Arquivo da tag: Comunicação da ciência

Reformation in the Church of Science (The New Atlantis)

How the truth monopoly was broken up

Andrea Saltelli and Daniel Sarewitz

Spring 2022

We are suffering through a pandemic of lies — or so we hear from leading voices in media, politics, and academia. Our culture is infected by a disease that has many names: fake news, post-truth, misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, anti-science. The affliction, we are told, is a perversion of the proper role of knowledge in a healthy information society.

What is to be done? To restore truth, we need strategies to “get the facts straight.” For example, we need better “science communication,” “independent fact-checking,” and a relentless commitment to exposing and countering falsehoods. This is why the Washington Post fastidiously counted 30,573 “false or misleading claims” by President Trump during his four years in office. Facebook, meanwhile, partners with eighty organizations worldwide to help it flag falsehoods and inform users of the facts. And some disinformation experts recently suggested in the New York Times that the Biden administration should appoint a “reality czar,” a central authority tasked with countering conspiracy theories about Covid and election fraud, who “could become the tip of the spear for the federal government’s response to the reality crisis.”

Such efforts reflect the view that untruth is a plague on our information society, one that can and must be cured. If we pay enough responsible, objective attention to distinguishing what is true from what is not, and thus excise misinformation from the body politic, people can be kept safe from falsehood. Put another way, it is an implicitly Edenic belief in the original purity of the information society, a state we have lapsed from but can yet return to, by the grace of fact-checkers.

We beg to differ. Fake news is not a perversion of the information society but a logical outgrowth of it, a symptom of the decades-long devolution of the traditional authority for governing knowledge and communicating information. That authority has long been held by a small number of institutions. When that kind of monopoly is no longer possible, truth itself must become contested.

This is treacherous terrain. The urge to insist on the integrity of the old order is widespread: Truth is truth, lies are lies, and established authorities must see to it that nobody blurs the two. But we also know from history that what seemed to be stable regimes of truth may collapse, and be replaced. If that is what is happening now, then the challenge is to manage the transition, not to cling to the old order as it dissolves around us.

Truth, New and Improved

The emergence of widespread challenges to the control of information by mainstream social institutions developed in three phases.

First, new technologies of mass communication in the twentieth century — radio, television, and significant improvements in printing, further empowered by new social science methods — enabled the rise of mass-market advertising, which quickly became an essential tool for success in the marketplace. Philosophers like Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were bewildered by a world where, thanks to these new forms of communication, unabashed lies in the interest of selling products could become not just an art but an industry.

The rise of mass marketing created the cultural substrate for the so-called post-truth world we live in now. It normalized the application of hyperbole, superlatives, and untestable claims of superiority to the rhetoric of everyday commerce. What started out as merely a way to sell new and improved soap powder and automobiles amounts today to a rhetorical infrastructure of hype that infects every corner of culture: the way people promote their careers, universities their reputations, governments their programs, and scientists the importance of their latest findings. Whether we’re listening to a food corporation claim that its oatmeal will keep your heart healthy or a university press office herald a new study that will upend everything we know, radical skepticism would seem to be the rational stance for information consumers.

Politics, Scientized

In a second, partly overlapping phase in the twentieth century, science underwent a massive expansion of its role into the domain of public affairs, and thus into highly contestable subject matters. Spurred by a wealth of new instruments for measuring the world and techniques for analyzing the resulting data, policies on agriculture, health, education, poverty, national security, the environment and much more became subject to new types of scientific investigation. As never before, science became part of the language of policymaking, and scientists became advocates for particular policies.

The dissolving boundary between science and politics was on full display by 1958, when the chemist Linus Pauling and physicist Edward Teller debated the risks of nuclear weapons testing on a U.S. television broadcast, a spectacle that mixed scientific claims about fallout risks with theories of international affairs and assertions of personal moral conviction. The debate presaged a radical transformation of science and its social role. Where science was once a rarefied, elite practice largely isolated from society, scientific experts were now mobilized in increasing numbers to form and inform politics and policymaking. Of course, society had long been shaped, sometimes profoundly, by scientific advances. But in the second half of the twentieth century, science programs started to take on a rapidly expanding portfolio of politically divisive issues: determining the cancer-causing potential of food additives, pesticides, and tobacco; devising strategies for the U.S. government in its nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union; informing guidelines for diet, nutrition, and education; predicting future energy supplies, food supplies, and population growth; designing urban renewal programs; choosing nuclear waste disposal sites; and on and on.

Philosopher-mathematicians Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz recognized in 1993 that a new kind of science was emerging, which they termed “post-normal science.” This kind of science was inherently contestable, both because it dealt with the irreducible uncertainties of complex and messy problems at the intersection of nature and society, and because it was being used for making decisions that were themselves value-laden and contested. Questions that may sound straightforward, such as “Should women in their forties get regular mammograms?” or “Will genetically modified crops and livestock make food more affordable?” or “Do the benefits of decarbonizing our energy production outweigh the costs?” became the focus of intractable and never-ending scientific and political disputes.

This situation remained reasonably manageable through the 1990s, because science communication was still largely controlled by powerful institutions: governments, corporations, and universities. Even if these institutions were sometimes fiercely at odds, all had a shared interest in maintaining the idea of a unitary science that provided universal truths upon which rational action should be based. Debates between experts may have raged — often without end — but one could still defend the claim that the search for truth was a coherent activity carried out by special experts working in pertinent social institutions, and that the truths emerging from their work would be recognizable and agreed-upon when finally they were determined. Few questioned the fundamental notion that science was necessary and authoritative for determining good policy choices across a wide array of social concerns. The imperative remained to find facts that could inform action — a basic tenet of Enlightenment rationality.

Science, Democratized

The rise of the Internet and social media marks the third phase of the story, and it has now rendered thoroughly implausible any institutional monopoly on factual claims. As we are continuing to see with Covid, the public has instantly available to it a nearly inexhaustible supply of competing and contradictory claims, made by credentialed experts associated with august institutions, about everything from mask efficacy to appropriate social distancing and school closure policies. And many of the targeted consumers of these claims are already conditioned to be highly skeptical of the information they receive from mainstream media.

Today’s information environment certainly invites mischievous seeding of known lies into public discourse. But bad actors are not the most important part of the story. Institutions can no longer maintain their old stance of authoritative certainty about information — the stance they need to justify their actions, or to establish a convincing dividing line between true news and fake news. Claims of disinterest by experts acting on behalf of these institutions are no longer plausible. People are free to decide what information, and in which experts, they want to believe. The Covid lab-leak hypothesis was fake news until that news itself became fake. Fact-checking organizations are themselves now subject to accusations of bias: Recently, Facebook flagged as “false” a story in the esteemed British Medical Journal about a shoddy Covid vaccine trial, and the editors of the journal in turn called Facebook’s fact-checking “inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible.”

No political system exists without its share of lies, obfuscation, and fake news, as Plato and Machiavelli taught. Yet even those thinkers would be puzzled by the immense power of modern technologies to generate stories. Ideas have become a battlefield, and we are all getting lost in the fog of the truth wars. When everything seems like it can be plausible to someone, the term “fake news” loses its meaning.


The celebrated expedient that an aristocracy has the right and the mission to offer “noble lies” to the citizens for their own good thus looks increasingly impotent. In October 2020, U.S. National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a veritable aristocrat of the scientific establishment, sought to delegitimize the recently released Great Barrington Declaration. Crafted by a group he referred to as “fringe epidemiologists” (they were from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford), the declaration questioned the mainstream lockdown approach to the pandemic, including school and business closures. “There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down,” Collins wrote in an email to fellow aristocrat Anthony Fauci.

But we now live in a moment where suppressing that kind of dissent has become impossible. By May 2021, that “fringe” became part of a new think tank, the Brownstone Institute, founded in reaction to what they describe as “the global crisis created by policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.” From this perspective, policies advanced by Collins and Fauci amounted to “a failed experiment in full social and economic control” reflecting “a willingness on the part of the public and officials to relinquish freedom and fundamental human rights in the name of managing a public health crisis.” The Brownstone Institute’s website is a veritable one-stop Internet shopping haven for anyone looking for well-credentialed expert opinions that counter more mainstream expert opinions on Covid.

Similarly, claims that the science around climate change is “settled,” and that therefore the world must collectively work to decarbonize the global energy system by 2050, have engendered a counter-industry of dissenting experts, organizations, and websites.

At this point, one might be forgiven for speculating that the public is being fed such a heavy diet of Covid and climate change precisely because these are problems that have been framed politically as amenable to a scientific treatment. But it seems that the more the authorities insist on the factiness of facts, the more suspect these become to larger and larger portions of the populace.

A Scientific Reformation

The introduction of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century triggered a revolution in which the Church lost its monopoly on truth. Millions of books were printed in just a few decades after Gutenberg’s innovation. Some people held the printing press responsible for stoking collective economic manias and speculative bubbles. It allowed the widespread distribution of astrological almanacs in Europe, which fed popular hysteria around prophesies of impending doom. And it allowed dissemination of the Malleus Maleficarum, an influential treatise on demonology that contributed to rising persecution of witches.

Though the printing press allowed sanctioned ideas to spread like never before, it also allowed the spread of serious but hitherto suppressed ideas that threatened the legitimacy of the Church. A range of alternative philosophical, moral, and ideological perspectives on Christianity became newly accessible to ever-growing audiences. So did exposés of institutional corruption, such as the practice of indulgences — a market for buying one’s way out of purgatory that earned the Church vast amounts of money. Martin Luther, in particular, understood and exploited the power of the printing press in pursuing his attacks on the Church — one recent historical account, Andrew Pettegree’s book Brand Luther, portrays him as the first mass-market communicator.

“Beginning of the Reformation”: Martin Luther directs the posting of his Ninety-five Theses, protesting the practice of the sale of indulgences, to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
W. Baron von Löwenstern, 1830 / Library of Congress

To a religious observer living through the beginning of the Reformation, the proliferation of printed material must have appeared unsettling and dangerous: the end of an era, and the beginning of a threatening period of heterodoxy, heresies, and confusion. A person exposed to the rapid, unchecked dispersion of printed matter in the fifteenth century might have called many such publications fake news. Today many would say that it was the Reformation itself that did away with fake news, with the false orthodoxies of a corrupted Church, opening up a competition over ideas that became the foundation of the modern world. Whatever the case, this new world was neither neat nor peaceful, with the religious wars resulting from the Church’s loss of authority over truth continuing until the mid-seventeenth century.

Like the printing press in the fifteenth century, the Internet in the twenty-first has radically transformed and disrupted conventional modes of communication, destroyed the existing structure of authority over truth claims, and opened the door to a period of intense and tumultuous change.

Those who lament the death of truth should instead acknowledge the end of a monopoly system. Science was the pillar of modernity, the new privileged lens to interpret the real world and show a pathway to collective good. Science was not just an ideal but the basis for a regime, a monopoly system. Within this regime, truth was legitimized in particular private and public institutions, especially government agencies, universities, and corporations; it was interpreted and communicated by particular leaders of the scientific community, such as government science advisors, Nobel Prize winners, and the heads of learned societies; it was translated for and delivered to the laity in a wide variety of public and political contexts; it was presumed to point directly toward right action; and it was fetishized by a culture that saw it as single and unitary, something that was delivered by science and could be divorced from the contexts in which it emerged.

Such unitary truths included above all the insistence that the advance of science and technology would guarantee progress and prosperity for everyone — not unlike how the Church’s salvific authority could guarantee a negotiated process for reducing one’s punishment for sins. To achieve this modern paradise, certain subsidiary truths lent support. One, for example, held that economic rationality would illuminate the path to universal betterment, driven by the principle of comparative advantage and the harmony of globalized free markets. Another subsidiary truth expressed the social cost of carbon emissions with absolute precision to the dollar per ton, with the accompanying requirement that humans must control the global climate to the tenth of a degree Celsius. These ideas are self-evidently political, requiring monopolistic control of truth to implement their imputed agendas.

An easy prophesy here is that wars over scientific truth will intensify, as did wars over religious truth after the printing press. Those wars ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, followed, eventually, by the creation of a radically new system of governance, the nation-state, and the collapse of the central authority of the Catholic Church. Will the loss of science’s monopoly over truth lead to political chaos and even bloodshed? The answer largely depends upon the resilience of democratic institutions, and their ability to resist the authoritarian drift that seems to be a consequence of crises such as Covid and climate change, to which simple solutions, and simple truths, do not pertain.

Both the Church and the Protestants enthusiastically adopted the printing press. The Church tried to control it through an index of forbidden books. Protestant print shops adopted a more liberal cultural orientation, one that allowed for competition among diverse ideas about how to express and pursue faith. Today we see a similar dynamic. Mainstream, elite science institutions use the Internet to try to preserve their monopoly over which truths get followed where, but the Internet’s bottom-up, distributed architecture appears to give a decisive advantage to dissenters and their diverse ideologies and perspectives.

Holding on to the idea that science always draws clear boundaries between the true and the false will continue to appeal strongly to many sincere and concerned people. But if, as in the fifteenth century, we are now indeed experiencing a tumultuous transition to a new world of communication, what we may need is a different cultural orientation toward science and technology. The character of this new orientation is only now beginning to emerge, but it will above all have to accommodate the over-abundance of competing truths in human affairs, and create new opportunities for people to forge collective meaning as they seek to manage the complex crises of our day.

Why is climate ‘doomism’ going viral – and who’s fighting it? (BBC)

23 May 2022

By Marco Silva
BBC climate disinformation specialist

Illustration of two hands holding electronic devices showing melting planets.

Climate “doomers” believe the world has already lost the battle against global warming. That’s wrong – and while that view is spreading online, there are others who are fighting the viral tide.

As he walked down the street wearing a Jurassic Park cap, Charles McBryde raised his smartphone, stared at the camera, and hit the record button.

“Ok, TikTok, I need your help.”

Charles is 27 and lives in California. His quirky TikTok videos about news, history, and politics have earned him more than 150,000 followers.

In the video in question, recorded in October 2021, he decided it was time for a confession.

“I am a climate doomer,” he said. “Since about 2019, I have believed that there’s little to nothing that we can do to actually reverse climate change on a global scale.”

Climate doomism is the idea that we are past the point of being able to do anything at all about global warming – and that mankind is highly likely to become extinct.

That’s wrong, scientists say, but the argument is picking up steam online.

Still from one of Charles McBryde's videos on TikTok
Image caption, “I am a climate doomer,” Charles McBryde told his TikTok followers last October
‘Give me hope’

Charles admitted to feeling overwhelmed, anxious and depressed about global warming, but he followed up with a plea.

“I’m calling on the activists and the scientists of TikTok to give me hope,” he said. “Convince me that there’s something out there that’s worth fighting for, that in the end we can achieve victory over this, even if it’s only temporary.”

And it wasn’t long before someone answered.

Facing up to the ‘doomers’

Alaina Wood is a sustainability scientist based in Tennessee. On TikTok she’s known as thegarbagequeen.

After watching Charles’ video, she posted a reply, explaining in simple terms why he was wrong.

Alaina makes a habit of challenging climate doomism – a mission she has embraced with a sense of urgency.

“People are giving up on activism because they’re like, ‘I can’t handle it any more… This is too much…’ and ‘If it really is too late, why am I even trying?'” she says. “Doomism ultimately leads to climate inaction, which is the opposite of what we want.”

Sustainability scientist and TikToker Alaina Wood
Image caption, Sustainability scientist and TikToker Alaina Wood is on a mission to reassure people it is not too late for the climate
Why it’s not too late

Climate scientist Dr Friederike Otto, who has been working with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says: “I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend that climate change will lead to humanity’s extinction.”

In its most recent report, the IPCC laid out a detailed plan that it believes could help the world avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures.

It involves “rapid, deep and immediate” cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases – which trap the sun’s heat and make the planet hotter.

“There is no denying that there are large changes across the globe, and that some of them are irreversible,” says Dr Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment.

“It doesn’t mean the world is going to end – but we have to adapt, and we have to stop emitting.”

People carry a sign as they attend a protest during the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow.
Fertile ground

Last year, the Pew Research Center in the US ran a poll covering 17 countries, focusing on attitudes towards climate change.

An overwhelming majority of the respondents said they were willing to change the way they lived to tackle the problem.

But when asked how confident they were that climate action would significantly reduce the effects of global warming, more than half said they had little to no confidence.

Doomism taps into, and exaggerates, that sense of hopelessness. In Charles’s case, it all began with a community on Reddit devoted to the potential collapse of civilisation.

“The most apocalyptic language that I would find was actually coming from former climate scientists,” Charles says.

It’s impossible to know whether the people posting the messages Charles read were genuine scientists.

But the posts had a profound effect on him. He admits: “I do think I fell down the rabbit hole.”

Alaina Wood, the sustainability scientist, says Charles’s story is not unusual.

“I rarely at this point encounter climate denial or any other form of misinformation [on social media],” she says. “It’s not people saying, ‘Fossil fuels don’t cause climate change’ … It’s people saying, ‘It’s too late’.”

TikTok’s rules forbid misinformation that causes harm. We sent the company some videos that Alaina has debunked in the past. None was found to have violated the rules.

TikTok says it works with accredited fact-checkers to “limit the spread of false or misleading climate information”.

Young and pessimistic

Although it can take many forms (and is thus difficult to accurately measure), Alaina says doomism is particularly popular among young people.

“There’s people who are climate activists and they’re so scared. They want to make change, but they feel they need to spread fear-based content to do so,” she says.

“Then there are people who know that fear in general goes viral, and they’re just following trends, even if they don’t necessarily understand the science.”

I’ve watched several of the videos that she debunked. Invariably, they feature young users voicing despair about the future.

“Let me tell you why I don’t know what I want to do with my life and why I’m not planning,” says one young woman. “By the year 2050, most of us should be underwater from global warming.” But that’s a gross exaggeration of what climate scientists are actually telling us.

“A lot of that is often fatalistic humour, but people on TikTok are interpreting that as fact,” Alaina says.

But is Charles still among them, after watching Alaina’s debunks? Is he still a climate doomer?

“I would say no,” he tells me. “I have convinced myself that we can get out of this.”

Opinião – Sou Ciência: Onda pró-ciência barra o avanço do negacionismo no Brasil (Folha de S.Paulo)

Sou Ciência – 14 de janeiro de 2021

Contra expectativas e previsões, mais uma vez o Brasil surpreende. A população brasileira vive nos últimos dois anos um boom de interesse por ciência, ocasionado pela pandemia e seus efeitos. Apesar de sermos uma sociedade desigual e apenas 5% da população ter curso superior concluído, a maioria apoia e quer conhecer mais a ciência. A eleição presidencial de 2018 foi combustível para a indústria de fake news e deu força a discursos que negam ou distorcem a realidade e as evidências científicas e históricas. Naquele momento, parecia que entraríamos fundo em uma fase de obscurantismo.

Mas a história deu sua volta, diante da tragédia imposta pela gestão do governo federal diante do coronavírus, a mobilização foi em sentido contrário. A sociedade brasileira, majoritariamente, reagiu ao negacionismo, impulsionada pela necessidade de lutar contra a pandemia, procurar informação confiável e defender a vida. Com o auxílio de cientistas, mídia e movimentos pela vida, vimos aumentar o interesse sobre ciência, universidades e institutos que produzem conhecimento.

Foi neste contexto que instituímos o SoU_Ciência. Um centro que congrega pesquisadores e cujas atividades estão voltadas para dialogar com a sociedade sobre a política científica e de educação superior, em especial sobre o que fazem as universidades públicas, que no Brasil são responsáveis por mais de 90% da produção de conhecimento e abrigam 8 entre 10 pesquisadores em nosso país. Em curto período de atuação, fizemos levantamentos de opinião pública, em parceria com o instituto Ideia Big Data, além de análises das mídias sociais, grupos focais e notícias. Descobrimos que o Brasil tem 94,5% da população a favor da vacinação contra Covid-19, e que a campanha antivacina liderada pelo próprio Presidente, tem apoio de apenas 5,5%. O que faz o nosso país ser diferente de países da Europa e dos EUA, onde os movimentos anti-vaxsão muito maiores, ainda podemos estudar. Certamente, a tradição em vacinações obtida pelo Plano Nacional de Imunizações (PNI), além do Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS), são fatores determinantes.

Em nossos levantamentos de opinião pública, 72% da população afirmou que seu interesse pela ciência aumentou com a pandemia. Isso fez 69,7% dos entrevistados declarar ter “muito interesse pela ciência” e apenas 2,2%, “nenhum interesse”. Entre evangélicos e os que consideram o governo ótimo/bom, o elevado interesse pela ciência também é expressivo: 63% e 62% respectivamente. Além disso, 32,1% da população declarou ter o hábito de pesquisar em sites, blogse canais das universidades e institutos de pesquisa na procura de informações confiáveis e, surpreendentemente, 40% gostariam de ler artigos científicos. Comparativamente, apenas 8,8% afirmam confiar no que o Bolsonaro fala sobre a pandemia, num claro distanciamento da população em relação ao presidente eleito em 2018.

A procura por informação confiável na pandemia levou a um fortalecimento do ecossistema que envolve universidades, instituições de pesquisa e cientistas na sua capacidade de comunicação e divulgação científica, com um ampliado espaço na mídia. Dois fenômenos merecem destaque. Em primeiro lugar, a competência que cientistas tiveram para se comunicar e alertar sobre o novo coronavírus e seus efeitos, utilizando redes sociais como o Twitter, e canais do YouTube, como monitorou o Science Pulseda Núcleo e IBPAD com apoio da Fundação Serrapilheira. Adicionalmente, muitos cientistas passaram a falar para a grande mídia, que por sua vez ampliou suas sessões de ciência e saúde e deu espaços para novos colunistas na área. Tem havido rápido aprendizado e maior mobilização de cientistas para utilizar os diferentes meios de comunicação.

O segundo fenômeno decorre do grande interesse da mídia e grande parte da população sobre os estudos clínicos das diversas vacinas que estavam sendo desenvolvidas em tempo recorde. Os estudos geraram grande audiência e expectativa. As universidades públicas, como a USP e a Unifesp, atuaram na coordenação dos estudos das duas primeiras vacinas licenciadas no País, ganharam enorme destaque. O Instituto Butantan e a Fiocruz, além das pesquisas, se tornaram mais conhecidos pelas pesquisas e produção dos imunizantes.

Diante de todos estes elementos, nos parece que, 120 anos depois da Revolta da Vacina, a revolta agora ocorre contra um governo que se recusou a comprar vacinas para sua população e propôs falsas alternativas, como apontou a CPI da Pandemia. A revolta em 2021, dado o enorme contingente a favor da vacina e em defesa da ciência, direcionou-se contra o governo federal e faz derreter a popularidade do presidente, passando a aprovação (ótimo/bom) de 37%, em dezembro de 2020, para 22% em dezembro de 2021, segundo o Datafolha; enquanto a rejeição (ruim/péssimo) passou de 32% para 53% no mesmo período. Dentre os fatores dessa virada de popularidade no “ano da vacina” esteve o contínuo embate presidencial contra a ciência, a partir da negação dos benefícios da vacina e da distorção nos dados. Isto vem ocorrendo de maneira renovada agora, na batalha da vacinação infantil e na fraca reação contra a variante Ômicron. Sem dúvida, em 2021 a maior oposição a Bolsonaro veio pela conscientização por meio da ciência e da aproximação dos cientistas junto à sociedade, mídia e redes sociais.

Tentando reagir nesse embate, o governo federal escalou alguns médicos e outros apoiadores para fazer o contraponto e distorcer dados científicos, criando novas interpretações fantasiosas. E atuou e segue atuando para o desmanche acelerado do sistema de ciência e pesquisa no Brasil, com ataques ao CNPq, CAPES e Finep, e cortes brutais de orçamento, cuja dimensão e impacto discutiremos noutros artigos deste blog. Ataques estes que não se reproduziram na opinião pública, já que levantamento do SoU_Ciência mostrou que somente 9% da população apoiam os cortes impostos.

Temos pela frente um grande desafio: consolidar a onda pró-ciência, para além da pandemia, e para tanto é necessária a recuperação do sistema nacional de ciência e pesquisa, com a recomposição efetiva de seu financiamento. Estamos diante da oportunidade de alcançarmos um novo patamar na relação sociedade-ciência com a formulação de políticas públicas baseadas em evidências científicas. Para isso, buscamos um “letramento científico” que colabore no combate às fake news e amplie a capacidade da população em tomar decisões racionais e fundamentadas. Os sinais são de esperança, mas nos pedem atenção e muito trabalho. A criação do Centro SoU_Ciência que terá neste blog uma voz, faz parte desse momento e pretende colaborar para fortalecer as conexões com a sociedade, na defesa da democracia, e na garantia de direitos para um novo momento da história de nosso país.

Soraya Smaili, farmacologista, professora titular da Escola Paulista de Medicina, Reitora da Unifesp (2013-2021). Atualmente é Coordenadora Adjunta do Centro de Saúde Global e Coordenadora Geral do SoU_Ciência;

Maria Angélica Minhoto, pedagoga e economista, professora da EFLCH-Unifesp, Pró- Reitora de Graduação (2013-2017) e Coordenadora Adjunta do SoU_Ciência;

Pedro Arantes, arquiteto e urbanista, professor da EFLCH-Unifesp, Pró-Reitor de Planejamento (2017-2021) e Coordenador Adjunto do SoU_Ciência.

Another tool in the fight against climate change: storytelling (MIT Technology Review)

Stories may be the most overlooked climate solution of all. By

December 23, 2021

Devi Lockwood

There is a lot of shouting about climate change, especially in North America and Europe. This makes it easy for the rest of the world to fall into a kind of silence—for Westerners to assume that they have nothing to add and should let the so-called “experts” speak. But we all need to be talking about climate change and amplifying the voices of those suffering the most. 

Climate science is crucial, but by contextualizing that science with the stories of people actively experiencing climate change, we can begin to think more creatively about technological solutions.

This needs to happen not only at major international gatherings like COP26, but also in an everyday way. In any powerful rooms where decisions are made, there should be people who can speak firsthand about the climate crisis. Storytelling is an intervention into climate silence, an invitation to use the ancient human technology of connecting through language and narrative to counteract inaction. It is a way to get often powerless voices into powerful rooms. 

That’s what I attempted to do by documenting stories of people already experiencing the effects of a climate in crisis. 

In 2013, I was living in Boston during the marathon bombing. The city was put on lockdown, and when it lifted, all I wanted was to go outside: to walk and breathe and hear the sounds of other people. I needed to connect, to remind myself that not everyone is murderous. In a fit of inspiration, I cut open a broccoli box and wrote “Open call for stories” in Sharpie. 

I wore the cardboard sign around my neck. People mostly stared. But some approached me. Once I started listening to strangers, I didn’t want to stop. 

That summer, I rode my bicycle down the Mississippi River on a mission to listen to any stories that people had to share. I brought the sign with me. One story was so sticky that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months, and it ultimately set me off on a trip around the world.

“We fight for the protection of our levees. We fight for our marsh every time we have a hurricane. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.” 

I met 57-year-old Franny Connetti 80 miles south of New Orleans, when I stopped in front of her office to check the air in my tires; she invited me in to get out of the afternoon sun. Franny shared her lunch of fried shrimp with me. Between bites she told me how Hurricane Isaac had washed away her home and her neighborhood in 2012. 

Despite that tragedy, she and her husband moved back to their plot of land, in a mobile home, just a few months after the storm.

“We fight for the protection of our levees. We fight for our marsh every time we have a hurricane,” she told me. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.” 

Twenty miles ahead, I could see where the ocean lapped over the road at high tide. “Water on Road,” an orange sign read. Locals jokingly refer to the endpoint of Louisiana State Highway 23 as “The End of the World.” Imagining the road I had been biking underwater was chilling.

Devi with sign
The author at Monasavu Dam in Fiji in 2014.

Here was one front line of climate change, one story. What would it mean, I wondered, to put this in dialogue with stories from other parts of the world—from other front lines with localized impacts that were experienced through water? My goal became to listen to and amplify those stories.

Water is how most of the world will experience climate change. It’s not a human construct, like a degree Celsius. It’s something we acutely see and feel. When there’s not enough water, crops die, fires rage, and people thirst. When there’s too much, water becomes a destructive force, washing away homes and businesses and lives. It’s almost always easier to talk about water than to talk about climate change. But the two are deeply intertwined.

I also set out to address another problem: the language we use to discuss climate change is often abstract and inaccessible. We hear about feet of sea-level rise or parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but what does this really mean for people’s everyday lives? I thought storytelling might bridge this divide. 

One of the first stops on my journey was Tuvalu, a low-lying coral atoll nation in the South Pacific, 585 miles south of the equator. Home to around 10,000 people, Tuvalu is on track to become uninhabitable in my lifetime. 

In 2014 Tauala Katea, a meteorologist, opened his computer to show me an image of a recent flood on one island. Seawater had bubbled up under the ground near where we were sitting. “This is what climate change looks like,” he said. 

“In 2000, Tuvaluans living in the outer islands noticed that their taro and pulaka crops were suffering,” he said. “The root crops seemed rotten, and the size was getting smaller and smaller.” Taro and pulaka, two starchy staples of Tuvaluan cuisine, are grown in pits dug underground. 

Tauala and his team traveled to the outer islands to take soil samples. The culprit was saltwater intrusion linked to sea-level rise. The seas have been rising four millimeters per year since measurements began in the early 1990s. While that might sound like a small amount, this change has a dramatic impact on Tuvaluans’ access to drinking water. The highest point is only 13 feet above sea level.

A lot has changed in Tuvalu as a result. The freshwater lens, a layer of groundwater that floats above denser seawater, has become salty and contaminated. Thatched roofs and freshwater wells are now a thing of the past. Each home now has a water tank attached to a corrugated-­iron roof by a gutter. All the water for washing, cooking, and drinking now comes from the rain. This rainwater is boiled for drinking and used to wash clothes and dishes, as well as for bathing. The wells have been repurposed as trash heaps. 

At times, families have to make tough decisions about how to allocate water. Angelina, a mother of three, told me that during a drought  a few years ago, her middle daughter, Siulai, was only a few months old. She, her husband, and their oldest daughter could swim in the sea to wash themselves and their clothes. “We only saved water to drink and cook,” she said. But her newborn’s skin was too delicate to bathe in the ocean. The salt water would give her a horrible rash. That meant Angelina had to decide between having water to drink and to bathe her child.

The stories I heard about water and climate change in Tuvalu reflected a sharp division along generational lines. Tuvaluans my age—like Angelina—don’t see their future on the islands and are applying for visas to live in New Zealand. Older Tuvaluans see climate change as an act of God and told me they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else; they didn’t want to leave the bones of their ancestors, which were buried in their front yards. Some things just cannot be moved. 

Organizations like the United Nations Development Programme are working to address climate change in Tuvalu by building seawalls and community water tanks. Ultimately these adaptations seem to be prolonging the inevitable. It is likely that within my lifetime, many Tuvaluans will be forced to call somewhere else home. 

Tuvalu shows how climate change exacerbates both food and water insecurity—and how that insecurity drives migration. I saw this in many other places. Mess with the amount of water available in one location, and people will move.

In Thailand I met a modern dancer named Sun who moved to Bangkok from the rural north. He relocated to the city in part to practice his art, but also to take refuge from unpredictable rain patterns. Farming in Thailand is governed by the seasonal monsoons, which dump rain, fill river basins, and irrigate crops from roughly May to September. Or at least they used to. When we spoke in late May 2016, it was dry in Thailand. The rains were delayed. Water levels in the country’s biggest dams plummeted to less than 10% of their capacity—the worst drought in two decades.

“Right now it’s supposed to be the beginning of the rainy season, but there is no rain,” Sun told me. “How can I say it? I think the balance of the weather is changing. Some parts have a lot of rain, but some parts have none.” He leaned back in his chair, moving his hands like a fulcrum scale to express the imbalance. “That is the problem. The people who used to be farmers have to come to Bangkok because they want money and they want work,” he said. “There is no more work because of the weather.” 

family under sign in Nunavut
A family celebrates Nunavut Day near the waterfront in Igloolik, Nunavut, in 2018.

Migration to the city, in other words, is hastened by the rain. Any tech-driven climate solutions that fail to address climate migration—so central to the personal experience of Sun and many others in his generation around the world—will be at best incomplete, and at worst potentially dangerous. Solutions that address only one region, for example, could exacerbate migration pressures in another. 

I heard stories about climate-­driven food and water insecurity in the Arctic, too. Igloolik, Nunavut, 1,400 miles south of the North Pole, is a community of 1,700 people. Marie Airut, a 71-year-old elder, lives by the water. We spoke in her living room over cups of black tea.

“My husband died recently,” she told me. But when he was alive, they went hunting together in every season; it was their main source of food. “I’m not going to tell you what I don’t know. I’m going to tell you only the things that I have seen,” she said. In the 1970s and ’80s, the seal holes would open in late June, an ideal time for hunting baby seals. “But now if I try to go out hunting at the end of June, the holes are very big and the ice is really thin,” Marie told me. “The ice is melting too fast. It doesn’t melt from the top; it melts from the bottom.”

When the water is warmer, animals change their movement. Igloolik has always been known for its walrus hunting. But in recent years, hunters have had trouble reaching the animals. “I don’t think I can reach them anymore, unless you have 70 gallons of gas. They are that far now, because the ice is melting so fast,” Marie said. “It used to take us half a day to find walrus in the summer, but now if I go out with my boys, it would probably take us two days to get some walrus meat for the winter.” 

Marie and her family used to make fermented walrus every year, “but this year I told my sons we’re not going walrus hunting,” she said. “They are too far.”

Devi Lockwood is the Ideas editor at Rest of World and the author of 1,001 Voices on Climate Change.

The Water issue

This story was part of our January 2022 issue

Interview: Katharine Hayhoe on How to Talk About Climate Change (Undark)

By Dan Falk 11.05.2021

For many years, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, has been warning that our planet’s climate is changing, and speaking plainly about what needs to be done to slow and ultimately stop the human-caused warming trend.

Early in her career, however, her attention was focused elsewhere. “I was studying physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto,” she recalls. “I needed an extra class to finish my degree. And there was this new class that was being offered on climate change. And I thought, well, that looks interesting. Why not take it?”

The course changed her perspective in multiple ways. First, while she was aware of the perils of climate change even then — this was the mid-1990s — the course hammered home just how urgent the situation was. Second, she began to see just how unfair the harms caused by climate change were; how poor nations were suffering more than wealthy ones, for example. As an evangelical Christian, this troubled her deeply.

“Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World,” by Katharine Hayhoe (Atria/One Signal Publishers, 320 pages).

Hayhoe’s new book, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World,” contains plenty of science — but she is well aware that inundating people with facts is not enough. Rather, she emphasizes honest, one-on-one communication. (That message was also front and center in her TED Talk, “The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It,” which has been viewed more than 4 million times.)

She admits that those conversations aren’t always easy. As she details in the book, we live in extraordinary polarized times, and some people, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, believe that climate change isn’t a big deal, or even that it’s a hoax. According to a group of researchers at Yale University who track people’s attitudes toward global warming, about 8 percent of Americans fall into the “dismissive” category, believing that global warming isn’t happening, or isn’t human-caused, or isn’t a threat; many in this group endorse conspiracy theories, for example, claiming that global warming is a lie. Still, the vast majority are willing to listen, Hayhoe maintains, especially to those they are close to. And in spite of our differences, she is convinced there is much more that unites us.

This week, she’s attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) currently underway in Glasgow, Scotland.

Our interview was conducted recently over Zoom and has been edited for length and clarity.

Undark: Scientists often emphasize that climate and weather are not synonyms. But as you point out in your book, the last few years have brought a string of unusually severe weather events, from hurricanes to heat waves to wildfires. Even The New York Times has described the past year’s weather as “unprecedented in modern times.” What can you say about the relationship between our planet’s unusual recent weather, and climate change?

Katharine Hayhoe: Ten years ago, if you interviewed a climate scientist and you said, “Could this current heat wave be attributed to climate change?” they would say: “Well, no single event can be attributed to the impacts of a changing climate. But we know that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of heat waves.” Well, fast-forward to today, and we can put a number on it. We can see that crazy heat wave they’ve had out West. It’s at least 150 times more likely because of climate change. We can look at Hurricane Harvey, and we can say 40 percent of the rain that fell during Hurricane Harvey would not have occurred if it weren’t for climate change.

UD: How politically charged are conversations about climate change in the U.S.?

KH: When you survey people and you ask them about all kinds of different issues like immigration, gun control, abortion, racial justice, Covid, climate change — climate change is at the top of the most politically polarized issues in the whole U.S. And it’s been that way since the Obama administration. The number one predictor of whether you agree with simple scientific facts we’ve known since the 1800s is not how smart you are, how educated you are, or how much science, you know — it is simply where you fall on the political spectrum.

UD: How did it become so political?

KH: Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides, “I’m going to reject 200 years of physics, the same physics that explains how airplanes fly and how stoves heat food.” What do people do? They wake up in the morning and they pick up their phone and they scroll through the social media feeds of people in their “tribe.” They listen to news programs of people who they agree with. They read blogs and listen to podcasts of people whose values they share, whose opinions they respect, and who they agree with.

So we are all “cognitive misers.” We don’t have the time to dig into every issue. So what we do is, we go to people whose values we share on issues that are near and dear to our hearts, and we say, “Well, I don’t really understand this other issue, but they say it’s not real, so it must not be real.”

UD: And yet, the people who actually deny the reality of climate change — in your book you call them the “dismissives” — make up only a small minority, right?

KH: Yeah. They are a tiny fraction of the population, yet they are very loud. They get a lot of air time. They’re in the comments section of every newspaper. They’re on Twitter every single day. And so we overestimate their numbers and their reach.

UD: So they’re a minority, and as you say in the book, they might be impossible to reach anyway. So who should we be reaching out to, to have conversations with?

KH: The most important people for each of us to speak with are people who we have something in common with. So it could be that we both live in the same place, or we’re both on the same Ultimate Frisbee team, or we both play hockey, or we both love birding or kayaking, or we both have kids that go to the same school, or we both go to the same type of church, or we don’t go to the same type of church. Whoever we have something in common with, that is the best place to start the conversation. Start, from the heart, with something we share.

And in the book, I talk about how I’ve started conversations about knitting and cooking. And I have stories about Renée, who’s a ski racer — she talks about skiing. And Don who works in a hospital — he talks about the pension fund that they all pay into. So have a conversation that starts with something that you have in common, then connect the dots to how climate change affects that, and to a solution that is consistent with your values, your priorities, and that issue that you both care about.

UD: It’s clear from your book that your Christian faith is important to you. How does your faith affect your approach to doing climate science?

KH: What really changed my life, and my perspective, was when I realized that climate change is profoundly unfair. It disproportionately affects the poorest and most marginalized people — the very people who’ve done the least to contribute to the problem. The statistics from Oxfam today are that the [3.1 billion] poorest people produce 7 percent of emissions, yet they are bearing the brunt of the impact. And that is absolutely not fair.

And so for me, my priorities, my values, are informed by my faith. And one of the core tenets of my faith is to love others and to care for others — and how loving or caring is it to just close our eyes and our ears to the suffering that rich countries are inflicting on those who don’t have the voice?

UD: What do you hope will come out of the U.N. climate summit in Scotland?

KH: Well, two things. First of all, we don’t have enough actions, policies, pledges, plans — enough independently determined national contributions. We don’t have enough on the table yet to meet the Paris goals. Countries have only promised to do enough to get us to a 66 percent chance of holding temperatures below 2.7 degrees [Celsius above pre-industrial levels] — and, of course, the Paris goal is 2 to 1.5.

So we need every country to step up and bring their proportional mitigation contribution to the table in terms of how they’re cutting their carbon emissions, consistent with their contribution to historical emissions.

But there’s a second half of the Paris agreement that we don’t often talk about in the United States and Canada and wealthy countries, and that’s the Green Climate Fund, the fact that, again, the poorest people in the world have contributed 7 percent of emissions, yet they’re bearing the brunt of the impacts. And so in Paris, all of the high-income, high-emitting countries promised to contribute to this fund, to help low income countries develop, mitigate their emissions, and adapt or prepare for the impact of climate change.

And there was just a stunning summary that came out in Nature. According to this, the U.S. has only given 20 percent of their fair contribution. Canada is at about 40 percent. Norway is the only country that’s given 100 percent [in grants alone]. So I would like to see those contributions. Because, again, climate change is not fair. It’s already increased the gap between the richest and poorest countries by 25 percent. We have literally benefited off the suffering of the low-income countries.

Trust in meteorology has saved lives. The same is possible for climate science. (Washington Post)

Placing our faith in forecasting and science could save lives and money

Oliver Uberti

October 14, 2021

2021 is shaping up to be a historically busy hurricane season. And while damage and destruction have been serious, there has been one saving grace — that the National Weather Service has been mostly correct in its predictions.

Thanks to remote sensing, Gulf Coast residents knew to prepare for the “life-threatening inundation,” “urban flooding” and “potentially catastrophic wind damage” that the Weather Service predicted for Hurricane Ida. Meteorologists nailed Ida’s strength, surge and location of landfall while anticipating that a warm eddy would make her intensify too quickly to evacuate New Orleans safely. Then, as her remnants swirled northeast, reports warned of tornadoes and torrential rain. Millions took heed, and lives were saved. While many people died, their deaths resulted from failures of infrastructure and policy, not forecasting.

The long history of weather forecasting and weather mapping shows that having access to good data can help us make better choices in our own lives. Trust in meteorology has made our communities, commutes and commerce safer — and the same is possible for climate science.

Two hundred years ago, the few who studied weather deemed any atmospheric phenomenon a “meteor.” The term, referencing Aristotle’s “Meteorologica,” essentially meant “strange thing in the sky.” There were wet things (hail), windy things (tornadoes), luminous things (auroras) and fiery things (comets). In fact, the naturalist Elias Loomis, who was among the first to spot Halley’s comet upon its return in 1835, thought storms behaved as cyclically as comets. So to understand “the laws of storms,” Loomis and the era’s other leading weatherheads began gathering observations. Master the elements, they reasoned, and you could safely sail the seas, settle the American West, plant crops with confidence and ward off disease.

In 1856, Joseph Henry, the Smithsonian Institution’s first director, hung a map of the United States in the lobby of its Washington headquarters. Every morning, he would affix small colored discs to show the nation’s weather: white for places with clear skies, blue for snow, black for rain and brown for cloud cover. An arrow on each disc allowed him to note wind direction, too. For the first time, visitors could see weather across the expanding country.

Although simple by today’s standards, the map belied the effort and expense needed to select the correct colors each day. Henry persuaded telegraph companies to transmit weather reports every morning at 10. Then he equipped each station with thermometers, barometers, weathervanes and rain gauges — no small task by horse and rail, as instruments often broke in transit.

For longer-term studies of the North American climate, Henry enlisted academics, farmers and volunteers from Maine to the Caribbean. Eager to contribute, “Smithsonian observers” took readings three times a day and posted them to Washington each month. At its peak in 1860, the Smithsonian Meteorological Project had more than 500 observers. Then the Civil War broke out.

Henry’s ranks thinned by 40 percent as men traded barometers for bayonets. Severed telegraph lines and the priority of war messages crippled his network. Then in January 1865, a fire in Henry’s office landed the fatal blow to the project. All of his efforts turned to salvaging what survived. With a vacuum of leadership in Washington, citizen scientists picked up the slack.

Although the Chicago Tribune lampooned Lapham, wondering “what practical value” a warning service would provide “if it takes 10 years to calculate the progress of a storm,” Rep. Halbert E. Paine (Wis.), who had studied storms under Loomis, rushed a bill into Congress before the winter recess. In early 1870, a joint resolution establishing a storm-warning service under the U.S. Army Signal Office passed without debate. President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law the following week.

Despite the mandate for an early-warning system, an aversion to predictions remained. Fiscal hawks could not justify an investment in erroneous forecasts, religious zealots could not stomach the hubris, and politicians wary of a skeptical public could not bear the fallout. In 1893, Agriculture Secretary J. Sterling Morton cut the salary of one of the country’s top weather scientists, Cleveland Abbe, by 25 percent, making an example out of him.

While Moore didn’t face consequences for his dereliction of duty, the Weather Bureau’s hurricane-forecasting methods gradually improved as the network expanded and technologies like radio emerged. The advent of aviation increased insight into the upper atmosphere; military research led to civilian weather radar, first deployed at Washington National Airport in 1947. By the 1950s, computers were ushering in the future of numerical forecasting. Meanwhile, public skepticism thawed as more people and businesses saw it in their best interests to trust experts.

In September 1961, a local news team decided to broadcast live from the Weather Bureau office in Galveston, Tex., as Hurricane Carla angled across the Gulf of Mexico. Leading the coverage was a young reporter named Dan Rather. “There is the eye of the hurricane right there,” he told his audience as the radar sweep brought the invisible into view. At the time, no one had seen a radar weather map televised before.

Rather realized that for viewers to comprehend the storm’s size, location and imminent danger, people needed a sense of scale. So he had a meteorologist draw the Texas coast on a transparent sheet of plastic, which Rather laid over the radarscope. Years later, he recalled that when he said “one inch equals 50 miles,” you could hear people in the studio gasp. The sight of the approaching buzz saw persuaded 350,000 Texans to evacuate their homes in what was then the largest weather-related evacuation in U.S. history. Ultimately, Carla inflicted twice as much damage as the Galveston hurricane 60 years earlier. But with the aid of Rather’s impromptu visualization, fewer than 50 lives were lost.

In other words, weather forecasting wasn’t only about good science, but about good communication and visuals.

Data visualization helped the public better understand the weather shaping their lives, and this enabled them to take action. It also gives us the power to see deadly storms not as freak occurrences, but as part of something else: a pattern.

A modified version of a chart that appears in “Atlas of the Invisible: Maps and Graphics That Will Change How You See the World.” Copyright © 2021 by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Co. All rights reserved.

Two hundred years ago, a 10-day forecast would have seemed preposterous. Now we can predict if we’ll need an umbrella tomorrow or a snowplow next week. Imagine if we planned careers, bought homes, built infrastructure and passed policy based on 50-year forecasts as routinely as we plan our weeks by five-day ones.

Unlike our predecessors of the 19th or even 20th centuries, we have access to ample climate data and data visualization that give us the knowledge to take bold actions. What we do with that knowledge is a matter of political will. It may be too late to stop the coming storm, but we still have time to board our windows.