For the first time in a decade, two rival candidates competed last week for the post of president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (BAS), the most traditional and selective scientific association in Brazil.
Since 1993, physiologist Eduardo Moacyr Krieger had been re-elected unopposed to the position four times in a row. This year, however, the 350 full members of the academy found a second name on the ballot paper: Luiz Hildebrando da Silva Pereira.
The result of the ballot, announced on Friday (26 March), was a clear win for Krieger who now begins a fifth mandate. But the strong support shown for Hildebrando, who won 94 of the 297 votes cast (compared with Krieger's 199 votes), suggests that a substantial number of academy members favour a change in direction.
During the election campaign, Krieger stressed his desire that the academy should continue to build its role in international affairs, as well as back government efforts to strengthen Brazil's science base. In contrast, Hildebrando claimed that the academy does not do enough to promote public awareness of science, or engage in political debates around science-based issues.
Krieger and Hildebrando have a lot in common. Both are physicians, 75 years old, and internationally known researchers. Krieger made his name as a hypertension researcher at the Heart Institute of the University of São Paulo, the largest public university in Brazil. Hildebrando spent three decades carrying out research in parasitology at the Pasteur Institute in France before returning to Brazil in 1997 to set up a centre for tropical medicine in the north of the country.
Krieger's 10-year mandate has been marked primarily by the increasing international role of the academy, involving it in a number of global scientific projects. He points out that, over the same period, the academy has also played a significant role in national science, for example establishing the National Council of Science and Technology, a high-level body that advises the Brazilian president on science-related issues.
"The Brazilian Academy of Sciences has played a major role in science and technology policy at government level," says Krieger. "We feel that this has led to a strong foundation for the science and technology systems in our country."
Defending his bid for a fifth mandate, Krieger told the academy members that, if elected, he would continue to focus his energy on two fronts: improving international cooperation and strengthening the science and technology base within the country, both tasks being unfinished.
Hildebrando accepted that the academy has developed a significant role at the international level. But he argued that it has not been so effective in disseminating information about science, or in analysing national problems that science and technology could help to solve.
He also claimed that the academy has only played a "minor role" in building bridges between the scientific community and other social institutions, including universities and private companies.
"We would like to see a more active and dynamic academy, and this will need implementing structural changes, even in its criteria for selecting and electing its members," Hildebrando said during the election campaign.
The BAS was founded in 1916 by a group of mainly engineers and physicians keen to establish basic science in Brazil. Since then, several former presidents have held consecutive mandates. Indeed two earlier presidents each held the post for 14 years.Link to the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (in Portuguese)