Is Brazilian scientific circulation partially invisible?

This post is contributed by Thaiane Oliveira from the Universidade Federal Fluminense.

The extent to which research achieves visibility and impact is determined by many things, not least institutional norms and the competition to dominate the spaces of global knowledge discourse. Publishers, too (and in particular, the big six) play a big role here – assigning ‘value’ to journals and achieving high profit margins whilst being very selective about the titles they choose to promote.

Brazil has a small presence in this market circuit dominated by the leading scientific publishers. For example, when looking at Cite Score in Scopus (2016), the first Brazilian journal on the list is the “Ethnobiology and Conservation Journal”, occupying position 2415. Among 36.377 titles indexed in Scopus, only 439 (1.2%) are Brazilian.

Journals in Brazil are evaluated by an ad-hoc committee designated by the area of expertise, who determine the criteria to measure the quality of these periodicals and classify them by eight stratification rates — called the Qualis System Classification.

This classification is grouped into nine disciplinary fields: agricultural sciences, biosciences, health sciences, engineering, exact sciences, arts and linguistics, human sciences, social sciences and multidisciplinary disciplines. As each field has its own priorities, some areas use bibliometric indexes, mainly the Impact Factor, whilst others use more subjective and qualitative assessments to evaluate the journal sunder consideration.

 

Source: Carvalho Neto, Willinsky, Alperin, 2016. Available at: http://www.redalyc.org/html/2750/275043450033/

A closer look at Brazilian scientific policies reveals that the country occupies a semi-peripheral position in some areas of knowledge, whilst other areas (above all, those which are considered less strategic to the global agenda) are peripheral, making them invisible in the hegemonic circuit.

In other words, some areas of knowledge that use the index metrics of the dominant publishers are impelled to compete with scientific publications that are supposedly at the center of this scientific circuit. They claim to equal eminence, “like the butler in a stately home that emulates his master and despises members of his own class”.

Some alternative indicators of Brazilian Scientific Policies

To comprehend the dispute dominating the production of science, it is increasingly essential to understand and monitor the processes of production, diffusion and circulation of scientific knowledge.

In this scenario, the use and construction of Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) indicators are increasingly recurrent. National scientific policies are strategically formulated on basis of these assessment indicators, aiming to increase the degree of scientific impact and competitiveness of a region or country.

Scientific policies can be understood as a product that integrates the “scientific research agenda” and social interests, incorporating the State on the investments in Science in the country.

Brazil, however, has been a special case when it comes to scientific policies.

Consolidated after the Second World War, the main national scientific agencies strengthened scientific policies in the country, especially during the military dictatorship. These policies were legitimized by the discourse that technological autonomy would be a fundamental and necessary strategy for the development project conducted by the military. They used resources from international institutions such as the World Bank Group, Inter-American Development Bank, Rockefeller, Ford, Volkswagen Foundations, among others. In this sense, Science and Technology – and subsequently Innovation – have always been linked to national scientific projects and international interests of the dominant class.

These two issues – the hegemony of scientific circulation by major publishers and scientific policies based on technological development and the interest of dominant class – are fundamental for developing scientific evaluation indicators.

However, many of Brazil’s scientific indicators reproduce the methods of “developed” countries, such as the evaluation of scientific production by quantitative metrics such as JCR or Impact Factor. Thus, what has been referred to as a “metric tide” has been dominating the discussions on studies related to the use and analysis of ST&I indicators in some fields in Brazil, despite criticism of these metrics from forums such as the San Francisco Declaration and the Leiden Manifesto, for example.

Researchers have previously noted that studies do not address issues related to “measurement” problems and simply adopt a set of indicators that are apparently widely accepted by the more traditional literature. These indicators reproduce dominant models, emphasizing some areas considered strategic and have become increasingly used in the field evaluation and consequently in the distribution of financial resources. And this becomes a national problem, especially when we face a political-economic crisis with abrupt cuts in Science and Technology that threaten the functioning of our research institutions in Brazil.

To survive this critical moment and for Brazilian research to continue to contribute to national development, the indicators of scientific evaluation should be based on alternative and more inclusive criteria, covering the particularities of each field.

I’m looking forward to exploring these issues and more with you all at the upcoming conference – see you in Toronto!