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The effects of the lack of communication between science and society

Atualizado: 24 de jul. de 2020

Translated by Lídia Paes Leme

English edited Katyanne M. Shoemaker

With the investment cut by CAPES (a Brazilian science funding agency) on the 3rd of August 2018, many Brazilian researchers started using social media to tell society about what they’ve been researching, using the hashtags #MinhaPesquisaCapes and #ExistePesquisaNoBr. (#MyresearchinBrazil, #thereisscienceinBrazil). In this blog we surveyed editors and guests to see who had received CAPES funding at some point in their career. In less than 2 hours, we had over 20 researchers.

What fault do we have, as scientists, in this government cut? Why did we wait for the announcement of such a drastic measure to start communicating the importance of our research to society? Why did we wait for absurd ideas, such as the anti-vaccine movement, the flat Earth conspiracy, and others to spread before bringing science to the public? Shouldn’t it be routine for scientists to speak directly to society? Why don’t we?

The first reason that comes to mind is the constant lack of time, and this walks side by side with the lack of incentive (and/or lack of recognition). We, Brazilian scientists, other than developing our research, juggle: 1) Teaching (undergrad and grad); 2) Advising (undergrad, masters, doctorate research); 3) Proposing and managing research, teaching, and extension projects; 4) Finding funding and supplying equipment and other materials for research and teaching; 5) Organizing others schedules for lab and field work; 6) Attending meetings and serving on committees (department, courses, post-grad, etc); and 7) Participating in evaluation panels (exams, undergrad/grad titles). The lack of incentive is in the fact that funding agencies, career evaluations, and teaching exams in public universities undervalue public outreach efforts. Currently, the best way to score points in academia is to publish many articles in scientific magazines, and those rarely reach the general public. I’m not saying that peer-reviewed papers are not important, but that they shouldn’t be the only metric.

This lack of incentive quiets the scientists, and in turn, society doesn’t value the science being done because they don’t know how it can affect their lives. Add to this a government that doesn’t encourage scientific dissemination because scientists don’t speak up and the public doesn’t ask for it, and we enter a vicious cycle that is hard to break. It’s worth remembering that the majority of research done in Brazil comes from within the University setting. The research is done by scientists, mainly in masters, doctoral, or post-doctoral programs, that are funded by research grant agencies, like CAPES. Without funding for communication, society will never be able to see the importance of the research that brings them medicine, fish in the market, and transportation!

One example of this disconnect between science and society was a paper’s headline announcing that CAPES would not have money to assist in paying researchers after August 2019; but I’d like to make it clear that CAPES does not pay partial assistantships, but rather exclusive scholarships that are the only means of income for most researchers. This payment is called a research assistantship because it is not taxed, but it also does not come with benefits like vacation days, 13rd salary, guaranteed funding, or unemployment insurance. In many cases, the one with a scholarship is legally restricted from performing any other money-making activity while receiving this funding. Therefore, these scholarships are actually “salaries,” and the only source of income the researchers have.

Who doesn’t work best when they have a good, stable income? When they don’t have to worry if their scholarship will be cut off or not? When they don’t frequently have to ask for extensions or to submit new project proposals?

So I leave here a challenge for all of my colleagues in academia: Speak up! Don’t let the hashtags #MinhaPesquisaCapes #ExistePesquisaNoBrasil be short-lived. And also, I challenge all non-scientists: find something in your life that wasn’t created, dependent upon, or made better by science. Value all you have around you, because then you’ll be valuing science!

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Andrey Andrew
Andrey Andrew
08 de out. de 2023
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