|High Energy Physics Libraries Webzine|
Issue 10 / December 2004
Science in Cuba has experienced extraordinary development since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, in spite of the blockade to which Cuba has been subjected by the United States Government, and thanks to the support and cooperation of the countries that were part of the former Socialist Block. However, after the destruction of the Socialist Block, the Cuban economy suffered through a restructuring process that included the reorganization of the traditional systems for spreading scientific information. At that moment, it was necessary to use alternative means to effectively publicise, to the international scientific community, the information generated by Cuban scientists and scholars. This paper briefly reviews this new era, the institutions that led the process of change, and the future projections based on knowledge of the digital environment and the creation of electronic and open access information sources.
On January 1st, 1959, when the Cuban Revolution triumphed and developed as a government, scientific activity in Cuba was restricted to a small group of magnificent individuals and some institutions with limited or non-existing government support, as well as to private hospitals where the income derived from the care of the people who could pay for their service took precedence over scientific development for the welfare of all the citizens. From this moment on, because of the political interest of the new Revolutionary Government, a national movement for scientific and technical development was started. It was based on the comprehensive training of those dedicated to scientific work relevant for solving the problems faced by the country and for the benefit of all the society.
The accomplishment of those objectives, under the economic blockade imposed by the United States since the October missile crisis in 1962, was possible thanks to the support and cooperation of the socialist countries and especially the USSR. For three decades Cuba had close economic relations with these countries which included preferential prices, credits for development, technical assistance and military assistance that made it possible to overcome the difficulties caused by the conditions imposed on the underdeveloped countries by the world market. However, after the destruction of the socialist block, the country had to join in with the world’s economic dynamics alone.
As an attempt to reinsert itself into the international market Cuba was then unexpectedly faced by a restructuring process, to reform the economic system without changing the socialist character of Cuban society. The disappearance of the Eastern Europe block as a political, social and economic model also meant the disarticulation of the National Information System that had been conceived and implemented with the support of those countries, especially the USSR .
Information institutions therefore had to face a process of change too. The formerly-supported organizations started to operate using more commercial functions in order to guarantee the self-financing of their management. This coincided with a transformation of working approaches, content and procedures in information organizations all over the world.
During the previous decade, information activity in the most developed countries had begun to change with regard to its approaches, contents and procedures. The main world trend was the shift from a productive area economy to a services area economy and so information services also started to operate under those concepts.
The Cuban information area suffered unexpected damage. The activity that suffered the highest impact was the activity regarding the acquisition of information sources. From 1986 to 1988, the highest figures of all time were given for the purchase of serials, and then from 1988 the acquisition plans were abruptly interrupted .
It was essential to look for new ways of obtaining information. One of those alternatives was to increase the number of exchanges and to seek higher numbers of gifts which required particular efforts from every institution and firm. Nevertheless, limited economic resources forced the publishing of national serials to be suspended in 1990, which caused great difficulties for fulfilling the established exchange obligations.
The only way of reducing these effects was to start implementing more commercial functions to guarantee the organization’s self-financing or they would risk falling into decline. The Cuban information area was forced to change for survival. New concepts were introduced and information began to be considered by some organizations as one of their most important strategic weapons for their insertion into this much more dynamical and practically unknown market.
Thus, little by little, the scientific and information sector started to become familiar with managerial and marketing concepts. The user-oriented approach, encompassing the study of needs and the manufacturing of information products and services with a high added value, was another new trend observed nationally. Also, the technological infrastructure for information assumed much more strategic value and so it started to experience accelerated development and to become an essential tool for the activity .
The information centre that held a leading position before these new changes was the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (IDICT). At that moment, the IDICT adopted a new work outlook towards the national information organizations and started to act as a facilitator for the activities performed by those institutions. The IDICT was the first supplier of the Internet in Cuba. The CENIAI-INTERNET Network was created in 1996 and operated for three years within the IDICT before later becoming joined to the national network of the Firm of Information Technologies and Advanced Telematic Services (CITMATEL), belonging to the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA), where all the information technologies of that Ministry were joined.
However, the most advanced step towards an open access information network was started in 1992, with the development of the Electronic Network for Medical Science (INFOMED) by the National Centre for Information on Medical Science (CNICM), of the Ministry of Public Health. This network was developed on the principle of being not only for consumers, but also for generating added value to the information. A project under the United Nations Development Programme financed and modernised the national and the provinces’ nodes, which enabled the speedy development of electronic information for medicine and its related disciplines .
A group of talented young workers at INFOMED obtained the necessary training in Cuba and abroad to become an important nucleus for the development of the system, which quickly became valued in the Latin American Countries. Its qualitative success is demonstrated by the fact that from a single electronic information network, INFOMED has become the Cuban network for health through which epidemiological, statistical, economic and managerial information flows, and through which important projects such as the Virtual Health Library, the Virtual University and the Telemedicine Programme are advanced.
INFOMED’s Virtual Health Library is the most important Cuban contribution to the movement to create open access scientific journals, in accordance with the Budapest Open Access Initiative .
At present, one of the most changing environments in the network is that of medical and scientific publications, whose transition to electronic formats and to online dissemination threatens to revolutionise the current scientific information dissemination system and even the relationship between scientists and publishers. In fact, the Internet has created a revolution in the storage of, and diffusion media, for medical and scientific research products. The growing problems associated with the traditional system: its cost; long publication times (that can make the information obsolete or delay the dissemination of clinically important information); limitations of printed media and their restricted dissemination; publishers’ power, and restrictions created by the ownership of the intellectual property, made easier the fast development of electronic publications. The latter’s diffusion potential, immediateness, economy and flexibility are its main advantages. Those advantages, combined with open and free communication, make so-called fast responses possible: opinions, corrections and criticisms, as well as the performance of modifications proposed by other experts to the subject of the paper .
The concept of publication has changed. Unfiltered publication is now allowed, without peer review. The power between publishers and authors is more balanced. Online electronic publications make access and contribution easier for scientists from developing countries because there, the annual subscriptions to only a couple of printed journals are frequently higher than an individual’s income.
All the journals of the Cuban National Health System, published by the Editorial de Ciencias Médicas (ECIMED), were edited, produced in full text electronically and then offered freely and with no restrictions to the international scientific and medical community, via the Virtual Health Library on the INFOMED website. So, the idea of breaking all barriers to the access of scientific and medical knowledge in order to assist the work of medical doctors taking care of all the people in Cuba and abroad became reality. A similar strategy is being followed by the Ministry of Higher Education through a project called Digital Journals for the Popularization of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean, sponsored by UNESCO. This project intends to place more than 100 university and scientific journals online for the whole community of this geographic area. Currently access is offered to more than 20 journals, about 2000 full-text papers and more than 50 electronic books published by the Cuban University Editorial .
Lately there is another aspect to consider: the creation of open access archives, or information repositories, as a complementary strategy to achieve open access to scientific articles. Scientists can archive their papers through self-filing techniques, even before their publication, so that they are more immediately disseminated, reviewed and discussed by the scientific community .
An open access archive or information repository stores electronic copies of academic research papers. These papers can be pre-prints (before peer-review) or post-prints (reviewed and accepted, or in process for publication) and they can be journal papers, lectures for congresses, chapters of books or any other research communication medium . In addition to the advantages mentioned which imply higher visibility, easier access, and faster dissemination, the papers contained in open access information repositories have a higher probability of being cited, a result corroborated by several comparative studies  .
Recently papers in ACIMED, the Journal of Information Professionals in Health, were submitted to E-LIS (E-prints for Library and Information Science) , a repository of international information dedicated to library and information science. This has improved the visibility of this journal, especially in Europe, since it is part of other regional projects such as Scielo, IMBIOMED and LATINDEX.
Such experiences are being assessed by the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) whilst considering the creation of institutional information repositories. As well as being repositories for the congregation and immediate publication of scientific papers generated by the higher education institutions, they would also increase the professors’ and researchers’ familiarity with information and communication technologies. By this action, the leaders of the Ministry of Higher Education are pioneering the participation of Cuba in the PERI Project . PERI has four components, one of which is focused on enabling free access for the whole scientific community to information generated by the developing countries. An example of this is the production of online African journals. Similarly, there is a project for publishing university scientific journals for the world scientific community.
Cuban science in the 21st century has to conquer all the possible methods and media for scientific publishing in order to let the international scientific community know about Cuban findings. The open access initiatives are essential and important policies, especially when the blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba intends to prevent the publication of Cuban authors’ papers in the main journals of the United States. In spite of the gap in digital development, from which Cuba cannot escape, we count on two essential resources: the human resources and the politic will of making Cuban science a borderless science.
Among the main projects developed in Cuba up to the present, the most relevant are: The Virtual Health Library project and the Digital Journals for Latin America and the Caribbean project, sponsored by the Health Information Network and the Ministry of Higher Education of the Republic of Cuba.
To Antonella De Robbio, for the support and voluntary help. To Luz María Rodríguez Cabral, for the collaboration in the translation.