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Letter from the editor | 95

A different angle of vision of science

Public opinion surveys about science, what it produces, and quite often, the dilemmas that it creates for society have been frequent for many years in the more industrialized countries. They generally avail themselves of a common methodological basis, developed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) from the 1970’s, and they try to get answers to an infinity of questions, always related, though, to three basic axes of querying: the attitude of the public regarding science and technology, its interest in the extremely varied themes, and its knowledge of the same. In Brazil, until recently, we had news of a single survey of this nature, even though it was more concise than its international peers; it was carried out between January and February 1987 by the Gallup Institute, commissioned by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), by way of the Astronomy and Kindred Sciences Museum (Mast). At the time, 2,892 persons were heard, making up a statistically representative sample. From it came, for example, the conclusion that 71% of Brazilians had a lot or some interest in news about scientific discoveries, while 52% classified the country as backward in scientific and technological research.

Since then, the Brazilian science and technology system has grown in an extraordinary fashion; to take just one indicator of this evolution, suffice it to recall that the Brazilian share in world-wide scientific production, verified by the publication of scientific articles in magazines indexed on the database of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), went up from 0.6% in the period from 1988 to 1992 to 1.44% in 2000. But we knew practically nothing, though, about how the Brazilian population accompanied these changed, if indeed they did accompany them.

And we do not know for certain yet. For the time being, we do not have any information in this direction that is statistically representative of the Brazilian population. But we do have, first, the certainty that they will soon be available, and in the meantime, we can now count on some precious, albeit provisional, indications, about the image that the Brazilians have of science and technology; about their degree of comprehension about themes of scientific knowledge; about the social communication processes of science, and about their participation as citizens in the issues relating to this field. And we have these indications not just from the Brazilians, but from the Argentineans, Uruguayans and Spaniards as well. This is thanks to the Ibero-American Project of Indicators of Public Perception, Scientific Culture and Civic Participation, which started in 2001 and is now giving its first fruits. This is the subject of the cover story of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP, from page 16 onwards.

Of the public visions of science, it is worth jumping to the palpable successes of scientific practice. And one of them was the reproduction in captivity of three threatened species of coral found in the Northeast of Brazil, which researchers from Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Pernambuco have managed, on a laboratory scale, as told in the article by the assistant editor for science, Ricardo Zorzetto, supported by reporter Verônica Falcão, in Recife, starting on page 36. Now comes the biggest challenge: to make this work on the open seas. Until the end of the year, according to the timetable of the Coral Vivo [Live Coral] project, the first colonies of corals created in the laboratory should be implanted in Porto Seguro, in the south of Bahia, which opens up new prospects to recover, along the Brazilian coastline, one of the most beautiful and fragile environments of the planet.

In the month in which the 450 years from the foundation of the city of São Paulo are being commemorated, worth a special highlight in this issue is the article by Carlos Haag, which shows, in the light of three recently published books, how, in spite of the enormous differences in the paths of the formation of São Paulo the capital city and Rio de Janeiro, the two cities tried to incorporate modernity by force, in an attempt to deny the past and suffocate what there was “uncivilized” to be found in them, that is to say, the popular masses. Good reading. And, of course, a happy 2004.