Brazilian presidential campaign ‘rushed and vague’ on science

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Copyright: Zackary Canepari/Panos

Speed read

  • Current president Rousseff’s manifesto only mentions science infrequently
  • So far, only one of the three leading candidates has publicly debated with scientists
  • The Brazilian Academy of Sciences has given the candidates policy proposals

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[CURITIBA AND RIO DE JANEIRO] The three leading candidates for Brazil’s presidential elections in October give little room in their manifestos to the science and technology programmes they say they would introduce if elected.

Current president Dilma Rousseff, who will run again for the Workers’ Party, mentions science infrequently and in vague terms. For example, she says that, “increasingly, the production of science, technology and innovation, necessary for Brazil to effectively join the knowledge society, should be extended.”

And Rousseff’s track record leaves some uncertain about science’s prospects if she wins a second term.

Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), says science is going through a bad patch under Rousseff.

“Maybe because of the deadline to present the manifestos, which was too close to the selection of the candidates, the proposals seem to be rushed.”

Jacob Palis, Brazilian Academy of Sciences

His main criticism relates to budget cuts to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation: from 2010 to 2012, the ministry’s budget fell by a third. And, although the budget in 2014 is higher than it was in 2010, the ABC and the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) question how the money is distributed (see Caution urged for Brazil’s new science plan, in Spanish).

For example, they say that new science programmes should have dedicated new funding rather than be supported using money diverted from existing science funds. A recent example of a newly created programme sharing pre-existing funds is the Science Without Borders scholarship programme, they say.

The scientific community represented through the ABC and SBPC is also concerned about a science programme Rousseff launched on 25 June to foster collaboration between industry and research institutions.

It fears that this National Knowledge Platform Programme might also divert existing funds and say Brazil gives insufficient prominence to basic research.

The challengers

Aécio Neves, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party's presidential candidate, gives more details of his proposals for science development, including a dedicated manifesto chapter consisting of 17 guidelines for science, technology and innovation.

He promises, for example, that he will aim to raise public and private investment in science, technology and innovation from its current level of around 1.2 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) to two per cent by 2020.

Yet other guidelines are vague and fail to explain how they would be achieved. For example, the manifesto mentions “the elaboration of a robust and consistent programme to internationalise Brazilian science”, but there is little explanation of how this would be done.

Eduardo Campos, the candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party, has only a few general proposals regarding research in his manifesto.

For example, it says it would aim “to link the policy of science and technology with education; to retain young people who drop out after completing high school; and to popularise technical careers and train more engineers and professionals linked to the needs of production and delivery of services of high technological complexity”.

The other eight candidates, who have little chance of winning according to the polls, are also largely vague on science if they do mention it; for example, none of them have a section dedicated to science and technology.

Palis tells SciDev.Net: “The impression we have is that the documents are not yet finished. Maybe because of the deadline to present the manifestos, which was too close to the selection of the candidates, the proposals seem to be rushed.”

Debating with scientists

Campos is the only candidate who has already participated in a public debate with scientists, although all of them have now been invited by the SBPC and the ABC.

In a meeting with around 150 scientists at the ABC this week (5 August), Campos — who was the science minister of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — made general promises, but gave few further details of his science and technology plans.
“Education, science, technology and innovation will be priorities in my government,” he told the audience.

He also promised to tackle bureaucracy. “There is a real hell for those who live in the world of research,” he says, calling for simpler rules for processing research-related procurement.

During the meeting, Palis gave Campos a 17-page document — also sent to the other candidates — designed to contribute to their drafting of science policy.

The document, which was written by the ABC and endorsed by the SBPC and the National Council of State Funding Agencies contains recommendations for Brazil’s scientific development.

Among the proposals, the document encourages incentive to create research centres in remote areas and strengthening cooperation with “more scientifically advanced countries”, as well as China and India, and Latin American and African nations.

The document also highlights the need to improve basic education by raising teachers’ salaries to the level of federal university lecturers. It also calls for a drive to export more value-added and high-tech products — Brazilian exports today are mainly raw materials.

The candidates have welcomed the document and the ABC is confident that it will contribute to better policies.

Link to ABC document with recommendations for the candidates (in Portuguese)

Link to Rousseff’s manifesto (in Portuguese)

Link to Neves’s manifesto (in Portuguese)

Link to Campos’s manifesto (in Portuguese)