Science - January 29, 2004

Latin American scientists deliver more per dollar

Although the number of scientific publications from Latin America is still trifling compared to the amount from Canada and the United States, the scientific production there has been rising very fast over the last ten years. Latin American scientists produced more publications per million dollars invested in research and development than their Canadian and American colleagues.

The WUR forest ecologists Milena Holmgren and Stefan Schnitzer offer an alternative view in the free scientific paper PLoS Biology to the pessimism expressed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2003 about the large inequalities in science between developing and developed countries.

The Chilean postdoc Holmgren and her American colleague Schnitzer came to their conclusions by accident. While preparing for Schnitzer’s lecture series on community ecology, their attention was drawn to the production of literature in developed and developing countries.

The editorial Kofi Annan wrote in Science in 2003 did not correspond with their experience, Holmgren recounts. “By the time you finish reading it, you have the impression that things are really bad. But we have a different picture.” They decided to compare the scientific production of Latin American countries with that of Canada and the United States.

The contribution of Latin American countries to the scientific papers which are included in the Science Citation Index is still only a meagre 5.45 percent. Compared to Canada (10.35 per cent) and especially the United States (84.2 per cent) it is a drop in the ocean, but Holmgren and Schnitzer show that scientific production in Latin America is rising very quickly, with about 36 percent growth between 1990 and 1997, while the percentage of global scientific publications in North America actually decreased by eight percent during the same period.

The most remarkable conclusion of Holmgren and Schnitzer is that since 2000 Latin American scientists have delivered more SCI publications per million dollars invested in research and development than their North American colleagues. Holmgren thinks this is the result of the increasing investment in science in Latin America and the teaming up of Latin American scientists in international research groups which publish more in SCI journals. She also points to the investments North Americans make in large research programmes in for instance genomics.
Holmgren says the paper in PLoS Biology sheds a different light on the pessimistic view of Annan and is a sign to the Latin American scientific community that they are developing in the right direction. “ t shows that it pays to invest, that the things they did in the nineties worked.” | Martin Woestenburg

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