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Fifty Years of FAPESP and the Development of Science in São Paulo

In 1966, the ISI database, accessible via the Web of Science, showed 42 scientific articles by authors from Brazil. Six of them lived in the state of São Paulo and represented 14% of the national total. Ten years later, Brazil’s scientific production was 26 times greater (1,073 articles) and São Paulo’s share was 90 times larger (535 articles, or 48% of the national total). Since then, São Paulo’s share has ranged between 47% and 52%.

It’s not hard to realize that FAPESP, established in 1962, has played a role in this growth. Nor is it hard to perceive that FAPESP is not solely responsible for this progress: science in Brazil as a whole and in São Paulo in particular has grown and progressed thanks to the combined efforts of state and federal development agencies, and the emergence of some excellent universities. We must not forget that while these agencies financed equipment, materials and personnel training, the leaders of the research efforts are the professors, researchers, university students, and research institutes.

An enormous driving force behind the enhanced scientific capabilities was the development of graduate schools in Brazil during the period from 1966 to 1976. In São Paulo, the University of São Paulo (USP) and some other schools that functioned separately at the time and later combined to form São Paulo State University (UNESP) established graduate schools. During that same period, the state government created the State University of Campinas, better known as Unicamp.

FAPESP was created in the midst of a growing scientific community that was better qualified and more demanding with regard to the quality of assistance offered by the Foundation, as established in the São Paulo state constitution. In 1962, FAPESP received 428 applications for financial aid and approved 329. Of these, 57 were grants of various kinds; the others were for aid to research work. An analysis of the figures from the annual reports by the Foundation’s Executive Board shows a remarkable trend: in 2011, 20,600 applications for assistance were received, of which 12,356 were approved.

Using as reference the report published on the occasion of FAPESP’s tenth anniversary in 1973 at the impetus of Prof. Oscar Sala, who was then the scientific director, and coordinated by Prof. Tamás Szmrecsányi, we see that during its first decade FAPESP received 10,500 applications for assistance, approximately half as many as it would later receive in 2011 alone. The following table* depicts the change in the number of requests granted annually, compared with the average recorded during the first ten years of FAPESP and the figure for 2011.

Not only did the number of articles published by São Paulo scientists in international journals soar from 83 in 1972 to 15,202 in 2007, their impact also increased. Authors from 1972 had received, as of 1977, 0.18 citations per article per year (the most often quoted has received 44 citations to date). However, authors from 2007 have received 1.5 citations per article per year (78 of them have more than 78 citations. The most-often quoted of the 2007 group has 582).

Science in São Paulo has thrived in both quantity and quality. FAPESP’s 50 years of effort has contributed to this, but as we celebrate this anniversary, we do well to remember that scientific development in this state has involved cooperation among many different institutions. Although the 50 years of FAPESP experience has been vital, it bears repeating that the development of science in São Paulo could not have occurred without the support of the National Council on Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the Coordinating Agency for Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), and the Brazilian Innovation Agency (Finep), and without the efforts of the growing community of active researchers at the state’s institutions of higher learning and research.