On the occasion of the XVIII Meeting of the Brazilian Materials Research Society (B-MRS), which brought together about 1800 researchers from Brazil and more than a dozen other countries, from September 22 to 26, 2019, in Balneário Camboriú, Santa Catarina, Brazil, B-MRS executive board and council are publicly expressing their concern about the cuts and contingencies of funds for education and research in Brazil. If cuts in public universities and research and postgraduate funding bodies such as CAPES, CNPq and Finep persist, the country will be doomed to setback in its development process. We emphasize that the need to contain public spending due to the economic crisis does not justify the cuts in science and education, as these cuts are much larger – in percentage – than in other areas of government.
As the history of nations’ progress shows, the prosperity and well-being of population is directly related to a country’s ability to generate and absorb knowledge. It is unbelievable that in the 21st Century it is still necessary to justify investments in research and knowledge generation. Especially in an era of space travel, unprecedented longevity for mankind, and technologies like mobile phones that allow communication that a few decades ago was only in science fiction books.
We would like to address the Brazilian society that pays taxes to maintain the country’s science, technology and innovation system. With so much false news spread today, questions may arise about the intentions of the academic and university community. One might wonder if such a manifesto is not just a corporatist defense of an elite that sees its interests affected by policies adopted with cuts and contingencies. This is a legitimate question, but also one that can be firmly answered by the B-MRS community. Making science and developing new technologies presupposes the search for the truth, so we cannot shy away from alerting Brazilian society about the consequences of current policies of attacks on public universities and investment cuts.
Even if people don’t realize it everyday, their lives are highly dependent on technology: for energy and communication through mobile phones, access to medical treatments, availability of clean water and affordable food. There are many examples of Brazilian technology that benefit the Brazilian population and economy, such as the most obvious ones in which Brazil has world leadership: deepwater oil exploration, agribusiness and the production of medium-sized aircraft. On the other hand, the existence of laboratories and trained personnel, resulting from the investment in science and technology of many decades, allowed Brazil to quickly unravel the mechanisms of action of Zika virus, which causes microcephaly in infants. Thanks to this knowledge, the same virus brings hope of treatment for brain tumors that today have no chance of cure. Mention should also be made of the need for training qualified professionals who can serve the population, which can only be achieved with a thriving university system that includes research.
The academic community must have a responsibility not to be an alarmist. However, it also has a duty to alert the Brazilian people to some of the effects that the destruction of our science, technology and innovation system will have – inevitable if policies of cuts persist. Worldwide, the largest contribution of resources to science and technology is made by the state; companies generally account for the cost of applied research, built on the basic knowledge acquired in more fundamental studies. It is important to remember that the destruction of this system can be much faster than the decades required to build it.
We want to close this manifesto with a note of hope. In one of the lectures at the XVIII SBPMat Meeting, one of the achievements that makes Brazilian science proud was presented: the Sirius particle accelerator, installed at the National Center for Energy and Materials Research, in Campinas. Built with 85% national technology, Sirius is among the most advanced in the world, and can enable the generation of knowledge essential for many strategic areas for the Brazilian economy. The creation of Sirius is yet another demonstration of the capacity of the Brazilian scientific community, which we hope can continue its work. This will only be possible, however, if there is a change in policies for education and research in Brazil.