A place for Brazil in the democratization of science? – III



Considerations on the question of the decolonization of science from the point of view of the global South

This series of essays began when the first hints of optimism appeared in the country regarding the candidacy of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for the presidency. It is a joy to resume it after this optimism was endorsed by the polls.

Let us recap that the defense of Brazil's possible prominence in the democratization of science in the world was based on the following arguments: (1) it is the country that has the largest network of universities and public research institutes in the world; (2) it is also the country that has the largest community of engaged scientists, judging by its scientific associations and its unions of professors, researchers and other workers in the sector, including graduate students; (3) it is a country where basic research has increasingly stimulated applied research and innovation with new and bold ideas; (4) it is a country where the diversity introduced by affirmative action programs has been inspiring new directions for research.

Despite so many reasons for optimism, it is disquieting to see now that the damage caused by the ultra-right to universities, science and technology, as well as education in general, has been far greater than expected. While the captain exorbited from buffoonery, the military assigned to civilian functions turned their artillery directly to our Constitution, weakening it or distorting it to the point of harming all our public institutions. For that, it was enough for them to rescue some of the legal tricks of the military dictatorship and use digital means to propagate misinformation and obscurantism.

For all these reasons, we find ourselves facing our last chance to sweep this rubbish out of our history. If coup plotters, terrorists and obscurantists continue unpunished, Brazil will have a catastrophic and irreversible loss: we will fail to do our part in controlling the climate crisis and we will lose the credit to exert any leadership in the international scientific community.

It is urgent – ​​and essential – to determine the responsibilities for every life lost, every hectare of forest cut down, every source contaminated, every line of the Constitution threatened or adulterated, every public asset plundered by state terrorism.[I]. This is the only way we will have a chance of overcoming our colonial heritage, which, by giving voice to racism, patriarchy and slavery, prevents us from advancing towards sustainability and social justice.


A role rescued in good time

It must be recognized that the result of the presidential election gave Brazil a unique chance to regain its leading role in a discussion essential to the democratization of science in the world: the protection of the Amazon and the preservation of its incomparable biological, ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity. It is a clamor that has gone around the world; we cannot shirk the responsibility of listening to him.

As I explained in the previous essay in this series, the knowledge base that Brazilian science has been building about the region already contains enough elements to subsidize public policies that facilitate a sustainable economy, with respectful use of the knowledge of local peoples.

In addition, the excellent reception by the international media and diplomacy to the speech by President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at COP 27 indicated a path, as challenging as it was promising, for repairing the damage caused to education, science, technology and innovation in Brazil by scorched earth policy of the last government. Then let's see.

Since the mapping of the devastated territory is a condition sine qua non for its reconstruction, it is prudent that it starts where the map is already sketched. This is the case of the Amazon. Its role in the climate crisis made it the biggest flag of our scientists' resistance to the denialist and obscurantist government. This qualifies it as a top priority in rebuilding the Brazilian research system.

Two facts unequivocally signal this place. The first is the attention that the SBPC has given it in its meetings and publications. The second is the recent collaboration between federal and state funding agencies to encourage the participation of researchers from several states in studies that address the land, people and natural resources of the region.

This collective will is clearly expressed in the SBPC Notebook 1907 Project for a New Brazil, launched last July, and in the notice Amazon Initiative + 10, launched by CONFAP (National Council of State Research Support Foundations) last June.

The SBPC publication makes 25 explicit references to the Amazon, while exposing and discussing three issues considered essential for the health of its fauna and flora, as well as its 30 million inhabitants. They are: (1) the obligation to eliminate deforestation still in this decade; (2) the urgency of creating public policies for restoration and reforestation; (3) the need to strengthen local scientific training, recomposing and expanding funding to universities and research institutes throughout the region and encouraging the creation of innovative, ambitious and even daring graduate programs.

The collaborative public notice of the FAPs brought together 20 federative units, namely: Acre, Alagoas, Amapá, Amazonas, Federal District, Espírito Santo, Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Pará, Paraíba, Paraná, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Rondônia, Santa Catarina, São Paulo and Tocantins. The joint investment was 52 million reais. To these were added 12 million contributed by CNPq, in the form of scholarships for study and research.

152 projects were registered, representing the response of around 500 interstate research groups to the three thematic axes proposed by the notice: (1) territory; (2) peoples of the Amazon; and (3) strengthening sustainable production chains. Initially, the 100 projects eligible for evaluation were screened based on the opinions of ad hoc assessors. A committee of renowned experts in the fields involved made the final decision, selecting 39 of them.

This unprecedented initiative created a new model of scientific development for the Amazon, which can be easily expanded and improved to facilitate the adherence of scientists and funding agencies from abroad. As we know, many countries in the global north and south are interested in collaborating with Brazil in the regeneration and protection of the Amazonian biomes. Furthermore, cuts in research funding are a worldwide problem, which encourages multilateralism in teams and funding.

However, this historic example of creativity, resistance and resilience of our scientists and science managers could fall into the void if the region is not the immediate target of an effective policy of zero tolerance for criminal actions in livestock, agribusiness and mining.

The latter, in particular, established a form of predation that was very difficult to eradicate. As the political scientist José Raimundo Trindade demonstrated,[ii] it earns exorbitant profits, due to the perverse association between low cost and deregulation. These profits propitiated the financialization of commodities Brazilian minerals on the global market, which fuels demand and feeds back devastation.

As if the adverse economic effects of mining were not enough, its deregulation constitutes a serious threat to the health of indigenous and riverside communities in the region.

For example, on the Tapajós River, mercury illegally released by gold mining has been contaminating the waters and fish and, with them, the Munduruku people. Children and adults of this ethnic group have been presenting a set of neurological symptoms called disease from Minamata, a Japanese fishing town whose waters were contaminated by mercury released by a plastic factory around 1950.[iii] It is also known that this contamination has already reached French Guiana,[iv] harming its environment and its population.

As we will see below, a set of measures surreptitiously issued by the current government, such as decrees, ordinances, resolutions, etc., deliberately facilitated the illegal occupation of land used in agriculture and livestock, as well as illegal mining. Particularly worrying is decree 10.966, of February 11, 2022, whose pompous menu[v], labeled small-scale mining as “artisanal”, in order to facilitate and intensify it, reinforcing financialization.

But the unbridled spoliation of the Amazon and the drastic cuts in funds are not the only harmful legacy of the far-right government to the Brazilian scientific community. In order for the public education and research system to function at levels prior to the 2016 coup, it is necessary to face two other problems that are even more difficult to equate.

The first is the equipping of public education at all levels. It is not enough to dismiss or neutralize those who have appropriated positions in public higher education, planning to privatize it and/or link it to extreme right-wing ideology. It is also necessary to stop those who try to inoculate authoritarianism in education at any level.

The second problem is the accentuated worsening of the brain drain in the country. One reason for this is the austerity practiced since 2016, which brutally reduced scholarships, research grants and available scientific posts. Another reason is that, as of 2019, the federal government began to undertake relentless political persecution of the scientific community.

In the next section, we will examine the urgency of dismantling the apparatus set up by the extreme right in our educational system. This would not only contain militaristic and/or coup plots, but would also offer support to escaped scientists and intellectuals willing to return. As we will see below, this return, even if partial, could optimize the use of the contribution of the scientific diaspora to the country.


Another urgent priority: removing fascist rubble from education

To reflect on how the current government has hit education, it is necessary to scrutinize the production process of the fascist debris that has undermined our democracy in these four years.

Reissues of fascism adapted to the new times are taking place all over the world. They are provoked and fed mainly by the failure of financial capitalism, which, in the wake of unemployment, brings insecurity, competition and hostility – fertile soil for autocracies. This process is even worse in Latin America, historically servile and economically dependent on colonial countries. In Brazil, the aggravation is maximum, given the persistent influence of the military dictatorship, which has remained behind the scenes since the end of the regime.

The impunity for crimes against humanity committed by the military in its 21 years in power gave them the opportunity to continue blackmailing the republic with threats of a coup, under the veiled auspices of the elites, whose interests they have always served and still serve faithfully.

In my opinion, the uninterrupted preparation of the barracks for an eventual resumption of power is what best explains the success of a government so often called mismanagement in significantly dismantling, in record time, our fragile democracy, however regulated it had been since 1988.

It is evident that the current representative, a rough man, unprepared even as a military man, could not have been, at the same time, the mentor and the executor of the dismantling. We need, therefore, to assess the extent of the destruction, in order to better reflect on its authorship.

Fortunately, the hardest part of the job is now available, in an extensive report,[vi] produced by a group of researchers from UFRJ led by political scientist Josué Medeiros[vii]. They gathered and analyzed, with admirable rigor, more than 20.000 documents that attest to the meticulousness with which the dismantling was carried out by the federal government, evidencing the existence of a plan. The documentation concerns a large mass of infralegal measures, including decrees, ordinances, resolutions and normative instructions. The researchers organized it along four axes, namely: budget, public, institutions and ideologies.

It is obvious that education has been violently attacked in all four axes. In addition to reducing the budget by 44%, the measures paved the way for the privatization of public schools, released the MEC from being accountable to society, and openly advocated teaching based on conservative values. As the researchers point out, the accumulated authoritarian rubbish is enough to promote, in the short term, a structural change in primary and secondary education in order to allow millions of children and adolescents to be formed within a single thinking with a strongly biased bias. conservative.

This is illustrated by two initiatives that are well advanced: the project to legalize the so-called homeschooling, suspended by the STF in 2018; and the implementation of the National Program of Civic-Military Schools, whose goal was to create 216 of them by 2023.

Currently, the bill that regulates homeschooling, approved by the Chamber, is in the Senate awaiting a vote. Civic-military education is provided by public civilian schools whose managers opted to join the program, launched by the MEC with abundant funding in 2019. Among its alleged advantages are the collaboration of police officers in maintaining discipline - which, according to their proponents, would have the effect of reducing juvenile delinquency. As is to be expected, the target is the poorest sections of the population.

Militarization did not start in the Bolsonaro government. It is part of a broad program of privatization of public institutions in general and primary and secondary schools in particular. It began in the Collor government and has grown since then, with a slowdown, but without interruption, in the PT governments.

Its purpose is to repress the revolt of young people from the periphery and attract private investment, sealing partnerships that facilitate subsequent privatization. A strong indication that this type of school has many supporters and financiers is that, at the end of the current government's lights, the MEC announced new measures to expand the program.

Such measures require urgent combat. They are yet another attempt to undermine the foundations of educational democracy, the construction of which was well under way before the 2016 coup. Evidently, young people with conservative habits who have been trained for submission lose contact with their rights and tend to ignore the opportunities available in the federal and state systems of public universities. A university with students mostly from the middle and upper classes becomes an easy target for privatization campaigns.

It should be noted that the transition team of the elected government is aware of the Revogaço report and has already ruled in favor of shelving the homeschooling and the repeal of Decree 10.004, of September 5, 2019, which established the Civic-Military Schools Program. This not only saves the rights of a low-income generation that has been harmed and persecuted; the potential for diversifying the country's intellectual and scientific production is also saved.

Brazil has chances of leading the democratization of science in the world because it has built a public education system capable of allowing children and young people of all classes, creeds, colors and genders to aspire to an effective participation in the construction of our science and culture. Multiculturalism fosters the renewal of ideas, fertilizing them with imaginaries that are different from the dominant one. That is why the democratic university, which has been heavily attacked in these four years, needs to be among the priorities of the reconstruction agenda.

There are currently two texts produced by the current government and/or its supporters that make it clear that the ongoing dismantling of our democracy aims to alienate the youth of this and future generations. One is a project to renew the guardianship of the military, expected to last for more than a decade. The other is PEC 32-2020, which intends to end the public service, under the auspices of administrative reform. Both hit education and public health in full.

The historical politicization of the armed forces, in addition to manifesting itself in the almost 7.000 civilian positions held by soldiers in the captain's government, was made explicit in a text that historian Manoel Domingos Neto called “militarist delirium”.[viii] It is the project of a high-ranking group in the armed forces that aims to defend the state against supposed internal enemies, that is, against all those who contest the conservatism of its authors – direct heirs of the military dictatorship.

Thus, the first of the mentioned texts, entitled “Projeto de Nação – o Brasil em 2035”,[ix] presents, in its 97 pages, the long-term plans of the military. It was launched last May by three institutes powered by public funds, namely: Sagres, Federalista and General Villas Bôas.[X] It seems, in fact, delusional, as it intends to be a retrospective assessment of how much Brazil will have progressed in 2035, when the guidelines dictated by a prospecting methodology called “Integrated Strategic Management Tools”, attributed to the Sagres Institute, were supposedly applied.

It is surprising that the fictional result, exposed under the rubric “strategic themes”, dedicates only eight pages to the main functions of the armed forces, ie, defense and security – and gives much more space to a vague and superficial critique of our academy , accused of lagging “in relation to more developed countries in terms of graduates and postgraduates, basically, in relation to exact sciences” (sic). The conclusion calls for privatizing the science, technology and innovation system by 2035, through public-private partnerships.

All this would be just an inconsequential delirium if the last four years had not witnessed a re-edition of the military dictatorship's way of governing, which dismantles institutions through budgetary blockades, in addition to successive and silent infra-legal measures. This is how the 1946 Constitution was destroyed. This is how the 1988 Constitution was also beaten – with the difference that, this time, the extreme of institutional acts was not reached. In any case, a 'revocation', as the UFRJ researchers emphasized, is the only means of reversing its disfigurement.

Equally urgent is the overthrow of PEC 32/2020, which extinguishes stability in the public service, reserving it for 'state careers', to be defined later by a complementary law. Bearing in mind that education and health professionals were never included in attempts to define this type of career, the SUS, as well as public schools at all levels, would be deprived of their deepest roots, constituted by their permanent staff.

Who would be willing to put in all the dedication these activities require without any promise of future stability? In this scenario, the bleeding of talent would have two right directions: companies born from the privatization of dismantled systems, where precariousness is certain, or the country's exit door. Like India, Brazil would start supplying rich countries with scientists and health professionals with solid training in search of jobs that were lacking at home.

In short, Brazil would “ascend”, from the pariah position in which Bolsonaro launched it, to a typical second-rate country. This is certainly what the military and its acolytes want, in order to continue dividing up our heritage among adventurers from here and the rest of the world. In view of Normative Instruction no. 12, of October 31, 2022 (NB: it is the day after the presidential election), in which Funai and Ibama established a supposed “Sustainable Community Forestry Management Plan” releasing logging on indigenous lands.

However, that was not the message given by the majority of the Brazilian people to the polls the day before. On the contrary, voters have shown that they yearn for more opportunities, more education, more science, more culture – which will require a quick and efficient rebuilding of all the steps of our educational democracy.

What was lost with the reduction of almost half of the education budget was not only the prospect of new student and teaching vacancies. It was also – and above all – the permanence of the underprivileged who were already in the system thanks to the legal devices that guarantee their rights. Just as school lunches are essential for the physical and mental health of children in elementary school, student housing, transportation and free meals are essential for the physical and mental health of young people who have access to public universities thanks to laws like quotas.

The current government has made this type of support unfeasible, as the resources remaining after the budget cuts are insufficient to even pay the electricity and water bills of the institutions involved. Therefore, in the recomposition of public education, financial recovery is inseparable from demographic recovery, as some historically excluded people are once again excluded. It is necessary, first of all, to ensure that the low-income population’s adherence to public education returns to levels prior to the 2016 coup and the pandemic.


Yet another pressing priority: mapping and organizing the scientific diaspora

To fulfill the mission of leading the construction of a new science – ecological, democratic and sensitive to social causes – Brazil must no longer tolerate the waste of its investments in training high-level personnel. It should, on the contrary, attract dropouts who want to develop here the job prospects opened up by activities carried out abroad. Or, for those already based in other countries, it should encourage connections with peers from our universities, through inter-institutional working groups that deal with topics of social interest. First, however, it is necessary to recognize the difficulty of reversing the brain drain suffered by the country in recent years and to build a strategy to face it.

Although the Brazilian scientific community is fully aware that its emigrants already constitute a diaspora, little is known about the size and areas of knowledge of this population. When the migratory pressure resulted mainly from the recession exported by the US real estate bubble to the rest of the world in 2008, one had the impression that the Brazilians seeking opportunities abroad were professionals linked to the exact sciences and technologies. With the advent of the conservative wave that manifested itself here with the rise of the fascist president, professionals in philosophy, arts and human and social sciences began to be systematically persecuted and emigrated.

These are, however, merely impressionistic observations, gleaned from informal conversations with concerned colleagues. In fact, the demographic research that describes this migratory flow is still incipient, despite having the support of important institutions, such as the SBPC[xi] and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.[xii] This is because the databases needed to collect the data are scattered around the world and suffer from a delay in Brazil, due to the exclusion of international migration issues from the 2020 Census. The field, which cannot do without the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs , was greatly harmed by the obscurantism of the current government.

Fortunately, there are sectors of Brazilian diplomacy that resisted this attack. One example is a recent initiative by the Embassy of Brazil in Austria. This is the report of a project called Mapping the Brazilian Science, Technology and Innovation Diaspora in Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia,[xiii] published in September 2021. The objective is to encourage the exchange of experiences of the expatriate scientific community, through networks and direct contacts, and encourage it to create an association that represents the interests of Brazilian scientists in these countries, which could inspire initiatives analogues in the rest of Europe.

With the participation of 83 respondents, it was found that the largest concentration of this diaspora resides in engineering (38%), followed by Biological Sciences (15%), Exact and Earth Sciences (11%), Health (11%) and Applied Social Sciences (9%).

This panorama is coherent with the situation portrayed by the 2010 Census, which characterizes Brazil as one of the countries with the highest percentage of qualified emigrants living under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2010, the number of Brazilians with higher education in the countries involved reached 291.510. This represented 28,9% of the total number of residents at the time, which revealed a growth of 102% in relation to 2000.

Another initiative worth mentioning is the existence of a website,[xiv] by unidentified authorship, dedicated to collecting voluntary information from members of the diaspora around the world. The tool provides a contact on Twitter and a brief overview of the available information sources, with the aim of summarizing the data in a list and on a map. The current version of the map confirms the widespread impression that most expatriate scientists are in the United States and Western Europe.

To summarize this dispersed but encouraging panorama, it is worth mentioning the final considerations of the recent retrospective by Carneiro et al. (2020),[xv] from the Center for Public Policy Studies (NEPP) at Unicamp:

“Thus, the challenge for now is twofold: not only to map and engage this community of Brazilians abroad, but, simultaneously, to expand collaboration on strategic issues for Brazil, in which collaboration takes place on a two-way street. .”


Final considerations

In conclusion, it is important to emphasize that the disaster of these four years was not greater because of the resistance of the scientific community. The diagnosis and prospecting for reconstruction have also relied on the participation of political parties and non-governmental organizations. For example, they contributed to the construction of the detailed Revogaço report to Lauro Campos and Marielle Franco Foundation, linked to the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, linked to the German party Die Linke (on the left), which has been developing cooperation projects with Brazil since 2003.

As we have already seen, directors of scientific societies, directorates of public universities and diplomats involved with international organizations of education and culture also played their part. Also important were the unions of teachers and administrative technicians and the student movement.

For all these reasons, it is with enthusiasm and confidence that I will dedicate myself, in the last essay of this series, to discussing the proposals that are on the table for the future of science and technology in Brazil. There are quite a few left-wing intellectuals who have defended the possibility of an engaged cutting-edge science – which, by the way, as we will see shortly, cannot be confused with a utilitarian science.

*Eleonora Albano is a retired full professor of Phonetics & Phonology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The audible gesture: phonology as pragmatics (Cortez).

To read the first article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-lugar-para-o-brasil-na-democratizacao-da-ciencia/

To read the second article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-lugar-para-o-brasil-na-democratizacao-da-ciencia-ii/


[I] In view of the barbaric acts of December 12, 2022, on which the denunciation of having emanated from the Institutional Security Office of the Presidency of the Republic (GSI).

[ii] https://aterraeredonda.com.br/neoliberalismo-e-financeirizacao-da-amazonia-2/

[iii] https://www.wwf.org.br/?81968/Moradores-de-areas-urbanas-e-ribeirinhas-do-Baixo-Tapajos-tem-altas-taxas-de-exposicao-por-mercurio

[iv] https://www.amapa.gov.br/noticia/0712/amapa-apresenta-projeto-de-reserva-ambiental-mineral-para-a-guiana-francesa

[v] Namely, “institute the “Support Program for the Development of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and the Interministerial Commission for the Development of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining”

[vi] https://flcmf.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/revogaco.pdf

[vii] See this enlightening interview with Antonio Martins: https://outraspalavras.net/estadoemdisputa/urgencia-do-revogaco-antifascista/

[viii] Domingos Neto, Manuel (org.) Comments on a Militaristic Delusion, Parnaíba, PI: Reading Cabinet, 2022.

[ix] https://igvb.org/

[X] In fact, there is a federal institute named after the general.

[xi] http://portal.sbpcnet.org.br/noticias/pesquisa-vai-tracar-perfil-dos-cientistas-brasileiros-em-inicio-e-meio-de-carreira/


[xiii] Rodrigues Araújo, Galber; Brant de Souza Lima boiler, Melissa. Mapping of the Brazilian Science, Technology and Innovation Diaspora in Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia. https://www.gov.br/mre/pt-br/assuntos/ciencia-tecnologia-e-inovacao/mapeamentodadiasporaaustria.pdf

[xiv] https://sites.google.com/view/diasporacientbr

[xv] Carneiro, Ana Maria et al. Brazilian science, technology and innovation diaspora: overview, self-organized initiatives and engagement policies. https://periodicos.sbu.unicamp.br/ojs/index.php/ideias/article/view/8658500/22431

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