Ana Paula Morales

Special Relationship (Virtual)
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Brazil
Elected in 2022
Because of the pandemic, Ana Paula Morales was selected by Ashoka as a Special Relationship (Virtual) using an online process.

Introduction

Science and journalism are fundamental to the strengthening of democracy and essential to combat disinformation. Ana Paula creates bridges between those who do science and the Brazilian population through the press, so that together, they can influence a cultural change in the way evidence-based knowledge is used in the country. By doing this, she breaks down prejudices and institutional barriers, strengthens civic participation in science, and qualifies the way people make individual and collective decisions.

The New Idea

Ana Paula is fighting the boom of misinformation and public apathy over funding cuts in science, democratizing access to scientific evidence through journalism. In Agência Bori, the first scientific information platform focused on the press in Brazil, Ana Paula strengthens the ecosystem of scientific communication in the country, linking small and large media, independent journalists, scientists, and press offices of research institutions.



Science and journalism are two fundamental institutions for strengthening democracy, as they are dynamic and can, together, bring evidence-based information to the general population. Creating relationships between them is critical to reverse the devaluation of scientific knowledge and promote its use. Ana Paula identifies the gaps between journalists and researchers and builds bridges to unite them, expanding the population’s access to scientific information, so that decisions are made based on evidence: both in the personal sphere (e.g., taking vaccines, consuming a specific type of food, adopting sustainable practices in everyday life) and in the public sphere (what decision-makers in governments and companies can and should do in areas such as the environment, education, etc.). By doing this, she intends to help initiate a structural change in the scientific culture of Brazilian society.



Ana’s experiences as a scientist and communicator underlie Agência Bori’s trajectory. She understands the demands and needs of scientists on the one hand and the press on the other, creating an effective way to organize and streamline data and facts that are interesting for both. Bori was launched two weeks before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil and has already become a relevant actor in the scientific and journalistic ecosystem with the dissemination of an unprecedented scientific study for the press every two days, on average, and direct engagement of about 600 scientists and more than 2000 journalists from all over the country who are already part of the Bori community.

The Problem

Brazil was among the 15 largest producers of scientific studies in the world in 2019 (according to the Scimago International Ranking, which is a classification of academic and research-related institutions) especially in the human sciences, agronomy, and the environment. Yet despite this impressive production due to past investments, the budget of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications (MCTIC) was cut in half from 2015 to 2016. At the same time, nine out of ten Brazilians said they could not identify an institution that conducts research in the country (MCTIC, 2019). This is because, in general, scientists often only share scientific discoveries among themselves, and the population does not know what is being produced of science in Brazil.



Now, research institutions are facing even scarcer resources, which is accompanied by public disinterest – that is, little or no reaction to funding cuts. While investments in science continue to be reduced, the volume and spread of misinformation that questions and devalues scientific knowledge has grown rapidly. Brazilian society, which was already distant from the scientific community, has almost no access to evidence-based knowledge generated by science and is not using it to make decisions in the personal and collective spheres. Meanwhile, the press, which could be a connector of knowledge and society, does not know where and how to look for such information.



Scientific journalism in Brazil is still timid and relatively recent. In addition to the difficulty of access to national scientific studies (which often leads journalists to rely mostly on international sources), journalists in general are not familiar with the scientific text or the academic environment to look for reliable sources. In the case of early career journalists or those who do not follow science closely, the difficulty is even greater.



Thus, there is a vicious cycle in which the lack of connection between the public and scientists is established in a culture without social valorization for science, which leads to the lack of data to base decisions in the private and public sphere, which further widens the distance between these communities.

The Strategy

To halt the perverse cycle that devalues science, feeds misinformation, and weakens informed decision-making, Ana Paula co-created the first Brazilian platform aimed at connecting science and the national press: Agência Bori. Perceiving the press as the main ally in the dissemination of evidence-based information, the initiative builds a bridge between scientific knowledge and journalists, mapping and curating relevant studies, indicating sources and their contacts, offering unprecedented research to the press and conducting thematic research. Also, Agência offers workshops and immersions on scientific topics for journalists and training in communication and dissemination for researchers in the country.



Bori maps unpublished scientific content in its database created from partnerships with scientific journals indexed in the SciELO electronic library or associated with the Brazilian Association of Scientific Editors (ABEC), studies that researchers send directly to Bori and other partnerships, such as with the publishers of Unicamp and Fiocruz. Using its database, Bori's team selects scientific research that can become an agenda for journalism across the country, guide public debate and promote change. For example, after disseminating research on how a gas extraction method was causing seismic tremors in Manaus, press coverage of the problem caught the attention of society and the federal government, which eventually led to a change in regulations on gas extraction by the Ministry of Mining and Energy. The process of curation of studies disseminated to the press takes into account the journalistic relevance of the theme, in addition to criteria such as quality, diversity and, of course, the demands and interests of society. These relationships are constantly established and strengthened by the Bori team in order to overcome the walls of the academy.



Ana Paula has been expanding and strengthening the communities of journalists and scientists with specific strategies to maintain, engage and cultivate them, always based their actions on the needs raised by these two direct audiences. One example is the database of sources of Agência Bori, a platform with systematized data of Brazilian researchers from various areas, ready to talk to journalists about their research and scientific topics. The Agency invites and trains journalists to use it while mobilizing scientists to also join the bank as sources. In the community of journalists, Bori wants to reach 10% of all professionals active in newsrooms in the country by 2023 (i.e., the goal is to reach about 3,500 journalists using the platform).


Ana Paula also uses immersions and courses to support news coverage on specific topics relevant to each moment -- recently, the main topics were climate change, vaccines and education. In addition to working with professionals who are already part of the Bori community, these initiatives have also played a key role in increasing the number of journalists who have joined the Agency. Bori also carries out awareness actions for scientific topics that are not yet on the press radar. With scientists, the training prepares them to talk to the press and disseminate their studies. They become accessible sources on key subjects that provide qualified information. As a medium-term plan, Ana Paula intends to deepen her interaction with journalists and scientists and the relationship between these groups







The Agência Bori also incorporates diversity criteria in its work. The selection of studies for dissemination takes into account the geographical distribution of research institutions, and brings gender and race lenses whenever possible. Today, the Agency covers all Brazilian regions. The selection of participants for the courses also considers gender, race, location and size of media vehicles. The agency's own name highlights this commitment, as it is a tribute to the Brazilian scientist Carolina Bori (1924-2004): researcher in the field of experimental psychology and first woman president of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC).



The Bori Agency quickly established itself as a showcase of national science among journalists and press vehicles and as a reference in the dissemination of science among researchers and scientific institutions in the country. All studies released so far have had significant press coverage. Several of them had more than 60 publications, including the international media. Ana Paula's work qualified several debates related to the pandemic and topics such as the environment and food systems. Studies published by Bori on the situation of Brazilian frontline professionals in the fight against the pandemic, for example, were cited in the cpi of covid. The work to support Bori's pandemic coverage has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an example of an innovative communication initiative. The highlight was the InfoVacina program, developed by Bori with the support of the Sabin Vaccine Institute e Instituto Serrapilheira. The four-month journalistic mentoring experience was successful in bringing journalists across the country closer to experts and scientific knowledge about vaccines. Bori's relevance was also recognized by Google when it was selected as one of the ten Brazilian journalism initiatives to participate in the first edition of the Google News Initiative Startup Lab. Thinking ahead, Ana Paula plans to create Bori spinoffs that will deal with the democratization of science in areas beyond journalism -- as an observatory with indicators on national scientific production.

The Person

Ana Paula grew up in the countryside of São Paulo, influenced by families with different cultural and social backgrounds. On the one hand, her father's family were small farmers and on the other hand, her mother's family came from a more urban background. Even though she lost her mother at age 4, Ana Paula has always kept the memory of her mother alive by giving free classes in her home to young people with a history of drug abuse, beginning at the age of 12. Her father and stepmother was responsible for continuing to support her and her older sister's education. Ana Paula was always very curious influencing her to dedicate herself to her studies.



This growing curiosity and social commitment led her to consider a career in journalism or biology. Ana Paula wanted to understand how natural and social phenomena occurred, and chose to study biomedicine, which allowed her to combine science with social causes. In São Paulo, she participated in cutting-edge scientific projects that analyzed the impact of calcium on degenerative diseases and cancer, which led her to study abroad in the United States and the United Kingdom during scientific initiation and a master's degree in pharmacology. Although she had a promising career and an invitation to pursue a doctorate in England, Ana Paula wanted to make an even more significant contribution to society at home.



Realizing that what she developed in research could be continued by other people, Ana decided instead to change her trajectory and dedicate herself to the connection between science and society to promote access to scientific information and influence decisions. She switched her career in biomedicine and a job at a high-qualified laboratory for a scholarship in scientific journalism at UNICAMP's Labjor (a Latin American reference center of training and studies in scientific and cultural dissemination), where she did research and analysis on public perception of science and ended up going deeper into the subject. Due to her experience, scientific competence, and commitment to the cause, she was invited to work in the Government of the State of São Paulo where she actively participated in the creation of UNIVESP (Virtual University of the State of São Paulo) with the objective of democratizing access to knowledge and building bridges between academia and society.



Recognizing the limitations of being within the government, she decided that it was time to explore all the experience accumulated in the field of science and communication. In partnership with a friend who was at a similar moment in her professional trajectory, they used an announcement from FAPESP to create the platform and database technology on scientific production that gave rise the Agência Bori.