Latin America is a vibrant, multicultural region, with an estimate of nearly 600 million inhabitants and combined GDP of 6.27 trillion USD PPP. Several of its respective governments have been trying to increase their nation’s international visibility, some of them through growing emphasis on Science, Medicine, & Technology. But how does Latin America fare bibliometrically? Research Trends investigates…

Latin America as a region

From 2000 to 2010, Latin America has seen high growth of more than 9% per year in scholarly output, resulting in a nearly 70% increase in its share of world papers over the same period, to reach just under 4.4% of the world’s annual output of scholarly papers in 2010. Latin American research is growing fast and becoming more visible on a global scale. And this is not the only bibliometrically observed improvement to Latin America’s scholarly output over the last few years: Latin America’s relative citation impact, albeit still under world average, has been improving by 1.6% per year from 2000-2010, from about 70% of world average in 2000 to more than four fifths in 2010 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Latin America’s annual share of total scholarly papers and 5-year relative citation impact, for which 2010 refers to 2006-2010 scholarly papers and their 2006-2010 citations with world average at 1 (Source: Scopus).

Scholarly paper share:
Share of the world’s output of scholarly papers published in a given year.

5-year relative impact:
Relative measure of citation impact (number of citations divided by number of papers) for which 2010 refers to 2006-2010 scholarly papers and their 2006-2010 citations.


In which subject fields do Latin America’s strengths lie?

In certain subject areas, Latin America’s share of world scholarly articles is even more sizeable. For Dentistry, it is nearly 10%, and for Agricultural & Biological Sciences, nearly 11%, while for Veterinary it reaches an even higher 12%. These prolific areas have been increasing in relative citation impact from 2000-2010, from 1% per year for Dentistry (very close to the world average, which was 0.97 in 2010) to 3% per year for Agricultural & Biological Sciences (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Annual share of total scholarly papers and 5-year relative citation impact, for which 2010 refers to 2006-2010 scholarly papers and their 2006-2010 citations with world average at 1, for subject areas with paper share equal to or higher than 9.9% in 2010 (Source: Scopus).


Which Latin American countries are leading the rise?

Latin America is composed of numerous countries of various sizes, each with their own particular attitude and programs towards R&D; as a consequence, the scientific output of each country varies wildly. For instance, while researchers based in Honduras published 58 papers in 2010, researchers based in Brazil published nearly 38,000, reaching 2.3% in 2010. The only other two Latin American countries with more than 0.5% of total world scholarly papers in 2010 are Mexico with just under 0.7% and Argentina with just above 0.5%. These countries have also been improving their citation impact: Brazil by 1.3% per year from 2000 to2010 to reach 0.75 in 2010, Mexico by 1.8% to reach 0.81 in 2010, and Argentina by a higher 2.5% per year, nearly reaching the world average at 0.9 in 2010 (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Annual share of total scholarly papers and 5-year relative citation impact, for which 2010 refers to 2006-2010 scholarly papers and their 2006-2010 citations with world average at 1, for countries with paper share higher than 0.5% in 2010 (Source: Scopus).


Brazil: emphasis on Health Sciences

The sheer size of Brazil in terms of population, and recent investments in Brazilian R&D at both national and international levels, can explain the prolificacy of Brazilian science. Indeed, in 2010, Brazil accounts for more than half of Latin America’s output in scholarly papers (52.7%). In some areas related to Health Sciences, Brazil’s scholarly paper share actually soars to around 70% of Latin America’s output, although their citation impact remains inferior to that of Latin America as a whole. Researchers based in Brazil publish, for instance, nearly 71% of Latin America’s papers in Dentistry, but their research only reaches 80% of the global Latin American research in that area (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Brazil’s annual share of Latin America scholarly papers and 5-year relative citation impact, for which 2010 refers to 2006-2010 scholarly papers and their 2006-2010 citations with Latin America’s average at 1, for subject areas with paper share equal to or higher than 65% in 2010 (Source: Scopus).


Mexico: focus on Physical Sciences

Mexico’s investment in R&D may appear modest compared to Brazil’s, but in 2010 this country contributed 16% of the overall Latin American research output. Physical Sciences appear to be a priority for Mexico, as illustrated by the Large Millimeter Telescope. In some areas of Physical Sciences, including Physics and Astronomy, it is reaching more than 22% of Latin America’s scholarly papers; however in none of these areas does its citation impact equal that of Latin America as a whole (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Mexico’s annual share of Latin America scholarly papers and 5-year relative citation impact, for which 2010 refers to 2006-2010 scholarly papers and their 2006-2010 citations with Latin America’s average at 1, for subject areas with paper share equal to or higher than 22% in 2010 (Source: Scopus).


Argentina: well distributed outputs

Argentina’s R&D expenditures may appear limited, yet in 2010 it managed to publish nearly 12% of Latin America’s scholarly paper output. Interestingly, its highest article shares of Latin America’s output are in varied areas spanning from the Physical and Life Sciences to the Arts & Humanities. In Earth and Planetary Science, it publishes over 17% of Latin America’s papers in 2010, although these only reach three quarters of the citation impact in that area for Latin America. In Arts and Humanities, Chemical Engineering, Earth and Planetary Science, and Immunology and Microbiology, it not only reaches over 15% of Latin America’s research, but in these areas Argentina’s citation impact is above that of Latin America as a whole (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Argentina’s annual share of Latin America scholarly papers and 5-year relative citation impact, for which 2010 refers to 2006-2010 scholarly papers and their 2006-2010 citations with Latin America’s average at 1, for subject areas with paper share equal to or higher than 15.5% in 2010 (Source: Scopus).


The Future of Latin American Science?

As a region Latin America has become a visible actor in global research through increases in both article share and relative citation impact. The diversity of Latin American countries is reflected through the various R&D strategies adopted by the different countries composing it. As demonstrated by Brazil, size does matter, and international investments can make a real difference to a country’s scholarly output. Mexico shows how a focus in a particular area can increase output. Both countries are, however, beaten to the post in terms of relative impact by Argentina, which manages to reach above Latin America’s average in specific and varied subject areas. All three countries illustrate that different priorities and strategies can lead to different, yet successful outcomes – perhaps this is the way forward for Latin America and the patchwork of countries composing it.

 

 

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