Science - October 14, 2004

‘Latin American scientists are too modest’

Progress of scientists in developing countries, specifically Latin America, is widely undervalued, but scientists from these countries should make more effort to get published in top scientific journals like Nature. Dr Milena Holmgren said yesterday, at a workshop on scientific publishing, that many scientists are too modest.

Holmgren was speaking to an audience of forty PhD students at a workshop on scientific publishing organised by the Production Ecology and Resource Conservation graduate school, held at ISRIC (International Soil Reference and Information Centre). ‘Charts of publications are usually quite misleading,’ said Holmgren, who is a researcher at the Forest Ecology and Forest Management group. ‘Publications are listed in absolute numbers, so you see that only about two percent of all publications come from Latin America, for example, and that most come from the US. But if you look at the publication rate over the last few decades, you see a substantial increase in productivity from Latin American research institutes. In the nineties the number of publications per year increased by 36 percent in some places.’ Holmgren drew her conclusions from an inventory she made together with Dr Stefan Schnitzer of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, entitled Science on the rise in developing countries.
Holmgren herself is from Mexico, and having done ecological research there, believes that the Latin American countries and also western countries should acknowledge this positive process rather than being negative about the low absolute numbers of publications. Holmgren believes Latin American countries are doing a good job, especially considering the limited financial resources. ‘It is shocking to see how unevenly distributed investment in science is in the world. Eighty-four percent of global investment in science goes to western countries.’
Holmgren also has some publication advice for PhD students in Wageningen, many of whom are from developing countries. ‘Look at us Latin Americans. We tend to be too modest. We do not target top journals like Nature; instead we send our articles to Plant Ecology. But why not go for the top? Send your article to Nature, at least they send a rejection within 48 hours!’
To increase your chances of success, Holmgren advises writing articles that are to the point. ‘Latin Americans, for example, tend to make the articles too long and complicated: long sentences, and a whole list of conclusions. This makes them too boring. Select the interesting issue, and keep the rest for that book you are going to write.’ / HB