Resistência nos Comitês Assessores do CNPQ: relato de um participante

[A atual situação no CNPq é alarmante. Venho copiar neste blog texto que apareceu originalmente no site http://ciencianarua.net/resistencia-nos-comites-assessores-do-cnpq-relato-de-um-participante/  .   Não consegui acessar o site e tive que usar o cache da Google search.  Decidi portanto que seria boa ideia guardar uma cópia neste blog.   -Gandhi]

 

(O resumo do currículo do professor Luiz Carlos Soares na Plataforma Lattes informa que ele obteve licenciatura em história pela Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) em 1975, bacharelado (1976) e mestrado (1980) também em história pela mesma instituição, e doutorado, de novo em história,  pelo University College London (Universidade de Londres) em 1988. Atualmente é professor titular aposentado  de história moderna e contemporânea do Departamento de História da UFF, professor colaborador do Programa de História da Ciência da Técnica e Epistemologia da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), sócio da Associação Nacional de História e da Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores em História Econômica, membro vitalício do conselho de representantes da Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores em História Econômica, sócio da Sociedade Brasileira de História da Ciência e membro eleito do conselho deliberativo da Sociedade Brasileira de História da Ciência. E é membro titular do Comitê Assessor de História do Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, o CNPq. O resumo nos lembra que a ênfase de sua experiência está em história moderna e contemporânea, história da ciência e da tecnologia e teoria e filosofia da história, atuando principalmente nos seguintes campos de estudos da história social do Rio de Janeiro no século XIX e história da ciência e da tecnologia na Inglaterra no século XVIII.

Ontem, segunda feira, 17 de outubro, ele enviou a colegas um relato muito vivo do que ocorrera ao ter início a reunião dos comitês assessores no CNPq. Hoje, pedi a ele que permitisse que o relato fosse publicado no Ciência na rua. E aí está essa contribuição do historiador par um capítulo da história das agências de fomento à pesquisa no Brasil em tempos confusos que adiante poderemos nomear, quem sabe, “Dias de resistência”. Aproveitem a narrativa – Mariluce Moura)

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Dia difícil hoje, no CNPq. Era o primeiro dia de reunião dos Comitês Assessores (CAs) para avaliação dos pedidos de bolsa de produtividade depois da instauração da nova “ordem temerária”. Chegamos com a notícia transmitida pelos funcionários de que não somente não seria possível a concessão de novas bolsas para pesquisadores 2, como também teríamos que proceder a um corte de 20 a 30 % em relação ao número de bolsas já existente. Isso significaria que teríamos que cortar de 20 a 30 % dos pedidos dos pesquisadores que já estavam no sistema de bolsas, o que implicava que não faríamos a “renovação de suas bolsas”, para usar uma terminologia antiga.

Imediatamente, no CA de História, dissemos ao técnico-administrativo que acompanha a área que não faríamos os cortes e encaminharíamos a aprovação dos pedidos que deveriam ser aprovados, na nossa análise. O CA não assumiria este ônus. Em seguida, procuramos os colegas de outros CAs para discutir a situação e todos também manifestaram sua insatisfação contra os cortes e uma pequena comissão, da qual eu fazia parte, foi procurar a Coordenadora de Ciências Humanas e Sociais, que também é responsável pelo setor de bolsas de produtividade, e expôs a contrariedade dos CAs em relação à medida. Esta funcionária também manifestou o seu desconforto em relação à situação.

Então, solicitamos a realização de uma reunião para amanhã para discutirmos coletivamente o problema. Ao voltarmos para as nossas salas, decidimos que entraríamos em contato com as nossas associações representativas, com a SBPC, com a ANDIFES, reitores, pró-reitores, etc., para um movimento de pressão pra sustação da medida. Obviamente, a notícia correu o Brasil e as pressões foram feitas sobre o CNPq e o “Ministério Conglomerado” que reúne Ciência, Tecnologia e Comunicação.

Depois disso, fomos convocados para uma reunião com o Presidente Interino do CNPq, às 17 horas, onde ele procurou explicar que esta situação não é definitiva e se vincula ao horizonte de redução da verba do CNPq no Projeto de Lei de Diretrizes Orçamentárias, que está no Congresso, e reduz a dotação do CNPq de R$ 1.500.000.000,00 para R$ 1.300.000.000,00 no próximo ano. Segundo ele, na realidade, nenhum corte de bolsas estaria definido, mas seria necessário o estabelecimento de cenários para a possível definição de cortes de 20 a 30 %, se isso fosse imperioso, no futuro.

Seguiu-se o debate com os membros dos CAs e, mais uma vez, muitos reafirmaram em suas falas que não estavam dispostos a realizar estes cortes. E, mais ainda,  se não havia cortes definidos, não haveria necessidade de se estabelecer cenários ou simulações de cortes. Ao final, o presidente interino do CNPq, aceitou a nossa posição e disse que deveríamos continuar a realizar as avaliações sem o estabelecimento de nenhum cenário restritivo. Julgamos que, por enquanto, foi uma pequena vitória, que se deveu  a atuação dos membros dos CAs e também a pressão externa realizada sobre o CNPq e o “Ministério Conglomerado”.

Todavia, temos plena certeza de que estaremos atuando todo o tempo sob ameaça de cortes e redução de orçamento e que a nossa tarefa, enquanto membros dos CAs, é estabelecer uma trincheira de resistência interna, no CNPq, para que o atual governo não venha a sacrificar mais ainda o apoio desta agência à produção científica e tecnológica de nosso país. Esperamos que toda a comunidade científica e universitária também continue a se manifestar contra a destruição dos mecanismos de apoio ao desenvolvimento científico e tecnológico, que está embutida na ação do governo Temer, e na defesa de uma perspectiva de produção de conhecimento autônoma para o Brasil.

Writing a paper in E-prime

Many top scientists communicate clearly, sometimes seemingly effortlessly. The papers by Einstein flow elegantly in clear and logical steps, almost as if choreographed, from one idea to the next. Some articles even have qualities more commonly seen in great works of art, for example, Dirac’s seminal book on quantum mechanics or Shannon’s paper introducing his celebrated entropy. What a pleasure to read! Most physicists similarly recognize Feynman as a master of clear communication.

Before I became a grad student, I had underestimated the importance of good and effective communication. My former PhD advisor, an excellent communicator, taught me the crucial role played by communication in scientific discourse and debate.

Let me explain this point in greater detail. As an illustrative example, imagine if Einstein had not written clearly. Then it may very well have taken much longer for his ideas to percolate and gain acceptance throughout the scientific community. Indeed, Boltzmann, in contrast to Einstein, wrote lengthy and admittedly difficult-to-read texts. Some of his critics perhaps  failed to grasp his seminal ideas. Disappointed and possibly depressed, he eventually committed suicide while still in his prime. Today, the top prize in the field  of statistical physics honors his name— the Boltzmann Medal. Nevertheless, it took many years and the efforts of other scientists (e.g. Gibbs) for the physics community to recognize the full extent of Boltzmann’s contributions.    Clear exposition can make a big difference.

In this blog post, I do not give tips or advice about how to write clearly. Good tips on how to write clearly abound.  Instead, I want to draw your attention to how this article does not contain a single instance of the verb “to be” or any of its conjugations or derived words, such as “being,” “was,” “is,” and so forth — excepting this sentence, obviously. The subset of the English language that remains after the removal of these words goes by the name E-prime, often written E’. In other words, E’ equals English minus all words derived from the above-mentioned verb.

Writing in E’ usually forces a person to think more carefully. Scientists need to communicate not only clearly, but with a slightly higher degree of precision than your typical non-scientist. I have found that fluency in E’ helps me to spot certain kinds of errors of reasoning. The key error of reasoning attenuated by the use of E’ relates to identification.   Too often, the referents of the grammatical subject and object become identified in standard English, where in fact no such identification exists in the real world.  E’ helps to reduce this improper identification, or at least to call attention to it.  The topic of E’, and of related subjects, such as  its ultimate historical origins in general semantics, the study of errors of reasoning, the nature of beliefs, cognitive biases, etc., would require too broad a digression for me to discuss here, so I recommend that interested readers research such topics on their own.

In my early 30s, soon after I obtained tenure in my first faculty position, I decided to write a full article entirely in E’.  What a wonderful and interesting exercise!  Of course, I did not find it easy to write in E’, but with few exceptions, the finished paper contained only E’ sentences.  Forcing myself to think and write in E’ helped me to give a better description of what we, as scientists, really did.  I would cautiously claim that writing in E’ benefited our paper, at least as far as concerns clarity and precision.  No longer do I publish papers in E’, but I learned a lot about how to write (and think) a little bit more clearly.

That paper, about an empirical approach to music, appeared in print in 2004 in the statistical physics journal  Physica A. It eventually ended up cited very well: 33 citations according to  Thomson Reuters’  Web of Science and 60 citations on Google Scholar, as of May 2016.  Most incredibly, it even briefly shot up to the top headline at Nature.com (click here to see)!  We had never expected this.

In that paper, my co-authors and I proposed a method for studying rhythmic complexity. The collaboration team included as first author Heather Jennings, a professor of music (and also my spouse). We took an empirical approach for comparing the rhythmic structures of Javanese Gamelan, Jazz, Hindustani music, Western European classical music, Brazilian popular music (MPB), techno (dance), New Age music, the northeastern Brazilian folk music known as Forró and last but not least: Rock’n Roll. Excepting a few sentences, the paper consists entirely of E’ sentences.

You can read the paper by clicking here for the PDF. A fun exercise: as you read the paper, (1) try to imagine how you would normally rephrase the E’ sentences in ordinary English; (2) try to spot the subtle difference in meaning between the English and E’ sentences.

 

Colóquio na USP sobre movimento de animais

Aqui está o link para o video de um Colóquio que proferi na USP em 09/04/2015. A palestra está em português, embora o título esteja em inglês.   Esse assunto representa o “feijão com arroz” das minhas pesquisas na área de física estatística aplicada.

Vale a pena também destacar que o professor que me apresenta no início do video é o professor titular Mario de Oliveira, autor do livro sobre termodinâmica que virou referência no Brasil. Seu livro é frequentemente usado como texto principal junto a disciplinas de termodinâmica nos cursos de graduação em física.

Scale invariance, random walks and complex networks

Here is the link to a youtube video of a talk I gave at the International Institute of Physics (IIP) at UFRN, in Natal, Brazil.  It is one of many talks given by invited lecturers at the school on Physics and Neuroscience, which was held at the IIP during 11 to 17 of August 2014.

This talk touches on the bread and butter of my research activities.  It should be completely or almost completely understandable to anyone at least midway through an undergraduate degree in the sciences. Since the participants in the conference came from diverse backgrounds, I had made a special effort to avoid the use of jargon and to speak in as clear a language as I could. (It is probably the longest talk I have given about my research.)

An explanation about the initial statement regarding elves and hobbits, etc.:  These comments  refer to a running “inside joke” at the school, contrasting the distinct scientific cultures of the participants, for example biologists vs. applied mathematicians and physicists etc.

 

Fermionization of the 2-D Ising model: The method of Schultz, Mattis and Lieb

F. A da Costa, R. T. G. de Oliveira, G. M. Viswanathan

This blog post was written in co-authorship with my physics department colleague Professor Francisco “Xico” Alexandre da Costa and Professor Roberto Teodoro Gurgel de Oliveira, of the UFRN mathematics department. Xico obtained his doctorate under Professor Sílvio Salinas at the University of São Paulo. Roberto was a student of Xico many years ago, but left physics to study mathematics at IMPA in Rio de Janeiro in 2010. During 2006–2007, Roberto and Xico had written up a short text in Portuguese that included the exact solution of the Ising model on the infinite square lattice using the method of fermion operators developed by Schultz, Mattis and Lieb. With the aim of learning this method, I adapted their text and expanded many of the calculations for my own convenience. I decided to post it on this blog since others might also find it interesting. I have previously written an introduction to the 2-D Ising model here, where I review a combinatorial method of solution.

1. Introduction

The spins in the Ising model can only take on two values, {\pm 1}. This behavior is not unlike how the occupation number {n} for some single particle state for fermions can only take on two values, {n=0,1}. It thus makes sense to try to solve the Ising model via fermionization. This is what Schultz, Mattis and Lieb accomplished in their well-known paper of 1964. In turn, their method of solution is a simplified version of Bruria Kaufman’s spinor analysis method, which is in turn a simplification of Onsager’s original method.

We will proceed as follows. First we will set up the transfer matrix. Next we will reformulate it in terms of Pauli’s spin matrices for spin-{\tfrac 1 2} particles. Recall that in quantum field theory boson creation and annihilation operators satisfy the well-known commutation relations of the quantum harmonic oscillator, whereas fermion operators satisfy analogous anticommutation relations. The spin annihilation and creation operators {\sigma_j^\pm } do not anticommute at distinct sites {j} but instead commute, whereas fermion operators must anticommute at different sites. This problem of mixed commutation and anticommutation relations can be solved using a method known as the Jordan-Wigner transformation. This step completes the fermionic reformulation of the 2-D Ising model. To obtain the partition function in the thermodynamic limit, which is the largest eigenvalue of the transfer matrix, one diagonalizes the fermionized transfer matrix using appropriate canonical transformations.

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Are science and religion compatible?

This blog post explores whether or not science and religion are compatible. I use the term religion in the usual sense, to mean a system of faith, worship and sacred rituals or duties. Religions typically consist of an organized code or collection of beliefs related to the origins and purpose of humanity (or subgroups thereof), together with a set of practices  based on those beliefs. Can such belief systems be compatible with science?

Since this topic is controversial, I only reluctantly decided to write about it.  Being a physics professor and a research scientist, I decided not to flee debate on this issue (which is like the third rail of science). Instead, here I detail my thoughts in writing.

Actually, I spent decades trying to reconcile science and (organized) religion, however I made little or no significant progress. Eventually, after much hesitation and discomfort, I was forced to conclude that full reconciliation between science and organized religion may not be possible, even in principle.   Although this realization was initially surprising (and unpleasant) to me, I soon discovered new and more fulfilling ways of approaching issues such as ethics, morals and the purpose or meaning of life, which religion has traditionally monopolized.

1. Short answer: science and religion are incompatible

`Religion is a culture of faith and science is a culture of doubt.’  This statement is usually attributed to Richard Feynman.   Faith and doubt are indeed antagonistic, like water and fire. How can it be possible to fully reconcile religious views, which are based on faith, with the systematic doubt and the skeptical questioning that are intrinsic to the scientific method? Like many scientists, I too have concluded that full reconciliation of science and religion is not possible.

One caveat: obviously, if one removes the element of dogma and faith from religion, then reconciliation might be possible. But religion without dogma is more like a social club than a traditional religion. What would become of Christianity without faith in Jesus Christ? Can you imagine Islam without faith in the Koran?  So, by religion I always mean organized religion, with a set of teachings or dogmas.

Nevertheless, this caveat actually points to a possible way forward  at reconciliation of science and religion: if religions do become more like social clubs and less dogmatic, then disagreement with science can be minimized or even avoided. I see some movement in this direction. There is growing realization, even among people of faith,  that the arbitrary divisions of race, ethnicity and religion, for example, do not have a clear and well-established scientific foundation. In this context, it is admirable that the  new pope of the Catholic Church,  Pope Francis, has defended interfaith dialogue.  He has said, for example, that even atheists can be redeemed. This concession is a major advance, compared to the old threats about burning in hell in eternal damnation!  Moreover, by claiming that he would baptize even Martians, he has (perhaps inadvertently) signaled an openness to the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence (i.e., aliens). Similarly, his emphasis on raising awareness of climate change is also most encouraging. These are all welcome developments. Other religions have also responded positively to the challenges brought on by science. The Dalai Lama is good example: a Buddhist religious leader who has shown interest in and kept an open mind about science. He has stated that “…if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and many others like them have contributed positively towards the reconciliation of science and religion. They are forward-thinking and broad-minded religious leaders. Maybe, in some sense, they have more in common with liberal social and political leaders than with the dogmatic defenders of religious orthodoxy and closed-minded conservatism. So I do see a ray of hope. While I welcome the positive change in attitudes brought by religious leaders like Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, on the other hand the fact remains that their religions are still based on dogma. Religions still have too much dogma, too much superstition and too much bigotry. So, even considering the above caveat, overall I still feel  generally pessimistic about science and religion being compatible.

Below I explore these issues in some detail.

2. Dirac and Feynman on religion

In the list of the all-time greatest physicists, Newton and Einstein invariably take the top positions. Paul A. M. Dirac, of Dirac equation fame, is considered to be an intellectual giant, ranking just a few notches below Einstein or Newton. And Feynman, who usually ranks just below or comparable to Dirac, has rock star status in the physics community.

Feynman had the following to say about religion:

It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.

Dirac had the following to say about religion:

If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can’t for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. Quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones. They are also much easier to exploit. Religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. Hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the State and the Church. Both need the illusion that a kindly God rewards — in heaven if not on earth — all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly. That is precisely why the honest assertion that God is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.

I do not accept arguments from authority. But it is nevertheless interesting to read about what these eminent physicists had to say.

3. Scientists abandon God and religion

Most scientists are non-religious. Many are atheist. A Pew survey from 2009 found that while over 80% of Americans believed in God, less than 50% of scientists believed in God. The percentage was actually 33% in that particular survey. These numbers are typical. For instance, among the members of the US National Academy of Sciences, more than 60% of biological scientists had disbelief in God (i.e., were what most people call `atheists’) according to a study from 1998. In the physical sciences, 79% had disbelief in God.

This issue is relevant in society because most politicians and people in leadership positions are, at least outwardly, sympathetic to religion if not actively religious. So there is at least this one important difference between the majority of scientists and the rest of society. Whereas most people are religious, most scientists are non-believers.

More worrying is that many politicians actively campaign against science and science education. We have all heard about attempts by the religious to eliminate (or water down) the teaching of Darwinian evolution in schools. At least in the West, these attempts have largely failed.

Fortunately, the voting population does not particularly crave a return to the dark ages. It  is easy to understand why. The experience of the last few centuries has shown that social and economic development is only possible when there is political support and commitment to science research and education. Science is responsible for the invention of the Internet, cell phones, radio, TV, cars, trains, airplanes, X-rays, MRIs, the eradication of smallpox, etc.   Rich and socially developed countries are precisely those in which science education and research are well funded. Economic pressures have thus led to investment in science and in science education.

At the same time, science has led to unintended consequences. The more a person is exposed to science, the less religious they are likely to become. (Possibly as a consequence, wealth is also negatively correlated with religiosity. In other words, on average the richer you are, the less religious you are likely to be.)

Especially among those with less science education, there is a fear that exposure to science and to “subversive” ideas such as Darwinian evolution will infect the minds of young people and turn them into “Godless infidels.”  In fact, fear is a constant theme in religion: fear of God, fear of divine punishment, fear of hell, fear of forbidden knowledge, etc.  Science education dispels such fears, and replaces it with the cultivation of curiosity, wonder, questioning, doubt and awe. Since fear is often used as an instrument of control and power, the loss of fear can be a setback for the power structures of organized religion. In this sense, science and science education sometimes directly threaten some religious movements.

Consider, as an example, suicide bombing as a form of jihad by Islamic militant organizations. It is perfectly fair for us to ask: is it even remotely plausible that these hapless suicide bombers correctly understood the scientific method? This is a rhetorical question, of course. A genuinely curious and scientifically literate potential candidate for suicide bombing would immediately ask questions, especially when faced with death by suicide. Is life after death a sure thing? Will Allah really reward a suicide bomber? How it is possible for the big-breasted and hot Houri girls and women to recover their sexual virginity every morning? The young man may then go on to ask: is there a remote possibility, perhaps, that such ridiculous claims are not a sign of pulling the wool over the eyes of the naïve young men in their sexual prime who crave sex and intimacy with women, but who are forbidden by religion to engage in casual sex? And why is recreational and free sex allowed in Paradise but not on earth? A scientifically literate young man would probably say `Thanks but no thanks, I’ll let you go first to set the example!’  Hence the fear and loathing of doubt, curiosity and questioning. Indeed, scientific illiteracy makes people gullible and easier to manipulate.

There is no denying the statistics: exposure to science is correlated with loss of religious faith. This raises two questions: (i) why does this happen and (ii) is this good or bad? I am mostly concerned here with question (i) and only briefly touch upon point (ii).

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Brazil’s new science minister is a restaurant owner

I was dismayed to learn that the new science and technology minister of Brazil is, once again,  neither a scientist nor particularly qualified to be science minister.  Celso Pansera is a federal representative in Brazil’s lower house of congress (Chamber of Deputies) and a member of the PMDB political party that President Dilma Rousseff now depends on to keep her government afloat.  He also owns a restaurant. As far as I know, he has no connection at all with science and technology.

President Dilma Rousseff could have at least appointed a professional career scientist.  For comparison, former President Lula nominated an internationally known scientist to the science ministry. Similarly, US President Obama chose a Nobel prize winning physicist to be his energy secretary.

President Dilma Rousseff is sending the wrong message to Brazilians about the importance of science and technology.