In 1963, a report on the emigration of scientists by the British scientific academy The Royal Society triggered what would come to be known as the brain drain debate. The origin of the term is attributed to then Minister of Science Lord Hailsham, who accused the USA of “parasitizing British brains.”
Half a century later, the international movement of “brains” is still on the agenda, often the subject of studies and articles. Originally used to describe people with a background in science and technology, the term now encompasses anyone with a high level of formal education or professional training who moves abroad in search of a higher salary and better living and working conditions. The scientific diaspora, as it is now called in academic literature, is the subject of this issue’s cover story (page 18).
OECD data on the emigration of researchers between 2006 and 2016 show that the motivation behind the 1963 report—movement between the UK and the USA—remains the largest international flow, although the numbers show that it occurs equally in both directions. Brazilian scientists have historically had a low degree of mobility. A study by sociologist Simon Schwartzman in the 1970s highlighted their relative isolation: few left to study or work abroad, and of those who did, most returned.
This low level of mobility can be partly explained by the favorable conditions offered by the Brazilian science and technology system over the past 60 years, with enough incentives to compensate for certain temporary changes. Luiz Davidovich, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, notes that competition for opportunities overseas is fierce, but despite this, there are still many researchers looking to move abroad.
Initially believed to be purely negative for the country of origin, research has since shown that international movement of researchers also has positive effects. When emigrants are mobilized and engaged by their home countries, they can help create international networks that stimulate scientific cooperation and local development, as experienced by nations such as India, China, and South Korea. We now know that if a person moves abroad to gain professional experience rather than due to a lack of choice, and if their country of origin knows how to make the most of the opportunity, both the country and the individual benefits.
Laura Henares, a Brazilian studying economics and international development at the University of Notre Dame, USA, struggled when looking for an internship at American companies. In 2018, she created the Business in Brazil platform to connect students of different nationalities at her institution to positions available at companies, research institutions, NGOs, and public agencies in Brazil (page 98). At the other end of his career, engineer Gilberto Câmara, a geoprocessing expert and former managing director of INPE (Brazilian National Institute for Space Research), moved to Switzerland in 2018 to direct the Group on Earth Observations, a partnership involving more than 100 countries that aims to connect and plan environmental observation systems. At INPE, Câmara oversaw development of the Real-Time Deforestation Detection System (DETER), which since 2004 has been issuing daily alerts on areas of forest that are losing their vegetative cover (page 40).Republish