[RIO DE JANEIRO] Doubts are growing within Brazil’s scientific community about some of the changes in science and technology policy that are being introduced by the new government of president Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva.
The sharpest comments so far have come from Ennio Candotti, the president of the country’s largest scientific body, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC).
In an interview with a leading daily newspaper, O Globo, Candotti criticised Lula's government for disrupting several long-standing scientific initiatives, claiming that some of the government’s policy were ill thought-out, and could end up damaging the country’s science base.
For example, he criticised the new government’s decision to merge what had previously been an independent department for information technology (IT) within the Ministry of Science and Technology with another department that is responsible for a range of other technologies.
Francelino Grando, secretary of IT and Technology Policy — the department that is now responsible for Brazil’s IT policy — claims that having its own department meant that IT was previously isolated from other areas of government. "The joining of the two departments has given IT prominence, and made it an important part of the country's set of technologies," he says.
But Candotti says that he does not think this is a sensible move. "It's fair enough that the ministry of science and technology wants to provide new guidance to science policy," he says. "But this shouldn't be done to the detriment of what has been developed over years."
Meanwhile Lula himself has urged the scientific community to hold the government to its promises to boost funding for science and to increase the number of new PhDs from 6,000 to 10,000 by the end of his government.
"In the following years, our goal is to double funding for science — including both public and private money — in order to reach 2 per cent of gross domestic product," he said at a meeting of the National Council for Science and Technology this month.
But Candotti says that current commitments to science funding in the near future are insufficient to reach these ambitious targets, and criticises the "token budget" of 15 million reais (US$5.2 million) that has been awarded to FNDCT, a national fund for scientific and technological development that supports Brazil's research institutes.