Up to date? The time lag for some XX century science discoveries to first appear in the pages of the Memorias (a journal dedicated to research on microbes and their vectors causing human infections)
From the perspective of the XXI century, it seems trivial to expect that major advancements in science will spread out from laboratories at 3-5 years intervals. Shortly after the end of World War II, faith in science and technology to improve life and make living more comfortable became integrated into human societies (not all societies, but at least those with high levels of economic and social development). Today we are all anxious to get information about scientific novelties, which are rapidly disseminated through social media and news agencies. However, it has not always been this way. During most of the XX century, scientific achievements spread out from the original laboratories at a slow pace (compared to current standards, of course!). Communications, especially for science n was not at the reach of a simple click or a screen touch. An informal academic network involving personal contact among researchers was needed to diffuse the ideas, methods, and novel concepts through the exchange of published articles, manuscripts, and presentations at scientific meetings. The scientific world was smaller but ideas would take some time to be firmly grasped by researchers outside the main centers.
As a journal dedicated to publishing original scientific work about microbes and their vectors causing human infections, the Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz (MIOC) has striven to publish the most up to date research results. Yet this goal is not entirely under the control of the journal. It depends on the kind of manuscripts authors decide to submit. If authors adhere to the general recommendation “publish the best science you are able to perform” and have chosen this journal as the vehicle to disseminate their research work, the articles we have been publishing would certainly be distinguished science. But how to evaluate that the science appearing in our pages is methodologically up to date? A comprehensive answer to this question demands a rigorous statistical analysis involving citations to methods and protocols, peer network metrics, semantic analysis etc. This is clearly not within the reach of a single editor who is a non-specialist in big data. Yet there is a simple procedure to estimate whether this journal was pari passu to technical innovations: the time interval comparison between major breakthroughs and the first appearance of a related article in the MIOC. Of course, as with all simplifications, care should be taken to interpret the results. Bearing this advice in mind, let us consider three of the major achievements in biomedical sciences with direct impact in the field of infectious microorganisms and their vectors together with the first time an article reporting research results using these methods appeared in the MIOC (Table).
A Nobel prize was awarded for each of these discoveries, and undoubtedly they have shaped current biomedical research. The first two are methods with immediate application to infectious disease research. The third breakthrough is the discovery of a cellular phenomenon, and though it opens interesting possibilities for the infectious disease field, its current configuration does not offer immediate applications in subjects such as diagnostics, taxonomy, surveillance and control. Researchers working in Latin American (and other developing regions) are under pressure to provide smart solutions and innovations for the challenges in these areas.
Assuming that the influence of a scientific journal is related to how fast the journal publishes articles that use recently developed methods in its field, the time interval shown in the table suggests that waiting for more than a decade to get the first article with DNA sequencing results is not appealing for prospective authors. Apparently 13 and 6 years seem to be a long period for important innovations such as Sanger sequencing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to start appearing in the pages of the Memorias. However the real question is: Was the field of infectious microbes and their vectors in the late 1970 and 1980 much dependent on these technical advances to provide the solutions that the stakeholders were expecting? We need to hear the historians, sociologists and philosophers of science for a better answer.
The undisputable answer we can get now is that journals should not wait too long for the publication of manuscripts with newly proposed technical innovations. From a strictly editorial viewpoint, one of the most important criteria to proceed with a manuscript analysis should be: is the manuscript technically up to date? But firstly, we have to convince authors that our journal is the appropriate vehicle for their best research results. It sounds like the chicken or the egg dilemma…
Editors are constantly looking for tools or methods that can help them to estimate the relevance of research results submitted to them. Of course, the intangible wisdom of individual editors to decide on manuscript relevance cannot be substituted for any algorithm or software. But an objective (unbiased) method might help to improve the editors job in this decision making process.
Adeilton Alves Brandão | Editor
1 - Sanger F, Nicklen S, Coulson AR. DNA sequencing with chain-terminating inhibitors. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1977; 74(12): 5463-7.
2 - Saiki RK, Scharf S, Faloona F, Mullis KB, Horn GT, Erlich HA, et al. Enzymatic amplification of β-globin genomic sequences and restriction site analysis for diagnosis of sickle cell anemia. Science. 1985; 230(4732): 1350-4.
3 - Fire A, Xu SQ, Montgomery MK, Kostas SA, Driver SE, Mello CC. Potent and specific genetic interference by double-stranded RNA in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature. 1998; 391: 806-11.
4 - da Silveira JF, Paranhos GS, Cotrim PC, Mortara RA, Camargo ME, Rassi A, et al. Antigens of Trypanosoma cruzi with clinical interest cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1990; 85(4): 507-11.
5 - Zingales B, Gruber A, Ramalho CB, Umezawa ES, Colli W. Use of two recombinant proteins of Trypanosoma cruzi in the serological diagnosis of Chagas' disease. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1990; 85(4): 519-22.
6 - Pinho JRR. Development of cytomegalovirus detection in urine by polymerase chain reaction for the follow-up of liver transplantation recipients. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1991; 86(3): 369-70.
7 - García LT, Leite NR, Alfonzo JD, Thiemann OH. Effects of Trypanosoma brucei tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetases silencing by RNA interference. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2007; 102(6): 757-62.