SciELO’s Contribution to the Globalization of Science
About two decades ago, conferences and consultations organized by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information Center (BIREME/PAHO/WHO) addressed the fact that only a small fraction of our nationally edited peer-reviewed journals, containing world-class science, were indexed in the ISI Citation Indexes or in Pubmed.
At that time scientific publishing was effectively split into two. On one hand, there were so-called mainstream journals, published largely by commercial publishers in Europe and the US. Operating in parallel were regional publishers, often based in developing countries, which addressed non-English-speaking markets.
The 1995 article “Lost Science in the Third World” by W. Wayt Gibbs in Scientific American, 273, 92 – 99, discussed some of the difficulties faced by regional publishers. On one level, we were trapped in a vicious cycle. If regionally relevant research wasn’t widely included in international indexes, it would be less likely to be cited and therefore, journals would not be eligible for inclusion in those indexes. Many in Latin America and the global south however felt that a more insidious bias was at work. As the Scientific American article suggests, many people felt that publishers from non-English speaking countries and the developing world were being held to inclusion standards more strictly than publishers in America or Europe
As a consequence, only a limited share of the best science published by nationally edited journals would reach the international scientific community. In addition, most of the journals communicating research of local scope or interest had limited visibility, including Brazil, due to the poor distribution of the print issues.
SciELO addresses this situation as a combination of a citation index and online open access publisher of selected journals, many of which are available only in Portuguese. FAPESP and BIREME, as leading organizations in their fields of expertise, created SciELO 18 years ago with a unique cooperative model that was particularly suited to scholarly publishing in emerging markets. SciELO helps regional publishers become more competitive in the global market place by working together, and sharing expertise and resources. Their mandate was, and still is, to advance both scholarly communication and science in Brazil.
SciELO quickly emerged as both a publishing platform that compliments the international “main stream” journals and a novel co-operative model for academic publishing. The value of this approach was later corroborated by the “regionalization” policy of the WoS, which from 2007 onwards, increased the coverage of journals from Brazil from 30 to over 130. The recent surge of interest in the Latin American market from commercial publishers wishing to partner with regional publishers is further testament to the effectiveness of SciELO’s approach to supporting the local publishing industry.
The National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research of Chile (CONICYT) adopted the SciELO publishing model shortly after it was launched in 1998, thus becoming a leading partner in building the network, that now encompasses 14 IberoAmerican countries and South Africa. The network currently covers more than a thousand active journals with an archive of over half a million full text articles. The platform serves over a million COUNTER compliant downloads on average per day, making SciELO a significant contributor to global scholarly communication.
SciELO has succeeded, to a great extent, in overcoming discrimination against “regional publishing”. The networked cooperative approach, combined with continuous improvement in journal production while keeping costs tightly managed, has contributed decisively to the globalization of indexing and publishing. It has also culturally and academically enriched the global flow of scientific information by recognizing and enhancing the critical role played by hundreds of dispersed nonprofit publishers that are communicating research through a myriad of journals covering a range of fields of both international and regional importance.
Compared to the Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus, SciELO stands out as a multilingual index and publisher, supporting journals from all disciplines. Journal selection is informed by recommendations and advice of local scientific committees. This unique, more qualitative selection process affects the make-up of the index. For example, SciELO indexes relatively more social sciences and humanities journals than WoS or Scopus. In terms of languages, in 2014 about 70% of the SciELO indexed articles were published in Portuguese or Spanish and 38% in English. SciELO Brazilian publishers are making an enormous effort towards a balanced approach to multilingualism to strengthen the internationalization of their journals: in 2014, 58% of the articles were published in Portuguese, 57% in English and 16% simultaneously in both English and Portuguese.
The presence of SciELO makes a significant and positive difference to how the global information community thinks about future development. We are aware that there are still many challenges to be faced, and old attitudes detrimental to local research communities still remain to be overcome in some quarters.