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Going strong at 100

"Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz", from 1909, is the Brazilian scientific journal with the greatest impact

GUTEMBERG BRITO/IOCVolume 1: conception and editing by Oswaldo CruzGUTEMBERG BRITO/IOC

Anyone who opened the first issue of the journal Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz [Memories of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute], in April of 1909, would certainly be surprised at the contents, authored by some of the most capable Brazilian researchers of the time. Although the subjects were of a strictly scientific nature, there was clarity in the texts and beauty in the images that illustrated some of the research presented. “The articles contained narrative, as if they were testimonials. That is why they still make very pleasant reading,” says researcher Ricardo Lourenço de Oliveira, the journal’s current editor. Today, scientific texts have a formal structure, with an abstract, introduction, material used, method, results and conclusion (or discussion), making their reading more pragmatic, but less attractive to laymen.

Memórias was created by Oswaldo Cruz to publish only the studies of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (Instituto Oswaldo Cruz – IOC), whose production was growing and encompassed not only experimental medicine, but also entomology and ecology. Thus, already in the very first issue, the articles were written in Portuguese and translated into another language – normally German, but also into French or English – which facilitated exchanges and the interest of foreign institutions. One hundred years later, some 45% of the articles submitted come from abroad, the journal has achieved the greatest impact factor in Brazil among scientific journals (1.450) and it has the greatest impact in Latin America in the biological sciences area.

Except for Adolfo Lutz, the IOC researchers were young at the end of the decade of 1910. “They were permeable to knowledge. Carlos Chagas, Artur Neiva, Henrique da Rocha Lima and Oswaldo Cruz himself, among others, were still discovering everything: the best way to build a scientific institution, render services or produce a scientific journal,” says Lourenço.

In the early years, the system of peer review did not exist. This is a system whereby external experts provide a technical opinion about articles to suggest changes and recommend their publication, or not. Cruz used the body of IOC researchers itself to review the texts. Furthermore, he did the editing himself, besides selecting the paper, the printers and the distribution to other places in Brazil and abroad. He also hired draughtsmen to depict the objects of the scientists’ studies faithfully. When he was unable to look after the magazine himself, he delegated the task to Lutz.

GUTEMBERG BRITO/IOCLog book in which published articles were enteredGUTEMBERG BRITO/IOC

In the late 1930’s, the publication became open to work done by researchers from other institutions. During the 1970’s, several IOC scientists had to go into exile, driven by the military regime, and the journal was not published from 1977 to 1979. In 1980, the then newly instated director, José Rodrigues Coura, began a process of recovering the publication. He instituted the position of editor and an editorial board. “Memórias is IOC’s visiting card worldwide,” says Coura. “And it provides us with savings of US$30 thousand a year because we don’t need to buy some 260 journals, which we get in exchange for ours.” In the 1990’s, the periodical acquired an online version and entered the index of the SciELO electronic library.

Before Memórias, back in the nineteenth century, there was a medical periodical that also was of a scientific nature, Gazeta Médica da Bahia [Bahia Medical Gazette], from 1866. “Gazeta had innovative themes and proposals; its articles discussed health problems of the Bahia population and presented original research,” says historian Márcia Ferraz, from the Simão Mathias Center for Studies of the History of Science of PUC-SP, the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. “If we take into account the science that was produced in the period when each of the two journals was created, Memórias and Gazeta fulfill scientific parameters, even though they were very different journals,” concludes Márcia.