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  • Brazil prioritises science popularisation

[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil's new science and technology minister, Roberto Amaral, has promised that communicating science to the public will be one of his top priorities.

He has also called for scientists to be better rewarded, both in terms of higher wages and a suitable working environment.

Speaking last week at his inauguration, Amaral, a political scientist, writer and vice-president of the Brazilian Socialist Party, said that science should become part of everyday life, and that all Brazilians should understand the importance of research and technological innovation in improving their quality of life.

Brazil’s new government, led by Workers Party leader Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva, has not released any firm proposals about how it intends to boost science communication. But it has made a commitment to double the budget for science and technology by the end of Lula's term (see Brazil pledges to double science budget, 22 November 2002).

In his speech, Amaral pointed out that that researchers' wages are now lower than at any point during the past decade, and that fellowships for graduate students have not been adjusted to take account of currency deflation.

Furthermore a lack of funding has meant that Brazil is offering hardly any new fellowships, he said. At present, only 16 per cent of masters students, and 30 per cent of PhD students in Brazil, receive fellowships.

He also underlined the importance of addressing the social aspect of science. "Economic and social development, [more equitable] income distribution, poverty reduction and the reduction of dramatic social, individual and interregional differences are not possible without high and stable investment in science and technology", he said.

Amaral commended his predecessor, the diplomat Ronald Sandenberg, for stressing the value of applied science.

He also praised the rapid progress of Brazilian research: "Some years ago, Brazil produced fewer papers in high-level scientific journals than Iran or Iraq," he said. "Nowadays, Brazil produces about 9,000 papers a year, putting the country in the 17th position in the world science ranking."

But Amaral criticised Sandenberg for neglecting basic research, for failing to work closely with other government departments, and for a lack of democratic decision-making on science-related issues.

He also pointed out that, despite the recent increase, Brazil still produces only 1.3 per cent of the world's scientific research papers. "Brazilian science is performing below its potential, and is far removed from our current needs," he said. "Considering the size of our population and economy in the world scenario, Brazil should be publishing at least twice the number of papers and producing about 10,000 [instead of 6,000] new PhDs per year".

The new minister expressed concern at the inequality resulting from the concentration of scientific activity in particular parts of the country. For example, while 50 per cent of new PhDs live in southern Brazil, less than 10 per cent are in the north.

Click here for Amaral's full speech (in Portuguese)
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