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Opinion

Knowledge and power

Support by the State towards academic research is essential and cannot be substituted

Professor Carlos Vogt, chosen by Governor Geraldo Alckmin, to assume the presidency of FAPESP’s Board of Trustees, succeeding professor Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the new Rector of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), who remains integrated into the Collegiate.

Constituted in 1962, during the government of Carvalho Pinto, FAPESP has revealed itself to be a center of excellence with international repercussions. When its creation was being discussed, the importance of knowledge for development was already recognized.At the end of the 10th century, Portugal became the most powerful nation in the world by applying systematic study, research and accumulated knowledge to the problem of oceanic navigation, with the objective of arriving in India and of dominating the spices trade.In the 17th century, Francis Bacon coined the phrase “Knowledge is Power”, highlighting that “there is no work of good government as important as that to provide the world with good and fertile learning” (Francis Bacon –The New Advancement of Learning).

The inclusion of knowledge as an important variable for economic development brings with it, towards an economic theory, education and culture as explicitly determinant parameters for the development of a nation. In Brazil things have not been different. Over the last forty years, for the first time in Brazilian history, the main item on the list of exports is a product of high added value: jet planes, manufactured by the company Embraer. And this is an exemplary case of science and technology creating development. FAPESP’s new president has insisted that to invest in technological innovation is to invest in risk, inventure capital. For example, in high technology there is a challenge for the country in the sector of components for microprocessors. And the role of FAPESP is to continue the policy sustained by ex-President Brito Cruz.

Academic institutions of an international level are essential for any country, and in Brazil we have some that are creating the conditions for development by way of education: alongside FAPESP there are the University of São Paulo (USP), the University of Unicamp, the State São Paulo University (Unesp), aligned to nineteen State research institutions.Scientific activity in Brazil is passing through an important transition: from an artisan activity, to scientific practice that has been turning itself into something much more structured and professional. The State support towards post graduation has allowed for an unprecedented increase in the number of trained scientists. The formation of a well qualified scientific community has created conditions, in the best universities, to the implementation of groups of excellence. The existence of a critical mass of researchers in several branches of knowledge has permitted that daring initiatives, such as the Genome Program led by FAPESP, attain highly recognized success.

The capacity to transform knowledge into wealth and social development is, perhaps, the most fragile point of the current stage of development of science and technology in Brazil. We are lacking the ability to develop training to carry out this mission in a more frequent and systematic manner. The chronic macro-economic difficulties have prevented Brazilian companies from paying the attention they should to the development of their own training in order to generate knowledge and to associate themselves with these activities.

Economic instability, high interest rates, taxation structuring, have been some of the elements that, in our country, have hindered private investment in an activity of risk of long term maturing such as research and development (R&D). The government organs have begun to attend to the importance of science for the establishing of effective public policies. Even with the development of the interaction between the company and the university, which today is much more intense than it was some twenty years ago, the company still poorly develops its internal capacity for R&D. We have more than 70% of our scientists working in the academic world, while in the more developed countries the majority of them work in companies.

There are many more challenges ahead. The proposal by the Ministry of Science and Technology for Sectorial Funds is something new to highlight. With imagination and understanding about the changes in course in the country, the MCT brings into play an important reinforcement in the financing of activities of R&D. The forecast amount of more than R$ 1 billion will raise the country’s investment in R&D from the level of 0.5% of our GNP to 0.6 or 0.7%. Expressive growth, which will place State spending in R&D onto a level comparable with some of the more developed countries (in Germany the State’s investment in R&D is 0.8% of its GNP; in the USA 0.9%; and in South Korea 0.7%).

The support of the State towards academic research is essential and irreplaceable. It is natural that it should be so, since science is a public good, of difficult appropriation in the private world. For this reason, it is not reasonable to expect business to invest in science. The private sector must, by all means, invest in technology. There are two fundamental reasons for this view that science in Brazil must supported more by the State: because there are excellent researchers and because more science will be good for the development of the country. However, for science to bring with it even economic and social development, what is imperative is that business make use of this knowledge, transforming it into technology, turning itself more competitive and generating wealth and employment.

This will only happen if it gives value to knowledge, employing scientists and engineers linked to research and to development. It is worth recalling: while the United States has 800,000 scientists and engineers carrying out research and development in companies and in South Korea there are a similar group of some 75,000, in Brazil there are less than 10,000. Result: South Korea registers in the USA 3,500 patents per year, and from Brazil come 100.

It would be a dangerous illusion for science and technology in São Paulo to believe that the São Paulo system could function exclusively with the resources provided through the São Paulo taxpayer contribution by FAPESP. The fact is that the major part of these resources for scientific research in the State come from Federal Agencies, mainly the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Coordination for the Improvement of Personnel at Tertiary Level (Capes).

The numbers presented by FAPESP during the Covas – Alckmin administration (1995 – 2002) are impressive through their almost vertical growth rate. Many programs of wide ranging impact have been launched. The Genome Project is one of them. Created in 1997, its diverse projects have already shown or have the conditions to show very expressive results, from the economics and social points of view. Among them we can cite: the genetic mapping of the bacterium responsible for the “yellowing disease” that affects 30% of the São Paulo orange trees; the sequencing of the bacterium that causes citric canker and an annual loss in the order of R$ 110 million to the citrus growers of São Paulo State, reducing the production of oranges by 25%; the sequencing of the sugarcane genes responsible for the resistance of the plant and the level of saccharose and of the bacterium that attacks the sugarcane stalks.

More recently there was the launch of the Eucalyptus Genome, to unveil the origin of the problems that can jeopardize the development of the eucalyptus tree. Still within the Genome Program, one can highlight projects with significant results in the area of Public Health. This is the case of the Human Cancer genome, launched in March of 1999, and which has already mapped more than 1 million sequences of the genes of tumors and placed Brazil in second place in international ranking. Or that of the Clinical Cancer Genome, the most recent research project in clinical and surgical activities related to oncology for the development of new forms of diagnoses and cancer treatments, based on the information generated through the Human Cancer Genome. Or, even, that of theSchistosomiasis Genome, aiming to develop new therapies, making possible vaccines and a wider biological understanding of the microorganismSchistosoma mansoni.

On the same line of consideration for Public Health, there are the programs Viral Genetic Diversity Network – which is widening our knowledge about genetic varieties of four viruses: the HIV-1, which causes Aids, the HCV, of hepatitis C, the hantavirus and the respiratory syncytial virus – and the Network of Structural Molecular Biology, which is looking to study the 3-dimensional structures and the functions of proteins associated with the genes sequenced in the Human Cancer Genome,Xylella Genome,Xanthomonas Genome and Sugarcane Genome projects.

Still in this period of 1995 – 2002, the Foundation launched the Biota – FAPESP Program, which is carrying out an inventory, characterizing and analyzing the biodiversity of the State of São Paulo. As well, it launched the Research Program into Public Policies, which has already approved 103 projects covering the areas of Health, the Environment, Education, Administration and Management of Public Policies, Employment and Income, Agriculture and Cattle Raising, Historical Patrimony, Housing, Transport and Urbanization, Law and Security.

In the field of innovation technology, the program for the transfer of knowledge for the academic area to the productivity sector – the Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) program – supports research towards technological innovation directly in businesses with less than one hundred employees. Up until 2001, the program had financed 185 projects, in companies located in 43 municipalities throughout the State of São Paulo. For its part, the Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE) program supports research projects of partnerships between companies of all sizes for the development of new products with a high content of technology or for new productivity processes. Then there is the Sectorial Consortium for Technological Innovation (ConSITec) program, established in 2001, which stimulates the collaboration of research groups with conglomerates of companies within the same sector to resolve technological problems of common interest.

And to finish, it is worth highlighting one of the newest programs, the Integrated System of Hydrometeorology of the State of São Paulo, which is looking to give to the State one of the most modern networks of weather, climate and hydric resources.FAPESP has been showing healthy growth. In 2000, it invested R$ 550 million, and in 2001, almost R$ 600 million. The balance between investment in basic science, applied science and technological research and regarding the demands in the areas of pure science, humanities and biological sciences has been maintained.

FAPESP is linked to the Secretary of State for Science, Technology, Economic Development and Tourism. It is one of the stars that gives pride to the Government of the State of São Paulo and increases our self esteem.

Ruy Martins Altenfelder Silva is the Secretary of State for Science, Technology, Economic Development and Tourism.

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