Brazil downgrades science ministry

Marcos Corre0302a-Temer flickr.jpg
Copyright: Marcos Corrêa / Flickr oficial Michel Temer

Speed read

  • Interim president merges science and telecom ministries
  • Researchers fear telecom issues could overshadow their concerns
  • Several Brazilian research institutes lobbied against the merger

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Brazil’s interim president has alarmed researchers by merging the country’s science and telecommunication ministries.

Just a few hours after assuming power following a Senate vote on 12 May, Michel Temer announced the creation of the ministry of science, technology, innovations and communication. This means science has lost its independent seat in Brazil’s government, and researchers fear their concerns could be overshadowed by issues around telecommunications.

“The former [distinct] ministries had different areas of expertise and different evaluation criteria,” says Luiz Davidovich, the president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. “It will be hard to manage them as a set.”

Davidovich says that, in the past, science and technology were often banded together with industry and commerce. As this did not work well, Brazil created the ministry of science and technology in 1985, he tells SciDev.Net.

“The sustainable future of a country is guaranteed by science and technology, and Brazil cannot stay behind.”

Luiz Davidovich, Brazilian Academy of Sciences  

Until this month, the science ministry was the prime coordinator of science in the country, overseeing around 20 research institutes devoted to areas as diverse as mathematics, space science and Amazon research.

Brazil’s sudden leadership change came after the Senate voted to impeach president Dilma Rousseff. She is accused of trying to hide irregularities in the financial reporting of state oil company Petrobas. But critics say the move is a power grab by the country’s wealthy elite.

As Brazil slips deeper into a political crisis following the impeachment, the country’s researchers fear funding cuts.

“Other countries raise their investments in science and technology during crises,” says Davidovich. “The sustainable future of a country is guaranteed by science and technology, and Brazil cannot stay behind.”

The new ministry is led by Gilberto Kassab, a former city mayor of Sao Paulo and minister of cities in the previous government.

After being warned of the looming restructure, 14 Brazilian research institutes teamed up to convince the government to protect science. On 12 May, just before Temer came to power, the institutions, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, sent Temer — then vice-president — a manifesto highlighting the importance of having an independent science ministry.

“The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation is the engine of national development,” they said in their statement.