Arquivo da tag: Comunicação

Hit Steyerl | Politics of Post-Representation (Dis Blog)

[Accessed Nov 23, 2015]

In conversation with Marvin Jordan

From the militarization of social media to the corporatization of the art world, Hito Steyerl’s writings represent some of the most influential bodies of work in contemporary cultural criticism today. As a documentary filmmaker, she has created multiple works addressing the widespread proliferation of images in contemporary media, deepening her engagement with the technological conditions of globalization. Steyerl’s work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions including documenta 12, Taipei Biennial 2010, and 7th Shanghai Biennial. She currently teaches New Media Art at Berlin University of the Arts.

Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013)

Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013)

Marvin Jordan I’d like to open our dialogue by acknowledging the central theme for which your work is well known — broadly speaking, the socio-technological conditions of visual culture — and move toward specific concepts that underlie your research (representation, identification, the relationship between art and capital, etc). In your essay titled “Is a Museum a Factory?” you describe a kind of ‘political economy’ of seeing that is structured in contemporary art spaces, and you emphasize that a social imbalance — an exploitation of affective labor — takes place between the projection of cinematic art and its audience. This analysis leads you to coin the term “post-representational” in service of experimenting with new modes of politics and aesthetics. What are the shortcomings of thinking in “representational” terms today, and what can we hope to gain from transitioning to a “post-representational” paradigm of art practices, if we haven’t arrived there already?

Hito Steyerl Let me give you one example. A while ago I met an extremely interesting developer in Holland. He was working on smart phone camera technology. A representational mode of thinking photography is: there is something out there and it will be represented by means of optical technology ideally via indexical link. But the technology for the phone camera is quite different. As the lenses are tiny and basically crap, about half of the data captured by the sensor are noise. The trick is to create the algorithm to clean the picture from the noise, or rather to define the picture from within noise. But how does the camera know this? Very simple. It scans all other pictures stored on the phone or on your social media networks and sifts through your contacts. It looks through the pictures you already made, or those that are networked to you and tries to match faces and shapes. In short: it creates the picture based on earlier pictures, on your/its memory. It does not only know what you saw but also what you might like to see based on your previous choices. In other words, it speculates on your preferences and offers an interpretation of data based on affinities to other data. The link to the thing in front of the lens is still there, but there are also links to past pictures that help create the picture. You don’t really photograph the present, as the past is woven into it.

The result might be a picture that never existed in reality, but that the phone thinks you might like to see. It is a bet, a gamble, some combination between repeating those things you have already seen and coming up with new versions of these, a mixture of conservatism and fabulation. The paradigm of representation stands to the present condition as traditional lens-based photography does to an algorithmic, networked photography that works with probabilities and bets on inertia. Consequently, it makes seeing unforeseen things more difficult. The noise will increase and random interpretation too. We might think that the phone sees what we want, but actually we will see what the phone thinks it knows about us. A complicated relationship — like a very neurotic marriage. I haven’t even mentioned external interference into what your phone is recording. All sorts of applications are able to remotely shut your camera on or off: companies, governments, the military. It could be disabled for whole regions. One could, for example, disable recording functions close to military installations, or conversely, live broadcast whatever you are up to. Similarly, the phone might be programmed to auto-pixellate secret or sexual content. It might be fitted with a so-called dick algorithm to screen out NSFW content or auto-modify pubic hair, stretch or omit bodies, exchange or collage context or insert AR advertisement and pop up windows or live feeds. Now lets apply this shift to the question of representative politics or democracy. The representational paradigm assumes that you vote for someone who will represent you. Thus the interests of the population will be proportionally represented. But current democracies work rather like smartphone photography by algorithmically clearing the noise and boosting some data over other. It is a system in which the unforeseen has a hard time happening because it is not yet in the database. It is about what to define as noise — something Jacques Ranciere has defined as the crucial act in separating political subjects from domestic slaves, women and workers. Now this act is hardwired into technology, but instead of the traditional division of people and rabble, the results are post-representative militias, brands, customer loyalty schemes, open source insurgents and tumblrs.

Additionally, Ranciere’s democratic solution: there is no noise, it is all speech. Everyone has to be seen and heard, and has to be realized online as some sort of meta noise in which everyone is monologuing incessantly, and no one is listening. Aesthetically, one might describe this condition as opacity in broad daylight: you could see anything, but what exactly and why is quite unclear. There are a lot of brightly lit glossy surfaces, yet they don’t reveal anything but themselves as surface. Whatever there is — it’s all there to see but in the form of an incomprehensible, Kafkaesque glossiness, written in extraterrestrial code, perhaps subject to secret legislation. It certainly expresses something: a format, a protocol or executive order, but effectively obfuscates its meaning. This is a far cry from a situation in which something—an image, a person, a notion — stood in for another and presumably acted in its interest. Today it stands in, but its relation to whatever it stands in for is cryptic, shiny, unstable; the link flickers on and off. Art could relish in this shiny instability — it does already. It could also be less baffled and mesmerised and see it as what the gloss mostly is about – the not-so-discreet consumer friendly veneer of new and old oligarchies, and plutotechnocracies.

MJ In your insightful essay, “The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation”, you extend your critique of representation by focusing on an irreducible excess at the core of image spam, a residue of unattainability, or the “dark matter” of which it’s composed. It seems as though an unintelligible horizon circumscribes image spam by image spam itself, a force of un-identifiability, which you detect by saying that it is “an accurate portrayal of what humanity is actually not… a negative image.” Do you think this vacuous core of image spam — a distinctly negative property — serves as an adequate ground for a general theory of representation today? How do you see today’s visual culture affecting people’s behavior toward identification with images?

HS Think of Twitter bots for example. Bots are entities supposed to be mistaken for humans on social media web sites. But they have become formidable political armies too — in brilliant examples of how representative politics have mutated nowadays. Bot armies distort discussion on twitter hashtags by spamming them with advertisement, tourist pictures or whatever. Bot armies have been active in Mexico, Syria, Russia and Turkey, where most political parties, above all the ruling AKP are said to control 18,000 fake twitter accounts using photos of Robbie Williams, Megan Fox and gay porn stars. A recent article revealed that, “in order to appear authentic, the accounts don’t just tweet out AKP hashtags; they also quote philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and movies like PS: I Love You.” It is ever more difficult to identify bots – partly because humans are being paid to enter CAPTCHAs on their behalf (1,000 CAPTCHAs equals 50 USD cents). So what is a bot army? And how and whom does it represent if anyone? Who is an AKP bot that wears the face of a gay porn star and quotes Hobbes’ Leviathan — extolling the need of transforming the rule of militias into statehood in order to escape the war of everyone against everyone else? Bot armies are a contemporary vox pop, the voice of the people, the voice of what the people are today. It can be a Facebook militia, your low cost personalized mob, your digital mercenaries. Imagine your photo is being used for one of these bots. It is the moment when your picture becomes quite autonomous, active, even militant. Bot armies are celebrity militias, wildly jump cutting between glamour, sectarianism, porn, corruption and Post-Baath Party ideology. Think of the meaning of the word “affirmative action” after twitter bots and like farms! What does it represent?

MJ You have provided a compelling account of the depersonalization of the status of the image: a new process of de-identification that favors materialist participation in the circulation of images today.  Within the contemporary technological landscape, you write that “if identification is to go anywhere, it has to be with this material aspect of the image, with the image as thing, not as representation. And then it perhaps ceases to be identification, and instead becomes participation.” How does this shift from personal identification to material circulation — that is, to cybernetic participation — affect your notion of representation? If an image is merely “a thing like you and me,” does this amount to saying that identity is no more, no less than a .jpeg file?

HS Social media makes the shift from representation to participation very clear: people participate in the launch and life span of images, and indeed their life span, spread and potential is defined by participation. Think of the image not as surface but as all the tiny light impulses running through fiber at any one point in time. Some images will look like deep sea swarms, some like cities from space, some are utter darkness. We could see the energy imparted to images by capital or quantified participation very literally, we could probably measure its popular energy in lumen. By partaking in circulation, people participate in this energy and create it.
What this means is a different question though — by now this type of circulation seems a little like the petting zoo of plutotechnocracies. It’s where kids are allowed to make a mess — but just a little one — and if anyone organizes serious dissent, the seemingly anarchic sphere of circulation quickly reveals itself as a pedantic police apparatus aggregating relational metadata. It turns out to be an almost Althusserian ISA (Internet State Apparatus), hardwired behind a surface of ‘kawaii’ apps and online malls. As to identity, Heartbleed and more deliberate governmental hacking exploits certainly showed that identity goes far beyond a relationship with images: it entails a set of private keys, passwords, etc., that can be expropriated and detourned. More generally, identity is the name of the battlefield over your code — be it genetic, informational, pictorial. It is also an option that might provide protection if you fall beyond any sort of modernist infrastructure. It might offer sustenance, food banks, medical service, where common services either fail or don’t exist. If the Hezbollah paradigm is so successful it is because it provides an infrastructure to go with the Twitter handle, and as long as there is no alternative many people need this kind of container for material survival. Huge religious and quasi-religious structures have sprung up in recent decades to take up the tasks abandoned by states, providing protection and survival in a reversal of the move described in Leviathan. Identity happens when the Leviathan falls apart and nothing is left of the commons but a set of policed relational metadata, Emoji and hijacked hashtags. This is the reason why the gay AKP pornstar bots are desperately quoting Hobbes’ book: they are already sick of the war of Robbie Williams (Israel Defense Forces) against Robbie Williams (Electronic Syrian Army) against Robbie Williams (PRI/AAP) and are hoping for just any entity to organize day care and affordable dentistry.

heartbleed

But beyond all the portentous vocabulary relating to identity, I believe that a widespread standard of the contemporary condition is exhaustion. The interesting thing about Heartbleed — to come back to one of the current threats to identity (as privacy) — is that it is produced by exhaustion and not effort. It is a bug introduced by open source developers not being paid for something that is used by software giants worldwide. Nor were there apparently enough resources to audit the code in the big corporations that just copy-pasted it into their applications and passed on the bug, fully relying on free volunteer labour to produce their proprietary products. Heartbleed records exhaustion by trying to stay true to an ethics of commonality and exchange that has long since been exploited and privatized. So, that exhaustion found its way back into systems. For many people and for many reasons — and on many levels — identity is just that: shared exhaustion.

MJ This is an opportune moment to address the labor conditions of social media practice in the context of the art space. You write that “an art space is a factory, which is simultaneously a supermarket — a casino and a place of worship whose reproductive work is performed by cleaning ladies and cellphone-video bloggers alike.” Incidentally, DIS launched a website called ArtSelfie just over a year ago, which encourages social media users to participate quite literally in “cellphone-video blogging” by aggregating their Instagram #artselfies in a separately integrated web archive. Given our uncanny coincidence, how can we grasp the relationship between social media blogging and the possibility of participatory co-curating on equal terms? Is there an irreconcilable antagonism between exploited affective labor and a genuinely networked art practice? Or can we move beyond — to use a phrase of yours — a museum crowd “struggling between passivity and overstimulation?”

HS I wrote this in relation to something my friend Carles Guerra noticed already around early 2009; big museums like the Tate were actively expanding their online marketing tools, encouraging people to basically build the museum experience for them by sharing, etc. It was clear to us that audience participation on this level was a tool of extraction and outsourcing, following a logic that has turned online consumers into involuntary data providers overall. Like in the previous example – Heartbleed – the paradigm of participation and generous contribution towards a commons tilts quickly into an asymmetrical relation, where only a minority of participants benefits from everyone’s input, the digital 1 percent reaping the attention value generated by the 99 percent rest.

Brian Kuan Wood put it very beautifully recently: Love is debt, an economy of love and sharing is what you end up with when left to your own devices. However, an economy based on love ends up being an economy of exhaustion – after all, love is utterly exhausting — of deregulation, extraction and lawlessness. And I don’t even want to mention likes, notes and shares, which are the child-friendly, sanitized versions of affect as currency.
All is fair in love and war. It doesn’t mean that love isn’t true or passionate, but just that love is usually uneven, utterly unfair and asymmetric, just as capital tends to be distributed nowadays. It would be great to have a little bit less love, a little more infrastructure.

MJ Long before Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations reshaped our discussions of mass surveillance, you wrote that “social media and cell-phone cameras have created a zone of mutual mass-surveillance, which adds to the ubiquitous urban networks of control,” underscoring the voluntary, localized, and bottom-up mutuality intrinsic to contemporary systems of control. You go on to say that “hegemony is increasingly internalized, along with the pressure to conform and perform, as is the pressure to represent and be represented.” But now mass government surveillance is common knowledge on a global scale — ‘externalized’, if you will — while social media representation practices remain as revealing as they were before. Do these recent developments, as well as the lack of change in social media behavior, contradict or reinforce your previous statements? In other words, how do you react to the irony that, in the same year as the unprecedented NSA revelations, “selfie” was deemed word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries?

HS Haha — good question!

Essentially I think it makes sense to compare our moment with the end of the twenties in the Soviet Union, when euphoria about electrification, NEP (New Economic Policy), and montage gives way to bureaucracy, secret directives and paranoia. Today this corresponds to the sheer exhilaration of having a World Wide Web being replaced by the drudgery of corporate apps, waterboarding, and “normcore”. I am not trying to say that Stalinism might happen again – this would be plain silly – but trying to acknowledge emerging authoritarian paradigms, some forms of algorithmic consensual governance techniques developed within neoliberal authoritarianism, heavily relying on conformism, “family” values and positive feedback, and backed up by all-out torture and secret legislation if necessary. On the other hand things are also falling apart into uncontrollable love. One also has to remember that people did really love Stalin. People love algorithmic governance too, if it comes with watching unlimited amounts of Game of Thrones. But anyone slightly interested in digital politics and technology is by now acquiring at least basic skills in disappearance and subterfuge.

Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013)

Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013)

MJ In “Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy,” you point out that the contemporary art industry “sustains itself on the time and energy of unpaid interns and self-exploiting actors on pretty much every level and in almost every function,” while maintaining that “we have to face up to the fact that there is no automatically available road to resistance and organization for artistic labor.” Bourdieu theorized qualitatively different dynamics in the composition of cultural capital vs. that of economic capital, arguing that the former is constituted by the struggle for distinction, whose value is irreducible to financial compensation. This basically translates to: everyone wants a piece of the art-historical pie, and is willing to go through economic self-humiliation in the process. If striving for distinction is antithetical to solidarity, do you see a possibility of reconciling it with collective political empowerment on behalf of those economically exploited by the contemporary art industry?

HS In Art and Money, William Goetzmann, Luc Renneboog, and Christophe Spaenjers conclude that income inequality correlates to art prices. The bigger the difference between top income and no income, the higher prices are paid for some art works. This means that the art market will benefit not only if less people have more money but also if more people have no money. This also means that increasing the amount of zero incomes is likely, especially under current circumstances, to raise the price of some art works. The poorer many people are (and the richer a few), the better the art market does; the more unpaid interns, the more expensive the art. But the art market itself may be following a similar pattern of inequality, basically creating a divide between the 0,01 percent if not less of artworks that are able to concentrate the bulk of sales and the 99,99 percent rest. There is no short term solution for this feedback loop, except of course not to accept this situation, individually or preferably collectively on all levels of the industry. This also means from the point of view of employers. There is a long term benefit to this, not only to interns and artists but to everyone. Cultural industries, which are too exclusively profit oriented lose their appeal. If you want exciting things to happen you need a bunch of young and inspiring people creating a dynamics by doing risky, messy and confusing things. If they cannot afford to do this, they will do it somewhere else eventually. There needs to be space and resources for experimentation, even failure, otherwise things go stale. If these people move on to more accommodating sectors the art sector will mentally shut down even more and become somewhat North-Korean in its outlook — just like contemporary blockbuster CGI industries. Let me explain: there is a managerial sleekness and awe inspiring military perfection to every pixel in these productions, like in North Korean pixel parades, where thousands of soldiers wave color posters to form ever new pixel patterns. The result is quite something but this something is definitely not inspiring nor exciting. If the art world keeps going down the way of raising art prices via starvation of it’s workers – and there is no reason to believe it will not continue to do this – it will become the Disney version of Kim Jong Un’s pixel parades. 12K starving interns waving pixels for giant CGI renderings of Marina Abramovic! Imagine the price it will fetch!

kim jon hito

kim hito jon

Why Communicating About Climate Change Is so Difficult: It’s ‘The Elephant We’re All Inside of’ (Huffington Post)

Jim Pierobon

Posted: 02/05/2015 8:48 pm EST Updated: 02/05/2015 8:59 pm EST

How stakeholders communicate about climate change has long been framed by who’s doing the framing as much, or more so, than the information being communicated. So I am forever curious how various stakeholders — believers, skeptics and deniers alike — are talking about it and who, if anybody, is “moving the needle” in either direction.

One of the most salient and recent inputs to the climate communications conundrum is Don’t Even Think About It — Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change, by George Marshall in Oxford, England.

Marshall’s work deserves to be spotlighted for how it illuminates why skeptics and deniers alike will not be moved to engage in thoughtful exchanges unless those communicating respect certain tenets of what academic and nonprofit research are finding.

Marshall draws on the efforts of the climate information network (COIN) he co-founded along with research by two leading university-based centers: the Project on Climate Change Communications at Yale University in Princeton, NJ and the Center for Climate Change Communications at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

George Marshall is the co-founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, a nonprofit organization that specializes in public communication around climate change.

Marshall also taps into the works of authorities who’ve written and/or spoken extensively about climate change, such as Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Gilbert, GOP pollster Frank Luntz, Princeton Psychology and Public Affairs Professor Daniel Kahneman, former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Oregon Kari Norgaard and ABC-TV network correspondent Bill Blakemore.

Perhaps it would behoove those preparing for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, aka COP21, in Paris November 30 – December 11, 2015 to heed much of what Marshall and other top-tier researchers are finding and sharing if they are serious about forging a legally binding and universal agreement on climate.

Here is my synthesis of the most illuminating take-a-ways from Marshall’s book. I offer it as a checklist with which to gauge climate communications efforts, regardless of which — if any — side of the issue you’re on. Be sure to share your thoughts.

  • Perceptions are shaped by individual psychological coping mechanisms and the collective narratives that they shape with the people around them.
  • A compelling emotional story that speaks to peoples’ core values has more impact than rational scientific data such as hotter global temperatures and rising sea levels.
  • People’s social identity has an extraordinary hold over their behaviors and views.
  • Drawing too much attention to an undesirable norm (e.g. catastrophic weather) can seriously backfire.
  • In high-carbon societies, EVERYone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or to write their own alibi. What might work better are narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests and a common humanity.
  • The real story is about our fear, denial and struggle to accept our own responsibility. “Climate change isn’t the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant we’re all inside of,” said ABC’s Bill Blakemore.
  • Our brains are UNsuited to deal with climate change unless the threats are personal, abrupt, immoral and immediate. A distant, abstract and disputed threat does not have the necessary characteristics for seriously mobilizing public opinion.
  • Without a clear deadline for action, we create our own timeline. We do so in ways that remove the compulsion to act. We make it just current enough to accept that something needs to be done but put it just too far into the future to require immediate action.

We’d all benefit the most from: what models for communicating about climate change are working, and which ones are not?

  • The messenger is more important than the message. The messenger can be the most important — but also the weakest link — between scientific information and personal conviction. Building on that, to break the partisan “deadlock” and public disinterest starts, Marshall asserts educational efforts need to create the means for new messengers to be heard.
  • There may be lessons learned from the campaign by oil giant BP in the early 2000s offering person-on-the-street testimonials about the need to deal with climate change. Full disclosure: While a Senior Vice President of Public Affairs with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide from 2001-2006, I helped develop and execute elements of BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” campaign.
  • Until the economy is back on a strong growth track, climate change advocates will struggle to earn attention in their home countries as long as bread-and-butter ‘pocketbook’ issues are more important to an overwhelming majority of citizens.

See George Marshall in action from this recent interview on TalkingStickTV via YouTube.

While we’re on the subject, I recommend reading the excellent work by the MacArthur Foundation’s “Connecting on Climate” guide completed in 2014. It includes 10 principles for effective climate change communication based on research from various social science fields.

Why it’s good to laugh at climate change (The Guardian)

Climate gags are notable by their absence, but an RSA event on Tuesday night hopes to show that climate change comedy can raise laughs and awareness

Marcus Brigstocke will perform on tonight RSA live stream ;event : Seven Serious Jokes About Climate Change

Marcus Brigstocke will perform an RSA live stream event tonight: Seven Serious Jokes About Climate Change. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/Corbis

Did you hear the one about the climate policy analyst? Or the polar bear who walked into a bar?

Climate change is not generally considered a source of amusement: in terms of comedic material, the forecast is an ongoing cultural drought. But perhaps campaigners have missed a trick in overlooking the powerful role that satire and subversion can play in social change. Could humour cut through the malaise that has smothered the public discourse, activating our cultural antennae in a way that graphs, infographics and images of melting ice could never do?

This is the challenge that a panel of British comedians, including Marcus Brigstocke – a seasoned climate humourist, will take up at an event on Tuesday evening hosted by the RSA and the Climate Outreach and Information Network in London (the event is fully booked but it will be streamed live online). Maybe laughing about something as serious as climate change is just another form of denial. But perhaps its relative absence from the comedy realm is another warning sign: despite decades of awareness raising, the cultural footprint of climate change is faint, fragile and all-too-easily ignored.

The first example of a climate-policy parody was probably the ‘Cheat Neutral’ project: a slick spoof of the logic of carbon offsetting whereby people could pay someone else to be faithful, giving them the opportunity to cheat on their husband or wife. And there have other good video mockeries – including onewarning that wind farms will blow the Earth off-orbit – which have captured the comedy potential of bizarre debates about energy policy.

This year, Greenpeace teamed up with the surreal comedian Reggie Watts to promote the idea of a 100% renewably powered internet. There have been sporadic examples of climate change ‘stand-up’. And the ever-reliable Simpsonshas been occasionally willing to engage.

Reggie Watts yodels for a wind-powered internet.

But these are the exceptions that prove the rule: for the most part, climate gags are notable by their absence.

An ongoing challenge is the polarised nature of the climate debate, with climate scepticism closely pegged to political ideology. According to Nick Comer-Calder, of the Climate Media Net, getting people laughing is a good first step to getting them talking – even across political divides. One analysisfound that major US satirists, such as Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, have given more coverage to climate change than many of the news channels – although admittedly, this is a pretty low bar to clear.

But while online ridicule directed towards climate ‘deniers’ (generally portrayed as either too stupid to understand the science, or as conspiracy theorists) may appeal to the usual crowd, its hard to see how this kind of approach will breach the political divide. After all, the feeling of being laughed at by a sneering, left-leaning elite is not appealing. One notorious attempt by the 10:10 campaign and director Richard Curtis at ‘humorously’ marginalising opposition towards environmentalism backfired completely. It turns out that most people don’t find graphic depictions of children’s heads exploding all that hilarious after all…

What’s required is for climate change to seep into the fabric of satirical and humourous TV programming, in the same way that other ‘current affairs’ often provide the backdrop and context for creative output. Jokes ‘about’ climate change can in fact be ‘about’ any of the dozens of subjects – family disputes over energy bills, travel and tourism, or changing consumer habits – that are directly impacted by climate change.

Its an interesting irony that while the ‘pro-climate’ discourse can often feel po-faced and pious, climate sceptics have wasted no time in parodying the climate community. The Heretic, a play by Richard Bean, built its dramatic tension around the conflict between a sceptical climate scientist and her cynical departmental head who is suppressing her data in order to keep his grants flowing. The characters are overdrawn and instantly recognisable. And, as a result, it works: it is good drama, entertaining, and laugh-out-loud funny.

While climate change itself is never going to be a barrel of laughs, we seem to be suffering from a collective lack of imagination in teasing out the tragi-comic narratives that climate change surely provides.

Thinking harder about how to plug climate change into our cultural circuits – not as ‘edutainment’ but simply as a target of satire in its own right – will be crucial in overcoming the social silence around the issue. The science-communicators don’t seem to be making much progress with the public: maybe its time to let the comedians have their turn.

Plantas se comunicam e ‘brigam’ usando ‘internet de fungos’ (BBC)

Nic Fleming

Filamentos de fungos chamados micélios formam uma rede conhecida como micorriza

Uma via superrápida para tráfego de dados, que coloca em contato uma grande população de indivíduos diversos e dispersos. Essa via facilita a comunicação e colaboração entre os indivíduos, mas também abre caminho para que crimes sejam cometidos.

Parece uma descrição da internet, mas estamos falando de fungos. Os fungos – sejam eles cogumelos ou não – são formados de um emaranhado de pequenos filamentos conhecidos como micélio. O solo está cheio desta rede de micélios, que ajuda a “conectar” diferentes plantas no mesmo solo.

Muitos cientistas estudam a forma como as plantas usam essa rede de micélios para trocar nutrientes e até mesmo para “se comunicar”. Em alguns casos, as plantas formam até mesmo uma união para “sabotar” outras espécies invasoras de plantas, liberando toxinas na rede.

Cerca de 90% das plantas terrestres têm uma relação simbiótica com fungos, que é batizada de micorriza. Com a simbiose, as plantas recebem carboidratos, fósforo e nitrogênio dos fungos, que também as ajudam a extrair água do solo. Esse processo é importante no desenvolvimento das plantas.

‘Internet natural’

Filme de ficção ‘Avatar’ tinha uma ideia parecida com a ‘internet natural’ que existe na Terra

Para o especialista em fungos Paul Stamets, essa rede é uma “internet natural” do planeta Terra. Sua tese é que ela coloca em contato plantas que estão muito distantes de si e não apenas as que estão próximas. Ele traça um paralelo com o filme Avatar, de 2009, em que vários organismos em uma lua conseguem se comunicar e dividir recursos graças a uma espécie de ligação eletroquímica entre as raízes das árvores.

Só em 1997 é que foi possível comprovar concretamente algumas dessas comunicaçõeos via “internet natural”. Suzanne Simard, da Universidade de British Columbia, no Canadá, mostrou que havia uma transferência de carbono por micélio entre o abeto de Douglas (uma árvore conífera) e uma bétula. Desde então, também ficou provado que algumas plantas trocam fósforo e nitrogênio da mesma forma.

Simard acredita que árvores de grande porte usam o micélio para alimentar outras em nascimento. Sem essa ajuda, a cientista argumenta, muitas das novas árvores não conseguiriam sobreviver.

Simard conta que as plantas parecem trabalhar no sentido contrário ao observado por Charles Darwin, de competição por recursos entre espécies. Em muitos casos, espécies diferentes de plantas estão usando a rede para trocar nutrientes e se ajudarem na sobrevivência.

Os cientistas estão convencidos de que as trocas de nutrientes realmente acontece pelo fungo no solo, mas eles ainda não entendem exatamente como isso ocorre.

‘Conluio’

Uma pesquisa recente foi além. Em 2010, Ren Sem Zeng, da faculdade de agronomia da Universidade de Guangzhou, na China, conseguiu observar que algumas plantas “se comunicam entre si” para formar uma espécie de sabotagem a espécies invasoras.

A experiência foi feita com tomates plantados em vários vasos e ligados entre si por micorriza. Um dos tomates foi borrifado com o fungo Alternaria solani, que provoca doenças na planta.

Depois de 65 horas, os cientistas borrifaram outro vaso e descobriram que a resistência deste tomate era muito superior.

“Acreditamos que os tomates conseguem ‘espiar’ o que está acontecendo em outros lugares e aumentar sua resposta à doença contra uma potencial patogenia”, escreveu Zeng no artigo científico.

Ou seja, as plantas não só usam a “internet natural” para compartilhar nutrientes, mas também para formar um “conluio” contra doenças.

Esse tipo de comportamento não foi observado apenas em tomates. Em 2013, o pesquisador David Johnson, da Universidade de Aberdeen, na Escócia, também detectou isso em favas, que se protegem contra insetos mínusculos conhecidos com afídios.

Lado negro

Experiência mostrou que tomates se ‘comunicam’ pela micorriza sobre doenças

Mas assim como a internet humana, a internet natural também possui seu lado negro. A nossa internet reduz a privacidade e facilita crimes e a disseminação de vírus.

O mesmo acontece com as plantas na micorriza, segundo os cientistas. Algumas plantas não possuem clorofila e não conseguem produzir sua própria energia por fotossíntese.

Algumas plantas, como a orquídea Cephalanthera austiniae, “roubam” o carbono que necessitam de árvores das proximidades, usando a rede de micélio. Outras orquídeas que são capazes de fotossíntese roubam carbono, mesmo sem necessitar.

Esse tipo de comportamento faz com que algumas árvores soltem toxinas na rede para combater plantas que roubam recursos. Isso é comum em acácias. No entanto, cientistas duvidam da eficácia desta técnica, já que muitas toxinas acabam sendo absorvidas pelo solo ou por micróbios antes de atingir o alvo desejado.

Para vários cientistas, a internet dos fungos é um exemplo de uma grande lição do mundo natural: organismos aparentemente isolados podem estar, na verdade, conectados de alguma forma, e até depender uns do outros.

Leia a versão original em inglês desta reportagem no site BBC Earth.

Cockroach cyborgs use microphones to detect, trace sounds (Science Daily)

Date: November 6, 2014

Source: North Carolina State University

Summary: Researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster.


North Carolina State University researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster. Credit: Eric Whitmire.

North Carolina State University researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster.

The researchers have also developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” to keep the biobots in the disaster area.

“In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of two papers on the work.

The biobots are equipped with electronic backpacks that control the cockroach’s movements. Bozkurt’s research team has created two types of customized backpacks using microphones. One type of biobot has a single microphone that can capture relatively high-resolution sound from any direction to be wirelessly transmitted to first responders.

The second type of biobot is equipped with an array of three directional microphones to detect the direction of the sound. The research team has also developed algorithms that analyze the sound from the microphone array to localize the source of the sound and steer the biobot in that direction. The system worked well during laboratory testing. Video of a laboratory test of the microphone array system is available athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJXEPcv-FMw.

“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter — like people calling for help — from sounds that don’t matter — like a leaking pipe,” Bozkurt says. “Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.”

A research team led by Dr. Edgar Lobaton has previously shown that biobots can be used to map a disaster area. Funded by National Science Foundation CyberPhysical Systems Program, the long-term goal is for Bozkurt and Lobaton to merge their research efforts to both map disaster areas and pinpoint survivors. The researchers are already working with collaborator Dr. Mihail Sichitiu to develop the next generation of biobot networking and localization technology.

Bozkurt’s team also recently demonstrated technology that creates an invisible fence for keeping biobots in a defined area. This is significant because it can be used to keep biobots at a disaster site, and to keep the biobots within range of each other so that they can be used as a reliable mobile wireless network. This technology could also be used to steer biobots to light sources, so that the miniaturized solar panels on biobot backpacks can be recharged. Video of the invisible fence technology in practice can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWGAKd7_fAM.

A paper on the microphone sensor research, “Acoustic Sensors for Biobotic Search and Rescue,” was presented Nov. 5 at the IEEE Sensors 2014 conference in Valencia, Spain. Lead author of the paper is Eric Whitmire, a former undergraduate at NC State. The paper was co-authored by Tahmid Latif, a Ph.D. student at NC State, and Bozkurt.

The paper on the invisible fence for biobots, “Towards Fenceless Boundaries for Solar Powered Insect Biobots,” was presented Aug. 28 at the 36th Annual International IEEE EMBS Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Latif was the lead author. Co-authors include Tristan Novak, a graduate student at NC State, Whitmire and Bozkurt.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1239243.

Bacterial ‘communication system’ could be used to stop, kill cancer cells, study finds (Science Daily)

Date: September 24, 2014

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Summary: A molecule used as a communication system by bacteria can be manipulated to prevent cancer cells from spreading, a study has demonstrated. “During an infection, bacteria release molecules which allow them to ‘talk’ to each other,” said the lead author of the study. “Depending on the type of molecule released, the signal will tell other bacteria to multiply, escape the immune system or even stop spreading.”


Bacteria molecule kills cancer cells: Cancer cells on the left are pre-molecule treatment. The cells on the right are after the treatment and are dead. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Missouri-Columbia

Cancer, while always dangerous, truly becomes life-threatening when cancer cells begin to spread to different areas throughout the body. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered that a molecule used as a communication system by bacteria can be manipulated to prevent cancer cells from spreading. Senthil Kumar, an assistant research professor and assistant director of the Comparative Oncology and Epigenetics Laboratory at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, says this communication system can be used to “tell” cancer cells how to act, or even to die on command.

“During an infection, bacteria release molecules which allow them to ‘talk’ to each other,” said Kumar, the lead author of the study. “Depending on the type of molecule released, the signal will tell other bacteria to multiply, escape the immune system or even stop spreading. We found that if we introduce the ‘stop spreading’ bacteria molecule to cancer cells, those cells will not only stop spreading; they will begin to die as well.”

In the study published in PLOS ONE, Kumar, and co-author Jeffrey Bryan, an associate professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, treated human pancreatic cancer cells grown in culture with bacterial communication molecules, known as ODDHSL. After the treatment, the pancreatic cancer cells stopped multiplying, failed to migrate and began to die.

“We used pancreatic cancer cells, because those are the most robust, aggressive and hard-to-kill cancer cells that can occur in the human body,” Kumar said. “To show that this molecule can not only stop the cancer cells from spreading, but actually cause them to die, is very exciting. Because this treatment shows promise in such an aggressive cancer like pancreatic cancer, we believe it could be used on other types of cancer cells and our lab is in the process of testing this treatment in other types of cancer.”

Kumar says the next step in his research is to find a more efficient way to introduce the molecules to the cancer cells before animal and human testing can take place.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to find a way to introduce these molecules in an effective way,” Kumar said. “At this time, we only are able to treat cancer cells with this molecule in a laboratory setting. We are now working on a better method which will allow us to treat animals with cancer to see if this therapy is truly effective. The early-stage results of this research are promising. If additional studies, including animal studies, are successful then the next step would be translating this application into clinics.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Ashwath S. Kumar, Jeffrey N. Bryan, Senthil R. Kumar. Bacterial Quorum Sensing Molecule N-3-Oxo-Dodecanoyl-L-Homoserine Lactone Causes Direct Cytotoxicity and Reduced Cell Motility in Human Pancreatic Carcinoma Cells.PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (9): e106480 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106480

The silence on climate change is deafening. It’s time for us to get loud (The Guardian)

In Dr Seuss’s parable, it take all of Whoville to make enough noise to save their planet. How much will it take to save ours?

theguardian.com, Wednesday 17 September 2014 16.43 BST

horton hears a who

If Horton could hear a Who, there’s no reason the rest of us can’t hear the warnings about climate change. Photograph: c. 20th Century Fox / Everett / Rex Features

All of Dr Seuss’s children’s books – or, at least, the best ones – are sly, radical humanitarian and environmental parables. That’s why, for example, The Lorax was banned in some Pacific Northwest districts where logging was the chief economy.

Or there’s Horton Hears a Who: if you weren’t a child (or reading to a child) recently, it’s about an elephant with acute hearing who hears a cry from a dust speck. He comes to realize the dust speck is a planet in need of protection, and does his best for it.

Of course, all the other creatures mock – and then threaten – Horton for raising an alarm over something they can’t see. (Dissent is an easy way to get yourself ostracized or worse, as any feminist receiving online death threats can remind you.) And though Seuss was reportedly inspired by the situation in post-war Japan when he wrote the book, but its parable is flexible enough for our time.

You could call the scientists and the climate activists of our present moment our Hortons. They heard the cry a long time ago, and they’ve been trying to get the rest of the world to listen. They’ve had to endure attacks, mockery, and lip service … but mostly just obliviousness to what they’re saying and what it demands of us.

Recent polling data suggests most of us do want to see things change. “Two in three Americans (66%) support the Congress and president passing laws to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels,” reports the US Climate Action Network. But I hear firsthand from people who aren’t particularly informed and still tell me that they are avoiding thinking about climate because it’s too late.

It is nearly too late, because we’ve know about climate change for 25 years, but the most informed scientists think that we do have a chance and some choices, if we make them now.

To listen to such scientists is an amazing and sometimes terrifying thing: they fully comprehend what systemic collapse means and where we are in that process. They – and others who pay attention to the data – see how terrible the possibilities are, but they also see the possibilities for averting the worst.

Seuss’s Horton was alone. Climate activists in the United States are a minority, but there are vast numbers of people across the world who know how serious the situation is, who are facing it and who are listening and asking for action. Some of them will be with us when the biggest climate march in history takes place on Sunday in New York City – starting on the southern edge one of the nation’s largest urban green spaces, Central Park, running around Times Square and then moving west to the Hudson River – to demand that the UN get serious with this attempt to hammer out a climate change treaty at its summit next week.

A whole lot more people are going to come together to demand that our political leaders do something about climate than have done so before. In a symbolic action, at 12:58pm local time, they will observe a collective couple of minutes of silence dedicated to the past. Wherever you are on Sunday, you can join us in observing that silence and remembering the millions displaced last year by the kinds of floods and storms that climate change augments, or the residents of island nations whose homes are simply disappearing under the waves; the small shellfish whose shells are dissolving or the species that have died out altogether; the elderly and inform who have died in our longer, hotter heatwaves or the people who died in New York’s Hurricane Sandy not quite two years ago.

At 1pm local time, we will face the future, and demand that our leaders face the music. The marchers will make two minutes of noise, and every pot-banger, church-bell-ringer, hornblower and drummer on earth is invited to join in. Churches are invited to ring their bells; synagogues to blow their shofars; mosques to use their loudspeakers; secular humanists to get their brass bands on. Get your own pots and pans, or your trumpets and whistles.

We needed someone to ring the alarm all these decades of inaction. On Sunday don’t wait to hear it from someone else: make some noise yourself. It’s time to start making the future we hope for instead of waiting for the one we fear.

I wish that I could write a pat ending for the story of how we saved the earth, but that is, so to speak, all up in the air right now.

But at the end of Horton Hears a Who, the small people of Whoville decide to make a huge roar so that everyone else could hear them: they all roar and bang and blast, but it takes a boy named Jojo (playing with his yoyo) to add his yapping voice to the roar for them to become audible.

This is our planet: our little blue sphere in the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy, with the beautifully elaborate systems of birds and insects and weather and flowering plants all working together – or that used to work together, and which are now falling apart. And it’s your voice that’s needed, so raise it on Sunday. Join the roar, so that everyone who wasn’t listening finally has to hear.

• This article was updated on 17 September 2014 to reflect that the the New York City Police Department only granted the People’s Climate March permission to march to Sixth Avenue, and not all the way to the United Nations building on First Avenue.

Chimps Can Use Gestures to Communicate in Hunt for Food (Science Daily)

Jan. 17, 2014 — Remember the children’s game “warmer/colder,” where one person uses those words to guide the other person to a hidden toy or treat? Well, it turns out that chimpanzees can play, too.

Chimpanzee. Remember the children’s game “warmer/colder,” where one person uses those words to guide the other person to a hidden toy or treat? Well, it turns out that chimpanzees can play, too. (Credit: © maradt / Fotolia)

Researchers at Georgia State University’s Language Research Center examined how two language-trained chimpanzees communicated with a human experimenter to find food. Their results are the most compelling evidence to date that primates can use gestures to coordinate actions in pursuit of a specific goal.

The team devised a task that demanded coordination among the chimps and a human to find a piece of food that had been hidden in a large outdoor area. The human experimenter did not know where the food was hidden, and the chimpanzees used gestures such as pointing to guide the experimenter to the food.

Dr. Charles Menzel, a senior research scientist at the Language Research Center, said the design of the experiment with the “chimpanzee-as-director” created new ways to study the primate.

“It allows the chimpanzees to communicate information in the manner of their choosing, but also requires them to initiate and to persist in communication,” Menzel said. “The chimpanzees used gestures to recruit the assistance of an otherwise uninformed person and to direct the person to hidden objects 10 or more meters away. Because of the openness of this paradigm, the findings illustrate the high level of intentionality chimpanzees are capable of, including their use of directional gestures. This study adds to our understanding of how well chimpanzees can remember and communicate about their environment.”

The paper, “Chimpanzees Modify Intentional Gestures to Co-ordinate a Search for Hidden Food,” has been published inNature Communications. Academics at the University of Chester and University of Stirling collaborated on the research project.

Dr. Anna Roberts of the University of Chester said the findings are important.

“The use of gestures to coordinate joint activities such as finding food may have been an important building block in the evolution of language,” she said.

Dr. Sarah-Jane Vick of the University of Stirling added, “Previous findings in both wild and captive chimpanzees have indicated flexibility in their gestural production, but the more complex coordination task used here demonstrates the considerable cognitive abilities that underpin chimpanzee communication.”

Dr. Sam Roberts, also from the University of Chester, pointed out the analogy to childhood games.

“This flexible use of pointing, taking into account both the location of the food and the actions of the experimenter, has not been observed in chimpanzees before,” Roberts said.

The project was supported by The Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, National Institutes of Health, the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy, the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and the University of Stirling.

Journal Reference:

  1. Anna Ilona Roberts, Sarah-Jane Vick, Sam George Bradley Roberts, Charles R. Menzel. Chimpanzees modify intentional gestures to coordinate a search for hidden foodNature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI:10.1038/ncomms4088

Animal Cells Can Communicate by Reaching Out, Touching, Study Shows (Science Daily)

Jan. 2, 2014 — In a finding that directly contradicts the standard biological model of animal cell communication, UCSF scientists have discovered that typical cells in animals have the ability to transmit and receive biological signals by making physical contact with each other, even at long distance.

Stock photo. A major reason that animal cell cytonemes had not been observed or studied previously is because these structures are too fragile to survive traditional laboratory methods of preparing cells for imaging. “During the last decade or so, though, there have been fantastic technical advances, including new techniques in genetic engineering, new microscopes that improve the resolution and sensitivity for imaging living cells and the development of fluorescent marker proteins that we can attach to proteins of interest,” the lead researcher explains. (Credit: © Kurhan / Fotolia)

The mechanism is similar to the way neurons communicate with other cells, and contrasts the standard understanding that non-neuronal cells “basically spit out signaling proteins into extracellular fluid and hope they find the right target,” said senior investigator Thomas B. Kornberg, PhD, a professor of biochemistry with the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute.

The paper was published on January 2, 2014 in Science.

Working with living tissue from Drosophila — fruit flies — Kornberg and his team demonstrated that cells send out long, thin tubes of cytoplasm called cytonemes, which Kornberg said “can extend across the length of 50 or 100 cells” before touching the cells they are targeting. The point of contact between a cytoneme and its target cell acts as a communications bridge between the two cells.

“It’s long been known that neurons communicate in a similar way — by transferring signals at points of contact called synapses, and transmitting the response over long distances in long tubes called axons,” said Kornberg. “However, it’s always been thought that this mode of signaling was unique to neurons. We have now shown that many types of animal cells have the same ability to reach out and synapse with one another in order to communicate, using signaling proteins as units of information instead of the neurotransmitters and electrical impulses that neurons use.”

In fact, said Kornberg, “I would argue that the only strong experimental data that exists today for a mechanism by which these signaling proteins move from one cell to another is at these points of contact and via cytonemes.”

However, he noted, “There are 100 years worth of work and thousands of scientific papers in which it has been simply assumed that these proteins move from one cell to another by moving through extracellular fluid. So this is a fundamentally different way of considering how signaling goes on in tissues.”

Working with cells in the Drosophila wing that produce and send the signaling protein Decapentaplegic (Dpp), Kornberg and his team showed that Dpp transfers between cells at the sites where cytonemes form a connection, and that cytonemes are the conduits that move Dpp from cell to cell.

The scientists discovered that the sites of contact have characteristics of synapses formed by neurons. They demonstrated that in flies that had been genetically engineered to lack synapse-making proteins, cells are unable to form synapses or signal successfully.

“In the mutants, the signals that are normally taken up by target cells are not taken up, and signaling is prevented,” said Kornberg. “This demonstrates that physical contact is required for signal transfer, signal uptake and signaling.”

Kornberg said that a major reason that animal cell cytonemes had not been observed or studied previously is because these structures are too fragile to survive traditional laboratory methods of preparing cells for imaging. “During the last decade or so, though, there have been fantastic technical advances, including new techniques in genetic engineering, new microscopes that improve the resolution and sensitivity for imaging living cells and the development of fluorescent marker proteins that we can attach to proteins of interest.”

Using these new technologies, Kornberg and his team have captured vivid images, and even movies, of fluorescent signaling proteins moving through fluorescently marked cytonemes.

“We are not saying that cells always use cytonemes for signaling,” Kornberg cautioned. “Hormones, for example, are another method of long distance cell signaling. A cell that takes up insulin does not care where that insulin came from — a pancreas or an intravenous injection. But there are signals of a specialized type, such as those that pass between stem cells and the cells around them, or signals that determine tissue growth, patterning and function, where the identity of the communicating cells must be precisely defined. It’s important that these signals are received in the context of the cells that are making them.”

Kornberg noted that other research teams have made observations that suggest that cytoneme-based signaling may also occur “between stem cells and the cells that instruct them on what they are going to do and where they are going to go.” Cancer cells may also use this method to communicate with their neighbors, he said.

The discovery of animal cell cytonemes and the critical role they play in long distance signaling “opens up a wonderful biology of which we have very little understanding at this point,” said Kornberg. “For example, how do these cytonemes find their targets? How do they know when they have found them? These are some of the questions that we are pursuing.”

Journal Reference:

  1. S. Roy, H. Huang, S. Liu, T. B. Kornberg. Cytoneme-Mediated Contact-Dependent Transport of the Drosophila Decapentaplegic Signaling ProteinScience, 2014; DOI: 10.1126/science.1244624

Aphid attacks should be reported through the fungusphone (Byte Size Biology)

By  on August 3rd, 2013

We like to think of ourselves as the better results of evolution. We humans are particularly proud of our ability to communicate, having invented cell phones, the Internet, and extended forelimb digits as sophisticated means of communication not found anywhere else in nature.

Not true. Where there is life, there is communication. Vocal, visual, chemical. Some fish even communicate electrically. Take, that, Alex G. Bell! From bacteria to Blue Whales, from yeast to yak, everyone communicates. Including plants.

When some plants are attacked by sap-sucking aphids, they emit volatile compounds into the air. These volatiles serve as a defense mechanism, and in more ways than one. First, they serve to repel the aphids attacking the plant. Second, they attract the aphids natural enemies, wasps. But there’s more to that: a team from the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute show that some plants use fungi to communicate the presence of aphids, allowing those plants to emit wasp-attracting and and aphid-repelling  volatiles even before they have been physically attacked.

Source: PLos Biology, 2/2010. Credit: Shipher Wu (photograph) and Gee-way Lin. National Taiwan University.

Pea Aphids. Source: PLoS Biology, 2/2010. Credit: Shipher Wu (photograph) and Gee-way Lin. National Taiwan University.

Introducing the arbuscular mycorrhyza (AM) fungus, which has been living symbiotically with plants for at least 460 million years.  The AM fungi and their symbiotic plants create mycorrhiza, structures in which the fungus penetrates the plant’s root cells forming arbuscules, branched structures interfacing within the plant cells. The arbuscules allow the exchange of nutrients between plant and fungus. The result allows plants to capture nutrients such as phosphate, zinc and nitrogen. AM fungi are found in 80% of vascular plant families (plants which transport nutrients and water via a vascular system), which makes them an essential part of plant life.  While we think of fungi mostly as mushrooms, those are only the fruiting bodies of the fungi. Like all fungi,  the major biomass of AM lies in the mycelium: a network long, thin filamentous structures that branch within the soil where they grow. The hypothesis that the researchers tested was: are the AM fungus mycelia  used to communicate information between plants, in a sort of symbiotic nervous system?

To answer this question, they planted  bean seedlings in a pot whose soil contains an AM fungus. They isolated some seedlings from the AM fungus using a fine mesh, while others had only their roots isolated, or were not isolated at all. All plants were covered individually with bags to ensure they do not communicate via the air using volatiles. Then the researchers infested one plant with aphids, and collected the volatiles from the other plants. They discovered that the plants connected by the fungal network produced volatiles that repelled aphids and attracted wasps.  Those plants which had no hyphal contact produced much less of these volatiles. In the control, the plants in the fine mesh that had hyphal contact only, but no root contact, also produced anti-aphid volatiles.

Flax root cortical cells containing paired arbuscules. Credit: MS Turmel, University of Manitoba. Source: wikipedia

Flax root cortical cells containing paired arbuscules. Credit: MS Turmel, University of Manitoba. Source: wikipedia

Bottom line: plants can communicate via fungal networks, although we don’t quite know how yet. Also, probably this is not an exclusive mode of communication. Apparently, symbiosis is not just about food or protection from predators or the elements.  It’s also about conveying information. Very cool.

Zdenka Babikova, Lucy Gilbert, Toby J. A. Bruce, Michael Birkett, John C. Caulfield, Christine Woodcock, John A. Pickett, & David Johnson (2013). Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack Ecology Letters, 16 (7), 835-843 DOI: 10.1111/ele.12115

Bacteria Communicate to Help Each Other Resist Antibiotics (Science Daily)

July 4, 2013 — New research from Western University unravels a novel means of communication that allows bacteria such as Burkholderia cenocepacia (B. cenocepacia) to resist antibiotic treatment. B. cenocepacia is an environmental bacterium that causes devastating infections in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) or with compromised immune systems.

Artist’s 3-D rendering of bacteria (stock image). (Credit: © fotoliaxrender / Fotolia)

Dr. Miguel Valvano and first author Omar El-Halfawy, PhD candidate, show that the more antibiotic resistant cells within a bacterial population produce and share small molecules with less resistant cells, making them more resistant to antibiotic killing. These small molecules, which are derived from modified amino acids (the building blocks used to make proteins), protect not only the more sensitive cells of B. cenocepacia but also other bacteria including a highly prevalent CF pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli. The research is published in PLOS ONE.

“These findings reveal a new mechanism of antimicrobial resistance based on chemical communication among bacterial cells by small molecules that protect against the effect of antibiotics,” says Dr. Valvano, adjunct professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, currently a Professor and Chair at Queen’s University Belfast. “This paves the way to design novel drugs to block the effects of these chemicals, thus effectively reducing the burden of antimicrobial resistance.”

“These small molecules can be utilized and produced by almost all bacteria with limited exceptions, so we can regard these small molecules as a universal language that can be understood by most bacteria,” says El-Halfawy, who called the findings exciting. “The other way that Burkholderia communicates its high level of resistance is by releasing small proteins to mop up, and bind to lethal antibiotics, thus reducing their effectiveness.” The next step is to find ways to inhibit this phenomenon.

The research, conducted at Western, was funded by a grant from Cystic Fibrosis Canada and also through a Marie Curie Career Integration grant.

Journal Reference:

  1. Omar M. El-Halfawy, Miguel A. Valvano. Chemical Communication of Antibiotic Resistance by a Highly Resistant Subpopulation of Bacterial CellsPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (7): e68874 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068874

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journal Reference:

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

Scientific particles collide with social media to benefit of all (Irish Times)

The Irish Times – Thursday, July 12, 2012

xxx Large Hadron Collider at Cern: the research body now has 590,000 followers on Twitter

xxx Large Hadron Collider at Cern: the research body now has 590,000 followers on Twitter

MARIE BORAN

IN 2008 CERN switched on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva – around the same time it sent out its first tweet. Although the first outing of the LHC didn’t go according to plan, the Twitter account gained 10,000 followers within the first day, according to James Gillies, head of communications at Cern.

Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum in Dublin this week, Gillies explained the role social media plays in engaging the public with the particle physics research its laboratory does. The Twitter account now has 590,000 followers and Cern broke important news via it in March 2010 by joyously declaring: “Experiment have seen collisions.”

“Why do we communicate at Cern? If you talk to the scientists who work there they will tell you it’s a good thing to do and they all want to do it,” Gillies said, adding that Cern is publicly funded so engaging with the people who pay the bills is important.

When the existence of the Higgs particle was announced last week, it wasn’t an exclusive press event. Live video was streamed across the web, questions were taken not only from journalists but also from Twitter followers, and Cern used this as a chance to announce jobs via Facebook.

While Cern appears to be the social media darling of the science world, other research institutes and scientists are still weighing up the pros and cons of platforms like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

There is a certain stigma attached to social networking sites, not just because much of the content is perceived as banal, but also because too much tweeting could be damaging to your image as a scientist.

Bora Zivkovic is blogs editor at Scientific American, organiser of the fast-growing science conference ScienceOnline and speaker at the social media panel this Saturday at the Euroscience Open Forum. He says the adoption of social media by scientists is slow but growing.

“Academics are quite risk-averse and are shy about trying new things that have a perceived potential to remove the edge they may have in the academic hierarchy, either through lost time or lost reputation.”

Zivkovic talks about fear of the “Sagan effect”, named after the late Carl Sagan. A talented astronomer and astrophysicist, he was loved by the public but snubbed by the science community.

“Many still see social media as self-promotion, which is still in some scientific circles viewed as a negative thing to do. The situation is reminiscent of the very slow adoption of email by researchers back in the early 1990s.

“Once the scientists figure out how to include social media in their daily workflow, realise it does not take away from their time but actually makes them more effective in reaching their academic goals, and realise that the ‘Sagan effect’ on reputation is a thing of the past, they will readily incorporate social media into their normal work.”

Many researchers still rely heavily on specialist mailing lists. The broadcast capability on social media is far greater and bespoke, claims Dr Matthew Rowe, research associate at the Knowledge Media Institute with the Open University.

“If I was to email people about some recent work I would presume that it would be marked as spam. However, if I was to announce the release of some work through social media, then a debate and conversation could evolve surrounding the topic; I have seen this happen many times on Facebook.”

Conversations on social media sites are often seen as trivial – for scientists, the end goal is “publish or perish”. Results must be published in a reputable academic journal and preferably cited by those in their area.

Twitter, it seems, can help. A 2011 paper from researcher Gunther Eysenbach found a correlation between Twitter activity and highly cited articles. The microblogging site may help citation rate or serve as a measure of how “citable” your paper may be.

In addition, a 2010 survey on Twitter found one-third of academics said they use it for sharing information with peers, communicating with students or as a real-time news source.

For some the argument for social media is the potential for connecting with volunteers and providing valuable data from the citizen scientist. Yolanda Melero Cavero’s MinkApp has connected locals with an effort to control the mink population in Scotland.

“The most interesting thing about MinkApp, for me, was the fact that the scientist was able to get 600 volunteers for her ecological study. Social media has the grassroots potential to engage with willing volunteers,” says Nancy Salmon, researcher at the department of occupational therapy at the University of Limerick.

Rowe gives some sage social media advice for academics about keeping on topic and your language jargon-free.

But there’s always room for humour as demonstrated by the Higgs boson jokes on Twitter and Facebook last week. As astronomer Phil Platt tweeted: “I’ve got 99.9999% problems, but a Higgs ain’t one.”

Government Bureaucrats Still Unable to Write or Speak in Plain Language (Reason/Washington Post)

Ed Krayewski | April 10, 2012

Government transparencyThis week federal agencies are supposed to update Congress on progress made in implementing the Plain Writing Act, passed in 2010, which mandates that government documents be written in clear, plain language, not impenetrable legalese. The Washington Post reports federal agencies are a long way off from compliance.

Why? From the Post:

[W]ith no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.

In Plain English, that means the law lacks the substance to prevent federal agencies from simply creating new bureaucracies to say they’re in compliance with it, kind of like the “Paperwork Reduction Act” notice at the end of government forms.

*   *   *

Advocates of the Plain Writing Act prod federal agencies to keep it simple (Washington Post)

By Lisa Rein, Published: April 8

Federal agencies must report their progress this week in complying with the Plain Writing Act, a new decree that government officials communicate more conversationally with the public.Speaking plainly, they ain’t there yet.

Which leaves, in the eyes of some, a basic and critical flaw in how the country runs. “Government is all about telling people what to do,” said Annetta Cheek, a retired federal worker from Falls Church and longtime evangelist for plain writing. “If you don’t write clearly, they’re not going to do it.”

But advocates such as Cheek estimate that federal officials have translated just 10 percent of their forms, letters, directives and other documents into “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use,” as the law requires.Official communications must now employ the active voice, avoid double negatives and use personal pronouns. “Addressees” must now become, simply, “you.” Clunky coinages like “incentivizing” (first known usage 1970) are a no-no. The Code of Federal Regulations no longer goes by the abbreviation CFR.

But with no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.

What’s more, the law’s demand for clearer language seems like make-work to skeptics who say there is no money to pay for the promotion of clarity and that the status quo is the best path to accuracy.

“It’s definitely an ongoing battle,” said Glenn Ellmers, plain-writing coordinator for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “We’re trying pretty hard. But when you’re talking about something as complex as a nuclear power plant, you can’t get around specialized language. The really technical people take a little pride in using it.”

As a concession to them, the commission is simplifying only the cover letters of plant inspection reports, while leaving intact the highly technical and all-but-impenetrable text of the actual documents.

“Part of this is we have a change in culture,” said Ed Burbol, the Defense Department’s plain-language coordinator, who oversees two full-time staff members assigned to promoting clearer communication. “We’re going to encounter resistance.”

A retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, Burbol acknowledged that “some people here can write very well and some people can’t write at all,” a problem he attributes to the large number of service members who return to work as civilians.

Consider the next sentence: “This subpart identifies those products in which the Administrator has found an unsafe condition as described in Sec. 39.1 and, as appropriate, prescribes inspections and the conditions and limitations, if any, under which those products may continue to be operated.”

And here’s the revision of the sentence, a Federal Aviation Administration guideline, by the nonprofit Center for Plain Language: “Airworthiness directives specify inspections you must carry out, conditions and limitations you must comply with, and any actions you must take to resolve an unsafe condition.”

Cheek, the retired federal worker, still devotes at least 20 hours a week to the tiny nonprofit plain-language center she founded for federal employees. To inspire healthy competition when the law passed two years ago, the group started giving out annual awards for the best and worst of government-speak, including a Turn-Around prize for most improved agency. The annual ClearMark awards banquet, scheduled this year for May 22, is held at the National Press Club.In this era of shrinking government, advocates of plain writing say their causecan actually save money.

They cite Washington state’s “Plain Talk” program: A revamped letter tripled the number of businesses paying a commonly ignored use tax, bringing $2 million in new revenue in a year, according to law professor Joseph Kimble, author of a forthcoming book on the benefits of plain language.

And after the Department of Veterans Affairs revised one of its letters, calls to a regional call center dropped from about 1,100 a year to about 200, Kimble said.“People complain about government red tape and getting government out of your hair,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), House sponsor of the Plain Writing Act. “If every one of these forms was written in plain language, the number of contacts to federal agencies would plummet.” He’s started a “Stop B.S.” (for “Bureaucrat Speak”) campaign soliciting examples of badly written public documents.

The law exempts regulations from its mandate for clearer communication, although last fall the Obama administration ordered agencies to write a summary of their technical proposed or final regulations, and post it at the top of the text.

But Braley says that’s not enough. He’s introduced a bill to extend the law to the full text of regulations so ordinary people can understand them.

Americans have always loved plain talkers. But at some point, scholars point out, inscrutable language became associated with high status.

“A lot of people in government wield their jargon to make themselves seem very impressive,” said Karen Schriver, a plain-language expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

There have been many attempts to turn this trend around, including at the presidential level. Richard Nixon required that the Federal Register be written in “layman’s terms.” Jimmy Carter issued executive orders to make government regulations “cost-effective” and easy to understand. (Ronald Reagan rescinded the orders.)

The Clinton White House revived plain language as a major initiative, and Vice President Al Gore presented monthly “No Gobbledygook” awards to federal workers who translated jargon into readable language.

None of these efforts stuck, although some agencies — including Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service — took the mission seriously. The IRS won the Center for Plain Language’s top prize last year for “intelligible writing in public life.”

And then there is the difficulty of promoting revision while preserving precision. At a January meeting of the Plain Language Information & Action Network, a group of federal employees devoted to the cause, members from 20 federal agencies listened as Meredith Weberg, an editor at the Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office, described how she butted up against an “obstinate” boss.

In attempting to simplify a handbook for auditors, Weberg changed “concur” and “not concur” to “agree” and “disagree.” The manager changed it back.

One of her allies in the cause of plain writing had to, well, concur with the boss’s decision. “A concurring opinion says Justice so-and-so agrees with the conclusion of the court,” said Ken Meardan, who writes regulations for the Agriculture Department. “He may not agree” with the reasoning.

Weberg said she let this one go.

The new law is hitting larger obstacles.

“They didn’t really make it plain as to what my responsibilities are,” said the newly appointed plain-language coordinator at the Department of Transportation, describing her assignment from management. She looked bewildered.

Her counterpart at the U.S. Agency for International Development had an even bigger problem: She could not get behind an electronic firewall for online training.

“We have a lot of classified information,” Christine Brown told the group. “We’re not getting very far with this. No one has the resources.”

USAID has appointed a plain-language committee. But it is just starting to train its members to write plainly.

“A lot of people didn’t think this was the kind of thing you should do a law about,” Cheek said. “We’ll see if it works.”

The QWERTY Effect: The Keyboards Are Changing Our Language! (The Atlantic)

MAR 8 2012, 1:30 PM ET

Could the layout of letters on a keyboard be shaping how we feel about certain words?

UnderwoodKeyboard1.jpg

It’s long been thought that how a word sounds — its very phonemes — can be related in some ways to what that word means. But language is no longer solely oral. Much of our word production happens not in our throats and mouths but on our keyboards. Could that process shape a word’s meaning as well?

That’s the contention of an intriguing new paper by linguists Kyle Jasmin and Daniel Casasanto. They argue that because of the QWERTY keyboard’s asymmetrical shape (more letters on the left than the right), words dominated by right-side letters “acquire more positive valences” — that is to say, they become more likable. Their argument is that because its easier for your fingers to find the correct letters for typing right-side dominated words, the words subtly gain favor in your mind.

As Dave Mosher of Wired explains:

In their first experiment, the researchers analyzed 1,000-word indexes from English, Spanish and Dutch, comparing their perceived positivity with their location on the QWERTY keyboard. The effect was slight but significant: Right-sided words scored more positively than left-sided words.

With newer words, the correlation was stronger. When the researchers analyzed words coined after the QWERTY keyboard’s invention, they found that right-sided words had more positive associations than left-sided words.

In another experiment, 800 typists recruited through Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk service rated whether made-up words felt positive or negative. A QWERTY effect also emerged in those words.

Jasmin cautioned that words’ literal meanings almost certainly outweigh their QWERTY-inflected associations, and said the study only shows a correlation rather than clear cause-and-effect. Also, while a typist’s left- or right-handedness didn’t seem to matter, Jasmin said there’s not yet enough data to be certain.

Jasmin and Casasanto leave open the question whether the effect may also be the result of subtle cultural preferences for things on the right-hand side. Additionally, they say, “There is about a 90 percent chance that the QWERTY inventor was right-handed,” so it’s possible that biases he carried, may have subconsciously place more likable sounds on the right. However, they say, “such implicit associations would be based on the peculiar roles these letters play in English words or sounds. The finding of similar QWERTYeffects across languages suggests that, even if English-based [biases] influenced QWERTY’s design, QWERTY has now ‘infected’ typers of other languages with similar associations.”

A novela perdeu o bonde da história (Fapesp)

HUMANIDADES | COMUNICAÇÃO

Cai status do gênero como lugar privilegiado de discussão das questões nacionais
Carlos Haag
Edição Impressa – Agosto 2011
© FOTOGRAFIAS TADEU VILANI

Em 1981, durante uma crise política grave no governo Figueiredo, o todo-poderoso Golbery do Couto e Silva pediu demissão do governo. Aos jornalistas justificou-se: “Não me perguntem nada. Eu acabo de sair de Sucupira”. A referência à cidade fictícia da novela O bem-amado (1973) e à minissérie homônima (1980-1984), de Dias Gomes, num momento delicado como aquele, revela o poder, à época, das telenovelas como representação da realidade nacional e de como os brasileiros se reconheciam nessas representações. “A partir de conflitos de gênero, geração, classe e religião, a novela fez crônicas do cotidiano que a transformaram num palco privilegiado de interpretação do Brasil. O país, que se modernizava num contexto de modernização centrada no consumo, e não na afirmação da cidadania, se reconhecia na tela da TV em um universo branco e glamoroso”, explica Esther Hamburger, professora do Departamento de Cinema, Rádio e Televisão da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e autora do estudo O Brasil antenado (Jorge Zahar Editor). Ela analisou os novos rumos do gênero na pesquisa Formação do campo intelectual e da indústria cultural no Brasil contemporâneo, apoiada pela FAPESP e coordenada pelo sociólogo da USP Sérgio Miceli. O projeto reúne, além de Esther, outros pesquisadores de várias áreas e temas.

“No Brasil que se democratizava, a novela tratou em primeira mão de assuntos que pautariam a cena política na década seguinte. Mas, hoje, ela perdeu o seu status privilegiado de problematização das questões nacionais. Não consegue mobilizar a opinião pública, não é mais totalmente nacional e tampouco a vitrine do país. É provável que não seja mais capaz de sintetizar o país”, avisa a pesquisadora. “Afinal, aquele país centralizado, passível de uma representação hegemônica, não existe mais. Novos meios como TV a cabo e a internet tiraram da novela o seu caráter de arena de problematização. A sociedade mudou e há muita diversificação. A alfabetização aumentou e a TV não é mais o único lugar para achar informações”, observa. Para Esther, no país atual não é mais possível uma novela falar para toda a nação. “Não há mais um Brasil na TV, mas vários”, avalia.

Queda – “A novela permanece estratégica na receita e na competição entre as emissoras de televisão, mas sua capacidade de polarizar audiências nacionais está em queda. O gênero abusa de mensagens de conteúdo social, enquanto perde seu diferencial estético e sua força polêmica. A nação já não é mais o tema central, porque os temas extrapolam fronteiras. Há cada vez me-nos referências a assuntos atuais e polêmicos. A opção é por campanhas politicamente corretas, muitas vezes em detrimento da dramaturgia, amarrando a criatividade dos autores”, diz Esther. Segundo a mas vários”, avaliapesquisadora, a estrutura de conflitos melodramáticos que sustenta a narrativa ainda se mantém, mas em histórias que voltam a se restringir a espaços imaginados como femininos, o público inicial dos primórdios da telenovela nacional, e de menor valor cultural. O gênero também não atrai mais tantos talentos criativos, com textos fracos e enredos repetitivos que insistem em velhos clichês e convenções que fizeram sucesso no passado. “Ainda assim, não se pode negar que a novela pode voltar a ter o impacto político e cultural de antes, influindo no comportamento e na moda. Ela ainda é um lugar onde se pode aprender algo, em especial o novo público predominante, abaixo das classes A e B”, fala.

Do apogeu à crise recente de queda de audiências foi um longo caminho. No início imperava o estilo “fantasia”, cheio de sentimentalismo, em produções dos anos 1960, como o exótico Sheik de Agadir, paradigma quebrado com o realismo de Beto Rockfeller, representação da contemporaneidade das classes médias emergentes. Nos anos 1970 romperam-se os limites do dramalhão, mas as novelas viraram vitrines do ser moderno: a moda e o comportamento. “A Globo, durante a ditadura, adotou o discurso oficial, mas entendeu que, nas novelas, ao invés de esconder os problemas, era melhor incorporá-los nas tramas, como fez em O bem-amado. Foi o início de uma crítica crescente ao processo de modernização”, lembra Mauro Porto, professor da Tulane University e autor da pesquisa Telenovelas and national identity in Brazil. O realismo tomou conta do gênero: uma pesquisa de 1988 revelou que 58% dos entrevistados queriam ver “a realidade” nas novelas e 60% desejavam que as tramas falassem da política. “Os autores, de uma geração de esquerda, se viam como responsáveis por um projeto nacional e de consciên-cia popular”, nota Porto. “As novelas registraram os dramas da urbanização, das diferenças sociais, da fragmentação da família, da liberalização das relações conjugais e dos padrões de consumo. Chegaram ao seu ápice quando falaram dos problemas da modernização como Vale tudo (1988) e Roque Santeiro (1985)”, diz Esther. Mas a TV Manchete trouxe uma leitura alternativa do país com Pantanal, pleno do exótico e do erótico, o que rompeu o ciclo político das novelas, inclusive na Globo, que se viu obrigada a emular o novo conceito. “O ‘efeito Pantanal’, porém, não deixou herdeiros e hoje foi esquecido.”

Intimidade – “Nesse percurso, a telenovela criou um repertório comum pelo qual pessoas de classes sociais, gerações, sexo, raça e regiões diferentes se reconheciam, uma ‘comunidade imaginada’ de problematização do Brasil, da intimidade com os problemas sociais, veículo ideal para se construir a cidadania, uma narrativa da nação”, analisa Maria Immacolata Lopes, professora da Escola de Comunicações e Artes (ECA-USP) e coordenadora do Núcleo de Pesquisa de Telenovelas. O modelo se desgastou e o país mudou. “Entre 1970 e 1980 houve uma mágica entre público e novela. Em Vale tudo, pela primeira vez se viu a corrupção num espaço público não político e as novelas estavam na vanguarda”, nota Esther. “Hoje a corrupção é banal, não é mais polêmica, só traz o tédio da repetição. Em 1988 era novidade; em 2011 é algo batido.” As novelas não estão mais antenadas com o país. “Mesmo a literatura contemporânea acadêmica estrangeira sobre televisão já não discute mais a telenovela brasileira e o ‘caso’ brasileiro perdeu espaço interna e externamente diante de uma renovação da ficção televisiva internacional, em especial os seriados americanos, que ganham espaço nos canais nacionais, um novo fluxo de importação de programação que as novelas haviam substituído nas décadas anteriores”, explica. Os sitcons de hoje, ao contrário do passado, quando eram “obras fechadas” e sem improviso, estão abertos aos indicadores de sucesso e podem mudar seu rumo enquanto estão no ar, trazendo alusões a elementos políticos e culturais da realidade americana e problematizando os EUA.

“Não temos a mesma audiência nacional com todas as classes e lugares. Tudo ficou mais popular e as novelas atendem esse público espectador com merchandising social, sexo, dinâmica de tramas que mudam toda hora, ação, assassinatos”, analisa. Para a pesquisadora, essa quebra na dramaturgia reduz ainda mais o escopo do público ao fazer cair o interesse de uma grande parte da au-diência. Esther cita novas alternativas como Cordel encantado, que remete às novelas fantasiosas. Há também a procura de novos autores e diretores ou o remake de antigos sucessos, como O astro, para recuperar fórmulas de sucesso do passado, mas, mesmo adaptadas, conservam sabor de “coisa velha”. “Não sabemos se os brasileiros ainda desejam o realismo, mas é certo que se cansaram das novelas urbanas no eixo Rio-São Paulo. Gostariam de conhecer novas rea-lidades e o aspecto regional antes desprezado ou caricaturado.” A renovação não é fácil, como mostra o fracasso de experimentações como Cidade de Deus ou Antonia. “Uma solução seria mostrar a violência das cidades, do tráfico, mas isso ainda é tabu nas novelas. O cinema se revelou mais ‘antenado’ ao mostrar os poderes paralelos das periferias, como em Tropa de elite. Ou, Dois filhos de Francisco, filme que traz um Brasil onde os humildes se realizam.” A novela, pela primeira vez, perdeu o bonde da história. Num escândalo recente, um colunista político não usou uma citação de novela, como Golbery, para falar do caso, mas o bordão do filme Tropa de elite: “Palocci, pede pra sair!”.

“A população não tem a quem recorrer para divulgar os seus problemas” (Envolverde/Adital)

25/5/2011 – 09h47

por Raquel Júnia*

1350 A população não tem a quem recorrer para divulgar os seus problemasEmerson Claudio dos Santos, mais conhecido como MC Fiell.

No dia Internacional da Liberdade de Expressão, os equipamentos de uma rádio comunitária localizada em uma favela do Rio de Janeiro foram apreendidos pela Polícia Federal e pela Anatel. Dois dos coordenadores da rádio foram levados para prestar depoimento. Nesta entrevista, Emerson Claudio dos Santos, mais conhecido como MC Fiell, presidente da Rádio Comunitária Santa Marta, fala sobre o exercício do direito à comunicação em um cenário de legislação restritiva e favorecedora dos interesses das mídias comerciais. Como o próprio nome já diz, a rádio se localiza na favela Santa Marta e atualmente, devido à apreensão dos equipamentos, está transmitindo apenas pela internet. Nesta entrevista, Fiell ajuda na reflexão sobre o papel das mídias que se pretendem contra-hegemônicas — comunitárias, alternativas, populares ou institucionais.

Que desafios as rádios comunitárias têm hoje?

A burocracia da lei de rádio é para você não ter rádio mesmo. Um dos maiores problemas dentro do capitalismo é grana. É uma armadilha, eles mesmos fazem os trâmites para o povo não ter o acesso. Mas sabemos dos problemas e vamos avançando. Em nossa rádio, por exemplo, fazemos festa para arrecadar grana, vendemos produtos como as camisetas da rádio, dando jeitos sem comercializar a rádio. Esta lei precisa ser mudada, senão o povo não terá acesso a esse direito. Só as rádios comunitárias não podem fazer propaganda. Enquanto isso a maioria das rádios comerciais está irregular, e tem as concessões renovadas automaticamente. Só o povo é punido e podado dos seus direitos.

Que mudanças na legislação você considera como mais fundamentais?

A Lei das Rádios Comunitárias tem que ser mudada em tudo, temos que fazer uma nova lei. Não tem como uma comunidade, por exemplo, no interior do Ceará, ter como exigência para uma rádio comunitária se legalizar uma associação formada por mais cinco instituições no raio de um quilômetro. Como vai fazer isso? Aqui já é difícil, imagine em outros lugares. É preciso outra lei construída com participação dos comunicadores e do povo.

E você vê alguma perspectiva de mudança da lei?

Se não tivermos perspectivas estamos mortos, temos que avançar. Um dos principais motivos pelos quais não avançamos é o desconhecimento. Quando você divulga alguma coisa, o povo fica sabendo e reage. A mesma coisa acontece com outros direitos, como o direito à saúde, à moradia. A comunicação hegemônica mantém o povo paralisado, engessado. As rádios comunitárias vêm para trocar ideias com o povo, mostrar seus direitos e deveres e tentar caminhar de outras formas, com escolhas. Há pouco interesse do poder público em mudar isso. Essa mudança se dará pela luta popular, das organizações em defesa da democratização da comunicação e de outros setores da sociedade que vão querer dialogar sobre isso e exigir que mude, que o povo tenha realmente acesso à comunicação, não só na teoria, mas na prática.

A rádio Santa Marta sofreu um fechamento pela polícia federal recentemente. Esta realidade se repete em todo o país?

A nossa rádio estava há oito meses no ar, cumpre tudo o que a legislação pede: não comercializamos, não vendemos programas, não temos partido, enfim, nós sempre buscamos exercer nossos deveres para conquistarmos nossos direitos. A rádio foi fechada de forma ilegal porque a Anatel, junto com a Polícia Federal, chegou aqui sem nenhum mandado, sem nenhum documento formal no nome da rádio Santa Marta, e mesmo assim confiscaram o transmissor e nos conduziram à delegacia para prestar depoimento. Se nós estamos ilegais porque não temos a outorga, eles estão ilegais por não terem mandado de busca e apreensão.

Infelizmente isto é corriqueiro no Brasil. No país todo está havendo uma grande criminalização das rádios comunitárias: a própria mídia hegemônica divulga que a rádio comunitária é pirata, que derruba avião, e isto é pura mentira. A gente costuma brincar que se rádio comunitária derrubasse avião, os terroristas montariam rádios comunitárias e não precisariam mais jogar bombas contra os aviões. E muitas pessoas, infelizmente sem informação política e sem visão crítica, acredita, mas esta é só uma forma de criminalizar para não termos acesso a essas ferramentas. Há dados que mostram que o governo Lula, infelizmente, foi o que mais fechou rádios. Mas temos que lutar mesmo porque nada será dado de forma voluntária aqui no Brasil, terá que ser conquistado na marra, de forma organizada. Isso tudo só vai mudar quando entendermos uma coisa: que os governantes precisam ser subordinados ao povo e não o povo subordinado ao governo. Quando entendermos isso, tudo mudará.

Como foi o depoimento que vocês deram na delegacia?

Eles perguntaram se a rádio é de pastor, se é de político, se existe comercialização, se eu tenho antecedentes criminais, se tenho marcas no corpo como tatuagem, se tenho bens materiais… Ter tatuagem não tem nada a ver com comunicação. Eu tenho tatuagem. Eu sou livre, eu faço o que eu quiser com o meu corpo. Eu falei: ‘se para vocês é crime, o único crime que eu faço é fazer rádio comunitária. O crime que eu cometo é prestar serviço à favela, de forma voluntária’. É surreal. E isso tudo aconteceu no dia 3 de maio, Dia Mundial da Liberdade de Expressão, e o que aconteceu só mostra que não temos liberdade de expressão.

Por que vocês acreditam que após oito meses de funcionamento da rádio a polícia e a Anatel foram até lá?

Temos diversas possibilidades para isso, mas temos pensado que é porque começamos a incomodar, temos feito um bom trabalho de alfabetização e de formação política para o povo. O povo está se apoderando de seus direitos. Infelizmente, no Brasil, quando você fala a verdade, é criminalizado e tirado de circulação. Quando você se organiza, alguma coisa acontece, e sempre terá repressões. Quando buscamos um coletivo, o poder para o coletivo, isto desagrada muita gente, e o próprio governo. Porque vivemos em um país capitalista onde a lógica é individual e da competição e conosco aqui a lógica é coletiva, todo mundo tem voz, todo mundo é igual e todo mundo pode fazer. Então, isto incomoda a quem não adere a essa filosofia. Por mais que tentem, nunca vão calar a voz do povo.

A mídia comercial esteve bastante presente no Santa Marta cobrindo a instalação e primeiras ações da Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP). Qual a diferença no enfoque dado ao Santa Marta antes e depois da UPP?

Desde a primeira favela, esses espaços sempre apareceram na mídia de uma forma ínfima, violenta, mostrando o povo da favela como mau e violento. O Santa Marta não é diferente, o seu povo sempre apareceu nas páginas da grande mídia sendo tratado como traficante, e o morro como um lugar de perigo. Depois, em 2009, com a entrada da UPP, essa mesma mídia que relacionava toda a população com o tráfico de drogas, agora fala que essa população tem voz. É uma jogada de interesses. Essa própria mídia, no caso a Globo, ineditamente fica 30 dias dentro do Santa Marta, cobrindo, fazendo link ao vivo, mas, na real, não deu voz ao povo. Esteve aqui para fazer uma jogada de marketing e mostrar o que ela queria, não mostrava os problemas da favela, não dava voz às lideranças críticas da favela, ela continua mostrando o que ela quer. E isto mostra que o poder está nas mãos deles.

A rádio comunitária Santa Marta também mostra o que quer, no entanto, sabemos que a construção do que sai na rádio é diferente. Qual é esta diferença?

A rádio Santa Marta mostra o direito do povo, ela é plural, isto é que é diferente. Uma rádio comunitária nasce para dar voz à população dessa favela; ela já começa diferente porque tem gestão, mas não tem dono, o dono é o povo. Quando o povo necessita, ela é acessível, fala dos problemas locais, da cidade, também do mundo. Mas as prioridades são os problemas, os projetos e os acontecimentos da localidade. O povo do Santa Marta nunca teve uma mídia que falasse dela como a Rádio Santa Marta faz. Este é o diferencial de uma rádio comunitária quando ela está a serviço do povo. Porque é importante salientar também que algumas outras rádios estão a serviço do lucro. A nossa, desde o princípio, está a serviço dos interesses do povo dessa favela.

Como isto se expressa na programação da rádio?

Nós temos uma programação plural, toda a diversidade cultural do Santa Marta está na rádio. São mais de 20 programas, começa às 6 horas e vai até meia noite. E tem programas jornalísticos, musicais, mas todos são informativos, porque a todo momento chegam notícias, e em todos eles a população tem linha direta: ela liga e participa e, se quer falar, é colocada ao vivo. Tem programas de entrevista sobre diversos assuntos – direito à moradia, alimentação, educação no Brasil, vida do trabalhador, programas que contam a história de imigrantes, como o Saudades da Minha Terra. Nós pedimos para as pessoas enviarem emails com críticas, ideias e fazemos nossa reunião quinzenal principalmente para isso, para ficar sabendo como estão os programas. A população pode participar da reunião, é aberta. Incluímos sempre o povo nas ações da rádio, não decidimos nada sozinhos, é tudo pelo interesse do povo.

Existe uma polêmica sobre a participação de partidos e religiões nas rádios comunitárias. Alguns acreditam que a rádio pode abrir espaços para essas instituições desde que seja contemplada a pluralidade local. Já outros acham que isto não deve acontecer. Como vocês pensam estas questões?

Aqui tem um programa gospel. O que pedimos é que o locutor não fique pregando e nem condicionando o povo. Partido político não tem mesmo, não queremos isso, cada um tem o seu e temos que usar o espaço da rádio para outras coisas. Agora, religião, se tiver várias, elas precisam ter espaço para que possam divulgar os seus eventos, por exemplo, mas sem pregar. No caso desse programa gospel, ele não é de nenhuma igreja, é um morador que é evangélico e faz o programa. As pessoas pedem músicas gospel, mas ele também fala o que está acontecendo no Santa Marta. É um programa igual ao de hip hop, só que é gospel, porque as pessoas também gostam desse tipo de música.

Como a rádio comunitária tenta responder a esse desafio de cativar um público já acostumado com a estética da mídia comercial para passar outro tipo de mensagem?

A população aprova a rádio, inclusive estamos numa campanha de um abaixo-assinado (em defesa da rádio) e a população vem assinar, traz a família. Por ser rádio comunitária, não se configura que seja uma rádio menor. A programação tem o mesmo potencial de qualquer outra rádio, tem vinhetas de qualidade, programadores de qualidade, porque também fazemos capacitação de locução, de jornalismo dentro da rádio. Então, ela não deixa nada a desejar, a única coisa diferente é que ela não abrange o Rio de Janeiro, mas apenas o raio de um quilômetro — Santa Marta e uma pequena parte de Botafogo —, com uma programação de altíssima qualidade.

O povo percebeu e aprovou que a rádio comunitária é ao mesmo tempo igual a qualquer outra e diferente porque fala dos nossos assuntos e do nosso povo e as outras não falam, a não ser quando é de interesse delas. Desde o início, não nos preocupamos em fazer uma réplica de programas das rádios comerciais, falamos em nossa linguagem coloquial, não somos acadêmicos e isso não tem nenhum problema, o que importa é o povo entender a mensagem. Trazemos mensalmente algum curso de comunicação comunitária, de operação de som, para todos nós avançarmos juntos, continuarmos melhorando a programação e a própria rádio, entendendo sempre que a intenção é falar para o nosso povo. Infelizmente nosso povo não está nos devidos lugares, como as faculdades e escolas, é um povo escravizado de carteira assinada. Então, avançamos, mas sabendo que tem que ser sem muros na linguagem. “O parceiro” e “a parceira” não podemos perder, a linguagem da favela não podemos esquecer, a Dona Maria não vai sair da nossa linguagem. Então, avançamos sem perder identidade.

Como a rádio consegue se manter e também garantir essa formação?

Por meio de parcerias com movimentos sociais, sindicatos, instituições, que fazem um trabalho voluntário. Vamos buscando juntos o entendimento de que a rádio é importante para os sete mil moradores do Santa Marta. Como a rádio não pode fazer propaganda, vender comercial, os amigos da rádio doam algum valor financeiro, os locutores todos doam também, porque todos têm um trabalho voluntário na rádio e outros trabalhos remunerados fora da rádio. Todos nós entendemos que juntos manteríamos a rádio para continuar com a nossa voz viva e calorosa no Santa Marta.

Como um dos coordenadores da rádio, você percebe a comunicação hoje de uma forma diferente?

Para nós há duas maneiras de entender a comunicação. Uma comunicação é a que a classe dominante usa, para poder educar e dominar um povo. E a nossa é a que usamos para esclarecer o povo, para levar mais informações sobre a sua realidade da vida. Sempre houve essas duas maneiras de comunicação, uma hegemônica e outra da classe popular, que tenta de alguma forma esclarecer o povo. Infelizmente nem todos os trabalhadores têm essa clareza, quando vamos participando de alguns momentos de formação política é que vamos percebendo. Eu pude perceber isso quando fiz um curso de comunicação comunitária com o Núcleo Piratininga de Comunicação: até então eu sabia que existia desigualdade também na comunicação, mas não da forma como eu entendo hoje.

* Raquel Júnia é da Escola Politécnica de Saúde Joaquim Venâncio (EPSJV), Fiocruz.

** Publicado originalmente no site Adital.