In order to facilitate the learning process and contribute to the training of professionals, researchers, graduate students and health managers, the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information, a Specialized Center of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (BIREME/PAHO/WHO) has been developing and improving scholarly communication courses. The activity was initially developed as in-person classes, but for 2017 the plan is to create self-learning courses and open educational resources in scholarly communication and writing.
The courses have the purpose to fostering the publication of research results that aim at attributing authorship to ideas and findings, disseminating knowledge, and contributing to the universal scientific knowledge framework, in addition to meeting goals and enabling career developments, reducing inequalities, contributing to the nations’ growth, and improving the quality of life and health of populations, among others.
Since 2014, BIREME has trained more than 500 professionals from teaching and research institutions, government bodies, and international agencies. The courses include both theoretical and hands-on modules, exercises and workshops, and address topics such as the history of scholarly communication; actors of the editorial chain; business models in scientific publication; open access and predatory journals; peer review; preprint servers and post-publication peer review; authorship and co-authorship; electing journals to publish research outputs; open data; ethics in scientific practice and publication, reproducibility of research results; conflicts of interest; journal assessment and impact indices; traditional and alternative metrics; scientific diffusion and the role of healthcare professionals, among others.
Therefore, BIREME aims to contribute to increasing the quantity, quality, visibility, and impact of the scientific articles published in the Region, in line with its mission of “contributing for the development of heath in Latin American and the Caribbean countries by democratizing access, publication and use of information, knowledge and scientific evidence”.
Understanding scholarly communication
The origins of scholarly communication date back the 12th century, when the first universities were founded and historical and philosophical debates took place among intelectuals and scholars. It was only upon Gutenberg´s invention of the press, in 1439, that scientific treaties were disseminated to other countries. In 1665, the first scientific journals were created – the Journal des Sçavants, in France, and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, in the United Kingdom. The former closed its publications in 1792, during the French Revolution. The British journal, nonetheless, continues to be published todate. In Latin America, the Gaceta Médica de México started in 1864, followed by the Revista Médica de Chile (1872), Gaceta Médica de Caracas (1893) and the Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz (1909).
Three-hundred and fifty years later, scientific journals are the main media for the dissemination of research results. The Ullrich index currently accounts for more than 70 thousand peer reviewed journals and new journals constantly emerge throughout the world. The account of a scientific experiment and consequent implications follows quite unique and strict rules and methodologies. It is, however, a universal language that goes beyond country borders and fields of knowledge – although each discipline may have its own particularities.
Mastering the ‘science language’ is, therefore, crucial to understand an article and even more so to write one. The science that rules on the communication of research results, and that includes the management of papers and journals and their assessment and validation, is known as Scholarly Communication. The discipline transcends merely scientific writing, and involves understanding the principles that rule on how academia works, assessment and reward mechanisms, ethical and economic aspects, and the outlets used in its dissemination. Without understanding this unique universe, one has a hard task to enter it and obtain the sought recognition of peers and society that come from the publication of a scientific article or document.
How to understand the complex Scholarly Communication discipline? There is obviously abundant quality material available in books, in scientific journals themselves and, of course, online sources. The World Wide Web is filled with resources in all languages and levels of depth, aimed at the different audiences. All one must do is to identify those sources that are more suitable to their individual repertoire and start reading—which will certainly lead to new sources and thus successively. This can be too time consuming. However, this method will probably yield good results if one makes good choices about the reliability of sources of information, since the Web makes all kinds of content available and one should be cautious about the sources’ origin and credibility. Courses directed to specific audiences, such as those developed by BIREME, can be an effective alternative to the process.