Brazilian scientists protest against research funding cuts

Petition with 80,000 signatures was set to be presented as part of mass protest outside country’s National Congress

October 8, 2017
Brazilian national congress
Source: Getty

Pressure is mounting on the Brazilian government to reverse cuts to science and technology funding, as academic research bodies from across the country were poised to stage a mass protest outside the National Congress.

Scholars from more than 25 organisations were expected to join the demonstration on 10 October, which was set to conclude with a petition signed by 80,000 people being delivered to parliament.

The protest follows months of campaigning sparked by the government’s announcement of a 44 per cent cut to sector funding outlined in this year’s budget, with further cuts proposed for 2018.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Ildeu de Castro Moreira, president of campaign organisers the Brazilian Society for Advancement of Science, warned that a number of labs were already facing closure owing to lack of funding.

“We hope we can sensitise Brazilian parliamentarians to allocate more resources,” he said. “Science in Brazil has advanced significantly in the past two decades, leading it to 13th place for scientific production in the world...it also has great potential to contribute to the country getting out of the current [financial] crisis.

“[But] if the government’s proposal for the 2018 budget is approved as it stands, there is a serious risk that Brazil’s science and technology system will collapse.”

The comments of Dr Moreira, associate professor in physics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiroecho those set out in a letter signed by 23 Nobel prizewinners and presented to Brazilian president Michel Temer last month.

Publishing the message in the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, the group, led by French physicist and Nobel prizewinner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, said that the lack of funding “seriously compromise[s] the future of Brazil”, as well as its reputation as a powerhouse for South American research.

“This will damage Brazil for many years, with the dismantling of internationally recognised research groups and a brain drain that will affect the best young scientists,” the letter states. “We know that Brazil’s economic situation is very difficult, but we urge you to reconsider your decision before it is too late.”

David Gross, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and 2004 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, also signed the letter. “The situation is tragic, there is no other word to describe it,” he said, predicting that many young Brazilian researchers will “leave and not return”.

Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications was left with its lowest budget in more than 12 years after suffering a 2.2 billion reals (£5.3 billion) cut from the 5 billion reals of funding initially set out for 2017.

The Nobel laureates’ letter followed a similar petition by 250 top mathematics researchers, sent to the president in the same week to oppose the cuts.

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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