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Appreciation from the governors

A ceremony held at the renovated FAPESP auditorium, now named after governor Carlos Alberto de Carvalho Pinto, and attended by governor Geraldo Alckmin opened the celebration for FAPESP’s fiftieth anniversary, which is actually on May 23, 2012 (see notice about this on FAPESP 50 years). Author of the bill that became a law authorizing the Executive Branch to finally institute the Foundation created by the state constitution of 1947 and the person responsible for Decree 40132, which he signed on May 23, 1962 and that actually instituted it, Carvalho Pinto never disguised his pride in this initiative. “If I were to highlight some of the achievements in my unpretentious public life, I wouldn’t hesitate to elect FAPESP as one of the most significant ones for the economic, social and cultural development of the country.” The highly regarded lawyer and politician governed São Paulo from 1959 to 1963, and passed away in 1987, at the age of 77.

São Paulo state governors do, indeed, seem to hold FAPESP in high regard. I was thinking a little about this as I watched the launch of the fiftieth anniversary of the Foundation, recalling that it was thanks to Franco Montoro that I became better acquainted with this institution in 1992. Let me explain: FAPESP was completing 30 years and the former governor (1983-1987) had written to Gazeta Mercantil, then the country’s chief financial newspaper, suggesting that the date was newsworthy, given the major role of the institution in the development of São Paulo state. The editor in chief, Matias Molina, an exceptional financial journalist, or, better said, an exceptional journalist, called me one afternoon and said that newspaper planned to follow Montoro’s suggestion. However, instead of talking about FAPESP’s 30 years, it showed the reader, in a series of articles, a handful of the projects that had been supported by the Foundation during the course of its history and that had had a genuine impact on the development of the state. I was the technology editor at the time, so the job fell into my area of responsibility. One of the objectives that I chose for the series was the research into citrus canker, a disease whose control was fundamental for the growth of the São Paulo state citric fruit plantations.

Almost 20 years later, when we recently discussed at a meeting on editorial content what might be the journal’s own contribution to celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of FAPESP, I brought up these memories along with my great pleasure at the work of discovering research projects whose existence I had not even suspected before, in order to write about them during times when the press was still rather unfriendly toward Brazil’s scientific production. At that point, we decided that Pesquisa FAPESP should raise not only half a dozen, but a dozen stories on the lines of research that had been financed by the Foundation and that proved very important for São Paulo, for Brazil, or more broadly, for the production of global knowledge. These will be published at the rate of one a month until May of 2012. Curiously, Fabrício Marques, our policy editor, chose to start the series with citrus diseases, which go way beyond citrus canker and which obviously include the pioneering project of Brazilian genomics: the study of Xylella fastidiosa, the cause of citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC), which catapulted Brazilian science into the national and international media in 2000. It is well worth checking out the article that starts on Polities . However, one should note that the results of this project were the best pretext for another São Paulo state governor, Mario Covas (1995-2001) to freely show his enormous appreciation of FAPESP. At a memorable party held at the Sala São Paulo concert hall in February of 2000, Covas granted the scientific medal of merit from the state government, which he had instituted a few days earlier, to 200 researchers that had worked on the project.

Before this letter runs out of space, I must at least highlight the cover story of this issue, on autism, which starts on The brain in autism and is the excellent work of Ricardo Zorzetto, our science editor. Autism is still one of the most mysterious psychic and/or neurological conditions affecting a small percentage of mankind and for quite a while we had been planning to explore the paths that Brazilian scientists are treading, along with their colleagues abroad, in their effort to decipher, diagnose and, in so far as possible, treat it. To close, I recommend the articles on solar power (see notice about this on Electricity from the Sun) and on Brazilian science fiction (see notice about this on The future of the present in the past). Enjoy your reading!