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‘A hostile environment.’ Brazilian scientists face rising attacks from Bolsonaro’s regime

‘A hostile environment.’ Brazilian scientists face rising attacks from Bolsonaro’s regime

Last week, scientists at the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), Brazil’s lead agency for studying and managing the nation’s vast protected areas, had to start abiding by an unwelcome new rule. It gives one of ICMBio’s top officials the authority to review all “manuscripts, texts and scientific compilations” before they are published.

Researchers fear President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, which has a markedly hostile relationship with Brazil’s scientific community, will use the reviews to censor studies that conflict with its ongoing efforts to weaken environmental protections. The administration says that is not the intent. But the move adds to recent developments that have rattled many Brazilian scientists and left those who are critical of Bolsonaro’s policies fearing for their jobs and even their physical safety.

“Science is being attacked on several fronts,” says Philip Fearnside, a veteran ecologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA). “There is denial of the pandemic, denial of climate change, denial of deforestation; not to mention budget cuts.”

Bolsonaro’s grievances with scientists date back to the start of his administration in 2019. Then, he accused the National Institute for Space Research of “lying” about satellite data showing increased deforestation in the Amazon and fired its director, physicist Ricardo Galvão, after he defended the numbers. Since then, Bolsonaro has clashed with researchers over issues including his persistent rejection of science-based strategies for combating the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 330,000 Brazilians. But the relationship appears to have entered an even tenser phase in recent months.

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