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Scientists renounce national honor

Marcos Corrêa/PR/Flickr

In an open letter published on November 6, 21 scientists awarded this year’s National Order of Scientific Merit (ONMC) renounced the honor, which is bestowed by the Brazilian federal government for contributions to science, technology, and innovation in the country. The move came after President Jair Bolsonaro decided, on November 5, to remove the names of Marcus Vinícius Lacerda of the Foundation for Tropical Medicine, who led a study showing that chloroquine is ineffective against COVID-19, and Adele Schwartz Benzaken of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), who studies sexually transmitted diseases and was dismissed from her position at Brazil’s Ministry of Health in 2019, allegedly because she published a booklet on preventing these diseases for transgender men. Lacerda and Benzaken had been named to receive the honor in a decree issued on November 4 and signed by the president. On the 5th, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, which participates in the process of selecting candidates for the award, issued a statement expressing its indignation. “This act, unprecedented in this country and typical of authoritarian regimes, is yet another attack on science, innovation, and national intelligence,” read the text. In the open letter published on the 6th, the 21 recipients who renounced the honor expressed their disapproval of the arbitrary exclusion of their two colleagues. On November 10, in another open letter, more than 200 scientists and previous ONMC recipients defended Lacerda and Benzaken, describing their rejection as “the culmination of a process of undervaluing and denying science.”