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Letter from the Editor | 207

The impact of individual talent in science

Among the many notable personages featured in this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP, two in particular propel us to pause and reflect about the influence and impact of these individuals, or perhaps more aptly said, their singular effect on the development of certain social practices—in this case, the creation of scientific knowledge and the formation of an environment conducive to doing so. I refer, first of all, to Paulo Vanzolini, who died on April 28 at the age of 89 and whose obituary appears on page 50. Controversial, often labeled as cantankerous and ill-humored, and yet at the same time as a man of subtle, corrosive humor, Vanzolini the scientist played a fundamental theoretical and practical role in the effective establishment of modern zoology in Brazil. The philosopher Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos, scientific coordinator of the design of this magazine, commented that experts are not exaggerating when they describe him as the person who introduced evolutionary zoology in Brazil. And although Vanzolini the composer—who wrote wonderful classics of Brazilian popular music like Ronda and Volta por cima—has been widely recognized for his talent, he is still bound to provoke new, exacting analyses of the breadth of his influence on this aspect of our culture. But perhaps Vanzolini’s least celebrated trait is his brilliant, decisive intelligence in the work of shaping the character of institutions that are central to Brazil’s scientific development. Again making use of the words of Lopes [dos Santos] in a conversation we had about this multi-talented individual, I am referring not only to the Zoology Museum, but also to FAPESP in particular, whose efficient and well-respected modus operandi reflects the visionary spirit and political wisdom of Vanzolini, shining from a distance.

The second fascinating personage on whom I will linger is Michel Rabinovitch, a scientist still fully active at the age of 87, who reveals a few details of the richness of his professional and personal life in an interview with Neldson Marcolin and Ricardo Zorzetto, the magazine’s managing editor and science editor, respectively. The first 15 years of Rabinovitch’s career at USP, when he had already distinguished himself as a great trainer of new scientists, and his next 33 years working at well-respected academic and research institutions in the United States and France–he left Brazil in 1964 to escape the violence of the dictatorship–are etched in a sensitive and generous first-person account that gently draws the reader’s attention to the broader context of the creation of scientific knowledge in Brazil. The interview beginning on page 24 is well worth reading.

This issue’s cover story by special editor Marcos Pivetta on page 18 reports on the simultaneous description of 15 new species of Amazonian birds in scientific articles set for July publication in a special volume of the Handbook of the Birds of the World, an essential reference work for professional and amateur ornithologists. The description represents a Brazilian contribution of major importance for our knowledge of biodiversity, and at the same time constitutes the most significant discovery for Brazilian ornithology in no less than 140 years.

I would also like to highlight an article, also in the Science section, by Igor Zolnerkevic and Ricardo Zorzetto on the new geological explanations proposed for earthquakes in our country (page 44). Yes, Brazil does have earthquakes, though they are always of low to moderate intensity. Nevertheless, they cause a certain amount of distress because there are no public policies or preventive measures in place for coping with them. And lastly, I spotlight the article by our science and technology policy editor Fabrício Marques, concerning the efforts of the São Paulo State Public Archives to digitize documents linked to repression by the dictatorship (page 30)—an endeavor that is likely to have a major impact on historical research and investigation of human rights violations in our country; and the report from our humanities editor Carlos Haag about the interesting treatment accorded to science in the Diário da Noite, a sensationalist newspaper from the business group headed by Assis Chateaubriand (page 78), which broadens our perception about scientific discovery in Brazil. I wish all of you good reading!

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