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Reflections on the Impact of IFS Support to Argentina

Published: 2018-08-30

In January 2018’s blog post, we announced that this year’s posts will be devoted to showcasing scientific achievements in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. This month we turn to Prof Edith Taleisnik, a Fellow of the Argentine National Research Council (CONICET), former IFS grantee and current IFS Board member. In her post Prof Taleisnik writes that, “The history of IFS support to Argentina is a success story, with several inputs … [and a] tangible output is the substantial contribution to the consolidation of the country’s scientific human capital”. We hope you enjoy this feature of our website.

Professor Edith TaleisnikIFS has funded 194 grantees in Argentina, from the beginning of IFS’s history until approximately a decade ago. Has IFS support contributed to the scientific development of the country?

I approached this question with several hypotheses. The first was that a positive answer to the above question would require that grantees remained within the scientific system, in their homeland. All but nine Argentine IFS grantees are still in the country; those that emigrated represent less than 5% of all the grantees. This means that a high percentage of IFS grants to Argentina have been allocated to people who subsequently developed a scientific career in their home country.

My second hypothesis was that indirect evidence of scientific performance could shed light on the quality of the grantees’ scientific career. As a first evidence filter tool, I used affiliation to CONICET, the Argentine National Research Council. To become and remain members of the Council, scientists undergo strict evaluations by international standards. Of the 194 grantees, 61% are members of CONICET, and of those, 65% are in the highest two (out of five) categories. These categories include people who have made significant contributions to science, have productive research groups, and have directed research and scientific institutions. This high proportion indicates IFS was successful in identifying excellent candidates with potential to become science leaders. This expectation was met.

Argentine grantees not affiliated with CONICET are mostly in public academic or research institutions. In this population, I used the h-index in Scopus as an indirect performance indicator (https://blog.scopus.com/posts/the-scopus-h-index-what-s-it-all-about-part-i). This is a bibliometric measure of the citations a person’s research receives and it reflects interest in their work (indicating that among all published work by a person, Np papers have at least h citations each and the other (Np − h) papers have ≤ h citations each). It is dependent on the length of an academic career and the field of study in which the papers are published and cited (medicine receives many more citations than agriculture). For this reason, the index should only be used to compare researchers of a similar age and within the same field of study. Therefore, while this indicator only partially reflects a scientist’s activity and contributions, and has actually been a target of criticism, it is nevertheless a measure of scientific production. The median h-index in grantees not affiliated with CONICET was 9 and the average was 10.5, indicating moderate scientific activity in this group. The grantees who emigrated have an average h = 21, presumably because they may have had more opportunities for carrying out relevant scientific research in the core countries where they are now located, or perhaps because research carried out in core countries is more frequently cited.

My third hypothesis was that IFS grants can help develop a career in science only for people who have had some experience in research when they request the grant. From the IFS website I could distinguish those who received a grant after or before their doctorates (they are listed as either Dr, Mr or Ms). Those who received an IFS grant without a doctorate have lower average h-indices than the rest (the median is 5.5 in this group). This underscores the importance of directing IFS support to people who already have experience in science, as those who did not have it when they received their grant have not had outstanding performance in science.

From the above data, I can conclude the answer to my initial question is an assertive “yes”. A high percentage of Argentine IFS grantees not only remained in the country, but were instrumental to its scientific establishment. The history of IFS support to Argentina is a success story, with several inputs: excellent candidates, an effective system to detect them (the Scientific Advisory Committees at IFS), and a national R&D system that was there to absorb them: e.g., CONICET, universities, and the National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA). A tangible output has been a substantial contribution to the consolidation of the country’s scientific human capital.

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS DirectorThank you. Hope you enjoyed this feature and keep an eye on our next blog.                                                                                                                                                   Dr. Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director


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