The diaspora of brains

Image Bayram Er

The diaspora of brains


The motivations that promote the emigration of scientists and young researchers from Brazil

The desired reality in the collective imagination of young researchers and recent doctors is professional stability upon completing postgraduate studies. This is also a wish of everyone who seeks to qualify in their occupations, in order to stand out in the increasingly competitive job market. In other words, the humanity that makes up the social body produces, consumes and survives through mercantile policies.

We call “diaspora of brains” the phenomenon of emigration of specialized professionals, holders of qualified human capital. This phenomenon results in the geographical shift of a citizen and also the transfer of resources in the form of human capital. This configuration originates in the decision-making processes of certain countries, which seek economic stability through the intellectual production of scientists who do not find shelter, mainly the economy of their country of origin.

In the 2017st century, scientists live the greatest market reality in world economic history, as the array of new products and cutting-edge technologies come from what Silva Júnior (XNUMX) calls “knowledge-commodity” – a term that originates from the English concept raw material knowledge, elaborated by the American researchers Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades in the work Academic Capitalism and the New Economy. This is the meaning and tendency of the work of both the experienced and the young scientist in the contemporary world. Silva Júnior and Fargoni (2020) characterize this situation as a change in the episteme of science, reduced to technoscience.

In this sense, before examining the Brazilian scientific reality and the flight of scientists from the country, we seek in Larry Sjaastad, one of the first theorists of neoclassical economics and specialist on the desertion of qualified professionals from their countries of origin, the understanding to ponder about the context and motivations that induce the diaspora and, in addition, the internationalization of those responsible for the production of knowledge in Brazil.

For Sjaastad (1962) the brain drain of a nation, or even the migration of professionals in the same territory, is mainly due to the economic conditions in which the professional is inserted. The exodus occurs due to several characteristics that depend on the social and historical moment of each country under the predominance of financial capital. Sjaastad (1962) identified that expenses with food, housing and transport in regions with low wages are the main reasons for qualified professionals to leave their native region. Non-monetary costs, such as psychological problems arising from lack of security and family support, also encourage leaving the country. According to the author, the cost-effectiveness of moving to another region or nation is a crucial element in the scientist's decision, as the destination invests in professionals with the capacity to produce new knowledge who are attracted by the logic of the search for better living conditions.

What Sjaastad revealed to us through geopolitical and economic rationality, Chesnais (1996, p. 17) determined by the concept of “globalization of capital”, indicating that not only scientists, but everyone, are under the globalization of a mass of money that values ​​itself . For Chesnais (1996) money is valued through the production of goods and its conservation in the financial market. Consequently, the scientist who leaves his country of origin in search of recognition, also evades to help in the production of new products that will be new merchandise, perhaps consumed by the scientist himself.

This is a process of analysis of human activity that Chesnais sought in his studies of Marx (1985, p. 153), for whom work is characterized, initially, through the interaction of man with the natural world. Meaning that elements of nature are modified in pursuit of certain purposes. This means that work is the way in which man appropriates nature in order to satisfy his needs.

This logic remains in capitalist society in the XNUMXst century. Chesnais envisioned that capitalists demand new and more commodities through mercantile means. Thus, scientists are crucial to creating new products. In this process, immaterial work is valued[I] researchers to materialize artifacts or create systems with use values. Returning to Sjaastad, scientists holding qualified human capital and knowledge-commodity producers, when establishing themselves in their new territories, consider monetary and non-monetary expenses so that the expenses of their transfer are recovered.

However, the “diaspora of brains” that we highlight here cannot be confused with “academic mobility”. In the case of academic mobility, what happens is the temporary work of a researcher, most often at postgraduate level, as part of the development of collaborative research between countries. What brings the two ideas together is the international experience and the comparison that the young scientist makes of the original reality with the one he is provisionally immersed in. This favors a nation's brain drain, since the strategic reason for the internationalization of higher education, which originated in the beginning of the second half of the 2012th century, was to develop public policies to promote science, technology and innovation and, equally, growth and competitiveness. (MOREIRA; ARAÚJO, XNUMX).

For Breinhauer (2007) the emigration of brains is a strong phenomenon embraced by political interests whose purpose is to bring together as many people as possible with qualified human capital. In this attempt, the aim is to take advantage mainly of young scientists and recent doctors who live in countries whose national policies for research, technology and innovation are insufficient and do not guarantee the permanence of new doctors due to the lack of opportunities.

Brazil is an exemplary case for the occurrence of this phenomenon, as it carried out recent political reforms as powers that induce the emigration of researchers. (Cf, New Legal Framework for Innovation in Brazil, Law No. 13.243, of January 11, 2016; and the PEC of the Expenditure Ceiling, Constitutional Amendment No. 95, of December 15, 2016; Labor Reform – Law No. 13.467, of July 13, 2017; Social Security Reform - Constitutional Amendment No. 103, of November 12, 2019 and the one currently in progress, the Administrative Reform, Amendment to the Constitution (PEC), No. 32/2020).

Under this conjuncture of political reforms and other theoretical specificities, we will try to analyze and define an analytical and critical framework on the emigration of brains from Brazil. Based on everyday evidence that exposes the decline in investment in research, science and technology, it is simultaneously perceived that science is the main or one of the core solutions to economic and, consequently, social crises. Science is what allows, at the limit, to conquer national sovereignty. The text is divided into two parts. In the first, we focus on clarifying some fundamental data about the current context of research and scientists in Brazil. This situation presents as the biggest problem the deep cut in investment in education and research in all areas of knowledge. In the second part, we focus on the Brazilian political reality, oriented under the regime of financial predominance, circumstantiated by the Reform of the State Apparatus and having shelter in the neoliberal policies intensified by the ideological practices of the current government.

The crisis of Brazilian science

Coincidentally, in the year that celebrates the 70th anniversary of the enactment of Law nº 1.310 that established the creation of the National Research Council (CNPq), with the purpose of “promoting and stimulating the development of scientific and technological research in any field of knowledge” , Brazil is experiencing one of the worst scenarios in the field of science. Politicians allied with President Jair Bolsonaro are based on the argument that the reduction of investments in essential areas such as basic and higher education and science were caused by “globalization” and the pandemic of the new Coronavirus. We know that the global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has hindered the development of research across the planet. However, the argument that the Brazilian scientific crisis is to blame for the pandemic is not justified by the fact that the decline in investment in this field has been occurring for half a decade.

With more than 500 thousand deaths[ii] due to COVID-19, a number that in itself already says a lot, the fact had the President's denialism as a driving force for this value. The dimension of the tragedy could be smaller if campaigns using scientific information and science-based guidelines were carried out from the beginning of the pandemic. Such negligence with science is represented by the figure of President Jair Bolsonaro who, instead of verbalizing the importance of social isolation and other preventive measures for the spread of/by the contamination of the virus, opted for denialism and anti-scientific actions. It provoked crowds and, above all, influenced its political allies and followers through social networks to ignore[iii] the recommendations of competent bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO). It is worth noting that Brazil has 2,7% of the planet's population and concentrated in May 2021,30% of deaths from the disease worldwide.

About this tragedy of great proportions, we ask: how do these facts influence the emigration of scientists from Brazil? The answer can be found in the political reality of the country that has been taking shape, mainly after the impeachment from former President Dilma Rousseff: since 2016 the Brazilian State has been reducing the resources of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) by an average of 1,5 billion reais per year, with an accelerated reduction from 2019, when more than 2 billion reais were withdrawn from the portfolio.

graphic 1 – Evolution of Resources for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations (MCTI) – (2009 to 2021). Budget in R$ billion, adjusted for inflation, Extended National Consumer Price Index (IPCA)

Source: Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and Annual Budget Law (LOA), 2021. Graphic created by the authors.

In Graph 1 we can observe the decline of resources for research in Brazil. The MCTI's budget for 2021 is 78,25% lower than that executed in 2008. This circumstance contributes to the demotivation of the work of researchers in the country, inducing the departure of qualified professionals since there is no recognition for their work in the field of science . The pandemic is the epicenter of this conjunction of facts, because it amalgamated denialists of Brazilian politics with political power, with the president elected in 2018 as the maximum effigy of antiscience. However, the flight of Brazilians from the nation did not start close to the pandemic. For a decade, the number of Brazilians who register through the Declaration of Definitive Exit from the Country has been growing, reaching its peak at the end of the last decade. According to the IRS[iv], the number of Brazilian emigrants increased from 8.170 in 2011 to 23.271 in 2018, representing a growth of 184%. By December 2019, 22.549 people had definitely left Brazil. Such growth can be verified by the following numbers: 14.981 in 2015, 21.103 (2016) and 23.039 in 2017.

According to the US Department of Immigration[v], more than 3 professionals specialized in the most diverse areas of knowledge – teachers, engineers, programmers, doctors, among others, requested a preferential visa in 2020, on the stage of the pandemic, constituting the second largest number of requests in the 11st century. These requests are coming from highly skilled workers, mainly scientists, representing an increase of almost 2019% over the previous year. In the 2020-XNUMX biennium, visa demand[vi] types EB-1A, EB-1B and EB-2 grew by almost 50% when compared to 2017 and 2018, and 135% compared to 2015 and 2016.

Another drama of science that haunts Brazilian scientists is the neoliberal dynamic that continuously seeks to privatize public services. The production of knowledge, in this case, is often interrupted and research is discontinued due to lack of funds. Under neoliberal rationality, private organizations must promote scientific research for their interests and public institutions must follow the same path, seeking sources of investment that do not come from public funds.

In this way, there is heroism of knowledge producers in Brazil. In the context of a crisis, they manage to produce a large number of scientific articles and collaborate in increasing the production of patents. This fact is observed through the high Brazilian scientific production, as indicated by data from the SCImago Journal & Country Rank 2020: Brazilian scientists published more than 80 scientific articles in 2019 alone, 12 more than in 2018, placing Brazil in 15th place among the countries that produce the most knowledge, which also increased the number of citations of articles scientific papers produced by researchers in the country.

graphic 2– Growth in the number of patent applications through higher education institutions (HEIs) in Brazil between (2000-2019). Values ​​in thousands.

Source: Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), 2021. Chart created by the authors.


graphic 3 – Continuous blockages by the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT), (2019 to 2021), amounts in R$ billion.


Source: Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and Annual Budget Law (LOA), 2021. Graphic created by the authors.

         Two sets of relevant information that need to be rationalized and directly influence the emigration of Brazilian scientists is the volume of knowledge produced x funds granted by the State. As we have clarified, if scientific production in Brazil reaches high levels with a relatively low volume of investments, which are increasingly reduced, one of the notorious paths for young scientists and researchers is to seek opportunities in other countries. Compensating for this disparity has never been the objective of Brazil's current presidency. According to Silva Júnior and Fargoni (2020, p. 9), the Brazilian political reality after the impeachment in 2016 and, above all, with the 2018 elections, produced a new authoritarian cycle imposed from outside, through the new regime of accumulation based on neoliberalism[vii]. We can observe this fact when comparing the discrepancy of production x investment in Graphs 2 and 3. While Brazilian scientists produce knowledge close to the numbers of the hegemonic world economies, there is a contingency of the public fund for scientific and technological development, and the amounts blocked since 2019 have reached an amount greater than 90%.

The volume of Brazilian scientific production stems from the intense work of professors-researchers and young scientists allocated to graduate programs. Even being sabotaged by denialist politicians, they seek alternatives, often in other nations, as a host to develop their work.

However, the emigration of brains is not only a concern of academia, it is also political and, above all, social. By configuring the departure of scientists from Brazil, the government's fragility in producing opportunities and mechanisms that ensure and strengthen national science is externalized. For Peixoto (1999), losing professionals with qualified human capital is losing part of its economy and culture, with an impact on other areas. It becomes clear that the set of scientific production has an indisputable social character, generating vaccines, solutions for the environment, alternative educational models, among other crucial factors that are not limited to the merely marketing dimension.

The political form of Bolsonarism

The diagnosis of Brazilian science, weighted in the previous lines, has as its source of devastation the neoliberal policies arising from the regime of financial predominance. The Reform of the State Apparatus (Cf SILVA JUNIOR; SGUISSARDI, 1999), derived from the regime of financial predominance was, and still is, the main policy that established and establishes changes in the entire Public Sphere in Brazil. Policies fragmented into Bills, Amendments to the Constitution, Provisional Measures, among other formats are part of the logic of State reform that has been developing since the 1990s and has, in 2021, shelter and expansion in the political form of Jair Bolsonaro .

We call it the expansion of the reform of the state apparatus, as it is the intensification of neoliberal policies repackaged as ultraliberal. For this reason, there are peculiarities in Bolsonarista economic ultraliberalism that are not completely advanced in neoliberalism, since in the neoliberal field there is still room for criticism, while in Bolsonarism criticism is received as an attack. As a result, we have a glimpse of public policies that propose the reduction[viii] rights to turn them into merchandise. This is the tactic of Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, who instead of developing projects for the country's economic growth, develops projects that deepen the economic crisis, at the same time that it worsens the lives of Brazilians.

Silva Júnior and Fargoni (2020, p. 22) call this political form of Bolsonarism “Brazilian necropolitics”, which merges, as an ultraliberal pact, with totalitarian political figures, who reproduce fascist attitudes and aesthetics (Cf GOMES, 2020; MARTINEZ, 2020; PUCCI, 2020). In this sense, Tales Ab'Sáber, in an interview for Revista Cult, goes beyond economic thinking, identifying in Bolsonarist neo-fascism the rescue of Brazilian fascism unconsciously fueled by the “deep reactionary, slave-owning colonial, Portuguese-monarchist tradition, which split the nation from society, wealth and enslaved labor, to the roots of the country” (AB´SÁBER , 2021).

About science in times of Bolsonarism, a characteristic constitutes the main basis of the decline in investment in research and higher education: denialism. Before going deeper into this issue, it is worth mentioning that this characteristic is also one of the founding categories of Bolsonarism. And they are not few. Silva Júnior and Fargoni (2020, p. 11-15) when analyzing the Brazilian historical and political context, relied on Arendt (1989), Adorno (1995), Butler (2019), Mbembe (2016), Pochmann (2017) , among other intellectuals from different areas of knowledge, establishing 13 categories that define Bolsonarism:

1) Idolatry of traditions; 2) Reactionism; 3) Anti-intellectualism or denialism; 4) Authoritarianism and arrogance; 5) Aversion to plurality; 6) Pact with the elites; 7) Servile nationalism; 8) Necropolitics or necro-state; 9) bellicosity; 10) Militia; 11) Meritocracy; 12) Intolerance and prejudice (machismo, homophobia, xenophobia) and 13) Advertising. Of the thirteen categories, we highlight anti-intellectualism or denialism:

In the same way that fascists are not supporters of scientific knowledge, in Bolsonarismo there is an aversion to in-depth thinking or reflection. There is strategy, exercise of control and ideas at the top of Bolsonarist politicians for mass domination, but Bolsonarism in practice, absorbed by the voter, in the way of acting, is in quick action by physical or verbal violence. Most fascist decisions are made by instincts and not by studies or research. In ideological fascism, scientific planning is considered a “weakness”. Disgust with the intellectual world is typical of fascism and Bolsonarism, as can be seen in the uninterrupted attack by Bolsonarists on public universities. (SILVA JÚNIOR; FARGONI, 2020, p. 12)

It is in Bolsonarist denialism that the revulsion towards science is sheltered and, consequently, the current and intense devaluation of science in the country. In this context, young doctors feel helpless due to the lack of opportunities in the labor market, affected by the economic crisis caused by neoliberal policies and, in addition to finding themselves unassisted by political inefficiency in the management of science in the country.

According to Oliveira (2020), in Brazil there was a epistemic crisis, motivated by the drop in investments in science from 2016 and worsened in 2019. This phenomenon is associated with what Silva Júnior and Fargoni (2020) and Ab´Sáber (2021) characterized as a change of government that was based, even , in scientific data and protocols and in “trust in institutions, for another regime regulated by individual belief and personal experience, giving voice to conspiratorial movements in which information is a field of dispute over the production of narrative” (Oliveira, 2020 , p. 22).

Bolsonaro uses denialism as a policy. The 2020 and 2021 global pandemic is the portrait of this practice. Let us remember that before 5 deaths from COVID-19, in March 2020, the president of Brazil verbalized[ix] that no “little flu” would bring him down. In June 2021, there are more than 500 deaths resulting from a lot of denialism and neglect of science and research in Brazil. One of the consequences of disdain for science, according to data from the Center for Management and Strategic Studies (CGEE), is that unemployment among masters and doctors in 2020 reached 25%, while the unemployment rate of this same group in the rest of the world is around 2%. Therefore, the fusion of Bolsonarist denialist thinking with the neoliberal and ultraliberal policies that have guided the Brazilian economy since the Washington Consensus, currently accentuated by failed political reforms, directly contribute to what we call the diaspora of brains in Brazil or, also, the abandonment of new doctors and scientists from their training careers due to the lack of opportunities.

Final considerations

In this text, we present a brief analysis and description of what is the diaspora of brains or the famous brain drain in Brazil. We portray, through everyday data, the drama that scientists experience to produce knowledge in a country that sinks deeper and deeper into the economic crisis. We also show how the political form of Bolsonarism despised (and continues to despise) science, even though it is one of the areas in which countries that have developed and conquered space in the world capitalist market are most supported.

The phenomenon of diasporas of brains is related to the mercantile way of conducting policies and the economy practiced by capitalist nations around the world. The Brazilian government could make use of the best of the national intelligence it possesses, spread across state universities throughout the national territory, where thousands of qualified professionals are found, with trajectories and careers already consolidated, and in training, who have been collaborating with several other nations in the production of scientific knowledge not only with a marketing character, but also innovative, creative, critical and, above all, structuring public policies – this integrates the best international practices.

For example, the emigration of brains in South Korea was reversed through a great government effort, especially through the development of public policies that ensured employment, new projects for researchers in training or for young doctors to remain in the country. Priority was given to the development of new technologies and critical work was encouraged to foster the development of education. The domestic political appeal was based on strategic actions through legal reforms to benefit the autonomy and permanence of its researchers. According to Yoon (1992), successful policies to preserve intellectuals and scientists in training in the country require subsidies for small and medium-sized national companies, opportunities for independent researchers and for all scientists who are interested in producing unpublished or critical knowledge for their area. of knowledge, with or without ties to higher education institutions in the country.

Ideas are posted. Good references exist all over the world. It is up to current (or other) Brazilian politicians to put into practice, through the democratic rule of law and taking advantage of the best national intelligence, the most creative projects. All this is found in the Brazilian territorial base, in the most diverse areas, awaiting adequate investments in science, technology and innovation.

*João dos Reis Silva Junior and pProfessor at the Department of Education at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).

*Afranio Mendes Catani and pprofessor at the Faculty of Education at the University of São Paulo (USP).

*Everton Henrique Eleutério Fargoni it's dstudent in education at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).



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[I] Based on Marx's writings, in his work floorplans(2011), Gorz (2005) and Lazzarato (1993) defined that immaterial work is characterized as work without physical substance, with a strong predominance in intellectual work through research, knowledge production, administration and management. Information and knowledge are thus considered the core of immaterial work.

[ii] 'Dark milestone' of 500 deaths and 'protests against the president': the Brazilian tragedy in the international press. BBC News Brazil, 20 Jun. 2021. Available at:
international-57545730> Accessed on: 20 jun. 2021.

[iii] Bolsonaro criticizes WHO saying that the entity “does not get anything right”. He also called into question again the death tolls released by state health departments. SCHUCH, M. Value Invest, 18 Jun. 2020. Available at:
>Accessed on: 14 Jun. 2021.

[iv] Available in: Accessed on: 2018 June. 13.

[v] Available in: Accessed on: 13 June. 2021.

[vi] EB-1A is the visa for professionals with extraordinary abilities, EB-1B for professors and researchers and the EB-2 is the application for professionals from the most different sectors, but who have more than ten years of proven experience, and must also attest that their works can contribute to the economy, culture or education in the USA.

[vii] According to Fargoni et. Al (2021, p. 20), the new mode of political regulation in Brazil, through Bolsonarism, amalgamates reactionaryism and denialism with neoliberalism, producing rapid destruction of rights, at the same time that it accentuates the commodification of human activities, making jobs precarious while reducing the Public Sphere.

[viii]As previously mentioned, government actions materialized in the PEC of the Expenditure Ceiling, Constitutional Amendment No. 95, of December 15, 2016; Labor Reform – Law No. 13.467, of July 13, 2017; Social Security Reform - Constitutional Amendment No. 103, of November 12, 2019 and the one currently in progress, the Administrative Reform, Amendment to the Constitution (PEC), No. 32/2020.

[ix] 'It won't be a little flu that will bring me down', says Bolsonaro about coronavirus. COLETTA, RD; CHAIB, J.; URIBE, G. Folha de S. Paulo, 20 mar. 2020. Available at:
> Accessed on: 15 Jun. 2021.

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