Paul Nicholls and Shaheen Majid have discussed the potential for CD-ROM technology in less-developed countries in their paper “The potential for CD-ROM technology in less-developed countries” (Canadian Library Journal, August 1989). However, they repeat some myths about scientific work in less developed countries (LDCs) and this does not help the situation.
It is true that the Science Citation Index (SCI) covers about half of the research output of LDCs. But that, in fact, is the significant, high-impact portion. What they fail to state is that this statement also applies to the work of advanced countries. The SCI covers about 500,000 articles per year. Were there no restraints, we could add another 500,000 lower impact articles from all countries, including the
U.S.S.R., Japan and the U.S.A. The SCI is not “deliberately biased towards coverage of centrally located scientific communities” and repeated studies have confirmed that we obtain valid indicators of research worldwide.
The Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) has, for over twenty-five years, put its money where its mouth is. We continue to provide LDCs substantial discounts on the SCI (25-75 per cent discounts). Furthermore, any LDC library which elects to use SCI CD-ROM may purchase four years of data at less than 25 per cent of the list price, depending on the size of their serials budget.
At a conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, held at the Institute for Scientific Information four years ago, ISI made concrete proposals for increasing less-developed countries’ journal coverage. We repeated that proposal in extensive correspondence with organizations claiming to be interested in the problems of LDCs. For every dollar of new subscription revenue from the less-developed countries for a two year period, we said we would match dollar for dollar additional LDCs coverage. I estimate that 50 new CD-ROM subscriptions from the LDCs could cover the output of 250 journals which average 100 articles per year.
At the Philadelphia workshop, the representative of the Rockefeller Foundation suggested that the LDCs represented should get together and make their demands known to RF, IDRC in Canada, AID or other international agencies. To my knowledge, this was never done.
I agree with Nicholls and Majid that CD-ROM presents a unique opportunity for the LDCs. The CD-ROMs are sent by airmail so they have the opportunity to over-come the inherent time lag of surface mail book shipment.
The way to improve the situation of the LDCs is not to deny the reality of the problems they face. Increased coverage of lower impact journals in Current Contents and Science Citation Index will increase their visibility. But only improved editorial standards, quality of research and international relevance will induce authors to read or cite them.