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Scientific magazine

Cautious optimism

For Nature, it is time for Brazil to transform its power of research into economic advantage

ELLIOT W. KITAJIMA / USPSequencing of the Xylella fastidiosa: highlighted once more in NatureELLIOT W. KITAJIMA / USP

If six months in command of the country have not been enough time for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to promote deep changes in the national scientific policy, the first steps in the new federal government in the area of science and technology, though still far from having pleased everyone, have managed to inspire a courageous editorial and articles in the issue of the 22nd of May of the British magazine Nature, one of the most respected scientific publications. In the editorial, the publication states that President Lula da Silva, originating from a left-wing party (PT – the acronym in Portuguese for Workers’ Party), has been impressive in dealing with the Brazilian economy, the target of a large part of the initial attention of the new administration. Now, Nature suggests that the President must grasp a unique opportunity: “To transform the significant power (of Brazilian research) in the physical and biological sciences into long-term economic advantages”.

The magazine does save on examples of the dynamism exhibited by sectors of Brazilian science. It assures that, in spite of its social and educational problems, the country can count on lots of “young talent” willing to carry out science and graduates more than 6,000 doctors per year. “Brazilian science has already proven that it can compete in the international arena with the publication during 2000 of the complete sequencing of the genome of the pathogen of citrus bacterium Xylella fastidiosa“, wrote David Adams, when referring to the project financed by FAPESP. The Amazon Vigilance System (Sivam) was also described as the “most ambitious of its type in the world”.

After having interviewed and written about some of the Brazilian scientists in their journalistic articles, the magazine prints that “there is a widespread mood of cautious optimism” about the actions of the new federal government in the area of science and technology. And then exemplifies: during 2003, in a difficult year for the Brazilian economy, the federal budget for S&T appears, up until now, to have escaped cuts; the Lula government has promised to double the annual budget for research and development by the end of its administration; and they have recruited good personnel into the ministry and the federal research development agencies. From what one can gather from Adam’s article, the adjective cautious comes from the reactions, not very positively expressed, at the start of the year by the national scientific community on the announcement of the name of Roberto Amaral for the post of Minister of Science .

And, paradoxically, of the intention of the Lula government to decentralize national research, stimulating centers of excellence outside of the States of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In truth, the desire to develop state of the art science in all of the national regions, and to facilitate access to education of the lower classes of the population, is at the same time the target of praises and a source of concern in the eyes of Nature. “The objectives can be praised, but moderation is really needed: President Lula da Silva will limit the potential of his country if he disseminates initiatives in a very wide manner throughout the national territory.”

Greater weight
For the magazine, the situation in the state of São Paulo, by far the heavyweight in the production of Brazilian science, cannot be reproduced at the national level not even in the medium term taking into consideration that, in the words of the publication, some states have only rudimentary scientific base. “So São Paulo stands out not only because of its commitment with the public university and the funding of science, but also for its strategic approach towards science and technology. This includes creating conditions that favor the launching of high technology companies, attracting industrial investment from abroad and giving support to research centers that are going to bring in not only science of high quality but also stimulate new commercial companies”, says the editorial in Nature.

According to FAPESP’s scientific director, José Fernando Perez, the British magazine recognizes the efforts made by Brazil and by the state of São Paulo towards the development of science and technology and is pointing to the need to democratize the national research system. “Nevertheless, the expansion of the system cannot be done through sacrificing the centers of excellence”, Perez emphasized.