Brazilian lawmakers in showdown to double science budget
(Nature) As Brazil reels from one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world — second only to the United States — a coalition of academic and business groups is fighting to secure more funding for research and industrial innovation in the country. The legislation that they are backing, which would more than double the core Brazilian science and innovation budget for 2020, sailed through the Senate on 13 August with a near-unanimous vote. But before victory can be declared, the proposal needs to clear the lower house of the country’s National Congress and survive a potential showdown with President Jair Bolsonaro, who has sought steep cuts to science budgets since taking power last year and might veto the legislation .
Scientific societies, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, and business and industry groups have banded together in support of the legislation, which would release cash from a special fund for industrial innovation and other research. They argue that years of budget cuts for science have made it difficult to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in Brazil, and that additional funding could bolster efforts to better understand, diagnose and treat the disease. Adjusted for inflation, financing for Brazil’s main science funds has dropped from a peak of nearly 14 billion reais (about US$2.55 billion) in 2014 — just before a crippling 2-year economic recession — to around 4.4 billion reais in 2020. The proposal would add 4.6 billion reais to Brazil’s science accounts, and, more importantly, would secure a permanent source of money for science that’s protected from Bolsonaro’s administration and future ones.
More background on this issue is provided in the article cited below:
(Nature) When neuroscientist Sidarta Ribeiro presented a preview of a report on the dire state of research in Brazil at a meeting of a major scientific society on 23 July, several government soldiers entered the room and began filming. Some in the audience took the soldiers’ actions as a show of intimidation.
“Maybe these guys were just soldiers who want to learn about science,” says Ribeiro, a researcher at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal. He coordinated the analysis on behalf of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC), which hosted the meeting and commissioned the report. But it didn’t look like they were there out of curiosity, Ribeiro says.
The incident is a recent example of the rising tensions between the country's scientists and President Jair Bolsonaro's administration. Since Bolsonaro took office in January, Brazil’s researchers have faced funding cuts and repeated attempts by the administration to roll back protections for the environment and Indigenous populations. Government officials blocked the release of a ministry report on drug use in Brazil. And they have questioned other work by government scientists, including most recently, deforestation reports by a national agency. The head of that agency was dismissed on 2 August.
“We are concerned about democracy itself,” says Sérgio Rezende, a physicist at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, and a member of the commission that wrote the SBPC analysis.
A draft of the SBPC report details a decline in science funding that began with a major recession in 2014. It draws a direct line between the unprecedented crisis in science and the future of Brazil, arguing that the country’s social, economic and environmental prospects are under threat. Without policies that are “grounded in rationality, science and the public interest”, places such as the Amazon rainforest could soon pass the point of no return, according to the draft report.
The remaining part of the second article includes further discussion of the clash between Bolsonaro and scientific opinion on such issues as the need to preserve the rainforest and environmental regulations.