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Innovation for scientists

Recent institutional changes have strengthened science more than technology capability in Brazil

In Brazil, the only source of synchrotron light is the LNLS in Campinas. It attracts Brazilian and foreign researchers interested in experiments on the atomic structures of materials

CNPEM photosIn Brazil, the only source of synchrotron light is the LNLS in Campinas. It attracts Brazilian and foreign researchers interested in experiments on the atomic structures of materialsCNPEM photos

The spread of the discourse of innovation in Brazil in the 1990s, and the legal and institutional framework designed to transform it into a central pillar of the national science and technology policy that took shape at the dawn of the 21st century, are less the result of government initiative combined with the demands of the productive sector and much more the result of the direct effort of Brazilian scientists in that regard. Their work to include innovation in Brazil’s science and technology policy has ultimately succeeded not only in making science per se–its institutions, discourses and practices–socially legitimate, but in strengthening it as well.

Adopting this view means accepting a political force of unsuspected dimensions of Brazilian scientists as an organized group of civil society; incidentally, this was how it was done from the time the institutionalization of science began in Brazil in the first half of the 20th century. In addition, this implies realizing that this power has defined faces. Faces are associated with the scientific leaders, who in every case were the key interlocutors with the government bureaucracy in forging the path towards institutionalizing and strengthening scientific activity.

Such provocative propositions appear in Veredas da mudança na ciência brasileira: discourso, institutionalização e práticas no cenário contemporânea (Pathways to Change Brazilian Science: Discourse, Institutionalization and Practices on the Contemporary Scene), by 30-year-old Maria Caramez Carlotto, coedited by Editora 34, the Associação Filosófica Sciencia Studia (Philosophy Science Study Association) and FAPESP. The source of this recently published book was the young author’s master’s dissertation in the field of the sociology of science, prepared between 2006 and 2008 at the University of São Paulo (USP). The book is surprising not only because of the bold conclusions she reaches, but also because of the density of study, simultaneously supported by consistent theoretical reflection and empirical research of unusual breadth and depth at this stage of an academic career.

The place Maria Carlotto chose to scrutinize the institutional change in Brazilian science after the 1980s was the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS), begun in 1986 and officially opened in Campinas in 1997. To perform this task, about 12 leaders of the laboratory were interviewed, including distinguished members that the author calls “the Unicamp Group” based on a common name that the scientific community itself uses.

For the interviews, she sent a lengthy questionnaire to 2,480 researchers from different Brazilian research institutions who worked in Campinas from 1997 to March 2008 in the light source laboratory. The title was Ciência e tecnologia no Brasil: os usuários do Laboratório de Luz Sincrotron (“Science and Technology in Brazil: Users of the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory.)” The questionnaire was administered during March and April 2008 in partnership with the LNLS itself.

Carlotto received responses from 211 researchers, in other words, an 8.5% return rate, considered reasonable for this type of effort. With these responses, she was able to paint an unprecedented portrait of this elite of Brazilian researchers. She added this to the information about how the leaders were able to design and build the LNLS step by step, obtain support, overcome resistance and distance opponents and even undesirable allies in spheres of political power. This has become a valuable sociological x-ray of the modus operandi of a microcosm of this institution that is Brazilian science in its most advanced form.

In alternating these empirical results with the historic vision of the key movements of the science institutionalization process in Brazil, and in clarifying the international matrices of inflections in national policies for science and technology, Carlotto highlights the strength of a social group that is definitely overlooked in the most conventional analyses of Brazilian civil society.

Imports and naturalization
Maria Caramez Carlotto presents an overview of the international context of the development of the concept of innovation in government science and technology policies before she gives the details of the new Brazilian policy for the sector that was established during the administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. She is willing to show how new discourses on science advance “from the promotion of scientific knowledge to incentivizing technological innovation,” and she states in the introduction to Chapter 2, based on analysis of documents, laws and programs, that the Brazilian government, especially since 2001, “has been implementing a new science and technology policy with heavy emphasis on incentivizing the transformation of scientific knowledge into technological innovation as a strategy to increase the competitiveness of Brazilian companies and boost economic growth” (p. 59).

The idea was to follow the example of the “successful” nations in terms of their policy of innovation and the commercialization of scientific knowledge, “especially the knowledge produced in the educational system by universities and government laboratories and funded with public resources” (p. 60). This analysis, according to the author, is shown in the opening of the Livro branco de ciência, tecnologia e inovação, (White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation), a programmatic overview of the new policy based on the discussions at the Second National Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation in 2001.

In the effort to contextualize the decisions of the Brazilian government, Carlotto addresses the effort the core countries made in the 1980s to overcome the somewhat rigid separation between the process of producing and the process of marketing scientific knowledge. This separation–one of the central pillars of postwar government science policies–is conceptually based on the renowned report entitled Science, the Endless Frontier, by Vannevar Bush of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The report was submitted to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. Carlotto recalls that the report “attempted to justify why the US government should invest large amounts of public monies in scientific research, now that the war effort was over.” And the most important reason, according to Bush, was that “science–even more than technology–would be essential for a country to be able to generate technological innovations and thus compete internationally on an economic level,” she adds (p. 63).

This was also a burning issue in Brazil in the 1950s, and the country closely followed the policy that the Bush report inspired, which subsequently was dubbed the linear model of innovation; it implied that government investments would focus on “basic research” and “the training of scientific manpower,” while the private sector was to be responsible for marketing the knowledge that was produced, as Carlotto observes. If the second part did not turn out as planned, the blame falls on the specific features of Brazilian capitalism.

But what about the events on the international scene in the early 1980s, which would have such a profound effect on Brazilian science and technology policy over the next two decades? There was a perception that a new economy—the Knowledge Economy—was emerging. Carlotto enlists several authors to address a theoretical dimension as well as a more practical side of this economy which, it could be said, incorporates scientific knowledge into the very organic structure of capital and acknowledges the impacts of innovation on economic growth.

For example, she cites Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells. In an article from 2002 entitled O novo paradigma do desenvolvimento e suas instituções (The New Paradigm of Development and Its Institutions,) published in the journal Desenvolvimento em debate, organized by Ana Celia Castro and published by the BNDES, Carlotto says: “(…) these days, the forces of production are not measured in tons of steel or in kilowatts as Henry Ford or Lenin would say, but in the innovative ability to add value through knowledge and information. This model of knowledge-based economic growth is the same everywhere, as was industrialization in the development paradigm” (p. 71, quotation from p. 398 of the article). Carlotto observes that the simplest and most operational dimension of this new economy is “the recognition that economic growth is explained, first and foremost, by the efficiency of the national processes of innovation, so that the most dynamic sectors of the economy would be the sectors that are linked to new technologies, and bio and nanotechnology in particular.” (p. 71).

Carlotto reviews the construction of national innovation systems (NISs) and their theoretical assumptions. She discusses the work of agencies such as the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in the promotion of science as an economic activity. She comments that innovation, according to the 2005 OECD report, “is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (goods or services), a process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, in the organization of the workplace or in (the company’s) external relations. In this regard, innovative activities are scientific, technological, organizational, financial and commercial building blocks that culminate or seek to culminate in the implementation of innovations” (pp. 74-75).

XDS beamline for x-ray diffraction and spectroscopy research at the LNLS

CNPEM photos XDS beamline for x-ray diffraction and spectroscopy research at the LNLSCNPEM photos

When innovation is defined this way, according to the author, “economy and science begin to converge in two ways: On the one hand, technical-scientific progress ‘invades’ the economy to the extent that technological change becomes the driving force to explain economic growth, which makes innovation the government’s most sought-after goal. On the other hand, the economy ‘invades’ scientific and technological activity when it becomes the basis for creating an instrument capable of measuring the performance of innovation in terms of efficiency, so that it can be managed in economic terms” (p. 75).

After this, Carlotto provides the details of “the emergence of innovation as a focus of Brazilian scientific policy.” She states that “the process of reconfiguring Brazilian science and technology policy, since 2001, has incorporated the ‘model’ of innovation policy” of the core countries with little intervention. “In this regard, the New National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation prioritizes the strengthening of the national innovation system, as well as an increase in the efficiency of innovation and a reform of the educational/government system of producing and reproducing knowledge, with special emphasis on incentivizing intellectual property” (p. 97).

This policy is a construction of the second term of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, when Ambassador Ronaldo Sardenberg took over the Ministry of Science and Technology or MCT (from 1999 to 2002). The leading instrument of this policy was the project entitled Diretrizes estratégicas para a ciência, a tecnologia e a inovação (Strategic Guidelines for Science, Technology and Innovation.) It was not by chance that the leadership of this project was entrusted to physicist Cylon Gonçalves da Silva, Unicamp professor and coordinator of the implementation of the LNLS between 1986 and 1997 (see Pesquisa FAPESP, Issue No. 129). Incidentally, Cylon noted in an interview with Carlotto that, as far as he knew, the word innovation first appeared in an official federal government paper entitled Livro verde de ciência e tecnologia (Green Paper on Science and Technology) in 2001, and the paper guided the content of the discussions of the Second Conference, both of which, we note, were coordinated by him (p. 97).

Culture of tumor cells

CNPEM photos Culture of tumor cellsCNPEM photos

But the Innovation Act is “the most important component of the legal and institutional reform of the current national scientific system in Brazil.” Introduced at the Second Conference and then made available for public consultation by the MCT, the law was not enacted until December 2004, the second year of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration. “Therefore, it can be said that the ‘discourse of innovation’ is one of the points of continuity between the two governments–formed by parties whose ideologies are not just different, but in many ways opposites–which makes understanding the dynamics of the social production of innovation an even more interesting problem,” the author says (p. 108).

The researcher’s thought process is supported by R&D investment data in Brazil, by the use of technology and by information on innovation in Brazilian companies, with the conclusion that “there is no consistent demand from Brazilian companies for Brazilian science to be involved in processes of marketing knowledge.” Hence the inevitable question is: “How, then, is it possible to explain the emergence of the new science and technology policy that encourages technological innovation as its central focus? In other words, who is interested in the institutional reform of science currently underway in Brazil?” (p. 127).

After new data were examined, including the finding that between 2000 and 2010, “contrary to expectations, the number of researchers working full time in companies fell” from 44,183 to 41,317, while in higher education, during the same period, this figure increased from 77,465 to 188,000. Carlotto sketches out an answer: “It seems clear (…) that the government/educational system–largely represented by the research universities of the country–was furthered considerably by the process of reorienting the national science policy to improve innovation” (p. 129). What strengthens the key assumption of her work is namely that in Brazil “the discourse of innovation and policy changes related to it can be better understood if they are seen as part of the strategy of scientists who are committed to institutionalizing the Brazilian educational/government system in order to legitimize public investment in science in the post-dictatorship context” (p. 129).

Scientists and their commitment
From that point on, the reader is treated to a fascinating account of how the LNLS updates and replaces traditional patterns of the institutionalization of national science. From the Ouro Preto School of Mines, followed by agronomic institutes and institutes of bacteriological and health research in the late 19th century, and then USP in 1934 and Unicamp in 1965, and almost to the present, the author of Veredas da mudança na ciência brasileira points out one of the predominant patterns of the institutionalization of science in Brazil: “direct negotiations with the government, by men with prestige and good personal relations, sometimes called the institutionalizing heroes of science” (p. 142).

microinjection of virus in the LNBio Genome Modification Laboratory

CNPEM photos Microinjection of virus in the LNBio Genome Modification LaboratoryCNPEM photos

And thus, we find in the next pages, still in the 1950s, physicists José Leite Lopes and Cesar Lattes, in the midst of negotiations with Admiral Álvaro Alberto Santiago Dantas, president of the newly created National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), to build a synchrocyclotron, and three decades later, physicist Rogério Cerqueira Leite as he discusses building the Synchrotron with Renato Archer, Minister of Science and Technology.

“The project to build the ‘great Synchrocyclotron’ exemplifies the workings (…) of the negotiation of the institutionalization of science (…) The dominant pattern was that scientists in small groups that enjoyed significant social prestige negotiated directly with the government bureaucracy for support for major scientific projects. The success of this action depended in turn on the sensitivity of the members of the scientific bureaucracy and their nearly personal power to intercede with those who determined the government’s budget priorities” (p. 165).

There is an account by Cerqueira Leite that is worth reading in order to analyze how this pattern persisted in Brazil. Leite was involved beginning in 1985 in negotiations on the LNLS: “The idea of building the Synchrotron Laboratory began in Rio de Janeiro with Prof. [Roberto] Lobo, who set up a group (…) that began to lead the project. But soon there was a change of government and, apparently, the project was in trouble. It was in this context that Cylon, who was a member of the group, came to me and asked me to help. I invited the council members–Lobo, [José] Pelúcio, and actually everyone who was involved in the project–to hold an initial meeting. Next there was a somewhat more formal meeting in Campinas and it became clear that the site had to be selected [where the laboratory would be built]. I was not a member of the Council, but I did speak with the members and it became rather clear that the best place would be in the state of São Paulo, not at USP, but in São Carlos or Campinas, for technical and not political reasons at first (…). A bit later, when Renato Archer took over, I went to talk to him. During that conversation the decision was made that he would give a magnanimous ‘gift’ to the state of São Paulo, and we then decided that the laboratory would be built here in Campinas. However, the minister did not want Roberto Lobo [to be on the management team] because he didn’t like him. I don’t know why, but Archer did not like him personally. I even took Lobo to the MCT for them to talk and clear up any misunderstandings (…), but I could see that there were some restrictions regarding Lobo, perhaps because he was part of the former government and was a CNPq staff member, and there were some restrictions regarding those people” (pp. 177-178).

Finally, some data should be provided about the external LNLS researchers connected with national institutions who responded to Carlotto’s questionnaire, which was divided into five parts (personal data, academic background, career path, the respondent’s current research and standards for evaluating science): 82% of them were working in public universities, 11% in state research institutions, 1.4% in companies and 1.4% at private universities or schools.

Veredas da mudança na ciência brasileira | Maria Caramez Carlotto | Editora 34 | 384 pages | R$57.00

Veredas da mudança na ciência brasileira | Maria Caramez Carlotto | Editora 34 | 384 pages | R$57.00

As for undergraduate studies, 33% of the researchers had degrees in physics, 28% in chemistry, 19% in engineering, 9% in biological sciences, 4% in agricultural sciences and 4% in pharmacy and biochemistry, while the remaining 3% listed “other undergraduate courses of study.”

In terms of qualification, with 48.7% of the researchers still studying in academia and 51.3% working professionally, it becomes important that 28.9% of the total had completed their doctorate and 32.2% had done post-doctoral work. “When this figure is compared with the data from the 2003 School Census,” according to which 21% of faculty members in higher education in Brazil had Ph.D. degrees, “it is obvious that the LNLS researchers are the elite of higher education in Brazil, especially in the areas of physics, chemistry, engineering and biological sciences. Since nano and biotechnology are priorities for the Brazilian government, this is a ‘strategic’ elite for the national science and innovation policy” says the author (p. 246). Finally, this elite is young (about 70% were between 30 and 50 years old) and predominantly male (66% are men).