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06/09/2017

Opinion article: Scientific diaspora and the crisis in science


Renato Sérgio Balão Cordeiro e José Paulo Gagliardi Leite*

In recent decades, Brazil has implemented a successful program aimed at training of highly qualified human resources.

According to information from the Center for Management and Strategic Studies, we observed a significant increase in the number of PhDs graduated between 1997 and 2014, from 3,500 to 16,729 doctors / year. In this context, it is worth noting the importance of the Programa Institucional de Bolsas de Iniciação Científica [Institutional Scholarship Program for Scientific Initiation] (Pibic) for the training of young investigators from undergraduate courses.

The qualitative and quantitative increase in postgraduate courses and Pibic materially contributed to the vigorous increase in our scientific productivity, highlighting the number of publications in indexed international journals. As a result, Brazil has started to occupy the 13th place in the ranking of the most productive countries, ahead of the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

Such a scenario was due to the robust investment in universities and research institutes - such as USP, Unifesp, UFABC, UFRJ, UFMG, UFRGS, UERJ, UFC, UFG, UnB, Fiocruz, Embrapa, Butantan Institute, Research Units of MCTI&C - by federal and state funding agencies (CNPq, Capes, Finep, Fapesp, Faperj, Fapemig, Fapeam, Fapespa, FAPPR, among others). Brazil has started to consolidate a consistent policy in the field of Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I), absolutely crucial and strategic for our development.

Significant investments in ST&I have been the path taken by the G7 nations - the US, Germany, UK, Japan, France, Italy and Canada - given the impact of social, political and financial return, in the form of development, improving quality of life, global leadership and wealth to these countries. This policy allowed for a rapid progress in different fields, such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, pharmacogenomics, cybernetics, nanotechnology, computers, mobile phones, telecommunications, with a vast application, from the development of products essential to public health, such as vaccines and medicines, stem cells usage, to the new achievements in the field of space research.

However, unfortunately and against history, the federal government implemented a dramatic and wrong cut of around 44% in resources for ST&I in the first half of 2017, generating a cascade effect of funding reduction and scholarship grants to the system in general. Such initiative jeopardizes the ST&I project in the country, which is about to collapse. We are facing a critical, unthinkable, unworthy situation, where several universities and research institutes are in shortage situation. As a result of the bankruptcy of the government, the situation of Rio de Janeiro is particularly catastrophic, with almost an absolute paralysis of Faperj and state universities (UERJ, UENF, Unezo), with dramatic delays in the payment of wages, scholarships to students, research notices, cancellation of aids...

The perspective is also bleak at the federal level, where the prohibition of new public sector recruitment examinations contributes to the impoverishment and scrapping of the institutions, either by the emptying of their qualified manpower - loss of senior investigators - or by the total demotivation and insecurity of young investigators in joining and pursuing career in research and academic teaching. Our country is at risk of suffering the largest scientific diaspora in history, with the drainage of its most qualified and talented brains to more advanced countries, where ST&I is the driving force behind wealth, development and social welfare.

The president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Luiz Davidovich, was quite emphatic about the budget cut when he said: "If we were at war, people might think this is a foreign government strategy to destroy our country. But, in fact, are we doing this to ourselves" (Ascom/ABC).

We hope the government will have the sensitivity of reversing the current scenario by means of expanding the resources destined to ST&I. Such an initiative would avoid the deconstruction of the achievements accomplished over decades. After all, it is one of the basic pillars of a nation with a vision of the future, where science plays a fundamental role for the country's growth. To paraphrase Walter Oswaldo Cruz: "Think about if only the strong nations can do science, or if it is science which makes them strong".

*Renato Sérgio Balão Cordeiro is an investigator of Instituto Oswaldo Cruz (IOC/Fiocruz), senior investigator of CNPq and a titular member of Brazilian Science Academy;

José Paulo Gagliardi Leite is Executive Officer and titular investigator of Instituto Oswaldo Cruz (IOC/Fiocruz), investigator 1A CNPq, scientist of Nosso Estado (Faperj).

The text was originally published in Correio Braziliense (August 10, 2017).

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