Arquivo da tag: ciência

Science and Policy Collide During the Pandemic (The Scientist)

Science and Policy Collide During the Pandemic
ABOVE: MODIFIED FROM © istock.com, VASELENA
COVID-19 has laid bare some of the pitfalls of the relationship between scientific experts and policymakers—but some researchers say there are ways to make it better.

Diana Kwon

Sep 1, 2020

Science has taken center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on, as SARS-CoV-2 started spreading around the globe, many researchers pivoted to focus on studying the virus. At the same time, some scientists and science advisors—experts responsible for providing scientific information to policymakers—gained celebrity status as they calmly and cautiously updated the public on the rapidly evolving situation and lent their expertise to help governments make critical decisions, such as those relating to lockdowns and other transmission-slowing measures.

“Academia, in the case of COVID, has done an amazing job of trying to get as much information relevant to COVID gathered and distributed into the policymaking process as possible,” says Chris Tyler, the director of research and policy in University College London’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP). 

But the pace at which COVID-related science has been conducted and disseminated during the pandemic has also revealed the challenges associated with translating fast-accumulating evidence for an audience not well versed in the process of science. As research findings are speedily posted to preprint servers, preliminary results have made headlines in major news outlets, sometimes without the appropriate dose of scrutiny.

Some politicians, such as Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, have been quick to jump on premature findings, publicly touting the benefits of treatments such as hydroxychloroquine with minimal or no supporting evidence. Others have pointed to the flip-flopping of the current state of knowledge as a sign of scientists’ untrustworthiness or incompetence—as was seen, for example, in the backlash against Anthony Fauci, one of the US government’s top science advisors. 

Some comments from world leaders have been even more concerning. “For me, the most shocking thing I saw,” Tyler says, “was Donald Trump suggesting the injection of disinfectant as a way of treating COVID—that was an eye-popping, mind-boggling moment.” 

Still, Tyler notes that there are many countries in which the relationship between the scientific community and policymakers during the course of the pandemic has been “pretty impressive.” As an example, he points to Germany, where the government has both enlisted and heeded the advice of scientists across a range of disciplines, including epidemiology, virology, economics, public health, and the humanities.

Researchers will likely be assessing the response to the pandemic for years to come. In the meantime, for scientists interested in getting involved in policymaking, there are lessons to be learned, as well some preliminary insights from the pandemic that may help to improve interactions between scientists and policymakers and thereby pave the way to better evidence-based policy. 

Cultural divisions between scientists and policymakers

Even in the absence of a public-health emergency, there are several obstacles to the smooth implementation of scientific advice into policy. One is simply that scientists and policymakers are generally beholden to different incentive systems. “Classically, a scientist wants to understand something for the sake of understanding, because they have a passion toward that topic—so discovery is driven by the value of discovery,” says Kai Ruggeri, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University. “Whereas the policymaker has a much more utilitarian approach. . . . They have to come up with interventions that produce the best outcomes for the most people.”

Scientists and policymakers are operating on considerably different timescales, too. “Normally, research programs take months and years, whereas policy decisions take weeks and months, sometimes days,” Tyler says. “This discrepancy makes it much more difficult to get scientifically generated knowledge into the policymaking process.” Tyler adds that the two groups deal with uncertainty in very different ways: academics are comfortable with it, as measuring uncertainty is part of the scientific process, whereas policymakers tend to view it as something that can cloud what a “right” answer might be. 

This cultural mismatch has been particularly pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as scientists work at breakneck speeds, many crucial questions about COVID-19—such as how long immunity to the virus lasts, and how much of a role children play in the spread of infection—remain unresolved, and policy decisions have had to be addressed with limited evidence, with advice changing as new research emerges. 

“We have seen the messy side of science, [that] not all studies are equally well-done and that they build over time to contribute to the weight of knowledge,” says Karen Akerlof, a professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University. “The short timeframes needed for COVID-19 decisions have run straight into the much longer timeframes needed for robust scientific conclusions.” 

Academia has done an amazing job of trying to get as much information  relevant to COVID gathered and distributed into the policymaking process as possible. —Chris Tyler, University College London

Widespread mask use, for example, was initially discouraged by many politicians and public health officials due to concerns about a shortage of supplies for healthcare workers and limited data on whether mask use by the general public would help reduce the spread of the virus. At the time, there were few mask-wearing laws outside of East Asia, where such practices were commonplace long before the COVID-19 pandemic began.  

Gradually, however, as studies began to provide evidence to support the use of face coverings as a means of stemming transmission, scientists and public health officials started to recommend their use. This shift led local, state, and federal officials around the world to implement mandatory mask-wearing rules in certain public spaces. Some politicians, however, used this about-face in advice as a reason to criticize health experts.  

“We’re dealing with evidence that is changing very rapidly,” says Meghan Azad, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Manitoba. “I think there’s a risk of people perceiving that rapid evolution as science [being] a bad process, which is worrisome.” On the other hand, the spotlight the pandemic has put on scientists provides opportunities to educate the general public and policymakers about the scientific process, Azad adds. It’s important to help them understand that “it’s good that things are changing, because it means we’re paying attention to the new evidence as it comes out.”

Bringing science and policy closer together

Despite these challenges, science and policy experts say that there are both short- and long-term ways to improve the relationship between the two communities and to help policymakers arrive at decisions that are more evidence-based.

Better tools, for one, could help close the gap. Earlier this year, Ruggeri brought together a group of people from a range of disciplines, including medicine, engineering, economics, and policy, to develop the Theoretical, Empirical, Applicable, Replicable, Impact (THEARI) rating system, a five-tiered framework for evaluating the robustness of scientific evidence in the context of policy decisions. The ratings range from “theoretical” (the lowest level, where a scientifically viable idea has been proposed but not tested) to “impact” (the highest level, in which a concept has been successfully tested, replicated, applied, and validated in the real world).

The team developed THEARI partly to establish a “common language” across scientific disciplines, which Ruggeri says would be particularly useful to policymakers evaluating evidence from a field they may know little about. Ruggeri hopes to see the THEARI framework—or something like it—adopted by policymakers and policy advisors, and even by journals and preprint servers. “I don’t necessarily think [THEARI] will be used right away,” he says. “It’d be great if it was, but we . . . [developed] it as kind of a starting point.” 

Other approaches to improve the communication between scientists and policymakers may require more resources and time. According to Akerlof, one method could include providing better incentives for both parties to engage with each other—by offering increased funding for academics who take part in this kind of activity, for instance—and boosting opportunities for such interactions to happen. 

Akerlof points to the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, which place scientists and engineers in various branches of the US government for a year, as an example of a way in which important ties between the two communities could be forged. “Many of those scientists either stay in government or continue to work in science policy in other organizations,” Akerlof says. “By understanding the language and culture of both the scientific and policy communities, they are able to bridge between them.”  

In Canada, such a program was established in 2018, when the Canadian Science Policy Center and Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, held the country’s first “Science Meets Parliament” event. The 28 scientists in attendance, including Azad, spent two days learning about effective communication and the policymaking process, and interacting with senators and members of parliament. “It was eye opening for me because I didn’t know how parliamentarians really live and work,” Azad says. “We hope it’ll grow and involve more scientists and continue on an annual basis . . . and also happen at the provincial level.”

The short timeframes needed for COVID-19 decisions have run straight into the much longer timeframes needed for robust scientific conclusions. —Karen Akerlof, George Mason University

There may also be insights from scientist-policymaker exchanges in other domains that experts can apply to the current pandemic. Maria Carmen Lemos, a social scientist focused on climate policy at the University of Michigan, says that one way to make those interactions more productive is by closing something she calls the “usability gap.”

“The usability gap highlights the fact that one of the reasons that research fails to connect is because [scientists] only pay attention to the [science],” Lemos explains. “We are putting everything out there in papers, in policy briefs, in reports, but rarely do we actually systematically and intentionally try to understand who is on the other side” receiving this information, and what they will do with it.

The way to deal with this usability gap, according to Lemos, is for more scientists to consult the people who actually make, influence, and implement policy changes early on in the scientific process. Lemos and her team, for example, have engaged in this way with city officials, farmers, forest managers, tribal leaders, and others whose decision making would directly benefit from their work. “We help with organization and funding, and we also work with them very closely to produce climate information that is tailored for them, for the problems that they are trying to solve,” she adds. 

Azad applied this kind of approach in a study that involves assessing the effects of the pandemic on a cohort of children that her team has been following from infancy, starting in 2010. When she and her colleagues were putting together the proposal for the COVID-19 project this year, they reached out to public health decision makers across the Canadian provinces to find out what information would be most useful. “We have made sure to embed those decision makers in the project from the very beginning to ensure we’re asking the right questions, getting the most useful information, and getting it back to them in a very quick turnaround manner,” Azad says. 

There will also likely be lessons to take away from the pandemic in the years to come, notes Noam Obermeister, a PhD student studying science policy at the University of Cambridge. These include insights from scientific advisors about how providing guidance to policymakers during COVID-19 compared to pre-pandemic times, and how scientists’ prominent role during the pandemic has affected how they are viewed by the public; efforts to collect this sort of information are already underway. 

“I don’t think scientists anticipated that much power and visibility, or that [they] would be in [public] saying science is complicated and uncertain,” Obermeister says. “I think what that does to the authority of science in the public eye is still to be determined.”

Talking Science to PolicymakersFor academics who have never engaged with policymakers, the thought of making contact may be daunting. Researchers with experience of these interactions share their tips for success.
1. Do your homework. Policymakers usually have many different people vying for their time and attention. When you get a meeting, make sure you make the most of it. “Find out which issues related to your research are a priority for the policymaker and which decisions are on the horizon,” says Karen Akerlof, a professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University.
2. Get to the point, but don’t oversimplify. “I find policymakers tend to know a lot about the topics they work on, and when they don’t, they know what to ask about,” says Kai Ruggeri, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University. “Finding a good balance in the communication goes a long way.”
3. Keep in mind that policymakers’ expertise differs from that of scientists. “Park your ego at the door and treat policymakers and their staff with respect,” Akerlof says. “Recognize that the skills, knowledge, and culture that translate to success in policy may seem very different than those in academia.” 
4. Be persistent. “Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a response immediately, or if promising communications don’t pan out,” says Meghan Azad, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Manitoba. “Policymakers are busy and their attention shifts rapidly. Meetings get cancelled. It’s not personal. Keep trying.”
5. Remember that not all policymakers are politicians, and vice versa. Politicians are usually elected and are affiliated with a political party, and they may not always be directly involved in creating new policies. This is not the case for the vast majority of policymakers—most are career civil servants whose decisions impact the daily living of constituents, Ruggeri explains. 

Indigenous knowledge still undervalued – study (EurekaAlert!)

News Release 3-Sep-2020

Respondents describe a power imbalance in environmental decision-making

Anglia Ruskin University

New research has found that Indigenous knowledge is regularly underutilised and misunderstood when making important environmental decisions.

Published in a special edition of the journal People and Nature, the study investigates how to improve collaborations between Indigenous knowledge holders and scientists, and recommends that greater equity is necessary to better inform decision-making and advance common environmental goals.

The research, led by Dr Helen Wheeler of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), involved participants from the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Russia, Canada, and the United States.

Indigenous peoples inhabit 25% of the land surface and have strong links to their environment, meaning they can provide unique insights into natural systems. However, the greater resources available to scientists often creates a power imbalance when environmental decisions are made.

The study’s Indigenous participants identified numerous problems, including that Indigenous knowledge is often perceived as less valuable than scientific knowledge and added as anecdotes to scientific studies.

They also felt that Indigenous knowledge was being forced into frameworks that did not match Indigenous people’s understanding of the world and is often misinterpreted through scientific validation. One participant expressed the importance of Indigenous knowledge being reviewed by Indigenous knowledge holders, rather than by scientists.

Another concern was that while funding for Arctic science was increasing, the same was not happening for research rooted in Indigenous knowledge or conducted by Indigenous peoples.

Gunn-Britt Retter, Head of the Arctic and Environmental Unit of the Saami Council, said: “Although funding for Arctic science is increasing, we are not experiencing this same trend for Indigenous knowledge research.

“Sometimes Indigenous organisations feel pressured to agree to requests for collaboration with scientists so that we can have some influence in decision-making, even when these collaborations feel tokenistic and do not meet the needs of our communities. This is because there is a lack of funding for Indigenous-led research.”

Victoria Buschman, Inupiaq Inuit wildlife and conservation biologist at the University of Washington, said: “Much of the research community has not made adequate space for Indigenous knowledge and continues to undermine its potential for information decision-making. We must let go of the narrative that working with Indigenous knowledge is too challenging.”

The study concludes that values, laws, institutions, funding and mechanisms of support that create equitable power-relations between collaborators are necessary for successful relationships between scientists and Indigenous groups.

Lead author Dr Helen Wheeler, Lecturer in Zoology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “The aim of this study was to understand how to work better with Indigenous knowledge. For those who do research on Indigenous people’s land, such as myself, I think this is an important question to ask.

“Our study suggests there are still misconceptions about Indigenous knowledge, particularly around the idea that it is limited in scope or needs verifying by science to be useful. Building capacity for research within Indigenous institutions is also a high priority, which will ensure Indigenous groups have greater power when it comes to informed decision-making.

“Indigenous knowledge is increasingly used in decision-making at many levels from developing international policy on biodiversity to local decisions about how to manage wildlife. However, as scientists and decision-makers use knowledge, they must do so in a way that reflects the needs of Indigenous knowledge holders. This should lead to better decisions and more equitable and productive partnerships.”

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10131

Study suggests religious belief does not conflict with interest in science, except among Americans (PsyPost)

Beth Ellwood – August 31, 2020

A new study suggests that the conflict between science and religion is not universal but instead depends on the historical and cultural context of a given country. The findings were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

It is widely believed that religion and science are incompatible, with each belief system involving contradictory understandings of the world. However, as study author Jonathan McPhetres and his team point out, the majority of research on this topic has been conducted in the United States.

“One of my main areas of research is trying to improve trust in science and finding ways to better communicate science. In order to do so, we must begin to understand who is more likely to be skeptical towards science (and why),” McPhetres, an assistant professor of psychology at Durham University, told PsyPost.

In addition, “there’s a contradiction between scientific information and many traditional religious teachings; the conflict between science and religion also seems more pronounced in some areas and for some people (conservative/evangelical Christians). So, I have partly been motivated to see exactly how true this intuition is.”

First, nine initial studies that involved a total of 2,160 Americans found that subjects who scored higher in religiosity showed more negative implicit and explicit attitudes about science. Those high in religiosity also showed less interest in science-related activities and a decreased interest in reading or learning about science.

“It’s important to understand that these results don’t show that religious people hate or dislike science. Instead, they are simply less interested when compared to a person who is less religious,” McPhetres said.

Next, the researchers analyzed data from the World Values Survey (WEVs) involving 66,438 subjects from 60 different countries. This time, when examining the relationship between religious belief and interest in science, correlations were less obvious. While on average, the two concepts were negatively correlated, the strength of the relationship was small and varied by country.

Finally, the researchers collected additional data from 1,048 subjects from five countries: Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Here, the relationship between religiosity and attitudes about science was, again, small. Furthermore, greater religiosity was actually related to greater interest in science.

Based on these findings from 11 different studies, the authors suggest that the conflict between religion and science, while apparent in the United States, may not generalize to other parts of the world, a conclusion that “severely undermines the hypothesis that science and religion are necessarily in conflict.” Given that the study employed various assessments of belief in science, including implicit attitudes toward science, interest in activities related to science, and choice of science-related topics among a list of other topics, the findings are particularly compelling.

“There are many barriers to science that need not exist. If we are to make our world a better place, we need to understand why some people may reject science and scientists so that we can overcome that skepticism. Everyone can contribute to this goal by talking about science and sharing cool scientific discoveries and information with people every chance you get,” McPhetres said.

The study, “Religious Americans Have Less Positive Attitudes Toward Science, but This Does Not Extend to Other Cultures”, was authored by Jonathon McPhetres, Jonathan Jong, and Miron Zuckerman.

In a polarized world, what does ‘follow the science’ mean? (The Christian Science Monitor)

Why We Wrote This

Science is all about asking questions, but when scientific debates become polarized it can be difficult for average citizens to interpret the merits of various arguments.

August 12, 2020

By Christa Case Bryant Staff writer, Story Hinckley Staff writer

Should kids go back to school? 

One South Korean contact-tracing study suggests that is a bad idea. In analyzing 5,706 COVID-19 patients and their 59,073 contacts, it concluded – albeit with a significant caveat – that 10- to 19-year-olds were the most contagious age group within their household.

A study out of Iceland, meanwhile, found that children under 10 are less likely to get infected and less likely than adults to become ill if they are infected. Coauthor Kári Stefánsson, who is CEO of a genetics company tracking the disease’s spread, said the study didn’t find a single instance of a child infecting a parent.

So when leaders explain their decision on whether to send kids back to school by saying they’re “following the science,” citizens could be forgiven for asking what science they’re referring to exactly – and how sure they are that it’s right. 

But it’s become difficult to ask such questions amid the highly polarized debate around pandemic policies. While areas of consensus have emerged since the pandemic first hit the United States in March, significant gaps remain. Those uncertainties have opened the door for contrarians to gain traction in popular thought.

Some Americans see them as playing a crucial role, challenging a fear-driven groupthink that is inhibiting scientific inquiry, driving unconstitutional restrictions on individual freedom and enterprise, and failing to grapple with the full societal cost of shutting down businesses, churches, and schools. Public health experts who see shutdowns as crucial to saving lives are critical of such actors, due in part to fears that they are abetting right-wing resistance to government restrictions. They have also voiced criticism that some contrarians appear driven by profit or political motives more than genuine concern about public health.

The deluge of studies and competing interpretations have left citizens in a tough spot, especially when data or conclusions are shared on Twitter or TV without full context – like a handful of puzzle pieces thrown in your face, absent any box top picture to help you fit them together. 

“You can’t expect the public to go through all the science, so you rely on people of authority, someone whom you trust, to parse that for you,” says Aleszu Bajak, a science and data journalist who teaches at Northeastern University in Boston. “But now you have more than just the scientists in their ivory tower throwing out all of this information. You have competing pundits, with different incentives, drawing on different science of varying quality.”

The uncertainties have also posed a challenge for policymakers, who haven’t had the luxury of waiting for the full arc of scientific inquiry to be completed.

“The fact is, science, like everything else, is uncertain – particularly when it comes to predictions,” says John Holdren, who served as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for the duration of President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure. “I think seasoned, experienced decision-makers understand that. They understand that there will be uncertainties, even in the scientific inputs to their decision-making process, and they have to take those into account and they have to seek approaches that are resilient to uncertain outcomes.” 

Some say that in an effort to reassure citizens that shutdowns were implemented based on scientific input, policymakers weren’t transparent enough about the underlying uncertainties. 

“We’ve heard constantly that politicians are following the science. That’s good, of course, but … especially at the beginning, science is tentative, it changes, it’s evolving fast, it’s uncertain,” Prof. Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute in London, recently told a British Parliament committee. One of the founding partners of his independent institute is Imperial College, whose researchers’ conclusions were a leading driver of U.S. and British government shutdowns.

“You can’t just have a single top line saying we’re following science,” he adds. “It has to be more dealing with what we know about the science and what we don’t.” 

Rick Bowmer/AP Granite School District teachers join others gathered at the Granite School District Office on Aug. 4, 2020, in Salt Lake City, to protest the district’s plans for reopening. Teachers showed up in numbers to make sure the district’s school board knew their concerns.

A focus on uncertainty

One scientist who talks a lot about unknowns is John Ioannidis, a highly cited professor of medicine, epidemiology, and population health at Stanford University in California.

Dr. Ioannidis, who has made a career out of poking holes in his colleagues’ research, agrees that masks and social distancing are effective but says there are open questions about how best to implement them. He has also persistently questioned just how deadly COVID-19 is and to what extent shutdowns are affecting mental health, household transmission to older family members, and the well-being of those with non-COVID-19-relatedconditions.

It’s very difficult, he says, to do randomized trials for things like how to reopen, and different countries and U.S. states have done things in different ways.

“For each one of these decisions, action plans – people said we’re using the best science,” he says. “But how can it be that they’re all using the best science when they’re so different?”

Many scientists say they and their colleagues have been open about the uncertainties,despite a highly polarized debate around the pandemic and the 2020 election season ramping up. 

“One of the remarkable things about this pandemic is the extent to which many people in the scientific community are explicit about what’s uncertain,” says Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who is working on a study about how biases can affect COVID-19 research. “There has been a sort of hard core of scientists, even with different policy predispositions, who have been insistent on that.”

“In some ways the politicized nature has made people more aware of the uncertainties,” adds Professor Lipsitch, who says Twitter skeptics push him and his colleagues to strengthen their arguments. “That’s a good voice to have in the back of your head.” 

For the Harvard doctor, Alex Berenson is not that voice. But a growing number of frustrated Americans have gravitated toward the former New York Times reporter’s brash, unapologetic challenging of prevailing narratives. His following on Twitter has grown from around 10,000 to more than 182,000 and counting. 

Mr. Berenson, who investigated big business before leaving The New York Times in 2010 to write spy novels, dives into government data, quotes from scientific studies, and takes to Twitter daily to rail against what he sees as a dangerous overreaction driven by irrational fear and abetted by a liberal media agenda and corporate interests – particularly tech companies, whose earnings have soared during the shutdowns. He refers satirically to those advocating government restrictions as “Team Apocalypse.”

Dr. Lipsitch says that while public health experts pushing for lockdown like himself could be considered hawks while contrarians like Mr. Berenson could be considered doves, his “name-calling” doesn’t take into account the fact that most scientists have at least a degree of nuance. “It’s really sort of unsophisticated to say there are two camps, but it serves some people’s interest to demonize the other side,” he says.

Mr. Berenson, the author of a controversial 2019 book arguing that marijuana increases the risk of mental illness and violence, has been accused of cherry-picking data and conflating correlation and causation. Amazon initially blocked publication of his booklet “Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1” until Elon Musk got wind of it and called out the tech giant on Twitter. Mr. Berenson prevailed and recently released Part 2 on the platform, which has already become Amazon’s No. 1 best-seller among history of science and medicine e-books.

He strives to broaden the public’s contextual understanding of fatality rates, emphasizing that the vast majority of deaths occur among the elderly; in Italy, for instance, the median age of people who died is 81. He calls into question the reliability of COVID-19 death tolls, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be categorized as such even without a positive test if the disease is assumed to have caused or even contributed to a death.

Earlier this spring, when a prominent model was forecasting overwhelmed hospitals in New York, he pointed out that their projection was quadruple that of the actual need. 

“Nobody had the guts or brains to ask – why is your model off by a factor of four today, and you made it last week?” says Mr. Berenson, referring to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projection in early April and expressing disappointment that his former colleagues in the media are not taking a harder look at such questions. “I think unfortunately people have been blinded by ideology.”

Politicization of science

Amid a sense of urgency, fear, and frustration with Americans who refuse to fall in line with government restrictions as readily as their European or especially Asian counterparts, Mr. Berenson and Dr. Ioannidis have faced blowback for airing questions about those restrictions and the science behind them.

Mr. Berenson’s book installments have prompted criticism that he’s looking for profits at the expense of public health, which he has denied. Dr. Ioannidis’ involvement in an April antibodies study in Santa Clara, California, which purported to show that COVID-19 is much less deadly than was widely believed was discredited by other scientists due to questions about the accuracy of the test used and a BuzzFeed report that it was partially funded by JetBlue Airways’ cofounder. Dr. Ioannidis says those questions were fully addressed within two weeks in a revised version that showed with far more extensive data that the test was accurate, and adds he had been unaware of the $5,000 donation, which came through the Stanford development office and was anonymized.

The dismay grew when BuzzFeed News reported in July that a month before the Santa Clara study, he had offered to convene a small group of world-renowned scientists to meet with President Donald Trump and help him solve the pandemic “by intensifying efforts to understand the denominator of infected people (much larger than what is documented to-date)” and developing a more targeted, data-driven approach than long-term shutdowns, which he said would “jeopardiz[e] so many lives,” according to emails obtained by BuzzFeed

While the right has seized on Dr. Ioannidis’ views and some scientists say it’s hard not to conclude that his work is driven by a political agenda, the Greek doctor maintains that partisanship is antithetical to the scientific method, which requires healthy skepticism, among other things.

“Even the word ‘science’ has been politicized. It’s very sad,” he says, observing that in the current environment, scientific conclusions are used to shame, smear, and “cancel” the opposite view. “I think it’s very unfortunate to use science as a silencer of dissent.”

The average citizen, he adds, is filtering COVID-19 debates through their belief systems, media sources, and political ideology, which can leave science at a disadvantage in the public square. “Science hasn’t been trained to deal with these kinds of powerful companions that are far more vocal and better armed to penetrate into social discourse,” says Dr. Ioannidis.

The polarization has been fueled in part by absolutist pundits. In a recent week, “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC daily hammered home the rising rate in cases, trumpeted the daily death toll, and quoted Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, while “The Tucker Carlson Show” on Fox News did not once mention government data, featuring instead anecdotes from business owners who have been affected by the shutdowns and calling into question the authority of unelected figures such as Dr. Fauci.

Fed on different media diets, it’s not surprising that partisan views on the severity of the pandemic have diverged further in recent months, with 85% of Democrats seeing it as a major threat – nearly double the percent of Republicans, according to a Pew Research poll from mid-July. And in a related division that predates the pandemic, another Pew poll from February showed that Republicans are less likely to support scientists taking an active role in social policy matters – just 43% compared with 73% for Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

“If you have more of a populist type of worldview, where you are concerned that elites and scientists and officials act in their own interests first, it becomes very easy to make assumptions that they are doing something to control the population,” says Prof. Asheley Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech University who specializes in science communication.

Beyond following the science

Determining what exactly “the science” says is only one part of the equation; figuring out precisely how to “follow” it poses another set of challenges for policymakers on questions like whether to send students back to school.

“Even if you had all the science pinned down, there are still some tough value judgments about the dangers of multiplying the pandemic or the dangers of keeping kids at home,” says Dr. Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, an engineer and physicist who now co-directs the science, technology, and public policy program at Harvard Kennedy School.

Dr. Lipsitch echoes that point and offers an example of two schools that both have a 10% risk of an outbreak. In one, where there are older students from high-income families who are more capable of learning remotely, leaders may decide that the 10% risk isn’t worth reopening. But in another school with the same assessed risk, where the students are younger and many depend on free and reduced lunch, a district may decide the risk is a trade-off they’re willing to make in support of the students’ education and well-being.

“Following the science just isn’t enough,” says Dr. Lipsitch. “It’s incumbent on responsible leaders to use science to do the reasoning about how to do the best thing given your values, but it’s not an answer.”

Climate scientists increasingly ignore ecological role of indigenous peoples (EurekAlert!)

News Release 20-Jul-2020

Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In their zeal to promote the importance of climate change as an ecological driver, climate scientists increasingly are ignoring the profound role that indigenous peoples played in fire and vegetation dynamics, not only in the eastern United States but worldwide, according to a Penn State researcher.

“In many locations, evidence shows that indigenous peoples actively managed vast areas and were skilled stewards of the land,” said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology. “The historical record is clear, showing that for thousands of years indigenous peoples set frequent fires to manage forests to produce more food for themselves and the wildlife that they hunted, and practiced extensive agriculture.”

Responding to an article published earlier this year in a top scientific journal that claimed fires set by Native Americans were rare in southern New England and Long Island, New York, and played minor ecological roles, Abrams said there is significant evidence to the contrary.

In an article published today (July 20) in Nature Sustainability, Abrams, who has been studying the historical use of fire in eastern U.S. forests for nearly four decades, refutes those contentions.

“The palaeoecological view — based on a science of analyzing pollen and charcoal in lake sediments — that has arisen over the last few decades, contending that anthropogenic fires were rare and mostly climate-driven, contradicts the proud legacy and heritage of land use by indigenous peoples, worldwide,” he said.

In his article, Abrams, the Nancy and John Steimer Professor of Agricultural Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences, argues that the authors of the previous paper assumed that the scarcity of charcoal indicated that there had not been burning. But frequent, low-intensity fires do not create the amount of charcoal that intense, crown-level, forest-consuming wildfires do, he pointed out.

“Surface fires set by indigenous people in oak and pine forests, which dominate southern New England, often produced insufficient charcoal to be noticed in the sediment,” said Abrams. “The authors of the earlier article did not consider charcoal types, which distinguish between crown and surface fires, and charcoal size — macro versus micro — to differentiate local versus regional fires.”

Also, lightning in New England could not account for the ignition of so many fires, Abrams argues. In southern New England, lightning-strike density is low and normally is associated with rain events.

“The region lacks dry lightning needed to sustain large fires,” he said. “Moreover, lightning storms largely are restricted to the summer when humidity is high and vegetation flammability is low, making them an unlikely ignition source.”

Early explorers and colonists of southern New England routinely described open, park-like forests and witnessed, firsthand, Native American vegetation management, Abrams writes in his article, adding that oral history and numerous anthropological studies indicate long-term burning and land-use for thousands of years by indigenous people.

Burning near Native American villages and along their extensive trail systems constitutes large land areas, and fires would have kept burning as long as fuel, weather and terrain allowed, he explained. Following European settlement, these open oak and pine woodlands increasingly became closed by trees that previously were held in check by frequent fire.

The authors of the previous paper also argued that fire should not be used as a present-day management tool, a view that Abrams does not support.

The role of anthropogenic fires is front and center in the long-running climate-disturbance debate, according to Abrams, who notes that fires increased with the rise of human populations. The world would be a very different place without those fires, he contends.

“Surprisingly, the importance of indigenous peoples burning in vegetation-fire dynamics is increasingly downplayed among paleoecologists,” he writes. “This applies to locations where lightning-caused fires are rare.”

Abrams points out that he is not denying the importance of climate in vegetation and fire dynamics or its role in enhancing the extent of human fires. “However,” he writes, “in oak-pine forests of southern New England, Native American populations were high enough, lighting-caused fires rare enough, vegetation flammable enough and the benefits of burning and agriculture great enough for us to have confidence in the importance of historic human land management.”

###

Gregory Nowacki, a scientist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Regional Forest Service Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, contributed to the article.

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0466-0

Scientists launch ambitious conservation project to save the Amazon (Mongabay)

Series: Amazon Conservation

by Shanna Hanbury on 27 July 2020

  • The Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA), an ambitious cooperative project to bring together the existing scientific research on the Amazon biome, has been launched with the support of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
  • Modeled on the authoritative UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, the first Amazon report is planned for release in April 2021; that report will include an extensive section on Amazon conservation solutions and policy suggestions backed up by research findings.
  • The Science Panel for the Amazon consists of 150 experts — including climate, ecological, and social scientists; economists; indigenous leaders and political strategists — primarily from the Amazon countries
  • According to Carlos Nobre, one of the leading scientists on the project, the SPA’s reports will aim not only to curb deforestation, but to propose an ongoing economically feasible program to conserve the forest while advancing human development goals for the region, working in tandem with, and in support of, ecological systems.
Butterflies burst into the sky above an Amazonian river. Image © Fernando Lessa / The Nature Conservancy.

With the Amazon rainforest predicted to be at, or very close to, its disastrous rainforest-to-savanna tipping point, deforestation escalating at a frightening pace, and governments often worsening the problem, the need for action to secure the future of the rainforest has never been more urgent.

Now, a group of 150 leading scientific and economic experts on the Amazon basin have taken it upon themselves to launch an ambitious conservation project. The newly founded Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA) aims to consolidate scientific research on the Amazon and propose solutions that will secure the region’s future — including the social and economic well-being of its thirty-five-million inhabitants.

“Never before has there been such a rigorous scientific evaluation on the Amazon,” said Carlos Nobre, the leading Amazon climatologist and one of the chairs of the Scientific Panel. The newly organized SPA, he adds, will model its work on the style of the authoritative reports produced by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in terms of academic diligence and the depth and breadth of analysis and recommendations.

The Amazon Panel, is funded by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network and supported by prominent political leaders, such as former Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos and the elected leader of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal. The SPA plans to publish its first report by April 2021.

Timber illegally logged within an indigenous reserve seized by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, before the election of Jair Bolsonaro. Under the Bolsonaro administration, IBAMA has been largely defunded. Image courtesy of IBAMA.

Reversing the Amazon Tipping Point

Over the last five decades, the Amazon rainforest lost almost a fifth of its forest cover, putting the biome on the edge of a dangerous cliff. Studies show that if 3 to 8% more forest cover is lost, then deforestation combined with escalating climate change is likely to cause the Amazon ecosystem to collapse.

After this point is reached, the lush, biodiverse rainforest will receive too little precipitation to maintain itself and quickly shift from forest into a degraded savanna, causing enormous economic damage across the South American continent, and releasing vast amounts of forest-stored carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the global climate.

Amazon researchers are now taking a proactive stance to prevent the Amazon Tipping Point: “Our message to political leaders is that there is no time to waste,” Nobre wrote in the SPA’s press release.

Amid escalating forest loss in the Amazon, propelled by the anti-environmentalist agenda of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, experts fear that this year’s burning season, already underway, may exceed the August 2019 wildfires that shocked the world. Most Amazon basin fires are not natural in cause, but intentionally set, often by land grabbers invading indigenous territories and other conserved lands, and causing massive deforestation.

“We are burning our own money, resources and biodiversity — it makes no sense,” Sandra Hacon told Mongabay; she is a prominent biologist at the Brazilian biomedical Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and has studied the effects of Amazon forest fires on health. It is expected that air pollution caused by this year’s wildfire’s, when combined with COVID-19 symptoms, will cause severe respiratory impacts across the region.

Bolivian ecologist Marielos Penã-Claros, notes the far-reaching economic importance of the rainforest: “The deforestation of the Amazon also has a negative effect on the agricultural production of Uruguay or Paraguay, thousands of kilometers away.”

The climate tipping point, should it be passed, would negatively effect every major stakeholder in the Amazon, likely wrecking the agribusiness and energy production sectors — ironically, the sectors responsible for much of the devastation today.

“I hope to show evidence to the world of what is happening with land use in the Amazon and alert other governments, as well as state and municipal-level leadership. We have a big challenge ahead, but it’s completely necessary,” said Hacon.

Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, but researchers say there is enough already degraded land there to support significant cattle expansion without causing further deforestation. The SPA may in its report suggest viable policies for curbing cattle-caused deforestation. Image ©Henrique Manreza / The Nature Conservancy.

Scientists offer evidence, and also solutions

Creating a workable blueprint for the sustainable future of the Amazon rainforest is no simple task. The solutions mapped out, according to the Amazon Panel’s scientists, will seek to not only prevent deforestation and curb global climate change, but to generate a new vision and action plan for the Amazon region and its residents — especially, fulfilling development goals via a sustainable standing-forest economy.

The SPA, Nobre says, will make a critical break with the purely technical approach of the United Nation’s IPCC, which banned policy prescriptions entirely from its reports. In practice, this has meant that while contributing scientists can show the impacts of fossil fuels on the atmosphere, they cannot recommend ending oil subsidies, for example. “We inverted this logic, and the third part of the [SPA] report will be entirely dedicated to searching for policy suggestions,” Nobre says. “We need the forest on its feet, the empowerment of the traditional peoples and solutions on how to reach development goals.”

Researchers across many academic fields (ranging from climate science and economics to history and meteorology) are collaborating on the SPA Panel, raising hopes that scientific consensus on the Amazon rainforest can be reached, and that conditions for research cooperation will greatly improve.

Indigenous Munduruku dancers in the Brazilian Amazon. The SPA intends to gather Amazon science and formulate socio-economic solutions in order to make sound recommendations to policymakers. Image by Mauricio Torres / Mongabay.

SPA participants hope that a thorough scientific analysis of the rainforest’s past, present and future will aid in the formulation of viable public policies designed to preserve the Amazon biome — hopefully leading to scientifically and economically informed political decisions by the governments of Amazonian nations.

“We are analyzing not only climate but biodiversity, human aspects and preservation beyond the climate issues,” Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist at the University of São Paulo, told Mongabay.

Due to the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, the initiative’s initial dates for a final report were pushed forward by several months, and a conference in China cancelled entirely. But the 150-strong team is vigorously pushing forward, and the first phase of the project — not publicly available — is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The hope on the horizon is that a unified voice from the scientific community will trigger long-lasting positive changes in the Amazon rainforest. “More than ever, we need to hear the voices of the scientists to enable us to understand how to save the Amazon from wanton and unthinking destruction,” said Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, on the official launch website called The Amazon We Want.

Banner image: Aerial photo of an Amazon tributary surrounded by rainforest. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

“Como pesquisadores, precisamos ter a humildade de assumir que nos deparamos com os limites da técnica e da ciência” (Revista Pesquisa Fapesp)

Depoimento concedido a Christina Queiroz. 5 de julho de 2020

“A chegada da Covid-19 causou um impacto muito forte em todos os meus colegas na Universidade Federal do Amazonas [Ufam]. Com minha esposa, estou fazendo um isolamento rigoroso em Manaus, porque tenho quase 60 anos, tomo remédios para controlar pressão e diabetes. Vivemos semanas muito tristes, marcadas por muita dor e sofrimento. Como indígena, sigo perdendo amigos, familiares e lideranças de longa data. Fomos pegos de surpresa. Não acreditávamos na possibilidade de uma tragédia humanitária como essa. Faço parte de uma geração de indígenas que tem fé no poder da ciência, da tecnologia e acredita nos avanços proporcionados pela modernidade. No nosso pensamento, o vírus representa um elemento a mais da natureza. E, por causa da nossa fé no poder da ciência e da medicina científica, não esperávamos uma submissão tão grande da humanidade a um elemento tão pequeno e invisível. Assim, a primeira consequência da chegada da pandemia foi pedagógica e causou reflexões sobre nossa compreensão do mundo e de nós mesmos. 

Como pesquisadores acadêmicos, também precisamos ter a humildade de assumir que nos deparamos com os limites da técnica e da ciência. Ter humildade não significa se apequenar, mas, sim, buscar complementar os conhecimentos acadêmicos com outros saberes, para além da ciência eurocêntrica, e isso inclui as ciências indígenas. Ficou evidente o quanto é perigosa a trajetória que a humanidade está tomando, um caminho à deriva, sem lideranças, sem horizonte claro à possibilidade da própria existência humana. Somos uma sociedade que caminha para sua autodestruição. A natureza mostrou sua força, evidenciou que a palavra final é dela, e não dos humanos. 

Com o passar das semanas, essa ideia foi sendo incorporada em nossa maneira de compreender, explicar, aceitar e conviver com a nova realidade. Os povos indígenas apresentam cosmovisões milenares, mas que são atualizadas de tempos em tempos, como tem acontecido na situação atual. Passamos a olhar para a nova situação como uma oportunidade para empreender uma revisão cosmológica, filosófica, ontológica e epistemológica da nossa existência e buscar formas pedagógicas para sofrer menos. Nós, indígenas, somos profundamente emotivos. Amamos a vida e nossa existência não é pautada pela materialidade. O momento atual representa uma situação única de formação, pois afeta nossas emoções e valores. Ficamos surpresos com o pouco amor à vida das elites econômicas e de parte dos governantes, mas também de uma parcela significativa da população. A pandemia revelou essas deficiências. 

Por outro lado, um dos elementos que emergiu desse processo é uma profunda solidariedade, que tem permitido aos povos indígenas sobreviver no contexto atual. Identificamos fragilidades e limites. Também potencializamos nossas fortalezas. Uma delas, a valorização do conhecimento tradicional, considerado elemento do passado. Redescobrimos o valor do Sistema Único de Saúde [SUS], com toda a fragilidade que foi imposta a ele por diferentes governos. O SUS tem sido um gigante em um momento muito difícil para toda a sociedade.

Coordeno o curso de formação de professores indígenas da Faculdade de Educação da Ufam e me envolvo diariamente em discussões como essas com os alunos. São mais de 300 estudantes que fazem parte desse programa, divididos em cinco turmas. Recentemente, um deles morreu por conta de complicações causadas pelo novo coronavírus. No Amazonas, há mais de 2 mil professores indígenas atuando nas escolas das aldeias. Tenho muito trabalho com atividades burocráticas, para atualizar o registro acadêmico dos alunos e analisar suas pendências. Estamos planejando como fazer a retomada das atividades presenciais de ensino, mas essa retomada só deve acontecer em 2021. Enquanto isso, seminários on-line permitem dar continuidade ao processo de ensino-aprendizagem e ajudam a fomentar a volta de um espírito de solidariedade entre os estudantes indígenas, a valorização da natureza e a recuperação de saberes tradicionais sobre plantas e ervas medicinais. Em condições normais, a possibilidade de participar de tantos seminários e discussões não seria possível. Essas reflexões realizadas durante os encontros virtuais vão se transformar em material didático e textos publicados. Escrever esses textos me ajuda na compreensão da realidade e permite que esse saber seja compartilhado. 

Estamos realizando uma pesquisa para identificar quantos alunos do programa dispõem de equipamentos e acesso à internet. Muitos estão isolados em suas aldeias, alguns deles se refugiaram em lugares ainda mais remotos e só acessam a internet em situações raras e pontuais, quando precisam ir até as cidades. Em Manaus, constatamos que apenas 30% dos estudantes da Faculdade de Educação da Ufam dispõem de equipamento pessoal para utilizar a internet. No interior, entre os alunos dos territórios, esse percentual deve ser de menos de 10%. Devemos ter os resultados desse levantamento nas próximas semanas. Sou professor há 30 anos e trabalho com organizações e lideranças indígenas e vejo como esse fator dificulta o planejamento de qualquer atividade remota. Quando tivermos os resultados dessa pesquisa, a ideia é ter uma base de dados para que o movimento indígena se organize para solucionar o problema. Essa situação de ensino remoto pode se prolongar e precisamos estar preparados para não prejudicar os direitos dos alunos e vencer a batalha da inclusão digital.

Há 50 dias, vivíamos o pico da pandemia em Manaus. Estávamos apavorados, com 140 mortes diárias e as pessoas sendo enterradas em valas coletivas. Essa semana foi a primeira que sentimos um alívio. Hoje, 25 de junho, foi o primeiro dia em que nenhuma morte por coronavírus foi registrada na cidade. O medo agora é que pessoas desinformadas, ou menos sensíveis à vida, com o relaxamento das regras de isolamento, provoquem uma segunda onda de contaminação. Percebemos que as pessoas abandonaram as práticas de isolamento e muitas nem sequer utilizam máscaras. Mas começamos a sair do fundo do poço, inclusive o existencial. As estruturas montadas para o caos, como os hospitais de campanha, estão sendo desmontadas. 

Tivemos perdas de lideranças e pajés indígenas irreparáveis e insubstituíveis. Com a morte desses sábios, universos de sabedoria milenar desapareceram. Os pajés são responsáveis por produzir e manter o conhecimento tradicional, que só é repassado para alguns poucos herdeiros escolhidos, que precisam ser formados em um processo ritualístico longo e repleto de sacrifícios. As gerações mais jovens apresentam dificuldades para seguir esses protocolos e, por causa disso, o conhecimento tradicional tem enfrentado dificuldades em ser repassado. Eu e meus colegas da Ufam e dos movimentos indígenas estamos incentivando a nova geração a criar estratégias para absorver essa sabedoria, porque muitos sábios seguirão vivos. Escolas e universidades também podem colaborar com o processo, reconhecendo a importância desses saberes. Com os jovens, estamos insistindo que chegou a hora de garantir a continuidade dos saberes tradicionais. 

Com a melhoria da situação em Manaus, minha preocupação agora se voltou para o interior, onde foram notificadas 24 mortes nas últimas 24 horas. A população do interior representa menos de 50% da do Amazonas, estado onde as principais vítimas têm sido indígenas, do mesmo modo que acontece em Roraima. Toda minha família vive em São Gabriel da Cachoeira, incluindo minha mãe de 87 anos. A cidade já registrou mais de 3 mil casos e 45 mortes e ainda não atingiu o pico da pandemia. Há cerca de 800 comunidades no entorno do município e sabemos que o vírus já se espalhou por quase todas elas.

Porém há algo que nos alivia. Inicialmente ficamos apavorados, pensando que o vírus causaria um genocídio na população da cidade e seus entornos. O único hospital de São Gabriel não possui leitos de UTI [Unidade de Terapia Intensiva]. Passados 45 dias da notificação do primeiro caso na cidade, apesar das perdas significativas, vemos que as pessoas têm conseguido sobreviver à doença se cuidando em suas próprias casas, com medicina tradicional e fortalecendo laços de solidariedade. Minha mãe ficou doente, apresentou os sintomas da Covid-19. Também meus irmãos e uma sobrinha de minha mãe de 67 anos. Eles não foram testados. Decidiram permanecer em suas casas e cuidar uns dos outros, se valendo de ervas e cascas de árvores da medicina tradicional. Sobreviveram. Sabiam que ir para o hospital lotado naquele momento significaria morrer, pois a estrutura é precária e eles ficariam sozinhos. Ao optar por permanecer em casa, possivelmente transmitiram a doença um ao outro, mas a solidariedade fez a diferença. Um cuidou do outro. Culturalmente, a ideia de isolar o doente é algo impossível para os indígenas, pois seria interpretado como abandono, falta de solidariedade e desumanidade, o que é reprovável. Os laços de solidariedade vão além do medo de se contaminar.”

How ‘vaccine nationalism’ could block vulnerable populations’ access to COVID-19 vaccines (The Conversation)

June 17, 2020 8.16am EDT

Ana Santos Rutschman, Assistant Professor of Law, Saint Louis University

Hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine candidates are currently being developed. The way emerging vaccines will be distributed to those who need them is not yet clear. The United States has now twice indicated that it would like to secure priority access to doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Other countries, including India and Russia, have taken similar stances. This prioritization of domestic markets has become known as vaccine nationalism.

As a researcher at Saint Louis University’s Center for Health Law Studies, I have been following the COVID-19 vaccine race. Vaccine nationalism is harmful for equitable access to vaccines – and, paradoxically, I’ve concluded it is detrimental even for the U.S. itself.

Vaccine nationalism during COVID-19

Vaccine nationalism occurs when a country manages to secure doses of vaccine for its own citizens or residents before they are made available in other countries. This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer.

In March, the White House met with representatives from CureVac, a German biotech company developing a COVID-19 vaccine. The U.S. government is reported to have inquired about the possibility of securing exclusive rights over the vaccine. This prompted the German government to comment that “Germany is not for sale.” Angela Merkel’s chief of staff promptly stated that a vaccine developed in Germany had to be made available in “Germany and the world.”

On June 15, the German government announced it would be investing 300 million euros (nearly US$340 million) in CureVac for a 23% stake in the company.

In April, the CEO of Sanofi, a French company whose COVID-19 vaccine work has received partial funding from the U.S Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, announced that the U.S. had the “right to the largest pre-order” of vaccine.

Following public outcry and pressure from the French government, Sanofi altered its stance and said that it would not negotiate priority rights with any country.

In India, the privately held Serum Institute is developing one of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The Serum Institute signaled that, if development of the vaccine succeeds, most of the initial batches of vaccine will be distributed within India.

At the same time, India, alongside the U.S. and Russia, chose not to join the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, which was launched by the World Health Organization to promote collaboration among countries in the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Vaccine nationalism is not new

Vaccine nationalism is not new. During the early stages of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, some of the wealthiest countries entered into pre-purchase agreements with several pharmaceutical companies working on H1N1 vaccines. At that time, it was estimated that, in the best-case scenario, the maximum number of vaccine doses that could be produced globally was 2 billion. The U.S. alone negotiated and obtained the right to buy 600,000 doses. All the countries that negotiated pre-purchase orders were developed economies.

Only when the 2009 pandemic began to unwind and demand for a vaccine dropped did developed countries offer to donate vaccine doses to poorer economies.

The problems posed by nationalism

The most immediate effect of vaccine nationalism is that it further disadvantages countries with fewer resources and bargaining power. It deprives populations in the Global South from timely access to vital public health goods. Taken to its extreme, it allocates vaccines to moderately at-risk populations in wealthy countries over populations at higher risk in developing economies.

Vaccine nationalism also runs against the fundamental principles of vaccine development and global public health. Most vaccine development projects involve several parties from multiple countries.

With modern vaccines, there are very few instances in which a single country can claim to be the sole developer of a vaccine. And even if that were possible, global public health is borderless. As COVID-19 is illustrating, pathogens can travel the globe. Public health responses to outbreaks, which include the deployment of vaccines, have to acknowledge that reality.

How nationalism can backfire in the US

The U.S. in notorious for its high drug prices. Does the U.S. government deserve to obtain exclusive rights for a vaccine that may be priced too high? Such a price may mean that fewer U.S. citizens and residents – especially those who are uninsured or underinsured – would have access to the vaccine. This phenomenon is a form of what economists call deadweight loss, as populations in need of a welfare-enhancing product are priced out. In public health, deadweight loss costs lives.

This is not a hypothetical scenario. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has told Congress that the government will not intervene to guarantee affordability of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

Secretary Azar has said the U.S. government wants the private sector to invest in vaccine development and manufacturing; if the U.S. sets prices, companies may not make that investment because the vaccines won’t be profitable. This view has been widely criticized. A commentator has called it “bad public health policy,” further pointing out that American taxpayers already fund a substantial amount of vaccine research and development in the U.S. Moreover, as legal scholars have pointed out, there are many regulatory perks and other incentives available exclusively to pharmaceutical companies.

If COVID-19 vaccines are not made available affordably to those who need them, the consequences will likely be disproportionately severe for poorer or otherwise vulnerable and marginalized populations. COVID-19 has already taken a higher toll on black and Latino populations. Without broad access to a vaccine, these populations will likely continue to suffer more than others, leading to unnecessary disease burden, continued economic problems and potential loss of life.

What needs to be done

Nationalism is at odds with global public health principles. Yet, there are no provisions in international laws that prevent pre-purchase agreements like the ones described above. There is nothing inherently wrong with pre-purchase agreements of pharmaceutical products. Vaccines typically do not generate as much in sales as other medical products. If used correctly, pre-purchase agreements can even be an incentive for companies to manufacture vaccines that otherwise would not commercialized. Institutions like Gavi, an international nonprofit based in Geneva, use similar mechanisms to guarantee vaccines for developing countries.

But I see vaccine nationalism as a misuse of these agreements.

Contracts should not trump equitable access to global public health goods. I believe that developed countries should pledge to refrain from reserving vaccines for their populations during public health crises. The WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator is a starting point for countries to test collaborative approaches during the current pandemic.

But more needs to be done. International institutions – including the WHO – should coordinate negotiations ahead of the next pandemic to produce a framework for equitable access to vaccines during public health crises. Equity entails both affordability of vaccines and access opportunities for populations across the world, irrespective of geography and geopolitics.

Insofar as the U.S. can be considered a leader in the global health arena, I believe it should stop engaging in overly nationalistic behaviors. Failure to do so harms patient populations across the globe. Ultimately, it may harm its own citizens and residents, and perpetuate structural inequalities in our health care system.

Cientistas pedem paralização acadêmica em apoio ao movimento Vidas Negras Importam (GIZMODO)

Por Ryan F. Mandelbaum, 9 de junho de 2020. Tradução de Renzo Taddei; revisão de Fernando Martins.

Artigo original

A supremacia branca é parte da organização da ciência e da academia, desde a linguagem racista presente em livros didáticos até uma cultura que exclui cientistas negros do avanço e inovação profissional em ritmo similar ao de seus colegas brancos. Neste momento, no lugar de mais declarações tímidas de apoio e iniciativas de promoção de diversidade racial, os pesquisadores querem ação. Os organizadores do movimento #ShutDownSTEM estão pedindo à comunidade científica que participe de uma paralisação do trabalho na quarta-feira, 10 de junho, para chamar a atenção para o racismo no mundo da pesquisa.

Dois grupos de cientistas, tecnólogos e especialistas em diversidade e inclusão se reuniram para organizar uma paralisação e greve em 10 de junho, com as hashtags #ShutDownAcademia, #ShutDownSTEM e #Strike4BlackLives. Ambos os grupos solicitam aos pesquisadores e acadêmicos que paralisem suas atividades cotidianas e, concentrem-se em ações de longo prazo: educando-se nos problemas enfrentados pelos acadêmicos negros, protestando e elaborando planos com base no trabalho realizado pelos líderes negros para desmantelar o racismo entrincheirado em seus respectivos campos de atuação. Centenas de cientistas, incluindo ganhadores do Prêmio Nobel e pesquisadores renomados, assinaram o compromisso de participar.

“Precisamos assumir a responsabilidade de acabar com o racismo contra pessoas negras em nossas comunidades nas áreas de ciência, tecnologia, engenharia e matemática (grupo de disciplinas designadas pela sigla STEM nos países de língua inglesa), e na academia em geral. Isso é extremamente importante por causa do nosso papel na sociedade”, disse Brittany Kamai, física experimental que atua na Universidade da Califórnia, Santa Cruz e no Caltech, ao Gizmodo,. “Vai ser difícil, e a comunidade crescerá com isso. Pedimos a toda a comunidade do STEM e da academia que se comprometam a crescer juntos para erradicar isso”, disse Kamai, organizadora da #ShutDownAcademia/# ShutDownSTEM e nativa do Havaí.

Os protestos contra a violência policial direcionada às pessoas negras nos EUA serviram como catalisador para o movimento #ShutDownAcademia/# ShutDownSTEM colaborar com uma iniciativa de pesquisadores do campo da física, o Partículas para a Justiça (Particles for Justice). Mas essas questões há muito vêm borbulhando na comunidade científica. Um relatório no início deste ano constatou que a já desanimadora percentagem de estudantes negros formados em física não mudou em 10 anos, em parte devido à falta de apoio e orientação, assim como decorrente do declínio no financiamento de faculdades e universidades historicamente negros.

A discriminação contra os cientistas negros também se faz presente de maneira insidiosa. Os laboratórios ainda se referem a parte de equipamentos como “mestre” e “escravo”, enquanto o marco mais comumente discutido na computação quântica é a “supremacia quântica”. Há poucos, se houver algum, periódicos científicos trabalhando de forma ativa para avaliar essa forma de linguagem. Os prédios nos campi das faculdades recebem o nome de pessoas racistas ou que foram proprietários de escravos, e pseudociência costuma ser usada para tentar racionalizar e justificar o racismo.

“Quando [a comunidade acadêmica] tenta mostrar o valor da diversidade e da inclusão, o faz transferindo às pessoas marginalizadas a responsabilidade por sua própria libertação”, comentou Brian Nord, pesquisador do Fermilab, “Eles fazem com que nós, que já estamos inseridos nesse sistema e que enfrentamos os problemas que o sistema criou, realizemos essas atividades e nos juntemos a esses comitês (de promoção de igualdade racial) e todas essas coisas, que acabaram servindo apenas como vitrines … Não há investimento real e compromisso com esta questão”.


Esse trabalho de ativismo coloca os acadêmicos negros em desvantagem e afeta as perspectivas de avanço na carreira, uma vez que os demais pesquisadores destinam período de tempo equivalente para publicar artigos,. Quando surgiram questões de violência policial contra negros, disse Kamai, seus colegas procuraram apoio em outros lugares que não a comunidade acadêmica, como coletivos acadêmicos liderados por negros.

“Não queremos mais seminários sobre diversidade, inclusão e equidade”, disse Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, professora assistente de física e integrante do corpo docente dos estudos de gênero da Universidade de New Hampshire, ao Gizmodo. “Queremos que as pessoas tomem medidas efetivas, incluindo a participação em protestos por justiça. Precisamos que as pessoas sejam ativas na reforma das instituições em que trabalham, em vez de esperar por uma solução de cima para baixo”. Prescod-Weinstein é uma das organizadoras do movimento Particles for Justice.

Tais grupos pedem a todos os cientistas que usem o dia 10 de junho para educar a si mesmos e a seus alunos, organizar protestos, entrar em contato com seus representantes locais e fazer planos de ação sobre como eles trabalharão para mudar a ciência e a academia, ao invés de simplesmente fazer um dia de greve. Igualmente importante, dizem os organizadores, é que os colegas negros usem o dia para priorizar suas necessidades e encontrar apoio em suas comunidades.

Kamai disse que o #ShutDownSTEM não se destina a cientistas diretamente envolvidos na mitigação da pandemia global de covid-19. Ainda assim, o grupo Particles for Justice incentiva os pesquisadores sobre a COVID-19 a tomar um momento na quarta-feira para refletir sobre como seu trabalho pode contribuir para esses pedidos de justiça.

Nord disse ao Gizmodo que espera que os físicos apliquem ao movimento a mesma paixão que eles trazem para descobrir as verdades fundamentais do universo, como se sua vida e a de todos os cientistas negros dependesse disso. “Essa energia e criatividade são o que precisamos. Precisamos que eles tragam sua compaixão e vontade de aprender novos métodos e coisas novas, de pessoas que já sabem como fazer isso. ”

Esses movimentos exigem a participação de aliados não-negros para que as mudanças ocorram, especialmente em campos como a física. “A física de partículas é uma das disciplinas acadêmicas com as mais baixas representações dos cientistas negros”, disse Tien-Tien Yu, professor assistente de física da Universidade do Oregon. “A greve trará atenção a esse fato, e é importante para nós, como comunidade, entender por que a situação está neste ponto, e mais crucialmente, propor soluções concretas. Mas, primeiro, esperamos que os físicos não-negros finalmente aprendam a ouvir o que os cientistas negros vêm dizendo durante todos esses anos”.

Mais de 3.100 acadêmicos se comprometeram a atuar com o Particles for Justice, incluindo os ganhadores do Prêmio Nobel de Física Adam Riess e Art McDonald.

Grupos científicos de primeira importância já declararam sua participação. A plataforma de artigos arXiv, onde os cientistas costumam postar seus trabalhos de pesquisa antes da publicação, não enviará sua comunicação diária. Grupos como o LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration, o Dark Energy Survey e outros já concordaram em adiar reuniões regulares ou estão planejando discussões com os membros de seus grupos. A Associação Canadense de Físicos também anunciou sua participação.

Os movimentos Particles for Justice e #ShutDownAcademia/#ShutDownSTEM listaram ações que acadêmicos e profissionais da academia interessados em participar podem adotar para desmantelar o racismo em seus respectivos campos.

Ryan F. Mandelbaum, divulgador da ciências, fundador da Birdmodo

Breve reflexão sobre racismo estrutural nos institutos de produção de ciência no Brasil

Renzo Taddei e Fernando Martins – 10 de junho de 2020

Na data de hoje (10/06) aconteceu o enterro de George Floyd. Temos acompanhado as notícias de protestos e um crescimento da indignação social com relação ao racismo ao redor do mundo durante esta última semana. O portal GIZMODO publicou o artigo “Scientists Call for Academic Shutdown in Support of Black Lives” que tomamos a liberdade de traduzir para a língua portuguesa (ver abaixo).

Nosso intuito é promover uma reflexão e discussão sobre as questões raciais na comunidade acadêmica e como, nós professores/pesquisadores compreendemos a questão, e que propostas podemos apresentar para trabalhar esta temática de forma efetiva nas nossas ações, sejam na nossa rotina acadêmica, sejam em nossa vida particular.

Todas as organizações e institutos de produção científica existem dentro de um contexto maior social, cultural, político e econômico. De maneira geral, tais organizações refletem estes elementos do mundo social na forma como existem e levam a cabo suas atividades. Desta forma, disparidades e injustiças históricas que acabaram por transformar-se em parte das estruturas da sociedades maior se fazem presentes também em instituições científicas. Quando tais desigualdades e injustiças vinculam-se a questões raciais, têm-se o chamado racismo estrutural.

O racismo estrutural mantém-se presente mesmo que as pessoas não se comportem de forma intencionalmente racista. Basta que as coisas se reproduzam como são, e as injustiças presentes nas estruturas da realidade se propagam no tempo, mesmo que as pessoas envolvidas não sejam capazes de entender onde exatamente o racismo se encontra.

O fato de que a imensa maioria dos departamentos universitários no Brasil não possuem sequer um professor negro sugere uma de duas alternativas: 1) os acadêmicos negros não se interessam por temas ligados aos temas de pesquisa de tais departamentos; ou 2) o racismo estrutural está vivo e firme entre nós. Obviamente, a primeira opção não faz qualquer sentido, e estamos assumindo que não houve ação racista intencional nos concursos que proveram o corpo docente de cada departamento e instituição.

A ocasião dos movimentos antirracistas no Brasil, nos Estados Unidos e em outros países é propícia para que a campo da ciência no Brasil promova reflexões internas e busque entender se o problema do racismo estrutural existe dentro das instituições, e o que pode ser feito para que diagnósticos sejam elaborados e soluções sejam propostas. É muito provável que exista um componente de racismo estrutural nas formas de ingresso à universidade, tanto na graduação como na pós; nos critérios de avaliação de desempenho de estudantes, na questão das reprovações, no problema da evasão. Só saberemos a respeito com dados empíricos sobre estes temas, em que a variável racial seja tomada em conta.

Universidades, institutos e departamentos precisam formar grupos de trabalho, com docentes, técnicos administrativos e alunos, para debater o problema e propor encaminhamentos.

Segue o texto do artigo traduzido:

CIENTISTAS PEDEM PARALISAÇÃO ACADÊMICA EM APOIO AO MOVIMENTO VIDAS NEGRAS IMPORTAM (GIZMODO)

Por Ryan F. Mandelbaum, 9 de junho de 2020. Tradução de Renzo Taddei; revisão de Fernando Martins.

Artigo original

A supremacia branca é parte da organização da ciência e da academia, desde a linguagem racista presente em livros didáticos até uma cultura que exclui cientistas negros do avanço e inovação profissional em ritmo similar ao de seus colegas brancos. Neste momento, no lugar de mais declarações tímidas de apoio e iniciativas de promoção de diversidade racial, os pesquisadores querem ação. Os organizadores do movimento #ShutDownSTEM estão pedindo à comunidade científica que participe de uma paralisação do trabalho na quarta-feira, 10 de junho, para chamar a atenção para o racismo no mundo da pesquisa.

Dois grupos de cientistas, tecnólogos e especialistas em diversidade e inclusão se reuniram para organizar uma paralisação e greve em 10 de junho, com as hashtags #ShutDownAcademia, #ShutDownSTEM e #Strike4BlackLives. Ambos os grupos solicitam aos pesquisadores e acadêmicos que paralisem suas atividades cotidianas e, concentrem-se em ações de longo prazo: educando-se nos problemas enfrentados pelos acadêmicos negros, protestando e elaborando planos com base no trabalho realizado pelos líderes negros para desmantelar o racismo entrincheirado em seus respectivos campos de atuação. Centenas de cientistas, incluindo ganhadores do Prêmio Nobel e pesquisadores renomados, assinaram o compromisso de participar.

“Precisamos assumir a responsabilidade de acabar com o racismo contra pessoas negras em nossas comunidades nas áreas de ciência, tecnologia, engenharia e matemática (grupo de disciplinas designadas pela sigla STEM nos países de língua inglesa), e na academia em geral. Isso é extremamente importante por causa do nosso papel na sociedade”, disse Brittany Kamai, física experimental que atua na Universidade da Califórnia, Santa Cruz e no Caltech, ao Gizmodo,. “Vai ser difícil, e a comunidade crescerá com isso. Pedimos a toda a comunidade do STEM e da academia que se comprometam a crescer juntos para erradicar isso”, disse Kamai, organizadora da #ShutDownAcademia/# ShutDownSTEM e nativa do Havaí.

Os protestos contra a violência policial direcionada às pessoas negras nos EUA serviram como catalisador para o movimento #ShutDownAcademia/# ShutDownSTEM colaborar com uma iniciativa de pesquisadores do campo da física, o Partículas para a Justiça (Particles for Justice). Mas essas questões há muito vêm borbulhando na comunidade científica. Um relatório no início deste ano constatou que a já desanimadora percentagem de estudantes negros formados em física não mudou em 10 anos, em parte devido à falta de apoio e orientação, assim como decorrente do declínio no financiamento de faculdades e universidades historicamente negros.

A discriminação contra os cientistas negros também se faz presente de maneira insidiosa. Os laboratórios ainda se referem a parte de equipamentos como “mestre” e “escravo”, enquanto o marco mais comumente discutido na computação quântica é a “supremacia quântica”. Há poucos, se houver algum, periódicos científicos trabalhando de forma ativa para avaliar essa forma de linguagem. Os prédios nos campi das faculdades recebem o nome de pessoas racistas ou que foram proprietários de escravos, e pseudociência costuma ser usada para tentar racionalizar e justificar o racismo.

“Quando [a comunidade acadêmica] tenta mostrar o valor da diversidade e da inclusão, o faz transferindo às pessoas marginalizadas a responsabilidade por sua própria libertação”, comentou Brian Nord, pesquisador do Fermilab, “Eles fazem com que nós, que já estamos inseridos nesse sistema e que enfrentamos os problemas que o sistema criou, realizemos essas atividades e nos juntemos a esses comitês (de promoção de igualdade racial) e todas essas coisas, que acabaram servindo apenas como vitrines … Não há investimento real e compromisso com esta questão”.

Esse trabalho de ativismo coloca os acadêmicos negros em desvantagem e afeta as perspectivas de avanço na carreira, uma vez que os demais pesquisadores destinam período de tempo equivalente para publicar artigos,. Quando surgiram questões de violência policial contra negros, disse Kamai, seus colegas procuraram apoio em outros lugares que não a comunidade acadêmica, como coletivos acadêmicos liderados por negros.

“Não queremos mais seminários sobre diversidade, inclusão e equidade”, disse Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, professora assistente de física e integrante do corpo docente dos estudos de gênero da Universidade de New Hampshire, ao Gizmodo. “Queremos que as pessoas tomem medidas efetivas, incluindo a participação em protestos por justiça. Precisamos que as pessoas sejam ativas na reforma das instituições em que trabalham, em vez de esperar por uma solução de cima para baixo”. Prescod-Weinstein é uma das organizadoras do movimento Particles for Justice.

Tais grupos pedem a todos os cientistas que usem o dia 10 de junho para educar a si mesmos e a seus alunos, organizar protestos, entrar em contato com seus representantes locais e fazer planos de ação sobre como eles trabalharão para mudar a ciência e a academia, ao invés de simplesmente fazer um dia de greve. Igualmente importante, dizem os organizadores, é que os colegas negros usem o dia para priorizar suas necessidades e encontrar apoio em suas comunidades.

Kamai disse que o #ShutDownSTEM não se destina a cientistas diretamente envolvidos na mitigação da pandemia global de covid-19. Ainda assim, o grupo Particles for Justice incentiva os pesquisadores sobre a COVID-19 a tomar um momento na quarta-feira para refletir sobre como seu trabalho pode contribuir para esses pedidos de justiça.

Nord disse ao Gizmodo que espera que os físicos apliquem ao movimento a mesma paixão que eles trazem para descobrir as verdades fundamentais do universo, como se sua vida e a de todos os cientistas negros dependesse disso. “Essa energia e criatividade são o que precisamos. Precisamos que eles tragam sua compaixão e vontade de aprender novos métodos e coisas novas, de pessoas que já sabem como fazer isso. ”

Esses movimentos exigem a participação de aliados não-negros para que as mudanças ocorram, especialmente em campos como a física. “A física de partículas é uma das disciplinas acadêmicas com as mais baixas representações dos cientistas negros”, disse Tien-Tien Yu, professor assistente de física da Universidade do Oregon. “A greve trará atenção a esse fato, e é importante para nós, como comunidade, entender por que a situação está neste ponto, e mais crucialmente, propor soluções concretas. Mas, primeiro, esperamos que os físicos não-negros finalmente aprendam a ouvir o que os cientistas negros vêm dizendo durante todos esses anos”.

Mais de 3.100 acadêmicos se comprometeram a atuar com o Particles for Justice, incluindo os ganhadores do Prêmio Nobel de Física Adam Riess e Art McDonald.

Grupos científicos de primeira importância já declararam sua participação. A plataforma de artigos arXiv, onde os cientistas costumam postar seus trabalhos de pesquisa antes da publicação, não enviará sua comunicação diária. Grupos como o LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration, o Dark Energy Survey e outros já concordaram em adiar reuniões regulares ou estão planejando discussões com os membros de seus grupos. A Associação Canadense de Físicos também anunciou sua participação.

Os movimentos Particles for Justice e #ShutDownAcademia/#ShutDownSTEM listaram ações que acadêmicos e profissionais da academia interessados em participar podem adotar para desmantelar o racismo em seus respectivos campos.

Ryan F. Mandelbaum, divulgador da ciências, fundador da Birdmodo

Crédito: Antonio O. Silva

Book Review: Why Science Denialism Persists (Undark)

BooksPrint

Two new books explore what motivates people to reject science — and why it’s so hard to shake deep-seated beliefs.

By Elizabeth Svoboda – 05.22.2020

To hear some experts tell it, science denial is mostly a contemporary phenomenon, with climate change deniers and vaccine skeptics at the vanguard. Yet the story of Galileo Galilei reveals just how far back denial’s lineage stretches.

BOOK REVIEW “Galileo and the Science Deniers,” by Mario Livio (Simon & Schuster, 304 pages).

Years of astronomical sightings and calculations had convinced Galileo that the Earth, rather than sitting at the center of things, revolved around a larger body, the sun. But when he laid out his findings in widely shared texts, as astrophysicist Mario Livio writes in “Galileo and the Science Deniers,” the ossified Catholic Church leadership — heavily invested in older Earth-centric theories — aimed its ire in his direction.

Rather than revise their own maps of reality to include his discoveries, clerics labeled him a heretic and banned his writings. He spent the last years of his life under house arrest, hemmed in by his own insistence on the expansiveness of the cosmos.

Nearly 400 years later, the legacy of denial remains intact in some respects. Scientists who publish research about climate change or the safety of genetically modified crops still encounter the same kind of pushback from deniers that Galileo did. Yet denialism has also sprouted some distinctly modern features: As Alan Levinovitz points out in “Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science,” sometimes we ourselves can become unwitting purveyors of denial, falling prey to flawed or false beliefs we may not realize we’re holding.

Levinovitz passionately protests the common assumption that natural things are inherently better than unnatural ones. Not only do people automatically tend to conclude organic foods are healthier, many choose “natural” or “alternative” methods of cancer treatment over proven chemotherapy regimens. Medication-free childbirth, meanwhile, is now considered the gold standard in many societies, despite mixed evidence of its health benefits for mothers and babies.

BOOK REVIEW “Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science,” by Alan Levinovitz (Beacon Press, 264 pages).

“What someone calls ‘natural’ may be good,” writes Levinovitz, a religion professor at James Madison University, “but the association is by no means necessary, or even likely.” Weaving real-life examples with vivid retellings of ancient myths about nature’s power, he demonstrates that our pro-natural bias is so pervasive that we often lose the ability to see it — or to admit the legitimacy of science that contradicts it.

From this perspective, science denial starts to look like a stunted outgrowth of what we typically consider common sense. In Galileo’s time, people thought it perfectly sensible that the planet they inhabited was at the center of everything. Today, it might seem equally sensible that it’s always better to choose natural products over artificial ones, or that a plant burger ingredient called “soy leghemoglobin” is suspect because it’s genetically engineered and can’t be sourced in the wild. Yet in these cases, what we think of as common sense turns out to be humbug.

In exploring the past and present of anti-science bias, Livio and Levinovitz show how deniers’ basic toolbox has not changed much through the centuries. Practitioners marshal arguments that appeal to our tendency to think in dichotomies: wrong or right, saved or damned, pure or tainted. Food is either nourishing manna from the earth or processed, artificial junk. The Catholic Church touted its own supreme authority while casting Galileo as an unregenerate apostate.

In the realm of denialism, Levinovitz writes, “simplicity and homogeneity take precedence over diversity, complexity, and change. Righteous laws and rituals are universal. Disobedience is sacrilege.”

The very language of pro-nature, anti-science arguments, Levinovitz argues, is structured to play up this us-versus-them credo. Monikers like Frankenfood — often used to describe genetically-modified (GM) crops — frame the entire GM food industry as monstrous, a deviation from the supposed order of things. And in some circles, he writes, the word “unnatural” has come to be almost a synonym for “moral deficiency.” Not only is such black-and-white rhetoric seductive, it can give deniers the heady sense that they occupy the moral high ground.

Both pro-natural bias and the Church’s crusade against Galileo reflect the human penchant to fit new information into an existing framework. Rather than scrapping or changing that framework, we try to jerry-rig it to make it function. Some of the jerry-rigging examples the authors describe are more toxic than others: Opting for so-called natural foods despite dubious science on their benefits, for instance, is less harmful than denying evidence of a human-caused climate crisis.

What’s more, many people actually tend to cling harder to their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. Studies confirm that facts and reality aren’t likely to sway most people’s pre-existing views. This is as true now as it was at the close of the Renaissance, as shown by some extremists’ stubborn denial that the Covid-19 virus is dangerous.

In the realm of denialism, “simplicity and homogeneity take precedence over diversity, complexity, and change.”

In one of his book’s most compelling chapters, Livio takes us inside a panel of theologians that convened in 1616 to rule on whether the sun was at the center of things. None of Galileo’s incisive arguments swayed their thinking one iota. “This proposition is foolish and absurd in philosophy,” the theologians wrote, “and formally heretical, since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” Cardinal Bellarmino warned Galileo that if he did not renounce his heliocentric views, he could be thrown into prison.

Galileo’s discoveries threatened to topple a superstructure that the Church had spent hundreds of years buttressing. In making their case against him, his critics liked to cite a passage from Psalm 93: “The world also is established that it cannot be moved.”

Galileo refused to cave. In his 1632 book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,” he did give the views of Pope Urban VIII an airing: He repeated Urban’s statement that no human could ever hope to decode the workings of the universe. But Livio slyly points out that Galileo put these words in the mouth of a ridiculous character named Simplicio. It was a slight Urban would not forgive. “May God forgive Signor Galilei,” he intoned, “for having meddled with these subjects.”

At the close of his 1633 Inquisition trial, Galileo was forced to declare that he abandoned any belief that the Earth revolved around the sun. “I abjure, curse, and detest the above-mentioned errors and heresies.” He swore that he would never again say “anything which might cause a similar suspicion about me.” Yet as he left the courtroom, legend goes, he muttered to himself “E pur si muove” (And yet it moves).

In the face of science denial, Livio observes, people have taken up “And yet it moves” as a rallying cry: a reminder that no matter how strong our prejudices or presuppositions, the facts always remain the same. But in today’s “post-truth era,” as political theorist John Keane calls it, with little agreement on what defines a reliable source, even the idea of an inescapable what is seems to have receded from view.

Levinovitz’s own evolution in writing “Natural” reveals how hard it can be to elevate facts above all, even for avowed anti-deniers. When he began his research, he picked off instances of pro-natural bias as if they were clay pigeons, confident in the rigor of his approach. “Confronted with a false faith, I had resolved that it was wholly evil,” he reflects.

Yet he later concedes that a favoritism toward nature is logical in domains like sports, which celebrate the potential of the human body in its unaltered form. He also accepts one expert’s point that it makes sense to buy organic if the pesticides used are less dangerous to farm workers than conventional ones. By the end of the book, he finds himself in a more nuanced place: “The art of celebrating humanity and nature,” he concludes, depends on “having the courage to embrace paradox.” His quest to puncture the myth of the natural turns out to have been dogmatic in its own way.

In acknowledging this, Levinovitz hits on something important. When deniers take up arms, it’s tempting to follow their lead: to use science to build an open-and-shut case that strikes with the finality of a courtroom witness pointing out a killer.

But as Galileo knew — and as Levinovitz ultimately concedes — science, in its endlessly unspooling grandeur, tends to resist any conclusion that smacks of the absolute. “What only science can promise,” Livio writes, “is a continuous, midcourse self-correction, as additional experimental and observational evidence accumulates, and new theoretical ideas emerge.”

In their skepticism of pat answers, these books bolster the case that science’s strength is in its flexibility — its willingness to leave room for iteration, for correction, for innovation. Science is an imperfect vehicle, as any truth-seeking discipline must be. And yet, as Galileo would have noted, it moves.

Elizabeth Svoboda is a science writer based in San Jose, California. Her most recent book for children is “The Life Heroic.”

Related

Opinion: The Roots of Modern Medical Denialism

The religious roots of Trump’s magical thinking on coronavirus (CNN)

Analysis by Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor

Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT) May 21, 2020

(CNN) As the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, President Trump has repeated one phrase like a mantra: It will go away.

Since February Trump has said the virus will “go away” at least 15 times, most recently on May 15.

“It’s going to disappear one day,” he said on February 27. “It’s like a miracle.”

Invoking a miracle is an understandable response during a pandemic, but to some, the President’s insistence that the coronavirus will simply vanish sounds dangerously like magical thinking — the popular but baffling idea that we can mold the world to our liking, reality be damned.

The coronavirus, despite Trump’s predictions, has not disappeared. It has spread rapidly, killing more than 90,000 Americans.

In that light, Trump’s response to the pandemic, his fulsome self-praise and downplaying of mass death seems contrary to reality. But long ago, his biographers say, Trump learned how to craft his own version of reality, a lesson he learned in an unlikely place: a church.

It’s called the “power of positive thinking,” and Trump heard it from the master himself: the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, a Manhattan pastor who became a self-help juggernaut, the Joel Osteen of the 1950s.

“He thought I was his greatest student of all time,” Trump has said.

Undoubtedly, the power of positive thinking has taken Trump a long way — through multiple business failures to the most powerful office in the world.

Trump has repeatedly credited Peale — who died in 1993 — and positive thinking with helping him through rough patches.

Norman Vincent Peale wrote the bestselling 1952 self-help book, "The Power of Positive Thinking." It sold millions of copies.

Norman Vincent Peale wrote the bestselling 1952 self-help book, “The Power of Positive Thinking.” It sold millions of copies.

“I refused to be sucked into negative thinking on any level, even when the indications weren’t great,” Trump said of the early 1990s, when his casinos were tanking and he owed creditors billions of dollars.

But during a global public health crisis there can be a negative side to positive thinking.

“Trump pretending that this pandemic will just go away is not just an unacceptable fantasy,” said Christopher Lane, author of “Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life.”

“It is in the realm of dangerous delusion.”

Trump says Peale has made him feel better about himself

Though they were professed Presbyterians, it’s more accurate to call Trump’s family Peale-ites.

On Sundays, Trump’s businessman father drove the family from Queens to Peale’s pulpit at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.

The centuries-old edifice was, and remains, the closest thing Trump has to a family church. Funerals for both of his parents were held there, and Peale presided over Trump’s marriage to Ivana at Marble Collegiate in 1977. Two of his siblings were also married in the sanctuary.

The draw, Trump’s biographers say, was Peale, who elevated businessmen like the Trumps to saint-like status as crusaders of American capitalism.

Known as “God’s Salesman,” Peale wrote many self-help books, including “The Power of Positive Thinking,” that sold millions of copies.

From left to right, Donald Trump, Ivana Trump, Ruth Peale and Dr. Norman V. Peale at Peale's 90th birthday party in 1988.

From left to right, Donald Trump, Ivana Trump, Ruth Peale and Dr. Norman V. Peale at Peale’s 90th birthday party in 1988.

Peale drew throngs of followers, but also sharp criticism from Christians who accused him of cherry-picking Bible verses and peddling simplistic solutions.

But the young Donald Trump was hooked.

“He would instill a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself,” Trump writes in “Great Again,” one of his books. “I would literally leave that church feeling like I could listen to another three sermons.”

Peale peppered his sermons with pop psychology. Sin and guilt were jettisoned in favor of “spirit-lifters,” “energy-producing thoughts” and “7 simple steps” to happy living.

“Attitudes are more important than facts,” Peale preached, a virtual prophecy of our post-truth age.”Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale writes in “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

“Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.”

Peale has also influenced Trump’s spiritual advisers

To this day, Trump surrounds himself with Peale-like figures, particularly prosperity gospel preachers.

One of his closest spiritual confidantes, Florida pastor Paula White, leads the White House’s faith-based office and is a spiritual descendent of Peale’s positive thinking — with a Pentecostal twist.

White, a televangelist, belongs to the Word of Faith movement, which teaches that God bestows health and wealth on true believers.

In a Rose Garden ceremony for the National Day of Prayer earlier this month, White quoted from the Bible’s Book of Job: “If you decree and declare a thing, it will be established.”

“I declare no more delays to the deliverance of Covid-19,” White continued. “No more delays to healing and a vaccination.”

Paula White, a televangelist and religious adviser to President Trump.

Paula White, a televangelist and religious adviser to President Trump.

The Book of Job, a parable of human suffering and powerlessness, may be a strange book for a preacher to cite while “declaring” an end to the pandemic. If it were so easy, Job’s story would involve fewer boils and tortures.

But in a way, White perfectly captures the problem with positive thinking: It tries to twist every situation into a “victory,” even when reality demonstrates otherwise.

“Positive thinking can help people focus on goals and affirm one’s merits,” said Lane, author of the book on Peale. “But it does need a reality check, and to be based in fact.

“Sometimes, the reality is that you’ve failed and need to change course. But to Peale, that wasn’t an option. Even self-doubt was a sin, he taught, an affront to God.

“He had a huge problem with failure,” Lane said. “He would berate people for even talking about it.”

Peale’s teachings can explain why Trump won’t accept criticism

You can hear echoes of Peale’s no-fail philosophy in Trump’s angry response to reporters’ questions about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, said Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

“Nothing is an exchange of ideas or discussion of facts,” D’Antonio said. “Everything is a life or death struggle for the definition of reality. For him, being wrong feels like being obliterated.”

President Donald Trump answers questions with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 3, 2020 in Washington.

President Donald Trump answers questions with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 3, 2020 in Washington.

And that’s one reason why the President refuses to accept any criticism or admit to any failure. To do so would puncture his bubble of positivity, not to mention his self-image.

So, despite his administration’s early missteps in preparing for and responding to the coronavirus, Trump won’t acknowledge any errors.

Instead, he has misled the public, claiming in February that the situation was “under control” when it was not; promising a vaccine is coming “very soon,” which it is not; and falsely insisting that “anyone can get tested,” when they could not and many still cannot.

Still, when asked in mid-March to grade his administration’s response, Trump gave himself a perfect score.

“I’d rate it a 10,” he said. “I think we’ve done a great job.”

Trump’s self-appraisal might not match reality. But Peale would be proud.

Covid Fallout [2] (Synthetic Zero)

· by Patrick jennings

Solutions to Enable Your COVID-19 Research | BD Biosciences-CA

Throughout the Covid crisis, the use of the war metaphor, as means of persuasion and matrix of explanation, has become pervasive in politics and the popular media.

Both practices have been able to make use of such rhetoric because the discourse on war, attrition and the destruction of enemies is so deeply embedded in the structure of public discourse, from ubiquitous and seemingly benign tropes valorising competition, to the outright eulogising of violence as the natural mediator between individuals, groups, classes, ethnicities, cultures, and nation-states.

Moreover, it seems entirely plausible to extend the metaphor of war and struggle to our relation with the natural world, enabling a discourse in which natural processes, set in motion by bio-molecular mechanisms, are capable of being mastered by science.

Science just is, from this perspective, a series of feed-back loops in which the accumulation of knowledge and experimental know-how leads to mastery over nature and mastery over nature leads to more knowledge and know how,  ad infinitum.

This is a version of the Baconian trope in which nature is put to the wrack and interrogated for it’s secrets but one in which cybernetics, systems theory and big data allow for an expansion of the field of knowable objects to include the system of the interrogator and his acts of interrogation.

Defeated, abased, nature must yield.

In this war on nature, in which the war on Coronavirus is but one “theatre of operations”, the techno-scientific industrialised exploitation and extermination of non-human and human animals is it’s quintessential modus operandi.

What is good and true for science just is, necessarily, good and true for the human as such.  But human here is an image abstracted from and other than the human-animal and it’s symbiotic connection with the ecology of living entities. It is, rather, an excess of the human animal carried over after an operation in which experience is subsumed under a system of bifurcations. This excess is an illusory mode of transcendence.

The Covid crisis is most probably a dry run for what awaits us down the road as the climate crisis intensifies.

During the unfolding of the pandemic, it was notable that scientists and doctors remained, for the most part, wary of presumption in the face of the unknown, choosing to concentrate instead on the behaviour of the virus in particular human environments before attempting generalised pronouncements.

Grounded in observation, this was good science, a science in which anthropomorphic presumptions played only a small part. It was made possible by wide-scale testing and the correlation and analysis of data on the actual unfolding of the pandemic, which, for all science knew, could have included the annihilation of the species.

Here, for all to see, was an example of the difference between the actual practice of science, always localised contingent and rather anarchic in it’s evolution, and the ideology of mastery, control and expertise; an ideology enabled on a philosophical structure in which the real is bifurcated, producing a thought-complex of human subject-agents and a field of objects and processes subjected to a regime of mastery.

One productive way of looking at the ideology of mastery is as the explicit expression of an implicit or philosophically esoteric sufficiency in which science becomes the arbitrator of what is known and knowable and what is known and knowable just is scientific, in all but name.

Science, taken up into the ideology of mastery, arbitrarily sets it’s compass and draws, godlike, the arc of the world.

As with Covid, the evolution of the climate crisis will most probably unfold unevenly  across geographical regions as a series of local emergencies, each set on its own trajectory by the generation and replication of feedback loops in which human agency is only one strand in a complex of becomings.

As with Covid this “dance of agency” between human and non human entities will unfold inclusive of the decisions, actions and reactions of the presumed primary actors – those who are supposed to exercise control over outcomes by “managing” the crisis on our behalf.

The ideology of management and eventual mastery is a doubling in thought of the always and already immanent unfolding of the real, inclusive of the subject-object dichotomy which enables the illusion of transcendent knowing and techno-mastery.

Such a real never enters into the realm of the scientific or philosophical subject and it’s field of knowable objects and systems of objects.

Recent climate discourse has taken on board talk of the “Anthropocene” as evidence for the emergence of an epoch of human dominance over nature in which the human “footprint” is literally inscribed on geological strata.

The inscription of the human onto planetary geology is often accompanied by speculations about an acceleration in human technological prowess leading to a “singularity” at some time in the near future; at which point technological civilization will make a qualitative leap, establishing the dominance of the human over the planetary system and it’s myriad life forms as an accomplished fact.

Thus, a positivist rhetoric of acceleration, mastery and control sees the human take charge of the contingent, variable and complex earth-system to impose a consciously interested anthropomorphic regime on what is perceived as a complex of “mechanical” and therefore “manageable” processes.

Such rhetoric almost always includes a naturalization of capitalism in which acceleration is a spontaneous result of the free reign of market forces, an unruly energy domesticated by a corporate or state structure, more often than not presided over by a charismatic individual.

Under such a scenario democracy is optional at best, at worst a hindrance to the generation of what is conceived as the proper management and eventual mastery of the eco/social system.

It is still unclear how such a planetary wide consensus among ruling elites could be achieved, taking into account the resurgence of the ideology of the nation state and the discrediting of the idea of inter-state unions, international bodies and structures of trans-national governance.

The Covid crisis has intensified the contradiction between a strong version of nation-statehood and a neo-liberal valorisation of free markets, deregulation, free flow of labour and capital, international supply chains and minimal state interference.

The axioms of neo-liberal ideological orthodoxy have been, almost universally, unceremoniously abandoned, if only for the present.

More importantly Covid has driven an even bigger wedge between liberal, democratic and rights based ideologies of reform, “new deal” regeneration and green transition and the more authoritarian forms of “new nationalism”.

As we emerge from the first phase of the pandemic, the struggle between these two tendencies will probably intensify. Already, international bodies such as the U.N are aligning themselves with those who see the transition from lock-down as an opportunity to establish the structural changes necessary for a more ecologically sustainable economy.

Capitalism has, of course, always had to negotiate a balance between the model advocating for a strong public sector, fiscal and regulatory intervention, forward planning and a welfare state and the neo-liberal free market, anti-state and anti-regulatory model we have endured for the last thirty years.

In reality this ideological difference masks periodic shifts from one one extreme to the other as cycles of boom and bust override ideological preferences. Both the climate crisis and the Covid pandemic underscore the limitations of all existing capitalist models to adequately account for the real cost of the consumption driven economy.

The real cost has always been borne by the human and non human animal, that is by the ecological community of life forms.

As the pandemic has made clear, even something as unvarying in its constitution as a virus will have varied consequences as it interacts with local economies, social systems and cultures.

This “uneven development” is equally applicable to the spread of capital, which must negotiate local conditions as it expands and contracts, mutates and recalibrates according to the complex of human affordances of which it is a particular expression.

This network of relation extends beyond the economic, the social and the cultural and includes, ultimately, all of the extended complexities of the planetary eco-system. As a species we are dependent on a complex of ecological checks and balances all of which have been progressively undermined by human activity.

At a more fundamental level we are subject to entirely arbitrary events beyond our present understanding and indifferent to our interests.

The ideology of techno-mastery, management and expertise is based on a vision of control over the variable and the contingent. This fallacy is exposed time and again, even within the supposed confines of the social and economic system. Indeed, it is this very act of conceptual enclosure which makes possible the belief in some future state of absolute control over the social/ecological/planetary system.

Paradoxically, this very ideology of control, more often than not, acts as a top-down hindrance to the bottom-up exercise of a plurality of collective and individual responses. It is out of this anarchic mech of knowings and doings that forms of relative control arise as a collective orientation around workable solutions.

In a network of contingencies, in which our own agency forms only one strand in a myriad of becomings, it is this diversity of response which enables the sort of open-ended social, political, administrative and scientific plasticity necessary for our continued existence as a species.

The ideology of mastery, management and control, despite it’s claim to have transcended the particular and the local, is itself enabled on contingent processes and diverse responses. It’s claim is a reworking of the religious impulse on the secular plane, in which knowing has ascended to a level of sufficiency akin to godlike omniscience.

It’s undoing, likewise, will most likely proceed from the ground up, inclusive of the political, ethical and philosophical practices of those who consciously set themselves against the existing state of the situation.

This, of course, excludes the possibility of sheer bad luck and the unfolding of an unexpected disaster, against which our life would be seen to have been bracketed as a moment of contingent grace.

The struggle against Covid could have been our swan song. That possibility is the simple and absolute refutation of the theory and practice (the ideology) of mastery.

Addendum:

I use the term animal, human animal, becoming and the real interchangeably, as free floating placeholders, in the spirit expressed below by Deleuze and Guattari:

“Becoming is certainly not imitating, or identifying with something; neither is it regressing-progressing; neither is it corresponding, establishing corresponding relations; neither is it producing, producing a filiation or producing through filiation. Becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to, “appearing,” “being,” “equaling,” or “producing.””

This puts the series of terms in some sort of relation with Laruelle’s use of “The Real” or “Man-in-person” and distinguishes it from the forms of empirical knowledge which are taken up into ecological or systems theorising of a strictly scientific nature or into loose scientific/philosophical combinations.

Crises are no excuse for lowering scientific standards, say ethicists (Science News)

Date: April 23, 2020

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Summary: Ethicists are calling on the global research community to resist treating the urgency of the current COVID-19 outbreak as grounds for making exceptions to rigorous research standards in pursuit of treatments and vaccines.

Ethicists from Carnegie Mellon and McGill universities are calling on the global research community to resist treating the urgency of the current COVID-19 outbreak as grounds for making exceptions to rigorous research standards in pursuit of treatments and vaccines.

With hundreds of clinical studies registered on ClinicalTrials.gov, Alex John London, the Clara L. West Professor of Ethics and Philosophy and director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon, and Jonathan Kimmelman, James McGill Professor and director of the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill University, caution that urgency should not be used as an excuse for lowering scientific standards. They argue that many of the deficiencies in the way medical research is conducted under normal circumstances seem to be amplified in this pandemic. Their paper, published online April 23 by the journal Science, provides recommendations for conducting clinical research during times of crises.

“Although crises present major logistical and practical challenges, the moral mission of research remains the same: to reduce uncertainty and enable care givers, health systems and policy makers to better address individual and public health,” London and Kimmelman said.

Many of the first studies out of the gate in this pandemic have been poorly designed, not well justified, or reported in a biased manner. The deluge of studies registered in their wake threaten to duplicate efforts, concentrate resources on strategies that have received outsized media attention and increase the potential of generating false positive results purely by chance.

“All crises present exceptional situations in terms of the challenges they pose to health and welfare. But the idea that crises present an exception to the challenges of evaluating the effects drugs and vaccines is a mistake,” London and Kimmelman said. “Rather than generating permission to carry out low-quality investigations, the urgency and scarcity of pandemics heighten the responsibility of key actors in the research enterprise to coordinate their activities to uphold the standards necessary to advance this mission.”

The ethicists provide recommendations for multiple stakeholder groups involved in clinical trials:

  • Sponsors, research consortia and health agencies should prioritize research approaches that test multiple treatments side by side. The authors argue that “master protocols” enable multiple treatments to be tested under a common statistical framework.
  • Individual clinicians should avoid off-label use of unvalidated interventions that might interfere with trial recruitment and resist the urge to carry out small studies with no control groups. Instead, they should seek out opportunities to join larger, carefully orchestrated studies.
  • Regulatory agencies and public health authorities should play a leading role in identifying studies that meet rigorous standards and in fostering collaboration among a sufficient number of centers to ensure adequate recruitment and timely results. Rather than making public recommendations about interventions whose clinical merits remain to be established, health authorities can point stakeholders to recruitment milestones to elevate the profile and progress of high-quality studies.

“Rigorous research practices can’t eliminate all uncertainty from medicine,” London and Kimmelman said, “but they can represent the most efficient way to clarify the causal relationships clinicians hope to exploit in decisions with momentous consequences for patients and health systems.”

NIH Cancels Funding for Bat Coronavirus Research Project (The Scientist)

The abrupt termination comes after the research drew President Trump’s attention for its ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

NIH Cancels Funding for Bat Coronavirus Research Project
The canceled grant included money for surveillance of coronaviruses in Yunnan, China.
© ISTOCK.COM, REDTEA
Shawna Williams
Apr 28, 2020

A grant to a New York nonprofit aimed at detecting and preventing future outbreaks of coronaviruses from bats has been canceled by the National Institutes of Health, Politico reports, apparently at the direction of President Donald Trump because the research involved the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. The virology institute has become a focal point for the idea that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the laboratory and caused the current COVID-19 pandemic, a scenario experts say is not supported by evidence. Instead, virologists The Scientist has spoken to say the virus most likely jumped from infected animals to humans.

The grant, first awarded in fiscal year 2014 and most recently renewed last year, went to EcoHealth Alliance, which describes itself as “a global environmental health nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and public health from the emergence of disease.” The aims of the funded project included characterizing coronaviruses present in bat populations in southern China and conducting surveillance to detect spillover events of such viruses to people. The project has resulted in 20 publications, most recently a March report on zoonotic risk factors in rural southern China.

EcoHealth Alliance’s partners on the project include researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a BSL-4 facility that has for months been a focus of conspiracy theories that SARS-CoV-2 escaped or was released from a lab. On April 14, the The Washington Post published a column highlighting State Department cables about concerns regarding safety at the institute. (Experts tell NPR that, even in light of the cables, accidental escape of the virus from a lab remains a far less likely scenario than a jump from animals.) 

Then, in an April 17 White House coronavirus briefing, a reporter, whom Politico identifies as being from Newsmax, falsely stated in a question that “US intelligence is saying this week that the coronavirus likely came from a level 4 lab in Wuhan,” and that the NIH had awarded a $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan lab. “Why would the US give a grant like that to China?” she asked. “We will end that grant very quickly,” Trump said in his answer.

An NIH official then wrote to EcoHealth Alliance to inquire about money sent to “China-based participants in this work,” Politico reports, and the organization’s head, Peter Daszak, responded that a complete response would take time, but that “I can categorically state that no fund from [the grant] have been sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, nor has any contract been signed.” Days later, NIH notified EcoHealth Alliance that future funding for the project was canceled, and that it must immediately “stop spending the $369,819 remaining from its 2020 grant”—an unusual move generally reserved for cases of scientific misconduct or financial improprieties, according to Politico.

In a statement about the cancellation, EcoHealth Alliance says the terminated research “aimed to analyze the risk of coronavirus emergence and help in designing vaccines and drugs to protect us from COVID-19 and other coronavirus threats,” and that it addresses “all four strategic research priorities of the NIH/NIAID Strategic Plan for COVID-19 Research, released just this week.” The organization will, it says, “continue our fight against this and other emerging diseases.”

See “Theory that Coronavirus Escaped from a Lab Lacks Evidence

We Still Don’t Know How the Coronavirus Is Killing Us (The Intelligencer)

nymag.com

David Wallace-Wells, Apr. 26, 2020

Omar Rodriguez organizes bodies in the Gerard J. Neufeld funeral home in Elmhurst on April 22. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Over the last few weeks, the country has managed to stabilize the spread of the coronavirus sufficiently enough to begin debating when and in what ways to “reopen,” and to normalize, against all moral logic, the horrifying and ongoing death toll — thousands of Americans dying each day, in multiples of 9/11 every week now with the virus seemingly “under control.” The death rate is no longer accelerating, but holding steady, which is apparently the point at which an onrushing terror can begin fading into background noise. Meanwhile, the disease itself appears to be shape-shifting before our eyes.

In an acute column published April 13, the New York Times’ Charlie Warzel listed 48 basic questions that remain unanswered about the coronavirus and what must be done to protect ourselves against it, from how deadly it is to how many people caught it and shrugged it off to how long immunity to the disease lasts after infection (if any time at all). “Despite the relentless, heroic work of doctors and scientists around the world,” he wrote, “there’s so much we don’t know.” The 48 questions he listed, he was careful to point out, did not represent a comprehensive list. And those are just the coronavirus’s “known unknowns.”

In the two weeks since, we’ve gotten some clarifying information on at least a handful of Warzel’s queries. In early trials, more patients taking the Trump-hyped hydroxychloroquinine died than those who didn’t, and the FDA has now issued a statement warning coronavirus patients and their doctors from using the drug. The World Health Organization got so worried about the much-touted antiviral remdesivir, which received a jolt of publicity (and stock appreciation) a few weeks ago on rumors of positive results, the organization leaked an unpublished, preliminary survey showing no benefit to COVID-19 patients. Globally, studies have consistently found exposure levels to the virus in most populations in the low single digits — meaning dozens of times more people have gotten the coronavirus than have been diagnosed with it, though still just a tiny fraction of the number needed to achieve herd immunity. In particular hot spots, the exposure has been significantly more widespread — one survey in New York City found that 21 percent of residents may have COVID-19 antibodies already, making the city not just the deadliest community in the deadliest country in a world during the deadliest pandemic since AIDS, but also the most infected (and, by corollary, the farthest along to herd immunity). A study in Chelsea, Massachusetts, found an even higher and therefore more encouraging figure: 32 percent of those tested were found to have antibodies, which would mean, at least in that area, the disease was only a fraction as severe as it might’ve seemed at first glance, and that the community as a whole could be as much as halfway along to herd immunity. In most of the rest of the country, the picture of exposure we now have is much more dire, with much more infection almost inevitably to come.

But there is one big question that didn’t even make it onto Warzel’s list that has only gotten more mysterious in the weeks since: How is COVID-19 actually killing us?

We are now almost six months into this pandemic, which began in November in Wuhan, with 50,000 Americans dead and 200,000 more around the world. If each of those deaths is a data point, together they represent a quite large body of evidence from which to form a clear picture of the pandemic threat. Early in the epidemic, the coronavirus was seen as a variant of a familiar family of disease, not a mysterious ailment, however infectious and concerning. But while uncertainties at the population level confuse and frustrate public-health officials, unsure when and in what form to shift gears out of lockdowns, the disease has proved just as mercurial at the clinical level, with doctors revising their understanding of COVID-19’s basic pattern and weaponry — indeed often revising that understanding in different directions at once. The clinical shape of the disease, long presumed to be a relatively predictable respiratory infection, is getting less clear by the week. Lately, it seems, by the day. As Carl Zimmer, probably the country’s most respected science journalist, asked virologists in a tweet last week, “is there any other virus out there that is this weird in terms of its range of symptoms?”

You probably have a sense of the range of common symptoms, and a sense that the range isn’t that weird: fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath have been, since the beginning of the outbreak, the familiar, oft-repeated group of tell-tale signs. But while the CDC does list fever as the top symptom of COVID-19, so confidently that for weeks patients were turned away from testing sites if they didn’t have an elevated temperature, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as 70 percent of patients sick enough to be admitted to New York State’s largest hospital system did not have a fever.

Over the past few months, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been compiling and revising, in real time, treatment guidelines for COVID-19 which have become a trusted clearinghouse of best-practices information for doctors throughout the country. According to those guidelines, as few as 44 percent of coronavirus patients presented with a fever (though, in their meta-analysis, the uncertainty is quite high, with a range of 44 to 94 percent). Cough is more common, according to Brigham and Women’s, with between 68 percent and 83 percent of patients presenting with some cough — though that means as many as three in ten sick enough to be hospitalized won’t be coughing. As for shortness of breath, the Brigham and Women’s estimate runs as low as 11 percent. The high end is only 40 percent, which would still mean that more patients hospitalized for COVID-19 do not have shortness of breath than do. At the low end of that range, shortness of breath would be roughly as common among COVID-19 patients as confusion (9 percent), headache (8 to 14 percent), and nausea and diarrhea (3 to 17 percent). That the ranges are so wide themselves tells you that the disease is presenting in very different ways in different hospitals and different populations of different patients — leading, for instance, some doctors and scientists to theorize the virus might be attacking the immune system like HIV does, with many others finding the disease is triggering something like the opposite response, an overwhelming overreaction of the immune system called a “cytokine storm.”

The most bedeviling confusion has arisen around the relationship of the disease to breathing, lung function, and oxygenation levels in the blood — typically, for a respiratory illness, a quite predictable relationship. But for weeks now, front-line doctors have been expressing confusion that so many coronavirus patients were registering lethally low blood-oxygenation levels while still appearing, by almost any vernacular measure, pretty okay. It’s one reason they’ve begun rethinking the initial clinical focus on ventilators, which are generally recommended when patients oxygenation falls below a certain level, but seemed, after a few weeks, of unclear benefit to COVID-19 patients, who may have done better, doctors began to suggest, on lesser or different forms of oxygen support. For a while, ventilators were seen so much as the essential tool in treating life-threatening coronavirus that shortages (and the president’s unwillingness to invoke the Defense Production Act to manufacture them quickly) became a scandal. But by one measure 88 percent of New York patients put on ventilators, for whom an outcome as known, had died. In China, the figure was 86 percent.

On April 20 in the New York Times, an ER doctor named Richard Levitan who had been volunteering at Bellevue proposed that the phenomenon of seemingly stable patients registering lethally low oxygen levels might be explained by “silent hypoxia” — the air sacs in the lung collapsing, not getting stiff or heavy with fluid, as is the case with the pneumonias doctors had been using as models in their treatment of COVID-19. But whether this explanation is universal, limited to the patients at Bellevue, or somewhere in between is not yet entirely clear. A couple of days later, in a pre-print paper others questioned, scientists reported finding that the ability of the disease to mutate has been “vastly underestimated” — investigating the disease as it appeared in just 11 patients, they said they found 30 mutations. “The most aggressive strains could generate 270 times as much viral load as the weakest type,” the South China Morning-Post reported. “These strains also killed the cells the fastest.”

That same day, the Washington Post reported on another theory gaining traction among American doctors treating the disease — that one key could be the way COVID-19 affects the blood of patients, producing much more clotting. “Autopsies have shown that some people’s lungs are filled with hundreds of microclots,” the Post reported. “Errant blood clots of a larger size can break off and travel to the brain or heart, causing a stroke or a heart attack.”

But the bigger-picture perspective the newspaper offered is perhaps more eye-opening and to the point:

One month ago, as the country went into lockdown to prepare for the first wave of coronavirus cases, many doctors felt confident that they knew what they were dealing with. Based on early reports, covid-19 appeared to be a standard variety respiratory virus, albeit a very contagious and lethal one with no vaccine and no treatment. But they’ve since become increasingly convinced that covid-19 attacks not only the lungs, but also the kidneys, heart, intestines, liver and brain.

That is a dizzying list. But it is not even comprehensive. In a fantastic survey published April 17 (“How does coronavirus kill? Clinicians trace a ferocious rampage through the body, from brain to toes,” by Meredith Wadman, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, Jocelyn Kaiser, and Catherine Matacic), Science magazine took a thorough, detailed tour of the ever-evolving state of understanding of the disease. “Despite the more than 1,000 papers now spilling into journals and onto preprint servers every week,” Science concluded, “a clear picture is elusive, as the virus acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.”

In a single illuminating chart, Science lists the following organs as being vulnerable to COVID-19: brain, eyes, nose, lungs, heart, blood vessels, livers, kidneys, intestines. That is to say, nearly every organ:

And the disparate impacts were significant ones: Heart damage was discovered in 20 percent of patients hospitalized in Wuhan, where 44 percent of those in ICU exhibited arrhythmias; 38 percent of Dutch ICU patients had irregular blood clotting; 27 percent of Wuhan patients had kidney failure, with many more showing signs of kidney damage; half of Chinese patients showed signs of liver damage; and, depending on the study, between 20 percent and 50 percent of patients had diarrhea.

On April 15, the Washington Post reported that, in New York and Wuhan, between 14 and 30 percent of ICU patients had lost kidney function, requiring dialysis. New York hospitals were treating so much kidney failure “they need more personnel who can perform dialysis and have issued an urgent call for volunteers from other parts of the country. They also are running dangerously short of the sterile fluids used to deliver that therapy.” The result, the Post said, was rationed care: patients needing 24-hour support getting considerably less. On Saturday, the paper reported that “[y]oung and middle-aged people, barely sick with COVID-19, are dying from strokes.” Many of the patients described didn’t even know they were sick:

The patient’s chart appeared unremarkable at first glance. He took no medications and had no history of chronic conditions. He had been feeling fine, hanging out at home during the lockdown like the rest of the country, when suddenly, he had trouble talking and moving the right side of his body. Imaging showed a large blockage on the left side of his head. Oxley gasped when he got to the patient’s age and covid-19 status: 44, positive.

The man was among several recent stroke patients in their 30s to 40s who were all infected with the coronavirus. The median age for that type of severe stroke is 74.

But the patient’s age wasn’t the only abnormality of the case:

As Oxley, an interventional neurologist, began the procedure to remove the clot, he observed something he had never seen before. On the monitors, the brain typically shows up as a tangle of black squiggles — “like a can of spaghetti,” he said — that provide a map of blood vessels. A clot shows up as a blank spot. As he used a needlelike device to pull out the clot, he saw new clots forming in real-time around it.

“This is crazy,” he remembers telling his boss.

These strokes, several doctors who spoke to the Post theorized, could explain the high number of patients dying at home — four times the usual rate in New York, many or most of them, perhaps, dying quite suddenly. According to the Brigham and Women’s guidelines, only 53 percent of COVID-19 patients have died from respiratory failure alone.

It’s not unheard of, of course, for a disease to express itself in complicated or hard-to-parse ways, attacking or undermining the functioning of a variety of organs. And it’s common, as researchers and doctors scramble to map the shape of a new disease, for their understanding to evolve quite quickly. But the degree to which doctors and scientists are, still, feeling their way, as though blindfolded, toward a true picture of the disease cautions against any sense that things have stabilized, given that our knowledge of the disease hasn’t even stabilized. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is not just a public-health crisis but a scientific one as well. And that as deep as it may feel we are into the coronavirus, with tens of thousands dead and literally billions in precautionary lockdown, we are still in the very early stages, when each new finding seems as likely to cloud or complicate our understanding of the coronavirus as it is to clarify it. Instead, confidence gives way to uncertainty.

In the space of a few months, we’ve gone from thinking there was no “asymptomatic transmission” to believing it accounts for perhaps half or more of all cases, from thinking the young were invulnerable to thinking they were just somewhat less vulnerable, from believing masks were unnecessary to requiring their use at all times outside the house, from panicking about ventilator shortages to deploying pregnancy massage pillows instead. Six months since patient zero, we still have no drugs proven to even help treat the disease. Almost certainly, we are past the “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” stage of this pandemic. But how far past?

Opinion | When Will Life Be Normal Again? We Just Don’t Know (The New York Times)

nytimes.com

By Charlie Warzel, April 13, 2020

Many Americans have been living under lockdown for a month or more. We’re all getting antsy. The president is talking about a “light at the end of the tunnel.” People are looking for hope and reasons to plan a return to something — anything — approximating normalcy. Experts are starting to speculate on what lifting restrictions will look like. Despite the relentless, heroic work of doctors and scientists around the world, there’s so much we don’t know.

We don’t know how many people have been infected with Covid-19.

We don’t know the full range of symptoms.

We don’t always know why some infections develop into severe disease.

We don’t know the full range of risk factors.

We don’t know exactly how deadly the disease is.

We don’t have answers to more detailed questions about how the virus spreads, including: “How many virus particles does it even take to launch an infection? How far does the virus travel in outdoor spaces, or in indoor settings? Have these airborne movements affected the course of the pandemic?”

We don’t know for sure how this coronavirus first emerged.

We don’t know how much China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in that country.

We don’t know what percentage of adults are asymptomatic. Or what percentage of children are asymptomatic.

We don’t know the strength and duration of immunity. Though people who recover from Covid-19 likely have some degree of immunity for some period of time, the specifics are unknown.

We don’t yet know why some who’ve been diagnosed as “fully recovered” from the virus have tested positive a second time after leaving quarantine.

We don’t know why some recovered patients have low levels of antibodies.

We don’t know the long-term health effects of a severe Covid-19 infection. What are the consequences to the lungs of those who survive intensive care?

We don’t yet know if any treatments are truly effective. While there are many therapies in trials, there are no clinically proven therapies aside from supportive care.

We don’t know for certain if the virus was in the United States before the first documented case.

We don’t know when supply chains will strengthen to provide health care workers with enough masks, gowns and face shields to protect them.

In America, we don’t know the full extent to which black people are disproportionately suffering. Fewer than a dozen states have published data on the race and ethnic patterns of Covid-19.

We don’t know if people will continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines once infections go down.

We don’t know when states will be able to test everyone who has symptoms.

We don’t know if the United States could ever deploy the number of tests — as many as 22 million per day — needed to implement mass testing and quarantining.

We don’t know if we can implement “test and trace” contact tracing at scale.

We don’t know whether smartphone location tracking could be implemented without destroying our privacy.

We don’t know if or when researchers will develop a successful vaccine.

We don’t know how many vaccines can be deployed and administered in the first months after a vaccine becomes available.

We don’t know how a vaccine will be administered — who will get it first?

We don’t know if a vaccine will be free or costly.

We don’t know if a vaccine will need to be updated every year.

We don’t know how, when we do open things up again, we will do it.

We don’t know if people will be afraid to gather in crowds.

We don’t know if people will be too eager to gather in crowds.

We don’t know what socially distanced professional sports will look like.

We don’t know what socially distanced workplaces will look like.

We don’t know what socially distanced bars and restaurants will look like.

We don’t know when schools will reopen.

We don’t know what a general election in a pandemic will look like.

We don’t know what effects lost school time will have on children.

We don’t know if the United States’s current and future government stimulus will stave off an economic collapse.

We don’t know whether the economy will bounce back in the form of a “v curve” …

Or whether it’ll be a long recession.

We don’t know when any of this will end for good.

There is, at present, no plan from the Trump White House on the way forward.

We’re working on a project about the ways people’s lives might be permanently altered by the coronavirus, even after the pandemic subsides. In what ways do you think your life will change in the long term? What will be your new “normal”?

To Tackle a Virus, Indian Officials Peddle Pseudoscience (Undark)

Original article

By Ruchi Kumar 04.19.2020

Blending nationalism and pseudoscience, the “cures” touted by an Indian ministry are raising public health concerns.

A government banner at Arogya, an Ayurvedic expo funded by the government of India, in December of 2010. Visual: Hari Prasad Nadig / flickr By Ruchi Kumar 04.19.2020

When it was announced in late March that Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, was well on his way to recovering from Covid-19, there was some celebration 4,000 miles away in India, a former British colony. But it was not colonial nostalgia that brought on the cheer, so much as the declaration a few days later by an Indian government minister that the Prince of Wales had been cured using Ayurveda — a blend of, among other things, herbal medicine, breathing exercises, and meditation.

At an April 2 press conference, Shripad Naik, India’s minister for alternative medicines, declared that the treatment’s supposed success “validates our age-old practice.” The British government swiftly issued a statement rejecting his claim. “This information is incorrect. The Prince of Wales followed the medical advice of the National Health Service in the U.K. and nothing more,” a spokesperson said the following day.

But this hasn’t deterred Naik’s Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy — or AYUSH for short — from promoting Indian alternative medicines as treatments for Covid-19. Established in 2014, the goal of AYUSH is to develop and popularize these treatments, many of which have their historical roots in India. Ayurveda, for example, has been practiced in India for thousands of years.

Now, Naik said, the ministry aims to confirm that Prince Charles was cured using a combination of Ayurveda and the pseudoscience known as homeopathy, which has its roots in Germany, so that the treatment can be rolled out to the masses. This is in stark contrast to the position of mainstream medicine, which has not yet confirmed any evidence-based medicine for Covid-19, and is still highly cautious of giving experimental drugs to patients.

And yet for many, the actions of the right-wing Indian government don’t come as a surprise. Aside from the popularity of alternative medicine in India generally, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is known for supporting Hindutva, a form of nationalism that seeks to transform India from being a secular nation into an openly Hindu one. This partly plays out in the field of health, where alternative therapies that have their roots in India, such as Ayurveda, are considered more “Hindu” or “Indian” than modern medicine. Supporting them becomes an opportunity to push forward this nationalist agenda.

In the early days of the epidemic, AYUSH heavily promoted therapies that lack an evidence base, said Sumaiya Shaikh, a neuroscientist based at the Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience at Linköping University Hospital in Sweden. Shaikh is also editor of science at Alt News, an Indian website that works to expose misinformation.

Examples of treatments pushed by AYUSH included a homeopathic medicine containing diluted arsenic, an Ayurvedic drug developed by the ministry to treat malaria, and dietary changes including drinking warm water, putting sesame oil inside the nose, or consuming holy basil, ginger, cloves, and turmeric. The ministry suggested these interventions could prevent people from developing Covid-19 as well as treat its symptoms.

“There was some amount of criticism to that,” said Shaikh. And so in response, the ministry provided a list of “scientific evidence” to bolster its claims. Aside from the fact that homeopathy has been repeatedly shown to have no biological effects, Shaikh said that when she and her team reviewed the list, the only actual research they could find was one analysis that examined the the same homeopathic treatment in bovines with gastric infections. Despite this, the ministry’s promotion of the therapy increased demand in many Indian states.

This isn’t the first time the ministry has faced criticism for promoting unscientific claims or backing research derived from religious myths and beliefs. One of its repeated focuses has been cow urine, which is believed by many Hindus to have healing properties given the sacred nature of cows in Hinduism. The urine has been touted as a treatment for many illnesses, including diabetes, epilepsy, and AIDS. Naik himself has made several comments in parliament about how cow urine can cure cancer. In reality, its use can be dangerous.

In fact, so widespread is the belief in cow urine that on March 17, an activist working for the BJP in Kolkata organized a “gomutra (cow urine) party” to ward off Covid-19. He believed that drinking the urine would protect them from the disease. Unfortunately, one of the volunteers fell seriously ill after ingesting the urine.

The Ministry of AYUSH’s research portal carries papers on the uses of panchagavya, the five products derived from a cow, of which urine is one, supporting its use as a medical product. However, Ipsita Mohanty, who co-wrote a paper listed there titled “Diversified Uses of Cow Urine,” said in an email that she couldn’t definitively answer whether cow urine fights off Covid-19, as “it has not been proven by independent researchers.”

This reflects how AYUSH researchers and doctors seek validation, explained Shaikh. “If a paper gets published anywhere — doesn’t matter what type of journal it is or how bad the statistics are — they take it as scientific proof,” she said, adding that the alternative medicine community also has a lot of journals of its own. These are regulated and edited by the same people who are published in them, Shaikh said.

Despite being an advocate of cow urine, Mohanty urges doctors to not spread misinformation. “It is misleading to spread the rumor about something so important when more than half of our world is engulfed by Covid-19,” she said. “There is no vaccine nor any treatment for it. At this point, promoting cow urine against Covid-19 can be very fatal, as people might resort to it for treatment as their only hope.”

The Ministry of AYUSH did not respond to requests for comments from Undark.

“Practitioners of such therapies get their clientele from two distinct groups,” said Aniket Sule, a science education researcher and astronomer at the Homi Bhabha Center for Science Education. He is part of a steadily growing rationalist movement in India that is encouraging dialogue and critical thinking to counter misinformation, including within the realm of alternative medicine.

The first group Sule identified is patients from impoverished communities and remote villages, “who don’t have access to doctors prescribing modern medicines.” The other set of clients is the “affluent and educated class in the cities, who have read half-baked internet posts and develop strong skepticism towards modern medicines,” he said.

“Pushing such a narrative to gullible masses is akin to actively spreading misinformation, and senior functionaries of government should take strict action against such baseless propaganda,” he urged.

The ministry has faced some institutional backlash. The Press Council of India, the statutory body responsible for maintaining good media standards, has issued an order asking print media to stop publicity and advertisements of AYUSH-related claims for Covid-19 treatments.

But despite that, the Ministry of AYUSH continues not only to receive political backing but also a large share of the annual health budget. From 2019 to 2020, the Indian government allotted approximately $250 million for study and promotion of alternative medicines, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. According to Shaikh, only the defense ministry saw a larger proportional increase to its budget last year.

Indian scientists fighting disinformation say there is an underlying nationalist agenda to this move. Certain radical groups affiliated with the government have dreams of spreading Hindu values beyond India’s borders to create an “Akhand Bharat,” or “consolidated Hindu nation,” which would include annexing a large part of the Indian subcontinent. One of these is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a militant organization that has a long history of promoting Hindutva. Its leader recently said that Ayurveda is part of India’s “soft power” in the South Asian region, said Shaikh.

The Press Council of India, the statutory body responsible for maintaining good media standards, has issued an order asking print media to stop publicity and advertisements of AYUSH-related claims for Covid-19 treatments.

Since coming to power in 2014, India’s current government (BJP) has increasingly backed divisive policies that consolidate the power of the majoritarian Hindu population. “Overall, this government has made virtue out of extreme and thoughtless nationalism. Increased support to all these questionable therapies is a natural byproduct of that,” Sule said, adding there is also a distinct motivation among many people who believe in these claims. “There are people who are so completely blinded by ‘glorious ancient India’ that they willingly walk into any trap if it is presented as ‘this is what our great ancestors did,’” he said.

Sule also thinks that AYUSH exists, in part, to protect commercial interests. There are nearly 800,000 practitioners of alternative medicine in India, he said, and over 650 colleges teaching related courses. The Ayurveda industry alone in India is worth $4.4 billion and is expected to grow by 16 percent in the next five years.

Shaikh, Sule, and others have been critical of the Ministry of AYUSH for years, exposing and unmasking its questionable research and dubious medical advice. “It is very dangerous, especially now. We are the only country that has a parallel ministry for alternative systems,” Shaikh said. “Why not just have the one ministry and then have everything under it? Use whatever herbs you want, but run them through appropriate trials, and if they work then they should be in the mainstream and everybody should benefit from them,” she said.

Shaikh doesn’t call for closing the ministry but insists the way it works needs to change.

“Don’t start with a belief system, start with the hypothesis,” she advised. “Don’t start with the basis that this drug is going to work. Start with realizing that ‘we don’t know and we want to find out.’ That is unbiased research.”

Many experts say that statements like Naik’s are false and dangerous, particularly now that the country is struggling to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, among its 1.35 billion people. With a lack of testing and a shortage of physicians, many experts feel the Indian government is failing its people by directing attention and resources to unsubstantiated and unscientific practices — especially when these practices themselves can be harmful.

Related

In Germany, a Heated Debate Over Homeopathy

Recovered, almost: China’s early patients unable to shed coronavirus (Reuters)

uk.reuters.com

Brenda Goh, April 22, 2020

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – Dressed in a hazmat suit, two masks and a face shield, Du Mingjun knocked on the mahogany door of a flat in a suburban district of Wuhan on a recent morning.

FILE PHOTO: Medical personnel in protective suits wave hands to a patient who is discharged from the Leishenshan Hospital after recovering from the novel coronavirus, in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei province, China March 1, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS

A man wearing a single mask opened the door a crack and, after Du introduced herself as a psychological counsellor, burst into tears.

“I really can’t take it anymore,” he said. Diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in early February, the man, who appeared to be in his 50s, had been treated at two hospitals before being transferred to a quarantine centre set up in a cluster of apartment blocks in an industrial part of Wuhan.

Why, he asked, did tests say he still had the virus more than two months after he first contracted it?

The answer to that question is a mystery baffling doctors on the frontline of China’s battle against COVID-19, even as it has successfully slowed the spread of the coronavirus across the country.

Chinese doctors in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December, say a growing number of cases in which people recover from the virus, but continue to test positive without showing symptoms, is one of their biggest challenges as the country moves into a new phase of its containment battle.

Those patients all tested negative for the virus at some point after recovering, but then tested positive again, some up to 70 days later, the doctors said. Many have done so over 50-60 days.

The prospect of people remaining positive for the virus, and therefore potentially infectious, is of international concern, as many countries seek to end lockdowns and resume economic activity as the spread of the virus slows. Currently, the globally recommended isolation period after exposure is 14 days.

So far, there have been no confirmations of newly positive patients infecting others, according to Chinese health officials.

China has not published precise figures for how many patients fall into this category. But disclosures by Chinese hospitals to Reuters, as well as in other media reports, indicate there are at least dozens of such cases.

In South Korea, about 1,000 people have been testing positive for four weeks or more. In Italy, the first European country ravaged by the pandemic, health officials noticed that coronavirus patients could test positive for the virus for about a month.

As there is limited knowledge available on how infectious these patients are, doctors in Wuhan are keeping them isolated for longer.

Zhang Dingyu, president of Jinyintan Hospital, where the most serious coronavirus cases were treated, said health officials recognised the isolations may be excessive, especially if patients proved not to be infectious. But, for now, it was better to do so to protect the public, he said.    

He described the issue as one of the most pressing facing the hospital and said counsellors like Du are being brought in to help ease the emotional strain.

“When patients have this pressure, it also weighs on society,” he said.

DOZENS OF CASES

The plight of Wuhan’s long-term patients underlines how much remains unknown about COVID-19 and why it appears to affect different people in numerous ways, Chinese doctors say. So far global infections have hit 2.5 million with over 171,000 deaths.

As of April 21, 93% of 82,788 people with the virus in China had recovered and been discharged, official figures show.

Yuan Yufeng, a vice president at Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, told Reuters he was aware of a case in which the patient had positive retests after first being diagnosed with the virus about 70 days earlier.

“We did not see anything like this during SARS,” he said, referring to the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak that infected 8,098 people globally, mostly in China.

Patients in China are discharged after two negative nucleic acid tests, taken at least 24 hours apart, and if they no longer show symptoms. Some doctors want this requirement to be raised to three tests or more.

China’s National Health Commission directed Reuters to comments made at a briefing Tuesday when asked for comment about how this category of patients was being handled.

Wang Guiqiang, director of the infectious disease department of Peking University First Hospital, said at the briefing that the majority of such patients were not showing symptoms and very few had seen their conditions worsen.

“The new coronavirus is a new type of virus,” said Guo Yanhong, a National Health Commission official. “For this disease, the unknowns are still greater than the knowns.”

REMNANTS AND REACTIVATION

Experts and doctors struggle to explain why the virus behaves so differently in these people.

Some suggest that patients retesting as positive after previously testing negative were somehow reinfected with the virus. This would undermine hopes that people catching COVID-19 would produce antibodies that would prevent them from getting sick again from the virus.

Zhao Yan, a doctor of emergency medicine at Wuhan’s Zhongnan Hospital, said he was sceptical about the possibility of reinfection based on cases at his facility, although he did not have hard evidence.

“They’re closely monitored in the hospital and are aware of the risks, so they stay in quarantine. So I’m sure they were not reinfected.”

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said the virus may have been “reactivated” in 91 South Korean patients who tested positive after having been thought to be cleared of it.  

Other South Korean and Chinese experts have said that remnants of the virus could have stayed in patients’ systems but not be infectious or dangerous to the host or others.

Few details have been disclosed about these patients, such as if they have underlying health conditions.

Paul Hunter, a professor at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich School of Medicine, said an unusually slow shedding of other viruses such as norovirus or influenza had been previously seen in patients with weakened immune systems.

In 2015, South Korean authorities disclosed that they had a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome patient stricken with lymphoma who showed signs of the virus for 116 days. They said his impaired immune system kept his body from ridding itself of the virus. The lymphoma eventually caused his death.

FILE PHOTO: A volunteer walks inside a convention center that was used as a makeshift hospital to treat patients with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wuhan, Hubei province, China April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

Yuan said that even if patients develop antibodies, it did not guarantee they would become virus-free.

He said that some patients had high levels of antibodies, and still tested positive to nucleic acid tests.

“It means that the two sides are still fighting,” he said.

MENTAL TOLL

As could be seen in Wuhan, the virus can also inflict a heavy mental toll on those caught in a seemingly endless cycle of positive tests.

Du, who set up a therapy hotline when Wuhan’s outbreak first began, allowed Reuters in early April to join her on a visit to the suburban quarantine centre on the condition that none of the patients be identified.

One man rattled off the names of three Wuhan hospitals he had stayed at before being moved to a flat in the centre.  He had taken over 10 tests since the third week of February, he said, on occasions testing negative but mostly positive.

“I feel fine and have no symptoms, but they check and it’s positive, check and it’s positive,” he said. “What is with this virus?”

Patients need to stay at the centre for at least 28 days and obtain two negative results before being allowed to leave. Patients are isolated in individual rooms they said were paid for by the government.

The most concerning case facing Du during the visit was the man behind the mahogany door; he had told medical workers the night before that he wanted to kill himself.

“I wasn’t thinking clearly,” he told Du, explaining how he had already taken numerous CT scans and nucleic acid tests, some of which tested negative, at different hospitals. He worried that he had been reinfected as he cycled through various hospitals.

His grandson missed him after being gone for so long, he said, and he worried his condition meant he would never be able to see him again.

He broke into another round of sobs. “Why is this happening to me?”

Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul, Elvira Pollina in Milan, Belen Carreno in Madrid, and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Philip McClellan

Pandemia: cientistas ganham exposição inédita nos meios de comunicação (Faperj)

Paul Jürgens – Publicado em: 09/04/2020 | Atualizado em: 10/04/2020

Luiz Davidovich: o presidente da Academia Brasileira de Ciências
espera que a positiva exposição midiática por que passa a ciência
neste momento não cesse após a epidemia ser superada

A chegada do coronavirus ao País provocou um impacto sem precedentes na rotina do funcionamento das instituições e empresas brasileiras, e no dia da dia da população. Com o trabalho da Imprensa, não foi diferente. Em poucos dias, jornalistas reviravam suas agendas em busca de contatos no meio científico, na tentativa de entender o que estava em jogo com a chegada da Covid-19 e de oferecer informações seguras a seus leitores. Um dos jornais impressos de maior circulação no País anunciou há poucos dias que estava convidando cinco cientistas para, alternadamente, assinaram coluna diária em suas páginas, intitulada “A Hora da Ciência”. O Boletim FAPERJ foi ouvir o que os pesquisadores e gestores que atuam na área da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação pensam desse súbito interesse de todos os meios de comunicação pela pesquisa no País, e que legado isso pode deixar para as relações da comunidade científica com os jornalistas, uma vez superada a crise sanitária.

Para o presidente da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, o físico Luiz Davidovich, a crise atual envolve todo o planeta, atingindo ricos e pobres, que agora estão tendo a oportunidade de acompanhar os avanços mais recentes da ciência, que por meio de técnicas cada vez mais sofisticadas permite conhecer o modo de ação do vírus, e que motiva equipes em todo o mundo para encontrar remédios e vacina. “A comunidade científica está tendo a oportunidade de dar o seu recado, diariamente, de forma clara e objetiva, sem partidarismo político. A primeira pessoa a anunciar a vitória da humanidade contra esse inimigo invisível e insidioso não será um político. A notícia virá, em primeira mão, com um comunicado redigido com termos técnicos, do grupo de pesquisas que descobrir a vacina”, diz Davidovich, professor do Instituto de Física da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Ele espera que a positiva exposição midiática por que passa a ciência neste momento não cesse após a epidemia ser dominada. “Temos muitas ameaças no horizonte, por exemplo, com novos vírus que aparecem frequentemente e a questão das mudanças climáticas.E certamente muitas descobertas que mudarão nosso quotidiano, em benefício da qualidade de vida, ainda estão por vir”, acrescentou.

O coordenador de estratégias de integração regional e nacional da Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), Wilson Savino, avalia que uma parte significativa da população do planeta já tinha motivos para acreditar na ciência. Ele, no entanto, acredita que isso não necessariamente se traduz por tomadas de consciência em termos de atitudes e de ações. “Somente quando a vida está em perigo, e, no caso da pandemia de Covid-19 esse medo tem dimensão planetária, é que a percepção de que a ciência poderá dar respostas (res)surge”, diz. “A mídia não age de maneira diferente. Não apenas os atores da comunicação midiática sentem o mesmo, procurando informação da melhor qualidade possível junto aos cientistas e instituições científicas, mas também sabem que seus leitores e ouvintes estão ávidos por informação confiável sobre seus próprios destinos”, fala. Vice-coordenador geral das redes de Pesquisa em Arboviroses, que recebe apoio da FAPERJ, Savino, que também é membro da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, torce para que a avidez por respostas científicas para resolver questões relevantes na vida da sociedade não desapareça após o controle da pandemia. “Que a ciência tenha uma nova iluminação nos corações e mentes deste nosso Brasil”.

Eliete Bouskela: para a médica e pesquisadora,
aproximação da sociedade com os cientistas
pode trazer enormes benefícios

Primeira mulher a ocupar o cargo de diretora Científica da FAPERJ, a médica e pesquisadora Eliete Bouskela afirma que cientistas costumam abordar os problemas de forma mais racional e que isso também contribui para o aumento do interesse dos meios de comunicação pela ciência, sobretudo em um momento como esse, de pandemia. “Nós, pesquisadores, tratamos das questões de forma mais racional, transparente, e, quando necessário, não hesitamos em declarar que não temos uma resposta, que estamos buscando soluções”, diz. Professora Titular da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Uerj) e membro associado da Academia Francesa de Medicina, ela acredita que o atual escrutínio da imprensa pelo trabalho dos cientistas deve contribuir para aproximar a comunidade científica do resto da sociedade. “À medida que saímos da torre de marfim e construímos um canal de comunicação com a população, isso certamente resultará em um aumento do interesse das pessoas pelo conhecimento científico e pela carreira de professor e pesquisador. A aproximação da sociedade com os cientistas, que também fazem parte da sociedade, pode trazer enormes benefícios”, assegura.

“Mais fortes e maduros”. É assim que o médico e Professor Titular de Psiquiatria da Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) Antonio Egidio Nardi acredita que sairemos da crise sanitária atual. “Vidas serão perdidas e isso é muitíssimo lamentável. Mas a sociedade também ganhará com esta crise relacionada à Covid-19, por exemplo, com a valorização da educação e dos investimentos em ciência e saúde”. Segundo o pesquisador, é possível observar que tanto nos sites informais, quanto na mídia de qualidade, já se discute, com algum embasamento científico, a origem da pandemia, a forma de propagação, como evitar o contágio rápido e as possibilidades de tratamento. “Artigos científicos  comentários de pesquisadores e editoriais de revistas com credibilidade circulam nas mídias sociais de forma surpreendente. A ciência está viva, sendo mundo valorizada. O conhecimento científico está atingindo um grande público. Este é o objetivo primordial da ciência e das sociedades científicas: ajudar a sociedade a viver melhor”, destaca.A sociedade pós-pandemia será melhor e saberá reconhecer o valor de pesquisas, dos profissionais de saúde e da educação de qualidade”, aposta o médico, membro da Academia Nacional de Medicina e que recebe apoio da FAPERJ para suas pesquisas por meio do programa Cientista do Nosso Estado.

Idealizador e ex-diretor do Parque Tecnológico da UFRJ, o engenheiro Mauricio Guedes, que desde julho de 2018 ocupa o cargo de diretor de Tecnologia da FAPERJ, acredita que a humanidade está tendo uma rara oportunidade para repensar o seu modelo de sociedade. “Essa grande exposição midiática sobre as atividades ligadas à ciência, com horas e horas de transmissões ao vivo nas tevês e pela Internet, e também em reportagens que agora ocupam quase todo o espaço disponível em jornais e revistas, certamente trará uma contribuição decisiva para que a população e os meios de comunicação reconheçam o valor da pesquisa e o papel central dos cientistas e tecnólogos no nosso futuro”, observa. “Enxergo aqui uma nova chance de entendermos o mais rápido possível que universidades e empresas precisam se unir para promover o avanço do conhecimento, ao mesmo tempo em que criam soluções em grande escala para o enfrentamento desta crise planetária”, diz. “O mundo não será como antes”.

Para o médico e imunologista Cláudio Tadeu Daniel-Ribeiro, coordenador do Centro de Pesquisa Diagnóstico e Treinamento em Malária no Instituto Oswaldo Cruz (IOC/Fiocruz), o papel da mídia tem sido exemplar, confrontando informações e tentando esclarecer dúvidas da população. “Nesse contexto dramático e assustador, temos a sorte de ver uma imprensa que busca os fatos, lá onde o conhecimento é produzido; na ciência, para esclarecer a sociedade, desinformada, parte por não saber como e onde ter acesso a dados fidedignos, parte por que leigos, agindo em nome de vísões tão desinformadas quanto descoladas da realidade dos fatos, insistem em propalar notícias e opiniões incorretas, que confundem a população”, diz.

Professor TItular de Fisiologia e Biofísica Instituto de Biofísica Carlos Chagas Filho da UFRJ, Antonio Carlos Campos de Carvalho alerta que só a ciência pode oferecer soluções que minimizem os estragos que esta crise fará no mundo. “Em situações de crise mundial, como a atual, a sociedade e os governos sempre se voltam para a ciência, buscando projetar cenários e as melhores respostas para o problema. Sem a ciência, a mídia já percebeu que estaremos sujeitos a achismos de pessoas desqualificadas para lidar com a crise”, diz. “Se nossos governantes entenderem que a ciência é capaz de trazer soluções racionais para nossos problemas, veremos adiante um apoio maciço às universidades e institutos de pesquisa através das agências de fomento, como a FAPERJ. Só ciência e tecnologia geram inovação e progresso social e econômico. O que sustenta nossa economia atualmente é o agronegócio, fortemente impactado justamente pelos avanços científicos e tecnológicos, promovidos, no passado, por diversas instituições nacionais de pesquisa. Com o avanço das técnicas de edição de genomas, vários países terão ganhos significativos de produtividade e temo pelo que pode acontecer com a economia brasileira se perdermos nossa posição de liderança no agronegócio mundial”, analisa o assessor para área da Saúde da Diretoria Científica da FAPERJ.

À frente da Assessoria de Relações Internacionais da FAPERJ, a pesquisadora Vânia Paschoalin acredita que, frente a uma situação de muito agravo à saúde humana, onde um vírus reemergente provoca mortes e sofrimentos, a humanidade parece ter entendido a importância da ciência para salvar vidas, diminuir o sofrimento humano e proporcionar bem estar e saúde. “Os cientistas sempre estiveram à disposição para explicar, com conhecimento e profundidade, o que lhes é perguntado. Assim, acabaram por assumir, neste momento, um papel muito importante de esclarecimentos e direções, devido à credibilidade que a sociedade sempre conferiu a eles”, avalia. Para a diretora-adjunta de Pós-Graduação do Instituto de Química da UFRJ, a humanidade está passando por muitas mudanças neste momento e o interesse dos jornalistas em ouvir os cientistas é reflexo disso. “Espero que tenhamos um apreço ainda mais respeitoso pela Ciência e pelo trabalho obstinado dos cientistas daqui para a frente, e que isso seja revertido em verbas regulares a pesquisa, de maneira que os cientistas possam gerar e disponibilizar conhecimentos para o bem da humanidade”, conclui.

Pandemia do coronavírus faz crescer confiança na Ciência, indica pesquisa (O Globo)

Artigo original

Carol Knoploch, 9 de abril de 2020

Em dez países, 85% dos entrevistados disseram que precisam ouvir mais os cientistas e menos os políticos; no Brasil, esta porcentagem foi de 89%

09/04/2020 – 12:31 / Atualizado em 09/04/2020 – 13:35

Uma cientista examina, por meio de um microscópio, máscara facial reutilizável, com camada com íons de prata, em Kalingrado, na Rússia. Foto: VITALY NEVAR / REUTERS
Uma cientista examina, por meio de um microscópio, máscara facial reutilizável, com camada com íons de prata, em Kalingrado, na Rússia. Foto: VITALY NEVAR / REUTERS

RIO – A pandemia do coronavírus, que já matou cerca de 80 mil pessoas e adoeceu cerca de 1,3 milhão (dados oficiais da Organização Mundial da Saúde do último dia 8), fez crescer no mundo inteiro a confiança na Ciência.

Veja: Isolamento social funciona mas efeito leva um mês para ser sentido

Segundo pesquisa da Edelman Trust Barometer, sobre a “Confiança e o Coronavírus”, 85% dos entrevistados disseram que precisam ouvir mais os cientistas e menos os políticos. No Brasil, esta porcentagem foi de 89%.

Sobre porta vozes confiáveis, os cientistas são os mais citados no geral (83%), seguido pelo médico pessoal (82%), assim como no Brasil (91% e 86% respectivamente).   Autoridades governamentais receberam 48% (geral) e 53% (Brasil) das indicações — era possível escolher mais de uma resposta.

— Talvez a notícia que mais esperamos nos dias de hoje é a descoberta de uma vacina contra o coronavírus. E ela será dada por um cientista — declarou o físico Luiz Davidovich, presidente da Academia Brasileira de Ciências. — A Ciência está muito presente nesse momento atual no mundo inteiro. Aqui no Brasil, na mídia e na fala do nosso ministro da Saúde. O tempo inteiro, (Luiz Henrique) Mandetta enfatiza o papel da Ciência no combate ao coronavírus. Cientistas do mundo todo se comunicam, trocam informações e estão nessa corrida contra o tempo. Não sei o que acontecerá depois desta pandemia, mas os governos e as pessoas em geral deveriam manter seus apoios e confiança nos cientistas.

. Foto: Editoria de Arte
. Foto: Editoria de Arte
. Foto: Editoria de Arte
. Foto: Editoria de Arte

Interativo:  Veja a disseminação do coronavírus no Brasil e no Mundo

A pesquisa foi feita entre 6 e 10 de março de 2020, por sondagem on-line em 10 países: África do Sul, Alemanha, Brasil, Canadá, Coreia do Sul, Estados Unidos, França, Itália, Japão e Reino Unido. Foram 10 mil entrevistados (1.000 por país) e todos os dados têm representatividade nacional em termos de idade, região e gênero. A margem de erro é de três pontos percentuais para mais ou para menos.

Mostrou ainda que a maioria se disse preocupada com a politização da crise: na Coreia do Sul este índice foi o maior (67%), seguindo pela África do Sul e Estados Unidos (62%), França e Alemanha (61%) e Brasil, com 58%, mesma porcentagem no total geral.

Davidovich afirma que antes desta pandemia, a “atitude anticiência” mostrava-se presente em vários países do mundo, inclusive no Brasil. Citou a falta de investimentos e apoio na área e também exemplos dos movimentos contra a vacinação e  o “exótico” terraplanismo, que ganhou força nos Estados Unidos a partir de 2014.

— Quando um presidente de um país, poderoso como os EUA, fala contra as evidencias cientificas com relação às mudanças climáticas, por exemplo, ele afeta o mundo inteiro. Isso vai ser corrigido depois desta epidemia, em que os cientistas seguem como fonte mais confiável?

Cientista mostra tubo com uma solução contendo anticorpos para Covid-19, com o qual trabalha para descobrir um medicamento, na Universidade de Tsinghua, em Pequim, China. Foto: Thomas Peter / REUTERS
Cientista mostra tubo com uma solução contendo anticorpos para Covid-19, com o qual trabalha para descobrir um medicamento, na Universidade de Tsinghua, em Pequim, China. Foto: Thomas Peter / REUTERS

Altar

Para o antropólogo Ruben George Oliven, titular do programa de pós-graduação de Antropologia Social da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, acredita que pesquisa mostra o quanto o cientista e os profissionais da saúde estão valorizados nos tempos atuais. Mesmo que a pesquisa tenha sido feita em países tão diferentes. Observou que no Brasil,  os discursos antagônicos entre a presidência e o Ministério da Saúde colocam as autoridades governamentais em xeque.

— Mesmo num país como Brasil, em que a religiosidade é importante e os lideres religiosos não estão citados na pesquisa, as pessoas confiam no cientista. Diferentemente do político, que precisa estar bem com todo mundo para se reeleger, que tem discursos diferentes para diferentes grupos, o cientista tem alto grau é visto como alguém que se dedica a descobrir a verdade. Está numa especie de altar, ao lado dos profissionais da saúde — comenta Oliven, que destaca ainda o médico pessoal. — O meu medico é a pessoa que me trata, no qual eu deposito confiança e o que ele diz tem grau de veracidade muito grande. É o que caracteriza uma boa relação médico-paciente.

Ana Julião, gerente geral da Edelman, agência global de comunicação e responsável pela pesquisa, afirma que a empresa faz pesquisas sobre confiança, no mundo inteiro, há 20 anos e tem observado uma polarização entre informação e opinão:

— Essa crise gera um medo natural nas pessoas e faz com que os cientistas sejam os mais confiáveis. Nesse momento, a gente vê o quanto a informação é muito mais importante que a opinião.

Fake news

Sobre a busca por informações, a pesquisa mostrou que a Italia destacou as fonte governamentais (63%). Na África do Sul (72%) e no Brasil (64%), as mídias sociais são citadas como principal fonte de informação. Mas a maioria, sete países, buscam dados prioritariamente com os veículos de comunicação, cujo índice total (incluindo todos os pesquisados) é de 64%.  No Brasil, a imprensa (59%) aparece em segundo e depois, as fontes do governo (40%).

. Foto: Editoria de Arte
. Foto: Editoria de Arte

No total geral, depois da imprensa, aparecem: fontes do governo nacional (40%), mídias sociais (38%), organizações globais de saúde como a OMS (34%), autoridades sanitárias nacionais (29%), amigos e familiares (27%) e fontes do governo local (26%).

Segundo a pesquisa, no Brasil, 85% dizem se preocupar com fake news sobre a pandemia. Além disso, 52% admitem ter dificuldade para encontrar informações confiáveis e de credibilidade sobre o coronavírus e seus efeitos e 89% afirmam que precisam ouvir mais os cientistas e menos os políticos.

No geral, levando em consideração os dez países pesquisados, 74% se dizem preocupados com notícias falsas, 45% tem dificuldade para encontrar dados confiáveis e 85% confiam mais na ciência do que nos políticos.

A filosofa Carla Rodrigues, professora da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, observa ainda que a pesquisa foi feita no início de março e que houve, no Brasil, uma explosão de fake news nos últimos dias. Assim, segundo ela, as pessoas devem ter mais dificuldade para buscar dados confiáveis. Também destacou o fato da pesquisa mostrar que entre os porta vozes mais eficientes não está as autoridades governamentais.

— Esse número de 52% seria muito maior, sem dúvida. Principalmente por causa da politização criada em torno do coronavírus. Há cerca de duas semanas, a quantidade de fake news é enorme e se criou uma confusão sobre o tema — diz Carla, que acrescenta que nos últimos anos se intensificou o uso de fake news como instrumento de mobilização contra diversas instituições. — Incluindo a Ciência que foi muito enfraquecida. Nesse contexto, é muito mais difícil fazer com que as instituições responsáveis pelo combate a pandemia sejam respeitadas. Ou seja, mais um obstáculo a enfrentar.

A “busca pela verdade”, pelos cientistas, segundo Carla, é constante, mutante, e que é preciso ter cuidado. Isso porque as descobertas serão, em sua maioria, superadas e não se pode usar este fenômeno para desacreditar a classe.

— O coronavírus é um problema novo. E a Ciência vai continuar a pesquisar e investigar. A resposta será sempre atualizada e passível de revisão. Muitas vezes este fenômeno é usado para desacreditar a Ciência. Mas, a boa Ciência não é absoluta, não tem uma verdade final. Ainda bem.

O luto e os sentidos da morte

Mulher Luto Arte - Foto gratuita no Pixabay
Pixabay

Renzo Taddei – 20 de abril de 2020

Em um texto anterior, escrito há exatamente um mês, eu calculei que, se a taxa de mortalidade no Brasil se igualasse à da Itália, 166 das minhas amizades no Facebook estariam mortas no final da pandemia; considerando apenas aquela com as quais tenho contato mais frequente ou pessoal, e adicionando indivíduos mais velhos que não usam o Facebook, calculei o tamanho do meu luto previsto: 65 pessoas queridas. E perguntei: quem é que está preparado para perder, em poucas semanas, cinco dúzias de afetos?

Naquele momento, eu não havia recebido a notícia de mortes relacionadas ao COVID-19 de uma das minhas amizades sequer. Percebi que meu texto provocou aversão em alguns conhecidos; outro disseram-me que foi o que fez a ficha cair.

Quinze dias depois, republiquei no meu blogue uma entrevista com David Kessler, um especialista em luto. Na entrevista, ele afirmava que muitas pessoas estavam sentindo-se emocionalmente alteradas, e que tratava-se de uma forma de luto direcionada não a pessoas, mas a contextos e modos de vida. Certamente há muitas variedades de certeza e de segurança que não voltarão jamais. Com relação à estranheza do distanciamento social, ele diz que existem fases que são idênticas às fases típicas do processo psicológico do luto:

Existe a negação, que acontece bastante no início: “este vírus não vai nos afetar”. Existe a raiva: “vocês estão nos fazendo ficar em casa e tirando nossos trabalhos”. Existe a barganha: “ok, se estabelecemos o distanciamento social por duas semanas, tudo vai melhorar, certo?”. Existe a tristeza: “eu não sei quando isto vai terminar”. E, finalmente, a aceitação: “isto está acontecendo; eu tenho que descobrir como seguir adiante”.

Kessler ressalta que as fases podem não ocorrer de forma linear no tempo. Em livro mais recente, ele acresceu uma sexta fase: a descoberta de significado.

Menos de uma semana após a publicação da entrevista, meu sogro faleceu de COVID-19. Tenho a impressão de que, das minhas 2660 amizades no Facebook, os parentes consanguíneos do meu sogro e eu fomos os primeiros a sentir o baque. Poucos dias depois, começaram as postagens, esparsas e discretas, de pais e avós que haviam falecido. Comecei a escutar isso também nas conversas pessoais, fora das redes sociais, de forma crescente.

 No dia 16 de abril, rodou o país notícia de modelo matemático que previa que o sistema de saúde no país entraria em colapso no dia 21 de abril. Amanhã. Ontem, no noticiário da noite, repórteres desorientados informavam que, na maior metrópole do país, o número de leitos disponíveis de UTI se esgotaria em poucos dias.

Estamos afetados por uma quantidade imensa de lutos encavalados. É impossível estar dentro do furacão e não elaborar sentidos e narrativas. A mais imediata e intuitiva é a que afirma que é preciso fazer isso tudo valer, e o faremos se sairmos melhores do que entramos. Frente à imagem prevista dos corpos empilhados em containers refrigerados, produzidos pela tsunami de mortes que nos aguarda, velamos a ideia de que éramos, humanos, o topo da cadeia alimentar e que não tínhamos predadores. Que deste luto emerja a compreensão coletiva de que o futuro só existirá se reconstruirmos nossa relação com ecossistemas e demais seres vivos, como vizinhos e não como patrões (que nunca fomos).

Pelo desgoverno de quem nos dirige, velamos o sentimento de que o progresso, em qualquer de suas variações, ocorreria de qualquer modo, independente de nossas ações e de nossas capacidades. Que deste luto emerja a consciência de que o mundo é resultado das relações que construímos, e portanto só existirá felicidade se os mundos da política e da economia forem construídos sobre bases que a promovam.

Na impossibilidade de sentir fisicamente o calor humano do abraço de tanta gente querida, alguns até o final da pandemia, outro para sempre, velamos nossas ilusões a respeito de vidas vividas com pressa e sem cuidado, com produtividade e sem delicadeza, com metas e sem sentido. Que deste luto emerja a consciência de que ninguém é capaz de constituir-se, como pessoa e mesmo como organismo, sem a troca incessante com os demais; e se queremos um futuro de paz e serenidade, as trocas que nos constituem mutuamente têm que ser pautadas por essas qualidades.

Há, no entanto, o luto mais difícil, o mais literal: o da morte fria, brutal, a um palmo de distância, dilacerando os sentimentos e a capacidade de raciocínio. É também o mais importante dos lutos, porque garante a continuidade da nossa vida psíquica e emocional, se o vivermos bem. É preciso viver o luto, com coragem. Mas não é preciso que se viva o luto sem apoio e ajuda. Como afirmou David Kessler, o significado é parte fundamental da experiência do sofrimento, não apenas no luto, mas em todas as situações difíceis. Ocorre, no entanto, que se sairmos da psicologia e olharmos para a antropologia ou para a história, veremos que a humanidade é riquíssima em tecnologias e ferramentas para lidar com o sofrimento e com o luto, e a ideia de que o sentido emerge apenas no final do processo é, no meu entendimento, desperdiçar oportunidades e sofrer mais do que o necessário. É como ter um problema psicológico e colocar-se a responsabilidade de reinventar a própria psicologia no processo de cura. Obviamente as coisas não precisam ser assim.

Um problema aqui é que, além da própria psicologia e da psiquiatria, boa parte das demais tecnologias é classificada como “religião”, o que afasta muita gente. Isso é, em geral, uma bobagem, e ocorre em função de como nosso pensamento e percepção das coisas são colonizados por realidades culturais que não refletem de forma clara o nosso mundo cotidiano. Estou me referindo ao fato de que a suposta guerra entre “ciência” e “religião” não é sobre ciência, de forma genérica, nem religião, de maneira ampla, mas à ciência que dominavas as atenções do império britânico na época de Darwin (um naturalismo que via no mundo o reflexo do liberalismo individualista que dominava o pensamento inglês) e a religião hegemônica dentro do mesmo império britânico (um protestantismo literalista que se colocava em rota de colisão com outros literalismos, como o científico). Quando nossos cientistas brasileiros bradam a respeito das incompatibilidades entre ciência e religião, estão se referindo a um tipo específico de ciência e à religião que mimetiza o que Darwin tinha no seu tempo, de forma exacerbada: o neopentecostalismo. Com um pouco de imaginação, pesquisa e estudo, facilmente se descobre que, quanto mais o tempo passa, maiores e mais frutíferas são as colaborações entre o budismo e a ciência; o papa Francisco gerou uma volta de cento e oitenta graus na relação entre o Vaticano e a ciência, e tornou-se o primeiro papa declaradamente ambientalista da história; as obras de Alan Kardec, que fundamentam as práticas do Espiritismo Kardecista e de boa parte da Umbanda, dizem repetidamente que a fé só é verdadeira se pautada por pensamento racional e em harmonia com a ciência. Finalmente, há tempos a psiquiatria descobriu que sistemas de crenças que não induzem à culpa têm efeito efetivamente positivos no tratamento de doenças mentais, não sendo apenas “placebos”.

Além disso, dizer que a religião não tem nada a ver com a ciência é um equívoco: a ciência mostra, de forma clara, que a construção de narrativas que promovem coesão social e dão sentido à existência, como as religiões, foram fundamentais no desenvolvimento de todas as sociedades humanas – e continuam sendo. Yuval Harari, em seu livro Sapiens, por exemplo, diz de forma provocadora que o capitalismo e o socialismo (e muitas outras coisas) são formas de religião.

O luto precisa ser vivido, mas pode ser vivido mais fácil e positivamente. Em texto anterior, listei uma longa série de organizações e profissionais das áreas de psicologia e psiquiatria que organizaram-se para ofertar apoio gratuito e virtual às pessoas psicologicamente afetadas pela pandemia. Nas próximas semanas, este tipo de apoio será fundamental. Aqui, listo abaixo organizações religiosas localizadas na cidade de São Paulo que oferecem canal de comunicação e serviços de apoio, com o objetivo de oferecer consolo e ajudar as pessoas a encontrarem sentido e propósito no sofrimento pelo qual estão passando. Como os atendimentos estão sendo feitos de forma remota, por telefone ou internet, não é necessário residir em São Paulo para fazer uso dos serviços.

Se você conhece instituição religiosa que organizou-se para oferecer serviços no contexto presente e não está listada aqui, por favor envie esta informação para o autor ou deixe comentário abaixo.

Em ordem alfabética:

Budismo

– Centro de Estudos Budistas Bodisatva: site: http://www.cebb.org.br/centros/sp/; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cebbsp/

Catolicismo

– Marcus Tullius, coordenador nacional da Pastoral da Comunicação, informou que não há atividade centralizada, em função da quantidade e abrangência geográfica de fiéis, e que estes devem entrar em contato com as suas paróquias. As paróquias e os padres locais estão se organizando para atenderem as comunidades. É possível encontrar paróquias na lista de paróquias da Arquidiocese de São Paulo: http://arquisp.org.br/buscar-paroquias

Hare Krishna

– Centro Hare Krishna de Bhakti Yoga: e-mail centroharekrishnasp@gmail.com; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/harekrishnasp/

– Templo Hare Krishna em São Paulo, Centro Cultural Vrinda: e-mail satyamssdd@gmail.com

– Vrinda São Paulo Templo Hare Krishna: https://www.facebook.com/temploharekrishnaSP/

Igreja Ortodoxa

– Igreja Ortodoxa Antioquina: E-mail catedralortodoxa@uol.com.br; site: http://www.catedralortodoxa.com.br

Judaísmo

– Congregação Israelita Paulista: site cip.org.br; email central.atendimento@cip.org.br;

– União Brasileiro Israelita do Bem Estar Social: email unibes@unibes.org.br; https://www.facebook.com/Unibes/

Kardecismo (Espiritismo)

– Os centros espíritas associados à União das Sociedades Espíritas do Estado de São Paulo estão organizando atendimento em suas áreas de atuação. Use o localizador de entidades associadas: https://usesp.org.br/localizar. A USE tem perfil no Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/USESP/

– A Federação Espírita do Estado de São Paulo possui um canal de atendimento telefônico, no número (11) 3106.4403 ou pelo site https://feesp.com.br/telefeesp/; possui também perfil no Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FEESPoficial/

Umbanda e Candomblé

– O Pai Salun, da Federação de Umbanda e Candomblé do Estado de São Paulo, coloca a entidade à disposição através do site https://www.fucesp.com.br; no site é possível encontrar lista de entidades filiadas: https://www.fucesp.com.br/nossos-filiados.

Hélio Schwartsman: Bolsonaro, a ciência e a ética (Folha de S.Paulo)

Artigo original

17 de abril de 2020

Hoje eu vou dar uma de filósofo chato e preciosista. Tornou-se um lugar-comum afirmar que Bolsonaro age contra a ciência e que suas atitudes diante da pandemia de Covid -19 são absurdas. Concordo que são absurdas, mas receio que não seja tão simples carimbá-las como anticientíficas.

Não me entendam mal, sou fã da ciência. É a ela que devemos quase todos os desenvolvimentos que tornaram a existência humana menos miserável nos últimos séculos. Mas, se quisermos usar os conceitos com algum rigor, a ciência nunca nos diz como devemos atuar.

Quem chamou a atenção para o problema foi David Hume (1711-1776). Para o filósofo, existe uma diferença lógica fundamental entre proposições descritivas, que são as que a ciência nos dá, e proposições prescritivas ou normativas, que são as que se traduzem em decisões de como agir. Nós nunca podemos extrair as segundas diretamente das primeiras. Esse passo necessariamente envolve valores, que não são do domínio da ciência, mas da ética.

Isso significa que a ciência só vai até certo ponto. Ela nos esclarece sobre o comportamento de vírus novos em populações suscetíveis, alerta para a força avassaladora da curva exponencial e vai nos municiando com os parâmetros epidemiológicos do Sars-Cov-2, sobre os quais ainda paira muita incerteza. O que fazemos com essas informações, porém, já não é da alçada da ciência.

Muitas vezes, os cenários traçados pelos especialistas são tão desequilibrados que não deixam margem a dúvida. A escolha sobre o que fazer se torna simples aplicação do bom senso. É o caso da adoção do isolamento social nesta primeira fase da epidemia. Em outras tantas, porém, sobrepõem-se camadas adicionais de complexidade, que precisamos sopesar à luz de valores.

O ponto central é que nossas decisões devem ser informadas pela ciência, mas são inapelavelmente determinadas pela ética —​ou pela falta dela.