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The place of third world science in mainstream science

The question of adequately representing third world science in international databases was the main issue at a 1985 conference organized at the ISI in Philadelphia. The title of the final conference report, "Strengthening the Coverage of Third World Science," pointed to a glaring gap [62]. The conference participants estimated that only about half of the science produced in the third world that meets international standards of excellence is included in the ISI database.

In fact, as D.J. Frame [29] so correctly wrote, it all depends on what you are trying to assess. "If the purpose of the bibliometric indicators is to help in the building of a national scientific inventory, telling us what kind of research is being performed at different institutions, then coverage of local as well as mainstream publications would seem important. On the other hand, if one is primarily interested in investigating Third World contributions to world science, then publication counts taken from a restrictive journal set would seem most appropriate." Thus, when Garfield prepared his "Mapping Science in the Third World" [39], he was actually measuring the impact of third world scientific output on the international scientific community, using, as his only criterion, the part of the third world scientific output that was cited and used by the international scientific community. For this reason, it is not surprising that the impact was found to be slight.

Mainstream science production is even more narrowly concentrated than is national wealth expressed as GNP. Ten countries produce more than 80 per cent of the international scientific literature. Except for India, which has maintained a steady ranking of eighth place since the beginning of the 1970s, all the countries are members of the industrialized world [30, 14]. Between 1981 and 1985, the developing countries produced 5.8 per cent of the world's mainstream scientific output, of which 3.7 per cent came from Asia, 1.1 per cent from Latin America, 0.4 per cent from sub-Saharan Africa, and 0.6 per cent from the Middle East [14]. Even if we challenge the representative value of these estimates, especially considering the database used, we still have to accept that mainstream science from the third world is marginal compared with the rest of the world.

Fifteen leading developing countries, ranked according to number of mainstream publications produced

1973a 1981-1985b
Rank Country Number of publications Country Number of publications (annual averages)
1 India 6,880 India 10,978
2 Argentina 764 People's Rep. China 2,146
3 Egypt 683 Brazil 1,498
4 Brazil 573 Argentina 1,124
5 Mexico 368 Egypt 1,029
6 Chile 356 Nigeria 790
7 Nigeria 280 Mexico 709
8 Venezuela 200 Chile 590
9 Taiwan 186 Taiwan 509
10 Iran 174 Hong Kong 365
11 Malaysia 138 Saudi Arabia 319
12 Kenya 125 South Korea 312
13 Singapore 120 Venezuela 311
14 Thailand 117 Kenya 248
15 Lebanon 114 Singapore 214

Sources: a. ref. 30, table 4, pp. 507-508; b. ref. 14.

Among the developing countries, India, the uncontested leader, produces five times more mainstream scientific publications than the People's Republic of China. The table lists the top 15 producers of mainstream scientific literature in the third world for 1973 and for the period 1981-1985. This list changed considerably during the reference period. Production in certain leading countries in 1973, like Brazil and Nigeria, rose sharply. Some countries with small - even very small scientific output in 1973 started climbing, e.g. Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. Other countries, like Iran and Lebanon, in the throes of political and military unrest, lost their standing. Most of the countries on the list produced substantially more in the years following 1973, but the per country mainstream scientific production remained small, even in countries at the top of the list, like Egypt, Mexico, and Nigeria.

A comparison with the production of scientific institutions in the OECD countries shows that a country such as Egypt produces less than the Harvard University Medical School [29]. The total production of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, at present represents about one tenth of the scientific production of a European country such as France [38].

Referring to the ISI and other international databases, recent studies have provided interesting information on the position of the various countries on the mainstream science supplier list and their impact on world science, but the description of how science is constructed in these countries, the researchers' scientific strategy, and their participation in national and international science is incomplete and often inaccurate. These studies, moreover, tend, either implicitly or explicitly, to assign research scientists of the peripheral scientific communities to two distinct categories: scientists who "really count," in other words, who are known to the international scientific community since they publish overseas in influential international journals; and the others, whose "local" science lacks originality and, at best, is published in low circulation local journals.

Mainstream science and local science: A needed revision

Several other recent studies justify a revision of this exaggerated but widely held - caricature of science production in the periphery [19, 23, 34]. They substantiate the thesis that the bibliometric indicators based on an international database do not accurately assess the scientific output from the periphery, especially from the developing countries. International databases do not provide enough information to measure accurately the science produced in these countries and assess the scientific thrust of the countries of the periphery in general. Combining and comparing several international databases can improve the relevance of bibliometric indicators but will not tell the whole story. The international databases need to improve their coverage of science produced in the developing countries, and local databases need to be created and consulted. Databases at the local level, accompanied by periodic production and dissemination of documented analytical bulletins, would not only serve to better measure scientific output in the third world, but would also in time enhance South-South and North-South documentation exchange, as well as both the visibility and accessibility of developing countries' scientific output.

Given these handicaps, it is not surprising that third world scientific production and its impact are slight. The following analysis compares overall figures on numbers of publications per researcher with the findings of the survey of the lists of publications of 213 third world scientists who received grants from the International Foundation for Science [33, 36]. The latter produced on average 0.5 publications per year as sole author and 0.7 as co-author - that is to say slightly more than half that of American researchers working in related scientific disciplines [15]. Furthermore, half (55 per cent) of their total scientific production was published in local journals. Asian scientists tend to publish more than African scientists. In addition, Asian and Latin American scientists publish more locally (approximately 60 per cent) than African scientists (approximately 40 per cent). These percentages are exceptionally high in comparison with industrialized countries: in western Europe, scientists publish 12 per cent of their work in foreign journals, while the figure for Japan is 25 per cent [39].

When reflecting on these percentages we should remember that there are many more local journals in Asia and Latin America than in Africa. Logically, the more the scientists publish abroad, the more they work in collaboration with foreign scientists. Garfield [39] has shown that articles by researchers in developing countries have a greater impact (on the international scientific community, measured in terms of number of citations per article) when they are co-authored by researchers from industrialized countries. Here we come up against the dilemma of the strategic scientific choices that researchers in developing countries, in common with most researchers in peripheral scientific communities, have to make between participation in mainstream science (the most used, most visible, and most frequently cited) and the resolution of local problems through "inward looking" research. Co-authoring with foreign scientists is the most prevalent among scientists who studied or worked in post-doctoral positions abroad. In most cases, however, these publications are produced in the years immediately following the stay abroad; sustained active collaboration with foreign scientists is rare if not reactivated by frequent stay abroad. The fields in which they publish most, such as chemistry, are also the fields in which they publish most abroad. We have also observed a relatively significant difference in productivity by gender, men publishing more than women. Women also tend to publish more in local journals than men.

With very few exceptions, English-speaking scientists publish in English, whereas more than one-third of the publications by Latin American scientists and almost one-fifth of those of French-speaking scientists were found to be in English. A case-study conducted in a French-speaking African country (Senegal) showed that English was increasingly used as a language of publication. I also found a relatively significant use of local languages in certain Asian countries, e.g. Indonesia, where more than half (52 per cent) of the published works of scientists appear in Indonesian languages, Thailand (28 per cent in Thai), and South Korea (18 per cent in Korean). Publication strategies differ greatly, depending on both the country and the discipline. Unlike South Korea, in Singapore all the scientific journals are in English. A glance at the lists of references consulted and cited confirms the hypothesis that the different linguistic worlds are almost "language proof," especially between the English and French languages. Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking scientists often cite literature in English; this is rarely the case for French speaking scientists. And references by English-language scientists are drawn exclusively from literature written in English.

Most of the scientists publish in both national and international journals. Publication strategies differ according to country and to scientific discipline. Third world scientists cite references essentially (78 per cent) from mainstream scientific literature, which they seem to receive later than their colleagues in the centre, since nearly half the references are over 10 years old, as against 29 per cent of the references cited by scientists from the centre countries. An analysis of the citations indicates that third world scientists use articles from national journals in smaller proportion but much sooner than articles from international journals.

Citation modes usually work against third world scientists in particular and scientists at the periphery in general because, as we have seen above, much of the work is published in local journals that are only circulated within the country. The third world scientists are caught in an especially vicious circle, because even when their findings are published in highly influential, prestigious scientific journals in the centre, they are far less often cited than writings by their colleagues in the centre [2]. Recent work on referencing within the Brazilian scientific community showed that "citation patterns are significantly influenced by factors 'external' to the scientific realm and thus reflect neither simply the quality, influence, nor even the impact of the research work referred to" [79]. The place of publication strongly influences the number of times a publication is cited [56]. Arunachalam and Manorama [3, p. 395] explain that many leading Indian scientists have had the irritation of seeing work published by Western scientists after theirs had been cited; the Western scientists got the credit and their own original work remained unacknowledged. I also found that third world scientists often cite colleagues in industrialized countries, but rarely cite other third world scientists, even when their works are published in well-read international journals. This behaviour seems to be the result of a rather widespread, although difficult to prove, conviction among them that quoting works published by colleagues in industrialized countries brings more credit to their own work.

In sum, third world scientists often cite their colleagues from the developed countries, but their own work - being relatively "invisible" - is seldom cited. They often feel caught in a dilemma: either adopt the habit of scientists from industrialized countries and publish in international journals to become more "visible" and gain international standing, or else seek national recognition by publishing in local journals, and sometimes in local languages, thus being condemned to non-existence, or at best, marginal existence in mainstream science. The general trend is to adopt the two strategies together.

Concluding remarks

Considerable efforts have been made, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s, to develop a science and technology potential in many developing countries. Most countries have experienced a boom in student enrolments, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, while many new universities were created outside the capital cities. The number of scientists has also increased significantly during the latter period, with annual increase rates often higher than in industrialized countries. Substantial efforts have also been made to build up research institutions and to support the emergence of national scientific communities. Yet the results are not always satisfactory. It was long believed that the accumulation of adequate resources (scientists, institutions, and funding) would automatically generate productivity. We now know that the availability of such resources, although necessary, is not sufficient to guarantee achieving the scientific results needed for development. It is not enough just to build institutions, train good scientists, and provide them with proper supplies.

Going beyond the availability of resources, research activities need a certain permanency through greater recognition by society. The scientists need to be able to find their place in a scientific community that has its own legitimate place in society. Wherever scientific communities are emerging, the debate henceforth centres on the professionalization of their scientists, the conditions under which scientific activities are performed, and the capacity of the scientific communities to reproduce themselves and sustain their activities. Therefore, a number of conditions should be fulfilled for supporting the emergence and reproduction of endogenous scientific communities in developing countries.

The strategies adopted by the scientists are the results of negotiations carried out in a socio-economic, cultural, and political environment that is not always conducive to a scientific outlook and societal recognition of research science as a profession. In addition to proper status and better salaries and working conditions, the emergence of tight-knit and lively scientific communities should be promoted, for example by establishing active Academies, professional associations, and scientific journals. Encouragement should also be given to activities such as national science days, science awards, science weeks for young people, annual conferences of national science associations, and also exhibits, science museums, and clubs that attract young people to science and scientific careers. Education is also important in shaping attitudes and scientific minds.

The dependency of most developing countries on (above all) Europe and the United States to train their scientists is not compatible with the creation of an independent scientific tradition and the emergence of a truly autonomous scientific community. It is becoming increasingly urgent to shift the "centre of gravity" of doctoral level education from the North to the South. This would require a revised cooperation between the Northern host countries (which often offer scholarships) and the developing countries themselves. The process will entail redefining aid policies (and the risk for the North of losing some of its influence) and also, in many cases, developing countries' education policies. The substantial sums that are still being spent by the countries that offer scholarships could be used by the universities in the South to establish or strengthen doctoral courses in disciplines of national priority. Strengthening national academia would contribute to improving the structuring of the emerging scientific communities as the result of added input from both the national scientific potential and the student body. This is essential if all the actors, from confirmed senior scientists to Ph.D. candidates to regular students, are to keep up with science in the making and remain up to date on progress in their disciplines.

To gain in legitimacy, the strengthened national universities should also be better linked not only to the other research and higher learning institutions but also to the society as a whole. New answers should be found to sustain the university as a socially relevant institution and to transform its attributes beyond the neoclassical university [45]. In many countries the situation of the national universities is so critical that it may very well lead to curtailment of university research. Many countries have found no other solution than to circumvent the problem by creating specialized research institutes outside the university, usually with no responsibility for graduate and postgraduate education. (This is not the case in India, where the technological institutes, renowned as poles of excellence, provide close interaction between education and research.)

More historical and sociological research is also needed to achieve better understanding of the conditions that need to be fulfilled for a scientific community of the periphery to emerge, develop, and reproduce. The respective role of the different actors involved also requires further investigation. There is in particular a lack of studies on the roles and professions of engineers and technical workers in both the public and private sectors in developing countries (an exception is Longuenesse et al. [57]). More studies are also needed on the transfer of successful models of institutions and/or on institutional innovations such as the institutes of technology and the fashionable technopoles to improve understanding of the extent to which they could contribute to better linkages between the academic world and the productive sector, as well as to the reproduction of the national scientific communities.


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