NEWS | IN DEPTH
Will Obama’s science initiatives survive?
Obama tried to tackle a range of societal
problems with multiagency initiatives that
included major research components. They
included efforts to prepare communities to
adapt to climate change, the cancer moonshot, research on precision medicine and
the brain, a network of advanced manufacturing institutes to recapture industrial
dominance, and public-private partnerships to improve science and math education. Many had bipartisan support, but it’s
not clear what Trump thinks.
Whither space exploration? Space was
never a front-burner issue for Obama.
Does Trump have a more muscular vision?
Is “unlocking the mysteries of space” a
tacit endorsement of what some influential
Republicans hope will be a costly robotic
mission to find life on a watery moon of
Jupiter? Does it presage astronauts returning to the moon? And what will be Trump’s
stance on commercial space ventures?
Will the United States remain in ITER? The
United States is one of seven partners
building ITER, a fusion research reactor
in France. It is a testbed for what someday
could become an important source of power.
But ITER is almost comically overbudget
and behind schedule, and some lawmakers
want the United States to withdraw, in part
because ITER spending threatens domestic
fusion research programs. Trump’s views
could be decisive.
Will statistical agencies be targets? Federal
statistics move the U.S. economy, providing data that governments and companies
use in deciding how to invest trillions of
dollars. One example is the American Community Survey (ACS), a 72-question annual
survey on employment, schooling, housing, and other topics that is an extension
of the decennial census. But many congressional Republicans think the ACS is
intrusive and unnecessary, and would like
to shrink it and make it voluntary. Will a
Trump administration support these and
other attacks on the work of the 13 federal
How deep a regulatory rollback? Trump says
he wants to cancel two federal regulations
for every new one. And he has signaled support for efforts in Congress to cancel up to
a dozen major rules issued late in Obama’s
tenure, including rules that seek to reduce
methane emissions from oil and gas operations and protect streams from coal mining.
But erasing other Obama-era environmental
and health rules could take years and likely
require winning in court. j
Brazil’s ‘doomsday’ scenario
Two years ago, Fernanda De Felice was at the top of her game. The biochemist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) was developing a nonhuman primate model for Al- zheimer’s disease and publishing in
top journals. But since then, a state budget
crisis has cut off all public funding for her
work. In March, De Felice will decamp to
Canada for a 2-year stint at Queen’s University in Kingston. “Staying in Brazil would
mean the end of my career,” she says.
Thousands of other scientists in the state
of Rio de Janeiro, which includes Rio, Brazil’s second biggest city, and many key research institutions, face a similar struggle.
Declining federal support for science had
sapped funds for scholarships and lab infrastructure (Science, 28 August 2015, p. 909).
Now, Rio de Janeiro’s funding agency,
FAPERJ, is bankrupt. It has fallen
$150 million behind on grant payments,
and over 2 years has been unable to fund
3670 research projects. Science funding
faces similar threats in other states.
A massive brain drain is a real risk. “I
know a lot of people who want to leave,”
says Stevens Rehen, a stem cell researcher
at UFRJ and the D’Or Institute for Re-
search and Education. FAPERJ owes him
more than $475,000. Rehen has kept his
lab running on cash accumulated before
2015, and his team has published several
papers in recent months. However, he says,
“We’ve burned all the fat that we had left.”
The federal government still pays salaries at
UFRJ, but at state universities, employees—
including some 3000 researchers—just re-
ceived their November 2016 salaries. Pro-
fessor resignations are on the rise at Rio
de Janeiro State University in Rio, which
FAPERJ owes $20 million in research funds,
says Vice Chancellor Egberto Moura.
There is little FAPERJ can do but watch
the trainwreck unfold. The agency by law had
been entitled to 2% of state tax revenues until
last month, when Rio de Janeiro’s governor
signed a decree slashing FAPERJ’s allotment
by 30%, to 1.36% of projected revenues. “We
hope this will be a temporary situation,”
says FAPERJ Scientific Director Jerson Silva
Red flags are also up in neighboring São
Paulo state, where the legislature last month
for the first time signaled it won’t fulfill the
lawful budget allotment of its state science
agency, FAPESP. Entitled to 1% of state tax
revenues, FAPESP will get 0.89% of projected revenues in 2017—a reduction of
$35 million. FAPESP is attempting to negotiate a reprieve.
The plight of Brazilian scientists “is
exactly as bad as it sounds,” says Suzana
Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist who
left UFRJ for Vanderbilt University in
Nashville last May, and urged others to follow. Some colleagues, she says, resented
her doomsday attitude and labeled her a
deserter. But she stands by her exhortation: “We have to be honest, and tell people
they should leave if they can.” j
Herton Escobar is a science journalist in
São Paulo, Brazil.
Grants in Rio go unpaid as science coffers are raided
By Herton Escobar
Students and teachers
protest parlous conditions
at Rio de Janeiro