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A common asset for all men

A clearheaded policy built São Paulo leadership in Brazilian research

If there is one asset that is common to all men, it is science. From very early days, scientists have sought to establish a community of knowledge, which on expanding  physical and political boundaries, places knowledge at the service of humankind.

Long before the Internet, a real international knowledge network was established, based on the continuing exchange of experiences, on access to information and new discoveries, on which commercial or strategic interest depended heavily. The 20th century saw unprecedented scientific and technological development.

However, in the scenario in which this progress has taken place, two contradictory laws have persisted. Louis Pasteur referred to them at the time of the opening f the institute bearing his name: the law that always invents new means of destruction, and the law of peace, work, and health, seeking fresh means of freeing humankind from the scourges that afflict it.

It is in the pursuit of the law of peace, work, and health that São Paulo has encouraged research, spending around 12.5% of ICMS( Value Added Tax) revenues on the three best universities in the country, on 19 research institutes, on 109 technical schools and on Fapesp  every year.

This policy, which has guaranteed our state an unmistakable  position of leadership, is the main reason for Brazil’s 18th place in the ranking of the first twenty countries producing science and technology.

A nation is, or will be, modern only if it achieves economic and social development, and this will only be achieved based on scientific and technological development concluded the UN World Conference of Education in 1998.

São Paulo knows this. It also knows that, in order to consolidate the process of innovation, it must obey many logical patterns. But it must pay heed, above all, to the logic of the urgency imposed by the need to overcome social inequality, as it exists in our society. To do this, it is essential to maintain technology as the link between science and ordinary citizens. The last hundred years have strengthened our practice of living with new technology. Radio and TV, cars and planes, computers and laser beams are part of our daily lives and have changed our way of thinking about the world.

Nowadays, the unimaginable no longer exists: everything is or will be possible. And even though this may not be true, the belief undoubtedly pushes the frontiers of knowledge further beyond. Because that is the way of science: like Prometheus, it has stolen fire from the gods to civilize men. And it has been condemned. Not to have its liver endlessly eaten by an eagle, but never to have its curiosity satisfied. For if a new discovery can lead to a few certainties, it awakens many more doubts.

Fapesp, an institution of undeniable prestige in Brazil and abroad, committed to one of the most important scientific projects of the present day, the Genome Project, knows this well.

What enchantments will science bring us in this century in which the limits of the universe are expanding and galaxies and planets are multiplying? What surprises do these men who, like Newton, stand on the shoulders of giants to see further, have in store for us?

But rather than waiting for the replies, it is up to São Paulo to encourage the conditions for them to be found, thus paving the way for renewed questioning .

Mário Covas is governor of the State of São Paulo