Social networks and scientific journalism: a challenge to editors

By Viviane Gonçalves de Campos – Scielo in Perspective

Jaime L. Benchimol

On v. 40, n. 2, April/June 2014, the journal ” Educação e Pesquisa”, Jaime L. Benchimol, senior researcher of Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, and scientific editor of História, Ciências, Saúde Manguinhos, with Roberta C. Cerqueira and Camilo Papi published the article “Challenges to the Publishers in Scientific Journalism and Social Networks: Reflections and Experiences¹” that brings up thoughts about the difficulties and experiences to produce, maintain and disseminate a quality journal. Ranked as A1 on Qualis/CAPES,HCS-Manguinhos is published quarterly and its articles are published in the original language (Portuguese, English, Spanish and French) and have English translations. Indexed in prominence national and international indexes, it seeks to expand its visibility and citation.

In three axes the authors discuss: 1) the ranking and internationalization process of Brazilian journals; 2) forms of content dissemination and evaluation of its impact; and, 3) the quantitative and productive trends surrounding academia. Besides, it also discusses the difficulties of internationalizing the journal HCS-Manguinhos and the experience using social networks. It presents specific questions on research in the humanities and analyses the number of Brazilian journals in operation (between three and four thousand) over the quantity/quality and how the evaluative agencies and policies affect this process.

It should be noticed that the arguments raised in this paper have been the subject of discussions by researchers, organizations, groups, databases, among others, of the direction and alternatives for the Brazilian research to consolidate internationally. Recent publications indicate the increasing number of productions versus the low rate of everything that it is published in our country.

Guided by the discussions presented in this interview, Jaime remarks his point of view to present challenges in management, publishing and internationalization of a journal and how his experience helps us understand how to intervene in the improvement process.

1. The article written by you and the team of the journal HCS-Manguinhos presents a history of systematic advances and achievements that are noteworthy for a journal in the humanities – for the timely tune of direction and management of the journal in response to external stimuli and demands of indexing, ranking and evaluation systems such as Qualis, SciELO and the international indices WoS and Scopus -. The text indicates that the stimuli and external demands implied challenges for managing the journal, but the fact is that HCS-Manguinhos came to occupy a prominent position as a Brazilian journal with increasing insertion in the international mainstream of scientific information. Besides the leadership of the editor in chief, which management features of HCS-Manguinhosallowed and/or facilitated the achievement of this important position?

In short terms, this achievement is due to the work of a responsible and dedicated team, with a great harmony. The journal only has this team and could only gather the material and symbolic resources for innovations that it has implemented so far because it is located in a public institution that, first of all values ​​its journals, from the most traditional, Memórias do Instituto Cruz, to the most recent; and invests in them, which many institutions do not generally do, in general due to administrative myopia; secondly, for HCS-Manguinhos being in a biomedical institution that enforces to its units and teams a ‘culture’ in which the transmission of knowledge in the form of articles is highly valued. I remember that, when Casa de Oswaldo Cruz was created, 28 years ago, historians and social scientists who were called to integrate it and were much more used to the production of books, were surprised about this journal hegemony, characteristic of biomedical and other related scientific fields, and that only now contaminates the entire area of ​​humanities. Another value that very we early had to embrace was the trend, already crystallized at Fiocruz, to invest in the internationalization of its productions. Its journey, from the laboratory founded in the late nineteenth century to produce serum and vaccine against the bubonic plague, shows that institutional achievements depended from early times on repercussion among the literate elites of the country of successes achieved internationally. Last but not least, is the fact that they the 1980s, the command of Fiocruz was progressively taken by intellectuals who led the so-called health movement, responsible for the enactment of the health reform and the Unified Health System (SUS) in the context of the democratization of the country. There were physicians who really valued critical socio-historical reflection, and they turned history in one of the final activities in this biomedical institution. These factors, in my opinion, help explain why we responded accordingly to conjuncture trends that have been imposed to all Brazilian academic community from the 1990s: policies and actions to stimulate the internationalization of Brazilian science, with its positive and harmful faces… I use this last word to designate the dumb, bureaucratic, productivist ideology, which impregnates many institutions and government agencies, with its insatiable hunger for numbers and inability to properly analyze and promote quality.

2. What lessons conducting that trajectory of HCS-Manguinhos deserve to be shared with other journals?

Firstly, the importance of professionalizing the editorial work. I’m from the time that texts were made with writing machines and journals with mimeograph. The gears involved today in production, distribution, indexing, and ‘qualifying’ an academic journal, able to navigate in an increasingly globalized and competitive world are increasingly complex, and the editors of my generation (I have overcome the milestone of 60 years old) have (I think) difficulty to follow the rapid pace of changes occurring in information technology. Editors and research groups who wish to create and maintain a good journal face high costs, and I am not only referring to the financial costs. One should equip himself properly and, as important as obtaining support of funding agencies, is to convince the leaders of universities and institutions that scientific journals are indispensable and are costly and complex and cannot be made by improvisations and voluntarism of some selfless. This is a fight that professional associations such as ANPUH and AMPOCS should encompass. In the budgets of higher education institutions, the caption ‘scientific publications’ should be much more valued, and these resources can be allocated to fund both of its own or inter-institutional journals, as well as to fund the publication of articles by professors from the universities.

3. Brazilian journals, despite the challenges posed by the qualification criteria required by the indexing and evaluation systems enjoy complete editorial management freedom. In the article you and your team argue that “all intellectual production is entitled to a place under the sun, and all journals, from the most rudimentary student newsletter, plays an important role in the formation of each author and scientific culture in general.” However, many journals were (and still are) designed to meet the scientific productivism and thus, the editorial freedom is impregnated by inbreeding that the article identifies as “cousin of cronyism, a trace of Brazilian identity, very strong also in academia”. In your experience, how do the editors-in-chief and responsible of journals can and should profit from the freedom of editorial management in favor of a scientific communication guided by ethics and merits?

We wrote in the article under discussion that all intellectual production is entitled to a place under the sun and plays an important role, but that does not mean that hierarchies of skills, know-how and quality are not inexorably established. Therefore, we critically see proliferation of endogenous journals that use more or less opportunistic devices to ‘brown’ the ‘pills’ of knowledge they distribute. I say that I see critically since, as a (temporary) member of SciELO committee, tasked with selecting journals to integrate its portal, I came across lots of endogenous and parish journals, with unreasonable aspirations regarding the quality they offered . For many institutions and research communities who use this strategy to enhance its symbolic capital, it would be much more reasonable and effective to direct their quality productions to reputable journals in the pertinent knowledge field, journals capable of providing better treatment and greater visibility to such work. Groups and institutions can negotiate it in various ways with journal editors with which they have programmatic affinities. This does not mean to demean the serious and honest efforts, of those who found new journals able to thrive for quality, completeness or originality to what they have to offer.

4. The information and communication technologies contribute to successive innovations towards improving scientific communication since the online publication came into from the 90s. The dissemination and sharing of information acquired a new dimension with the social networks in the last decade. However, the scientific article in its essence remains unchanged for most journals. At the same time, the article of HCS-Manguinhos team is an ode to the printed version of the journal? Allegations that the printed version is essential in face of possible blackouts or to meet readers excluded of Internet access does not seem extemporaneous, considering the frequency that they occur and that the audience it is intended to protect is minimal, compared to the volume of readers who benefit from the online publication? In your opinion, there will be changes in the articles themselves?

Your question reminds me of that song sung back during the military dictatorship: Noventa milhões em ação / Pra frente, Brasil … Todos ligados na mesma emoção/ Tudo é um só coração!” … Remember? Well, the question is asked a 60 year old buddy who learned to love books and paper publications, and on behalf of this generation and of younger ones who still value the printed object (as they value vinyl records), I protest against the assumption that this value is ‘extemporaneous’. It is not just a feeling, or affection, it is also a way to read, to reflect and to write that cannot prescind from paper, and that you cannot reproduce in the electronic media. Then, as a historian, I know that Manguinhos on paper continue undaunted, for centuries, on the shelves of libraries, while the servers, the clouds, the HDs that host digital editions have a much more ephemeral existence. Third, what evidence there is that the number of readers which benefit from the printed journal is minimal? You can say that the online publication has an incomparably greater diffusion power, and therefore we decidedly invested in it. Finally, in this sexagenarian’s point of view, digital editions do not (yet) have the beauty and practicality of paper editions. It may be that this belief shall perish along who enunciates it. Who will live shall see. And paper faces powerful threats, especially cost, time and space. This is increasingly meager, and the traveler who comes to staying in a metal tube, as it already happens in Japan, will certainly benefit more from reading, say, Benchimol’s last work in a cell phone. Cost is a key variable, and times of plenty, even for HCS-Manguinhos, hang by a thread. As for the time, for those who need to devour ten Cervantes a day and a lot of news and data, while traveling in crowded subway cars, among many meetings during nervous, stressful journeys, there is no doubt that online publications are a must . But HCS-Manguinhos does not want to neglect those who care or have the privilege of turning the pages of a book or magazine, comfortably and without haste.

Okay. My argument is caricatured. Just turned fan of portability that a tablet allows, of the speed with which you can now purchase and download a text or book. I am amazed at the amount of very interesting material that can be obtained through the Internet, but also like to have around me solid and comforting shelves of books and magazines. The ideal, in my opinion, and also in many people’s view, is to reconcile the supports. And I say this aware that sometimes the option for exclusive online dissemination can be a good option for many journals that are struggling to survive or to make the necessary steps for internationalization.

5. The data presented in the article favor the use of social networks and confirms the experience of many journals abroad. However, the article expresses the need for reorganization of staff and resources to meet the accelerated dynamics of social networks. What specific changes that HCS-Manguinhos has implemented for regular operation of the journal to meet both the evaluation of manuscripts, editing and publication of the articles and the publications and interactions in social networks?

Our flowchart has become more complex. The work of writing, editing, and translating increased and consequently also did the costs. The academic journal and social networks have rhythms, languages ​​and audiences very different. The subject may be ‘awesome’ in making or evaluating an academic text and a disaster in agile and concise texts required by Blog, Facebook or Twitter. Maybe the younger generations of editors, educated early on the digital universe, find it easier to reconcile such skills. Anyway, for an academic journal, enrollment in social networks means additional cost in terms of manpower and financial resources, but if the job is done right the results are worth far. I say well done because social networks require constant updating of content. Not worth creating pages and leaving them unchanged for weeks or days. SciELO opened to its journals in the humanities the opportunity to enjoy these new personas joining forces. This is one way. On the other hand, in the same way as today we discuss the idea of ​​charging authors to publish their work, as it already happens in many areas or countries (a taboo in humanities), it may be also appropriate to discuss the possibilities that social networks open in terms of advertising and obtaining resources (another taboo).

6. According to the article by the HCS-Manguinhos staff, the process of gestation and consumption of research in the humanities is different from other areas. This statement is always present in the discussions of group of editors and the area. What to do to ensure isonomy between the areas in the evaluation process?

I think the assessment should always take into account the peculiarities of each area. This is the true meaning of isonomy.

7. The internationalization of journals promoted by SciELO covers three main aspects. It includes the formation of editorial boards with growing participation of foreign editors and referees; the predominant use of English; and the increasing participation of authors with foreign affiliation. HCS-Manguinhos has virtually all the formal prerequisites for full internationalization – international indexing, publishing capability in English, international networking capacity, etc. What difficulties or barriers interpose to HCS-Manguinhos to position itself as a fully international journal?

I think we are already well underway. It’s a process and it has its time. The participation of Marcos Cueto as scientific co-editor of the journal, an internationally renowned professional, has accelerated obtaining international referees and authors. As we become known outside the country, there is a natural tendency to increase the number of collaborations coming from abroad. The international crisis, the growth of interest in Brazil in recent years (I hopefully expect it keeps!), the stimuli given by many foreign institutions to publish in open access journals favor our internationalization efforts. HCS-Manguinhos, as other journals in the humanities, publishes more extensive and more stylistically developed texts than of many other scientific fields, and the journal, which is already very careful in preparing the texts in the vernacular language, wants to keep this pattern in the foreign language (we have chosen English) … This complicates the process, both in terms of costs as in quality of professionals. We have a very good team of translators, but it is not easy to find good professionals. Freelancers or companies that can handle short texts and a lot more standardized papers in biomedical subjects generally do not handle the texts of HCS-Manguinhos. I am optimistic about the prospect of soon reaching the full internationalization both of the academic journal as of its personas on social networks. On the wrong side of very modern times, slow and steady wins the race or if you prefer, haste is the enemy of perfection.


¹ BENCHIMOL, J. L.; CERQUEIRA, R. C.; PAPI, C. Challenges to the publishers of humanities in scientific journalism and social networks: reflections and experiences. Educação e Pesquisa. 2014, vol. 40, n. 2, pp. 347-364.

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About Viviane Gonçalves de Campos

Librarian, holding Masters degrees in Information Sciences from the Federal Universities of Santa Catarina and Paraná. Currently working as a consultant to publishing projects including books, journals, and blogs both nationally and internationally.

How to cite this post [ISO 690/2010]:

Social networks and scientific journalism: a challenge to editors. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 10 September 2014]. Available from:

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