Brazil has conquered a relevant role in world science in the last four decades, but cuts in scholarships and a drop in the number of patents and spending on research and development (R&D) by companies since 2015 threaten the future of the national science and technology system as a whole . This is one of the conclusions of the chapter on Brazil of the “Unesco Science Report – The race against time for a smarter development”.
The document, published every five years by Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), assesses the state of science, technology and innovation in the world and had its most recent edition launched in June.
Among the Brazilian highlights since 2015 are the studies on Zika. The country was the second that produced the most scientific articles on the virus, only behind the United States. Brazilian scientists accounted for 28% of the most cited publications on the subject. In general, Brazil has been progressively increasing the number of publications for over 30 years.
“Until 2018, we continued to produce more each year. Furthermore, the total amount of money invested in science and technology had dropped relatively little. Brazilian science had increased the number of articles published and achieved fantastic achievements. At the same time, the number of patents was very small when compared to the rest of the world and the biggest patents were universities, when anywhere in the developed world, companies have this leadership”, he says. Hernan Chaimovich, one of the co-authors of the study, professor emeritus at IQ-USP (Institute of Chemistry of the University of São Paulo) and former advisor to the Scientific Board of FAPESP.
A positive point that the report highlights is that there has been a continuous increase in female participation in science and in technological areas, such as engineering. “Women already represent 54% of doctorates awarded in the country and 34% of those in engineering. This last figure is much higher than that found in most countries, even in industrialized ones. For example, the rate of women formally employed in engineering is higher in Brazil than in the United States and the United Kingdom”, comments the other co-author of the study, Renato Pedrosa, professor at the Geosciences Institute of the State University of Campinas (IG-Unicamp) and coordinator of the project “ São Paulo State Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators ”, financed by FAPESP.
According to the publication, the 2015 recession in the country drastically impacted spending on research and development. Despite the increase in the number of companies in the manufacturing sector that reported having a dedicated team between 2014 and 2017, spending on these activities decreased from US$18 billion in 2015 to US$15 billion in 2017. notes that there has been a drop in patent filing by the private sector, while it has grown among universities.
“Brazil has an installed scientific capacity, associated with a strong postgraduate system, which is the envy of most emerging countries. What we don’t have is the absorption of this science by our industry, which is not very innovative. This is because it is not internationally competitive. The agricultural sector and companies like Embraer, which compete in foreign markets, are very innovative and are doing very well abroad. But most companies headquartered in Brazil are focused only on the domestic market, importing or simply leaving innovation aside,” says Pedrosa.
Despite the structural difficulties, however, the period included the Sirius project, which this year inaugurated one of the first fourth-generation synchrotron light sources in the world, at the National Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), in Campinas.
The report also highlights the implementation of the Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications Satellite, capable of providing broadband internet access in remote regions of the country. In the area of ??information technology, the country introduced the Pix online payment system, one of the first initiatives of its kind in the world.
The report recalls that Brazil has considerably increased the publication of scientific articles since 2011 and that it faced two epidemics, Zika and Covid-19, having joined international efforts to develop vaccines against the latter. Brazil was the second country that most published articles scientific research on Zika in 2016 and 2017, with a high rate of citations
The study also highlights the innovation poles at universities, cradles of startups that boosted the generation of patents and scientific collaboration between industry and academia. On the other hand, environmental protection has worsened in the last two years, as evidenced by the collapse of mining tailings dams and the growing incidence of fires in the Pantanal and Amazon, indicating that the monitoring and prevention systems are insufficient.
In addition to the drop in R&D spending by the industry, the authors warn that graduate education, until then the largest producer of science in the country, is entering into stagnation, with cuts at the federal level taking place since 2015.
“The Brazilian science and technology system can be destroyed. This is much more dangerous than just cutting back on investment. Resilience has a limit. If postgraduate scholarships continue to decline, we will stop training scientists and, with that, research ends. Our international competitors, in turn, will continue their research. We will no longer be an independent nation intellectually, scientifically and commercially”, concludes Chaimovich.
here’s the whole (6MB) of the executive summary and the chapter on Brazil (in Portuguese) of the UNESCO Science Report.