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  • Brazil's scientists 'deterred from engaging the public'


[BUENOS AIRES] Brazilian scientists cannot fulfil their social duty to engage with the public on matters relating to their research because of how they are evaluated by the government, said a senior Brazilian researcher and science communicator at a meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, earlier this month.

Maria Lucia Maciel is a social scientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and director of Ciência Hoje Institute, which undertakes science communication projects in Brazil. She says that because the system for evaluating science in Brazil ignores science communication activities, scientists are disinclined to fulfil this role.

"Competition for funds between scientists leads them to concentrate on activities that score highly in the evaluation system, such as publishing in international journals," says Maciel. As a result, Brazilian scientists are increasingly writing for specialist academic audiences, and less frequently communicating with wider Brazilian audiences in Portuguese.

Henrique Lins de Barros, a researcher at the Brazilian Centre for Physics Research, agrees. He told SciDev.Net that the evaluation not only affects funding but also the scientist's salary, as a 'productivity fellowship' is given to high-scoring researchers.

Barros lost his productivity fellowship when he became director of the Astronomy Museum in Rio de Janeiro, where his main output shifted from research papers to science communication articles and other related activities.

"My productivity is not included in the Brazilian rating system so my options were to change the main focus of my activities or lose the productivity fellowship," says Barros. In his opinion, instead of stimulating it, the productivity fellowship deters output.

Ildeu de Castro Moreira, head of science popularisation at Brazil's Ministry of Science and Technology, also agrees with the criticisms, but adds, "We need to recognise that things are changing, and Brazil today is very different from 20 years ago".

As an example of positive changes, Moreira cites the science communication committee created in September by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (known as CNPq) — the main Brazilian funding agency.

The new committee will decide guidelines for science communication activities. Its creation means people will be able to apply for money specifically for science communication.

Barros says the new committee is important, but warns "[It] needs to create different strategies for evaluating researchers that do not focus on publishing in international journals."

If not, says Barros, local issues will be ignored as they do not usually make it into international journals. This, he fears, could lead to a lack of relevant local scientific literature.

The meeting, entitled Science, Technology and Society, was organised by the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, the Argentinean Association for the Advancement of Science, and Argentina's Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation.
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