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World-level ecologists in Chile: Oldtimers, newcomers, and the bypassed

Abstract

Background

A team of 3 scientometrists led by John Ioannidis published in 2020 an extensive and updated database (ca. 6.9 million researchers in 22 disciplines and 176 sub-disciplines), ordering them according to a composite bibliometric index that measures their whole trajectory (career-long) impact and their annual impact at year 2019. They reported the top 100,000 scientists (1.45% across all disciplinary fields) or the top 2% of each subfield discipline, thus publishing the ranking of ca. 150,000 researchers worldwide.

Methods and findings

We filtered that information for the disciplinary and sub-disciplinary areas corresponding to Ecology and identified a total of 14 ecologists with residence in Chile that appear in either of those two worldwide rankings. We report their measured productivity as both whole trajectory (career-long) and as annual impact at year 2019. We attribute their high registered productivity to their training at the doctoral level in prestigious foreign universities, their academic positions in internationally recognized Chilean universities, and their participation in state-funded research centers of scientific excellence. Exceptions to the rule are presented.

Conclusions

The 14 ecologists identified with the scientometric algorithm proposed by Ioannidis and coworkers include, but are not restricted, to the most cited ecologists in Chile. We put forth possible reasons for some puzzling omissions from these rankings.

Background

Before scientometric measures became popular, Jaksic and Santelices [1] asked if anyone read Chilean ecologists, and provided a quantitative perspective, but based on n = 2 researchers. This paper in part elicited serious introspections about the relative contribution of different ecologists in Chile [2,3,4,5,6]. Today, 30 years later, we can answer the pointed question posed above [1] by stating that they are not only read but also cited and recognized worldwide [7].

This contention is based on the results of a recent review paper [8] reporting a database that ranks the top 100,000 scientists (1.45% across all disciplinary fields) –or the top 2% of each subfield discipline-- from a worldwide universe of 6,880,389 who published at least five articles indexed in the Scopus database (stored at the Mendeley web site). Toward this, they considered 22 disciplinary areas and 176 sub-disciplines, and elaborated a ranking of scientists by both whole trajectory (career-long) impact and their current impact at year 2019.

It thus proves tempting to assess the national contribution to world science of any discipline, but by reason of academic interest we choose to concentrate on the contribution and accomplishments of ecologists based in Chile toward this endeavor. Rau and Jaksic [7] recently documented their impact with reference to the Latin American context, placing those ecologists in Chile and Argentina as the most productive --occupying the first and second per capita place-- followed by those in Brazil and Mexico. It seems adequate, then, to scrutinize more closely the trends observed in Chile.

Methods

To obtain their metrics, Ioannidis et al. [8] used a composite index that is the sum of the decimal logarithms of 6 bibliometric indicators that include the number of allocites (NC, cites excluding self-citation; see [1, 9, 6, 10] for rationale), the h index (H, see [11, 12]), a corrected version of it (Hm, see [13]; it is H based on a fractionalized counting of papers according to the number of coauthors), and the allocites by quality of authorship in three conditions: as single author (NCS), as single + first author (NCSF), or as single + first + last author (NCSFL). This formula is used to calculate the composite indicator for both career-long and single-year (2019) impact. To find out the identity and productivity of ecologists in Chile, the Excel spreadsheets of Tables S-6 and S-7 by [8] were filtered. Only the term “Ecology” was used as a disciplinary and sub-disciplinary area (columns AL and AN in [8], respectively). For a detailed explanation of these calculations and their limitations see [7].

Results

Table 1 presents the names of the nine ecologists with institutional address in Chile that appear in the whole trajectory (career-long) impact ranking. They represent 4.7% of the 190 members of the Ecological Society of Chile (http://www.socecol.cl). Four of these ecologists (Castilla, Navarrete, Santelices, and Thiel) work mainly in marine ecosystems, and the remaining five in terrestrial ones. Bozinovic (in 2020), Castilla (2010), Jaksic (2018), and Santelices (2012) have obtained in Chile the National Prize for Natural Sciences or for Applied Sciences and are also full or corresponding members of the Chilean Academy of Sciences.

Table 1 Authors’ worldwide productivity position based on Rank for whole trajectory (career-long) and for single year (2019), as reported in Tables S-6 and S-7 by [8]. No. of papers in the Scopus database and No. of allocites, as reported in spreadsheet columns D and H by [8], respectively. Added by us is the Scopus-based h-index accessed 16 October 2021)

Neither Jaksic, Navarrete, nor Santelices appear in the 2019 annual impact ranking, while Ebensperger, Fajardo, Gelcich, Lara, and Rezende are recognized for the first time. Notice that the ranking goes up from career-long to single-year in the case of Bozinovic, Gianoli, Marquet, and Thiel, which attests to them capturing relatively more citations during 2019 than in previous years. The contrary applies to Castilla, Jaksic, Navarrete, Niemeyer, and Santelices. All 14 ecologists mentioned up to here are full, corresponding, or honorary members of the Ecological Society of Chile.

Using data from Table 1, the position in the whole-career rank ranged between 22,950 and 100,707 (CV = 48%) and from 13,539 to 148,194 (CV = 58%) for single-year (2019) rank. The number of allocites ranged 1982 to 9521 (CV = 46%) for whole-career and 194 to 2052 (CV = 72%), respectively. Productivity variations thus seem higher at a given year than over time. The number of articles published varied the least, between 96 and 271 (CV = 34%; n = 9). As expected [14], all the correlations between number of published articles, number of allocites, and position in the rankings were negative, but not significant due to the low sample size.

As evidenced in Table 2, all but one of the 14 ecologists listed have obtained their doctorates from internationally recognized foreign universities All of schools are listed in the recognized and demanding world ranking of universities prepared by Jiao Tong University (http://www.shanghairanking.com). With only one exception, obtaining doctorates abroad is observed among the ten ecologists born from 1940 to 1964 (inclusive). For those generations, the only current availability of doctorates in ecology was abroad, but not so for the recent additions to the list (the newcomers Fajardo, Gelcich, Gianoli, and Rezende, born in the 1970s), whom all are Ph.D.’s from abroad. Possibly, newer graduates from Chilean universities will constitute the replacement generation in the future, but only time will allow testing this hypothesis.

Table 2 Academic profiles of the 14 ecologists that appear in Table 1, in the same sequence

Nine or 64% (Bozinovic, Castilla, Ebensperger, Gelcich, Jaksic, Marquet, Navarrete, Rezende, Santelices) of the 14 ecologists have been or are attached to the current Ecology Department of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Table 2). A detailed description of the historical development of that Department is available in [15, 16]. The remainder five are evenly spread over Universidad Austral de Chile, Católica del Norte, de Chile, de La Serena, and de Talca.

All 14 ecologists have integrated or are integrating seven Centers of Scientific and Technological Excellence (CCTE’s) of the National Research and Development Agency (ANID): Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity (CASEB, see [17]), Center for Climate and Resilience Research (CR2), Center of Applied Ecology and Sustainability (CAPES), Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), Centro de Investigación en Ecosistemas de la Patagonia (CIEP), Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB), Instituto Milenio de Ecosistemas Forestales (FORECOS), and/or Instituto Milenio de Socio-ecología Costera (SECOS).

Their research lines (synthesized from web pages Academia, ANID, Google Scholar, Publons, Research Gate, Scopus, and/or Wikipedia) are at the frontier of ecological science worldwide, including global change, individual adaptability, biodiversity function, and ecosystem sustainability, of algae, animals, and plants, in marine and terrestrial environments. Microorganisms, fungi, and freshwater systems are conspicuously missing.

Discussion

A recent study indicates that the most scientifically productive countries in Latin America are, from highest to lowest, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile [18]. With regard to only Ecology, said productivity is ordered in the same decreasing sequence, but it is somewhat reversed when the data are expressed by number of ecologists per million inhabitants [7]. In such analysis, ecologists in Chile occupy the first place followed by those in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico (Table 7 in [7]). Interestingly, Chile currently ranks only after Brazil in Latin America when it comes to total scientific publications across all fields in high-impact journals (https://www.natureindex.com/annual-tables/2019/country/all). Judging from this, it seems that ecologists in Chile are better positioned than national practitioners of other scientific disciplines, at least within the Latin American context.

A total of 14 world-level ecologists based in Chile are reported in our Table 1 and they are as well highly ranked in their Scopus based h-index, ranging 28-58 (https://www.scopus.com/freelookup/form/author.uri? Accessed 16 October 2021). Why reputedly productive ecologists with Scopus h > 28, such as Luis Corcuera (h = 34), Mauricio Lima (h = 34), Julio Gutiérrez (h = 38), Aníbal Pauchard (h = 40), Juan Armesto (h = 42), and Lohengrin Cavieres (h = 43) are not listed among the ca. 150,000 researchers ranked by [8] is open for discussion. For instance, a productive scientist resident in Chile that one might think keys out as an ecologist, e.g. Alejandro Buschmann (76,709 career-long rank, 39,894 single-year rank), is classified by Ioannidis et al. [8] in Marine Biology & Hydrobiology and in Fisheries, and thus does not qualify for our analysis.

Of course, the first consideration is that of the database used. For starters, the Scopus database, created by Elsevier in 2004, covers slightly over 23,000 journals, but goes back only to 1990. In comparison, the Web of Science database (formerly, Web of Knowledge), created by the Institute for Scientific Information in 1997 (but later managed by Thomson Reuters and now by Clarivate Analytics) covers only about 12,000 journals, but goes all the way back to 1900. Just for this fact, ecologists whose most cited publications date before the 1990s see their productivity downgraded by the Scopus database.

Secondly, the use of different databases, to which we may now add Dimensions, created in 2018 ([19]), affects the calculations of the h index [20,21,22]. For any given author, h calculated with WoS, Scopus, or GS typically yields from lower to higher values, in the same sequence (e.g. Table 1 in [6]; Scopus-h not reported). As just noted, Scopus h-index values tend to upgrade more recent, usually younger researchers (born in the 1960s or 1970s), with the opposite occurring with the WoS h-index.

And finally, there is the structure of the Ioannidis et al.’s formula [8], which may generate biases in the presumed world recognition of ecologists. As pointed out by Rau and Jaksic [7] this happens because: (a) Total production of papers is not considered --only its first or second derivative is, namely, number of citations-- and non-citable publications do not add to the compound index. (b) Given the different weights attributed to the three qualifications in authorship (single, first, or last), ecologists that collaborate with many authors and are in the middle of the authorship line may not show well in this type of ranking.

Our findings call to caution when interpreting the productivity of resident ecologists in their field, both in Chile and worldwide. Conspicuously missing in such measurements is the formation of human capital and the influence exerted in academic circles, civil society, and public policy.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Abbreviations

NC:

Number of allocites

H:

h index

Hm:

Corrected h index

NCS:

Single author

NCSF:

Single + first author

NCSFL:

Single + first + last author

CV:

Coefficient of variation

CCTE’s:

Centers of Scientific and Technological Excellence

ANID:

National Research and Development Agency

CASEB:

Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity

CR2:

Center for Climate and Resilience Research

CAPES:

Center of Applied Ecology and Sustainability

CEAZA:

Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas

CIEP:

Centro de Investigación en Ecosistemas de la Patagonia

IEB:

Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity

FORECOS:

Instituto Milenio de Ecosistemas Forestales

SECOS:

Instituto Milenio de Socio-ecología Costera

WoS:

Web of Science

GS:

Google Scholar

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Acknowledgments

To Soraya Sade and Ignacio Orellana, for the first filtering of the Excel spreadsheet corresponding to Tables S-6 and S-7 by [8]. To F. Bozinovic, for comments on a previous draft.

Funding

We are grateful to ANID PIA/BASAL FB0002.

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Data analysis: JRR, FMJ. Manuscript preparation: JRR, FMJ. All authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jaime R. Rau.

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Rau, J.R., Jaksic, F.M. World-level ecologists in Chile: Oldtimers, newcomers, and the bypassed. Rev. Chil. de Hist. Nat. 95, 1 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40693-021-00105-3

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Keywords

  • Annual impact
  • Bibliometric index
  • H index
  • Scientometrics
  • Scopus