Brazil's high publication rate 'hides drop in quality'
[CURITIBA] Brazil's science output has soared over the last few decades despite a decrease in science funding, a study says.
The number of papers went from 2,000 in 1980 to more than 35,000 in 2009, according to the study, published in Scientometrics earlier this month (7 August).
But the rise in the number of papers, driven mainly by an increase in the number of PhD students, may have come at a cost to their quality, say researchers.
The team, from the University of São Paulo, analysed Brazilian scientific output, investment and the number of scientists to try and explain what had driven the increase in the number of papers.
The researchers found that investment per paper shrank during that time, while the number of permanent researchers remained about the same.
Meanwhile, the number of doctoral students grew from just 2,000 in the late 1980s to 11,000 in 2008, which explains the increase in the number of papers, according to André Frazão Helene, lead author and a biologist at the University of São Paulo.
Apart from the rise in doctoral students, Helene told SciDev.Net that there was also "an increase in efficiency" — researchers started working under a lot more pressure owing to a global trend of evaluating their work by looking at the number of papers they published.
And this seems to have come at a cost to quality: the impact of Brazilian papers has dropped over the past decade, the study says.
It also warns that funding cuts — such as more than US$1 billion from the science and technology ministry's budget, announced in February — may further jeopardise quality by restricting access to equipment, at a time when large numbers of newly qualified PhDs are seeking scientific positions, which in turn will require more investment.
"Only in a few years will it be possible to understand the consequences [of the cuts]," Helene said.
Isaac Roitman, coordinator of education at the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, said that, while the study is worthwhile in sparking a discussion about Brazil's science, it lacked a deeper analysis of the relationship between scientific growth and social development.
Despite the rise in output, he said, Brazil's science has contributed very little to addressing social needs in the country.
Gastão Octávio da Luz, professor at the Federal University of Paraná, agreed: "The ultimate purpose of research at a university is not to publish papers in esoteric journals, but to rebuild our social reality".
Scientometrics doi: 10.1007/s11192-011-0470-2 (2011)