Ana Paula CamposA new set of indicators is available for use in evaluating the quality of the scientific production of countries and institutions. The Nature Publishing Index (NPI) is based on the universe of articles that have appeared in 18 scientific publications of the Nature Publishing Group. In addition to the journal Nature itself, which was founded in 1869 and has announced major advances such as the structure of DNA, there is also a series of specialized titles featuring different fields of knowledge that were launched in recent years. These include such titles as Nature Genetics, Nature Geosciences, and Nature Biotechnology. Since publishing in journals that have a significant impact is a useful credential in advancing a scientist’s career and helps gain access to funds for research, the Nature group believes that its indicators will become a valuable reference source. “Our interpretations are not definitive, but we hope that our analyses will increasingly encourage institutions and researchers to use the NPI,” writes David Swinbanks, director of regional markets and medical and scientific communications of the Nature group, in presenting the report and the principal conclusions of the index, which contains data for 2012. The index had been compiled since 2008 for Asian and Pacific institutions and countries, but now has become global.
The United States stands out in the indicators, as it is home to five of the ten leading research institutions (Harvard and Stanford Universities, MIT, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Washington). But the most impressive finding are the figures demonstrating the rise of China. China now boasts nine institutions among the 200 that were most prominent in the 2012 index; it had only three in the 2011 survey. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is the seat of a hundred research institutions and two universities, has now surpassed the University of Tokyo as the region of Asia and the Pacific that has the highest production in the journals that were analyzed. In 2013, it will appear among the top ten in the ranking. Among the ten countries that received the highest classification in 2012 are Germany (Max Planck Society), France (National Center of Scientific Research), England (University of Cambridge), and Switzerland (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich).
Other highlights among the indicators, according to the Nature report of the survey results, are Ireland, which went from 30th to 20th place when the 2012 indicators are compared with those of 2008—and Brazil, which climbed seven places during the period and now stands at 27th. The index enables analysis of the performance by countries and institutions via four major areas. Brazil comes out best in earth sciences and physics, in both of which it attains 24th position. In chemistry it appears in 29th, and in life sciences, in 27th. Other emerging countries identified by the ranking are Saudi Arabia and Kenya.
According to the 2012 edition of Journal Citation Reports, the journal Nature was assigned an impact factor of 38.5, the highest among multidisciplinary scientific journals. This is equivalent to saying that the articles published by the journal in 2010 and 2011 were cited, on average, 38.5 times in periodicals indexed in 2012. The other journals that participate in the index had impact factors ranging from 11.9, the case of Nature Structural & Molecular Biology and as high as 35.2, for Nature Genetics. While the Nature index is useful for demonstrating the capabilities of countries that publish in high-impact journals, some limitations recommend caution in use of the data. Except for Nature and Nature Communications, which are multidisciplinary, the other publications on the list are connected with disciplines in very specific fields of knowledge, such as life sciences, earth sciences, physics, and chemistry. The universe of publications surveyed is not very representative of the production in applied sciences, engineering, and clinical medicine.
The Nature Publishing Index offers two types of indicators, from which are constructed rankings of countries and institutions that may be universities, public institutes, or even companies. Companies like IBM or pharmaceutical manufacturers Roche and Novartis appear in the group of the 200 most prominent. One indicator is the absolute number of articles published. In a group of 3,560 articles published in 2012, the United States leads, with 2,232 researchers signing articles, followed by the United Kingdom (677) and Germany (594). Brazilian researchers contributed 39 articles. The second indicator is the so-called “corrected count,” a score that is also based on number of articles but that considers the relative weight of each institution as represented by the authors of the papers.
No Brazilian institution appears on the NPI’s list of the top 200. The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s most distinguished, with a corrected count score of 1.26—a reflection, to a large extent, of publications about clinical trials involving the use of stem cells in cardiac treatments. The University of São Paulo (USP) appears next, with a score of 0.79—the status in the ranking is inverted when one takes into account articles that were published only in Nature. After these two we find the National Laboratory of Synchrotron Light (0.60), the University of Campinas (Unicamp) (0.38), and the State University of Norte Fluminense (0.28). The NPI analysis emphasizes positive points about Brazil, mentioning the 29% annual increase in its corrected count score, as well as the negative aspects, such as the restricted impact of Brazilian science and its continued modest participation in international collaborative studies.
Dario Zamboni, professor at USP’s Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine, says it is not enough for a project to have produced consistent results to be accepted for publication in journals of the Nature group. “The research must have introduced a new and original contribution and be based on robust trials,” says Zamboni, who recently published an article in Nature Medicine, the result of a student’s doctoral dissertation, about mechanisms for developing immunity against leishmaniasis. The work was done in his laboratory under the FAPESP Young Investigator Awards Program. Zamboni reports that he resisted the pressure to publish partial results during the course of the research, since they would detract from the work’s originality. “I had done my post-doctorate in the United States and published an article in Nature Immunology at the time. That article was very important in establishing me as an independent researcher in Brazil. In the case of the article in Nature Medicine, we realized that our project had good potential and decided to fine-tune the research before publishing it,” he says. The work took about four years from conception until the manuscript was ready. The article was well-received by the referees, but they asked for more trials. After the initial submission, it took six more months of work before the article was accepted.
Co-author of an article recently published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology about a rare type of structure found in the genetic material of flies, the triple helix DNA (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue No. 207), Eduardo Gorab, a professor at the USP Biosciences Institute, also stresses that researchers gain more respect when they publish in a periodical of that type. “Science in Brazil is very heterogeneous and it is still hard for most Brazilians to take part in international partnerships and publish in high-impact journals,” he says. But Gorab takes Brazil’s unfavorable position in the NPI with a grain of salt. “There is a bias against articles from developing countries and I keep asking myself whether the article on the triple helix would have been accepted in the same manner if all the work had been done in Brazil,” he says, referring to the collaboration that involved institutions such as the National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Strasbourg, both of which are in France.
Rogério Meneghini, scientific coordinator of the SciELO Brasil library, argues that it is too soon to calculate the level of prestige that the NPI will achieve in the academic community, but he points out that the Nature group has been trying to expand its brand by establishing journals connected with specific disciplines and are regional in scope, but have an editorial quality comparable to the parent journal. “Nature China and Nature India have already been launched, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a Nature Latin America or even a Nature Brasil someday,” he says. “One could also imagine that in the future the indicator might encompass a larger volume of the group’s journals, beyond just the 18 it now has, and serve not only as a production quality reference, but also as a tool in expanding Nature’s share of the scientific publication market,” concludes Meneghini.Republish