This week, the 2023 Nobel Prize winners are distributed in the scientific, literary and peace categories, and the question returns: Why has Brazil never won the Nobel Prize?
The answer is according to the experts I interviewed Boundcomes in the face of various aspects, the most important of which are the low investment in research, the quality of basic education in the country and, mainly, the geopolitical context.
Although not listed among the countries that have received the Nobel Prize, Brazil had 147 nominations, from 1901 to 1971, when the most recent data are available. The Alfred Nobel Foundation leaves the list of nominees secret for 50 years.
Among them is the physicist Césare Latte, who received a prize for his scientific discovery, but did not receive it; Carlos Chagas and Adolfo Lutz, for their contribution to global public health, and Fritz Figel, an Austrian who lives in Brazil and has made important contributions to the knowledge of chemistry, is the only nominee in this category in the country.
There are also nominees for the Literature Prize, such as Jorge Amado and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and for the Peace Prize, with several nominations, especially in Brazilian diplomacy, such as Oswaldo Arana, Afraño de Mello Franco, and Barão de Río Branco.
Moreover, considering only the criterion of place of birth, we can say that Brazil has a prize winner: Peter Medawar, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1960 for his discovery of immune tolerance, was born in Petrópolis (RJ), but had his higher education and work in the United Kingdom. He completed his first years of basic education in the country before moving abroad, renouncing his Brazilian citizenship – which, according to his cousin who remained in Brazil, occurred to escape compulsory military service.
Although he was born here, his father was a merchant from Lebanon. During his teens, he came to Brazil just for vacation. His research with R. Billingham at the University of Oxford is working on laying the foundations for immune compatibility in organ transplantation.
“It is important to highlight that Brazil has had many ‘Nobel Prizes’, which is how we historians of science call Nobel Prize candidates who did not receive Nobel prize”. . “And that’s not all. There are several examples of laureates who praised the contributions of Brazilians, such as the Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi, the 2021 laureate who had Brazilian co-authors on his research, and the Frenchman Serge Harroche, who received the 2012 Physics Prize, and in his speech He thanked the Brazilians Luiz Davidović and Nissim Zagori.
In this sense, it is not possible to know just from the nomination why that researcher did not win, explains Junior, who is also a historian of science. “There is a limit to information, because not everything that is discussed is published, and we will only know after 50 years why current Brazilian scientists have not received the award. But this thing, which is more deserving, is a gold medal.” Or 147 silver? It cannot be said that the candidates’ research is less important than the winners’ research.”
For Renato Jeanine Ribeiro, president of the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science, the quality of science, literature, political and social role in Brazil is no less than that of other countries that have already received awards.
“We are not a rich country, however, we are among the ten in the world in terms of producing scientific knowledge. Naturally, there are some areas in which we will not be the best in the world, but we have the capabilities, if we want to invest. The question is that a lot of investment is needed,” he says.
But it is important to remember that it is not only the greatness of scientific discovery that influences the selection of winners. As the survey he conducted showed BoundThe winners are male, American and British.
“The Nobel Prize selection committee is sexist and concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere,” says biomedical scientist Helena Nader, the first woman elected to head the Brazilian Academy of Sciences in 2022. “This cannot be denied.” Context Globally, the world does not see us as producers of science, and Latin America is very poorly represented among laureates, as if it has nothing to do with scientific knowledge.
Despite this, Argentina has two Nobel Prizes in scientific categories, one in Physiology or Medicine, awarded to Bernardo Houssay, in 1947, and the other in Chemistry, to Luis Federico Leloir, in 1970. It cannot be said that science in Argentina is better or worse than in Brazil. .
“When we look at science in the world, science in the Northern Hemisphere is more integrated than it is here in the Southern Hemisphere,” explains economist Monica De Paul, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who holds a master’s degree in immunology and microbiology from Georgetown University. “But our universities were born yesterday too if we compare them to European countries.”
Therefore, the issue of education is also fundamental to understanding the complexity of scientific research in the country. “There is a gap in Brazilian basic education, and we have very poor indicators in major evaluations,” he says. “There is also a lack of a lot of money for research, ensuring that laboratories work, and enabling scientific coordination.” .
An example of this is the period of turmoil that Brazilian science has experienced over the past four years, during which grants were cut and federal universities had difficulty even paying their electricity bills. “You can’t try to get a Nobel Prize without first providing working conditions, research grants, stable contracts. Then what we saw happens, the brain drain, and it takes a lot of work to bring back those who were already there,” says Ribeiro.
Regarding the economics award, there is a subjective nature. “One of the winners, who is not European, American or British, is Ahmed Yassin, who was a complete sociologist, of Arab descent. However, he received all his training in England,” says de Paul.
Finally, the language barrier is also one aspect that might mean that Brazil has yet to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. But that did not prevent the Portuguese José Saramago from receiving the award in 1998. Nader says: “The greatness of Brazilian writers, such as Jorge Amado and Guimarães Rosa, is no less than the greatness of other authors.” “It is a problem of who decides and who exerts pressure.”
“Hardcore beer fanatic. Falls down a lot. Professional coffee fan. Music ninja.”