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Celebration of a happy partnership

In May of 1997 I was invited to have lunch at the head office of the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper. During a little more than an hour and a half, I was submitted to an agreeable, but intense barrage of questions about FAPESP’s actions in research funding. One must remember that at that moment we were ready to launch the Small Business Innovative Research (PIPE) program. The Genome project was to be launched in October of the same year. The Director General of the newspaper, Octavio Frias de Oliveira, had been commanding an intelligent debate, and in the middle of the conversation, after a few seconds of silence, fired off with an incontestable truth: “If you people are so good at this, then you are equally as poor at marketing!” Having absorbed the impact of such a frank and spontaneous declaration, it only remained for me to reflect and concur: in fact, an institution that receives 1% of the state’s tax revenue not only does it have the obligation when faced by the taxpayer to clearly demonstrate what it does with that money, but to show as well that it makes good use of these resources.

How can one show in a way that is at the same time precise and accessible to the non-specialist what is done, how it is done and what are the results that a scientific and technological research agency carries out? Since August of 1995 there had already been circulating within the scientific community of the State of Sao Paulo the bulletin Notícias FAPESP. The initiative had begun timidly, with only four pages in black and white. The meager 1,000 copies printed reached only the heads of colleges and university departments, without reaching the majority of researchers. The São Paulo taxpayer little knew about the existence of the bulletin and of the endpoint for his money. Supported by FAPESP and by the São Paulo researchers, Notícias FAPESP grew, transforming itself into the magazine Pesquisa FAPESP during October of 1999, and began to be distributed to the Foundations researchers.

Since then the magazine has become an important instrument for the State’s scientific system. It has created a synergy between that which had been happening at the universities and institutes – and even in companies that had wagered on innovation – and the systematic diffusion of these actions. The researchers community began to have a better understanding of the importance of disclosing projects, of demonstrating how the money from their taxes is spent. In March of 2002, there was another leap: the publication opened itself in terms of its publishing towards national scientific production by being put on the newsstands of the main Brazilian cities, and went on to receive adverts and subscriptions, a manner of partly compensating for the investment in the magazine.

With the evolution of the magazine, the media learned to look upon FAPESP with different eyes. As it is distributed to journalists, little by little the reports that appeared for the first time in Pesquisa FAPESP began to be incorporated onto the agenda of the main media outlet of the country – not without some resistance. An emblematic illustrative episode of the difficulties of those times. When the launch of the project for the sequencing of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa took place in 1997, there was practically no coverage in the press. Only the two main Sao Paulo newspapers gave it any attention, one of them a few days late. Today this picture has changed. The programs and projects funded by FAPESP are shown in all of the vehicles of communication because the media recognizes the value that they have for society.

Pesquisa FAPESP is an important partner to the Foundation and consequently of the scientific community – today not only from São Paulo but also national. The publication has transformed research projects into an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the practice of scientific journalism. Also, it guaranteed the quality of communication by being carried out by journalists with perfect mastery of the tool, the magazine. It guaranteed the quality of scientific information, through interaction and collaboration with the researchers. The partnership between magazine, Foundation and scientists has already given other fruits such as the FAPESP Agency, which daily, via the Internet, carries out the electronic disclosing of science and of Brazilian scientific and technological policy.

The creation of the magazine and the Agency were also born because of FAPESP’s institutional mission, as forecast in law, which included the divulging of research activities that it finances. For this reason, the publication of the magazine has been carried out via a special project, coordinated by a philosopher, Professor Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos, and with an Editorial Board formed by scientists who closely accompany the institution’s action. This project condition, though special, guarantees that the magazine manages to comply with the double resolution of being at the same time an institutional vehicle and a divulger of science. The marketing suggested by editor Octavio Frias de Oliveira has every right to be. Today it is very efficient, not to sell illusions, but as an information instrument for the taxpayer and the researcher.

José Fernando Perez is FAPESP’s Scientific Director