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Escalating production

Controversy, articles by Brazilian authors in indexed magazines already represent 1,44% of world science

The vigor of the activity of a country’s research is generally measured by the number of articles published by its researchers in indexed international scientific magazines. One of the indicators consensually accepted in the scientific community is that of the Science Citation Index (SCI) from the data base of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), published as National Science Indicators. This indicator indexes more than 5,000 magazines, rigorously selected, regarding 164 different areas of knowledge.

Through the ISI criteria, our national scientific production is doing very well. Last year, Brazilian researchers published 10,555 articles, a number that represents 1.44% of the production of the total number throughout the world. It may seem little, but it is equivalent to something around about 40% of the scientific articles published by Latin America during this period.

The ISI data base further reveals that, each year, the number of Brazilian publications is growing in relation to other countries. In 1995, it represented 0.83%. It went up to 1%, in 1997 and in the year 2000, when it reached 1.33% of the total publications, Brazil already ranked ninth among the twenty countries that had registered the greatest growth in the number of articles published in indexed magazines.

In this list, headed by China, South Korea – whose development model is considered the opposite of the Brazilian one on the question of innovation and patents – had been in fourth place. “Scientific production has grown fourfold science since the 80’s”, sums up Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the rector of the State University of Campinas and an investigator of scienceometry, which has as its objective the generation of information and the stimulation of discussions that contribute towards overcoming the challenges of modern science.

Our ISI ranking for 2000, that of the classification of countries by the number of published articles, at that time Brazil having published some 9,511 articles, was 17th place. China, with 24,923 published articles remained in 9th place; and South Korea with 12,218 in 16th place. On this list the champion is the United States with a spectacular performance: 243,269 published articles in indexed magazines. In second place is Japan that published 68,047 articles; and in third place Germany with 62,941.

It is interesting to register that between 1981 and 2000, the growth in the number of articles published by American researchers was 41.51%, while the variation in the percentage of publications by Japan and Germany increased respectively 153.29% and 91.57% during the same period. In the case of Brazil the variation was 403.49%; in China it was 1,414.16%; and in South Korea an incredible 5,235.37%. A detail: during 1981, the Brazilian researchers published 1,889 articles in ISI’s indexed magazines, as against only 229 articles from South Korea and 1,646 articles from Chinese researchers. Nonetheless, during this eighteen year period while Brazil slowly gained positions in the ranking of scientific production, China and South Korea took off.

Indeed, the performances of China, South Korea and Brazil have given grave cause for concern to the Indians. In the 419th edition of the magazine Nature, of 12th of September, in a comment made by Subbiah Arunachalam, a science analyst at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India, he observed that contrary to these three nations, the number of articles by the researchers in his country published in ISI’s indexed magazines has fallen from 14,983 during 1980 to 12,127 in the year 2000. The confirmation, according to Nature, resulted in an emotional appeal by Arunachalam to his peers “Either we do something serious, or shortly we’ll have to turn ourselves into a country with third world science”.

Impact factor
The ISI also classifies the scientific papers by area of knowledge. Also on this question, the Brazilian production deserves highlighting. Between 1981 and 2000 the number of articles published in the area of biology and biochemistry, for example, jumped from 192 to 816, pushing the percentage of participation of national scientific production in theses areas from 0.47% to 1.55% in relation to the rest of the world. A similar performance can be observed in the areas of agrarian sciences, immunology, molecular biology and genetics, engineering and physics, among others.

It is well known that the more a country publishes the more it receives citations. Indeed, another form of evaluating a country’s performance that does not refer to scientific production is to count up the number of citations of articles in various publications over a three year period after the article’s publication. This measure is known as the impact factor. Brito Cruz and Jaqueline Leta from the Medical Biochemistry Department of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), carried out the accounting using data from the National Science Citation Reports 1981-2000, and they observed a progressive increase of the impact factor for Brazilian publications. In 1981, one citation per article had been registered for the group of articles published that year. In 1998, the impact factor jumped up to 1.9 citations per article, considering the total number of articles within the period.

Brito and Jaqueline went even further. They decided to compare the impact factors of Brazilian production with the world average in 1998. Using as a base information from the magazines noted in the Journal of Citation Reports (JCR), an annual publication by the ISI, they verified that only the publications in the area of physics had presented an impact factor above the world average. But they also observed that the impact factor of the publications in some areas such as engineering and agrarian sciences were very close to this average. Therefore it was no coincidence to record the fact that at the 5th World Congress on Computational Mechanics, which took place last July in Vienna, Brazil was in fourth place in the number of contributions, behind the United States, Germany and Japan. Fifty seven countries participated in the Congress.

Hidden science
Nevertheless, the national scientific production is greater than that indexed through the ISI, which takes into account the articles published within a universe of around 5,000 publications, of which only fifteen are Brazilian. “ISI’s comparison is partial, it only looks at the part of the Brazilian production that goes to the mainstream “, says Rogério Meneghini, the coordinator of the Structural Molecular Biology Center (CBME), of the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS), another investigator of the issue, referring to scientific production with international visibility.

He underlines the fact that one section of the articles published by Brazilians in national magazines is not computed. It was exactly to incorporate the statistics of this science that remains outside of the circuit of the most prestigious publications, which he and Abel Packer, the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Science Information (Bireme) set up the program Scientific Electronic Library On-line (SciELO), a virtual library that indexes some ninety one Brazilian publications.

Based on the data from SciELO, Meneghini reformulated the accounting of Brazilian scientific production. If the ISI registered around 10,000 Brazilian scientific articles in 5,000 publications during the year 2001, then SciELO published 5,000 articles in 84 national magazines during the same time period; and if only fifteen of these SciELO magazines are indexed by the ISI, the science published in the other sixty nine magazines are not being considered, he concludes.

Therefore, to the 10,555 Brazilian articles indexed by the ISI, something around about a further 3,000 accounted for through SciELO should be added on, adding up to a total of 13,000 articles published in national and international magazines. But, even by amplifying the data base the results could be underestimated: the SciELO covers only a part of the national scientific literature, which in total reaches between four and five hundred magazines. “There is in fact a hidden science”, he concluded.

At this point a comment is merited. Could it be that this “hidden science” is only third class? Meneghini has verified that it is not the case, and further added: the index of citations among Brazilian authors is highly significant and the researchers maintain, by way of national publications, an intense dialogue, above all in the areas of agriculture, veterinary science, public health and tropical medicine. “These areas deal with local problems that do not interest foreign publications. This demonstrates that this science that is not internationally visible is not simply rubbish”, he evaluates. This rule is also valid for areas such as physics, chemistry or biology, where there is a certain tendency to be little national publications. “There exist are articles in the SciELO magazines”, he emphasizes.

There are other indicators that also contribute to the evaluation of national scientific production. One of them is the data base of the Directory of the Group for Brazilian Research of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), which covers 80% of the research activities within the country. Taking the data from the last census – whose information was collected between March and July of this year – and considering only the scientific production of doctorate professors, during 2001 one reaches a total of 24,459 articles published in technical-scientific magazines and specialized magazines written in a foreign language.

More than double the number accounted for by the ISI during the same period. The articles published by doctorate professors in specialized technical-scientific magazines, of national circulation add up to 22,571, almost five times greater than the number of articles published by SciELO. And the number of articles published, both in Portuguese and in a foreign language, has systematically grown since 1998. Indeed, this evolution is even greater in the case of the articles published in a foreign language. There is not double counting in the publication totals, except in the case of co-authored work, the CNPq informs.

The Directory of the Research Groups of CNPq does not stratify or qualify the vehicles through which the articles are published, which impede a qualitative evaluation of this production. However, the data reinforces the idea that the activity of science in the country is on the increase, thus allowing for an intense dialogue between Brazilian and foreign researchers.

Nonetheless, Brazilian scientific activity is localized. Leopoldo de Meis and Jaqueline Leta had already observed, in a study published in 1996, that close to 70% of Brazilian scientific production indexed by the ISI stemmed from institutions in the southeast, where, needless to say, most universities with post-graduate programs and researchers are located. The data from the CNPq for 2002 reinforces this observation: 65% of the articles published by doctorate researchers in magazines of international circulation and 55% of those that circulate in Brazilian magazines, came from the southeast region.

The south comes in second place with 15% of the publications in international magazines and 25% in national magazines. It is true that the phenomenon of research concentration is not exclusively Brazilian: in the United States, close to 36% of the scientific production indexed in the ISI data base for 1998 comes from California, New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts.

But, in the Brazilian case, it is interesting to register that between 1985 and 1999 all of the regions had growth in the number of publications indexed on the ISI data base, according to the figures produced by Meneghini and Jaqueline Leta, in the chapter Produção Científica dos Indicadores de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação em São Paulo – 2001 [Scientific Production of Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators in São Paulo – 2001], published by FAPESP. The states that stood out were: Paraná (from 74 publications to 608), Santa Catarina (from 55 to 372) and Minas Gerais (from 189 to 1,249).

Qualified research
The data from the ISI base indicates between 1995 and 2001 an absolute and relative increase in the number of Brazilian publications in indexed magazines and a systematic growth in the impact factor of these articles. The information from SciELO suggests that this activity could be even greater and members of the Research Board of CNPq paint a picture even more optimistic for scientific activity in the country.

How can one explain this performance? “The growth in scientific production along with the number of people capable of carrying out science”, answers Unicamp’s rector. In fact, between 1993 and 2002, the number of doctors in the country jumped from 10,994 to 33,947 and those with master’s degrees from 6,754 to 15,265 according to the data from CNPq’s Research Board. An interesting point is that during this evolution those with a doctorate widened their participation in the total of Brazilian research from 51% to 59.7%, and the presence of those with a master’s degree fell from 31.4% to 26.8%.

Polemics and controversies
Nonetheless, the evaluation of the performance in scientific activities in the country can spawn controversy. Helena Nader, the pro-rector of graduation at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), upset the scientific community by releasing, last August, the results of her work on the production of articles by Brazilian researchers. The survey was carried out in partnership with Carl P. Dietrich, from the Biochemical Department and Jair de Jesus Mari, from the Psychiatry Department, both from Unifesp, based on the data bank, Web of Science, also from the ISI, and using official reports from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT).

They confirmed that, after three decades of continuous growth, the participation of Brazil in worldwide scientific production fell from 1.08% during 2000 to 0.95% last year. These results contradicted the statistics from the MCT according to which Brazilian participation had been represented in 2001 by 1.44% of world production. This difference, according to what Helena confirmed, can be explained by the use of the different parameters in the consultation.

In fact, the Web of Science, used as a reference by the Unifesp researchers, brings together all of the three ISI data bases in a total of more than 8,000 publications. On the other hand the MCT data was collected together with the SCI with 5,000 publications rigorously selected. Furthermore, the selection criterion is a guarantee of the quality of the published articles. For example, the SciELO indexes only 91 of the close to 500 Brazilian publications. The titles are selected after an analysis of the periodicity, the editorial staff, and technical criteria, among others. “We could arrive at 100 magazines that represent something between 80% to 90% of the cited national magazines”, says Meneghini.

However, the true conflict is in the conclusion of the research carried out by Helena Nader: that one of the reasons for this fall had been the reduction in the finding of the sector. “It’s not possible for research to fall from one year to the next”, says Gil da Costa Marques, the director of the Physics Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP), at the USP Agency. Any impact of an eventual interruption in financing, he continues, could only be felt over a long period of time.

Also speaking about the USP Agency, Roberto Mendon Faria, from the Physics Institute of São Carlos, recalls that in 1992 and 1993 Brazilian research suffered a brusque cut in financing. “Even then there wasn’t a fall in the participation of Brazil in world scientific production”, he argues. For Brito Cruz, financing is only one of the elements responsible for the performance of Brazilian scientific production over the last few years. “This growth is due more as a function of the academic base than of an increase in resources for financing research”, he concludes.