.m., she tweeted: “Julian Alvarez I want your goal 🕯👁🕯👁🕯.”
Mon 19 Dec 2022 12.50 GMT; Last modified on Mon 19 Dec 2022 13.02 GMT
Ministers and environmental groups have praised the ambition of the historic deal reached at Cop15, which includes a target to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade and places emphasis on Indigenous rights.
But there were also concerns about the legitimacy of the deal after China appeared to force it through.
In the early hours of Monday, two weeks of UN biodiversity negotiations ended in confusion as China signed off on this decade’s targets for protecting nature despite an objection from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to the world’s second largest tropical forest.
There was widespread support for the final text, which included the targets of protecting 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reforming $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and taking urgent action on extinctions.
“The global ambition agreed at Cop15 to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 is vital if we are to bring our planet back from the brink,” said Mike Barrett, the executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK. “The tripling of international finance for developing countries, conservation targets to halt species extinction, and the rights of Indigenous peoples being placed front and centre are crucial cornerstones of the deal.”
Others praised the emphasis in the final text on the rights and territories of Indigenous people who, despite their outsized contribution to protecting nature, often face threats of violence and rights violations.
“Now it is recognising that Indigenous people can also make contributions to biodiversity conservation,” said Viviana Figueroa, a representative of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB). “For us, it’s like a change of paradigm,” she said. “They are recognising this important role that was invisible.”
Christophe Béchu, France’s minister for ecological transition, who headed its delegation, called it a “historic deal”. He said: “It’s not a small deal. It’s a deal with very precise and quantified objectives on pesticides, on reduction of loss of species, on eliminating bad subsidies. We double until 2025 and triple 2030 the finance for biodiversity.”
“Many of us wanted more things in the text and more ambition but we got an ambitious package,” said Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault. “We have 30 by 30. Six months ago, who would have thought we could get 30 by 30 in Montreal? We have an agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, to work on restoration, to reduce the use of pesticides. This is tremendous progress.”
But despite the praise, the UN conference ended in high drama after a number of countries complained it had been agreed undemocratically by China. Some felt that this undermined the agreement, which is not legally binding and relies on goodwill and trust between countries – including many in Africa, home to some of the planet’s richest remaining ecosystems.
“Legally, it’s done. Morally, what can I say? It’s over,” said Lee White, Gabon’s environment minister, as he left the Palais des congrès at the end of talks, when asked about the dramatic conclusion and whether it threatened the legitimacy of the deal.
“I’ve spent three years of my life on this process and I’m as pissed off as anybody. It shouldn’t be like that. China has pissed it all away,” said one negotiator, who said he had concerns about implementation, whether countries who objected would agree to work and implement the CBD. This matters because the Congo basin – which DRC covers 60% of – is one of the key ecosystems that the 30 by 30 agreement will need to protect.
The plenary that began on Sunday evening and lasted for more than seven hours with an agreement reached at 3.30am local time after objections from some countries about finance. Huang Runqiu, China’s environment minister, appeared to disregard objections from the DRC delegation, lowering the gavel and declaring the deal passed only minutes after they said they were not able to support it.
The comments from DRC about the responsibility of developed nations to fund conservation in developing countries were not considered a “formal objection” because he did not use those specific words, despite saying he did not support the agreement, the secretariat said.
“It was on the margins,” said Pierre du Plessis, the negotiator for Namibia. “But he didn’t officially object to the adoption.”
After the official agreement, the DRC negotiator spoke again, saying he had made a “formal objection”. This was followed by negotiators from Cameroon, Uganda and DRC expressing incredulity that the agreement had been put through. A representative from Cameroon said through an interpreter: “What we saw was a force of hand.”
A third of the Congo basin’s tropical forests are under threat from fossil fuel investments, which could unleash a “carbon bomb” into the atmosphere if plans go ahead, analysis suggests.
When speaking to journalists after the agreement, Guilbeault and the EU commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said they were not lawyers and so could not answer whether it would be legitimate to gavel the deal had DRC’s comments been a “formal objection”.
“I think the presidency acted within guidelines, rules and procedures of the United Nations,” said Guilbeault. “Some of my colleagues have started reaching out to DRC in hopes that we can find ways that we can work together moving forward.” He said claims the agreement was fraudulent were “clearly not accurate”.
Sinkevičius said: “This is a question for the presidency and secretariat – we saw that they were deciding something, they were discussing something and then suddenly the decision was taken.” He added: “The main message is that we can reach Paris because we have a Montreal moment”.
Image credits: Alamy; David Guttenfelder for The New York Times; Getty Images; Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times; Michael Probst/Associated Press; Getty Images; NASA
For Planet Earth, This Might Be the Start of a New Age
A panel of experts has spent more than a decade deliberating on how, and whether, to mark a momentous new epoch in geologic time: our own.
Dec. 17, 2022
The official timeline of Earth’s history — from the oldest rocks to the dinosaurs to the rise of primates, from the Paleozoic to the Jurassic and all points before and since — could soon include the age of nuclear weapons, human-caused climate change and the proliferation of plastics, garbage and concrete across the planet.
In short, the present.
Ten thousand years after our species began forming primitive agrarian societies, a panel of scientists on Saturday took a big step toward declaring a new interval of geologic time: the Anthropocene, the age of humans.
Our current geologic epoch, the Holocene, began 11,700 years ago with the end of the last big ice age. The panel’s roughly three dozen scholars appear close to recommending that, actually, we have spent the past few decades in a brand-new time unit, one characterized by human-induced, planetary-scale changes that are unfinished but very much underway.
“If you were around in 1920, your attitude would have been, ‘Nature’s too big for humans to influence,’” said Colin N. Waters, a geologist and chair of the Anthropocene Working Group, the panel that has been deliberating on the issue since 2009. The past century has upended that thinking, Dr. Waters said. “It’s been a shock event, a bit like an asteroid hitting the planet.”
The working group’s members on Saturday completed the first in a series of internal votes on details including when exactly they believe the Anthropocene began. Once these votes are finished, which could be by spring, the panel will submit its final proposal to three other committees of geologists whose votes will either make the Anthropocene official or reject it.
Sixty percent of each committee will need to approve the group’s proposal for it to advance to the next. If it fails in any of them, the Anthropocene might not have another chance to be ratified for years.
If it makes it all the way, though, geology’s amended timeline would officially recognize that humankind’s effects on the planet had been so consequential as to bring the previous chapter of Earth’s history to a close. It would acknowledge that these effects will be discernible in the rocks for millenniums.
“I teach the history of science — you know, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo,” said Francine McCarthy, an earth scientist at Brock University in Canada and member of the working group. “We’re actually doing it,” she said. “We’re living the history of science.”
Still, the knives are out for the Anthropocene, even though, or maybe because, we all have such firsthand familiarity with it.
Stanley C. Finney, the secretary general of the International Union of Geological Sciences, fears the Anthropocene has become a way for geologists to make a “political statement.”
Within the vast expanse of geologic time, he notes, the Anthropocene would be a blip of a blip of a blip. Other geologic time units are useful because they orient scientists in stretches of deep time that left no written records and sparse scientific observations. The Anthropocene, by contrast, would be a time in Earth’s history that humans have already been documenting extensively.
“For the human transformation, we don’t need those terminologies — we have exact years,” said Dr. Finney, whose committee would be the last to vote on the working group’s proposal if it gets that far.
Martin J. Head, a working group member and earth scientist at Brock University, argues declining to recognize the Anthropocene would have political reverberations, too.
“People would say, ‘Well, does that then mean the geological community is denying that we have changed the planet drastically?’” he said. “We would have to justify our decision either way.”
Philip L. Gibbard, a geologist at the University of Cambridge, is secretary general of another of the committees that will vote on the working group’s proposal. He has serious concerns about how the proposal is shaping up, concerns he believes the wider geological community shares.
“It won’t get an easy ride,” he said.
‘A Messy and Disputatious Business’
Like the zoologists who regulate the names of animal species or the astronomers who decide what counts as a planet, geology’s timekeepers work conservatively, by design. They set classifications that will be reflected in academic studies, museums and textbooks for generations to come.
“Everybody picks on the Anthropocene Working Group because they’ve taken so long,” said Lucy E. Edwards, a retired scientist with the United States Geological Survey. “In geologic time, this isn’t long.”
The geologic time scale divides Earth’s 4.6 billion-year story into grandly named chapters. Like nesting dolls, the chapters contain sub-chapters, which themselves contain sub-sub-chapters. From largest to smallest, the chapters are called eons, eras, periods, epochs and ages.
Right now, according to the current timeline, we are in — deep breath — the Meghalayan Age of the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era of the Phanerozoic Eon, and have been for 4,200 years.
Drawing lines in Earth time has never been easy. The rock record is full of gaps, “a jigsaw puzzle with many of the parts missing,” as Dr. Gibbard puts it. And most global-scale changes happen gradually, making it tricky to pinpoint when one chapter ended and the next one began. There haven’t been many moments when the entire planet changed at once.
“If a meteor hits the Yucatán Peninsula, that’s a pretty good marker,” Dr. Edwards said. “But other than that, there’s practically nothing out there in the geologic world that’s the best line.”
The early Cambrian Period, around 540 million years ago, saw Earth explode with an astonishing diversity of animal life, but its precise starting point has been contested for decades. A long controversy led to the redrawing of our current geologic period, the Quaternary, in 2009.
“It’s a messy and disputatious business,” said Jan A. Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester. “And of course, the Anthropocene brings a whole new range of dimensions to the messiness and disputatiousness.”
It took a decade of debate — in emails, academic articles and meetings in London, Berlin, Oslo and beyond — for the Anthropocene Working Group to nail down a key aspect of its proposal.
In a 29-to-4 vote in 2019, the group agreed to recommend that the Anthropocene began in the mid-20th century. That’s when human populations, economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions began skyrocketing worldwide, leaving indelible traces: plutonium isotopes from nuclear explosions, nitrogen from fertilizers, ash from power plants.
The Anthropocene, like nearly all other geologic time intervals, needs to be defined by a specific physical site, known as a “golden spike,” where the rock record clearly sets it off from the interval before it.
After a yearslong hunt, the working group on Saturday finished voting on nine candidate sites for the Anthropocene. They represent the range of environments into which human effects are etched: a peat bog in Poland, the ice of the Antarctic Peninsula, a bay in Japan, a coral reef off the Louisiana coast.
One site — Crawford Lake in Ontario, Canada — is small enough to walk around in 10 minutes. But it is so deep that the bottom layer of water rarely mixes with the upper layers. Whatever sinks to the floor remains undisturbed, gradually accumulating into a tree-ring-like record of geochemical change.
The working group’s members also voted this month on what rank the Anthropocene should have in the timeline: an epoch, an age of the Holocene, or something else.
The group isn’t disclosing the results of these or the other votes to be held in the coming months until they are all complete and it has finalized its proposal for the next level of timekeepers to ponder. It is then that a far more contentious debate about the Anthropocene could begin.
Many scholars still aren’t sure the mid-20th century cutoff makes sense. It is awkwardly recent, especially for archaeologists and anthropologists who would have to start referring to World War II artifacts as “pre-Anthropocene.”
And using nuclear bombs to mark a geologic interval strikes some scientists as abhorrent, or at least beside the point. Radionuclides are a convenient global marker, but they say nothing about climate change or other human effects, said Erle C. Ellis, an ecologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Using the Industrial Revolution might help. But that definition would still leave out millenniums of planet-warping changes from farming and deforestation.
Call to Attention
Canonizing the Anthropocene is a call to attention, said Naomi Oreskes, a member of the working group. For geology, but also the wider world.
“I was raised in a generation where we were taught that geology ended when people showed up,” said Dr. Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard. The Anthropocene announces that “actually, the human impact is part of geology as a science,” she said. It demands we recognize that our influence on the planet is more than surface level.
But Dr. Gibbard of Cambridge fears that, by trying to add the Anthropocene to the geologic time scale, the working group might actually be diminishing the concept’s significance. The timeline’s strict rules force the group to impose a single starting point on a sprawling story, one that has unspooled over different times in different places.
He and others argue the Anthropocene deserves a looser geologic label: an event. Events don’t appear on the timeline; no bureaucracy of scientists regulates them. But they have been transformative for the planet.
The filling of Earth’s skies with oxygen, roughly 2.1 to 2.4 billion years ago — geologists call that the Great Oxidation Event. Mass extinctions are events, as is the burst of diversity in marine life 460 to 485 million years ago.
The term Anthropocene is already in such wide use by researchers across scientific disciplines that geologists shouldn’t force it into too narrow a definition, said Emlyn Koster, a geologist and former director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
“I always saw it not as an internal geological undertaking,” he said of the Anthropocene panel’s work, “but rather one that could be greatly beneficial to the world at large.”
Raymond Zhong is a climate reporter. He joined The Times in 2017 and was part of the team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in public service for coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. @zhonggg
A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 18, 2022, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Next Epoch Of Planet Earth Might Be Today. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
For the last 60 years or so, science has been running an experiment on itself. The experimental design wasn’t great; there was no randomization and no control group. Nobody was in charge, exactly, and nobody was really taking consistent measurements. And yet it was the most massive experiment ever run, and it included every scientist on Earth.
Most of those folks didn’t even realize they were in an experiment. Many of them, including me, weren’t born when the experiment started. If we had noticed what was going on, maybe we would have demanded a basic level of scientific rigor. Maybe nobody objected because the hypothesis seemed so obviously true: science will be better off if we have someone check every paper and reject the ones that don’t pass muster. They called it “peer review.”
This was a massive change. From antiquity to modernity, scientists wrote letters and circulated monographs, and the main barriers stopping them from communicating their findings were the cost of paper, postage, or a printing press, or on rare occasions, the cost of a visit from the Catholic Church. Scientific journals appeared in the 1600s, but they operated more like magazines or newsletters, and their processes of picking articles ranged from “we print whatever we get” to “the editor asks his friend what he thinks” to “the whole society votes.” Sometimes journals couldn’t get enough papers to publish, so editors had to go around begging their friends to submit manuscripts, or fill the space themselves. Scientific publishing remained a hodgepodge for centuries.
(Only one of Einstein’s papers was ever peer-reviewed, by the way, and he was so surprised and upset that he published his paper in a different journal instead.)
That all changed after World War II. Governments poured funding into research, and they convened “peer reviewers” to ensure they weren’t wasting their money on foolish proposals. That funding turned into a deluge of papers, and journals that previously struggled to fill their pages now struggled to pick which articles to print. Reviewing papers before publication, which was “quite rare” until the 1960s, became much more common. Then it became universal.
Now pretty much every journal uses outside experts to vet papers, and papers that don’t please reviewers get rejected. You can still write to your friends about your findings, but hiring committees and grant agencies act as if the only science that exists is the stuff published in peer-reviewed journals. This is the grand experiment we’ve been running for six decades.
The results are in. It failed.
Peer review was a huge, expensive intervention. By one estimate, scientists collectively spend 15,000 years reviewing papers every year. It can take months or years for a paper to wind its way through the review system, which is a big chunk of time when people are trying to do things like cure cancer and stop climate change. And universities fork over millions for access to peer-reviewed journals, even though much of the research is taxpayer-funded, and none of that money goes to the authors or the reviewers.
Huge interventions should have huge effects. If you drop $100 million on a school system, for instance, hopefully it will be clear in the end that you made students better off. If you show up a few years later and you’re like, “hey so how did my $100 million help this school system” and everybody’s like “uhh well we’re not sure it actually did anything and also we’re all really mad at you now,” you’d be really upset and embarrassed. Similarly, if peer review improved science, that should be pretty obvious, and we should be pretty upset and embarrassed if it didn’t.
Of course, a lot of other stuff has changed since World War II. We did a terrible job running this experiment, so it’s all confounded. All we can say from these big trends is that we have no idea whether peer review helped, it might have hurt, it cost a ton, and the current state of the scientific literature is pretty abysmal. In this biz, we call this a total flop.
What went wrong?
Here’s a simple question: does peer review actually do the thing it’s supposed to do? Does it catch bad research and prevent it from being published?
It doesn’t. Scientists have run studies where they deliberately add errors to papers, send them out to reviewers, and simply count how many errors the reviewers catch. Reviewers are pretty awful at this. In this study reviewers caught 30% of the major flaws, in this study they caught 25%, and in this study they caught 29%. These were critical issues, like “the paper claims to be a randomized controlled trial but it isn’t” and “when you look at the graphs, it’s pretty clear there’s no effect” and “the authors draw conclusions that are totally unsupported by the data.” Reviewers mostly didn’t notice.
In fact, we’ve got knock-down, real-world data that peer review doesn’t work: fraudulent papers get published all the time. If reviewers were doing their job, we’d hear lots of stories like “Professor Cornelius von Fraud was fired today after trying to submit a fake paper to a scientific journal.” But we never hear stories like that. Instead, pretty much every story about fraud begins with the paper passing review and being published. Only later does some good Samaritan—often someone in the author’s own lab!—notice something weird and decide to investigate. That’s what happened with this this paper about dishonesty that clearly has fake data (ironic), these guys who have published dozens or even hundreds of fraudulent papers, and this debacle:
Why don’t reviewers catch basic errors and blatant fraud? One reason is that they almost never look at the data behind the papers they review, which is exactly where the errors and fraud are most likely to be. In fact, most journals don’t require you to make your data public at all. You’re supposed to provide them “on request,” but most people don’t. That’s how we’ve ended up in sitcom-esque situations like ~20% of genetics papers having totally useless data because Excel autocorrected the names of genes into months and years.
(When one editor started asking authors to add their raw data after they submitted a paper to his journal, half of them declined and retracted their submissions. This suggests, in the editor’s words, “a possibility that the raw data did not exist from the beginning.”)
The invention of peer review may have even encouraged bad research. If you try to publish a paper showing that, say, watching puppy videos makes people donate more to charity, and Reviewer 2 says “I will only be impressed if this works for cat videos as well,” you are under extreme pressure to make a cat video study work. Maybe you fudge the numbers a bit, or toss out a few outliers, or test a bunch of cat videos until you find one that works and then you never mention the ones that didn’t. 🎶 Do a little fraud // get a paper published // get down tonight 🎶
Here’s another way that we can test whether peer review worked: did it actually earn scientists’ trust?
Scientists often say they take peer review very seriously. But people say lots of things they don’t mean, like “It’s great to e-meet you” and “I’ll never leave you, Adam.” If you look at what scientists actually do, it’s clear they don’t think peer review really matters.
First: if scientists cared a lot about peer review, when their papers got reviewed and rejected, they would listen to the feedback, do more experiments, rewrite the paper, etc. Instead, they usually just submit the same paper to another journal. This was one of the first things I learned as a young psychologist, when my undergrad advisor explained there is a “big stochastic element” in publishing (translation: “it’s random, dude”). If the first journal didn’t work out, we’d try the next one. Publishing is like winning the lottery, she told me, and the way to win is to keep stuffing the box with tickets. When very serious and successful scientists proclaim that your supposed system of scientific fact-checking is no better than chance, that’s pretty dismal.
Second: once a paper gets published, we shred the reviews. A few journals publish reviews; most don’t. Nobody cares to find out what the reviewers said or how the authors edited their paper in response, which suggests that nobody thinks the reviews actually mattered in the first place.
And third: scientists take unreviewed work seriously without thinking twice. We read “preprints” and working papers and blog posts, none of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals. We use data from Pew and Gallup and the government, also unreviewed. We go to conferences where people give talks about unvetted projects, and we do not turn to each other and say, “So interesting! I can’t wait for it to be peer reviewed so I can find out if it’s true.”
Instead, scientists tacitly agree that peer review adds nothing, and they make up their minds about scientific work by looking at the methods and results. Sometimes people say the quiet part loud, like Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner:
I don’t believe in peer review because I think it’s very distorted and as I’ve said, it’s simply a regression to the mean. I think peer review is hindering science. In fact, I think it has become a completely corrupt system.
It’s easy to imagine how things could be better—my friend Ethan and I wrote a whole paper on it—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make things better. My complaints about peer review were a bit like looking at the ~35,000 Americans who die in car crashes every year and saying “people shouldn’t crash their cars so much.” Okay, but how?
Lack of effort isn’t the problem: remember that our current system requires 15,000 years of labor every year, and it still does a really crappy job. Paying peer reviewers doesn’tseem to make them any better. Neither does training them. Maybe we can fix some things on the margins, but remember that right now we’re publishing papers that use capital T’s instead of error bars, so we’ve got a long, long way to go.
What if we made peer review way stricter? That might sound great, but it would make lots of other problems with peer review way worse.
For example, you used to be able to write a scientific paper with style. Now, in order to please reviewers, you have to write it like a legal contract. Papers used to begin like, “Help! A mysterious number is persecuting me,” and now they begin like, “Humans have been said, at various times and places, to exist, and even to have several qualities, or dimensions, or things that are true about them, but of course this needs further study (Smergdorf & Blugensnout, 1978; Stikkiwikket, 2002; von Fraud et al., 2018b)”.
This blows. And as a result, nobody actually reads these papers. Some of them are like 100 pages long with another 200 pages of supplemental information, and all of it is written like it hates you and wants you to stop reading immediately. Recently, a friend asked me when I last read a paper from beginning to end; I couldn’t remember, and neither could he. “Whenever someone tells me they loved my paper,” he said, “I say thank you, even though I know they didn’t read it.” Stricter peer review would mean even more boring papers, which means even fewer people would read them.
Making peer review harsher would also exacerbate the worst problem of all: just knowing that your ideas won’t count for anything unless peer reviewers like them makes you worse at thinking. It’s like being a teenager again: before you do anything, you ask yourself, “BUT WILL PEOPLE THINK I’M COOL?” When getting and keeping a job depends on producing popular ideas, you can get very good at thought-policing yourself into never entertaining anything weird or unpopular at all. That means we end up with fewer revolutionary ideas, and unless you think everything’s pretty much perfect right now, we need revolutionary ideas real bad.
On the off chance you do figure out a way to improve peer review without also making it worse, you can try convincing the nearly 30,000 scientific journals in existence to apply your magical method to the ~4.7 million articles they publish every year. Good luck!
Peer review doesn’t work and there’s probably no way to fix it. But a little bit of vetting is better than none at all, right?
I say: no way.
Imagine you discover that the Food and Drug Administration’s method of “inspecting” beef is just sending some guy (“Gary”) around to sniff the beef and say whether it smells okay or not, and the beef that passes the sniff test gets a sticker that says “INSPECTED BY THE FDA.” You’d be pretty angry. Yes, Gary may find a few batches of bad beef, but obviously he’s going to miss most of the dangerous meat. This extremely bad system is worse than nothing because it fools people into thinking they’re safe when they’re not.
That’s what our current system of peer review does, and it’s dangerous. That debunked theory about vaccines causing autism comes from a peer-reviewed paper in one of the most prestigious journals in the world, and it stayed there for twelve years before it was retracted. How many kids haven’t gotten their shots because one rotten paper made it through peer review and got stamped with the scientific seal of approval?
If you want to sell a bottle of vitamin C pills in America, you have to include a disclaimer that says none of the claims on the bottle have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Maybe journals should stamp a similar statement on every paper: “NOBODY HAS REALLY CHECKED WHETHER THIS PAPER IS TRUE OR NOT. IT MIGHT BE MADE UP, FOR ALL WE KNOW.” That would at least give people the appropriate level of confidence.
Why did peer review seem so reasonable in the first place?
I think we had the wrong model of how science works. We treated science like it’s a weak-link problem where progress depends on the quality of our worst work. If you believe in weak-link science, you think it’s very important to stamp out untrue ideas—ideally, prevent them from being published in the first place. You don’t mind if you whack a few good ideas in the process, because it’s so important to bury the bad stuff.
But science is a strong-link problem: progress depends on the quality of our best work.Better ideas don’t always triumph immediately, but they do triumph eventually, because they’re more useful. You can’t land on the moon using Aristotle’s physics, you can’t turn mud into frogs using spontaneous generation, and you can’t build bombs out of phlogiston. Newton’s laws of physics stuck around; his recipe for the Philosopher’s Stone didn’t. We didn’t need a scientific establishment to smother the wrong ideas. We needed it to let new ideas challenge old ones, and time did the rest.
If you’ve got weak-link worries, I totally get it. If we let people say whatever they want, they will sometimes say untrue things, and that sounds scary. But we don’t actually prevent people from saying untrue things right now; we just pretend to. In fact, right now we occasionally bless untrue things with big stickers that say “INSPECTED BY A FANCY JOURNAL,” and those stickers are very hard to get off. That’s way scarier.
Weak-link thinking makes scientific censorship seem reasonable, but all censorship does is make old ideas harder to defeat. Remember that it used to be obviously true that the Earth is the center of the universe, and if scientific journals had existed in Copernicus’ time, geocentrist reviewers would have rejected his paper and patted themselves on the back for preventing the spread of misinformation. Eugenics used to be hot stuff in science—do you think a bunch of racists would give the green light to a paper showing that Black people are just as smart as white people? Or any paper at all by a Black author? (And if you think that’s ancient history: this dynamic is still playing out today.) We still don’t understand basic truths about the universe, and many ideas we believe today will one day be debunked. Peer review, like every form of censorship, merely slows down truth.
Nobody was in charge of our peer review experiment, which means nobody has the responsibility of saying when it’s over. Seeing no one else, I guess I’ll do it:
We’re done, everybody! Champagne all around! Great work, and congratulations. We tried peer review and it didn’t work.
Honesty, I’m so relieved. That system sucked! Waiting months just to hear that an editor didn’t think your paper deserved to be reviewed? Reading long walls of text from reviewers who for some reason thought your paper was the source of all evil in the universe? Spending a whole day emailing a journal begging them to let you use the word “years” instead of always abbreviating it to “y” for no reason (this literally happened to me)? We never have to do any of that ever again.
I know we all might be a little disappointed we wasted so much time, but there’s no shame in a failed experiment. Yes, we should have taken peer review for a test run before we made it universal. But that’s okay—it seemed like a good idea at the time, and now we know it wasn’t. That’s science! It will always be important for scientists to comment on each other’s ideas, of course. It’s just this particular way of doing it that didn’t work.
What should we do now? Well, last month I published a paper, by which I mean I uploaded a PDF to the internet. I wrote it in normal language so anyone could understand it. I held nothing back—I even admitted that I forgot why I ran one of the studies. I put jokes in it because nobody could tell me not to. I uploaded all the materials, data, and code where everybody could see them. I figured I’d look like a total dummy and nobody would pay any attention, but at least I was having fun and doing what I thought was right.
Then, before I even told anyone about the paper, thousands of people found it, commented on it, and retweeted it.
Total strangers emailed me thoughtful reviews. Tenured professors sent me ideas. NPR asked for an interview. The paper now has more views than the last peer-reviewed paper I published, which was in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And I have a hunch far more people read this new paper all the way to the end, because the final few paragraphs got a lotofcomments in particular. So I dunno, I guess that seems like a good way of doing it?
I don’t know what the future of science looks like. Maybe we’ll make interactive papers in the metaverse or we’ll download datasets into our heads or whisper our findings to each other on the dance floor of techno-raves. Whatever it is, it’ll be a lot better than what we’ve been doing for the past sixty years. And to get there, all we have to do is what we do best: experiment.
“A redenção” 2022, acrílica sobre tela 1mx1m, exposição Nhe’ē Porã, Museu da Língua Portuguesa. Pintura: Daiara Tukano
A vida é selvagem. Esse é um elemento essencial para um pensamento que tem me provocado: como a ideia de que a vida é selvagem poderia incidir sobre a produção do pensamento urbanístico hoje? É uma convocatória a uma rebelião do ponto de vista epistemológico, de colaborar com a produção de vida. Quando falo que a vida é selvagem, quero chamar a atenção para uma potência de existir que tem uma poética esquecida, abandonada pelas escolas, formadoras de profissionais que perpetuam a lógica de que a civilização é urbana, de que tudo fora das cidades é bárbaro, primitivo – e que a gente pode tacar fogo.
Como atravessar o muro das cidades? Quais possíveis implicações poderiam existir entre comunidades humanas que vivem na floresta e as que estão enclausuradas nas metrópoles? Pois se a gente conseguir fazer com que continue existindo florestas no mundo, existirão comunidades dentro delas. Eu vi um número que a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) publicou em um relatório, dizendo que 1,4 bilhão de pessoas no mundo dependem da floresta, no sentido de ter uma economia ligada a ela. Não é a turma das madeireiras, não: é uma economia que supõe que os humanos que vivem ali precisam de floresta para viver.
A antropóloga Lux Vidal escreveu um trabalho muito importante sobre habitações indígenas, no qual relaciona materiais e conceitos que organizam a ideia de habitat equilibrado com o entorno, com a terra, o Sol, a Lua e as estrelas. Um habitat que está integrado ao cosmos, diferente desse implante que as cidades viraram no mundo. Aí eu me pergunto: como fazer a floresta existir em nós, em nossas casas, em nossos quintais? Podemos provocar o surgimento de uma experiência de florestania começando por contestar essa ordem urbana sanitária ao dizer: eu vou deixar o meu quintal cheio de mato, quero estudar a gramática dele. Como eu acho no meio do mato um ipê, uma peroba rosa, um jacarandá? E se eu tivesse um buritizeiro no quintal?
Temos que parar com essa fúria de meter asfalto e cimento em cima de tudo. Nossos córregos estão sem respirar, porque uma mentalidade de catacumba, agravada com a política do marco sanitário, acha que tem que meter uma placa de concreto em cima de qualquer riacho, como se fosse uma vergonha ter água correndo ali. A sinuosidade do corpo dos rios é insuportável para a mente reta, concreta e ereta de quem planeja o urbano. Hoje, na maior parte do tempo, o planejamento urbano é feito contra a paisagem. Como reconverter o tecido urbano industrial em tecido urbano natural, trazendo a natureza para o centro e transformando as cidades por dentro?
Ailton Krenak é líder indígena, ambientalista, filósofo, poeta, escritor, e doutor honoris causa pela Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF). Protagonizou uma das cenas mais marcantes da Assembleia Constituinte, em 1987, quando pintou o rosto com jenipapo para protestar contra os ataques aos direitos indígenas. Participou da União dos Povos Indígenas, que se transformou na Aliança dos Povos da Floresta, junto com David Kopenawa Yanomami e Chico Mendes. Fundou a ONG Núcleo de Cultura Indígena. Com seu povo na região do Rio Doce, enfrentou os efeitos do rompimento da barragem do Fundão, em Mariana (MG). Como escritor, lançou “Ideias para adiar o fim do mundo”, “O amanhã não está à venda” e “A vida não é útil”.
Daiara Tukano (ilustração), ou Duhigô, é artista visual, muralista, comunicadora, professora e mestre em Direito Humanos pela Universidade de Brasília (UNB). Ativista pelos direitos indígenas, coordenou a Rádio Yandê, primeira web rádio indígena do Brasil. Em 2020, tornou-se a artista indígena a ter o maior mural de arte urbana do mundo, com a pintura de mais de 1.000 m² no histórico Edifício Levy, no Centro de Belo Horizonte (MG).
O ano em que a Convenção sobre a Diversidade Biológica (CDB) chega aos seus 30 anos deveria conduzir a um momento de reflexão. Uma convenção balzaquiana deveria olhar para si mesma e avaliar por que tem tido tanta dificuldade em cumprir seus objetivos. Mas será que essa primeira impressão, talvez apressada, corresponde à realidade? Seus objetivos, de fato, não são cumpridos?
Os objetivos maiores da CDB, explícitos em seu texto original, são a conservação e o uso sustentável da biodiversidade e a repartição justa e equitativa dos seus benefícios derivados. Ora, não é preciso muito para constatar que esses objetivos estão longe de ser alcançados. A perda de diversidade biológica em todo o planeta continua crescendo, seu uso sustentável é uma miragem e a repartição de benefícios, uma exceção. Vale lembrar ainda que o tratado fracassou em implementar todas as 20 metas que definiu para si mesma entre 2011 e 2020.
Um rápido exame dos documentos que estão sendo discutidos, neste momento, na 15ª Conferência das Partes (COP 15), em Montreal, no Canadá, também ajuda a confirmar a impressão de que, daqui para frente, nada vai mudar e os objetivos da convenção continuarão a ser apenas um conjunto de boas intenções. A COP 15, para além de debater os temas habituais ligados à CDB, está discutindo um novo Marco Global para a Biodiversidade e se debruçando sobre temas que emergiram, nos últimos anos, em função do desenvolvimento tecnológico, como a biologia sintética e as sequências digitais (informações genéticas armazenadas sob forma de sequências digitais).
Se, nem no presente nem no futuro desse tratado internacional, é possível vislumbrar dúvidas para nossa primeira impressão – a de que a CDB deveria estar examinando sua baixa taxa de implementação e seu fracasso em alcançar suas metas – talvez seja possível encontrar algum indício no passado, nas origens da ideia de biodiversidade e de sua convenção.
O conceito de biodiversidade
Em algum momento da década de 1980, ganhou tração a ideia de ampliar o conceito de diversidade biológica, antes compreendido como diversidade de espécies e, algumas vezes, também como a variedade existente entre os indivíduos de uma mesma espécie, para todas as dimensões da diversidade existente no planeta. Em 1992, na Rio-92, a Convenção sobre a Diversidade Biológica já tratou biodiversidade quase como um sinônimo de natureza. Quase…
E quase não porque a biodiversidade abarcaria, como muitos defendem, apenas a “parte viva da natureza”, mas quase porque o conceito de biodiversidade é uma tentativa reducionista de lidar com a natureza, uma tentativa de dar uma aparência científica, mensurável, administrável, compreensível para todo esse mundo complexo que nos cerca e no qual estamos imersos até o último pelinho microscópico das bactérias que habitam o nosso corpo.
É possível que isso tenha acontecido – adotar o termo biodiversidade para se referir à natureza – por boa-fé da parte dos cientistas. Mas não é possível ignorar algumas consequências e outros elementos que estão na origem dessa substituição. Uma das consequências é a perda do valor afetivo que o termo “natureza” desperta nas pessoas em geral, que em sua grande maioria sequer sabe o que é biodiversidade. Assim, a perda de biodiversidade causa menos angústia do que a degradação da natureza.
Conservação e colonialismo
Há, ainda, diversos outros elementos importantes para pensarmos nos sucessivos fracassos da CDB e o que significa o uso do termo “biodiversidade”. Um deles é o que representa todo o aparato de conservação da biodiversidade, que vem de antes da convenção e ganhou força com ela, diante das formas tradicionais e históricas de povos indígenas e comunidades locais de compartilhar o mundo com os diversos seres que o habitam.
Após invadir, destruir, predar e dominar boa parte do planeta, o mundo eurocêntrico, montado no colonialismo que emergiu com a invasão da América, percebe que as áreas naturais têm importância e não serão preservadas de sua própria sanha predatória. Nesse momento, emerge a ideia de proteger áreas para manter, em primeiro lugar, recursos naturais e belas paisagens e, mais tarde, a biodiversidade. E a maneira colonial de fazer isso é alijar aqueles que poderiam ajudar a manter essas áreas, como povos indígenas e comunidades locais, e substituí-los por um aparato tecnocrático, cujo objetivo é preservar a biodiversidade.
Ora, não é difícil perceber que se trata de um empreendimento fadado ao fracasso. Por um lado, a simplificação do mundo na ideia de biodiversidade faz sempre com que o aparato tecnocrático seja insuficiente, incompleto e equivocado. Por outro, não é possível, de fato, fazer frente à voracidade predatória do capital, com esse aparato e suas narrativas. E, correndo por fora, há ainda a destruição dos modos de vida dos povos indígenas e comunidades locais, que possuem outra forma de estar no mundo e de compartilhá-lo com os outros seres que aqui habitam, queimando as possibilidades de aprendizado e uma compreensão mais ampla do mundo.
Sabendo de tudo isso, ou pelo menos desconfiando, os delegados se encontram na COP 15, depois de terem passado por uma pandemia global que tem em suas origens as mesmas forças que degradam a biodiversidade a cada dia. Sabendo que a cada ano novas zoonoses – doenças de origem animal – com potencial pandêmico emergem e que isso se deve ao inusitado encontro entre organismos que não se encontravam antes, em função da destruição de seus ambientes e das mudanças climáticas, os representantes dos países gastam seu tempo discutindo expressões e gramática. Desconfiando, talvez, que nada será significativamente diferente, executam os passos de uma dança previamente ensaiada, cujo desfecho será, inevitavelmente, mais destruição.
Talvez o objetivo maior seja manter um fórum, como a CDB, e com ela a ilusão de que há alguma chance do capitalismo não devorar a natureza, criando uma falsa expectativa de que existe alguma possibilidade, que não o fracasso, mas o fracasso é justamente a alma do negócio.
Researchers have zeroed in on nine sites that could describe a new geological time, marked by pollution and other signs of human activity.
13 December 2022
Geologists could soon decide which spot on Earth marks the first clear evidence of the Anthropocene — which many of them think is a new geological epoch that began when humans started altering the planet with various forms of industrial and radioactive materials in the 1950s. They have so far whittled their choices down to nine candidate sites worldwide (see ‘Defining the Anthropocene’), each being considered for how reliably its layers of mud, ice or other matter tell the story of people’s influence on a timeline that extends billions of years into the past.
If the nearly two dozen voting members of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), a committee of scientists formed by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), agree on a site, the decision could usher in the end of the roughly 12,000-year-old Holocene epoch. And it would officially acknowledge that humans have had a profound influence on Earth.
Geologists could soon decide which spot on Earth marks the first clear evidence of the Anthropocene — which many of them think is a new geological epoch that began when humans started altering the planet with various forms of industrial and radioactive materials in the 1950s. They have so far whittled their choices down to nine candidate sites worldwide (see ‘Defining the Anthropocene’), each being considered for how reliably its layers of mud, ice or other matter tell the story of people’s influence on a timeline that extends billions of years into the past.Humans versus Earth: the quest to define the Anthropocene
“We’re pointing to something in the rock record that shows we’ve changed the planet,” says Kristine DeLong, a palaeoclimatologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge who studies the West Flower Garden Bank, a candidate site in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Anthropocene site will join 79 others that physically define stages of Earth’s geological timescale — that is, if it’s approved. Even if the AWG agrees on a final candidate, several other committees of geologists must vote on the selection before it is made official. And not all scientists agree that it should be.
Here, Nature examines what it will take to formally define the Anthropocene epoch.
Why do some geologists want an Anthropocene marker?
Scientists coined the term Anthropocene in 2000, and researchers from several fields now use it informally to refer to the current geological time interval, in which human activity is driving Earth’s conditions and processes. Formalizing the Anthropocene would unite efforts to study people’s influence on Earth’s systems, in fields including climatology and geology, researchers say. Transitioning to a new epoch might also coax policymakers to take into account the impact of humans on the environment during decision-making.
“It’s a label,” says Colin Waters, who chairs the AWG and is a geologist at the University of Leicester, UK. “It’s a great way of summarizing a lot of concepts into one word.”
Mentioning the Jurassic period, for instance, helps scientists to picture plants and animals that were alive during that time, he says. “The Anthropocene represents an umbrella for all of these different changes that humans have made to the planet,” he adds.
How do scientists usually choose sites that define the geological timeline?
Typically, researchers will agree that a specific change in Earth’s geology must be captured in the official timeline. The ICS will then determine which set of rock layers, called strata, best illustrates that change, and it will choose which layer marks its lower boundary. This is called the Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), and it is defined by a signal, such as the first appearance of a fossil species, trapped in the rock, mud or other material. One location is chosen to represent the boundary, and researchers mark this site physically with a golden spike, to commemorate it.
“We were starting from scratch,” says Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester who formerly chaired the AWG and remains a voting member. “We had a vague idea about what it might be, [but] we didn’t know what kind of hard evidence would go into it.”
Years of debate among the group’s multidisciplinary members led them to identify a host of signals — radioactive isotopes from nuclear-bomb tests, ash from fossil-fuel combustion, microplastics, pesticides — that would be trapped in the strata of an Anthropocene-defining site. These began to appear in the early 1950s, when a booming human population started consuming materials and creating new ones faster than ever.
During a review that took place a few months ago, the AWG narrowed its list from 12 to 9 candidate sites, tossing out certain locations because their layers weren’t ideal. Among the sites remaining is Crawford Lake in Ontario, Canada, which is described as a sinkhole by Francine McCarthy, a geologist at Brock University in St Catharines, Canada, who studies the location. “The lake itself isn’t very big in area, but it’s very, very deep,” she says. Particles that fall into the lake settle at the bottom and accumulate into undisturbed layers.
Another site on the shortlist is West Flower Garden Bank. Corals here could become a living golden spike because they constantly build new exoskeletons that capture chemicals and particles from the water, DeLong says. “The skeleton has layers in it, kind of like tree rings,” she adds.
Why do some geologists oppose the Anthropocene as a new epoch?
“It misrepresents what we do” in the ICS, says Stanley Finney, a stratigrapher at California State University, Long Beach, and secretary-general for the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). The AWG is working backwards, Finney says: normally, geologists identify strata that should enter the geological timescale before considering a golden spike; in this case, they’re seeking out the lower boundary of an undefined set of geological layers.Involve social scientists in defining the Anthropocene
Lucy Edwards, a palaeontologist who retired in 2008 from the Florence Bascom Geoscience Center in Reston, Virginia, agrees. For her, the strata that might define the Anthropocene do not yet exist because the proposed epoch is so young. “There is no geologic record of tomorrow,” she says.
Edwards, Finney and other researchers have instead proposed calling the Anthropocene a geological ‘event’, a flexible term that can stretch in time, depending on human impact. “It’s all-encompassing,” Edwards says.
Zalasiewicz disagrees. “The word ‘event’ has been used and stretched to mean all kinds of things,” he says. “So simply calling something an event doesn’t give it any wider meaning.”
What happens next?
In a recent Perspective article in Science, Waters and AWG secretary Simon Turner at University College London wrote that the committee would vote to choose a single site by the end of this year1. But 60% of the group’s voting members must agree on a final candidate — and, with several sites under consideration, Waters isn’t sure that a consensus can be reached anytime soon. If no clear winner emerges this month, more voting will be needed to narrow the candidate list, delaying a decision possibly until May 2023.Anthropocene now: influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch
And that’s not the end of the process. After selecting a finalist, the AWG will present its findings to the ICS’s Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy. Favourable votes from this group would move the proposal to another ICS committee, and subsequent approval would push it to the final stage: ratification by the IUGS.
But the motion could fail at any of those points. And if it does, the AWG will have to revamp its proposal before it can try again — and possibly nominate a new golden-spike site.
Regardless of the outcome, Zalasiewicz thinks that the AWG’s work to define the Anthropocene has been useful. What everybody wants to know is how humans are changing the planet’s geology, he says. “That is the underlying reality that we’re trying to describe.”
Edward O. Wilson, known as the “father of biodiversity.” Visual: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images
Conversations about famed scientists who held troubling views on race should center not on cancellation but on progress.
One autumn afternoon during the mid-2010s, when I was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard, I decided that I needed a break from the toil of a sinking project on viral population genetics. I left my small, dusty office in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and walked across a street to a building that had a vending machine. Just ahead of me, in line, stood Edward O. Wilson — famed naturalist and “father of biodiversity.” He eventually purchased a pack of mints.
Seeing a celebrity in their element is a groovy experience. That day at the vending machine, Wilson wasn’t “Professor Biophilia.” He was just an older man wrangling loose change in his pocket, trying to fix a sugar craving just like mine. But he was a legend. Through the years, I’ve read many of Wilson’s papers and trade books. I still cherish my signed copy of “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge,” an ambitious if flawed book that contains one of my favorite-ever quotes by a scientist: “The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and works like a bookkeeper, and I suppose that if gifted with a full quiver, he also writes like a journalist.”
E.O. Wilson, as he was widely known, was beloved by many and respected by almost everyone in the science community. When he died in December 2021, even critics of his work paid their respects to the life of a wizard. But just days after his death, a posthumous revelation sparked a debate about what he really stood for. The controversy raised questions not only about Wilson, but about how the science community as a whole can confront its legacy of racism.
One might say that the controversy was foreshadowed by the final chapter of Wilson’s “Sociobiology,” his 1975 manifesto on how the science of social behavior should embrace evolutionary reasoning in humans. The book was as bold a scientific pivot as you will see. It took courage to be a master in one set of domains — as Wilson was in evolution, entomology, and biodiversity — and engage in another, especially the thorny topic of human behavior and culture, which Wilson took on in his book’s final chapter. “Sociobiology” made several important, resonant observations, but it was also criticized on the grounds that it directly or indirectly put forward a sort of reasoning that is adjacent to scientific racism and sexism. Detractors felt Wilson’s heavy emphasis on evolutionary explanations for human social behaviors radiated the same sort of reductive evangelism that underlies eugenics — science founded upon the idea that certain classes of humans were unfit to reproduce.
Naturalist and Harvard Professor, E.O. Wilson was beloved by many and respected by almost everyone in the science community. But after his death, controversy flared over his support of scientific racist J. Philippe Rushton. Hugh Brown/The Chronicle Collection via Getty Images
Wilson’s dive into the human realm was, in my view, an exercise in the worst kind of carpetbagging, in which an expert uses their large reputation in one arena to justify parachuting into another where they are ignorant or out of their depth. In doing so, Wilson followed, and maybe helped write, a blueprint that continues to influence generations of dumpster fire biological determinists. The controversy encircled Wilson for years, but his excellent reputation eventually transcended it.
After his death was announced, however, the conflict swirled anew. An essay in Scientific American revisited the connections between “Sociobiology”and scientific racism and, much more damningly, scholars uncovered archival evidence that Wilson was an ardent defender of J. Philippe Rushton, a scientific racist who spent a career peddling pulp science fiction about the essential differences between races, draped in the lingo of evolutionary theory. In the archival materials, Wilson referred to anti-racists as “scoundrels.” But apparently, he thought the actual scientific racist that he had a cuddly relationship with was a fine person.
Amid all of this, a circus began.
A broad, mostly academic alliance formed to defend Wilson’s reputation. It included the typical cast of cancel culture vultures and race science grifters, along with a surprising number of enablers who should have known better. And most of it seemed to me to be driven by some bold hidden agenda: to portray critics of Wilson’s legacy as if they were some imaginary legion of scientific critical race theorists, destined to overtake your curricula, make you and your children sad, and cancel everyone you know and love. The fossil-clutching and fake outrage emboldened extremists, leading to the standard soup-and-salad of white supremacist threats and racist social media posts. Unhelpful, irrelevant debates surrounding Wilson’s character followed, and within a few weeks, people went on with their lives.
What I’ve observed is a predictable cycle that happens time and time again in science: We discover (or re-discover) a racist thing that a luminary or popular person did or said; the criticism arrives, sometimes with a proposal that their name be removed from some relic or that we no longer honor them for whatever good that they did; a vigorous defense of the accused ensues, often manifesting as lamentations of cancel culture, appeals to academic freedom, attestations to the goodness of the accused, and insistences that the punishment should not be harsher than the crime; then comes a flowering of distracting, irrelevant pontifications about what really lurks in the hearts of people. (“What is a racist person really?”)
Finally, everyone involved eventually gets tired and goes home. Discovery.Defense.Distraction.Departure. The issue vanishes from our mouths, minds, and social media timelines, and we move on, no one any smarter, no issues resolved.
It is the same sequence that has played out in the aftermath of James Watson’s repeated rants against Black intelligence, and in the wake of another inflammatory Charles Murray article on race and IQ. The more contentious of these situations, however, involve revered figures from the past. Figures like the late Robert A. Millikan, a Nobel-prize winning physicist whose support for racist eugenics policies recently came to light.
This steady drumbeat of revelations raises difficult questions: How can science live with its ghosts — the figures from days of old who are revealed to be the authors, supporters, or enablers of bigoted ideas? How do we hold a ghost accountable? And how can we emerge from these revelations as a smarter and stronger community of scientists and citizen-scientists, with a clear vision for moving forward?
What’s certain is that we can do better than the race science Groundhog Day that we have been reliving since time immemorial. But first, we must shift the discussion away from arguments about the nature of the people who authored and supported these bad ideas, and toward frank assessments of the nature, scope, and consequences of their actions.
The first thing we must do, when confronted by a ghost of science past, is reflect.
To reference an old concept from cultural critic Jay Smooth, in discussions of racism, the “what you are” conversation is less relevant than “what you did.” By freeing ourselves of the burden of having to debate the essential goodness of a bad actor, we can begin to have a more refined conversation about what accountability looks like.
In the case of Wilson, I don’t care whether we formally label him a racist (“what he is”). I do know, however, that his support of Rushton amplified race scientists and their rancid ideas (“what he did”). And I know that race science is perhaps the most destructive intellectual scam ever constructed. It has poisoned basic conversations about human evolution and genetics, even — perhaps especially — for people with non-racist leanings or tendencies. It has stymied progress, muddied conversation, and discouraged talented people from studying genetics and evolution. As far as misinformation problems go, it sits alongside scientific sexism on pseudoscience’s Mount Rushmore. (Give the anti-vax and climate change denial movements time to mature slightly, and they will take their rightful place there as well.) By extension, people who support race scientists promote destructive misinformation. And Wilson did just that.
Wilson and other scientists who have authored, enabled, platformed, or promoted racist ideas have failed in their primary job description: to participate in the scientific process in a responsible manner. We may even consider the infractions as acts of scientific malfeasance, rather than as the acts of insensitivity. Being mean is bad. Propagating dangerous misinformation might be worse.
Crucially, reflection needn’t always produce a guilty verdict. In 2020, the Society of Systematic Biologists seemed to call into question the past writings of evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, proposing to change the title of an award in his name. When I looked back on those writings, I didn’t feel the “what he did” amounted to much of an infraction. (The society later clarified that the proposed name change was not meant to be an indictment of Mayr, but rather part of a broader strategy to promote inclusion.)
How can science live with its ghosts — the figures from days of old who are revealed to be the authors, supporters, or enablers of bigoted ideas?
But when an appraisal of a person’s actions does point to clear wrongdoing, how do we act on that knowledge? I believe that any revelation of a racist transgression committed by a scientist we admire — be it big or small — should meaningfully change the way we look at that person and their body of work. No, we need not embrace the charge of “cancellation,” which offers few opportunities to learn or solve the problem of how to truly hold bad actors accountable. But we must come to see the ghost’s legacy in a new light.
We must reconstruct.
To reconstruct a person’s legacy is to grapple with complexity. We should not be afraid of the multiplicities that are the lives of the people that we admire. It is possible to carry several, maybe even competing understandings in our head at the same time. This is standard in science: Newtonian and quantum mechanics, natural selection and genetic drift,somatic and germline mutation. Science teaches us that keeping track of counterintuitive, incongruous, competing, or even incompatible ideas is the only way to understand nature.
This also goes for people. E.O. Wilson was a world-class scientist and made lasting contributions to several disciplines. But his amplification of pseudoscientists — and the misinformation they produced — are now part of his scientific legacy. That is, when we teach about him in our biology courses, when he is memorialized in biographies, we should tell the whole story. The bad should stand alongside the good.
Ronald Fisher, an early 20th century polymath who helped found the field of population genetics and pioneer modern statistical sciences, is a canonical example of this duality. There is no debate to be had about the importance of his scientific contributions: Virtually everyone who has ever conducted any form of empirical research has been influenced by Fisher’s inventions. But he was also an architect of eugenics. His contributions to that dark chapter of science are also a part of his story.
Most famous for his studies on ants, E.O. Wilson was a world-class scientist and made lasting contributions to several disciplines. But his amplification of pseudoscientists are now part of his scientific legacy. Hugh Brown/The Chronicle Collection via Getty Images
Still, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that people are complicated and shrug our shoulders. After reflecting on a scientist’s misdeeds and working to reconstruct their legacy, we must address the damage and chart a path forward.
We must repair.
Modern efforts to repair the damage of racism often center around the naming and renaming of awards. Such was the case when the Society for the Study of Evolution decided, two years ago, to rename a prestigious prize that had commemorated Fisher, and when Caltech, after much debate and deliberation, decided to rename campus buildings named after Millikan and other eugenicists.
There are many sensible reasons to change the names of relics named after people. They include the idea that to name something after someone is to honor them. If the namesake was an avowed eugenicist, then we should not honor them, because the ideas had negative real-world consequences. And there are good arguments for doing away with named awards altogether: Names on relics often — though not always — imply a lone genius model of scientific achievement that is proving to be less true. All the greats had help, and history hasn’t been fair with regards to who gets credit. There is even an argument to be made for leaving the name of an award or other monument intact, despite the transgressions of its namesake: Removing a disgraced name allows society to sidestep discussions of the harms the person caused and to avoid wrestling with the question of what it means that society ever honored someone who harbored such racist perspectives in the first place. (Here, I’m borrowing from a viewpoint commonly expressed in a related debate over the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States.)
In my view, an organization’s decision to rename, dename, or keep the name of an award or other monument should be made collectively — by the group’s leadership, members, and other stakeholders — and should reflect that organization’s values and priorities. Whatever the decision, what is most important is that we recognize that symbolic decisions about names are not the solution to the problem of how we reconsider our past. These actions should not be the end goal of our efforts to repair, but rather the beginning of a longer and more important process. The same painful revelations that spur us to reconsider the names of awards and monuments can also serve as moments to pause, take stock of our efforts to foster inclusion, and even focus on building new statues that reflect our better angels.
To reconstruct a person’s legacy is to grapple with complexity. We should not be afraid of the multiplicities that are the lives of the people that we admire.
Among my most esteemed scientific colleagues are several persons of African descent, some born in the United States around the time of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They include a virologist who uses evolutionary theory to build viruses that kill the bacteria that cause illness, a computational biologist who has developed statistical tools that allow us to understand the link between genotype and phenotype with greater clarity, and a zoologist who studies the complex phylogeny of animals. They are not only great scientists, but they have dedicated much of their career to opening doors for others. These colleagues, and others of many backgrounds, remind me that there are new people to celebrate, and new scientific statues to build.
Part of this statue building should also take the form of supporting the potential legends of tomorrow — many of whom are dealing with life challenges or languishing in self-doubt — and making it easier for them to participate in the scientific enterprise. Many young people with E.O. Wilson-like talent are currently sitting in, or outside of, biology classrooms, either unaware of their gifts, or seeing few avenues to become the next great scientist. They span geographical ancestries, nationalities, and gender identities.
This more enduring form of reparation should be the true goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives: not to place more “butts in seats” or to add color to departmental website photos, but to unearth talents from communities of people who have been told — by scientific racists and others — that they have little to offer. And it is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly put to rest the ghosts of science past.
Properly executed, the method above — reflection, reconstruction, reparation — has none of the flavor of cancellation. It removes distracting conversation about whether or not the ghost was a nice person. It focuses on the bad ideas themselves and seeks to construct a fair but full picture of who these scientists were. And it proposes ways that the scientific enterprise can repair the damage done — not through empty and performative gestures, but through creating more opportunities for more people to participate in the science enterprise.
Though I saw him in person several times, I didn’t know E.O. Wilson. I don’t know if he owned a pet or followed professional tennis; I don’t know if he listened to Charlie Parker or Frank Sinatra while counting the ants that he would become famous for; I don’t know if he voted for Obama or McCain in 2008. And I don’t care.
I’ve surely been force-fed an image for decades: Wilson as a nature-loving, southern gentleman who was out of his element among the unfriendly elites of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I don’t know if this is true. And I don’t care.
Wilson was an evolutionary biologist who inspired many, opened our eyes to how nature worked, wrote many books with good ideas, and wrote others with corny and broken ones.
I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he amplified the authors of vile, regressive drivel. And I can accept this while still having respect for his contributions.
If I can remember the good and smile when I think of the mints that Wilson bought from a vending machine that one autumn day, then I owe it to his ghost to remember him for the wretched ideas that he and many others helped to propagate.
And so do you.
C. Brandon Ogbunu is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, and is an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute.
Dois diplomatas entram em um café em uma capital europeia. Um deles é brasileiro e carrega informações ultrassecretas. Sua missão é desarmar uma bomba. Parece filme de espionagem, mas a cena é real e se repetiu no governo Bolsonaro.
Uma rede de resistência clandestina foi criada no Itamaraty para conter a política externa bolsonarista.
Temas como mudanças climáticas, direitos humanos, a questão palestina ou mesmo a Guerra da Ucrânia foram tratados nesses encontros sigilosos, confirmados pelo UOL com 13 funcionários do Itamaraty, incluindo embaixadores e servidores administrativos, e em um amplo e ainda inédito estudo de pesquisadoras da FGV e de Oxford. A rede não envolveria apenas alguns poucos nomes e, de fato, teria se espalhado por alguns dos principais departamentos da chancelaria.
Os objetivos da rede clandestina eram:
Permitir que o outro país tivesse tempo para reagir a mudanças na política externa do Brasil, sem que uma crise fosse estabelecida
Preservar a credibilidade do Brasil no exterior e salvar décadas de uma construção da diplomacia nacional
Para diplomatas, a palavra correta seria resistência, que existiu “em nome da democracia e da soberania”, e sempre ocorreu dentro de parâmetros da legalidade. No fundo, tais atos não eram nada mais que uma tentativa de “equalizar posições” diante daqueles que estavam destruindo as estruturas do Estado. A verdadeira sabotagem, neste sentido, era o que estava ocorrendo com o sequestro de décadas da diplomacia brasileira para atender aos objetivos da extrema direita.
Os encontros clandestinos eram apenas uma das táticas da resistência, que também:
Montou um esquema de contatos diretos com governos estrangeiros, sem ter de passar pela cúpula do Itamaraty e com o objetivo de desarmar crises diplomáticas.
Limitou-se a ler “a instrução que chegou de Brasília”, em reuniões na ONU, OMS ou OEA, sem uma atuação de empenho para convencer os demais países a seguir o Brasil em suas posições.
Copiou documentos que poderiam ser usados para defender um diplomata contra acusações e registrar a ilegalidade de certos atos do Planalto.
Gravou reuniões de forma clandestina nas quais a cúpula bolsonarista ordenou a suspensão de termos de documentos ou o veto a determinadas resoluções que citassem a palavra “gênero” ou outros temas delicados.
Vazou informações para a sociedade civil sobre o posicionamento do Brasil na esperança de que uma pressão pública fosse feita para impedir que um determinado ato fosse concretizado.
Publicou artigos sob o nome de outra pessoa ou de um acadêmico.
“Arrastou o pé”, diminuindo o ritmo de trabalho na implementação de instruções estabelecidas pela cúpula bolsonarista.
Enganou a chefia ou informou o que era absolutamente necessário, ocultando da cúpula situações ou posições por parte de outros governos.
Realizou reuniões sem registros na agenda oficial, impedindo que certos temas ou debates entrassem no radar da direção.
Um clima de medo, represálias e perseguição se instalou no Itamaraty nos quatro anos do governo de Jair Bolsonaro.
Saíram de cena a tradição e as nomeações técnicas, que sempre guiaram de forma explícita desde a promoção de diplomatas até as posições do Brasil no exterior, e entraram as indicações políticas e o alinhamento ideológico compulsório ao núcleo bolsonarista.
As mesmas condições foram identificadas na pesquisa coordenada pela professora da FGV Gabriela Lotta, em parceria com Izabela Corrêa, de Oxford, e Mariana Costa, também da FGV.
As pesquisadoras entrevistaram diplomatas em diferentes posições na carreira e que estão alocados em distintos países e setores do Itamaraty.
Todo o levantamento é feito de forma sigilosa e anônima, para preservar a identidade dos entrevistados.
Segundo os funcionários ouvidos a gestão Bolsonaro promoveu:
Monitoramento de diplomatas sobre o que curtiam nas redes sociais, se eram membros de partidos políticos ou até com quem eram casados. Uma funcionária relatou que não foi promovida depois que “foi descoberto” que seu marido trabalhou em um governo anterior.
Substituição de funcionários que se dedicavam a estudos de temas contrários à agenda de Bolsonaro como clima, meio ambiente, gênero e direitos humanos, por pessoas leais ao governo.
Promoções e transferências para o exterior foram transformadas em moeda de troca e instrumento de ameaça.
Palavras como “gênero”, “Cuba” e “mudanças climáticas” foram vetadas, evitadas ou até apagadas de documentos oficiais do passado. Uma servidora admitiu que teve como função modificar portarias, discursos, informações no site oficial e telegramas.
Mulheres e homossexuais foram especialmente alvo dessa nova fase. “Há uma masculinização e a volta de certas práticas, como piadas no corredor”, contou Gabriela Lotta, a pesquisadora da FGV.
O que mais escutava nas entrevistas era: O tio da Sukita se normalizou
O que diz o Itamaraty sobre as denúncias?
Nada. Procurado para comentar a reportagem, o Ministério das Relações Exteriores se manteve em silêncio.
O número de pessoas removidas de seus cargos chegou a tal ponto que consolidou-se o apelido informal usado para designar diplomatas loteados em locais onde não faziam nada: “Departamento de Escadas e Corredores”.
Um exemplo emblemático aconteceu logo nos primeiros meses da gestão do ex-chanceler Ernesto Araújo, que decidiu isolar e deixar sem função o diplomata Audo Faleiro. A justificativa: ele teria trabalhado para os governos do PT.
Em meados de 2019, Faleiro deixou seu posto em Paris para voltar ao Itamaraty. Foi nomeado como chefe da Divisão da Europa e, dois dias depois, o gabinete de Araújo informou que o cargo teria de ser retirado.
O diplomata ficou por seis meses na biblioteca do Itamaraty, aguardando um novo cargo. Foi apenas em março de 2020 que ele foi colocado no Departamento Financeiro. Ainda assim, sem o direito de ir a algumas reuniões e com o compromisso de que, na ausência da chefia, não assumiria o departamento.
Para muitos, Faleiro foi usado como exemplo:
Olha o que pode ocorrer contigo. Não faça isso se não quiser virar o próximo Audo
O tamanho do estrago
Os relatos coincidem com quatro anos que transformaram o Brasil em um pária internacional.
Para a professora da FGV Gabriela Lotta, o impacto não se limitou aos muros do Palácio do Itamaraty.
“A diplomacia brasileira tem sua moral e influência construídas na tradição e expertise. O governo negou isso, prejudicou a política externa e enfraqueceu a diplomacia e a imagem do Brasil.”
Na opinião da pesquisadora e dos embaixadores e diplomatas ouvidos pelo UOL, resistir foi a saída encontrada para sobreviver a um dos momentos mais tenebrosos da democracia brasileira.
Muitos, porém, pagaram um preço elevado, tanto profissionalmente como em relação à saúde mental.
Brasil busca proteger agrotóxicos e atrair recursos, mas rejeita meta global
De quem é a responsabilidade pela conservação da biodiversidade global? Essa é a pergunta que trava as negociações da COP15 da Convenção de Diversidade Biológica da ONU, que começa nesta quarta-feira (7) e vai até o próximo dia 19, em Montreal, no Canadá. O objetivo é chegar a um novo acordo global que reúna os países em torno de uma meta de conservação.
A proposta mais popular leva o apelido de 30×30 e prevê conservar 30% da biodiversidade global até 2030. ONGs e movimentos sociais defendem uma parcela maior, que garanta a conservação de 50% dos ecossistemas.
Na segunda-feira (5), a meta mais ambiciosa foi defendida em uma carta assinada por dezenas de organizações brasileiras, incluindo a Apib (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil) e o MST (Movimento Sem Terra).
Embora ainda haja diversas propostas de números na mesa, o detalhe, no entan [sic] que racha as posições dos países é a definição sobre a meta ser global ou nacional. O Brasil trabalha contra a meta global. Propõe, no lugar, que cada país se comprometa a conservar 30% do seu território, de modo que a meta se torne nacional.
A estratégia busca evitar que a responsabilidade por boa parte da biodiversidade global seja empurrada para dentro do território nacional, que é o mais biodiverso do mundo. China, África do Sul e outros países megabiodiversos e em desenvolvimento acompanham o Brasil nessa posição.
Alguns países desenvolvidos, no entanto, têm dito que não haverá acordo sem uma meta global. Para o bloco rico, a responsabilidade pela conservação é dos países detentores da biodiversidade.
Para que os territórios biodiversos não se tornem um ônus para o país detentor, que teria o uso do seu território restringido, a proposta defendida por países, cientistas e organizações ambientalistas é que o restante do mundo financie a conservação desses territórios.
Aqui entra outra divergência: países em desenvolvimento querem que isso aconteça através de um novo fundo, voltado à biodiversidade. A proposta, feita pelo Brasil no início do ano, ganhou força após a aprovação de um novo fundo climático na COP27, no mês passado.
Mas os países ricos evitam assumir esse compromisso e já adiantam que o financiamento deve vir de todas as fontes —públicas e privadas.
Outro caminho para valorizar economicamente a biodiversidade é a definição sobre incentivos econômicos para as atividades que contribuem com a conservação e a extinção dos subsídios às ações danosas para os biomas.
Nesse tema, o Brasil tenta emplacar o incentivo à bioeconomia (que envolve a exploração de espécies florestais não madeireiras, com a extração de cacau, castanha, açaí, entre outros), mas enfrenta resistência e desconfiança especialmente dos europeus. Isso porque o país também vai à COP15 para proteger o comércio agrícola, evitando, por exemplo, uma proposta da União Europeia que prevê cortar os subsídios aos agrotóxicos —algo que o Brasil busca proteger.
“O Brasil confia que variados setores de sua economia, inclusive o agronegócio, apresentam casos de sucesso de sustentabilidade, que contribuem para reafirmar o compromisso brasileiro com a promoção do desenvolvimento sustentável e a inclusão social, aliados ao fomento à inovação, à ciência e à tecnologia”, diz um ofício do Itamaraty enviado em resposta ao requerimento de informação pelo deputado federal Rodrigo Agostinho (PSB-SP) sobre as posições brasileiras na COP15.
A Folha teve acesso aos ofícios enviados pelos ministérios de Relações Exteriores, Economia, Agricultura e Justiça em resposta ao deputado. Já o Ministério do Meio Ambiente foi o único que não respondeu aos questionamentos e pediu mais prazo, embora tenha enviado negociadores para completar o time dos diplomatas na COP15.
Entre as negociações que mais engajam o Itamaraty e o setor privado brasileiro nesta COP, estão o pagamento por serviços ambientais e a repartição dos benefícios da utilização de recursos genéticos, que podem ser implementados a partir da negociação, nesta COP, do mecanismo de Informações de Sequenciamento Digitais (conhecido como DSI, na sigla em inglês).
Embora os países tenham apenas 12 dias de negociação pela frente, a expectativa de que atinjam um consenso que permita assinar um novo acordo global pela biodiversidade é baixa, já que eles chegam à COP15 com poucos avanços colhidos das duas reuniões preparatórias. O rascunho do acordo já passou por negociações em Genebra, em março, e em Nairóbi, no Quênia, em junho.
Além das questões centrais sobre a meta global e o financiamento, os países mantêm posições conflituosas em pelo menos outras seis metas, sobre restauração, áreas espaciais para conservação, poluição, clima, integração com outras áreas e financiamento.
O desejo dos outros se insere no debate brasileiro contemporâneo sobre psicanálise e antropologia para além de sua contribuição rigorosa para a descolonização do pensamento. A escuta das vozes dos povos originários não é apenas um benfazejo exercício para tratar nosso etnocentrismo, mas um ensinamento político para todos que se perguntam: onde está a porta pela qual posso sair da bolha? Ou: onde está a catraca reversa que me colocará no antropoceno real e não no metaverso do Brasil paralelo? Hanna Limulja responde que a saída começa pelo sonho. O sonho tem um sentido, diria Artemidoro de Daldis. Este sentido é dado pelo sonhador e referido ao seu desejo, diria Freud. O “eu” do sonhador é um Outro, diria Rimbaud. Desejo de se tornar outro, diria Madame Bovary. Desejo do outro, diria Hegel. Desejo de desejo do desejo do Outro, diria Lacan. Outro desejo, nos dizem os Yanomami.
O desejo dos outros, de Hanna Limulja, se insere no debate brasileiro contemporâneo sobre psicanálise e antropologia para além de sua contribuição rigorosa para a descolonização do pensamento
Sonhar, para eles, é “antes de tudo viajar longe” e “escapar do familiar”. É estar no limite no lugar dos mortos, representados pela noite, e também dos vivos que habitam outros lugares, representados pelo dia. Entre os dois mundos há a experiência da penumbra, da transição, da passagem. Lá está o reino das imagens. Assim como nossos artistas criam linguagens para um mundo que não está ainda presente, os sonhos Yanomami criam mundos para linguagens que ainda não existem. Tais linguagens são o que se pode chamar de perspectiva, ou seja, o ponto de vista que corresponde a este mundo. A grande torção não consiste apenas em perguntar que mundo quero para meu desejo, mas que desejo é preciso inventar para o mundo que vejo em meus sonhos.
O sonho é um intermediário epistêmico entre o que sei porque testemunhei e o que sei porque ouvi falar sobre. É uma negação dos dois modos de funcionamento pois é uma experiência profundamente minha, ocorrida na solidão da noite; mas, ali onde vivi aquilo, não era só este eu que me habitava. Inversamente, o sonho só se torna sonho verdadeiro quando contado, quando passa a ser um saber dos outros. As tragédias, os genocídios (como o de Haximu, em 1993), as mortes irreparáveis (como a de Chico Mendes), a invasão de mineradores são enfrentadas com o sonho. As decisões amorosas, os casamentos, as guerras e os adoecimentos também. O sonho é um método de conhecimento, não apenas a expressão de uma individualidade. Como tal, envolve uma epistemologia política da maior importância, não só como retrato pitoresco ou folclórico que afinal seria a “expressão” de um primitivismo alegórico e harmonioso, mas como forma de vida que pode efetivamente nos ajudar a enfrentar a crise bio-necropolítica de nossos tempos.
O antítodo oniropolítico começa pela ideia de tornar os mortos agentes políticos — aliás, como sempre foram —, mas aqui em um sentido algo diferente. Primeiro porque envolve uma outra concepção de tempo e em particular do futuro. Não se trata de ver no sonho uma prescrição, um destino ou uma escritura, mas uma experiência de conhecimento testemunhal, que orienta a ação coletiva das pessoas. Segundo porque, em contraste dos brancos que reservam os sonhos ao cuidado restrito e sigiloso dos psicanalistas, os Yanomami entendem que um sonho só se completa quando é contado, partilhado socialmente, às vezes contado de viva voz no meio da aldeia. Ao colocar o sonho “na roda” e ao relacioná-lo com problemas concretos da comunidade, cria-se uma espécie de jogo em que a mesma situação se apresenta em outras perspectivas, sugerindo assim novas soluções. Terceiro, novas soluções de nada adiantam se continuamos a ser as velhas pessoas. Neste sentido, a decomposição da pessoa Yanomami envolve versões de si que fariam inveja à qualquer teoria contemporânea do self: “o rosto que expressa pelo olhar” (pei pihi), o “espectro de si mesmo como morto” (né porepé), “a imagem interna de uma unidade corporal: sombra, reflexo, eco” (pei utupé), o “alter ego animal” (rixi).
Se todos sonham, nem todos têm o mesmo saber-fazer com os sonhos. Ainda que os xamãs sejam particularmente vocados nessa matéria, alguns ficarão fracos de tanto sonhar, outros serão assombrados pelos mortos, outros ainda nem se lembrarão dos sonhos. Para usar os sonhos de modo oniropolítico é preciso criar e cultivar seus próprios xapiri-pë, versões intermediárias de si, espíritos protetores ou vozes ajudantes que “trançam os fios da rede até o ponto delas se tornarem antenas para o céu”. Inversamente, durante os sonhos, eles nos protegem na convivência com os mortos, impedindo que “venham para cá” ou que, movidos por saudades, nós queiramos “ir para lá”. Eles são a voz que diz: “Voltaremos para vocês, é claro! Mas sem pressa! Retornem ao lugar de onde vieram!”.
O sonho não é um presságio, mas uma espécie de enigma sobre o qual se deve agir
Em uma cultura que partilha seus sonhos, a interpretação funciona de outra maneira. Menos do que um produto inesperado de si mesmo, as visões oníricas são parte de um mundo possível e real, eventualmente já acontecido ou em vias de acontecer. Por exemplo, sonhar com um sobrinho enfeitado com penas pode indicar que seu adoecimento é mais sério do que se pensava e ele pode morrer, porque é nesta condição que os corpos podem ser enfeitados. Porém o sonho não é um presságio, mas uma espécie de enigma sobre o qual se deve agir: procurar um xamã, mudar o caminho da cura ou realizar um rito protetivo.
Isso sugere uma homologia com a política que a psicanálise tem com o sonho: ele também é uma realização de desejo, mas, em vez de perguntar qual desejo foi suprimido neste mundo, os Yanomami perguntam: para este mundo, oniricamente revelado, qual é o desejo que lhe corresponde? Se na psicanálise perguntamos pela relação que as pessoas mantêm com seu desejo, o xamanismo Yanomami pergunta pela pessoa que você precisa ser se o mundo assim se apresentar. Se na psicanálise lemos os sonhos para entender qual passado sexual infantil e recalcado corresponde ao futuro realizado pelas imagens oníricas, no transe xapiri o espírito do xamã fala do passado mítico tendo em vista um futuro indeterminado. Por isso o modelo proposto por Limulja para pensar os sonhos dos Yanomami como uma fita de Moebius — ou seja, o sonho como ponto de torção entre vivos e mortos, dia e noite, sonho individual e mito coletivo — é também a chave para pensar transformações políticas e clínicas: “O próprio xamã vai elaborando seu repertório mítico e ampliando suas experiências oníricas. Seus sonhos transformam o mundo, mas isso só é possível porque ele mesmo é transformado por esta experiência”. Isso vale para as pequenas decisões do cotidiano, para as escolhas inerentes à arte da caça, para os cuidados com a segurança, mas sobretudo para os sonhos que permeiam o trabalho de luto e cercam a experiência da morte.
Uma mulher que perdera a filha e acabara de incinerar os ossos dela se alegra ao reencontrar a filha morta, que não entende o que está acontecendo e pergunta: “Mãe, por que seu rosto está pintado de preto?” Mas a mãe tenta a todo custo despistar a morta. Então ela olha para o cesto que contém seus ossos incinerados e pergunta: “Mãe, o que há dentro do cesto?”. E a mãe dissimula, mas os papagaios respondem: “Esses são seus ossos queimados”. Neste momento os Inhambu [pássaros associados com a morte e o entardecer] cantam e levantam voo.
O sonho se insere na vida como uma forma atenuada de morte. Numa sociedade na qual jamais se pronuncia o nome do morto e todo rastro de vida é apagado depois da festa fúnebre, a presença da morte não faz monumento, história ou escrita. A decisão que interpreta o sonho como uma imagem mítica do passado ou como um mundo possível no futuro é sobretudo um ato político. Vindo a morte sempre a partir de fora, seja este fora o inimigo terreno ou as voluptuosas almas dos mortos, os vivos têm menos domínios de sua vida do que gostariam. Aqui, mais do que nunca, confirmamos o dito de Lévi-Strauss para quem o psicanalista é um xamã moderno:
Se por um lado o sonho é sempre desencadeado pela vontade de um outro, e o sonhador aparece como uma “presa”, uma vítima, alguém à mercê do sentimento que lhe é alheio, por outro, o sonhador não está de forma alguma inteiramente subjugado ao sentimentos deste outro. Os vivos resistem aos apelos destes outros, e é porque resistem que eles podem continuar existindo Yanomami.