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Letter from the Editor | 209

Lessons from readers

This month, instead of commenting on the issue’s highlights as I always (or nearly always) do, I’m going to take the liberty of saying a few words about what we hear from readers seeking to establish a more direct dialogue with us, which we always welcome. Readers’ messages to the editors of a periodical publication usually reveal important clues about the issues that animate them the most, and offer a basis to explain the link—a real, emotional connection at times—that they have established with the magazine or journal in question. Such messages are, therefore, a valuable editorial guide to be borne in mind by the professionals who endeavor to flesh out the material they are charged with, hopefully imbuing it with substance and appeal. It is no different at Pesquisa FAPESP. At this point, however, we have to look for the difference in nature, if there is one, between what our classic, traditional readers are saying and what is being said by those who follow us on the social networks. These latter may be fertile ground for material that helps us understand the contemporary reader of specialized communications vehicles that, albeit in print format, reach the public via different media and platforms.

Letters sent by those whom I refer to as classic readers—via the Internet, or sometimes by postal mail—primarily bring up the major articles in the magazine. They discuss the relevance or importance of the content, call attention to the quality of the writing, linger over long, rapid-fire interviews, develop arguments to underpin their praise or criticism, and make clear the writer’s preference for one or another editor. Sometimes they are hand-written messages, like those that used to come from Professor Luiz Henrique Dias Tavares, author of the classic Independência do Brasil na Bahia (Brazil’s Independence in Bahia) (see Pesquisa FAPESP, Issue No. 119). That memory is quite apropos on this second day of July as I write these words, because it concerns the most important civic date in the state of Bahia, marking the end of the fight for Brazil’s independence and the victory over the Portuguese in July 1823. Or they are like the ones sent as recently as June 26 by Antonio Amaro, whom I conjecture to be a Portuguese reader living in São Paulo, given that he sent us one of his enthusiastic letters when the magazine published its November 2012 cover article on the historical reasons for the multisecular longevity of the Lusitanian Empire. In these latter cases, the letters are infused with a tone so gently affectionate that they strike us as touching and, above all, reinvigorating.

And what about the social networks, that vast, new, ebullient force field? The messages there stand apart for their genuinely argumentative, critical language, which is unsuited to the dynamic of this space. But do the 140-character-long capsule comments on Twitter, and scarcely longer comments on Facebook and other networks, offer a different perspective on the magazine?

Let’s take a look. In the June 21-27 period, the topic that generated the most clicks from the social networks to the Pesquisa FAPESP website—nearly one million, which is small for websites in general but significant for our magazine—was a small note, less than 1,500 characters, originally published in the Careers section of the print issue, about the blog Ciência Prática (Practical Science) created by physicist Eduardo Yukihara to offer tips on academic careers. At a distant second, with about one-fourth as many clicks, was a note written for our website about Unicamp’s high ranking among universities less than 50 years old. In the previous week, the champion click-generator was a four-page article on trees in the Mantiqueira Range that capture water through their leaves, followed by another small Careers note that received less than half as many clicks, about a former sugarcane cutter who through great effort forged an academic career, received a doctorate at USP and is now a professor at PUC in São Paulo. In those two weeks, however, longer articles received a following, including an article on teaching chemistry, the ping-pong interview with epidemiologist Cesar Victora and the cover story on the new Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) financed by FAPESP.

What conclusions can be drawn from this feedback? I asked Caio Túlio Costa, a writer on the Pesquisa FAPESP editorial board and well-respected scholar of social network communications, among his many other professional credentials. “Information consumption on the net, which is primarily the domain of people in the 18 to 35 age bracket, is much faster and more image-based than in the traditional media,” he said. Titles, subtitles, images and infographics are much more responsive than extensive articles to their rapid need for information, even though readers who come to the Pesquisa FAPESP website via Twitter spend an average of five minutes navigating through it—astonishing, because that much time is an eternity in this universe! But the most surprising aspect of the phenomenon today, Costa observes, is the extensive use of the social networks in Brazil, such as Orkut, which once again points to something that the classical interpreters of our country used to emphasize: Brazilians are profoundly connected to one another, and exposure to dialogue is in their nature.

And with that, the time has come to wish our audience—from whom we learn so much—good reading!