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Letter from the editor | 308


The idea of using criteria for spaces on higher education courses based on anything other than performance may seem incompatible with scientific work. Conceptually, science has no color, gender, age, or any other characteristic, but it is a social activity, and we live in an unequal society. Thinking of ways to ensure equal access to the same rights is one of the functions society must fulfill to correct its failures and injustices.

In efforts to address this issue, one of the paths Brazil took nearly 20 years ago was to adopt affirmative action policies in public higher education for students from public schools and black, mixed race, and indigenous applicants. The policy caused controversy and many heated discussions, but eventually became a reality and is now a firmly established practice. The academic landscape is much more diverse today than it was 20 years ago, and this diversity is reflected in the topics chosen for scientific investigation.

This issues cover story gives an overview of the subject and how the debate has changed over time. Studies have disproved the argument that there is a difference in academic performance between students granted places under these policies and others. However, diversity in the classrooms of the most popular higher education courses has not yet led to the expected increase in the job market.

Identifying, mapping, and analyzing diversity in the fauna, flora, and microorganisms of São Paulo is the objective of FAPESP’s Biota program, which recently celebrated its 20th year. Botanist Carlos Alfredo Joly, a Biota coordinator with a central role in this ongoing academic effort, which has had an impact on the state’s environmental policies and contributed to the education of hundreds of researchers, is not optimistic. In an interview, he highlights the program’s impact—“we now know more about biodiversity and where it occurs, but the main advance in our knowledge relates to the functioning of ecosystems”—and points out that the situation would be worse without Biota, although he is concerned about the general failure to acknowledge that the challenge of fighting climate change is intrinsically linked to preserving this biodiversity.

The mechanisms behind climate change are extremely complex and the puzzle pieces do not always seem to fit together. There has been counterintuitive news regarding aerosols (small suspended particles, largely created by human activity, which pollute the air and are in turn associated with several diseases). Surprisingly, these particles have reduced global warming caused by greenhouse gases according to the latest IPCC report, which featured in the cover story of the previous issue, as explained in an article on page 54.

The COVID-19 pandemic has eased up in Brazil, but the country is approaching the milestone of 600,000 deaths. It is encouraging, however, that almost 70% of the population has now been vaccinated with at least one dose. Given the prospect of immunizing adolescents and children and offering boosters to the elderly, the world’s first DNA-based coronavirus vaccine, developed in India, could contribute to the range of options available to control disease around the world.