By José Tadeu Arantes and Elton Alisson | Agência FAPESP – The 17th FAPESP 60 Years Conference, held on December 14, 2022, with the launching of the book A Ciência no Desenvolvimento Nacional (“Science in the Nation’s Development”), edited by the São Paulo State Academy of Sciences (ACIESP), marked the end of the cycle of events organized to commemorate FAPESP’s sixtieth anniversary.
“The commemorations began in May 2021, with the unveiling of the Sustainable Development Portal, where the 17 SDGs are indexed along with all the related projects and other activities supported by FAPESP,” said Marco Antonio Zago, President of FAPESP. He also mentioned the 24 webinars, conferences, schools, and other activities available on the FAPESP 60 Years Portal.
The 17th Conference and the book edited by ACIESP propose a reflection about the future of science, innovation and research funding.
Hernan Chaimovich, emeritus professor at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Chemistry (IQ-USP) and a former scientific advisor to FAPESP, presented a study on the results of its funding activities. Chaimovich is also a former chair of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), an arm of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI).
In his lecture, he said its guaranteed budget, complete administrative independence and rigorous project assessment “are the key factors that determine the intellectual, social and economic impacts of FAPESP’s investments”.
From this perspective, he spoke about the challenges FAPESP will face in the coming decades, describing the main ones as “maintaining financial autonomy in the framework of the state constitution, maintaining independence in project selection and assessment, and increasing its emphasis on excellence in research and the social and economic repercussions of the results”.
“One way of addressing these challenges is to strengthen the impacts of the projects it funds, meaning their intellectual, social and economic impacts,” he added.
To gauge the effects of FAPESP’s investments, Chaimovich referred to the number of scientific publications indexed by the Web of Science (WoS). “Until around the early 1970s, the number was relatively small, but FAPESP played a vital role by funding overseas doctoral studies for young Brazilian researchers, many of whom returned home. The result was a boom in scientific production in São Paulo State from the 1970s on,” he said.
For decades, 50% of Brazil’s scientific production originated in São Paulo state. “From 2000 on, the state’s production continued to rise, but its share of the national total began to decline. That’s a very good sign. The reason is FAPESP’s effect on the education and training of people who have gone on to work in programs of graduate studies throughout Brazil,” he said.
Noting that Brazil’s scientific output has risen steadily even when GDP growth has been low or negative, Chaimovich said “scientists in Brazil, and especially in São Paulo, are fantastically resilient” in view of their ability to continue producing despite economic adversities.
However, he added, “the impact of publications by Brazil and São Paulo, and of those funded by FAPESP, is much less than the average impact of publications worldwide. The impact of São Paulo’s publications is greater than that of Brazilian publications in general, but we’re still a long way away from overtaking the global average.”
This does not mean high-quality, cutting-edge research and science done at the frontier is not produced by researchers funded by FAPESP. “Many world-impact journals feature research funded by FAPESP on their covers. The average isn’t higher than the world average, however,” he said.
Research by companies
For Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, Senior Vice President of Elsevier Research Networks and a former Scientific Director of FAPESP, Brazil needs to create an environment that facilitates in-house research by companies so as to drive up investment in science, technology and innovation (ST&I) and reap its economic and social benefits. He was the last speaker at the event.
“The ST&I discussion in Brazil hasn’t yet recognized the significance of the corporate sector to research. Companies all over the world create knowledge, and sometimes it’s more advanced than the knowledge created by universities,” he said, citing as an example the ongoing progress of quantum computing led by companies such as Google, Microsoft and IBM.
“The research done by companies is essential to economic development. Most of any country’s economy isn’t driven by the ideas of universities, but by people educated at university and now working for companies. That’s where GDP [gross domestic product] comes from,” he said.
If companies are to do relevant research, they have to employ researchers and not just establish partnerships with universities, he added, yet the number of researchers employed by companies in Brazil is lower than the average for 44 other countries. Indeed, Brazil is one of the lowest-ranking countries in this regard, alongside South Africa and Argentina. Data for 2017 shows that Brazil had 59,000 researchers working in companies, or 290 per 1 million inhabitants. This corresponds to 19 researchers per 1 billion of GDP in purchasing power parity terms. South Korea, whose population is only a fifth of Brazil’s, has six times more, and the United States has ten times more, Brito Cruz said.
Investment in research, development and innovation (RD&I) by companies established in Brazil is also less than the world average. According to statistics produced by MCTI, in 2019 Brazilian investment in RD&I totaled BRL 89 billion, or 1.21% of GDP. Government and public and private universities accounted for 51% of the total, and companies for 49%.
The percentage has not changed despite the introduction of subsidies in recent years to foster research in the business sector and has never surpassed 0.6% of GDP. “It’s widely believed in Brazil that innovation is driven by incentives, but the problem is that the economic environment doesn’t oblige Brazilian companies to want to be the best in the world in their field. They won’t do so, however many incentives are offered,” Brito Cruz said.
He presented data showing that expenditure by several countries on incentives to foster corporate research has fallen since 1980 and is currently less than 10% of total spending on ST&I, although investment in RD&I by their companies has risen in the same period. This is another sign that it is not direct subsidies that stimulate companies to invest in research.
“Companies do research not because of tax incentives but to be competitive, to seek new markets, to perform better and better. They can benefit from incentives in pursuit of further development, of course,” he said.
Science in the nation’s development
The book edited by ACIESP and launched on December 14, 2022, was presented by Vanderlan Bolzani, President of ACIESP, and Luiz Eugênio Mello, Scientific Director of FAPESP. Adriano Andricopulo, Executive Director of ACIESP, summarized its introduction and each of its seven chapters.
The talks delivered to the 17th FAPESP 60 Years Conference and the presentation of A Ciência no Desenvolvimento Nacional can be watched in full at: youtube.com/watch?v=1Yh3Qhaewx0.