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Preconceived notions reassessed

Pesquisa FAPESP, in its recent issues, has been bringing us in its humanities section articles that show new paths for consistent thinking about the historical relations between the United States and Brazil – far beyond the narrowness of leftist jargon, which transforms any trait or nuance of these relations into an expression of so-called Yankee imperialism, or the acritical adulation of the right, which transforms each act of the government or of American firms connected with Brazil into a decision inspired by the wisdom of big brother, up in the north. In this issue, the article by Carlos Haag, our humanities editor, about Fordlândia, Henry Ford’s clumsy attempt to establish a rubber plantation in the Amazon Region, between 1927 and 1945, followed by a substantial text on the economic and political impact of the smuggling, by Henry Wickham, back in 1876, of rubber tree seeds in the same region, form an articulated material of such value that it was elevated, perforce, to the position of this issue’s cover feature. I am referring here to value both in terms of new historical research information, which helps us to revisit our thinking about the aforementioned bilateral relations – but, in this specific case, to the multilateral relations that challenged Brazil in its effort to establish itself as a modern nation in the early twentieth century – and in terms of the journalistic text, outstandingly cohesive while it ventures safely into the multiple dimensions and facets of the theme under discussion. Thus, I insistently recommend reading all this fascinating material.

I would like to take advantage of this mention of bilateral relations to highlight the article, on page 32, by Fabrício Marques, our scientific and technological policy editor, on Brazil’s two new satellites, one of which is a joint effort with China. They are expected to provide us with full coverage of the Earth in far less time than what Cbers-2B currently offers (5 days vs. 26 days), besides improving the efficiency of monitoring in the Amazon Region. Regarding Amazonia-1, an entirely Brazilian satellite scheduled to go on-stream in 2012 (the other, Cbers-3, should be up and running in 2011), an agreement with the United Kingdom is being discussed, which would involve its carrying an English camera with resolution in the order of 10 meters. This would certainly contribute substantially to the improvement of Deter, the System for Detecting Deforestation in Real Time, and of Inpe, the National Space Research Institute.

This edition’s science section raised doubts as to which should be its main article: perhaps the findings of the Sleep Institute, which is one of FAPESP’s Cepids (Centers for Research, Innovation and Dissemination), on the worrying ills that torment the nocturnal rest of the inhabitants of the City of São Paulo. After all, it is a sizeable and advanced epidemiological piece of research that pioneers crossing objective techniques with subjective surveys. Designed to inform how São Paulo adults sleep, it found that an astounding 33% of people suffer from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. One should highlight that the mean international figures regarding this problem range from two percent to eight percent. It is well worth checking out the details in the article by Carlos Fioravanti, our special editor. On the other hand, the findings set out in the article by Ricardo Zorzetto, our science editor on a major international study about the delicate subject of suicide, which is still taboo among many contemporary societies, also merit attention. The research was carried out at the initiative of the World Health Organization; Brazil took part in it through a group led by psychiatrist Neury Botega, a professor at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). One of the conclusions is that a counseling session with a mental healthcare specialist followed by a phone call at intervals of a few weeks, for a year and a half, was sufficient to reduce the suicide rate by a factor of ten among people who had already tried to put an end to their lives.

Finally, I highlight in this edition an article by our technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira, which is based on a study that may seem odd or unnecessarily scatological to the few people who are used to the subject, but that is actually serious and important for a country with the world’s largest number of heads of cattle (about 180 million) and that is also concerned about the emission of greenhouse gases. Brazil’s bovines, via eructation (belching, in colloquial language), release some eight million tons of methane a year. This volume of gas, as we are assured in the research discussed as from page 80, can be cut substantially by means of changes in the pastures.