Archive for October, 2015

Brazilian Science is Going Down

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Limbo. That is indeed a strong word. But this is the word I’ve used in an Interview for the journal Nature Medicine back in October of 2011 in an Issue that was focused on my home country, Brazil (for the full article check “Brazilians Lured Back Home With Research Funding And Stability”). At that time, I was in the United States (US) working as a Researcher during a crossroad, where the US economy was recovering from the crisis and NIH amongst other funding agencies were cutting down funding for Research all over the country. I’ve seen the Research Institute I was working for cut working force from 500 to approximately 150 people. And this replicated all over the US from 2009 until last year when I came back. As the Nature Medicine Feature Article pointed out in 2011, Brazil was winning on job security and with the availability of money for new Research Projects particularly in wealthy states such as São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, where most of the state’s sales tax is funneled into the region’s biggest Federal Universities (see also the Blog Post I’ve wrote in 2011 entitled “My thoughts on Biomedicine in Brazil“). The same year, my funding in the US was ending and I had no signs of getting more money to survive and do the cancer research I’ve been doing for the last 10 years. Well, after 4 years of that Interview to Nature Medicine, and back in Brazil things changed a lot. In the US, the research system is still struggling, but the economy is recovering, slowly but surely. Back in Brazil, where in 2011 the country was booming with investments and funding pouring out, together with stable jobs, the economy is going downhill in 2015. I am not an economist and don’t even know a lot about politics, but the situation in my home country is bad. Scientists are worried since not even the electricity bill is being paid in the top Federal Universities, where usually science is of good quality. As the Science Magazine pointed out in a recent article, the fiscal crisis has Brazilian scientists scrambling (for the complete article check “Fiscal Crisis Has Brazilian Scientists Scrambling”). Top Brazilian Scientists with approved budgets to finance their science and research are paralyzed and sometimes paying the bills from their own pocket. That is what Brazilian neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel mentioned in the Science Magazine Interview and I can tell from my own experience that this is true. Battling a slumping economy and debt, Brazil’s Federal Government has taken an ax to spending, and it isn’t sparing science. To make things worse, the fluctuation of the ratio between the Brazilian currency Real and the Dollar is now outrageous, and since most reagents and equipment are imported, scientists here have problems making ends meet and paying the bills. This month, Nature Magazine featured in the News Section an article pointing out the problems in Brazil that are impacting in Science. Dr Octavio Franco, a famous Brazilian biochemist and researcher (we work in the same Program and Institution now at the capital of Brazil, Brasilia) pointed out that we were starting to do good quality science and then the crisis crashed the economy hitting hard the scientific community (see more at “Brazilian Science Paralyzed By Economic Slump”). He also pointed out that the whole Brazilian Scientific Ecosystem is in jeopardy since the economic packages and budget for the Funding Agencies have not been approved and for the ones that were approved the money never got to the bank. State budgets that are an increasingly important source of science funding in Brazil felt the pinch. Most states’ research funds come from a constitutionally mandated percentage of state revenues, which together amount to billions of Reais (the Brazilian Currency) each year. With the economy slowing down and the current political crisis, things are going downhill. On the words of Dr Franco, “2015 has been a big mess”. I came back to Brazil in the end of last year with hope and years of training at two top Universities in the US (Harvard and Northwestern Universities) and had trouble to find a job as a Professor and Researcher. Now, research is the second option for several scientists. But, Brazilians are strong and creative. Entrepreneurship is flourishing in Brazil and the current economic crisis and job insecurity with unemployment increasing creates an environment for Ideas and Start Ups. I am trying hard in both sectors  - Academia and Start Ups (this is a subject for another Blog Post…). As for the Brazilian Science, the Government is trying to find new sources of funding, especially loans from the Inter-American Development Bank to help researchers through the crisis, but Brazilian officials and lawmakers have yet to approve the deals. I think the word “Limbo” applies to the whole scientific community in Brazil right now. That is how it feels everywhere I go around here. As I mentioned in the Interview for Nature Medicine in 2011, I did came back to Brazil, but you never know. Things are very nebulous for scientists here. For now, I am hanging on in Brazil, but we will see what the tide brings next year…