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An online database containing links to and information on more than 1,000 selected scientific journals from Latin America and the Caribbean was launched today (19 November) in a bid to raise the profile of Iberoamerican academic publications.

The new 'Catálogo' database is part of Latindex, an online system set up in 1995 at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City, to collect and classify information on the region's scientific journals.

According to Ana Maria Cetto, professor of physics at UNAM and general coordinator of the initiative, Latindex seeks to tackle the growing tendency among scientists in the region to refer only to US or European journals.

"Despite the fact that these publications are far more expensive, this tendency is increasing," she says. "Iberoamerican journals often lack quality, but also suffer because people are unaware that they exist. This creates a vicious circle, because then nobody wants to publish in them".

Since 1997, Latindex's 'Directorio' database has listed around 12,000 journals from more than 30 Iberoamerican nations, including details such as specialisations, founding institutions, editors, price and abstract services. The Directorio also links to a UNAM index that allows users to search for individual articles by variables such as subject or author.

The new Catálogo database includes only journals that meet criteria such as original content, independent peer review, instructions to authors, naming of the editorial board and bilingual abstracts. It will initially contain 1,100 titles from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela.

A panel of representatives of Latindex's member institutions from across Latin America decides whether journals meet these criteria. "This has been a collective task," says Cetto. "Along the way there has been a lot of communication and feedback with journal editors, many of whom have made an effort to correct deficiencies and meet a greater number of criteria."

Cetto points to editors' responsibility for inviting good authors from the region to publish in their journals. "It is also important for us to work with academic evaluators from member countries, so that they take publication in local journals into account when giving points for promotions, grants and project funding," she says.

Alejandro Corvalán, a cancer researcher at the Institute of Public Health in Santiago, Chile, offers a word of caution. "The reality is that if a journal seeks to have any impact at all it has to be released in English, and Latin American journals are no exception to this unwritten rule."

Nevertheless he still welcomes the initiative: "Any effort to bring ourselves in touch with the science produced in our own continent is important, because we read everything from outside but almost nothing by our closest colleagues," he says.

Latindex member institutions include governmental science and technology agencies from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela. The initiative is sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and by the Organisation of American States, among others.

Further expansions of Latindex in the pipeline include the incorporation of publications other than journals, the inclusion of more Caribbean and Central American countries, and a catalogue with links to the 750 online journals and other electronic scientific resources from the region.

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