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Showcase of Iberian American science

The SciELO Network hits the 200-title mark and is considered a model for free access to on-line articles

During October, the SciELO Network, an electronic publication system for Iberian American scientific magazines, of open access, commemorated the mark of 200 titles at a meeting in the city of Merida, in Mexico. Representatives of the network in eight countries attested to the success of this model, which has widened the visibility of science and the number of citations of the researchers’ articles and further contributed to an improvement in the quality of the magazines. The goal now is to consolidate the network by way of the incorporation of publications from other countries and to analyze the possibility of developing a scientific magazine project with articles from all areas of knowledge, in the fashion of the American Science and the English Nature.

Established in 1996 through a FAPESP initiative, and implanted in a partnership with the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Heath Science Information (Bireme) and with national and international institutes linked to scientific communication, the SciELO has consolidated itself as an efficient solution for the projection of research in developing countries. The articles published in the 131 Brazilian magazines within the SciELO network base, for example, register close to one million hits a month and there are something around half a million monthly visits of the articles published in the forty eight (48) Chilean titles. “The open access model has shown itself to be ideal for promoting scientific production in the developing countries”, weighs in Abel Parker, Bireme’s Director. The number of accesses had grown significantly starting from this year after the Google search site began indexing SciELO’s pages.

The SciELO Network started its operation with Brazilian publications, but evolved to incorporate Iberian American magazines thanks to the international vision of Director Parker, recalls José Fernando Perez, FAPESP’s Scientific Director. “The success will be even greater when more countries can get themselves involved”, he argues. Today, as well as Brazil and Chile, the SciELO Network covers Cuba, with fourteen (14) magazines, and Spain with eighteen (18), and as well bringing together public health magazines whose articles, during the month of September, received more than 172,000 consultations.

At the meeting in Mexico, the potential for the expansion of the network was clear. Present at the meeting were fifty two editors of scientific magazines from countries where the system has already arrived or where it should be implanted: Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. “The task of Latin American integration was documented at Mexico”, underlines Perez, who was present at the meeting. In the opinion of Anna Maria Prat, an advisor to the Presidency of the National Commission for Scientific Research and Technology (Conicyt), in Chile, the SciELO has had a strong impact on the science and technology policies of Latin American countries.

Her own country, she says, has already taken up the transference and training techniques of the SciELO methodology for those universities that wish to publish their own magazines, thus creating a national network of scientific information. The Chilean editors, she adds, are enthusiastic with the start up of the system that will make publication easier for them, in the near future, of articles as soon as they are accepted by the magazines. Anna Maria further commented that a partnership project with the L’information Scientifique et Technique (Inist) [Scientific and Technology Institute] in France, is being undertaken for the establishment of a mirror-site of the SciELO Network in that country.

Hooman Momen, the bulletin editor for the World Health Organization (WHO), in Geneva, Switzerland, affirmed that the SciELO Network is a “victorious project” and highlighted the quality of the magazines, which, in his evaluation, have shown improvement both in their formal aspects and in their visibility and number of hits. He proposed, for promotion and marketing purposes, that data already in existence concerning the SciELO Network should be displayed to both the editors and the media of various countries. Gladys Faba-Beaumont, the director of the Information Center for Health Decisions, at the National Public Health Institute of Mexico, comments that she has begun to value the SciELO as a user. She defined the network as an editorial concept, since the editorial lines of the SciELO, if well spread throughout the countries, would give legitimacy to the region?s scientific production.

Indexed publications
The vigor of a country’s research activity is measured by the number of articles published in indexed international scientific magazines and by the impact of those publications evaluated through the number of citations. The indicators of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) are the most prestigious within the international scientific community. However, of the close to 8,000 magazines indexed in the ISI base, at the maximum 80 publications are Latin American. The vast majority of the titles refer to publications in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Holland. In the grouping of the Latin American magazines, Brazil holds a position of distinction with close to twenty magazines in the ISI base, all of them equally indexed in the SciELO base, according to Rogerio Meneghini, the coordinator at SciELO’s Science and Technology Study Center who, together with Abel Parker, thought up and planned out the network.

The timid participation of Latin American research in the ISI, in the face of the number of quality magazines indexed at the SciELO base, suggests, in Meneghini’s opinion, that actually there is science hidden in the developing countries. And it is exactly this science that the SciELO Network intends to unveil. “Our goal is to double the number of Latin American titles on the ISI base. We intend to make up a dossier demonstrating that in the SciELO base there are magazines better than lots of those that are in the ISI base. We are already detailing out those of greatest interest.”

Open access
The success of SciELO is due in a large part to the open access to the publications indexed in its base. The network is funded by FAPESP, run by Bireme and has the support of the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). However, in the vast majority of countries consultation has to be paid for. “The companies that publish scientific magazines form one of the most profitable enterprises in the world”, Meneghini says. For example, in the United States the author of an article pays the cost of insertion, signs for the copyright and the editors even charge for a reader’s subscription and those of the libraries. “An angry mood prevails in the scientific community against paid access”, Meneghini explains.

At the beginning of November, he was due to participate in a meeting in Paris, France, in his role as the Brazilian Science Academy’s representative. The meeting, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, has as its theme the access to electronic publications. “The idea is to pay for the insertion, whose value is forecast in the research’s budget. Who accesses does not pay. Also under consideration is the possibility of looking for sponsors”, he adds.

In the majority of countries, the development agencies pick up the costs for publication. However, it will be necessary to find a solution for the case in which the scientists cannot count upon this type of financing. “This theme will be debated in Paris. There is the possibility of starting up a fund for sponsoring publications in countries where the researcher does not have this support”, he says.

Tripled production
The NSF registers an increase in the number of Latin American publications

The number of scientific article published by researchers from Latin American countries jumped from 5,600 in 1988 to 16,300 in 2001, according to a study by the National Science Foundation (NSF) rolled out in October, based on special tabulations and information from the ISI; Science and Social Science Citation Indexes; CHI Research, Inc; as well as data from the World Bank. This growth, some 191%, is much higher than that verified in other regions and in the developing countries, such as North Africa (86%), Asia (133%) or Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Union republics (a fall of 19%).

The NSF verified that the good performance of Latin America was concentrated in four countries: Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico, responsible for 90% of the published articles during 2001. The agency also observed that the researchers in these countries started to publish more in the prestigious magazines such as Nature andScience. “We are dealing with a trend that indicated that the old desire to have greater geographical diversity regarding scientific production is finally being attained”, says Arden Bement, the NSF’s Director, in a institution press release.

Among the Latin American countries, the largest increase occurred in Brazil where the number of articles published by researchers grew fourfold during this period. Taking into account production per capita, Argentina and Chile produced more than the group of countries as a whole, with an average of 70 articles per 1 million inhabitants from 1999 until 2001. In Brazil, the average per capita is some 39 articles per 1 million inhabitants. The highest production was concentrated in the areas of engineering and technology followed by biology and healthcare. The social sciences areas showed a below average rate of growth.

Along with scientific production there was also an increase in the citations of Latin American authors. From 1988 until 2001, the number of citations for the region’s literature grew threefold. During this period Latin America leaped from 14% to 20% of the blocks of developing countries. “This increase may well be explained by a higher tendency of the authors in citing research articles from their very own country. However, the data obtained points towards the greater part of the growth having been obtained from the work produced in other regions that cite the Latin American articles”, analyzes Derek Hill, from the NSF’s Scientific Statistics Division and the coordinator of the study.

The American agency also saw a significant increase in the number of Latin American authors collaborating with researchers from other regions. During 1988, 23% of the region’s production was also signed by other foreign scientists. By 2001 this total had risen to 43%. In 1998, Brazilians collaborated with colleagues from forty six (46) countries and in 2001 these partnerships had jumped to one hundred and three (103).