In movies or on television, tics, strange manias, or compulsive repetitions of apparently unnecessary behaviors can make some characters much more intriguing and, for that very reason, increase their potential to fascinate. To cite only two well-known examples, we recall Melvin Udall, the novelist in As Good as It Gets (1997), a role that won Jack Nicholson the Oscar for best actor in 1998, and detective Adrian Monk, central character of a very successful U.S. television series launched in 2002, who familiarized TV audiences all over the world with the face of actor Tony Shalhoub and, at the same time, with a very plausible portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The former had a panicky fear of catching some disease through contact with other people; he washed his hands with astonishing frequency, using a new bar of soap each time. Among other traits, the detective could not stand any asymmetry, any deviation from the geometric norm into which he wanted the world around him to fit. If allowed, not only would he straighten pictures on the walls, but he would, at the scene of a crime, even adjust the positions of victims whose death he was called upon to investigate.
Outside the world of fiction, however, as our science editor Ricardo Zorzetto observes, OCD can be more serious and more complicated than on the screen. It is fed primarily by unwanted thoughts, the obsessions that invade without respite the mind of a person who suffers from the disorder, creating exacerbated anxiety and irrational fears that are followed, in most cases, by an uncontrollable need to repeat certain mechanical and mental rituals. Although it has been studied on different fronts since the 19th century and was even the subject of investigations by Freud, who called it “obsessive neurosis” and explored it most audaciously in his famous notes on The Rat Man of 1907, OCD is still a complicated and challenging disease. Strictly speaking, it is not yet known what actually provokes it or unleashes it. That is why a series of studies coordinated by Brazilian researchers is so significant in expanding the understanding of the disorder and hence identifying a scientific basis for more effective treatments. Those research studies prompted the cover story of this issue, which begins on page 18.
Shifting from scientific knowledge in psychiatry to a technological innovation that has a direct effect on the economy, I would like to highlight the report on progress made in the technical quality of ceramics produced in the state of São Paulo, especially at the ceramics industrial complex in Santa Gertrudes, in the Rio Claro region, that has helped make Brazil the world’s second largest manufacturer of ceramic wall and floor tile, ranking behind only China. Until 2001, Brazil was the world’s fourth largest producer of ceramic tiles and São Paulo accounted for 40% of that production (473 million m2). It was then that a proposal submitted by researchers from the Ceramics Center of Brazil (CCB) and companies from Santa Gertrudes, in partnership with other researchers affiliated with universities and research institutes, obtained substantial support from FAPESP’s Sectoral Consortia for Research and Innovation (ConSITec) program. The result: a significant improvement in the quality of Brazilian ceramic materials. Moreover, São Paulo’s share of the nation’s output rose to 70% of the 866 million m2 produced in 2012. Details of this trend are found in the article by Yuri Vasconcelos, starting on page 68.
To conclude, I would like to recommend a report that touches on a sensitive topic related to the contemporary development of this country: scientific education. In the text that begins on page 32, Fabrício Marques, our science and technology policy editor, attempts to show the connection between participation by high school students in the Science Olympiad and the formation of new researchers. He points out how winning medals in those contests can serve as a special incentive for young people to pursue a career in science. Enjoy your reading!Republish