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Letter from the editor | 55

Good science, good technology, and good publicity

The publication by Nature of the story on the genome of Xylella fastidiosa represents a milestone in the history of science in Brazil. The team of almost 200 researchers did a job of the highest quality, and put Brazil’s science into the international headlines. The NY Times highlighted the entry of “a surprising new actor in a field dominated by the developed nations”, and Nature praised “Brazil’s determination to enter the post-genome era on an equal footing with scientists of the richer countries.  The Economist declares that Brazil has now become known for “Samba, football and… genomics”.  Good news about Brazil has not often been the reason for so much international attention. Besides helping Brazilian scientists recover their self esteem, the achievement shows how the success of a post-graduate policy aimed at the formation of scientific personnel, with quality determined by international standards. Without this, how would it have been possible to assemble a team of over 200 for this enterprise?  Fapesp had a decisive role in perceiving the right moment for creating a new way of organizing scientific activity in Brazil. The federal agencies were equally important, supporting the formation of these researchers, former grant-holders from Capes ( Coordination for The Improvement of Higher Level Personnel) and the CNPq( National Council for Technological and Scientific Development), as well as the public universities which house almost the totality of research scientists.  The result highlights the importance of continued governmental investment in science and technology, and of support for basic science and the formation of personnel. These are things that call for decades of effort, in which the role of the State is irreplaceable.

To combine basic science with practice has been a constant challenge for Fapesp. The Foundation has just created the program called Partnership for Innovation in Aerospace Science and Technology. Fapesp used the opportunity of Embraer’s imminent decision to set up a new plant for production and technology development and, in addition, its desire to intensify its partnerships with universities and research institutes. Fapesp’s program, aimed at any companies in the aerospace sector, was an important factor in Embraer’s decision to open its new factory in Gavião Peixoto, São Paulo, a state which is the natural habitat for this kind of activity in Brazil. Besides the ITA, the Technological Institute of Aeronautics and the CTA (Aerospace Technology Center, which gave birth to Embraer, the state has the INPE (National Institute for Space Research), and the São Paulo universities have noteworthy activities in this field.  In common with the example of Xylela, Embraer is the result of decades of accumulated efforts of personnel formation, always using international excellence standards and State support. It seems that Francis Bacon had some reason in pointing out that “no action of good government is more valuable than enriching the world with trustworthy and fertile knowledge”.

In 1955, when the creation of Fapesp was being discussed, José Reis pointed out in an article in the magazine Revista Anhembi (V. XVIII, n. 50, p. 278 – cited in S. Motoyama’s Fapesp – Uma História de Política Científica e Tecnológica [A History of Scientific and Technological Policy]) that it would be “necessary for the Foundation to make it a point of honor present the public with sincere reports…And these reports should not a jumble of figures or names, but living displays of the plans and projects carried out, so that the existence of a true spirit of support for science should be perceived…”. Well, the great José Reis was describing almost exactly the magazine Pesquisa Fapesp, which does what the master recommended: publicize the actions of the Foundation for the public, in a clear and accessible manner. That was why we were even happier to see Pesquisa Fapesp awarded precisely the José Reis Prize for the Publicizing of Science, granted by the CNPq. The team responsible for Pesquisa Fapesp is to be congratulated above all for having constructed in these five years an agile and very visible magazine, which highlights “in a lively manner, the plans and projects that are supported by the Foundation”.

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz
President of FAPESP