A SPACE FOR
SCIENCE: THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY IN BRAZIL, by Simon
Schwartzman. x + 286 Pp.' tables, app., bibl., index. Revised translation.
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. $32.50.
Reviewed by Donald B. Cooper, The Ohio State
University, in Luso-Brazilian Review, vol. 31, n.1, Summer of 1994,
The basic purpose of this fine volume is to "draw a broad picture of the
arrival and growth of empirical science in Brazil" (vii). Emphasis is placed
on the biological and hard science - physics, chemistry, biology, the earth
sciences - with some attention paid to technology, medicine, engineering,
agriculture, and mathematics, and virtually none to the social sciences
and the humanities. Printed sources, many of them little known, have been
exhaustively consulted, but the core of the research is lengthy, open-ended
interviews conducted in 1977 with some 70 Brazilian scientists.
Many readers will be familiar with the earlier Portuguese version of this
book published in 1979. The present English edition has been revised, corrected,
and updated, and is substantially a new volume. It offers an explicit interpretive
framework, and a broad historical context, for readers who are not specialists
in Brazilian studies. The book is therefore a reliable and instructive source
for understanding the growth of Brazilian science, including both institutions
of research and higher education. It also provides basic biographical and
professional data on dozens of scientists, not only Brazilians but also
foreigners who lived and worked in Brazil.
Schwartzman has written an honest, revealing, and pessimistic book. He uses
the tale of Sisyphus as a metaphor for Brazilian science. "Cursed by the
gods, Sisyphus was condemned to carry a large stone uphill, only to watch
it roll back down, and start all over again" (1). Creating a "space for
science" has been a difficult and uphill struggle in Brazil. A modest beginning
'was made in the long imperial period (1822-1889), but the few scientific
institutions of the 19th century, such as the Botanical Garden and the Royal
Museum, produced few lasting results.
In the early 20th century, however, against all odds, the Manguinhos Institute
of Rio de Janeiro (later Oswaldo Cruz Institute) emerged as a significant
center for both applied science and new research. Oswaldo Cruz and Carlos
Chagas earned well deserved world wide reputations. It was the sole scientific
center of distinction in that era. Conversely, the School of Medicine of
Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s had "no practical courses, no seminars, no contacts
between professors and students; only professional lectures..." (174).
In the 1930s, however, the "establishment of the Universidade de São Paulo
in 1934 [became] the most important event in Brazil's scientific and educational
history" (127). The School of Medicine in São Paulo became the best of its
kind in Brazil. It was a scientific reminder of the preeminent, indeed dominant,
role of the city and state of São Paulo in the Brazilian federation.
Schwartzman credits Europeans (including Germans, Italians, Belgians, Frenchmen
and Englishmen) and Americans with a major role in training Brazilian teachers
and researchers. The Rockefeller Foundation in particular lent valuable
assistance in fighting yellow fever, and in the construction of new scientific
laboratories. In time American models were adopted as the standard for most
Brazilian scientific institutions.
There is no question that this is the outstanding history in English of
the development of empirical science in Brazil. It should have wide appeal
to all Brazilianists, and historians of science; it is also a case study
of the difficulties of creating "a space for science" in a so-called 'Third
World" nation. It is in many respects a cautionary tale, a story of inadequate
resources, of false starts and blind alleys, of governmental meddling and
professional bungling. Furthermore, despite some advances in recent years,
such as the expansion of the number of federal universities, and also the
continued dogged persistence of numerous talented scientists, Schwartzman
warns of "the ghost of premature decay is very present in Brazilian society..."
In scientific terms there is much more science and technology than twenty
years ago, "but it is clear that a space for science, in terms of socially
defined, accepted, and institutionalized scientific roles, is barely there"
(238). Sisyphus may be about to see the stone of scientific progress roll
down the hill once more, another victim of the debt crisis and political
instability in Brazil.