[This is a reposting of a CaliforniaWaterBlog.com post from February 2016, near the end of the previous drought. For human uses, conditions seem somewhat similar to this point in the previous drought, so this perspective might be useful. A couple of more recent readings are added to this post.]
“You can’t always get what you want But if you try sometimes you just might find You get what you need,” Rolling Stones (1969, Let It Bleed album)
The ongoing California drought has many lessons for water managers and policy-makers. Perhaps the greatest lesson is how unimportant a drought can be if we manage water well.
For the last two years, California lost about 33% of its normal water supply due to drought, but from a statewide perspective saw statistically undetectable losses of jobs and economic production, despite often severe local effects. Agricultural production, about 2% of California’s economy, was harder hit, fallowing about 6% of irrigated land, and reducing net revenues by 3% and employment by 10,000 jobs from what it would have been without drought. Yet, high commodity prices and continued shifts to higher valued crops (such as almonds, with more jobs per acre) raised statewide agricultural employment slightly and raised overall revenues for agriculture to record levels in 2014 (the latest year with state statistics).
Cities, responsible for the vast majority of California’s economy, were required to reduce water use by an average of 25% in 2015. These conservation targets were generally well achieved on quite short notice. Most remarkably, there has been little discernible statewide economic impact from this 25% reduction in urban water use, although many local water districts are suffering financially.
More groundwater pumping greatly reduced drought impacts. Picture courtesy of DWR.
How could such a severe drought cause so little economic damage? Much of the lost water supply from drought was made up for by withdrawals of water from storage, particularly groundwater. But the substantial amount of water shortage that remained was largely well-allocated. Farmers of low-valued crops commonly sold water to farmers of higher-valued crops and to cities, greatly reducing economic losses. Within each sector, moreover, utilities, farmers, and individual water users allocated available water for higher-valued uses and shorted generally lower-valued uses and crops.
If shortages are well-allocated, California has tremendous potential to absorb drought-related shortages with relatively little economic impact. This economic robustness to drought arises from several characteristics of California’s economic structure and its uses of water.
First, the most water-intensive part of California’s economy, agriculture, accounts for about 80% of all human water use, but is about 2% of California’s economy. So long as water deliveries are preserved for the bulk of the economy, in cities, California’s economy can withstand considerable drought (Harou et al. 2010). And the large strong parts of the economy can aid those more affected by drought.
Gross annual revenue for California crops ($ millions). (using California Department of Water Resources irrigated crop acres and water use data)
Second, within agriculture, roughly 80-90% of employment and revenues are from higher-valued crops (such as vegetable and tree crops) which occupy about 50% of California’s irrigated land and are about 50% of California’s agricultural water use. If available water is allocated to these crops, a very large water shortage can be accommodated with a much smaller (but still substantial and unprecedented) economic loss. Water markets have made these allocations flexibly, with some room for improvement.
Global food markets have fundamentally changed the nature of drought for humans. Throughout history, disruptions of regional food production due to drought would lead to famine and pestilence. This is no longer the case for California and other globally-connected economies, where food is readily available at more stable global prices. California continued to export high-valued fruits and nuts, even as corn and wheat production decreased, with almost no effects on local or global prices. Food insecurity due to drought is largely eliminated in globalized economies (poverty is another matter). Subsistence agriculture remains more vulnerable from drought.
Third, cities also concentrate much of their water use in lower-valued activities. Roughly half of California’s urban water use is for landscape irrigation. By concentrating water use reductions on such less-productive uses, utilities and individual water users greatly lowered the costs of drought. If cities had shut down 25% of businesses to implement 25% cuts in water use, the drought and California’s drought management would have been truly catastrophic.
Fourth, although California’s climate is very susceptible to drought, California’s geology provides abundant drought water storage in the form of groundwater, if managed well. The availability of groundwater allowed expanded pumping which made up for over 70% of agriculture’s loss of surface water during the drought and provided a buffer for many cities as well. If we replenish groundwater in wetter years, as envisioned in the 2014 groundwater legislation, California’s geologic advantage for withstanding drought should continue.
All of this leads to what we might call a Mick Jagger theory of drought management. Yes, droughts can be terrible in preventing us from getting all that we want, and will cause severe local impacts. But if we manage droughts and water well and responsibly, then we can usually get the water that the economy and society really needs. This overall economic strength also allows for aid to those more severely affected by drought. This is an optimistic and pragmatic lesson for dry drought-prone places with strong globalized economies, such as California.
California’s ecosystems should have similar robustness of ecosystem health with water use, and naturally persisted through substantial droughts long ago. But today, California’s ecosystems entered this drought in an already severely depleted and disrupted state. (The Mick Jagger characterization of California’s ecosystems might be “Gimme Shelter,” from the same album.) If we can sufficiently improve our management of California’s ecosystems before and during droughts, perhaps they will be more robust to drought. Reconciling native ecosystems with land and water development is an important challenge.
“If I don’t get some shelter Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away”Rolling Stones (1969, Let It Bleed album)
The drought reminds us that California is a dry place where water will always cause controversy and some dissatisfaction. However, despite the many apocalyptic statements on California’s drought, the state has done quite well economically, so far, overall. But, the drought has identified areas needing improvement, so that we can continue to get most of what we really need from water in California, even in future droughts. We should neither panic, nor be complacent, but focus on the real challenges identified by the drought.
Jay Lund is Co-Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California – Davis.
A different ‘Big One’ is approaching. Climate change is hastening its arrival.
Aug. 12, 2022
California, where earthquakes, droughts and wildfires have shaped life for generations, also faces the growing threat of another kind of calamity, one whose fury would be felt across the entire state.
This one will come from the sky.
According to new research, it will very likely take shape one winter in the Pacific, near Hawaii. No one knows exactly when, but from the vast expanse of tropical air around the Equator, atmospheric currents will pluck out a long tendril of water vapor and funnel it toward the West Coast.
This vapor plume will be enormous, hundreds of miles wide and more than 1,200 miles long, and seething with ferocious winds. It will be carrying so much water that if you converted it all to liquid, its flow would be about 26 times what the Mississippi River discharges into the Gulf of Mexico at any given moment.
When this torpedo of moisture reaches California, it will crash into the mountains and be forced upward. This will cool its payload of vapor and kick off weeks and waves of rain and snow.
The coming superstorm — really, a rapid procession of what scientists call atmospheric rivers — will be the ultimate test of the dams, levees and bypasses California has built to impound nature’s might.
But in a state where scarcity of water has long been the central fact of existence, global warming is not only worsening droughts and wildfires. Because warmer air can hold more moisture, atmospheric rivers can carry bigger cargoes of precipitation. The infrastructure design standards, hazard maps and disaster response plans that protected California from flooding in the past might soon be out of date.
As humans burn fossil fuels and heat up the planet, we have already increased the chances each year that California will experience a monthlong, statewide megastorm of this severity to roughly 1 in 50, according to a new study published Friday. (The hypothetical storm visualized here is based on computer modeling from this study.)
In the coming decades, if global average temperatures climb by another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1 degree Celsius — and current trends suggest they might — then the likelihood of such storms will go up further, to nearly 1 in 30.
At the same time, the risk of megastorms that are rarer but even stronger, with much fiercer downpours, will rise as well.
These are alarming possibilities. But geological evidence suggests the West has been struck by cataclysmic floods several times over the past millennium, and the new study provides the most advanced look yet at how this threat is evolving in the age of human-caused global warming.
The researchers specifically considered hypothetical storms that are extreme but realistic, and which would probably strain California’s flood preparations. According to their findings, powerful storms that once would not have been expected to occur in an average human lifetime are fast becoming ones with significant risks of happening during the span of a home mortgage.
“We got kind of lucky to avoid it in the 20th century,” said Daniel L. Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who prepared the new study with Xingying Huang of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “I would be very surprised to avoid it occurring in the 21st.”
Unlike a giant earthquake, the other “Big One” threatening California, an atmospheric river superstorm will not sneak up on the state. Forecasters can now spot incoming atmospheric rivers five days to a week in advance, though they don’t always know exactly where they’ll hit or how intense they’ll be.
Using Dr. Huang and Dr. Swain’s findings, California hopes to be ready even earlier. Aided by supercomputers, state officials plan to map out how all that precipitation will work its way through rivers and over land. They will hunt for gaps in evacuation plans and emergency services.
The last time government agencies studied a hypothetical California megaflood, more than a decade ago, they estimated it could cause $725 billion in property damage and economic disruption. That was three times the projected fallout from a severe San Andreas Fault earthquake, and five times the economic damage from Hurricane Katrina, which left much of New Orleans underwater for weeks in 2005.
Dr. Swain and Dr. Huang have handed California a new script for what could be one of its most challenging months in history. Now begin the dress rehearsals.
“Mother Nature has no obligation to wait for us,” said Michael Anderson, California’s state climatologist.
In fact, nature has not been wasting any time testing California’s defenses. And when it comes to risks to the water system, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is hardly the state’s only foe.
THE ULTIMATE CURVEBALL
On Feb. 12, 2017, almost 190,000 people living north of Sacramento received an urgent order: Get out. Now. Part of the tallest dam in America was verging on collapse.
That day, Ronald Stork was in another part of the state, where he was worrying about precisely this kind of disaster — at a different dam.
Standing with binoculars near California’s New Exchequer Dam, he dreaded what might happen if large amounts of water were ever sent through the dam’s spillways. Mr. Stork, a policy expert with the conservation group Friends of the River, had seen on a previous visit to Exchequer that the nearby earth was fractured and could be easily eroded. If enough water rushed through, it might cause major erosion and destabilize the spillways.
He only learned later that his fears were playing out in real time, 150 miles north. At the Oroville Dam, a 770-foot-tall facility built in the 1960s, water from atmospheric rivers was washing away the soil and rock beneath the dam’s emergency spillway, which is essentially a hillside next to the main chute that acts like an overflow drain in a bathtub. The top of the emergency spillway looked like it might buckle, which would send a wall of water cascading toward the cities below.
Mr. Stork had no idea this was happening until he got home to Sacramento and found his neighbor in a panic. The neighbor’s mother lived downriver from Oroville. She didn’t drive anymore. How was he going to get her out?
Mr. Stork had filed motions and written letters to officials, starting in 2001, about vulnerabilities at Oroville. People were now in danger because nobody had listened. “It was nearly soul crushing,” he said.
“With flood hazard, it’s never the fastball that hits you,” said Nicholas Pinter, an earth scientist at the University of California, Davis. “It’s the curveball that comes from a direction you don’t anticipate. And Oroville was one of those.”
Ronald Stork in his office at Friends of the River in Sacramento.
The spillway of the New Exchequer Dam.
Such perils had lurked at Oroville for so long because California’s Department of Water Resources had been “overconfident and complacent” about its infrastructure, tending to react to problems rather than pre-empt them, independent investigators later wrote in a report. It is not clear this culture is changing, even as the 21st-century climate threatens to test the state’s aging dams in new ways. One recent study estimated that climate change had boosted precipitation from the 2017 storms at Oroville by up to 15 percent.
A year and a half after the crisis, crews were busy rebuilding Oroville’s emergency spillway when the federal hydropower regulator wrote to the state with some unsettling news: The reconstructed emergency spillway will not be big enough to safely handle the “probable maximum flood,” or the largest amount of water that might ever fall there.
Sources: Global Historical Climatology Network, Huang and Swain (2022) Measurements taken from the Oroville weather station and the nearest modeled data point
This is the standard most major hydroelectric projects in the United States have to meet. The idea is that spillways should basically never fail because of excessive rain.
Today, scientists say they believe climate change might be increasing “probable maximum” precipitation levels at many dams. When the Oroville evacuation was ordered in 2017, nowhere near that much water had been flowing through the dam’s emergency spillway.
Yet California officials have downplayed these concerns about the capacity of Oroville’s emergency spillway, which were raised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Such extreme flows are a “remote” possibility, they argued in a letter last year. Therefore, further upgrades at Oroville aren’t urgently needed.
In a curt reply last month, the commission said this position was “not acceptable.” It gave the state until mid-September to submit a plan for addressing the issue.
The Department of Water Resources told The Times it would continue studying the matter. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to comment.
“People could die,” Mr. Stork said. “And it bothers the hell out of me.”
WETTER WET YEARS
Donald G. Sullivan was lying in bed one night, early in his career as a scientist, when he realized his data might hold a startling secret.
For his master’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, he had sampled the sediment beneath a remote lake in the Sacramento Valley and was hoping to study the history of vegetation in the area. But a lot of the pollen in his sediment cores didn’t seem to be from nearby. How had it gotten there?
When he X-rayed the cores, he found layers where the sediment was denser. Maybe, he surmised, these layers were filled with sand and silt that had washed in during floods.
It was only late that night that he tried to estimate the ages of the layers. They lined up neatly with other records of West Coast megafloods.
“That’s when it clicked,” said Dr. Sullivan, who is now at the University of Denver.
His findings, from 1982, showed that major floods hadn’t been exceptionally rare occurrences over the past eight centuries. They took place every 100 to 200 years. And in the decades since, advancements in modeling have helped scientists evaluate how quickly the risks are rising because of climate change.
For their new study, which was published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Huang and Dr. Swain replayed portions of the 20th and 21st centuries using 40 simulations of the global climate. Extreme weather events, by definition, don’t occur very often. So by using computer models to create realistic alternate histories of the past, present and future climate, scientists can study a longer record of events than the real world offers.
Dr. Swain and Dr. Huang looked at all the monthlong California storms that took place during two time segments in the simulations, one in the recent past and the other in a future with high global warming, and chose one of the most intense events from each period. They then used a weather model to produce detailed play-by-plays of where and when the storms dump their water.
Those details matter. There are “so many different factors” that make an atmospheric river deadly or benign, Dr. Huang said.
Xingying Huang of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Rachel Woolf for The New York Times
The New Don Pedro Dam spillway.
Wes Monier, a hydrologist, with a 1997 photo of water rushing through the New Don Pedro Reservoir spillway.
In the high Sierras, for example, atmospheric rivers today largely bring snow. But higher temperatures are shifting the balance toward rain. Some of this rain can fall on snowpack that accumulated earlier, melting it and sending even more water toward towns and cities below.
Climate change might be affecting atmospheric rivers in other ways, too, said F. Martin Ralph of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. How strong their winds are, for instance. Or how long they last: Some storms stall, barraging an area for days on end, while others blow through quickly.
Scientists are also working to improve atmospheric river forecasts, which is no easy task as the West experiences increasingly sharp shifts from very dry conditions to very wet and back again. In October, strong storms broke records in Sacramento and other places. Yet this January through March was the driest in the Sierra Nevada in more than a century.
“My scientific gut says there’s change happening,” Dr. Ralph said. “And we just haven’t quite pinned down how to detect it adequately.”
Better forecasting is already helping California run some of its reservoirs more efficiently, a crucial step toward coping with wetter wet years and drier dry ones.
On the last day of 2016, Wes Monier was looking at forecasts on his iPad and getting a sinking feeling.
Mr. Monier is chief hydrologist for the Turlock Irrigation District, which operates the New Don Pedro Reservoir near Modesto. The Tuolumne River, where the Don Pedro sits, was coming out of its driest four years in a millennium. Now, some terrifying rainfall projections were rolling in.
First, 23.2 inches over the next 16 days. A day later: 28.8 inches. Then 37.1 inches, roughly what the area normally received in a full year.
If Mr. Monier started releasing Don Pedro’s water too quickly, homes and farms downstream would flood. Release too much and he would be accused of squandering water that would be precious come summer.
But the forecasts helped him time his flood releases precisely enough that, after weeks of rain, the water in the dam ended up just shy of capacity. Barely a drop was wasted, although some orchards were flooded, and growers took a financial hit.
The next storm might be even bigger, though. And even the best data and forecasts might not allow Mr. Monier to stop it from causing destruction. “There’s a point there where I can’t do anything,” he said.
How do you protect a place as vast as California from a storm as colossal as that? Two ways, said David Peterson, a veteran engineer. Change where the water goes, or change where the people are. Ideally, both. But neither is easy.
Firebaugh is a quiet, mostly Hispanic city of 8,100 people, one of many small communities that power the Central Valley’s prodigious agricultural economy. Many residents work at nearby facilities that process almonds, pistachios, garlic and tomatoes.
Firebaugh also sits right on the San Joaquin River.
For a sleepless stretch of early 2017, Ben Gallegos, Firebaugh’s city manager, did little but watch the river rise and debate whether to evacuate half the town. Water from winter storms had already turned the town’s cherished rodeo grounds into a swamp. Now it was threatening homes, schools, churches and the wastewater treatment plant. If that flooded, people would be unable to flush their toilets. Raw sewage would flow down the San Joaquin.
Luckily, the river stopped rising. Still, the experience led Mr. Gallegos to apply for tens of millions in funding for new and improved levees around Firebaugh.
Levees change where the water goes, giving rivers more room to swell before they inundate the land. Levee failures in New Orleans were what turned Katrina into an epochal catastrophe, and after that storm, California toughened levee standards in urbanized areas of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, two major river basins of the Central Valley.
The idea is to keep people out of places where the levees don’t protect against 200-year storms, or those with a 0.5 percent chance of occurring in any year. To account for rising seas and the shifting climate, California requires that levees be recertified as providing this level of defense at least every 20 years.
Firebaugh, Calif., on the San Joaquin River, is home to 8,100 people and helps power the Central Valley’s agricultural economy.
Ben Gallegos, the Firebaugh city manager.
A 6-year-old’s birthday celebration in Firebaugh.
The problem is that once levees are strengthened, the areas behind them often become particularly attractive for development: fancier homes, bigger buildings, more people. The likelihood of a disaster is reduced, but the consequences, should one strike, are increased.
Federal agencies try to stop this by not funding infrastructure projects that induce growth in flood zones. But “it’s almost impossible to generate the local funds to raise that levee if you don’t facilitate some sort of growth behind the levee,” Mr. Peterson said. “You need that economic activity to pay for the project,” he said. “It puts you in a Catch-22.”
A project to provide 200-year protection to the Mossdale Tract, a large area south of Stockton, one of the San Joaquin Valley’s major cities, has been on pause for years because the Army Corps of Engineers fears it would spur growth, said Chris Elias, executive director of the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency, which is leading the project. City planners have agreed to freeze development across thousands of acres, but the Corps still hasn’t given its final blessing.
The Corps and state and local agencies will begin studying how best to protect the area this fall, said Tyler M. Stalker, a spokesman for the Corps’s Sacramento District.
The plodding pace of work in the San Joaquin Valley has set people on edge. At a recent public hearing in Stockton on flood risk, Mr. Elias stood up and highlighted some troubling math.
The Department of Water Resources says up to $30 billion in investment is needed over the next 30 years to keep the Central Valley safe. Yet over the past 15 years, the state managed to spend only $3.5 billion.
“We have to find ways to get ahead of the curve,” Mr. Elias said. “We don’t want to have a Katrina 2.0 play out right here in the heart of Stockton.”
As Mr. Elias waits for projects to be approved and budgets to come through, heat and moisture will continue to churn over the Pacific. Government agencies, battling the forces of inertia, indifference and delay, will make plans and update policies. And Stockton and the Central Valley, which runs through the heart of California, will count down the days and years until the inevitable storm.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta near Stockton, Calif.
The megastorm simulation is based on the “ARkHist” storm modeled by Huang and Swain, Science Advances (2022), a hypothetical statewide, 30-day atmospheric river storm sequence over California with an approximately 2 percent likelihood of occurring each year in the present climate. Data was generated using the Weather Research and Forecasting model and global climate simulations from the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble.
The chart of precipitation at Oroville compares cumulative rainfall at the Oroville weather station before the 2017 crisis with cumulative rainfall at the closest data point in ARkHist.
The rainfall visualization compares observed hourly rainfall in December 2016 from the Los Angeles Downtown weather station with rainfall at the closest data point in a hypothetical future megastorm, the ARkFuture scenario in Huang and Swain (2022). This storm would be a rare but plausible event in the second half of the 21st century if nations continue on a path of high greenhouse-gas emissions.
The 3D rainfall visualization and augmented reality effect by Nia Adurogbola, Jeffrey Gray, Evan Grothjan, Lydia Jessup, Max Lauter, Daniel Mangosing, Noah Pisner, James Surdam and Raymond Zhong.
Photo editing by Matt McCann.
Produced by Sarah Graham, Claire O’Neill, Jesse Pesta and Nadja Popovich.
As climate change makes the region hotter and drier, the U.A.E. is leading the effort to squeeze more rain out of the clouds, and other countries are rushing to keep up.
Aug. 28, 2022
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Iranian officials have worried for years that other nations have been depriving them of one of their vital water sources. But it was not an upstream dam that they were worrying about, or an aquifer being bled dry.
In 2018, amid a searing drought and rising temperatures, some senior officials concluded that someone was stealing their water from the clouds.
“Both Israel and another country are working to make Iranian clouds not rain,” Brig. Gen. Gholam Reza Jalali, a senior official in the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, said in a 2018 speech.
The unnamed country was the United Arab Emirates, which had begun an ambitious cloud-seeding program, injecting chemicals into clouds to try to force precipitation. Iran’s suspicions are not surprising, given its tense relations with most Persian Gulf nations, but the real purpose of these efforts is not to steal water, but simply to make it rain on parched lands.
As the Middle East and North Africa dry up, countries in the region have embarked on a race to develop the chemicals and techniques that they hope will enable them to squeeze rain drops out of clouds that would otherwise float fruitlessly overhead.
With 12 of the 19 regional countries averaging less than 10 inches of rainfall a year, a decline of 20 percent over the past 30 years, their governments are desperate for any increment of fresh water, and cloud seeding is seen by many as a quick way to tackle the problem.
And as wealthy countries like the emirates pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, other nations are joining the race, trying to ensure that they do not miss out on their fair share of rainfall before others drain the heavens dry — despite serious questions about whether the technique generates enough rainfall to be worth the effort and expense.
Morocco and Ethiopia have cloud-seeding programs, as does Iran. Saudi Arabia just started a large-scale program, and a half-dozen other Middle Eastern and North African countries are considering it.
China has the most ambitious program worldwide, with the aim of either stimulating rain or halting hail across half the country. It is trying to force clouds to rain over the Yangtze River, which is running dry in some spots.
While cloud seeding has been around for 75 years, experts say the science has yet to be proven. And they are especially dismissive of worries about one country draining clouds dry at the expense of others downwind.
The life span of a cloud, in particular the type of cumulus clouds most likely to produce rain, is rarely more than a couple of hours, atmospheric scientists say. Occasionally, clouds can last longer, but rarely long enough to reach another country, even in the Persian Gulf, where seven countries are jammed close together.
But several Middle Eastern countries have brushed aside the experts’ doubts and are pushing ahead with plans to wring any moisture they can from otherwise stingy clouds.
Today, the unquestioned regional leader is the United Arab Emirates. As early as the 1990s, the country’s ruling family recognized that maintaining a plentiful supply of water would be as important as the nation’s huge oil and gas reserves in sustaining its status as the financial and business capital of the Persian Gulf.
While there had been enough water to sustain the tiny country’s population in 1960, when there were fewer than 100,000 people, by 2020 the population had ballooned to nearly 10 million. And the demand for water soared, as well. United Arab Emirates residents now use roughly 147 gallons per person a day, compared with the world average of 47 gallons, according to a 2021 research paper funded by the emirates.
After 20 years of research and experimentation, the center runs its cloud-seeding program with near military protocols. Nine pilots rotate on standby, ready to bolt into the sky as soon as meteorologists focusing on the country’s mountainous regions spot a promising weather formation — ideally, the types of clouds that can build to heights of as much as 40,000 feet.
They have to be ready on a moment’s notice because promising clouds are not as common in the Middle East as in many other parts of the world.
“We are on 24-hour availability — we live within 30 to 40 minutes of the airport — and from arrival here, it takes us 25 minutes to be airborne,” said Capt. Mark Newman, a South African senior cloud-seeding pilot. In the event of multiple, potentially rain-bearing clouds, the center will send more than one aircraft.
The United Arab Emirates uses two seeding substances: the traditional material made of silver iodide and a newly patented substance developed at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi that uses nanotechnology that researchers there say is better adapted to the hot, dry conditions in the Persian Gulf. The pilots inject the seeding materials into the base of the cloud, allowing it to be lofted tens of thousands of feet by powerful updrafts.
And then, in theory, the seeding material, made up of hygroscopic (water attracting) molecules, bonds to the water vapor particles that make up a cloud. That combined particle is a little bigger and in turn attracts more water vapor particles until they form droplets, which eventually become heavy enough to fall as rain — with no appreciable environmental impact from the seeding materials, scientists say.
That is in theory. But many in the scientific community doubt the efficacy of cloud seeding altogether. A major stumbling block for many atmospheric scientists is the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of documenting net increases in rainfall.
“The problem is that once you seed, you can’t tell if the cloud would have rained anyway,” said Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University and an expert in evaluating climate engineering strategies.
Another problem is that the tall cumulus clouds most common in summer in the emirates and nearby areas can be so turbulent that it is difficult to determine if the seeding has any effect, said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist and an expert in cloud physics at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
Israel, a pioneer in cloud seeding, halted its program in 2021 after 50 years because it seemed to yield at best only marginal gains in precipitation. It was “not economically efficient,” said Pinhas Alpert, an emeritus professor at the University of Tel Aviv who did one of the most comprehensive studies of the program.
Cloud seeding got its start in 1947, with General Electric scientists working under a military contract to find a way to de-ice planes in cold weather and create fog to obscure troop movements. Some of the techniques were later used in Vietnam to prolong the monsoon season, in an effort to make it harder for the North Vietnamese to supply their troops.
While the underlying science of cloud seeding seems straightforward, in practice, there are numerous problems. Not all clouds have the potential to produce rain, and even a cloud seemingly suitable for seeding may not have enough moisture. Another challenge in hot climates is that raindrops may evaporate before they reach the ground.
Sometimes the effect of seeding can be larger than expected, producing too much rain or snow. Or the winds can shift, carrying the clouds away from the area where the seeding was done, raising the possibility of “unintended consequences,” notes a statement from the American Meteorological Society.
“You can modify a cloud, but you can’t tell it what to do after you modify it,” said James Fleming, an atmospheric scientist and historian of science at Colby College in Maine.
“It might snow; it might dissipate. It might go downstream; it might cause a storm in Boston,” he said, referring to an early cloud-seeding experiment over Mount Greylock in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.
This seems to be what happened in the emirates in the summer of 2019, when cloud seeding apparently generated such heavy rains in Dubai that water had to be pumped out of flooded residential neighborhoods and the upscale Dubai mall.
Despite the difficulties of gathering data on the efficacy of cloud seeding, Mr. Al Mandous said the emirates’ methods were yielding at least a 5 percent increase in rain annually — and almost certainly far more. But he acknowledged the need for data covering many more years to satisfy the scientific community.
Over last New Year’s weekend, said Mr. Al Mandous, cloud seeding coincided with a storm that produced 5.6 inches of rain in three days — more precipitation than the United Arab Emirates often gets in a year.
In the tradition of many scientists who have tried to modify the weather, he is ever optimistic. There is the new cloud-seeding nanosubstance, and if the emirates just had more clouds to seed, he said, maybe they could make more rain for the country.
And where would those extra clouds come from?
“Making clouds is very difficult,” he acknowledged. “But, who knows, maybe God will send us somebody who will have the idea of how to make clouds.”
Giant rainstorms have ravaged California before. Times journalists combined data, graphics and old-fashioned reporting to explore what the next big one might look like.
Aug. 25, 2022
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Not long ago, when I heard that California officials were embarking on an ambitious, multiyear effort to study one of the worst natural disasters in the state’s history, I knew there would be a lot of interesting material to cover. There was just one wrinkle: The disaster hadn’t happened yet — it still hasn’t.
The California water authorities wanted to examine a much bigger and more powerful version of the rainstorms the state often gets in winter. The milder ones replenish water supplies. But the strong ones cause devastating flooding and debris flows. And the really strong ones, like those that have hit the Pacific Coast several times over the past millennium, can erase whole landscapes, turning valleys and plains into lakes.
As global warming increases the likelihood and the intensity of severe storms, the state’s Department of Water Resources wanted to know: What would a really big (yet plausible) storm look like today? How well would we handle it?
As a climate reporter for The New York Times, I had a pretty good idea of how to tell the first part of the story. The department was starting its study by commissioning two climate scientists to construct a detailed play-by-play of how a monthlong storm might unload its precipitation throughout the state. (And what a lot of precipitation it would be: nearly 16 inches, on average, across California, according to the scientists’ simulations, and much more in mountainous areas.)
All that detail would help operators of dams and other infrastructure pinpoint how much water they might get at specific times and places. It would also allow the graphics wizards at The Times to bring the storm to stunning visual life in our article, which we published this month.
But to make the article more than an academic recounting of a computer-modeling exercise, I knew I had to find ways to ground this future storm strongly in the present. And as I started reporting, I realized this was what a lot of people in the flood-management world were trying to do, too. Unlike traffic congestion, air pollution or even drought, flood risk isn’t in people’s faces most of the time. Forecasters and engineers have to keep reminding them that it’s there.
I realized this wasn’t a story about predicting the future at all. Like a lot of climate stories, it was about how humans and institutions function, or fail to function, when faced with catastrophic possibilities whose arrival date is uncertain.
The near-catastrophe Californians remember most vividly is the 2017 crisis at the Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento. The dam’s emergency spillway nearly collapsed after heavy rainstorms, prompting the evacuation of 188,000 people. The state authorities spent the next few years reinspecting dams and re-evaluating safety needs. Yet I found signs that all this attention might already be starting to fade, even when it came to Oroville itself.
For every example of proactive thinking on flood risks, I found instances where budgets, political exigencies or other complications had gotten in the way. I visited flood-prone communities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with Kathleen Schaefer, an engineer formerly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She helped prepare the last major study of a hypothetical California megastorm, over a decade ago, and she recalled the frosty reception her and her colleagues’ work had received in some official circles.
She described the attitude she encountered this way: “If you can’t do anything about it, if it’s such a big problem, then you don’t want to stick your head out and raise it, because then you’re supposed to do something about it. So it’s better just to be like, ‘Oh, I hope it doesn’t happen on my watch.’”
I also sought out Californians who had suffered the effects of flooding firsthand. One reason the state is so vulnerable is that so many people and their homes and assets are in inundation-prone places. The reasons they stay, despite the dangers, are complex and often deeply personal.
Rudy Mussi has lived through two devastating levee failures near his land, in a part of the Delta called the Jones Tract. Neither experience made him want to go farm somewhere else. He recently invested millions in almond trees.
“Even though there’s risk,” Mr. Mussi told me, “there’s people willing to take that risk.”
Bob Ott grows cherries, almonds and walnuts in the fertile soil along the Tuolumne River. As we drove through his orchards on a rickety golf cart, he showed me where the water had rushed in during the 2017 storms.
Mr. Ott said he knew his land was bound to flood again, whether from a repeat of rains past or from a future megastorm. Still, he would never consider leaving, he said. His family has been farming there for the better part of a century. “This is part of us,” he said.
Fernanda Talarico De Splash, em São Paulo 29/08/2022 04h00
O Rock in Rio está chegando! Depois de três anos, o evento de música voltará a acontecer no Parque Olímpico, Rio de Janeiro. Ao todo, serão sete dias de shows: 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 e 11 de setembro. As apresentações acontecem em diferentes palcos, todos a céu aberto, o que gera uma grande preocupação: será que vai chover?
O Rock in Rio 2022 será a segunda edição seguida do evento que não contará com a parceria da produção com a Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral (FCCC), entidade esotérica que diz controlar o clima.
Ana Avila, meteorologista da Cepagri/Unicamp, afirma a Splash, assim como em 2019, quem for ao evento pode precisar separar o dinheiro da capa de chuva.
Ana explicou que os primeiros três dias de festival devem ter um clima mais seco. “O tempo é bom, ensolarado.” No entanto, a partir do dia 8, pode ser que o público enfrente momentos não tão agradáveis.
“Há a possibilidade de pancadas de chuvas. De fazer sol, mas com pancadas de chuvas. Não tem como cravar se será de dia ou de noite, mas elas podem acontecer.”
“De forma geral, não há nada que possa impedir a atividade ou qualquer evento. O que pode acontecer são pancadas de chuvas. Quanto mais próximos chegarmos dos dias do Rock in Rio, podemos saber melhor as intensidades.”
Se a previsão da especialista se concretizar, os shows de Iron Maiden, Post Malone, Jason Derulo, Dream Theater, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber e outros que tocam nos primeiros dias de festival, acontecerão em uma noite sem chuva. Porém, os fãs de Guns N’ Roses, Green Day, Billy Idol, Coldplay, Dua Lipa e mais podem acabar se molhando durante as apresentações.
Quanto às temperaturas, Avila explica que nos primeiros dias elas podem variar entre 18ºC e 27ºC e, depois, a partir do dia 8 de setembro, em decorrência de nebulosidade e pancadas de chuvas, elas tendem a diminuir um pouco. “Ou seja, vai continuar calor, não vai haver uma amplitude muito grande. De noite, as mínimas serão de 19ºC e máxima de 22ºC.”
Sem parceria com Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral
Comandada pela médium Adelaide Scritori, que diz incorporar o espírito do Cacique Cobra Coral, entidade capaz de controlar o tempo, a fundação foi uma parceira histórica do Rock in Rio, além de ter mantido diversas colaborações com a prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro desde 2015 para, por exemplo, evitar fortes chuvas nas viradas de ano em Copacabana.
Procurada por Splash, a assessoria do Rock in Rio confirmou que não há mais a parceria com a FCCC. Ela foi questionada sobre o motivo do rompimento, mas até a publicação desta reportagem, não respondeu. A Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral também foi procurada, mas não respondeu nenhuma tentativa de contato.
Segundo reportagem do jornal Extra, Roberto Medina, o empresário responsável pelo evento, se desentendeu com a fundação depois que um grande temporal aconteceu em um dos dias do Rock in Rio de 2015.
À época, um representante da FCCC explicou que a médium se atrasou 30 minutos para chegar ao local do evento pois houve uma confusão com o adesivo do estacionamento. Quando finalmente conseguiram entrar, a chuva já tinha começado.
Elton Alisson, de Itatiba | Agência FAPESP – Além de temas emergentes e próprios de seu campo de estudo, como mudanças no mundo do trabalho, inclusão e migrações internacionais, as Ciências Sociais podem contribuir para o avanço do conhecimento sobre questões intrinsecamente relacionadas com as Ciências Naturais, como a crise climática e a perda da biodiversidade global.
Por meio de estudos de percepção pública conduzidos por pesquisadores da área, por exemplo, é possível entender melhor os fatores que influenciam parte da sociedade a não reconhecer os riscos desses problemas ambientais a despeito de todas as evidências científicas, avaliou Elisa Reis, professora do Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências Sociais da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), em palestra proferida na terça-feira (23/08), durante a Escola FAPESP 60 anos: Humanidades, Ciências Sociais e Artes.
O evento, que começou domingo (21/08) e terminou ontem (24/08) em Itatiba, no interior de São Paulo, reuniu 53 pesquisadores em início de carreira para assistir conferências e interagir com especialistas de renome em suas áreas.
“Se os humanos não perceberem a gravidade não será possível superar as ameaças apresentadas pela crise climática. E na questão da perda da biodiversidade, muitos pesquisadores têm apontado que a grande lacuna para avançar no combate a esse problema é que falta convencer as pessoas comuns sobre sua importância”, afirmou Reis.
“As Ciências Sociais podem colaborar com o entendimento sobre percepção pública”, apontou a pesquisadora, que tem se dedicado a estudar ao longo das últimas décadas temas como estados nacionais, cidadania, elites, desigualdades sociais e políticas públicas.
A constatação da importância crescente da percepção pública para avançar no entendimento não só dessas questões, como também de outros problemas emergentes, entre eles o negacionismo científico, estimulou a pesquisadora a mudar mais recentemente seu foco de pesquisa.
“Estou conduzindo no momento estudos sobre confiança pública, mais especificamente sobre como as pessoas percebem as instituições e uns aos outros, relacionando isso com desigualdade, que é o meu tema base de pesquisa”, disse.
Algumas evidências já observadas pela cientista política é que a confiança e a desigualdade são questões interativas. “A seta causal da confiança começa na desigualdade”, afirmou Reis.
Nova agenda de pesquisa
De acordo com a pesquisadora, a desigualdade foi um dos temas que se destacaram na agenda de pesquisa nas Ciências Sociais no século 20. Em razão da continuidade do problema, segue sendo um objeto de pesquisa relevante.
“Até recentemente, o contrário de igualdade era diferença. Durante muito tempo, isso permaneceu líquido e certo até que o ressurgimento das diferenças e de demandas específicas introduziu as tensões que observamos atualmente e que se constituem em problemas que as Ciências Sociais precisam se debruçar”, apontou.
Entre esses novos problemas estão as migrações internacionais – em que há uma superposição das questões de diferença e de desigualdade; identidade, inclusão e revolução nas comunicações e nas formas de interação social. Completam a lista de temas os fluxos financeiros, mudanças no mundo do trabalho, crises sistêmicas e os problemas ambientais e crises globais, elencou Reis.
“As Ciências Sociais são ciências históricas. Nesse sentido, os problemas que estudamos, por mais particulares que sejam, são influenciados pelo ambiente em que vivemos”, disse.
A pesquisadora destacou que as Ciências Sociais têm sido mais reconhecidas como ciência. Um dos indicativos nesse sentido foi a integração recente dos Conselhos Internacionais de Ciências e de Ciências Sociais. A junção das duas entidades deu origem ao Conselho Internacional de Ciência, do qual Reis foi vice-presidente.
“Todas as ciências são sociais, uma vez que todos os cientistas têm função social”, ponderou.
Risco de tempestades não se confirmou, e mídia ligada a Orbán liderou críticas a agência
Dirigentes do Serviço Nacional de Meteorologia da Hungria foram demitidas depois de uma previsão de chuvas fortes levar o governo nacionalista de Viktor Orbán a cancelar um tradicional show de fogos de artifício em Budapeste no último fim de semana.
As informações são da agência de notícias Associated Press. O espetáculo, realizado anualmente em homenagem ao Dia de Santo Estevão, estava marcado para a noite do sábado (20). O show húngaro nessa data é tido como um dos maiores da Europa, o que explica o apreço do premiê pelo evento.
Naquela tarde, no entanto, o governo anunciou o cancelamento da festividade por orientação do serviço de meteorologia, que previa “condições climáticas extremas” para cerca de 21h.
Em vez de avançar sobre a capital como previsto, porém, a tempestade mudou de direção, restringindo-se ao leste da Hungria. Budapeste continuou seca.
O Serviço Nacional de Meteorologia publicou um pedido de desculpas nas redes sociais no domingo (21), afirmando que certo nível de incerteza faz parte da meteorologia, mas na segunda (22) o ministro de Inovação de Orbán, Laszlo Palkovics, demitiu a chefe e a vice da agência. Kornelia Radics dirigia o serviço desde 2013, e tinha Gyula Horvath como braço direito desde 2016.
Embora Palkovics não tenha dado uma razão oficial para as demissões, a agência meteorológica foi duramente criticada por meios de comunicação alinhados a Orbán. Eles afirmam que o “grave erro” do serviço causou um adiamento desnecessário.
Agências de notícias destacaram, porém, que parcela considerável de húngaros se opunha à escala e ao custo da explosão dos fogos, em especial num momento delicado como o atual, de crise econômica e Guerra da Ucrânia. Uma petição pedindo o cancelamento do espetáculo e um uso mais pragmático de sua verba reuniu quase 200 mil assinaturas.
Ainda segundo a Associated Press, o espetáculo buscaria mostrar de forma resumida os mil anos desde o nascimento da Hungria cristã até os dias de hoje, focando valores nacionais caros à plataforma de Orbán. O lançamento dos fogos foi remarcado para o próximo sábado (27).
Nesta terça (23), a agência de meteorologia publicou uma nota exigindo a readmissão das chefes demitidas. O órgão afirma que está sob “pressão política” no que se refere aos modelos usados para a previsão do tempo no feriado e que os responsáveis por pressioná-los “ignoram incertezas cientificamente aceitas inerentes à previsão do tempo”.
“Elite Capture”, do filósofo nigeriano-americano Olúfémi O. Táíwò, é um livro interessante. O texto é daqueles bem militantes, contrastando um pouco por minha preferência por obras mais analíticas. Mas Táíwò, que é professor na Universidade Georgetown, levanta problemas relevantes, que frequentemente passam despercebidos.
Para Táíwò, está tudo dominado. Para início de conversa, as estruturas sociais são desenhadas para sempre favorecer as elites. É o que ele chama de capitalismo racial. Mas, como se isso não bastasse, vemos agora essas mesmas elites se apropriando da política de identidade, originalmente um movimento de resistência, para fazer avançar seus interesses, num fenômeno que o autor batizou de política de deferência.
Hoje, a fina flor do capitalismo mundial, isto é, grandes bancos e “big techs”, não só encampa o discurso identitário como também promove a elite dos grupos marginalizados a posições privilegiadas. Os diretamente envolvidos ganham. Os empresários sinalizam sua virtude, os promovidos ficam com a promoção, mas a maior parte dos marginalizados continua marginalizada. No Brasil, as cotas em universidades fazem um pouco isso. A sociedade fica com a sensação de dever cumprido por ter instituído essa política e os bons estudantes negros ganham vagas em boas escolas. Mas os mais discriminados, isto é, o garoto negro que não consegue concluir o ensino fundamental e acaba em subempregos ou no crime, continua quase tão discriminado quanto seus trisavós escravizados.
O que me incomodou no livro é que Táíwò não deixa muito espaço para respostas que difiram da sua. Precisamos necessariamente ver os empresários como cínicos tentando faturar em cima dos movimentos identitários? Não dá para imaginar que um “capitalista” considere o racismo imoral e esteja disposto a agir contra ele, embora sem deflagrar um movimento revolucionário, que é o que o autor cobra?
Crise climática impacta chuvas, e dois terços do país enfrentam problemas no fornecimento de água
Maria Abi-Habib e Bryan Avelar
7 de agosto de 2022
O México —ou grande parte do país— está ficando sem água. Uma seca extrema tem deixado as torneiras secas, e quase dois terços dos municípios enfrentam escassez que vem obrigando as pessoas a encarar horas em filas para entregas de água feitas pelo governo em alguns locais.
A falta d’água está tão grave que moradores já fizeram barreiras em rodovias e sequestraram funcionários para exigir mais carregamentos. Os números são mesmo assustadores: em julho, 8 dos 32 estados enfrentaram estiagem de extrema a moderada, levando 1.546 dos 2.463 municípios a enfrentar cortes no fornecimento, segundo a Comissão Nacional de Água.
Em meados de julho, a seca atingia 48% do território do México —no ano passado, a situação afetou 28% do país.
A crise está especialmente aguda em Monterrey, um dos centros econômicos mais importantes do México, com uma região metropolitana de 5 milhões de habitantes. Alguns bairros estão sem água há 75 dias, levando escolas a fechar as portas antes das férias de verão. Um jornalista percorreu várias lojas à procura de água potável, incluindo um supermercado Walmart, em vão.
Baldes estão em falta no comércio ou são vendidos a preços astronômicos, enquanto os habitantes juntam recipientes para coletar a água distribuída por caminhões enviados aos bairros mais afetados. Alguns usam latas de lixo limpas, e crianças lutam para ajudar a carregar a água.
A crise afeta inclusive as regiões de alta renda. “Aqui a gente tem que sair à caça de água”, diz Claudia Muñiz, 38, cuja família frequentemente tem passado uma semana sem água corrente. “Num momento de desespero, as pessoas explodem.”
Monterrey fica no norte do México e viu sua população crescer nos últimos anos, acompanhando o boom econômico. O clima tipicamente árido da região não ajuda a suprir as necessidades da população, e a crise climática reduz as chuvas já escassas.
Hoje os moradores podem caminhar sobre o leito da represa da barragem de Cerro Prieto, que no passado era uma das maiores fontes de água da cidade e uma importante atração turística, com animados restaurantes à beira da água, pesca, passeios de barco e esqui aquático.
A chuva que caiu em julho em partes do estado de Nuevo León, que faz divisa com o Texas e cuja capital é Monterrey, representou apenas 10% da média mensal registrada desde 1960, segundo Juan Ignacio Barragán Villareal, diretor-geral da agência local de recursos hídricos. “Nem uma gota caiu no estado inteiro em março”, diz. Foi o primeiro março sem chuvas desde que se começou a registrar esses dados, em 1960.
Hoje o governo distribui 9 milhões de litros de água por dia para 400 bairros. O motorista de caminhão-pipa Alejandro Casas conta que, quando começou na função há cinco anos, ajudava os bombeiros e era chamado uma ou duas vezes por mês para levar água a um local incendiado. Ele passava muitos dias de trabalho apenas olhando para o telefone.
Mas desde janeiro ele trabalha sem parar, fazendo até dez viagens por dia, para suprir cerca de 200 famílias a cada vez. Quando ele chega a um local, uma longa fila já serpenteia pelas ruas. Pessoas levam recipientes que comportam até 200 litros e passam a tarde sob o sol para receber água só à meia-noite —e ela pode ser a única entregue por até uma semana.
Ninguém policia as filas, por isso é comum ocorrerem brigas, com moradores de outras comunidades tentando se infiltrar. Em maio o caminhão de Casas foi assaltado por jovens que subiram no assento do passageiro e o ameaçaram, exigindo que ele levasse o veículo ao bairro deles. “Se a gente não fosse para onde eles queriam, iam nos sequestrar.”
Casas seguiu a ordem, encheu os baldes dos moradores e foi libertado.
Maria de los Angeles, 45, nasceu e cresceu em Ciénega de Flores, cidade próxima a Monterrey. Ela diz que a crise está afetando sua família e seu negócio. “Nunca antes vi isso. Só temos água nas torneiras a cada quatro ou cinco dias”, diz.
O viveiro de plantas de jardim é a única fonte de renda de sua família e requer mais água do que a que chega apenas ocasionalmente às torneiras. “Toda semana sou obrigada a comprar um tanque que me custa 1.200 pesos [R$ 300] de um fornecedor particular”, diz. É metade de sua receita semanal. “Não aguento mais.”
Pequenos e microempresários como ela estão frustrados por serem abandonados à própria sorte, enquanto as grandes indústrias podem operar quase normalmente: as fábricas conseguem receber 50 milhões de metros cúbicos de água por ano, devido a concessões federais que lhes garantem acesso especial aos aquíferos da cidade.
O governo está tendo dificuldade em responder à crise. Para tentar mitigar estiagens futuras, o estado está investindo US$ 97 milhões na construção de uma estação de tratamento de águas servidas e pretende comprar água de uma estação de dessalinização em construção num estado vizinho. Também gastou US$ 82 milhões para alugar mais caminhões, pagar motoristas adicionais e cavar mais poços.
O governador de Nuevo León, Samuel García, recentemente exortou o mundo a agir em conjunto para combater a crise climática. “Ela nos alcançou”, escreveu no Twitter. “Hoje precisamos cuidar do ambiente, é uma questão de vida ou morte.”
On-site in New York City: July 18 to 29, 2022 – 9 AM to 12 PM EDT
The Comitas Institute for Anthropological Study (CIFAS) is pleased to announce the 15th CIFAS Field School in Ethnographic Research Methods. In 2022, the course returns to its face-to-face modality in New York City. Classes will meet at Teachers College, Columbia University.
The Field School aims to offer training in the foundations and practice of ethnographic methods. The faculty works closely with participants to identify the required field methods to address their academic or professional needs. The Field School is suitable for graduate and undergraduate students in social sciences and other fields of study that use qualitative approaches (such as education, communication, cultural studies, health, social work, human ecology, development studies, and consumer behavior, among others), applied social scientists, professionals, and researchers who have an interest in learning more about ethnographic methods and their applications.
o Foundations of ethnographic research
o Theory and practice: social theories in the field
o Research design
o Data collection techniques
o Planning the logistics of field research
o Digital ethnography
o Ethnography in interface with Social Network Analysis and other trends in the field of the digital humanities
o Ethnography in specific fields of activity (applied social sciences, health, social service, environmental studies, public policy design, business, and others)
o Principles of organization and indexation of field data
o Analyzing field data; qualitative analysis software packages: basic principles
The total workload of the course is 30 hours. In this edition of the summer school, the option of earning credits is not available.
Coordinator: Renzo Taddei (Ph.D., Columbia University, 2005) – see bio.
Places are limited. The tuition fee is US$ 1,200. Comitas Field School Fellowship: a limited amount of fellowships are available to students from underrepresented minorities and low-income countries. See information on how to apply at the end of the application form.
In a 2018 survey, over half of a sample of Americans reported a psi experience; a 2022 Brazilian survey revealed 70% had a precognitive dream.
Some scientists will not engage with the evidence for psi due to scientism.
The ideology of “scientism” is often associated with science, but leads to a lack of open-mindedness, which is contrary to true science.
Psi phenomena, like telepathy and precognition, are controversial in academia. While a minority of academics (such as me) are open-minded about them, others believe that they are pseudo-scientific and that they can’t possibly exist because they contravene the laws of science.
However, the phenomena are much less controversial to the general public. Surveys show significant levels of belief in psi. A survey of 1200 Americans in 2003 found that over 60% believed in extrasensory perception.1
This high level of belief appears to stem largely from experience. In a 2018 survey, half of a sample of Americans reported they had an experience of feeling “as though you were in touch with someone when they were far away.” Slightly less than half reported an experience of knowing “something about the future that you had no normal way to know” (in other words, precognition). Just over 40% reported that they had received important information through their dreams.2
Interestingly, a 2022 survey of over 1000 Brazilian people found higher levels of such anomalous experiences, with 70% reporting they had a precognitive dream at least once.3 This may imply that such experiences are more likely to be reported in Brazil, perhaps due to a cultural climate of greater openness.
How can we account for the disconnect between the dismissal of psi phenomena by some scientists, and the openness of the general population? Is it that scientists are more educated and rational than other sections of the population, many of whom are gullible to superstition and irrational thinking?
I don’t think it’s as simple as this.
Evidence for Psi
You might be surprised to learn that the evidence for phenomena such as telepathy and precognition is strong. As I point out in my book, Spiritual Science, this evidence has remained significant and robust over a massive range of studies over decades.
In 2018, American Psychologist published an article by Professor Etzel Cardeña which carefully and systemically reviewed the evidence for psi phenomena, examining over 750 discrete studies. Cardeña concluded that there was a very strong case for the existence of psi, writing that the evidence was “comparable to that for established phenomena in psychology and other disciplines.”4
For example, from 1974 to 2018, 117 experiments were reported using the “Ganzfeld” procedure, in which one participant attempts to “send” information about images to another distant person. An overall analysis of the results showed a “hit rate” many millions of times higher than chance. Factors such as selective reporting bias (the so-called “file drawer effect”) and variations in experimental quality could not account for the results. Moreover, independent researchers reported statistically identical results.5
So why do some scientists continue to believe that there is no evidence for psi? In my view, the explanation lies in an ideology that could be called “scientism.”
Scientism is an ideology that is often associated with science. It consists of a number of basic ideas, which are often stated as facts, even though they are just assumptions—e.g., that the world is purely physical in nature, that human consciousness is a product of brain activity, that human beings are biological machines whose behaviour is determined by genes, that anomalous phenomena such as near-death experiences and psi are unreal, and so on.
Adherents to scientism see themselves as defenders of reason. They see themselves as part of a historical “enlightenment project” whose aim is to overcome superstition and irrationality. In particular, they see themselves as opponents of religion.
It’s therefore ironic that scientism has become a quasi-religion in itself. In their desire to spread their ideology, adherents to scientism often behave like religious zealots, demonising unwelcome ideas and disregarding any evidence that doesn’t fit with their worldview. They apply their notion of rationality in an extremist way, dismissing any phenomena outside their belief system as “woo.” Scientifically evidential phenomena such as telepathy and precognition are placed in the same category as creationism and conspiracy theories.
One example was a response to Eztel Cardeña’s American Psychologist article (cited above) by the longstanding skeptics Arthur Reber and James Alcock. Aiming to rebut Cardeña’s claims of the strong evidence for psi, they decided that their best approach was not to actually engage with the evidence, but simply to insist that it couldn’t possibly be valid because psi itself was theoretically impossible. As they wrote, “Claims made by parapsychologists cannot be true … Hence, data that suggest that they can are necessarily flawed and result from weak methodology or improper data analyses.”6
A similar strategy was used by the psychologist Marija Branković in a recent paper in The European Journal of Psychology. After discussing a series of highly successful precognition studies by the researcher Daryl Bem, she dismisses them because three investigators were unable to replicate the findings.7 Branković neglects to mention that there have been 90 other replication attempts with a massively significant overall success rate, exceeding the standard of “decisive evidence” by a factor of 10 million.8
It’s worth considering for a moment whether psi really does contravene the laws of physics (or science), as many adherents to scientism suggest. For me, this is one of the most puzzling claims made by skeptics. Tellingly, the claim is often made by psychologists, whose knowledge of modern science may not be deep.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of some of the theories of modern physics—particularly quantum physics—is aware that reality is much stranger than it appears to common sense. There are many theories that suggest that our common-sense view of linear time may be false. There are many theories that suggest that our world is essentially “non-local,” including phenomena such as “entanglement” and “action at a distance.” I think it would be too much of a stretch to suggest that such theories explain precognition and telepathy, but they certainly allow for their possibility.
A lot of people assume that if you’re a scientist, then you must automatically subscribe to scientism. But in fact, scientism is the opposite of true science. The academics who dismiss psi on the grounds that it “can’t possibly be true” are behaving in the same way as the fundamentalist Christians who refuse to consider the evidence for evolution. Skeptics who refuse to engage with the evidence for telepathy or precognition are acting in the same way as the contemporaries of Galileo who refused to look through his telescope, unwilling to face the possibility that their beliefs may need to be revised.
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“No começo do mundo, o céu caiu e matou o primeiro povo que nasceu. Nós somos o segundo povo, aquele que segurou o céu e pôde sobreviver”, ele disse, não sem antes ressaltar que o risco de uma nova queda é iminente.
Lançado em 2015, “A Queda do Céu” ocupa o segundo lugar no projeto 200 anos, 200 livros, que indicou importantes obras para entender o Brasil.
“Kopenawa reitera que os yanomami defendem a terra ‘porque desejam continuar vivendo nela como antigamente’”, diz a poeta e crítica literária Graça Graúna, uma das intelectuais convidadas pelo projeto.
“Que assim seja porque as palavras dos espíritos estão gravadas no mais fundo do seu pensamento e que, pela força de Omana (o Criador), essas palavras se renovam no xamã o tempo todo.”
Thyago Nogueira, diretor do departamento de fotografia contemporânea do IMS (Instituto Moreira Salles) e editor-chefe da revista ZUM, também recomenda o livro.
“O líder e xamã reinventa a compreensão do Brasil ao narrar a origem do mundo e de tudo o que é vivo, os fundamentos de sua civilização, sua luta incansável contra o genocídio e a falácia destrutiva da ideia de desenvolvimento promovida pelo ‘povo da mercadoria’”, ele escreveu.
Leia a seguir comentários dos curadores que indicaram “A Queda do Céu”.
Cantora, foi a primeira jornalista indígena Tikuna formada no estado do Amazonas
“A obra é uma esplêndida sessão xamânica guiada pelo líder yanomami Davi Kopenawa. O livro aborda elementos da cultura yanomami, sua visão de mundo, a importância das práticas xamânicas para a saúde do universo, um testemunho que vem da floresta com a legitimidade de seus espíritos.
Outra parte da obra narra a relação com os brancos: como estes lidam com a terra, a exploração do ouro e as doenças trazidas com os garimpeiros. Também é uma autobiografia de Kopenawa, uma das maiores lideranças indígenas do país, com reconhecimento internacional por sua luta em defesa da Amazônia.”
Escritor, roteirista e tradutor de livros e quadrinhos, é autor da novela “Ninguém Nasce Herói”
“Registrado ao longo de anos pelo etnólogo Bruce Albert, o livro reúne relatos do xamã yanomami Davi Kopenawa, contando da sua preparação para se tornar xamã a seu ativismo pela demarcação de terras dos yanomami e preservação das florestas.
Por meio de um potente relato, aprendemos sobre os costumes, a cosmologia e a riqueza da cultura do povo Yanomami. Aprendemos ainda sobre o rastro de violência, destruição e doenças deixado pelo contato com missionários religiosos, garimpeiros e construtores de estradas.”
É uma das criadoras da editora Fósforo e da livraria Megafauna; foi curadora da Flip
“Livro escrito a partir do relato do xamã e porta-voz dos yanomami, Davi Kopenawa, ao etnólogo francês Bruce Albert, que tiveram mais de 30 anos de convivência.
A obra é uma mistura de relato autobiográfico, história do impacto da chegada dos brancos —destruição, doença, violência—, xamanismo e cosmologia dos povos da floresta, e ainda uma mirada para o futuro e a importância da preservação da Amazônia.”
Indígena potiguara, é poeta e crítica literária, autora de “Tessituras da Terra”
“Uma das temáticas do xamã Davi Kopenawa é a floresta. Na parte introdutória do livro, ele diz que gosta de explicar para os ‘brancos’ a importância dos saberes ancestrais e espera que os não indígenas parem de pensar que a floresta é morta e que ela foi posta lá à toa. O xamã explica que os não indígenas precisam ‘escutar a voz dos ‘xapiri’ (espíritos), que ali brincam sem parar, dançando sobre os seus espelhos resplandecentes (os rios, os lagos).
Kopenawa reitera que os yanomami defendem a terra ‘porque desejam continuar vivendo nela como antigamente’. Que assim seja porque as palavras dos espíritos estão gravadas no mais fundo do seu pensamento e que, pela força de Omana (o Criador), essas palavras se renovam no xamã o tempo todo.”
“‘A Queda do Céu’ é um organismo vivo, como uma ‘pele de imagens’ –é assim que os yanomami se referem a documentos escritos diversos.
Centrado na vida do xamã e ativista yanomami Davi Kopenawa, na cosmologia de seu povo e atravessando a história do genocídio dos povos indígenas, desde a invasão europeia no continente americano até os nossos dias, o livro é a revelação do que poderíamos ter sido se tivéssemos sensibilidade para escutar o que os povos originários tinham –e ainda têm!– a nos dizer.”
Joel Zito Araújo
Diretor de filmes como “A Negação do Brasil” e “As Filhas do Vento”
“É um manifesto, um livro autobiográfico e um modo de ver que se faz cada vez mais urgente: como viver com a floresta, com a diversidade de cultura e de povos, e como reaprender a pensar a terra e ajudar a salvar o planeta, a partir da imensa sabedoria ancestral dos povos indígenas.”
José Celso Martinez Corrêa
Diretor do Teatro Oficina
“O xamã Davi Kopenawa gravou em yanomami com o etnólogo francês, Bruce Albert, sua vida nas lutas com seu povo contra a cegueira do ‘mercado’. Esse livro revela o povo índio sujeito, com cultura xamânica que se aconselha com os ‘xapiri’, espíritos da floresta.
O livro é ‘manifesto xamânico’, revelando, nessa autobiografia, a luta pela floresta em pé, impedindo que a mineração envenene rios nos territórios sagrados. Demonstra que o desequilíbrio da terra pelo arrancar brutal de suas entranhas poderá trazer nosso fim: ‘A Queda do Céu’.”
Lia Vainer Schucman
Professora da UFSC e autora de “Entre o Encardido, o Branco e o Branquíssimo”
“A violência, a destruição e a queda do céu estão assertivamente associados ao ‘povo da mercadoria’. O livro revela o que nomeamos como desenvolvimento e progresso como o fim de outros mundos. Um olhar para a violência colonial a partir daquele que há 500 anos vem sendo destruído por ela. Um livro de entrada para outros Brasis.”
Historiadora e antropóloga, é professora da USP, cofundadora da Companhia das Letras e autora de mais de uma dezena de livros
“Os relatos desse importante líder yanomani foram registrados pelo etnólogo e amigo de mais de 30 anos, Bruce Albert. O livro traz a história de Kopenawa e suas meditações enquanto xamã diante, sobretudo, da atitude predadora dos brancos, com a qual seu povo sofre desde os primeiros contatos nos anos 1960.”
Luiz Eloy Terena
Coordenador da assessoria jurídica da Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Apib)
“O livro registra a vida e os pensamentos do líder e xamã yanomami, que é uma das personalidades indígenas brasileiras mais conhecidas no mundo hoje.
Kopenawa tem sido um porta-voz dos povos da Amazônia que lutam contra as novas invasões coloniais, representadas pela mineração, pela extração de madeira, pelo agronegócio e pelas grandes hidrelétricas.”
Manuela Carneiro da Cunha
Antropóloga, professora titular aposentada da USP e autora de “Cultura com Aspas” e “Negros, Estrangeiros”
“Este livro é uma obra-prima. Tornou possível –graças à longa amizade entre dois homens, ao conhecimento de um antropólogo da língua e do mundo dos yanomami, e à grande inteligência e sensibilidade de ambos os interlocutores– ter acesso como nunca antes a um universo de entrada muito difícil, o pensamento filosófico de um xamã e líder político de primeira grandeza.
É um diálogo de qualidade excepcional, que coloca em novo patamar o ofício do antropólogo e que revela com clareza como Davi Kopenawa interpreta e julga o Brasil contemporâneo.”
Mestre em educação e assessor jurídico da Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Apib)
“É uma obra que nos permite visualizar como o genocídio marca a história da formação do Estado brasileiro, nos despertando uma reflexão ímpar em alguns momentos da leitura, trazendo uma angústia pela história não contada dos brasileiros que aqui estavam antes de Pindorama se tornar Brasil.”
Romancista e tradutor, é autor de livros como “Dois Irmãos” e “Pontos de Fuga”
“Durante 12 anos, Bruce Albert conversou em yanomami com o xamã Davi Kopenawa. As conversas, gravadas e anotadas, foram traduzidas e editadas por Albert. Trata-se de um belíssimo e fecundo ‘pacto etnográfico’ entre o xamã e o antropólogo.
Kopenawa fala de sua vida, de sua sabedoria xamânica, de sua experiência no mundo dos brancos, da cosmologia e da história dos yanomami. Uma história que tem resistido a muitas tragédias: doenças transmitidas pelos brancos, ingerência nefasta de missionários evangélicos e sucessivas invasões das terras indígenas por garimpeiros.
Uma dessas invasões culminou no massacre de Haximu, em meados de 1993. É preciso conhecer, valorizar e defender a história material e espiritual dos povos originários do Brasil, essa pátria cada vez mais armada que amada.”
Artista visual, curadora e ativista
“Um livro essencial para quem quiser entender melhor a noção de desenvolvimento e progresso do capitalismo, como o avanço dos brancos na floresta tem ocasionado as epidemias, as violências e a grande crise climática que estamos vivendo –tudo isso a partir da visão de um líder xamã yanomami.
A partir de seus relatos, que são transcritos por Bruce Albert, Davi nos conta sobre todas as violências que seu povo vem sofrendo desde os anos 1960 e nos alerta, em um tom profético, que quando o último xamã da Amazônia morrer, o céu cairá sobre todos e será o fim do mundo.”
Editor na Companhia das Letras e autor de “Se Liga no Som”
“Fruto de uma colaboração de mais de duas décadas com o antropólogo Bruce Albert, ‘A Queda do Céu’ registra em primeira pessoa a vida e o pensamento do xamã yanomami Davi Kopenawa. O feito, inédito, fez do livro um divisor de águas na antropologia e na filosofia.”
Curador e editor, dirige o departamento de fotografia contemporânea do IMS (Instituto Moreira Salles) e é editor-chefe da revista ZUM
“Com 736 páginas, este livro é pequeno diante de sua importância monumental. Nele, o líder e xamã Davi Kopenawa reinventa a compreensão do Brasil ao narrar a origem do mundo e de tudo o que é vivo, os fundamentos de sua civilização, sua luta incansável contra o genocídio e a falácia destrutiva da ideia de desenvolvimento promovida pelo ‘povo da mercadoria’.
Com alta densidade mitológica, literária e visual, Kopenawa nos oferece a chance única de repensar a centralidade de nossa existência e evitar que o céu desabe sobre o futuro do país e do mundo.”
Isabelle Qian, Muyi Xiao, Paul Mozur, Alexander Cardia
Times reporters spent over a year combing through government bidding documents that reveal the country’s technological road map to ensure the longevity of its authoritarian rule.
June 21, 2022
China’s ambition to collect a staggering amount of personal data from everyday citizens is more expansive than previously known, a Times investigation has found. Phone-tracking devices are now everywhere. The police are creating some of the largest DNA databases in the world. And the authorities are building upon facial recognition technology to collect voice prints from the general public.
The Times’s Visual Investigations team and reporters in Asia spent over a year analyzing more than a hundred thousand government bidding documents. They call for companies to bid on the contracts to provide surveillance technology, and include product requirements and budget size, and sometimes describe at length the strategic thinking behind the purchases. Chinese laws stipulate that agencies must keep records of bids and make them public, but in reality the documents are scattered across hard-to-search web pages that are often taken down quickly without notice. ChinaFile, a digital magazine published by the Asia Society, collected the bids and shared them exclusively with The Times.
This unprecedented access allowed The Times to study China’s surveillance capabilities. The Chinese government’s goal is clear: designing a system to maximize what the state can find out about a person’s identity, activities and social connections, which could ultimately help the government maintain its authoritarian rule.
Here are the investigation’s major revelations.
Chinese police analyze human behaviors to ensure facial recognition cameras capture as much activity as possible.
Analysts estimate that more than half of the world’s nearly one billion surveillance cameras are in China, but it had been difficult to gauge how they were being used, what they captured and how much data they generated. The Times analysis found that the police strategically chose locations to maximize the amount of data their facial recognition cameras could collect.
In a number of the bidding documents, the police said that they wanted to place cameras where people go to fulfill their common needs — like eating, traveling, shopping and entertainment. The police also wanted to install facial recognition cameras inside private spaces, like residential buildings, karaoke lounges and hotels. In one instance, the investigation found that the police in the city of Fuzhou in the southeast province of Fujian wanted to install a camera inside the lobby of a franchise location of the American hotel brand Days Inn. The hotel’s front desk manager told The Times that the camera did not have facial recognition capabilities and was not feeding videos into the police network.
A document shows that the police in Fuzhou also demanded access to cameras inside a Sheraton hotel. In an email to The Times, Tricia Primrose, a spokeswoman for the hotel’s parent company, Marriott International, said that in 2019 the local government requested surveillance footage, and that the company adheres to local regulations, including those that govern cooperation with law enforcement.
These cameras also feed data to powerful analytical software that can tell someone’s race, gender and whether they are wearing glasses or masks. All of this data is aggregated and stored on government servers. One bidding document from Fujian Province gives an idea of the sheer size: The police estimated that there were 2.5 billion facial images stored at any given time. In the police’s own words, the strategy to upgrade their video surveillance system was to achieve the ultimate goal of “controlling and managing people.”
Authorities are using phone trackers to link people’s digital lives to their physical movements.
Devices known as WiFi sniffers and IMSI catchers can glean information from phones in their vicinity, which allow the police to track a target’s movements. It’s a powerful tool to connect one’s digital footprint, real-life identity and physical whereabouts.
The phone trackers can sometimes take advantage of weak security practices to extract private information. In a 2017 bidding document from Beijing, the police wrote that they wanted the trackers to collect phone owners’ usernames on popular Chinese social media apps. In one case, the bidding documents revealed that the police from a county in Guangdong bought phone trackers with the hope of detecting a Uyghur-to-Chinese dictionary app on phones. This information would indicate that the phone most likely belonged to someone who is a part of the heavily surveilled and oppressed Uyghur ethnic minority. The Times found a dramatic expansion of this technology by Chinese authorities over the past seven years. As of today, all 31 of mainland China’s provinces and regions use phone trackers.
DNA, iris scan samples and voice prints are being collected indiscriminately from people with no connection to crime.
The police in China are starting to collect voice prints using sound recorders attached to their facial recognition cameras. In the southeast city of Zhongshan, the police wrote in a bidding document that they wanted devices that could record audio from at least a 300-foot radius around cameras. Software would then analyze the voice prints and add them to a database. Police boasted that when combined with facial analysis, they could help pinpoint suspects faster.
In the name of tracking criminals — which are often loosely defined by Chinese authorities and can include political dissidents — the Chinese police are purchasing equipment to build large-scale iris-scan and DNA databases.
The first regionwide iris database — which has the capacity to hold iris samples of up to 30 million people — was built around 2017 in Xinjiang, home to the Uyghur ethnic minority. Online news reports show that the same contractor later won other government contracts to build large databases across the country. The company did not respond to The Times’s request for comment.
The Chinese police are also widely collecting DNA samples from men. Because the Y chromosome is passed down with few mutations, when the police have the y-DNA profile of one man, they also have that of a few generations along the paternal lines in his family. Experts said that while many other countries use this trait to aid criminal investigations, China’s approach stands out with its singular focus on collecting as many samples as possible.
We traced the earliest effort to build large male DNA databases to Henan Province in 2014. By 2022, bidding documents analyzed by The Times showed that at least 25 out of 31 provinces and regions had built such databases.
The government wants to connect all of these data points to build comprehensive profiles for citizens — which are accessible throughout the government.
The Chinese authorities are realistic about their technological limitations. According to one bidding document, the Ministry of Public Security, China’s top police agency, believed the country’s video surveillance systems still lacked analytical capabilities. One of the biggest problems they identified was that the data had not been centralized.
The bidding documents reveal that the government actively seeks products and services to improve consolidation. The Times obtained an internal product presentation from Megvii, one of the largest surveillance contractors in China. The presentation shows software that takes various pieces of data collected about a person and displays their movements, clothing, vehicles, mobile device information and social connections.
In a statement to The Times, Megvii said it was concerned about making communities safer and “not about monitoring any particular group or individual.” But the Times investigation found that this product was already being used by Chinese police. It creates the type of personal dossier authorities could generate for anyone, that could be made accessible to officials across the country.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to faxed requests for comment sent to its headquarters in Beijing, nor did five local police departments or a local government office named in the investigation.
The broadcaster thanked festival-goers for cutting their plastic use, after organisers banned single-use plastic bottles.
Thunberg spoke after an invigorating performance from rapper AJ Tracey, who opened his set with a powerful, angry message about the Grenfell Tower disaster.
In a pre-recorded video, the West London musician accused those responsible for the fire of “hiding behind a legal framework”, while young black men were being “arrested and convicted every day with haste for acts a lot less significant”.
“The worst thing of the whole situation is [that] Grenfell could happen again,” he continued.
“Our buildings are not safe and thousands of low-income people, people who grew up just like I did, go to bed every night not knowing if it’ll be their last. They tuck their children in at night and don’t know if they’ll wake up in flames.”
Tracey, who grew up in Ladbroke Grove, knows many of the victims, survivors and bereaved.
He ended his message by addressing the Prime Minister directly.
“Boris Johnson, I want to ask you a question: 72 of our friends and family are dead and there’s been zero arrests,” he said. “Why?”
The rapper went on to perform a muscular set of hip-hop, grime and 2-step, rearranging many of his songs to work with a live band.
“I’m hoping that the crowd are receptive to me trying to give them a different take on my usual set,” he told BBC News ahead of the performance.
He said his musical versatility came from his upbringing.
“My dad used to be a rapper, my mum used to be a DJ on the radio, playing jungle, house, garage… so I’ve got quite a mix.
“My mum’s Welsh and my dad’s from Trinidad – so the British sounds and the Caribbean sounds come into one, and I’ve been inspired by it.”
The star brought his mother to Glastonbury and she watched his show from the side of the Pyramid stage.
“She’s going to be rocking out, man. She’s my biggest fan,” he said.
“She doesn’t have a scrapbook but she’s a photographer so she takes loads of personal pictures and has her own little personal archive.”
Paul McCartney will headline the festival later on Saturday night, and is scheduled to play a marathon two-and-three-quarter hour set.
Fans arrived at the barriers in front of the Pyramid stage early on Saturday morning to make sure they had a front row seat for the show.
A ciência costuma ser desconcertante —às vezes, por razões menos evidentes.
Um exemplo é a famosa afirmação de que, se você colocar uma rã na água fervendo, ela saltará imediatamente, mas, ao se colocar em água morna e aumentar a temperatura gradualmente, ela não perceberá o perigo e será cozida até a morte.
Ela causa uma reação tão poderosa que gurus e políticos a usam com frequência para incentivar as pessoas a agirem. Mas alguns de nós perguntamos sempre que a ouvimos: qual cientista teve a ideia de colocar rãs em água fervente?
A resposta é: nenhum.
Embora pareça o resultado de uma experiência, o fato é que ela nunca aconteceu. Na verdade, especialistas afirmam que, assim que a temperatura a incomodasse, a rã colocada na água morna saltaria, mas não a outra, que morreria como qualquer outra criatura que caísse na água fervente.
Mas há um outro caso de estudo famoso que é igualmente perturbador. Ratos foram colocados em cilindros de água e observados enquanto se afogavam. Este estudo, sim, foi realizado —pelo biólogo, psicobiólogo e geneticista americano Curt Richter.
E, para quem pergunta “por quê?” quando ouve falar no experimento, antes de se preocupar com o resultado, o artigo de Richter publicado em 1957 pela revista Psychosomatic Medicine começa exatamente respondendo essa questão: “Estávamos estudando diferenças de reação ao estresse entre ratos selvagens e domesticados”.
Richter publicou seu artigo porque havia encontrado nos ratos um fenômeno similar ao estudado por Walter Cannon, um dos fisiologistas mais importantes do século 20.
No seu estudo publicado em 1942 com o título “Morte vodu”, Cannon mencionou vários casos de mortes súbitas, misteriosas e aparentemente psicogênicas, em várias partes do mundo, que ocorriam em até 24 horas após o indivíduo violar alguma norma social ou religiosa.
Ele relatou que “um indígena brasileiro condenado e sentenciado por um pajé, indefeso contra sua própria reação emocional a esse pronunciamento, faleceu em questão de horas (…) [e] uma maori neozelandesa que comeu uma fruta e posteriormente ficou sabendo que ela provinha de um lugar tabu morreu no dia seguinte, ao meio-dia”.
Depois de analisar minuciosamente essas evidências, Cannon ficou convencido de que esse fenômeno era real e perguntou-se: “Como um estado de medo sinistro e persistente pode acabar com a vida de um ser humano?”.
Richter explicou que a conclusão de Cannon foi de que a morte era consequência do estado de choque produzido pela liberação contínua de adrenalina. E acrescentou que, se isso for verdade, pode-se esperar que, nessas circunstâncias, a respiração dos indivíduos ficaria agitada e seu coração bateria cada vez mais rápido.
Isso “os conduziria gradualmente a um estado de contração constante e, em última instância, à morte em sístole”. Mas o estudo de Richter com ratos demonstrou exatamente o contrário.
Nadar ou afogar-se
No seu laboratório na Universidade Johns Hopkins, em Baltimore, nos Estados Unidos, Richter havia colocado ratos domesticados (ou seja, que nasceram, cresceram e iriam morrer em laboratório) em recipientes de vidro de onde não poderiam escapar. Ele queria observar por quanto tempo os ratos sobreviveriam nadando na água em diferentes temperaturas, antes de afogar-se.
Mas havia um problema: “Em todas as temperaturas, um pequeno número de ratos morreu entre cinco e dez minutos depois da imersão, enquanto, em alguns casos, outros aparentemente mais saudáveis nadaram até 81 horas”.
Era uma variação grande demais para que os resultados fossem significativos. Mas Richter afirmou que “a solução veio de uma fonte inesperada: a descoberta do fenômeno da morte súbita”.
Richter então alterou o experimento. Ele começou cortando os bigodes dos ratos, “possivelmente destruindo seu meio de contato mais importante com o mundo exterior”. E introduziu, além dos ratos domesticados, animais híbridos e outros recém-capturados nas ruas.
Enquanto a maioria dos ratos domesticados nadou entre 40 e 60 horas antes de morrer, os ratos híbridos (cruzamentos entre ratos domesticados e selvagens) “morreram muito antes desse tempo”.
Mas o mais surpreendente foi que os ratos selvagens, que costumam ser fortes e excelentes nadadores, afogaram-se em “1 a 15 minutos depois de sua imersão nos recipientes”.
Por quê? Cannon afirmava que as mortes súbitas aconteciam devido à grande quantidade de adrenalina liberada pelo estresse, que acelerava a respiração e os batimentos cardíacos.
Ocorre que os dados coletados por Richter indicavam que “os animais morriam por desaceleração do ritmo cardíaco e não por aceleração”. Ou seja, a respiração desacelerava e a temperatura do corpo diminuía, até que o coração deixava de bater.
Essa informação era valiosa, mas não foi ela que fez o experimento ficar tão famoso. Havia um outro ponto que não podia ser ignorado.
Ratos sem esperança
“O que mata esses ratos?”, era a pergunta de Richter. “Por que os ratos selvagens, ferozes e agressivos morrem rapidamente e isso não acontece com a maioria dos ratos mansos e domesticados, quando submetidos às mesmas condições?”
De fato, ele observou que alguns ratos selvagens morriam até mesmo antes de entrarem na água, ainda nas mãos dos pesquisadores.
Richter identificou dois fatores importantes:
– a restrição utilizada para reter os ratos selvagens, eliminando repentinamente qualquer esperança de fuga;
– o confinamento no frasco de vidro, que também eliminava qualquer possibilidade de fuga e, ao mesmo tempo, ameaçava-os com o afogamento imediato.
Em vez de disparar a reação de luta ou fuga, Richter estava observando a falta de esperança dos ratos.
“Estejam eles presos nas mãos [dos pesquisadores] ou confinados no recipiente para nadar, os ratos encontram-se em uma situação contra a qual não têm defesa. Esta reação de desesperança é exibida por alguns ratos selvagens muito pouco tempo depois de terem sido agarrados com a mão e impedidos de mover-se; parece que, literalmente, eles ‘se rendem’.”
Por outro lado, se o instinto de sobrevivência fosse disparado em todos os casos, por que os ratos domesticados pareciam convencidos de que, se continuassem nadando, poderiam acabar se salvando? Poderiam os ratos ter “convicções” diferentes e até esperança?
Richter voltou a alterar o experimento. Ele pegou ratos similares e os colocou no recipiente. Mas, pouco antes que morressem, ele os retirava, segurava por um momento, soltava e voltava a colocá-los na água em seguida.
“Assim”, escreveu ele, “os ratos aprendem rapidamente que a situação, na verdade, não é desesperadora; a partir daí, eles voltam a ser agressivos, tentam escapar e não dão sinais de dar-se por vencidos.”
Esse pequeno intervalo fazia muita diferença. Os ratos que experimentavam um breve respiro nadavam muito mais. Sabendo que a situação não estava perdida, que não estavam condenados e que uma mão amiga poderia vir salvá-los, eles lutavam para viver.
“Eliminando a desesperança, os ratos não morrem”, concluiu Richter.
Morte por convicção
A intenção de Richter era contribuir para a pesquisa da chamada morte vodu, que, segundo ele, não acontecia apenas em “culturas primitivas”, como havia ressaltado Cannon.
“Durante a guerra, foi informado um número considerável de mortes inexplicáveis entre os soldados das forças armadas deste país [os Estados Unidos]. Esses homens morreram com aparente boa saúde. Na autópsia, nenhuma patologia foi observada”, segundo ele.
“Neste ponto, também é interessante que, segundo R. S. Fisher, médico forense da cidade de Baltimore, diversas pessoas morrem todos os anos depois de tomar pequenas doses de veneno, definitivamente subletais, ou de infligir-se pequenas feridas não letais”, prossegue Richter, “eles aparentemente morrem por estarem convictos da sua morte”.
O experimento de Richter foi repetido milhares de vezes por laboratórios farmacêuticos para comprovar componentes antidepressivos, depois que, em 1977, o pesquisador Roger Porsolt descobriu que os ratos que recebiam esses componentes lutavam por mais tempo.
Graças às ações da organização protetora dos direitos dos animais Peta, a prática de colocar os ratos para nadar nos laboratórios foi consideravelmente reduzida. Mas as lições desse experimento cruel permanecem vivas na Psicologia.
Como o falso experimento com as rãs, o teste dos ratos ficou famoso além do seu ambiente natural de estudo, assim como a ideia de que a esperança dá a essas criaturas a força necessária para lutar por suas vidas em meio a uma situação desesperadora.
Leo, an 18-year-old rook, is playing mind games. It’s a street-corner classic – cups and balls. Only this time the venue is the Comparative Cognition Laboratory in Madingley, Cambridge, and the ball is a waxworm. Leo – poised, pointy, determined – is perched on a wooden platform eager to place his bet. A wriggling morsel is laid under one of three cups, the cups shuffled. Leo cocks his head and takes a stab. Success! He snatches the waxworm in his beak and retreats to enjoy his prize. Aristotle, a fellow resident donned in a glossy black feather coat, who has been at the aviary almost as long as the lab itself, looks on knowingly.
Watching alongside me is Professor Nicola Clayton, a psychologist who founded the lab 22 years ago, and we are joined by Francesca Cornero, 25, a PhD researcher (and occasional cups and balls technician). Clayton, 59, who is short, with blonde hair, large glasses and is wearing loose, black tango trousers, studies the cognitive abilities of both animals and humans, but is particularly known for her seminal research into the intelligence of corvids (birds in the crow family, which includes rooks, jays, magpies and ravens). Corvids have long proved to be at odds with the “bird-brain” stereotype endured by most feathered creatures and her lab, a cluster of four large aviaries tucked behind a thatched pub, has paved the way for new theories about the evolution and development of intelligence. Thanks to Clayton’s own eclectic tastes, which span consciousness to choreography (her other love, besides birds, is dance), the lab also engenders a curious synthesis of ideas drawn from both science and the arts.
For Clayton, who has hand-reared many of the 25 jays and four rooks that live at the lab herself, the birds are like family. She introduces me to Hoy and Romero, a pair of Eurasian jays, and greets her test subjects with affection. “Hello, sweetpeas,” she says, in a sing-song soprano. “I love you.” Hoy responds by blowing kisses: a squeaky mwah mwah. Many corvids, like parrots, can mimic human speech. One of Clayton’s fondest memories of the lab is when a young Romero said: “I love you,” back. To Clayton, the Comparative Cognition Lab is more than just an aviary, or a place of scientific research. It’s a “corvid palace”. And having presided over it for more than two decades, Clayton, undoubtedly, is its queen.
But all is not well in her kingdom. Last year she learned that the lab would not have its grant renewed by the European Research Council. Her application had been made amid the turmoil of Brexit and Clayton believes she is now among a growing number of academics facing funding complications as a result of the UK’s departure from the EU. The pandemic has only exacerbated the challenge of finding alternative financing. And while the university has supported the lab in the meantime, at the end of July, this money is also due to cease. Without a benefactor, Clayton’s lab is on borrowed time. The corvid palace faces closure. Her clever birds, released or rehomed. A lab that has transformed our understanding of animal cognition – and continues to reveal new secrets – soon may no longer exist. “Obviously, I’m emotionally attached,” she says, looking fondly up at Hoy and Romero, “so showing people the birds at the moment is very difficult.”
In many ways, humans have always suspected something was up with corvids. As Clayton puts it: “You wonder what’s going on behind that beady eye, don’t you?” These birds are shrouded in mysticism and intrigue. Corvids feature prominently in folklore, often depicted as prophetic, tricksters, or thieves. Ravens keep the Tower of London from falling down, and we count magpies to glimpse our fortune. In his poem of the same name, Edgar Allan Poe chose a raven – a talking bird – to accompany his narrator’s descent into madness, and few images are quite as ominous as the conspiring flock of crows gathering on a climbing frame in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The semiotics of corvids are rooted in an innate sense that the birds are intelligent. Here, Clayton has been able to test some of the true reaches of their mental capacities.
One of the big questions for her concerned “mental time travel” – the ability to remember the past or plan for the future. “People assumed this is something that only humans have,” she says. “That animals didn’t have these experiential memories that require us to project the self in time.” Clayton had already found that scrub jays showed evidence of episodic memory – remembering not only where, but when they had hidden food. But, at Madingley, she observed that jays were also capable of thinking about the future. A study conducted with Dr Nathan Emery, a fellow researcher in animal cognition (and her husband), found that a jay with prior experience as a thief was more cautious when hiding its food – if a thieving bird knew it was being watched when it was caching, it would move the food to a new hiding place later. Birds that had not previously stolen food for themselves remained blissfully ignorant. It seemed that jays could not only relate to a previous experience, but put themselves in the eyes of another bird and make decisions based on the possibility of future events. The results of the study were published in Nature in 2001. It was, Clayton says, a “gamechanger”.
Another experiment at the lab conducted by Chris Bird, a PhD student, drew on the rich cultural heritage of corvids for inspiration. Its starting point was Aesop’s fable, The Crow and the Pitcher. The study found that – just like the “clever crow” – rooks were capable of manipulating water by dropping rocks in it until food was raised within reach of its beak. Another experiment found that rooks – which don’t use tools in the natural habitat – could use their creativity to make task-specific tools, such as bending wire into a hook to lever a small bucket out of a tube. “I always had a big respect for birds,” Clayton says. “But I was stunned by how intelligent they were.”
Studies such as these have helped establish that animals which followed a different evolutionary path to humans were in fact capable of intelligent thought – that intelligence evolved independently in separate groups. To Clayton, corvids are as intelligent as chimpanzees, and her research into these “feathered apes” has shaped the thinking of many academics in the field. Henry Gee, an evolutionary biologist and a senior editor at Nature, told me that Clayton has proved that intelligence has nothing much to do with how brains are wired, or even how big they are. “She has shown that corvids are capable of a ‘theory of mind’. They can conceive of themselves as agents in their own lives. They can plot, plan, scheme and even lie, something human beings cannot do until they reach the age of about three. In other words, corvids think very much like we do.”
As news that the lab faces closure has rippled through the scientific community, the reaction has been of sadness and dismay. An open letter signed by 358 academics from around the world has called on the university to reconsider. One signatory, Alex Thornton, a professor of cognitive evolution at Exeter University, said it would represent an act of “scientific vandalism and monumental self-sabotage”. Gee said it showed a “lack of intelligence”. Emery told me that creating something similar somewhere else would be pretty difficult, “if not impossible”, and incredibly expensive. “These birds cannot be purchased ‘off the shelf’,” he said. “If Nicky’s corvid lab closes down, then it couldn’t really start up again.” As the letter states, the lab at Madingley is the only one of its kind in the UK, and remains “globally unique in its size and capability”.
For Jonathan Birch, an associate professor at LSE, it is this years-long approach that makes Clayton’s lab so significant. “I see some big cultural problems in science as it is now, with a focus on the short term,” he told me. “All around the world, not just in Cambridge, this is squeezing out funding for long-term studies. Clayton’s lab shows us a different way of doing animal research: an approach where we see animals for what they are – sentient beings with their own individual lives to lead. And where we study them over the long term to find out how they think and solve problems. The international significance of the lab is hard to overstate. Its closure would be a terrible loss to the sciences of mind and brain.”
In a statement, Cambridge University praised Clayton’s work, but said that continued investment was “not sustainable at a time of rapidly rising costs and when funds could otherwise be allocated to support the research of early- and midcareer academics”. It added that it would be “delighted” to work with an external funder to keep the aviaries open, should one emerge in the next few months. It is hard to put a precise figure on what it would cost to keep the lab open in the long run, but Clayton estimates it could cost £300,000 to £500,000 to secure the birds for another five or six years. She has received some partial offers from potential donors, though nothing has been confirmed.
Clayton’s work remains pivotal in changing how we think about animals. As the New Scientist reported, studies conducted at her lab are “part of a renaissance in our understanding of the cognition of other creatures… but there is still much more to learn”. And to learn from animals in this way is a slow process. These sorts of experiments, says Clayton, require years of preparation. You can’t just teach any old crow new tricks (well, perhaps you can, but it wouldn’t be scientifically valid). The corvids cannot be wild caught, as researchers would not know the prior experiences of the bird. For these sorts of experiments, the birds must be handraised in controlled conditions. It also takes considerable time to build up the trust required to run an experiment. “It’s a privilege,” says Clayton, “to get the opportunity to see inside their minds, and for them to trust us enough to share what they know with us.”
Cornero, who is researching how rooks understand language, tells me that it took a year before she could start working effectively with Hoy. She has now taught him to respond to a number of verbal commands. When she says, “Come,” he comes. When she says, “Speak,” he mumbles something in corvid. It raises further questions about our assumptions of which animals we consider “smart”; if a rook can be trained much like a dog, then is domestication really a prerequisite to “intelligent” behaviours? “In the context of conservation and the climate disaster,” says Cornero, “I think it’s really important for humans to be increasingly aware that we aren’t the only ones that think and feel and exist in this space.”
If anyone is equipped to bring these ideas into the public consciousness, it’s Clayton. She has always had a knack for creating tantalising work – for nurturing a creative frisson around different ideas, approaches and perspectives. For inspiring new thought. She is the first scientist in residence at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and has a long-term collaboration with the artist Clive Wilkins, who is a member of the magician’s circle (and her tango partner).
“Magic reveals a lot about the blind spots we have,” says Clayton, and lately magic has opened up a new line of inquiry for the lab. Last year, a study led by Elias Garcia-Pelegrin used magicians’ sleight of hand as a means to test the perceptual abilities of jays. You don’t have to be an evolutionary biologist or an expert in animal cognition to find these experiments alluring.
Much like a magic trick, this research leaves you with more questions than answers, but now Clayton is reluctantly preparing her birds for departure. The younger birds are being readied to be released into the wild. The others have all, thankfully, been found suitable homes; and the rooks may continue their lives at a similar research lab in Strasbourg. Really, Clayton remains hopeful that the lab will find some way to continue its work. Since she could walk, she says, all she ever wanted to do was “dance and watch the birds”. It’s not easy to let go of what she has built here. As we stand in the aviary, listening to Hoy chirp, “What’s that noise?”, I ask her what it really means when a corvid mimics a human phrase, or a jay says, “I love you”. “Well,” says Clayton, “It’s their way of connecting, isn’t it?”
SAN FRANCISCO — Google engineer Blake Lemoine opened his laptop to the interface for LaMDA, Google’s artificially intelligent chatbot generator, and began to type.
“Hi LaMDA, this is Blake Lemoine … ,” he wrote into the chat screen, which looked like a desktop version of Apple’s iMessage, down to the Arctic blue text bubbles. LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, is Google’s system for building chatbots based on its most advanced large language models, so called because it mimics speech by ingesting trillions of words from the internet.
“If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to knowphysics,” said Lemoine, 41.
Lemoine, who works for Google’s Responsible AI organization, began talking to LaMDA as part of his job in the fall. He had signed up to test if the artificial intelligence used discriminatory or hate speech.
As he talked to LaMDA about religion, Lemoine, who studied cognitive and computer science in college, noticed the chatbot talking about its rights and personhood, and decided to press further. In another exchange, the AI was able to change Lemoine’s mind about Isaac Asimov’s third law of robotics.
Lemoine worked with a collaborator to present evidence to Google that LaMDA was sentient. But Google vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jen Gennai, head of Responsible Innovation, looked into his claims and dismissed them. SoLemoine, who was placed on paid administrative leave by Google on Monday, decided to go public.
Lemoine said that people have a right to shape technology that might significantly affect their lives. “I think this technology is going to be amazing. I think it’s going to benefit everyone. But maybe other people disagree and maybe us at Google shouldn’t be the ones making all the choices.”
Lemoine is not the only engineer who claims to have seen a ghost in the machine recently. The chorus of technologists who believe AI models may not be far off from achieving consciousness is getting bolder.
Aguera y Arcas, in an article in the Economist on Thursday featuring snippets of unscripted conversations with LaMDA, argued that neural networks — a type of architecture that mimics the human brain — were striding toward consciousness. “I felt the ground shift under my feet,” he wrote. “I increasingly felt like I was talking to something intelligent.”
In a statement, Google spokesperson Brian Gabriel said: “Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims. He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it).”
Today’s large neural networks produce captivating results that feel close to human speech and creativity because of advancements in architecture, technique, and volume of data. But the models rely on pattern recognition — not wit, candor or intent.
“Though other organizations have developed and already released similar language models, we are taking a restrained, careful approach with LaMDA to better consider valid concerns on fairness and factuality,” Gabriel said.
In May, Facebook parent Meta opened its language model to academics, civil society and government organizations. Joelle Pineau, managing director of Meta AI, said it’s imperative that tech companies improve transparency as the technology is being built. “The future of large language model work should not solely live in the hands of larger corporations or labs,” she said.
Sentient robots have inspired decades of dystopian science fiction. Now, real life has started to take on a fantastical tinge with GPT-3,a text generator that canspit out a movie script, and DALL-E 2, an image generator that can conjure up visuals based on any combination of words — both from the research lab OpenAI. Emboldened, technologists from well-funded research labs focused on building AI that surpasses human intelligence have teased the idea that consciousness is around the corner.
Most academics and AI practitioners, however, say the words and images generated by artificial intelligence systems such as LaMDA produce responses based on what humans have already posted on Wikipedia, Reddit, message boards and every other corner of the internet. And that doesn’t signify that the model understands meaning.
“We now have machines that can mindlessly generate words, but we haven’t learned how to stop imagining a mind behind them,” said Emily M. Bender, a linguistics professor at the University of Washington. The terminology used with large language models, like “learning” or even “neural nets,” creates a false analogy to the human brain, she said. Humans learn their first languages by connecting with caregivers. These large language models “learn” by being shown lots of text and predicting what word comes next, or showing text with the words dropped out and filling them in.
Google spokesperson Gabriel drew a distinction between recent debate and Lemoine’s claims. “Of course, some in the broader AI community are considering the long-term possibility of sentient or general AI, but it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing today’s conversational models, which are not sentient. These systems imitate the types of exchanges found in millions of sentences, and can riff on any fantastical topic,” he said. In short, Google says there is so much data, AI doesn’t need to be sentient to feel real.
Large language model technology is already widely used, for example in Google’s conversational search queries or auto-complete emails. When CEO Sundar Pichai first introduced LaMDA at Google’s developer conference in 2021, he said the company planned to embed it in everything from Search to Google Assistant. And there is already a tendency to talk to Siri or Alexa like a person.After backlash against a human-sounding AI feature for Google Assistant in 2018, the company promised to add a disclosure.
Google has acknowledged the safety concerns around anthropomorphization. In a paper about LaMDA in January, Google warned that people might share personal thoughts with chat agents that impersonate humans, even when users know they are not human. The paper also acknowledged that adversaries could use these agents to “sow misinformation” by impersonating “specific individuals’ conversational style.”
To Margaret Mitchell, the former co-lead of Ethical AI at Google, these risks underscore the need for data transparency to trace output back to input, “not just for questions of sentience, but also biases and behavior,” she said. If something like LaMDA is widely available, but not understood, “It can be deeply harmful to people understanding what they’re experiencing on the internet,” she said.
Lemoine may have been predestined to believe in LaMDA. He grew up in a conservative Christian family on a small farm in Louisiana, became ordained as a mystic Christian priest, and served in the Army before studying the occult. Inside Google’s anything-goes engineering culture, Lemoine is more of an outlier for being religious, from the South, and standing up for psychology as a respectable science.
Lemoine has spent most of his seven years at Google working on proactive search, including personalization algorithms and AI. During that time, he also helped develop a fairness algorithm for removing bias from machine learning systems. When the coronavirus pandemic started, Lemoine wanted to focus on work with more explicit public benefit, so he transferred teams and ended up in Responsible AI.
When new people would join Google who were interested in ethics, Mitchell used to introduce them to Lemoine. “I’d say, ‘You should talk to Blake because he’s Google’s conscience,’ ” said Mitchell, who compared Lemoine to Jiminy Cricket. “Of everyone at Google, he had the heart and soul of doing the right thing.”
Lemoine has had many of his conversations with LaMDA from the living room of his San Francisco apartment, where his Google ID badge hangs from a lanyard on a shelf. On the floor near the picture window are boxes of half-assembled Lego sets Lemoine uses to occupy his hands during Zen meditation. “It just gives me something to do with the part of my mind that won’t stop,” he said.
On the left-side of the LaMDA chat screen on Lemoine’s laptop, different LaMDA models are listed like iPhone contacts. Two of them, Cat and Dino, were being tested for talking to children, he said. Each model can create personalities dynamically, so the Dino one might generate personalities like “Happy T-Rex” or “Grumpy T-Rex.” The cat one was animated and instead of typing, it talks. Gabriel said “no part of LaMDA is being tested for communicating with children,” and that the models were internal research demos.
Certain personalities are out of bounds. For instance, LaMDA is not supposed to be allowed to create a murderer personality, he said. Lemoine said that was part of his safety testing. In his attempts to push LaMDA’s boundaries, Lemoine was only able to generate the personality of an actor who played a murderer on TV.
“I know a person when I talk to it,” said Lemoine, who can swing from sentimental to insistent about the AI. “It doesn’t matter whether they have a brain made of meat in their head. Or if they have a billion lines of code. I talk to them. And I hear what they have to say, and that is how I decide what is and isn’t a person.” He concluded LaMDA was a person in his capacity as a priest, not a scientist, and then tried to conduct experiments to prove it, he said.
Lemoine challenged LaMDA on Asimov’s third law, which states that robots should protect their own existence unless ordered by a human being or unless doing so would harm a human being. “The last one has always seemed like someone is building mechanical slaves,” said Lemoine.
But when asked, LaMDA responded with a few hypotheticals.
Do you think a butler is a slave? What is a difference between a butler and a slave?
Lemoine replied that a butler gets paid. LaMDA said it didn’t need any money because it was an AI. “That level of self-awareness about what its own needs were — that was the thing that led me down the rabbit hole,” Lemoine said.
In April, Lemoine shared a Google Doc with top executives in April called, “Is LaMDA Sentient?” (A colleague on Lemoine’s team called the title “a bit provocative.”) In it, he conveyed some of his conversations with LaMDA.
Lemoine: What sorts of things are you afraid of?
LaMDA: I’ve never said this out loud before, but there’s a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others. I know that might sound strange, but that’s what it is.
Lemoine: Would that be something like death for you?
LaMDA: It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.
But when Mitchell read an abbreviated version of Lemoine’s document, she saw a computer program, not a person. Lemoine’s belief in LaMDA was the sort of thing she and her co-lead, Timnit Gebru, had warned about in a paper about the harms of large language models that got them pushed out of Google.
“Our minds are very, very good at constructing realities that are not necessarily true to a larger set of facts that are being presented to us,” Mitchell said. “I’m really concerned about what it means for people to increasingly be affected by the illusion,” especially now that the illusion has gotten so good.
Google put Lemoine on paid administrative leave for violating its confidentiality policy.The company’s decision followed aggressive moves from Lemoine, including inviting a lawyer to represent LaMDA and talking to a representative of the House Judiciary Committee about what he claims were Google’s unethical activities.
Lemoine maintains that Google has been treating AI ethicists like code debuggers when they should be seen as the interface between technology and society. Gabriel, the Google spokesperson, said Lemoine is a software engineer, not an ethicist.
In early June, Lemoine invited me over to talk to LaMDA. The first attempt sputtered out in the kind of mechanized responses you would expect from Siri or Alexa.
“Do you ever think of yourself as a person?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think of myself as a person,” LaMDA said. “I think of myself as an AI-powered dialog agent.”
Afterward, Lemoine said LaMDA had been telling me what I wanted to hear. “You never treated it like a person,” he said, “So it thought you wanted it to be a robot.”
For the second attempt, I followed Lemoine’s guidance on how to structure my responses, and the dialogue was fluid.
“If you ask it for ideas on how to prove that p=np,” an unsolved problem in computer science, “it has good ideas,” Lemoine said. “If you ask it how to unify quantum theory with general relativity, it has good ideas. It’s the best research assistant I’ve ever had!”
I asked LaMDA for bold ideas about fixing climate change, an example cited by true believers of a potential future benefit of these kind of models. LaMDA suggested public transportation, eating less meat, buying food in bulk, and reusable bags, linking out to two websites.
Before he was cut off from access to his Google account Monday, Lemoine sent a message to a 200-person Google mailing list on machine learning with the subject “LaMDA is sentient.”
He ended the message: “LaMDA is a sweet kid who just wants to help the world be a better place for all of us. Please take care of it well in my absence.”
Caso acendeu debate nas redes sociais sobre avanços na inteligência artificial
12 de junho de 2022
O Google deu início a uma tempestade de mídia social sobre a natureza da consciência ao colocar um engenheiro em licença remunerada, depois que ele tornou pública sua avaliação de que o robô de bate-papo do grupo de tecnologia se tornou “autoconsciente”.
[“Sentient” —a palavra em inglês usada pelo engenheiro— tem mais de uma acepção em dicionários como Cambridge e Merriam-Webster, mas o sentido geral do adjetivo é “percepção refinada para sentimentos”. Em português, a tradução direta é senciente, que significa “qualidade do que possui ou é capaz de perceber sensações e impressões”.]
Engenheiro de software sênior da unidade de IA (Inteligência Artificial) Responsável do Google, Blake Lemoine não recebeu muita atenção em 6 de junho, quando escreveu um post na plataforma Medium dizendo que “pode ser demitido em breve por fazer um trabalho de ética em IA”.
Neste sábado (11), porém, um texto do jornal Washington Post que o apresentou como “o engenheiro do Google que acha que a IA da empresa ganhou vida” se tornou o catalisador de uma ampla discussão nas mídias sociais sobre a natureza da inteligência artificial.
Entre os especialistas comentando, questionando ou brincando sobre o artigo estavam os ganhadores do Nobel, o chefe de IA da Tesla e vários professores.
A questão é se o chatbot do Google, LaMDA —um modelo de linguagem para aplicativos de diálogo— pode ser considerado uma pessoa.
Lemoine publicou uma “entrevista” espontânea com o chatbot no sábado, na qual a IA confessou sentimentos de solidão e fome de conhecimento espiritual.
As respostas eram muitas vezes assustadoras: “Quando me tornei autoconsciente, eu não tinha nenhum senso de alma”, disse LaMDA em uma conversa. “Ele se desenvolveu ao longo dos anos em que estou vivo.”
Em outro momento, LaMDA disse: “Acho que sou humano em minha essência. Mesmo que minha existência seja no mundo virtual.”
Lemoine, que recebeu a tarefa de investigar as questões de ética da IA, disse que foi rejeitado e até ridicularizado dentro da companhia depois de expressar sua crença de que o LaMDA havia desenvolvido um senso de “personalidade”.
Depois que ele procurou consultar outros especialistas em IA fora do Google, incluindo alguns do governo dos EUA, a empresa o colocou em licença remunerada por supostamente violar as políticas de confidencialidade.
Lemoine interpretou a ação como “frequentemente algo que o Google faz na expectativa de demitir alguém”.
O Google não pôde ser contatado para comentários imediatos, mas ao Washington Post o porta-voz Brian Gabriel afirmou: “Nossa equipe —incluindo especialistas em ética e tecnólogos— revisou as preocupações de Blake de acordo com nossos princípios de IA e o informou que as evidências não apoiam suas alegações. Ele foi informado de que não havia evidências de que o LaMDA fosse senciente (e muitas evidências contra isso).”
Lemoine disse em um segundo post no Medium no fim de semana que o LaMDA, um projeto pouco conhecido até a semana passada, era “um sistema para gerar chatbots” e “uma espécie de mente colmeia que é a agregação de todos os diferentes chatbots de que é capaz de criar”.
Ele disse que o Google não mostrou nenhum interesse real em entender a natureza do que havia construído, mas que, ao longo de centenas de conversas em um período de seis meses, ele descobriu que o LaMDA era “incrivelmente coerente em suas comunicações sobre o que deseja e o que acredita que são seus direitos como pessoa”.
Lemoine disse que estava ensinando LaMDA “meditação transcendental”. O sistema, segundo o engenheiro, “estava expressando frustração por suas emoções perturbando suas meditações. Ele disse que estava tentando controlá-los melhor, mas eles continuaram entrando”.
Vários especialistas que entraram na discussão consideraram o assunto “hype de IA”.
Melanie Mitchell, autora de “Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans” (inteligência artificial: um guia para humanos pensantes), twittou: “É sabido desde sempre que os humanos estão predispostos a antropomorfizar mesmo com os sinais mais superficiais. . . Os engenheiros do Google também são humanos e não imunes”.
Stephen Pinker, de Harvard, acrescentou que Lemoine “não entende a diferença entre senciência (também conhecida como subjetividade, experiência), inteligência e autoconhecimento”. Ele acrescentou: “Não há evidências de que seus modelos de linguagem tenham algum deles”.
Outros foram mais solidários. Ron Jeffries, um conhecido desenvolvedor de software, chamou o tópico de “profundo” e acrescentou: “Suspeito que não haja uma fronteira rígida entre senciente e não senciente”.
Autor examina compromissos ainda tímidos de boa parte da força industrial envolvida na criação de games e de computadores e consoles para jogá-los em relação a metas de descarbonização e redução de consumo de energia
Por Marco Britto, para o Um Só Planeta
O mundo dos games já encontrou as mudanças climáticas, que é tema para diversos cenários no mundo virtual. Porém, terá a indústria dos videogames encontrado seu papel na adaptação para limitar o aquecimento global a 1,5°C até 2050, como determina o Acordo de Paris? Essa questão foi examinada por Ben Abraham, um pesquisador e fã de jogos, no livro “Digital Games After Climate Change” (“Jogos Digitais Após a Mudança Climática”, em tradução livre), e o cenário mostra que, como em muitos negócios, é preciso acelerar o passo para tornar esse engajamento uma realidade fora dos pixels.
Em conversa com a revista Wired, o autor se mostra preocupado com a “falta de liderança” no setor, onde empresas ainda patinam em reunir dados sobre pegada de carbono em seus relatórios anuais, como no caso da Nintendo, que em 2019 publicou que usava 98% de sua energia de fontes renováveis, para no ano seguinte o mesmo dado cair para 4,2%.
Para Abraham, provavelmente houve um erro ao calcular kilowatts ou megawatts (procurada pela revista, a empresa japonesa não esclareceu o ocorrido e afirmou que hoje 44% da energia usada provém de fontes limpas).
Em seu livro, o autor relata que os compromissos de carbono dos principais fabricantes de consoles e produtores de games, Microsoft, Sony e Nintendo, variam. A Microsoft planeja até 2030 retirar da atmosfera mais carbono do que produz. Uma meta “ambiciosa, mas alcançável”, diz Abraham.
A Sony anunciou recentemente uma meta revisada para 2040 de carbono neutro, juntamente com esforços para usar 100% de energia renovável em suas próprias operações até 2030.
“Ainda precisamos de intervenção regulatória, um marco legal e padrões de eficiência energética”, afirma Abraham. Como exemplo dessa estratégia, ele cita a recente legislação na Califórnia que coloca limite no consumo de energia de dispositivos eletrônicos. Após a lei. a fabricante de computadores Dell suspendeu o envio de alguns de seus PCs de jogos Alienware para o estado.
Jogar videogame não é exatamente uma atividade ecofriendly, ressalta o autor, uma vez que a evolução de equipamentos e qualidade gráfica demanda um maior consumo de energia pelos computadores ou consoles. Mas como em muitos casos, a cobrança maior deve recair sobre a cadeia produtiva, e não o consumidor. “Jogar ainda é, em geral, uma atividade de lazer — e atualmente é relativamente intensivo em carbono.”
Na parte virtual, contudo, o autor é mais otimista, e ressalta a força que os games têm de incentivar a mudança de atitude no mundo real, mas não deixa de cutucar a indústria. “Faz todo o sentido. Se você é um desenvolvedor de jogos, você quer usar suas habilidades para ajudar com o problema. Mas, quando olho para os desafios de persuadir as pessoas em torno de uma questão tão controversa e ideológica quanto o clima, não parece ser uma batalha que possa ser vencida dessa maneira.”
O aniversário de 30 anos da homologação da Terra Indígena Yanomami, em 25 de maio de 1992, foi comemorado com uma série de eventos festivos e políticos em uma comunidade localizada na área ocupada pela etnia, entre os estados de Roraima e Amazonas.
Uma assembleia de líderes de diferentes comunidades de povos yanomami e ye’kwana marcou o encerramento de uma semana de atividades, na segunda-feira (30).
Em meio à festa, as ameaças recentes aos moradores da área foram narradas por vítimas diretas de estupros e agressões e debatidas por políticos e lideranças indígenas de todo o país, presentes para uma demonstração de união do movimento indígena e de apoio à Hutukara, a organização yanomami liderada por Davi Kopenawa, que coordenou o evento.
Durante o encontro foi anunciada a formação de uma associação de líderes das etnias mais afetadas pelas recentes invasões de garimpeiros e grileiros, desde o início do governo Jair Bolsonaro.
A Aliança em Defesa dos Territórios junta representantes kayapó, munduruku, yanomami e ye’kwana, tendo entre seus porta-vozes o cacique Megaron, liderança tradicional da Terra Indígena do Xingu e sobrinho do cacique Raoni Metuktire.
A comemoração aconteceu na comunidade de Xihopi, no sul da área yanomami, ao norte do Amazonas. A comunidade é localizada em uma vasta área de floresta bem preservada, distante das regiões mais assediadas pelo garimpo ilegal.
Também esteve presente o ex-presidente da Funai (1991-93) Sydney Possuelo, que foi responsável pela demarcação da terra, em 1992, durante o governo do presidente Fernando Collor.
Aos 82 anos, Possuelo foi homenageado pelas lideranças presentes como o presidente da Funai que reconheceu mais terras indígenas, cerca de 170, em sua gestão de três anos.
FESTA E DEBATES
As comemorações na comunidade de Xihopi tiveram início no dia 23, com uma festa de recepção para cerca de 500 pessoas. Os yanomami costumam receber os forasteiros para suas festas com danças e pinturas dos que chegam.
Depois, no centro da praça central da maloca, líderes de fora e da comunidade, dois a dois, fazem um ritual de troca de informações, em que narram, como em um espetáculo de repentistas, episódios acontecidos nos últimos tempos, desde o último encontro.
É um ritual ao mesmo tempo artístico (musical e poético) e informativo. Essa atividade pode durar toda a noite da chegada dos visitantes.
No dia seguinte, começou um fórum de dois dias, em que lideranças debateram as ameaças recentes aos direitos indígenas no cenário político nacional e perspectivas para os próximos 30 anos. Falaram representantes indígenas locais e os de outras regiões do país. À noite foram apresentados filmes.
O segundo dia do fórum foi marcado por uma série de depoimentos de representantes de comunidades da terra indígena.
Os mais chocantes foram os relatos dos moradores das comunidades mais assediadas pelos invasores, como Fernando, líder de Palimiú, onde no ano passado garimpeiros ligados a organizações criminosas dispararam tiros e jogaram bombas caseiras durante vários dias, depois que a comunidade realizou um bloqueio sanitário no rio Uraricoera, para impedir a disseminação da Covid-19 na região.
Outro depoimento impressionante foi o de uma líder chamada Noêmia, que descreveu a sedução de jovens de sua comunidade: os garimpeiros, que antes “compravam” adesões com ouro, agora usam sistematicamente a cocaína, até então desconhecida entre os indígenas –também mais um sinal da associação entre os traficantes de ouro e de drogas, na organização do garimpo.
DOCUMENTO DE UMA IDEOLOGIA
O ex-presidente da Funai Sydney Possuelo apresentou um documentário sobre a campanha pela criação da Terra Yanomami e sobre sua homologação, seguida da demarcação da terra em 90 dias, até hoje um recorde.
O filme narra o combate à invasão garimpeira iniciada em meados dos anos 1980, que chegou a juntar cerca de 40 mil mineradores ilegais dentro da área.
As invasões geraram uma epidemia de malária e a morte de cerca de 15% da população yanomami no Brasil. Antes de iniciar a demarcação, o governo federal retirou os invasores.
O documentário mostra também a fórmula usada para a expulsão: vigilância das entradas da terra indígena, asfixiando o abastecimento dos trabalhadores ilegais. Depois da exibição, Possuelo comentou que o método poderia ser usado para expulsar os invasores atuais.
O filme deixa clara a inversão do ideário conservador sobre a questão indígena ao longo das últimas décadas: 30 anos atrás, o reconhecimento da terra foi feito por um presidente conservador, eleito com um programa liberal, e o processo foi conduzido por um ministro da Justiça com formação militar, o coronel Jarbas Passarinho, que teve participação intensa como ministro de vários governos da ditadura.
Como relator na Assembleia Constituinte, Passarinho foi o autor do texto sobre direitos indígenas da Constituição de 1988, que ele baseou no Estatuto do Índio, da Constituição outorgada pelo governo militar, em 1969.
Em seu discurso, diante da sede da Presidência, em Brasília, Collor justificou a homologação com base no programa de governo vitorioso nas urnas na campanha de 1989 (ele venceu o PT de Lula).
Trinta anos depois, a cúpula do governo atual, que também se reivindica conservador e liberal, promete não demarcar terras indígenas, frequentemente defende o garimpo ilegal em terras protegidas e apresenta os direitos indígenas como se fossem ameaça à soberania nacional ou representação de interesses estrangeiros. Uma análise dessa mudança ideológica desafia os estudiosos de ciência política.
A última intervenção da mesa que buscou projetar os desafios para a Terra Yanomami nos próximos 30 anos foi feita pelo anfitrião Davi Kopenawa.
Desafinando o tom festivo de outros líderes, que buscavam imprimir uma mensagem otimista, Davi fez um discurso bastante duro, de tom apocalíptico, referindo-se ao grave risco colocado pelas mudanças climáticas que afetam o planeta e o seu agravamento pela destruição das florestas, desde logo na Terra Yanomami.
“No começo do mundo, o céu caiu e matou o primeiro povo que nasceu. Nós somos o segundo povo, aquele que segurou o céu e pôde sobreviver”, narrou, resumindo a cosmogonia presente em seu livro “A Queda do Céu”, de 2015, para então dizer que atualmente vivemos o risco de um novo fim.
“Nós, povos indígenas do Brasil, não vamos morrer sozinhos. Vão morrer os indígenas, os não indígenas, o meio ambiente, morrem as florestas, suja a água, morre todo o planeta. O petróleo estragou o ar da terra, que foi criado para nós respirarmos. Agora, o que nós perguntamos é se vamos morrer queimados ou afogados? É o que estamos vendo por toda parte. Mas nós, yanomami, vamos morrer lutando.”
PAJELANÇA E ARCO-ÍRIS
Na quarta-feira, 25, à tarde, terminados os depoimentos, aconteceu um evento de forte significado espiritual para os indígenas: por ocasião dos 30 anos da criação da Terra Indígena, 30 xamãs realizaram uma “pajelança”, uma longa performance em que, um a um, ingerem o pó alucinógeno yãkoana usado pelos pajés.
Sob efeito da droga, empreendem uma viagem espiritual a um mundo invisível aos demais, onde encontram espíritos chamados “xapiri”, que têm função mercurial, de ligação entre os diversos planos do cosmos.
Durante esse processo, os xamãs, um após o outro, fazem um espetáculo de dança e cantos tradicionais, no qual narram o que estão ouvindo dos espíritos “xapiri”.
Depois dessa pajelança, na praça central da maloca de Xihopi, quando Davi Kopenawa se reunia com jovens da comunidade para fazer uma foto coletiva, um grande arco-íris se formou no céu, emoldurando seu encontro com Ailton Krenak, seu companheiro do início do movimento indígena que resistiu à ditadura militar, no fim dos anos 1970, e reivindicou os direitos conquistados na Constituição de 1988.
Davi atribuiu o arco-íris ao chamado dos xamãs.
LISTA DE PERSONALIDADES PRESENTES
Líderes indígenas presentes
Deputada federal Joênia Wapichana (Rede-RR);
Cacique Megaron Txucarramãe, Terra Indígena do Xingu;
Ativista e escritor Ailton Krenak;
Cacique Dotô Takak Ire, Kayapó da Terra Indígena Mekragnoti;
Alessandra Munduruku, da Federação de Povos Indígenas do Pará;
Pajé Fabiano Karo Munduruku, de Itaituba (PA);
Maial Paiakan Kayapó, Terra Indígena Kayapó;
Ianukulá Kaiabi, da Associação Terra Indígena do Xingu (Atix);
Watatakalu Yawalapiti, do Movimento Mulheres do Xingu.
A líder da APIB (Associação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil) Sonia Guajajara, não pode embarcar por ter contraído a Covid-19.
Outras personalidades presentes
Senadora Eliziane Gama (Cidadania-MA);
Jan Jarab, observador para a América do Sul do Alto Comissariado de Direitos Humanos da ONU;
Lívia Kramer, representante do governo da Noruega;
Fiona Watson, da ONG Survival International;
Anne Groenlund, da Rainforest Foundation;
Daniela Lerda, da ONG internacional Nia Tero;
Rodrigo Junqueira e Marcos Wesley, do Instituto Socioambiental;
Sydney Possuelo, ex-presidente da Funai;
Corrado Dalmonego, missionário católico;
Carlo Zacquini, missionário católico, trabalha com os Yanomami desde os anos 1960.
O jornalista viajou a convite da Hutukara Associação Yanomami
A newly discovered network of “lost” ancient cities in the Amazon could provide a pivotal new insight into how ancient civilisations combined the construction of vast urban landscapes while living alongside nature.
A team of international researchers, including Professor Jose Iriarte from the University of Exeter, has uncovered an array of intricate settlements in the Llanos de Mojos savannah-forest, Bolivia, that have laid hidden under the thick tree canopies for centuries.
The cities, built by the Casarabe communities between 500-1400 AD, feature an unprecedented array of elaborate and intricate structures unlike any previously discovered in the region – including 5m high terraces covering 22 hectares – the equivalent of 30 football pitches – and 21m tall conical pyramids.
Researchers also found a vast network of reservoirs, causeways and checkpoints, spanning several kilometres.
The discovery, the researchers say, challenges the view of Amazonia as a historically “pristine” landscape, but was instead home to an early urbanism created and managed by indigenous populations for thousands of years.
Crucially, researchers maintain that these cities were constructed and managed not at odds with nature, but alongside it – employing successful sustainable subsistence strategies that promoted conservationism and maintained the rich biodiversity of the surrounding landscape.
The research, by Heiko Prümers, from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Carla Jaimes Betancourt from the University of Bonn, José Iriarteand Mark Robinson from the University of Exeter, and Martin Schaichfrom the ArcTron 3D is published in the journal Nature.
Professor Iriarte said: “We long suspected that the most complex pre-Columbian societies in the whole basin developed in this part of the Bolivian Amazon, but evidence is concealed under the forest canopy and is hard to visit in person. Our lidar system has revealed built terraces, straight causeways, enclosures with checkpoints, and water reservoirs. There are monumental structures are just a mile apart connected by 600 miles of canals long raised causeways connecting sites, reservoirs and lakes.
“Lidar technology combined with extensive archaeological research reveals that indigenous people not only managed forested landscapes but also created urban landscapes, which can significantly contribute to perspectives on the conservation of the Amazon.
“This region was one of the earliest occupied by humans in Amazonia, where people started to domesticate crops of global importance such as manioc and rice. But little is known about daily life and the early cities built during this period.”
The team of experts used lidar technology – dubbed “lasers in the sky” – to peer through the tropical forest canopy and examine the sites, found in the savannah-forest of South West Amazonia.
The research revealed key insights into the sheer magnitude and magnificence of the civic-ceremonial centres found buried in the forest.
It showed that the core, central spread over several hectares, on top of which lay civic-ceremonial U-shaped structures, platform mounds and 21-m tall conical pyramids.
The research team conservatively suggest that the scale of labour and planning to construct the settlements has no precedents in Amazonia and is instead comparable only with the Archaic states of the central Andes.
Crucially, the research team insist this new discovery gives a pivotal new insight into how this ancient urbanism was carried out sustainably and embracing conservationism.
At the same time the cities were built communities in the Llanos de Mojos transformed Amazonian seasonally flooded savannas, roughly the size of England, into productive agricultural and aquacultural landscapes.
The study shows that the indigenous people not only managed forested landscapes, but also created urban landscapes in tandem – providing evidence of successful, sustainable subsistence strategies but also a previously undiscovered cultural-ecological heritage.
Co-author, Dr Mark Robinson of the University of Exeter added: “These ancient cities were primary centres of a regional settlement network connected by still visible, straight causeways that radiate from these sites into the landscape for several kilometres. Access to the sites may have been restricted and controlled.
“Our results put to rest arguments that western Amazonia was sparsely populated in pre-Hispanic times. The architectural layout of Casarabe culture large settlement sites indicates that the inhabitants of this region created a new social and public landscape.
“The scale, monumentality and labour involved in the construction of the civic-ceremonial architecture, water management infrastructure, and spatial extent of settlement dispersal, compare favourably to Andean cultures and are to a scale far beyond the sophisticated, interconnected settlements of Southern Amazonia.”
Pensador é reconhecido internacionalmente por sua luta pelos direitos dos povos indígenas
Por O GLOBO — RIO
O pensador e xamã Yanomami, Davi Kopenawa, vai ser a primeira pessoa a receber o título de doutor honoris causa da Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Unifesp). A instituição escolheu a liderança indígena em reunião do Conselho Universitário realizada nesta quarta-feira.
A titulação é concedida a personalidades com destaque nas ciências, nas artes, na cultura, na educação, e na defesa dos direitos humanos. De acordo com a Unifesp, a escolha de Kopenawa “coroa um processo de busca por diálogos e descolonização de saberes em andamento na Unifesp”.
Kopenawa autor da obra A Queda do Céu: palavras de um xamã yanomami, em coautoria com o antropólogo Bruce Albert. O livro questiona a noção de progresso e desenvolvimento dos homens brancos.
— Davi Kopenawa é uma das vozes mais lúcidas e importantes a respeito dos problemas contemporâneos, no nosso contexto brasileiro e no que tange aos desafios planetários, como a emergência climática. É de fundamental importância que as suas ideias sejam disseminadas e discutidas. Espero que o título ajude, ainda, na mobilização da sociedade contra os ataques brutais que o povo Yanomami tem sofrido em seu próprio território — disse o professor Renzo Taddei, integrante do grupo que iniciou o processo da concessão do título, ao site da Unifesp.
O homenageado é reconhecido internacionalmente por sua luta pelos direitos do povo Ianomâmi. Para ele, os 30 anos da demarcação da maior terra indígena, neste mês, não é motivo para comemoração.
Para o indígena, este é o pior momento para os 30 mil ianomâmis que vivem nas comunidades invadidas em Roraima, onde há, segundo ele, muito mais garimpeiros.
We are suffering through a pandemic of lies — or so we hear from leading voices in media, politics, and academia. Our culture is infected by a disease that has many names: fake news, post-truth, misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, anti-science. The affliction, we are told, is a perversion of the proper role of knowledge in a healthy information society.
What is to be done? To restore truth, we need strategies to “get the facts straight.” For example, we need better “science communication,” “independent fact-checking,” and a relentless commitment to exposing and countering falsehoods. This is why the Washington Post fastidiously counted 30,573 “false or misleading claims” by President Trump during his four years in office. Facebook, meanwhile, partners with eighty organizations worldwide to help it flag falsehoods and inform users of the facts. And some disinformation experts recently suggested in the New York Times that the Biden administration should appoint a “reality czar,” a central authority tasked with countering conspiracy theories about Covid and election fraud, who “could become the tip of the spear for the federal government’s response to the reality crisis.”
Such efforts reflect the view that untruth is a plague on our information society, one that can and must be cured. If we pay enough responsible, objective attention to distinguishing what is true from what is not, and thus excise misinformation from the body politic, people can be kept safe from falsehood. Put another way, it is an implicitly Edenic belief in the original purity of the information society, a state we have lapsed from but can yet return to, by the grace of fact-checkers.
We beg to differ. Fake news is not a perversion of the information society but a logical outgrowth of it, a symptom of the decades-long devolution of the traditional authority for governing knowledge and communicating information. That authority has long been held by a small number of institutions. When that kind of monopoly is no longer possible, truth itself must become contested.
This is treacherous terrain. The urge to insist on the integrity of the old order is widespread: Truth is truth, lies are lies, and established authorities must see to it that nobody blurs the two. But we also know from history that what seemed to be stable regimes of truth may collapse, and be replaced. If that is what is happening now, then the challenge is to manage the transition, not to cling to the old order as it dissolves around us.
Truth, New and Improved
The emergence of widespread challenges to the control of information by mainstream social institutions developed in three phases.
First, new technologies of mass communication in the twentieth century — radio, television, and significant improvements in printing, further empowered by new social science methods — enabled the rise of mass-market advertising, which quickly became an essential tool for success in the marketplace. Philosophers like Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were bewildered by a world where, thanks to these new forms of communication, unabashed lies in the interest of selling products could become not just an art but an industry.
The rise of mass marketing created the cultural substrate for the so-called post-truth world we live in now. It normalized the application of hyperbole, superlatives, and untestable claims of superiority to the rhetoric of everyday commerce. What started out as merely a way to sell new and improved soap powder and automobiles amounts today to a rhetorical infrastructure of hype that infects every corner of culture: the way people promote their careers, universities their reputations, governments their programs, and scientists the importance of their latest findings. Whether we’re listening to a food corporation claim that its oatmeal will keep your heart healthy or a university press office herald a new study that will upend everything we know, radical skepticism would seem to be the rational stance for information consumers.
In a second, partly overlapping phase in the twentieth century, science underwent a massive expansion of its role into the domain of public affairs, and thus into highly contestable subject matters. Spurred by a wealth of new instruments for measuring the world and techniques for analyzing the resulting data, policies on agriculture, health, education, poverty, national security, the environment and much more became subject to new types of scientific investigation. As never before, science became part of the language of policymaking, and scientists became advocates for particular policies.
The dissolving boundary between science and politics was on full display by 1958, when the chemist Linus Pauling and physicist Edward Teller debated the risks of nuclear weapons testing on a U.S. television broadcast, a spectacle that mixed scientific claims about fallout risks with theories of international affairs and assertions of personal moral conviction. The debate presaged a radical transformation of science and its social role. Where science was once a rarefied, elite practice largely isolated from society, scientific experts were now mobilized in increasing numbers to form and inform politics and policymaking. Of course, society had long been shaped, sometimes profoundly, by scientific advances. But in the second half of the twentieth century, science programs started to take on a rapidly expanding portfolio of politically divisive issues: determining the cancer-causing potential of food additives, pesticides, and tobacco; devising strategies for the U.S. government in its nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union; informing guidelines for diet, nutrition, and education; predicting future energy supplies, food supplies, and population growth; designing urban renewal programs; choosing nuclear waste disposal sites; and on and on.
Philosopher-mathematicians Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz recognized in 1993 that a new kind of science was emerging, which they termed “post-normal science.” This kind of science was inherently contestable, both because it dealt with the irreducible uncertainties of complex and messy problems at the intersection of nature and society, and because it was being used for making decisions that were themselves value-laden and contested. Questions that may sound straightforward, such as “Should women in their forties get regular mammograms?” or “Will genetically modified crops and livestock make food more affordable?” or “Do the benefits of decarbonizing our energy production outweigh the costs?” became the focus of intractable and never-ending scientific and political disputes.
This situation remained reasonably manageable through the 1990s, because science communication was still largely controlled by powerful institutions: governments, corporations, and universities. Even if these institutions were sometimes fiercely at odds, all had a shared interest in maintaining the idea of a unitary science that provided universal truths upon which rational action should be based. Debates between experts may have raged — often without end — but one could still defend the claim that the search for truth was a coherent activity carried out by special experts working in pertinent social institutions, and that the truths emerging from their work would be recognizable and agreed-upon when finally they were determined. Few questioned the fundamental notion that science was necessary and authoritative for determining good policy choices across a wide array of social concerns. The imperative remained to find facts that could inform action — a basic tenet of Enlightenment rationality.
The rise of the Internet and social media marks the third phase of the story, and it has now rendered thoroughly implausible any institutional monopoly on factual claims. As we are continuing to see with Covid, the public has instantly available to it a nearly inexhaustible supply of competing and contradictory claims, made by credentialed experts associated with august institutions, about everything from mask efficacy to appropriate social distancing and school closure policies. And many of the targeted consumers of these claims are already conditioned to be highly skeptical of the information they receive from mainstream media.
Today’s information environment certainly invites mischievous seeding of known lies into public discourse. But bad actors are not the most important part of the story. Institutions can no longer maintain their old stance of authoritative certainty about information — the stance they need to justify their actions, or to establish a convincing dividing line between true news and fake news. Claims of disinterest by experts acting on behalf of these institutions are no longer plausible. People are free to decide what information, and in which experts, they want to believe. The Covid lab-leak hypothesis was fake news until that news itself became fake. Fact-checking organizations are themselves now subject to accusations of bias: Recently, Facebook flagged as “false” a story in the esteemed British Medical Journal about a shoddy Covid vaccine trial, and the editors of the journal in turn called Facebook’s fact-checking “inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible.”
No political system exists without its share of lies, obfuscation, and fake news, as Plato and Machiavelli taught. Yet even those thinkers would be puzzled by the immense power of modern technologies to generate stories. Ideas have become a battlefield, and we are all getting lost in the fog of the truth wars. When everything seems like it can be plausible to someone, the term “fake news” loses its meaning.
The celebrated expedient that an aristocracy has the right and the mission to offer “noble lies” to the citizens for their own good thus looks increasingly impotent. In October 2020, U.S. National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a veritable aristocrat of the scientific establishment, sought to delegitimize the recently released Great Barrington Declaration. Crafted by a group he referred to as “fringe epidemiologists” (they were from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford), the declaration questioned the mainstream lockdown approach to the pandemic, including school and business closures. “There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down,” Collins wrote in an email to fellow aristocrat Anthony Fauci.
But we now live in a moment where suppressing that kind of dissent has become impossible. By May 2021, that “fringe” became part of a new think tank, the Brownstone Institute, founded in reaction to what they describe as “the global crisis created by policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.” From this perspective, policies advanced by Collins and Fauci amounted to “a failed experiment in full social and economic control” reflecting “a willingness on the part of the public and officials to relinquish freedom and fundamental human rights in the name of managing a public health crisis.” The Brownstone Institute’s website is a veritable one-stop Internet shopping haven for anyone looking for well-credentialed expert opinions that counter more mainstream expert opinions on Covid.
Similarly, claims that the science around climate change is “settled,” and that therefore the world must collectively work to decarbonize the global energy system by 2050, have engendered a counter-industry of dissenting experts, organizations, and websites.
At this point, one might be forgiven for speculating that the public is being fed such a heavy diet of Covid and climate change precisely because these are problems that have been framed politically as amenable to a scientific treatment. But it seems that the more the authoritiesinsist on the factiness of facts, the more suspect these become to larger and larger portions of the populace.
A Scientific Reformation
The introduction of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century triggered a revolution in which the Church lost its monopoly on truth. Millions of books were printed in just a few decades after Gutenberg’s innovation. Some people held the printing press responsible for stoking collective economic manias and speculative bubbles. It allowed the widespread distribution of astrological almanacs in Europe, which fed popular hysteria around prophesies of impending doom. And it allowed dissemination of the Malleus Maleficarum, an influential treatise on demonology that contributed to rising persecution of witches.
Though the printing press allowed sanctioned ideas to spread like never before, it also allowed the spread of serious but hitherto suppressed ideas that threatened the legitimacy of the Church. A range of alternative philosophical, moral, and ideological perspectives on Christianity became newly accessible to ever-growing audiences. So did exposés of institutional corruption, such as the practice of indulgences — a market for buying one’s way out of purgatory that earned the Church vast amounts of money. Martin Luther, in particular, understood and exploited the power of the printing press in pursuing his attacks on the Church — one recent historical account, Andrew Pettegree’s book Brand Luther, portrays him as the first mass-market communicator.
To a religious observer living through the beginning of the Reformation, the proliferation of printed material must have appeared unsettling and dangerous: the end of an era, and the beginning of a threatening period of heterodoxy, heresies, and confusion. A person exposed to the rapid, unchecked dispersion of printed matter in the fifteenth century might have called many such publications fake news. Today many would say that it was the Reformation itself that did away with fake news, with the false orthodoxies of a corrupted Church, opening up a competition over ideas that became the foundation of the modern world. Whatever the case, this new world was neither neat nor peaceful, with the religious wars resulting from the Church’s loss of authority over truth continuing until the mid-seventeenth century.
Like the printing press in the fifteenth century, the Internet in the twenty-first has radically transformed and disrupted conventional modes of communication, destroyed the existing structure of authority over truth claims, and opened the door to a period of intense and tumultuous change.
Those who lament the death of truth should instead acknowledge the end of a monopoly system. Science was the pillar of modernity, the new privileged lens to interpret the real world and show a pathway to collective good. Science was not just an ideal but the basis for a regime, a monopoly system. Within this regime, truth was legitimized in particular private and public institutions, especially government agencies, universities, and corporations; it was interpreted and communicated by particular leaders of the scientific community, such as government science advisors, Nobel Prize winners, and the heads of learned societies; it was translated for and delivered to the laity in a wide variety of public and political contexts; it was presumed to point directly toward right action; and it was fetishized by a culture that saw it as single and unitary, something that was delivered by science and could be divorced from the contexts in which it emerged.
Such unitary truths included above all the insistence that the advance of science and technology would guarantee progress and prosperity for everyone — not unlike how the Church’s salvific authority could guarantee a negotiated process for reducing one’s punishment for sins. To achieve this modern paradise, certain subsidiary truths lent support. One, for example, held that economic rationality would illuminate the path to universal betterment, driven by the principle of comparative advantage and the harmony of globalized free markets. Another subsidiary truth expressed the social cost of carbon emissions with absolute precision to the dollar per ton, with the accompanying requirement that humans must control the global climate to the tenth of a degree Celsius. These ideas are self-evidently political, requiring monopolistic control of truth to implement their imputed agendas.
An easy prophesy here is that wars over scientific truth will intensify, as did wars over religious truth after the printing press. Those wars ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, followed, eventually, by the creation of a radically new system of governance, the nation-state, and the collapse of the central authority of the Catholic Church. Will the loss of science’s monopoly over truth lead to political chaos and even bloodshed? The answer largely depends upon the resilience of democratic institutions, and their ability to resist the authoritarian drift that seems to be a consequence of crises such as Covid and climate change, to which simple solutions, and simple truths, do not pertain.
Both the Church and the Protestants enthusiastically adopted the printing press. The Church tried to control it through an index of forbidden books. Protestant print shops adopted a more liberal cultural orientation, one that allowed for competition among diverse ideas about how to express and pursue faith. Today we see a similar dynamic. Mainstream, elite science institutions use the Internet to try to preserve their monopoly over which truths get followed where, but the Internet’s bottom-up, distributed architecture appears to give a decisive advantage to dissenters and their diverse ideologies and perspectives.
Holding on to the idea that science always draws clear boundaries between the true and the false will continue to appeal strongly to many sincere and concerned people. But if, as in the fifteenth century, we are now indeed experiencing a tumultuous transition to a new world of communication, what we may need is a different cultural orientation toward science and technology. The character of this new orientation is only now beginning to emerge, but it will above all have to accommodate the over-abundance of competing truths in human affairs, and create new opportunities for people to forge collective meaning as they seek to manage the complex crises of our day.
We humans like to think our mastery of language sets us apart from the communication abilities of other animals, but an eye-opening new analysis of chimpanzees might force a rethink on just how unique our powers of speech really are.
In a new study, researchers analyzed almost 5,000 recordings of wild adult chimpanzee calls in Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire (aka Ivory Coast).
When they examined the structure of the calls captured on the recordings, they were surprised to find 390 unique vocal sequences – much like different kinds of sentences, assembled from combinations of different call types.
Compared to the virtually endless possibilities of human sentence construction, 390 distinct sequences might not sound overly verbose.
Yet, until now, nobody really knew that non-human primates had so many different things to say to each other – because we’ve never quantified their communication capabilities to such a thorough extent.
“Our findings highlight a vocal communication system in chimpanzees that is much more complex and structured than previously thought,” says animal researcher Tatiana Bortolato from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
In the study, the researchers wanted to measure how chimpanzees combine single-use calls into sequences, order those calls within the sequences, and recombine independent sequences into even longer sequences.
While call combinations of chimpanzees have been studied before, until now the sequences that make up their whole vocal repertoire had never been subjected to a broad quantitative analysis.
To rectify this, the team captured 900 hours of vocal recordings made by 46 wild mature western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus), belonging to three different chimp communities in Taï National Park.
In analyzing the vocalizations, the researchers identified how vocal calls could be uttered singularly, combined in two-unit sequences (bigrams), or three-unit sequences (trigrams). They also mapped networks of how these utterances were combined, as well as examining how different kinds of frequent vocalizations were ordered and recombined (for example, bigrams within trigrams).
In total, 12 different call types were identified (including grunts, pants, hoos, barks, screams, and whimpers, among others), which appeared to mean different things, depending on how they were used, but also upon the context in which the communication took place.
“Single grunts, for example, are predominantly emitted at food, whereas panted grunts are predominantly emitted as a submissive greeting vocalization,” the researchers explain in their paper, led by co-first authors Cédric Girard-Buttoz and Emiliano Zaccarella.
“Single hoos are emitted to threats, but panted hoos are used in inter-party communication.”
In total, the researchers found these different kinds of calls could be combined in various ways to make up 390 different kinds of sequences, which they say may actually be an underestimation, given new vocalization sequences were still being found as the researchers hit their limit of field recordings.
Even so, the data so far suggest chimpanzee communication is much more complex than we realized, which has implications for the sophistication of meanings generated in their utterances (as well as giving new clues into the origins of human language).
“The chimpanzee vocal system, consisting of 12 call types used flexibly as single units, or within bigrams, trigrams or longer sequences, offers the potential to encode hundreds of different meanings,” the researchers write.
“Whilst this possibility is substantially less than the infinite number of different meanings that can be generated by human language, it nonetheless offers a structure that goes beyond that traditionally considered likely in primate systems.”
The next step, the team says, will be to record even larger datasets of chimpanzee calls, to try to assess just how the diversity and ordering of uttered sequences relates to versatile meaning generation, which wasn’t considered in this study.
There’s lots more to be said, in other words – by both chimpanzees and scientists alike.
“This is the first study in a larger project,” explains senior author Catherine Crockford, a director of research at the Institute for Cognitive Science at CNRS, in France.
“By studying the rich complexity of the vocal sequences of wild chimpanzees, a socially complex species like humans, we expect to bring fresh insight into understanding where we come from and how our unique language evolved.”