Brazil Seeks Advice on R&D Strategy

U.S. researchers will play a large role in a new panel established by Brazil's government to study the future of science in the country, where a major R&D budget cut ordered by the government this year has researchers fretting.

Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, was tapped by Science Minister Aloizio Mercadante to lead the "Commission of the Future," a 21‑member panel that will study the direction of Brazilian science. Nicolelis, who has established a neuroscience laboratory in Natal, in Brazil's northeast region, has at times been a sharp critic of Brazil's system for funding science, calling it closed-minded and bureaucratic.

The panel's membership includes a number of neuroscientists as well as seven foreigners. Named to the panel are Patrick Aebischer, president of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland; Brazilian stem cell biologist Stevens Rehen; and Alan Rudolph, a former official of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency now with the International Neuroscience Network Foundation in New York City.

Other U.S.-based members include Jon Kaas, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University; Victor Nussenzweig, a Brazilian-born infectious disease specialist at New York University; Robert Bishop, former CEO of Silicon Graphics; and William Feiereisen, a high performance computing expert at Intel. The panel will draw up long‑term plans but will also have to consider the $577 million budget cut the Ministry of Science & Technology will be hit with this year. That figure accounts for about 11% of last year's budget.

Science spending had been growing rapidly in Brazil, along with other government outlays. However, concerns over rising inflation and an overheated economy led newly elected President Dilma Rousseff to order across-the-board cuts totaling about $30 billion.

Luiz Davidovich, a physicist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who is not involved in the panel, says it's already possible to draw one conclusion: "If the cuts in the R&D and education budgets continue, the future of Brazilian science is going to be dark."