In the course of knowledge production, the ebb and flow of ideas sometimes revives one that is undeniably disquieting. Thus it was in the case of a number of studies in the last five years that have sought to reestablish a connection between physical attributes and character tendencies, in an anachronistic attempt to resurrect Lombrosian theories. But the scientific method wisely offers antidotes to its own false conclusions, and other, more recent, research by a group of geneticists and physical anthropologists from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Spain—working with an extensive database of about 5,000 people from 94 modern population groups—has gathered enough evidence to confirm that, contrary to their colleagues’ assertions, character traits are not imprinted in the bones of a man’s face.
The article that presents this research, scheduled for publication in the first half of January in PLoS One, is the subject of the cover story in Pesquisa FAPESP’s first issue of 2013 (page 18). The report by our special editor Marcos Pivetta reveals the methods that enabled the group to strongly refute the awkward idea that men with wide faces exhibit more aggressive behavior—or that they have enjoyed an alleged reproductive advantage during the process of evolution. As this new year begins, it is worthwhile reflecting on the continual twists and turns of the process of knowledge building.
I would like to draw the reader’s attention to an article in the Science and Technology Policy section that shows how something that has been the stuff of dreams for—I’d venture to say—every Brazilian researcher is becoming a reality. I am referring to the support offices that, through a FAPESP initiative, are now proliferating at São Paulo’s state universities. These offices relieve researchers of the procedural details of project administration, thus freeing them to do their primary task of producing knowledge. The report from our political editor Fabrício Marques explains how this change is taking place (page 42).
From the Technology section I highlight two reports. First, beginning on page 72, an article by journalist Yuri Vasconcelos focuses on a pioneer drug being developed by researchers at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the União Química company to treat hypertension in pregnant women—a condition that affects 5% to 7% of pregnancies among Brazilian women. As we know, pregnant women should not or cannot take drugs that jeopardize fetal development, as can occur with existing antihypertensives. Hypertension is alarming because it is associated with pre-eclampsia and can develop into eclampsia, an illness responsible for an estimated 40% of the deaths associated with pregnancy or childbirth, a figure that stood at 1,719 in 2010 in Brazil. If this drug, which has already passed the first phase of clinical trials, proves to be effective and nontoxic in the remaining phases, it will be good news indeed. The second report, from our special editor Carlos Fioravanti (page 64), discusses the efforts and difficulties involved in açaí production in northern Brazil, currently in the midst of a transition from an extractivist economy to an agribusiness. Fioravanti and our photographer Eduardo Cesar traveled to the cities of Belém, Manaus and Maués for a close look at this process, which also led them to look at guaraná. We may soon see a boost in the production of that fruit in the region, thanks to the development of new plant varieties and changes in growing techniques (page 69).
I conclude with a recommendation for reading the splendid interview with astrophysicist João Steiner, conducted by Marcos Pivetta and our Managing Editor, Neldson Marcolin. To all of our readers, I wish you enjoyable endeavors in 2013.Republish