December 2, 2023

Science and elections | Merval Pereira

Tomorrow is National Science Day, and to celebrate, the Instituto Serrapilheira, the first private institute for the support of science and the dissemination of science in Brazil, and Maranta, the Political Intelligence Agency for Sustainability, repeat a successful action that occurred in July 2020., when 60 spaces in the press, including So this column, dealt with the scientific process agenda. The initiative was part of the #ScientistWorking campaign, which sought to explain how science works, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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This time, they took up the topic again, now with science in the context of elections, with the aim of showing that science plays an essential role in the development of the country – it transcends politics, economics, education, health, environment and culture – and, therefore, should have a prominent place in the electoral debate. I went to hear physicist Luiz Davidovich, former president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, who was optimistic about the progress of science:

We live in wonderful times of science and technology innovation. This is the age of big data and artificial intelligence. of biotechnology applied to agriculture and human health, with genetic therapies that make it possible to treat diseases that have hitherto been incurable; Meat grown in the laboratory using stem cell technology, reducing pollution from large-scale livestock farming; of quantum computers. New, less polluting energy sources, such as hydrogen cells; of high-speed wireless communications, with 6G, is already under development and a hundred times faster than 5G. Scientific knowledge advances with sudden acceleration and with the potential to revolutionize once again the daily life of humanity.

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But given the current global make-up, this progress may not be for everyone, Davidovich warns:

The disparity in investments in research and development increases inequality between countries, causing a scientific and technological divide that significantly limits the distribution of the benefits of science. In 2019, the United States invested $613 billion in research and development (research and development), or 3.1% of GDP ($1,866 per capita). Looking at purchasing power parity, China invested $515 billion in the same year (2.2% of GDP), or $368 per capita, while Brazil invested $38 billion in 2017 (1.3% of GDP). GDP), or US$181 per capita. Many countries are boosting funding for scientific projects, motivated by disagreement over competition between major powers, a supply crisis, concern about climate change and the possibility of new epidemics caused by deforestation, which could release viruses in the forest for the urban environment.

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The former president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences warns that the distance between Brazil and more developed countries is increasing:

The sudden cuts to the science and technology budget, now added to withholding resources (a name coined to circumvent the emergency ban under previous legislation), slashed the budget for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, which, for 2022, is the smallest in the past 10 years. Accumulated losses since 2014, including those that occurred in 2022, could reach R$100 billion, according to the Knowledge Observatory.

Davidovich enumerates:

Investment in education increased from 19% of the union’s investment budget in 2012 to 8% in 2022. Scholarships for graduates from Federal Agencies (CNPq and Capes) have not been adjusted since April 2013, due to inflation in a period of over 60%. Federal universities may stop in August, if their budget is not corrected.

The education of the Brazilian population, already precarious, tends to get worse, he says, noting:

Only 21% of the population aged 25-64 have completed higher education, and fewer than 900 researchers per million inhabitants in the country. The average number of researchers in OECD countries is 4,000 researchers per million inhabitants.

For Davidovich, the electoral debate cannot ignore these issues, which are fundamental to the country’s future:

That’s why I hope that, in the coming months, candidates and voters will remember that science is just as important as other topics of public interest, such as health, education, and security, both in debates and at the polls.

Me too.