Unscientific Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Right Choice For Republic Day Chief Guest?
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is set to be the chief guest at the 2020 Republic Day celebrations at the invitation of the Modi government. The invite came in the backdrop of fires across the Amazon in Brazil. Parts of the Amazon in Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia also burned during the same time.
In Brazil, the Bolsonaro government was blamed for allowing deforestation that was identified as the core culprit for the forests to burn. Adding salt to wounds is the temperament of the Bolsonaro government towards science and scientific institutions in Brazil.
In June 2019, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was 88 per cent more when compared to June 2018, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INEP), a research unit of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communication. The findings were based on satellite data from a system called DETER (Deforestation Detection in Real-Time).
President Jair Bolsonaro said the findings were lies. INPE's director, Dr Ricardo Galvão who defended the findings was fired.
In response to questions about standard methodologies used in tracking deforestation, Raj Bhagat, a remote sensing analyst said while it is true that Brazil's deforestation has been happening for many decades and is continuing, the methodology used by INPE in this particular instance for determining deforestation, fire count etc. "are technically sound and can't be termed as lies."
Bhagat added that preliminary analyses of satellite images over certain parts of the Brazilian Amazon indicate that deforestation and the associated fires are happening at a higher rate than usual. He also noted that most of these fires either happening in forest areas or in areas that had recently been deforested.
Bhagat explained that these images also show that many of the fire incidents occurred at the edges of the forests, at the intersection of human habitation and are not natural fires.
Apart from this incident, there have been other instances that show how the Bolsonaro government has managed the country's scientific institutions.
In November, scientists who were researching the Amazon wildfires published a paper debunking the government's stand that the fires in August 2019 were normal. Fearing backlash, many of the scientists chose to remain anonymous.
"Some contributors declined authorship to maintain anonymity. We regret this was necessary and thank them for their important contribution," the acknowledgement section of the paper said.
The Bolsonaro government has also cut funding to scientific institutions.
Last year, the government announced that it had frozen 42 per cent of the budget for the country's science and communications ministry which was already struggling with a budget that was the lowest in 14 years.
"Academic freedom with the intellectual liberty is a prerequisite for developing policies and programmes benefiting the humankind," T.V. Ramachandra, coordinator of the Energy and Wetlands Research Group at IISc said, in response of such efforts at 'managing' scientific institutions. "It is unfortunate that some are countries are interfering in scientific institutions that are working towards the benefit of humankind," he added.
Queries were sent to the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change and the Department of Science and Technology about views on the choice of chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations given his 'scientific temper'. The article will be updated if and when a response is received.