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  • Big leap in Latin American research publications

The number of science and engineering papers published by Latin American researchers in leading international journals grew by 200 per cent between 1988 and 2001, according to a report released last week by the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

The increase is bigger than in any other part of the developing world, and reflects the growing international impact of Latin American research.

"This growth in Latin American science and engineering articles is important, not only for the Americas, but for the growing community of nations recognising the engine of progress through science and technology," said NSF acting-director Arden Bement in a press statement issued last week.

"It indicates that the long-sought goal of more geographic diversity in science and engineering is finally coming to fruition."

Most of this development, however, occurred in four countries — Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Together they accounted for almost 90 per cent of Latin American science and engineering publications appearing in the world's leading scientific and technical journals, as tracked by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI), in 2001.

The NSF report identifies factors responsible for the increase in academic publishing in these countries. They include recent reforms of science policy, large pools of researchers, and a relatively high per capita income.

Brazil, which produces more science and engineering articles than any other Latin American country, saw the biggest increase — 300 per cent — in the number of publications produced by its researchers.

In terms of relative scientific productivity, however, Brazil still lags behind both Argentina and Chile, each of which produce more than 70 articles per million inhabitants, compared with 39 per million inhabitants in Brazil.

The greatest increases in Latin American publications between 1998 and 2001 were in engineering and technology, biology, chemistry, physics, and earth and space science.

Although articles on clinical medicine and biomedical research increased at a slower than average rate, the life sciences as a whole contributed nearly half of all science and engineering articles by Latin American authors in 2001. 

The number of times that articles by Latin American researchers were cited in later publications also increased three-fold between 1988 and 2001.

Derek Hill, author of the NSF report, says that although in principle the increase in citations could reflect a well-documented tendency for authors to cite articles from their own countries, "the data suggest that most of the increase was from authors outside of Latin America citing Latin American authors".

The internationalisation of Latin American science is also reflected in the increased number of collaborations between scientists there and in other parts of the world.

In 1988, 29 per cent of Latin American articles had international co-authors. By 2001 this had risen to 43 per cent. In the same period, the number of countries whose researchers collaborated with Brazilians rose from 46 to 103.

Hill told SciDev.Net that the growth in Latin American scientific publications by scientists could be driven, in part, by researchers "shifting their publishing from Latin American based journals that are regional or not covered by the ISI to ISI-covered journals".

"Increased collaboration would also presumably support the trend of publishing in ISI-covered journals as a collaborative research team would want their work published in an internationally recognised and prestigious journal, which are typically covered by the ISI," he said.

The NSF report says that the number of article from Asia, which publishes more articles than Latin America, also grew very fast — more than doubling between 1988 and 2001 — largely because of a massive increase in China's output (see Big increase in Chinese science publishing reported).

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