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A special form of acknowledgement

Almost by accident, preparing a given issue of Pesquisa FAPESP can sometimes turn out to be a rich source of learning about the scientific method and the temporary nature of scientific discoveries and truths. As I write these words, I recall a debate that occurred  late in the afternoon on a day in April 2008, in Ibirapuera Park, on the following question: “Does the progress of science make mankind better? Why?” The event was part of the cultural program of the Genomic Revolution exhibition. Those giving speeches were the physicist Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz and the former senator Roberto Freire, chairman of the PPS party (the Socialist Popular Party). My recollections linger in particular over the point when the former, in the midst of references about the genial traits of the scientific method, summarized it as follows: “It’s a way of seeking knowledge that, right from the start, admits the existence of error, which must be overcome by new research – and so on, successively.”

What first drew my attention to the scientific method theme, while closing this issue, was the text prepared by our special editor, Marcos Pivetta, on an article about the mass of neutrinos, which the reader can check out, starting on page 44. To my mind, it clearly illustrates how science is constructed daily, causing certain propositions to advance, reviewing them experimentally, adjusting them and so on and so forth (revolutions are not an everyday thing; refer to old Thomas Kuhn). Then, the cover feature on mapping hepatitis in Brazil, based on studies designed to detect and understand the evolution of this disease, with its multiple origins and its various levels of seriousness, aroused my attention regarding this topic, as I was astonished to learn that 40% of the Brazilian population aged 5 to 19 apparently have already had contact with the hepatitis A virus. Might there be a statistical or research methodology error here, or something of a similar sort? Does coming into contact mean developing, at some point, a form of pathology due to the virus or simply harboring it harmlessly among the trillions of microorganisms that populate the human body for better or for worse? I did not bombard my own keys with questions, but our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, the author of the report, who reviewed his data and consulted his sources again. The percentage figure emerged from this checking process unscathed, as one can see starting on page 16. Actually, this figure already corrects data presented only slightly earlier by the World Health Organization (WHO).

There is one more highlight on the construction of scientific knowledge itself: the text by our scientific and technological policy editor, Fabrício Marques, about “hot” Brazilian articles, i.e., those that have been cited the most frequently according to a study of the areas in which Brazilian science has attained international visibility (page 32).

As for technology, I want to highlight the article on incorporating nanoparticles into the field of asepsis of medical and surgical tools, prepared by the area’s editor, Marcos de Oliveira, concerning dentistry tools with bacteria destroying surface nanoparticles, among other examples (page 62).

I also suggest that the reader take some time to read the interview with Israel Klabin, former businessperson and now an environmentalist, which he granted to our humanities editor, Carlos Haag. It is a surprising and stimulating interview in several ways (page 10). Lastly, I think it is well worth discovering the impressive poetic power of the writer Állex Leilla, in “A eternidade em carne viva,” on page 96. Fiction sometimes is also a means of acquiring knowledge.