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One man, one conviction

Alberto Carvalho da Silva died aged 85 years believing in the strengthening of S&T for the development of the country

Three days before his death, professor Alberto Carvalho da Silva ended an extensive study about the statistical history of FAPESP. “He consolidated data about scholarships, assisted grants and projects financed up until the present and brought them together in a single document”, testifies the Foundation’s Director President, Francisco Romeu Landi. Which, apparently, would be only one more piece of research work, but was in truth the last piece of work of one of the most important actors on the Brazilian scientific and technological stage over the last fifty years. Doctor Alberto, as he was known by his peers, was eighty five years of age when he died on the 30th of June, as a consequence of pulmonary fibrosis, and had been having difficulties in breathing and walking.

Even then, he made a point of finishing what he had proposed. “It was natural that he would react in this manner”, says his wife Isa. “He always felt himself to be a sort of father to FAPESP.” Indeed, Alberto Carvalho da Silva had an umbilical relationship with the foundation. It began in 1956, when he founded the Lecturers Association of the University of São Paulo (USP) with other lecturers/researchers such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The institution came about in the fight for the valuation of research activities and of university teaching and in the defense of the autonomy of assistant professors and researchers. But it also had the concern with the installation of FAPESP, envisioned in the state Constitution of 1947.

As its first president and the representative of substitute professors on USP’s University Council, Doctor Alberto handed in to the then State Governor Carvalho Pinto, at the beginning of 1959, a proposal for the institution of a work regime of exclusive dedication, and for the installation of a foundation for supporting research.

“Long before becoming a full professor, he was working to improve the working conditions for researchers”, says Eduardo Krieger, the director of the Hypertension Unit at the Heart Institute (Incor) and president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ACM in the Portuguese acronym). During 1959, two proposals were approved: a new university career structure and the installation of FAPESP, a work group having been formed for the drawing up and implantation of the law. Curiously enough, the discussion on the law took place exactly while Doctor Alberto was in the United States, between October 1959 and the end of 1960, at the Physiology Department of Chicago University and at the Nutrition Department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Boston.

His interest in strategies for the development of science and technology came about as a consequence of his intense performance as a researcher. Doctor Alberto was Portuguese – born in Porto in 1916, and as a young boy came to Brazil. He studied at USP’s Medical School and graduated in 1940 that was also the year of his naturalization. As an observer, he attended the courses of Philosophy and Social Sciences as well as Chemistry, all at USP. After his graduation, he began a regular career. First he became a second assistant at the Physiology Department. Then, he became the first assistant, substitute professor, assistant professor and in 1964 a full professor. Until he was “retired” from the university by the military dictatorship in 1969, by means of the Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5), he had always worked with lecturing and research. After this period, Doctor Alberto went on to work exclusively in the area of political science.

“During the 40’s and 50’s, he was a better researcher than those who preceded him”, evaluated Gerhard Malnic, a full professor at the Physiology and Biophysics Department of the Biomedical Sciences Institute of USP and the director of the Advanced Studies Institute (IEA). “He was one of the few who published articles in foreign magazines and was responsible for an expressive improvement in the Physiology Department.”.

Malnic, who did his doctorate under the supervision of Doctor Alberto, says that he always gave importance to teaching and to research – it was his performance as a professor and researcher that added weight to his political actions. “Nobody gets to being really important politically without having a scientific background”, believes Malnic. The mood of the time helped. “The university had begun to produce young people interested in research during the decade of the 40’s, in the majority formed by the influence of the visiting professors to the Philosophy, Sciences and Letters Faculty”, said Doctor Alberto in an interview given to professors Amélia Império Hamburger, Shozo Motoyama and Marilda Nagamini.

In order to perfect his interest in nutrition, Doctor Alberto won a scholarship through the Rockefeller Foundation and spent two years (1946-47) at the Nutrition Department of Yale University in the United States, to which he journeyed with his wife Isa – they had married in 1944. They returned to Brazil in a cargo ship, the only form of bringing back the equipment purchased for the Medical School. “We also brought back a colony of mice to be used in the faculty’s laboratories”, she recalls. “Alberto kept the cage with the animals inside in a small cabinet in our cabin and used blotting paper as a tray covering, which he changed daily. “When he took over his functions as a full professor at the Physiology Department, he reformed the at that time the archaic college’s animal breeding unit, which went on to produce animals (mice) of known lineage, guaranteeing quality to the research. As well, he was one of the few who had been using animals such as guinea pigs in their work in nutrition.

After this return to Brazil, he initiated his long crusade in favor of national science. He participated in the creation of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) during 1948, and founded the Lecturers Association of USP in 1956, and lobbied like nobody else to convince the then Governor Carvalho Pinto to take FAPESP off the paper and stand it on its own two feet. During 1962, the Foundation was installed and Doctor Alberto was invited to join its first Board of Trustees. He remained there until January of 1968, when he became the scientific director.

In April of 1969 he was “retired” by the AI-5. Doctor Alberto never discovered the reasons for his banning. However, he knew that the roots for his dismissal lay more within the internal disputes at the Medical School than any within the military regime itself. “Things had been brewing since the times of the examinations for full professors. The examination was something terrible at that time because of the authority of the full professor”, he told professors Motoyama, Marilda and Amélia.

In 1964 – the year of the military coupe and during which Doctor Alberto had become a full professor -, he was included on a list of more than fifty “left-wingers” who were “contaminating” the university. The horrific detail of this story is that the report was prepared by a commission of professors from the very university itself. As a result, Doctor Alberto was interrogated for five hours in a Military Police Probe and then set free – the military themselves could find nothing against him. However, in 1969, with theAI-5 in place there was not much room for understanding. He was dismissed from USP, but continued as FAPESP’s scientific director until the edict No AI-10, which prohibited any person previously punished for institutional acts from exercising any public function.

At 53 years of age, Doctor Alberto had become unemployed, without being able to teach or enter into research. The solution was to beat on the door of the Ford Foundation, which integrated him into its technical corps in Rio de Janeiro. “As an assessor of a foundation, I had no more impediments. I journeyed throughout Brazil, went abroad, mixed in with government business and nobody ever opposed me. I don’t know if this was because of protection by the Ford Foundation, but they never made any restriction on me”, he told. The researcher remained at the Ford Foundation from 1969 until 1980 working in the area of nutrition (as a political scientist and not as an investigator). During 1980 he was reinstated at USP as a physiology professor and Director of the Department at the Biomedical Sciences Institute (ICB) and in 1984 returned to FAPESP as its Director President, a position which he held until 1993.

It was an important period for the future of the Foundation. In 1988, during the Federal Constitution, the text that authorized the States to link resources directly into science and technology, was approved. Then in 1989, in the State Constitution, he worked intensely to convince the parliamentarians to approve an increase in the funding from 0.5% to 1% of the State’s taxation income that had to be passed on to FAPESP. “He had impressive perseverance in his person-to-person dealings with the parliamentarians”, says Francisco Romeu Landi. His conviction that the states must actively participate in the financing of the system of science and technology, following the very successful model of the State of São Paulo, led him to become one of the founders of the Forum of FAPs (State Research Foundations) during 1998, when he was already 81 years of age.

The entity brings together research foundations from all over the country. Doctor Alberto was also Honorary President of the SBPC and a member of the ABC. Still during the period in which he was with FAPESP, he was one of the leaders of the conducting of an important project: the Animal Breeding Center. “In 1983, there was an interdisciplinary group from various universities who were asking for an improvement in the university animal breeding units”, explains Humberto de Araújo Rangel, a professor at the Biology Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and president of the non-government organization Special Research Institute for Society (Ipes).

Doctor Alberto chaired the commission that would decide whether FAPESP would invest in the creation of an animal breeding unit of international standard and he visited all of them personally in the state of São Paulo to get to know them personally. After the commission decided which of the universities would be able to count upon the Multi-Institutional Centers for the Animal Breeding Units (Cemib), he had the study translated into English and sent it off to an external assessor, so as to avoid any accusation of bias.

In the end, USP, Unicamp and the Federal University of São Paulo won the financing for the installation of the Cemibs. The work was recognized by the International Council for Laboratory Animals as a project of large impact, which contributed towards the formation of well trained teams in the Science and Technology of Animal Laboratories in three state institutions. “He coordinated all of the process in a notable manner, without imposing his personality and without privileging anyone”, says Rangel, one of those responsible for the setting up of the Cemib/Unicamp.

Over the last few years, Doctor Alberto dedicated himself to meetings at the IEA, in which he had coordinated the area of policies in science and technology. “He was everything, but rhetoric”, defined FAPESP’s current President, Carlos Vogt, who participated in the institute’s meetings. “He had a lot of patience, always spoke with a level tone of voice and demonstrated a lot of firmness and conviction when he put forward ideas and positions.” These characteristics are cited by all those who knew him. “Few people have ever reflected so profoundly about FAPESP”, testifies José Fernando Perez, the Foundation’s scientific director. “I looked upon him as a guide, one who helped us to sort out the actions and the organization of the Foundation.” Perez recalls that Doctor Alberto had the exact perception of what was FAPESP’s mission, of how to finance the activity of research, and about the relationship that must prevail between the different groups responsible for its conduct: the Board of Trustees, and the threedirectors of the Executive Board.

When FAPESP completed its 30 years, in 1992, Doctor Alberto wrote a book little known by the scientific community. In FAPESP 30 Anos [FAPESP Thirty Years], he tells the history of the institution, gave examples of important projects supported by the Foundation, specified their returns and explained what were the ongoing research lines at that time. Now, ten years later, the work on the statistical history of the institution, which he completed just before his death, will also be available in book form. It will be a excellent opportunity to get to know the finishing work of one of the personalities who most influenced the destiny of Brazilian Science and Technology.