Nature’s 10: Ten people who mattered in science in 2019.
1) RICARDO GALVÃO: Science defender
Ricardo Galvão nearly passed out when he heard the news and realized he was being targeted by his own president. On 19 July, Brazil’s leader, Jair Bolsonaro, lashed out against a report on deforestation by Galvão’s team at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São Paulo. The group’s analysis had incited the president’s wrath because it found a sharp spike in forest clearing in the Amazon. The president accused the scientists of lying about the data and suggested that Galvão — as head of the institute — might be in cahoots with environmentalists. The 72-year-old fusion physicist was stunned by the accusation. “My wife had to bring me a glass of water,” he says.
Rather than rush to react, Galvão gave himself 12 hours to craft a response. After a nearly sleepless night, he spoke out in defence of INPE scientists. He also accused the president of cowardice and called for a face-to-face meeting — acts that he knew would lead to him losing his job. What he didn’t know was that he would become a hero of sorts, hailed by his scientific colleagues as well as by strangers on the streets. A woman even stopped him on the subway in São Paulo to thank him for standing up to Bolsonaro and helping her to understand why preserving the Amazon matters.
“He lost his job because he took a very clear and strong position in defence of science — and against authoritarianism,” says Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist and Galvão’s colleague at the University of São Paulo. Artaxo sees worrisome parallels between Bolsonaro’s government and the dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985, including a tendency to attack any evidence that doesn’t support its political goals. “We need people like Galvão to stand up.”