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[BEIJING] Research published in 34 Chinese science journals is being made available to an international audience for the first time, under a scheme launched on Monday (27 March).

Elsevier, a major player in academic publishing, will provide access to the English-language journals through its online database ScienceDirect for free in 2006. But the service will be subscription-only from 2007.

The first 34 journals being made available include Agricultural Sciences in China, Acta Genetica Sinica, and the Journal of the Chinese Medical Association.

In addition, Elsevier has agreed to publish English translations of important papers that are published in six Chinese-language science journals.

To support the two initiatives, Elsevier will offer Chinese authors free assistance with their English.

In 2003, only five countries published more scientific papers than China.

But according to a 2005 study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China ranks just 124th in the number of times papers are cited by other researchers (see Chinese research 'is plentiful but not original').

Making Chinese journals available through international databases will help improve this, says Xiao Hong, assistant president of Beijing-based Science Press, which publishes nearly 200 science and technology journals.

Chen Tongbin, a biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says the move could also encourage leading Chinese scientists to publish their work domestically instead of in foreign journals.

But he worries that researchers in some small Chinese institutions will not be able to afford to pay the subscription fees for ScienceDirect or other international online databases.

"[International databases] should offer beneficial prices to the poorer users in China and other developing countries," says Chen.