The head of the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) says, "We have always wondered if it is better to have a [science] minister
with real political power or someone from the scientific community." Now Marco Antonio Raupp and the rest of the country's scientists are about to
learn the answer.
This month, newly elected president Dilma Rousseff chose as science minister Aloizio Mercadante, a powerful senator from the state of São Paulo with
little track record in the area. (His appointment won't be official until 15 December, but a spokesperson for Mercadante says he has accepted
Not only do his academic credentials pale alongside Brazil's current science minister, Sérgio Rezende, a physicist who published a solo theoretical paper this year in Physical Review B on microwave-driven
Bose-Einstein condensates. Mercadante is also burdened by his previous claims, since acknowledged to be incorrect, that he held a Ph.D. from the
University of Campinas (Unicamp) in economics.
Brazilian science societies are treading cautiously on the appointment. BAAS and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences issued a joint statement (in Portuguese) on the transition expressing their "strong expectation and
confidence that the Ministry of Science and Technology will continue to enjoy the conditions that have allowed it to successfully carry out its
mission." Raupp says the society is simply reminding politicians about the importance of picking a minister on technical merit. Neurobiologist Miguel
Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who campaigned on behalf of Rousseff, is equally coy. "This is a very surprising appointment,"
Rezende, who is retiring this month after 5 years in the post, created new bridges to industry, presided over growing budgets, and is widely liked in
academia. "It is going to be very hard to replace Rezende," says physicist Sérgio Mascarenhas of the University of São Paulo's Institute for Advanced
Studies. "But he erected such a big infrastructure that the policies will likely continue."
Although Mercadante hasn't been active on science issues, he has experience in related areas. As senator, he has championed improving education and
installing broadband Internet service in schools and opposed a bill that would have censored speech on the Internet. Political commentators say the
science post could just be a steppingstone for Mercadante, who could run for mayor of São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, in 2012.
In the meantime, Mercadante's statements regarding his Ph.D. continue to dog him. Although he claimed the advanced degree during a 2006 television
interview and his official biography once noted he "did his Masters and Doctorate in Economics at Unicamp," Mercadante never completed the doctoral
degree. Today, a spokesperson blamed staff memberss for the mistake.
Mercadante's current resumé says he holds a master's degree. But that may soon change. Next week, the 56-year-old politician will defend his doctoral
thesis on the economic policy of the governing Worker's Party, to which he belongs.