Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
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Otterman speaks...

Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

List of Categories : travel * museum * cycling * Singapore Naturalist * science * kakis * mangroves * movies * mac and the internet * meow * NUS * life in Singapore * lit * world *

Mon 28 Mar 2005

Scientific indices and publications

Category : NUS

The Science in Singapore post earlier today has Caustic Soda ranting analysing the report; check the link - he opines "we are very good at producing unstimulating scientific research". Mind you, A*STAR has touched quite a lot of nerves; e.g. seecookie monster lite.

I'll add a note - "life sciences" in NUS tends to mean the molecular and protein aspects of biological sciences, and biotechnology. Once "life sciences" was visualised as a potential economic pillar for Singapore, the shift in emphasis was dramatic and biodiversity (and the like) became poor cousins. So much so some of us limped out the The Biology Refugia as an antidote. And yes, its not helping.

As to the Science in Singapore report, I'll just wonder about the high ranking for agricultural sciences. Its hard work unraveling these reports. When NUS adopted the Science Citation Index (SCI) system in the late 90's, we had to figure things out quickly due to significant differences in ranking values within the diverse fields of just biology! I remember analysing the differences between physiology, fisheries, molecular biology, ecology and evolution, etc. in 1997 and attempting institutional benchmarking in 2001. A draft on eth server left over from a 2001 review suggests that most of the work by biodiversity academics in well-respected institutes was published in the lower-ranked journals. I felt the answers lay in teh fact they were mainly concerned at reaching the right readership and many indispensable specialist journals are lowly-ranked in the SCI due to the ranking methods.

Taxonomy in particular suffered when SCI was adopted because taxonomic work usually isn't cited even when the results of the work (i.e. names of organisms) are used! The taxonomists sorted out diversity and gave scientific names published so that other scientists could start working. In fact some scientists, unable to identify their organisms, became taxonomists! Ironically some taxonomic journals at the time restricted literature citations of taxonomic work, allowing only highly abbreviated citations. This was practise left-over from the space-saving days of print, and a time when relatively few journals existed;. These days the abbreviations are confusing.

So taxonomic journals had a lower currency in the world of SCI and I believe the computer science people had some specific problems too. Despite inherent weaknesses, a quantitative method is an attractive, mangeable option for large scale assessments and after some eight years, many have adapted. Staff publish in better known journals that have themselves ensured they are listed, and grad students know to avoid conference proceedings that aren't in indexed journals. Some local researchers got so good at the game that they no longer pop the bubbly when they are published in Nature or Science.

Unfortunately, this sounded the death knell for critically important observations about wildlife and plants and site-specific checklists that early journals published regularly. This vacum of information helps to amplify the shifting baselines.

Meawhile regional journals that did not adapt to SCI's demands were pushed into the world of grey literature (admittedly, some are only of local interest). All this mean less ammunition to combat the biodiversity crisis in Southeast Asia that has been largely overlooked, until recently, by a western media distracted by South America and Africa

An unhealthy dependency on journal ranking/indexing services also led some researchers to assume that there was nothing beyond SCI journals. Several years ago, the head of an international research agency expressed complete surprise when he discovered the extent and diversity of regional publications. Mind you, even then, a yahoo search would have revealed some clues - had he looked.

In an interesting parallel, I learnt of a blogger who searched for made-in-Singapore blogs in 2004. Since he used only Technocrati>, he left with the impression that the local blogging community was "almost nonexistent," at a time when it was reasonably vibrant (I was actively reading local blogs at the time). Technocrati's results were probably a reflection of its lack of use by local bloggers (you have to register your site) or an inadequate search method - I struggled to find local sites myself in 2003 until I employed multiple search engines, directories, and inter-site references blogrolls, blogrings, links and bookmarks!

Back to science, some specific research fields (e.g. mangroves) recognise this problem and publish lists of grey literature on the internet to facilitate their discovery. While we got our own journal of Southeast Asian zoology listed with all the relevant scientific indices (after some agressive marketing), it did take concerted and specific effort, publications speed and skill (pagemaker came in useful initially), connections we nurtured, good papers and a few years to demonstrate a strong record.

That's work we can no longer do and a faster solution to facilitate the accessiblity of regional journals is to make article pdfs available on the internet, tagged with a Creative Commons license. And we've begun - with our own as a gesture of good faith, and the rest will hopefully follow, once we squeeze out the time, funding and permissions.

Posted at 11:38AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .