A trailblazing bioscience platform sharing bioscience research, globally
What is it?
Bioline International is a trailblazer in the field of access to bioscience. It’s a platform for quality peer reviewed journals published in developing countries, from Bangladesh to Venezuela. It acts as an aggregator, offering a free platform to promote open access journals for publishers who may not otherwise have sufficient resources on their own. It also improves the visibility of developing world publications, enabling them to enter into mainstream research and knowledge activities, and acts as an OAI data provider, allowing journal articles to be easily harvested and discovered by other indexing services. And it’s been doing it for a long time.
“We were one of the earliest initiatives to promote free access to publications and so Bioline was invited to attend the strategic open access meeting in Budapest about 10 years ago to talk about the future of open access – the term open access was coined at that meeting – and so we are very proud of the fact that we were there from the beginning,” says Bioline’s director, Leslie Chan.
In fact, Bioline was around even before the ‘beginning’. It launched in 1993 as a partnership between the Tropical Database, now Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental,in Brazil and the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development (EPT) in the UK, initially simply emailing journals and bioscience reports. It grew as the technology developed, migrating to the world wide web in 1996/7. In 2000, the University of Toronto took over the role of the EPT and the project has grown steadily over the last decade, now featuring over 50 journals.
How is it a success?
One of the frequently cited benefits of open access is that it makes research that would otherwise be inaccessible – through cost or lack of availability -accessible to researchers in developing countries. While that is undoubtedly true, less is heard about the flipside – the benefits to western researchers, and the wider world, of access to the research and knowledge coming out of the developing world.
Yet this is precisely one of the ways in which Bioline International comes into its own. It was an aim from the start, explains Bioline’s founder, Barbara Kirsop.
“There was a gap in knowledge here in the developed world of absolutely essential research information that was critical to the development of international research programmes. We were working on the basis of western knowledge and often leaving out the local knowledge, or indigenous knowledge, that people had that was crucial for developing new drugs, for example, or agricultural developments. We were missing a whole lot of really critical information and this is where the availability of research carried out in developing countries was important for the progress of science.”
This kind of research has been particularly important in the development of drugs for illnesses that affect both developing and developed countries. For example, tuberculosis in India and in China is different from tuberculosis in the west and while the current vaccine, BCG, provides 80% protection in the west, it offers virtually no protection to adult sufferers in India . Similarly, with diabetes, “what works in the UK may not work in India and vice versa, as environmental or genetic factors can make a world of difference” . Without knowledge of the research into these diseases that is taking place in these countries, researchers in the west will flounder.
“It has been a bit of a wake-up call to realise that although some of the research done in the developing world may not be highly sophisticated or terribly expensive to do, there are certain elements that are critical to the real understanding of what needs to be done to resolve the world’s problems. So, if you are trying to resolve agricultural difficulties, such as crop losses, or infectious diseases,, then you need to know what’s happening on the ground. You need to know the consequences of various developments on local populations or the farmers and so on,” says Barbara Kirsop.
Bioline’s success in sharing knowledge between north and south, east and west is clear from site traffic statistics showing the spread of visitors. During a one month period between July and August 2011, 1,032,844 visits came from 224 countries or territories. The United States was the top visitor, closely followed by India, then Brazil, the UK, Mexico, Nigeria, China, Canada, Colombia, and Malaysia. (Bioline traffic report July-August 2011)
These figures clearly demonstrate how Bioline is playing its part in creating a level playing field for access to research information. As well as making research visible to the world through the website, Bioline also acts as a training service, helping the poorest developing countries to understand that they do not need to be isolated, that they can develop their own journals much more cheaply electronically than through print-and-postage, and there are real examples of how to get started. In turn, this increased visibility and accessibility can have an impact on not just publishing but also how the research itself is conducted.
“Science has always been global but increasingly we are seeing more network enabled collaboration between researchers in different parts of the world,” says Dr Chan. “Submissions have changed – Indian journals used to have mostly Indian authors in them. Now we are seeing submissions from really very diverse places – from the UK, from the US, from Canada – so the percentage of authors from outside of India submitting to some of these Indian journals has gone up. This indicates that these authors don’t mind so much about the origins of the journal as the dissemination of it, the accessibility of it.”
For Barbara Kirsop, the success of Bioline lies in a fundamental shift in perspective for the developed world. “It’s about bringing the knowledge that we didn’t know about into the public domain. We know a lot, but to ignore what the developing countries themselves know is never going to help solve the world’s problems. And by extending the global knowledge base, we are also supporting research in the developing world.”
 Tuberculosis research in India and China: From bibliometrics to research policy by Subbiah Arunachalam and Subbiah Gunasekaran, in CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 82, NO. 8, 25 APRIL 2002, pp. 933-947 (link to PDF of paper)
 Diabetes research in India and China today: From literature-based mapping to health-care policy by Subbiah Arunachalam and Subbiah Gunasekaran in Current Science, VOL. 82, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2002, pp. 1086-1097 (link to PDF of paper)