Imprimir Republish


Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz: An optimist with method

MIGUEL BOYAYAN / JOSÉ ROBERTO MEDDAIt is now some time since physicist Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, born in Rio de Janeiro in July 1956, but a citizen of São Paulo by adoption since the age of 4, has proved to be an attentive analyst as few are of the contemporary policies for science and technology and of their indicators of growth, domestic and international. Furthermore, about 15 years ago he went beyond the category of engaged spectator to put his hands directly on the challenges of managing science and education. Since then, he has occupied, amongst others, the positions of director of the Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute, for two terms (1991-1994 and 1998-2002), and rector of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), from 2002 to 2005. He was the youngest president of FAPESP to date – he was 40 years old when he took office in September 1996 –,, and two consecutive reappointments to the post, at a stormy moment of the institution’s history, marked by profound transformation and growth never seen before, seem to be a clear recognition of his competence.

At the end of last April, Brito Cruz returned to FAPESP, this time appointed scientific director, to replace another physicist, José Fernando Perez, who occupied the position during 11 years. The Foundation’s scientific directorate is one of the most demanding positions of leadership in São Paulo’s system of science and technology and possibly one of the most gratifying, because, in it, one can do much for the state and – why not? – for the country. Brito Cruz promises to work with scientific method in this new job in his career.

What will now be difficult for this electronic engineer graduated from the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA), in 1978, master (1980) and doctor (1983) in physics at The State University of Campinas (Unicamp), is to concede a more than marginal attention to research into ultra-rapid phenomena applied to the study of materials, on which he has been focused since 1980. The same goes for his work as a professor at The State University of Campinas (Unicamp)’s Physics Institute, where he has been since 1982. He finds both activities very agreeable. But, as he says, you have to make choices.

In this interview, Brito Cruz shows, above all, his vision – an optimistic one – of the development of science and technology in Brazil, and gives clear indications of how he intends to conduct his work at the head of FAPESP’s scientific directorate.

What is your vision of the role of FAPESP in São Paulo’s system of science and technology?
The system needs three pillars to be sustained adequately and to be able to contribute towards the economic and social development of the state. One of the pillars is the education of human resources, important for having the people necessary for forming the foundation for technological qualification in the state itself. The second pillar is academic research, in general carried out at university institutions, sometimes at research institutions, which is very important to making human knowledge advance and to educate human resources. The first and second pillars are connected because of postgraduate studies, but also because of undergraduate studies. And the third pillar is research and development in the industrial world – in actual fact, what would be most correct today would be to talk about the business world, because it includes industry and services. In all the nations of the world, the first two pillars are mainly the responsibility of the State, from the point of view of funding. And research and development in the business world is partly the responsibility of the State. The reason – there is an important conceptual reason here – is the following: the results from the education of human resources and from academic research are difficult to appropriate privately. When a researcher at the university makes a discovery or publishes a revolutionary scientific paper, it is rare to successfully appropriate that result exclusively, not least because, generally speaking, for academic research to advance, it needs not to have an owner, or rather, it needs to have many owners, because it is a social activity, not an individual one. This difficulty in appropriation makes private investment in these activities small, and therefore the State has to supply this finance; whereas the results of investments in research and development in the business world are appropriable privately, accordingly, it makes sense for those that are going to appropriate the result to make the major part of the investment.

And why would the State still have to finance a part of this?
Because an intrinsic part of the research and development activity has a level of risk that is frequently too high for the private sector to finance it.  So it is common, in all countries of the world, for the State to subsidize this activity in some way to reduce its risk a bit. When I talk about the three pillars, I am also talking of my vision about FAPESP, which has a primordial and unshakable commitment to them. The first two are more specific and even more in the Foundation’s tradition, which has to maintain its commitment to these activities, not least because, as I said before, they have no alternatives for finance and, furthermore, they are fundamental for there to be a base in the state of São Paulo capable of working with knowledge, to transform it into wealth.

It is true to say that, in historical terms, there has always been total clarity about FAPESP’s action in this regard.
Precisely. And, in the part of business research, FAPESP also has a role to play and a contribution to give, which is to be one of the state agents that can stimulate the intensification of this activity. One of the agents, I emphasize, because there are several other relevant ones, and I would list at least Finep (the Financier of Studies and Projects) and the BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development), which have a far greater capacity for financing than FAPESP.  I think that the activity of the state agents has become more relevant, even though it may not have become quantitatively greater, in the last few years.

Ten years or so, something like that?
Yes, ten years or so. Meaning there are two turning points in this direction. There is a first one, of a more organic nature, which was the opening up of the Brazilian economy, at the beginning of the 1990’s. This opening up, with all the criticisms that we can make of it – and there really are many criticisms to be made, for the uncontrolled, poorly planned way in which it was done –, brought as a result the exposure of Brazilian industry to the world. With this, two themes became essential in the debate about the future of Brazilian industry: quality and technology. The challenge of quality, Brazilian industry attacked with great effectiveness back at the beginning of the 1990’s. The Brazilian government’s strategy for opening up in those days, for reasons that I wouldn’t know how to explain, included taking care of quality, but it didn’t include taking care of technology.

That became very well portrayed at that moment, for example, by the companies’ race towards ISO 9000 certification.
That’s right. It had several movements, the Brazilian State supported and financed the companies, for them to perform actions in order to have internationally certified quality in their products and services, and ISO 9000 became a national passion. In such a way that, today, São Paulo industry is recognized internationally as being one of those that shows one of the best quality levels in its processes and in its products. Very competitive. The second challenge, technology – in a simplified way, we can say that the challenge of quality refers to how to produce and technology to what to produce –, took a bit longer to be perceived. Professor [José] Goldemberg, who was Minister of Science and Technology in those days, used to talk of the importance of taking the research activity inside companies. Except that he didn’t manage to organize ways of doing this.

The discourse had no repercussion in the inside of the company, didn’t it?
It took a bit of time to have a repercussion. One of the reasons was that, while the challenge of quality caught on, involved the companies and make them exert themselves, on the subject of technology, up until 1999, Brazil was prey to a great illusion of scientific and political policy: that the technology that the companies need would be done in universities and in research institutes. This is a mistake that has no backing at any moment in the history of technology. Never has any nation in the world made its industry technologically capable and competitive based exclusively, or even in the main, on university – company interaction.

In fact, when, in 1997, FAPESP instituted the Small Business Innovation Research Program, the PIPE, it was already looking at business as the preferred locus for research and development in the business ambit.
Yes, FAPESP was already realizing this. I was then president of the Foundation, and I remember very well that this was much discussed with the scientific directorate, when it was structuring the PIPE. Incidentally, this program was the first action of the State in Brazil that explicitly laid down: research needs to go inside the companies. But until 1999 the Brazilian policy on science and technology was a prey to the illusion I talked about, of this mistake. There was the PIPE, but, in national terms, it was only in the second term of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government that the reversal of this policy began.

On account of the changes in the CNPq, in the Ministry of Science and Technology, in other key bodies?
That’s right. The changes that happened in the Ministry of Science and Technology were important. Minister [Ronaldo] Sardenberg, executive secretary [Carlos Américo] Pacheco were fundamental in this story, Finep was very important… Because it was there that the policy on science and technology in Brazil began progressively to include the theme ‘research inside the company’, and this kept on making headway.  Another important landmark was the Second National Science and Technology Conference, in 2001, at which, not by coincidence, the proposals taken from the State of São Paulo pointed precisely to this need of having the company as the proper environment for technological research, following the experience of the PIPE, the debates at the Regional Conference, the discussions between FAPESP and Fiesp on this subject… The conference perhaps marked the turning point of this story, the moment when Brazil understood that a policy for science and technology has to have important actions for the academic side, but also has to have actions for the industrial side.

That’s the moment when the whole idea of the Sectorial funds is formulated.
Yes, it all happened in a conjugated manner. The attention of the policy for science and technology on the business world was consolidated at the conference, and it turned into a more definitive shape with the Law on Innovation, which began to be discussed in 2002, and finally came to be approved at the end of 2004. And this also signposted something very important: the fact that the national policy for science and technology is turning into a State policy, instead of a government policy. From 2002 to 2003, there was an important change in the federal system, an exchange of the government for another one that used to be in opposition to the former, but this new government, in the ambit of science and technology, adopted and carried on with this strategy of a policy that speaks to the academic world, but speaks at the same time to the business world. These changes kept making the business world in be Brazil be driven, shall we say, by an organic necessity – established by the opening up of the market –, to start concerning itself with the technology issue and, at the same time, the Brazilian government caught on to this and offered answers.

Is your feeling that this perception of the business world has now been scattered over the country?
Naturally, it is more intense in the regions of Brazil more exposed to the world: São Paulo, which is the great exporter of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, a bit in Minas Gerais… But I want to call attention to the fact that FAPESP has a particularly relevant role in this issue of the companies in relation to technological development.

And what form does this role take today?
This one: FAPESP is one of the state agents that, in Brazil, not only has the capacity but also the obligation of supporting certain research activities inside companies, and of contributing towards the education of human resources that, in part, will be absorbed by the companies to generate development and wealth for the State of São Paulo. It has to be explained – and demonstrated – to the taxpayer why it is so important to invest one third of the Foundation’s resources in scholarships for forming human resources, of which a part, the majority, certainly, is going to be directed to academic activities, but another part, far larger than is to be seen today, will find opportunities in the business world. The Foundation needs to perform its role with the clear understanding that it cannot have the objective of replacing neither business enterprise nor the enterprise of other national agencies. It is one player in this game.

Even as one player amongst others, is it possible for FAPESP to fortify in some way its ventures relating to the financing of technological innovation?
The PIPE now has a portfolio of 450 projects financed – more than one a week since 1998 -, the PITE [Partnership for Technological Innovation, started in 1994) has a hundred projects. But yes, there is a way to expand the ventures. There is always a dynamic learning process. We began with a partnership for technological innovation, next, arrived at the PIPE, next it was discovered that, if in this program there is a third stage that, by law, the Foundation cannot finance, which is the production of that which results from the innovation, it does manage, though, to mobilize partners in this direction. Hence, the Pappe (Support for Research in Companies Program), established in partnership with Finep, is already a fortification, and there will be others. Both in this subject and in the subjects relating to the other two pillars, I think that the great key for managing to do good things lies in the word communication. It lies in FAPESP having effective mechanisms for communicating with the research community of the state of São Paulo. Note that in the old days we used to talk about communication with the academic community, and that covered everything. I am now talking about the research community, because there is now a research community that is not academic.

Which is in the companies.
Exactly. In actual fact, if you look, all the good things that FAPESP does resulted from communication with the research community. It was by listening to suggestions, criticisms, demands and propositions that it did them.

And how to reinforce this bridge today?
Through some channels. For example: the scientific directorate has a set of area coordinations that involve close to 60 persons from the research community in the State of São Paulo. They are people who help the scientific directorate to select the projects that it is going to support and, at the same time, I’d like them to help us as well to gather ideas and to communicate them.

That is, the coordinations should work effectively as output and input channels for fundamental information.
Yes, working for two sides, meaning, it goes from here to there, giving information about criteria and procedures, and comes from there to here, saying “you need to change this, do that etc.”. It’s a large set of people that I even intend to expand a bit, because the size of the academic community and the number of projects that FAPESP deals with today are much larger than ten, eleven years ago. There are also the assistant coordinators of the scientific directorate, who are more closely linked to it and to the coordinations, and who are people who have this communication role. FAPESP also carries out this communication by means of the members of its board of trustees, where there are people from the universities and from companies, who debate there, and bring many important considerations. Besides this, the Foundation has sometimes held meetings with researchers, project leaders etc., and I intend to do this more systematically. I think that these meetings are very important for us to be able to listen more freely to the considerations of the community. As I was saying, the good things that it has done were always brought by the research community of the state of São Paulo and I cannot think of one example of something invented inside here. When, in the 1960s, FAPESP did a program called Bioq-FAPESP, to develop the State of São Paulo’s biochemistry and chemistry activity, who brought this was the USP community, which said “look, you need to develop this area”. It was done. When, in the 1970’s, it did a program about equipment for scientific research laboratories in the universities, the people from Unicamp brought this, because it was being born in those days and had these demands. It makes sense. It wasn’t a program for Unicamp, and it served the state, just as Bioq was born from USP, but attended to other organizations. Afterwards, when FAPESP did the infrastructure program, at the beginning of the 1990’s, the research community brought this demand to consecutive meetings. I remember that I was at a meeting with thematic project leaders in 1992 or 1993, at which the subject was addressed, “look, the infrastructure for research is poor, the universities are not managing to maintain it, it would be important if FAPESP could do it…”. FAPESP sometimes takes a bit of time to respond to a proposal, because it wants to be sure that the idea makes sense, it isn’t going to transform it into a project on the following day. It’s going to investigate, it’s going to learn more about the subject, and, very often, in all cases, I think, it listens to a demand and responds with something else, a bit different, because it creates, improves, discusses more about the subject. This was how the Foundation did the programs of Infrastructure, Partnership for Technological Innovation, Genome, Biota, and Fap-Books, all this listening to the community. Meaning, this is how it works, it has to listen, has to make an effort to pay attention, to understanding what the research community in São Paulo is saying. The community knows how to pinpoint where the shoe is pinching.

Your experience as the rector of Unicamp certainly afforded you greater proximity to listen to the community more, and that must have intensified your concern here in FAPESP to listen to this community.
Yes, in a way, it did. Although, even before, my experience as president of FAPESP had shown that good ideas come from the community. But it is true, my experience as rector helped me to value a lot the idea that people in the research community have good ideas and the more people there are to listen to, the greater the number of very good ideas. What is needed is to listen to them and try to understand them. And those who manage to be a sponge for ideas manage to do more good things.

How will the expansion of the group of advisors and assistants to the scientific directorate be done?
We need two things: a certain quantity of people, and their periodical renewal. This is one of the ways of getting different people to frequent the Foundation. I think it is important for us to have an organized and more formal system for appointing these coordinations, length of duration and so forth. For example, I think it’s important for the São Paulo research community to get to know better who these coordinators are: when they began, when they finish, when one is replaced, that is to say, it has to be made more explicit, because the more visibility FAPESP’s system of working has, the better it will be. At the same time, the Foundation values a lot its system of ad hoc advisors, but this does not mean that it has a blind faith in their infallibility, and it is not least for this reason that we encourage the researchers who feel jeopardized, misunderstood or treated unfairly by the opinions to present arguments in defense of their projects. This is by no means looked at askance by the Foundation, on the contrary, it is regarded by it as a natural result of the system of peer assessment. Let us put it this way, FAPESP’s love for the peer assessment system does not come from a belief in its infallibility, but from a conviction that mistakes are minimized this way.

MIGUEL BOYAYAN / JOSÉ ROBERTO MEDDAWhat is your vision about FAPESP’s support for the different areas of knowledge?
FAPESP’s mission is to support all the areas of human knowledge, working within the rules of scientific method. That includes the human sciences, the applied social sciences, the exact sciences, the branches of engineering, health sciences, biology, philosophy, in short, all the areas. Incidentally, amongst the agencies in the country and perhaps in the world that act in many areas, I think that FAPESP is one of those that have most funding for the human sciences area. Of its project portfolio, this is the fourth most financed area, after health, biology and engineering. I think that is of the utmost importance for the state of São Paulo for us to have a solid research activity in the human sciences area, as well as which I think it is fundamental for us to have a solid research activity in philosophy. This is essential for the academic research environment in the state to be healthy, to be sufficiently wide-ranging to create, shall we say, a way of life, a suitable setting for the education of our students, which is just as important as the formation of human resources. Nowadays, it is fundamental to pay attention to avoid the dangers of utilitarianism, of a certain short-term view about the research activity, very popular in certain circles, but very mistaken, mistaken in oceanic proportions. As to the volume of funding, it depends mainly on two things: the size of each area’s research community and the specific characteristics of the area as to the cost of its research activity.

But in spite of the undiscriminating support in FAPESP, there are areas of knowledge that remain far less visible. What s your perception of this?
It depends on how you look at it. We have to take care when analyzing the results of research, so as not to become subject to distortive metrics. Because when people talk about scientific publications in international magazines, that indeed is where the area of physics, biology appears a lot, a bit less of engineering, right?  There are areas in which the circulation of knowledge takes place in another way, so then, if the metrics are the number of books published, the visibility of the area of physics, of health, is extremely small, while from the area of human sciences it is large. Accordingly, if we want to do a picture on the research activity in São Paulo, we need to use several different metrics, suitable for each one of the areas of knowledge. Even when we look, for example, at the exact sciences, we see that in physics what is important is to publish the paper, but in computing science, sometimes, it is more important to present the work at a conference.

But this seems to be a real problem in academic research. The production of each researcher is assessed by the quantity of papers published, and, probably, much injustice is done about their real production in this way.
It will be done, if the assessment is made exclusively by this numerology of papers. FAPESP uses an evaluation system that involves the research community of the State of São Paulo – it is one more of the instances of communication that we talked about –, that is to say, researchers from a given area – the peers – analyze the content of the proposal presented, not only by the quantity of articles published. The system is very sophisticated, particularly when we consider the quantity of projects we deal with, about 15 thousand a year, and all depending on an opinion from one advisor at least – is something very notable. I don’t know of any other agency in Brazil that manages to do this in this way. This is very important, because it permits each sector or sub-area of knowledge to be judged according to its own metrics, which are not established by FAPESP, but by the researchers themselves from that sector of knowledge. But there is something that we talked about en passant that we should not allow to be lost: it is FAPESP’s interest to receive from the research community of the State of São Paulo propositions that help us to develop certain areas of knowledge in a more intense manner, in which we can do this, or we perceive the need to do this, or both things. If FAPESP did the Genome Program, which enjoyed an important success and international visibility, highlighted the research done in the State of São Paulo for the world to see, and, furthermore, brought advances to the research capacity, the formation of human resources, academic research and business research in this area, what other programs can it do in other areas to have the same or a similar effect? Which are the other? genomes? that we have not yet created, in other areas, with other themes, and that can lead us to results of this kind? What are the programs of this kind in the area of human sciences? Or in the area of computer science and engineering, which is also an extremely important area, the community of which in São Paulo is still very small? What can we do for these areas to allow them to take a leap forward?

With your work in FAPESP’s scientific directorate, how about your activities as a professor and researcher in the area of physics?
They have been jeopardized, as, incidentally, they already had been. When I chose to dedicate the major part of my time to activities related to the management of science or of education, I also chose to diminish my involvement with the direct, shall we say, scientific activity. But I am very fond of this activity, and, to the extent of my capacity, I continue to do a bit of this, supervising some excellent students that I have and who end up demanding of me a dedication of some fraction of my time. But we have to make choices, don’t we?

Are your steps towards this area of management of scientific and technological policy more an answer to a question of liking, of pleasure, or of a feeling of necessity?
All these things added up. You get starting to do it and carry on becoming interested. I like doing, I like understanding, I particularly like always having to apply the scientific method to the problems I have in the management of science, which is perfectly possible.

In your vision, what should FAPESP’s linkage with the other development agencies be like? Is a good linkage with the other FAPs (State Research Support Foundations) useful as well?
It is essential to have linkage with the federal agencies.  For all that more than half – in actual fact, 60% – of the financing of research in São Paulo is done with state money, the federal 40% is essential. Without the federal agencies, science wouldn’t exist in São Paulo. By the way, this predominance of the financing done by FAPESP began to happen, I would say, from 1997 or 1998. With the state agencies, it is very important too, but it is an importance there that is a bit more diffused. It lies more with the possibility of FAPESP contributing towards these state agencies being given more prestige by their respective state governments. And there, FAPESP’s great contribution has been given by its example. It is very prejudicial for the development of science and technology in Brazil that practically 24 Brazilian states have FAPs organized and legislated in the shape of FAPESP, but that only one, São Paulo, complies with the legislation. It’s a tragedy.

For a lack of political sensitiveness, or for a lack of strength of the scientific community in the states?
I don’t know how to assess that. I think the two things are added together. There is a difficulty in the state finances, but this difficulty exists in São Paulo as well, but it nevertheless hands over, religiously, the 1% of its tax revenues to FAPESP. Perhaps there is more of a limited perception about the benefits that may come to that region of an ongoing financing of research activities. Even if this financing happens mainly in the academic world. I mean, it’s no coincidence that São Paulo has an automobile industry, it has Embraer, it has the most powerful industrial complex in Brazil, it has the most important center in the area of software, it has genomics companies etc. They are results of decades of effort of the State of São Paulo to have good public universities and to have FAPESP. It’s something that, more than adding to, keeps multiplying the quantity of results. It has to be done for a long time. It isn’t in the fifth year of investment that the major pat of the result comes, but after 40, 50 years. It’s a lengthy process. I think that the most controlled experiment – to speak in a language of scientific method – we have in this field is the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA) and Embraer. It was something done in a region of Brazil where nobody before used to speak the word ‘airplane’, the territory was free, it had no prior ‘contaminations’. In a reasonably delimited region, a research center was created, and a good engineering school. How long did it take for this to result in the third largest aircraft factory in the world? Fifty years, that’s the measure of this kind of effort. In Brazil, we sometimes have difficulty in understanding this because we don’t perceive, when we look at the United States or Europe, that the vitality that people see there is a vitality that talks of births and deaths, companies that are born and companies that disappear. Except that this happens against a backdrop of 150 or 200 years of investments like that, while we have been doing this for 40. When we have built up 150 years, investing in a continuous manner, we are going to see this background of a lot of results and a few peaks appearing there.

Your vision, then, is optimistic in relation to this panorama of innovation, of national scientific development.
Yes, and justifiably so, for the following reason: because it is a vision based on certain measures about Brazil’s performance in the science activity and in the technology activity, which, if one the one hand they help us to identify difficulties, on the other they help to verify that the capacity that has been built up in Brazil for knowledge-related activities is very competitive internationally. It mid-May, it was highlighted in the press that Brazilian scientific production circulating internationally, which, as I said, is not the only important one, but it is one of the most important, has grown at a rate that is many times higher than the worldwide average rate. That means, Brazil is gaining production. There are many countries in the world that are losing production. The growth rate of Brazil’s capacity for forming doctors, masters, people very well qualified to deal with knowledge, is also far higher than the world average. So much so that, in an article in Science of May 13, three countries are cited are those that are growing most in scientific production in the health area: Brazil, China and Korea. So my vision is justifiably optimistic. Of course it’s not an optimism of Pollyanna. And, as they say, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

To finalize: the 9 thousand, almost 10 thousand doctors a year who are being formed in Brazil will probably become an extremely strong factor of pressure on the demand for funds for research, in the academic world or in companies. Does not FAPESP’s budget then run the risk of becoming too small in relation to the needs for financing research in São Paulo and of burying once and for all that claim that there is no repressed demand for funds for high quality research in the state?
This risk, in actual fact, has already been run and has now been lost, at least for the time being. FAPESP’s budget is now insufficient for meeting the demand from research in São Paulo, although it is not, properly speaking, small. Today, FAPESP does 60% of the investment in research in São Paulo, while ten years ago it used to do 40%. The growth rate of the research community in the State of São Paulo has been far higher than the growth rate of the economy, which is what determines the size of FAPESP’s financing. Not least because Brazil, after 1980, has never again managed to find a way to make the economy grow. So there is now a certain lag, there certainly is. You just have to see the pressure that we have here in the Foundation on the scholarship system, which was once, 15 years ago, a system that could practically finance all the scholarships it wanted to. Today, it isn’t any longer. The competition is extremely high, reaching the point at which only candidates regarded as excellent manage to get a scholarship. So we are now living with this difficulty.

Isn’t that worrying?
It is. It certainly is worrying, both as to the worry that we all have with Brazil’s capacity for making the public health system serve the population properly, or the public educational system, or the highways being taken care of… Because they are diseases of a country in which the population grows, the size of the demands grows, and the economy to attend to them does not grow at the same speed. This lag is already doing a lot of harm to research, in the whole of Brazil.