Brazil’s government has triggered fierce criticism from scientists after announcing plans to tackle economic stagnation by implementing a government-wide budget freeze that could see research funding cut by up to 42%.
The lockdown of 30 billion reais (US$ 7.5 billion), which was announced at the end of last month, has particularly hit the country’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication (MCTIC), which will now have just 2.9 billion reais (US$ 751 million) for research and development this year.
“We were running on a flat tire; now they took out the wheel,” Ildeu de Castro Moreira, a physicist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, told Science magazine.
“We knew there might be another contingency measure on the way, but we never expected it to be so extreme. . . . When you have so little to begin with, every loss is a major loss.”
The freeze represents just the latest in a series of cuts to science funding over the last few years. In 2017, money for the MCTIC was cut to the equivalent of just US$ 900 million—then the smallest science budget in more than a decade—although some extra funds were made available to the ministry later in the year. Subsequent years have not provided much more for the ministry.
Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in charge since January, had originally pledged to increase research spending. But he also appointed an economic minister determined to reduce government funding as a way to boost economic growth.
The freeze has been subject to strong criticism by researchers and science organizations in the country. “It’s an irrational policy,” Mariana Moura of the University of São Paulo’s Institute of
Energy and Environment who is a cofounder of the activist movement Engaged Scientists told Science. “Every other country knows that you need to increase funding for science and technology to grow the economy.”
Luiz Davidovich, a physicist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said he is concerned the policy will only help push the country’s younger researchers to move away, noting that he has received several requests for letters of recommendation from graduate students doing just that. “Our best and brightest are leaving the country,” he says.