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Hot projects for the Amazon

A year before the proclamation of the emancipation of slaves in the United States President Abraham Lincoln several times officially manifested his inclination to deport freed blacks to a place beyond the frontiers of North America, preferably to Central America. Furthermore, in the middle of the complicated Civil War Lincoln asked Congress to release funds for this purpose. As a matter of fact, in August 1862 an editorial in The New York Times commented that the plan, officially proposed by President Lincoln and sanctioned by Congress, to start the task of colonizing outside the USA freed blacks or those about to be freed during the war is to become a reality in five weeks at most. It added that they would be transported at government expense and maintained for the first season at the expense of the state and that funds had been approved for such by Congress.

All this and the details of how Brazil entered the story are told in the great article written by humanities editor, Carlos Haag, on page 80, which he has constructed from fascinating research that recovered dozens of documents on the North American proposal to deport blacks to the Amazon. The text takes us, for example, to May 1862, when plenipotentiary minister and official representative of the US government, James Watson Webb, for whom “the black race” was characterized by its mental inferiority and degraded ignorance, submitted to the Brazilian government proposals to set up a binational company for colonizing the Amazon with black Americans who were freed or about to be freed during the war. This is a piece of work of utmost historical interest at a time when the United States has just voted in its first black president, Barack Obama, and brings back into the limelight Lincoln, the bicentenary of whose birth is celebrated on 14 February.

Of course, this alarmed Amazon that was considered a colony for former North American slaves was a strong candidate for the cover of this edition of Pesquisa FAPESP, but it was another Amazon that ended up taking over the most prominent position: the Amazon of fundamental experiments for understanding in more depth the global climate changes we are facing. Science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, in his forceful text , talks about a forest in which the tallest and most imposing trees have lost most of their leaves, others are dead, while the dry material deposited on the ground threatens to break into flames at any moment. But as this report points out, it is just as well that this scenario is restricted to a small area that over the last decade has been serving as a natural laboratory for Brazilian and North American researchers who are interested in discovering what might happen to the world’s largest tropical forest if the temperature of the planet keeps on rising and the rainfall reduces drastically in the region. In other words, it is precisely this open-air experiment that the report deals with, and some of the conclusions that it has already led to. For example, less rainfall in the Amazon forest may mean a reduction in its capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, which is undoubtedly not good news.

Also in science I’d like to draw attention to the report of editor, Carlos Fioravanti, on the experiments that establish a link between drugs used in treating mental disturbances and reduced resistance to viruses, bacteria and tumors. In the scientific and technological policy section it’s worth reading the report of editor, Fabrício Marques, who compares the system for assessing the quality of peer-review-based research in universities in the United Kingdom, with the Capes system in Brazil.  As in Brazil, assessment results in the UK are used for directing the distribution of public funds for academic research, but the two systems are very different. Finally, in technology, pay attention as from page 70 to the report by assistant editor, Dinorah Ereno, on new low-cost solar cells developed in Brazil, which carry out a type of photosynthesis, in other words, they reproduce the vegetal process of transforming light.