A virtual library with a collection of 93 scientific newspapers and magazines produced in Brazil and in Latin America, the Scientific Electronic Library On-line (SciELO) program is beginning to give visibility to a major part of the research projects released through Brazilian publications, until recently inaccessible to the international community. A proof of this is that issue 415 of the Nature magazine, of January 31st this year, brings a letter signed by two researchers from the Department of Zoology of Oxford University – Wladimir J. Alonso and Esteban Fernández-Juricic -, in which they advocate the implementation of regional quick access networks, like SciELO, to expand communication among researchers in developing countries.
The researchers’ argument is based on the performance assessment of five Brazilian newspapers and magazines, indexed for five years, at the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI); after they had been incorporated into SciELO two years ago, they had an increase of 132.7% in their factors of impact. This indicator is measured by the number of articles published in one year, divided by the number of times that they were mentioned by another magazine.
SciELO is one of FAPESP’s special programs, developed in partnership with the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Science Information (Bireme) and support from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). It was implemented in 1997, with the intention of increasing the visibility and accessibility of Brazilian scientific publications, which, in their majority, are not indexed on international databases. For example, only 22 Brazilian magazines are amongst the 6,000 or so titles indexed at the ISI.
The recognition that there is a niche for researchers who were unable to communicate internationally was reinforced by the publication of an article called Lost Science in the Third World , by W. Wayt Gibbs, published in the Scientific American magazine 273, in 1995, in which his findings are that important research not included in international databases, for not being referenced, ends up becoming invisible. “This was how the idea arose to make this production more visible, and, at the same time, to create a database for Brazilian publications”, says Rogério Meneghini, the coordinator of the Center for Structural Molecular Biology (CBME) of the National Laboratory of Synchrotron Light, the coordinator for SciELO at FAPESP and one of those who conceived the project.
SciELO took shape at a meeting between Meneghini, a professor at the Institute of Chemistry of the University of São Paulo, and Abel Packer, a director of Bireme, who is nowadays the operational coordinator of the program. Bireme was already carrying out the institutional control of scientific production in the health area, but the institution had plans to implement an electronic publication, to make it easier to locate and to index scientific articles. SciELO began on a pilot scale, with a few magazines, but it quickly became an obligatory point of reference for researchers in several areas.
For example, the number of visits a month leapt from less than ten, in February 1998, to something close to 10,000 in 2000, a figure that should be surpassed in February this year (see table below). “We are reaching a critical mass of results, to assess the impact of the publications here in Brazil”, Meneghini reveals. He credits SciELO’s success to the favorable circumstances which Brazilian science is enjoying, and cites as an example the increase of funds set aside for research and for the institutionalization of postgraduate studies. “Good science is needed to make progress”.
At the moment, the model for scientific communication adopted by SciELO has now been implanted in Chile and in Cuba as well, with the support of Bireme and the local development agencies. Shortly, it will be implemented as well in Costa Rica, Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Venezuela. In all, 98 scientific publications are now available, online and for free. “By the end of the year, we expect to reach 300”, Packer foresees.
In Brazil, SciELO has 67 titles, selected from amongst some one thousand Brazilian scientific publications. “The program should reach its maturity at the end of the year, when we ought to reach one hundred publications”, Packer predicts. “This is the moment when the program will start to be used by development agencies to measure communication, using specific indicators for each magazine and each institution”, he adds.
The criterion for selection of the titles that make up SciELO’s collection is a rigid one, since the great majority of the scientific magazines and newspapers published in Brazil do not comply with the requirements of quality of content, of originality of research, nor do they have regular publication assured, Packer comments. The titles that are candidates for inclusion are assessed by a consultative committee and approved by peers. The indicators used for their admission also apply to assess whether they continue in SciELO.
The SciELO model is made up of three components. The first one is the methodology that allows the electronic publication of complete issues, the organization of bibliographical data and the production of indicators. It also includes criteria for the assessment of magazines, based on international standards of scientific communication. The complete texts may have hypertext links to national and international databases.
The second component of the model is the application of the methodology in the making sites operational on the web of collections of electronic magazines, like those that already operate in Brazil, Chile and Cuba. The third is the development of alliances between authors, publishers, scientific-technological institutions, finance agencies, among others, with the objective of disseminating and updating SciELO. “The letter in Nature is the best evidence in the international literature that SciELO is fulfilling its objectives”, Packer concludes.