Scientific Practices and Institutional Pressures Another recurring theme was the importance of projects with collaborators abroad. This was especially emphasized in the natural sciences, since their orientation tended to focus on global relevance. The ability to share expertise and, in some instances, materials and funding, makes these collaborations very attractive. Chile has enjoyed much attention from research institutes in the exterior, especially in environmental sciences and astronomy. Institutes from Europe (Italy, Belgium, and Germany) have originated local bases in which many Chilean researchers had found training and career advancement. The 1973 Golpe severely reduced this kind of international collaboration. The end of dictatorship marked the return of global partners in research. Recently, the main obstacle to transnational collaboration is the Chilean funding structure. Researchers complained that its restrictive nature, basing funding on results, makes sharing monetary resources with collaborators in the exterior complicated. The experimental spirit of Chilean funding though, indicates that in the near future these kinds of limitations may be ironed out.
On an individual basis, the institutional requirement of publishing in ISI high impact journals for career advancement was a major pre-occupation. Many complained that there were few local or Latin American journals on this list, while others argued most of these kinds of journals are published in English only. This brought up two issues. One was the relevance of publishing in English, when local colleagues cannot read your work due to either limited subscription resources or lack of English proficiency. The other was the pressure away from local orientations of research to those that were “trendy” in the exterior. One social scientist admitted though that this ISI requirement at his university is flexible for some disciplines that are at a disadvantage such as the social sciences. Another poignantly reminded me that for the past decade he and his colleagues were so busy reconstructing their department after 20 years absence that conducting original research and publishing was simply not a priority. Now that institutional structures are beginning to recover, this researcher suggested that he can focus on intellectual advancement in the form of attending conferences, grant proposal writing and submitting papers for publication.
The Internet in Professional Lives All of the researchers I interviewed had personal computers in their offices. All had had some experience with computers in their training and either had first used the Internet while studying abroad, or had adopted its use quickly after the technology had arrived within the Chilean research community about 1995.vi All had access to the Internet with a fast connection. All spoke of the importance of the technology in their work, especially in identifying and retrieving up-to-date information in their field. One researcher admitted, “You do not exist unless you are on the Internet.” Another exclaimed, “Extraordinary... truly extraordinary!” A few of the older scholars regretted that they did not have access to this technology 30 years earlier. One researcher even mentioned that during the tumultuous 1970s in Latin America he and other colleagues had much of their work (life’s work) confiscated during the military take over of university campuses. The Internet, he mused, would have been helpful in backing up documents.
While the access, streamlining, and duplication of information attributes of the Internet are important to account for, what I was most interested in understanding was how the professional networks of this group of researchers were being shaped. Although one scholar mentioned that after the 1973 Golpe, email would have facilitating maintaining contact with exiled colleagues, it was unclear whether the Internet was resulting in something different from before. Most relevant to my study was whether contemporary Internet use diverted networks outward, from the interior toward the exterior. The quantitative phase of the study hopes to address this issue directly, but my digital video interviews were helpful in identifying the context of how this process might unfold. For example, my first interview with a marine zoologist suggested the functional equivalence nature of research and Internet technologies. Back in the 1960’s this researcher managed his professional networks “the old fashion way” with pencil, paper, typewriter and postal stamps. Instead of digital archives, he had volumes of abstracts in his field catalogued at his university library, which listed the major scholars abroad. He routinely wrote to these scholars asking specific questions about their research and inquired about opportunities to collaborate with them. To his initial surprise, these world renowned scholars answered back and soon he was invited to go abroad to continue his education and share with his global discipline the work he was doing in Chile.
When the Internet was introduced, this veteran scholar simply translated to digital the same kinds of information searches and communications networking he had done in the pre-digital era. He admitted, “It is a wonderful tool that makes the duration between contacts shorter and information instantaneous”, but he also cautioned about the overwhelming amount of irrelevant information on the net. He added that as a result of the Internet, the journal submission process has been saturated and that the crafts of writing and drawing (once important requirements in his field) were slowly fading in the digital age. Although early in his career, he had made substantial contacts in the exterior, this scholar returned to Chile in the mid-1970s and never went abroad again. Some of the contacts he had made came to visit and engage him in collaboration. But over time, his main contacts became local. In this case, this scholar was successful searching abroad for contacts before the Internet. The nature of his field and the local limitations demanded it. But after the Internet, his main digital objective was information searches. This leads me to consider that whether the Internet magnifies the networking process in the present might also be a function of particular fields and the local resource limitations researchers encounter today.
For the younger researchers who had studied abroad, Internet communication allowed them to maintain contact with key people and maintain access to the archive resources they enjoyed in the exterior. One scholar admitted that he frequently relied upon a colleague in the exterior to email him journals articles he could not acquire locally for lack of institutional resources. Another added that the ability to “google” a researcher and his website and either contact them directly or download posted works, was an exceptional advantage of this technology. Both these examples from the developing world also reveal that very often the Internet is being used to circumvent international intellectual property rights.
The Internet’s positive impact on research practices was also highlighted in the conduct of professional lives and as a tool for research. Many echoed the obvious benefits mentioned above, the Internet’s ability to circumvent local archives limitations and global knowledge access restrictions. In addition, they mentioned how convenient it was to share information with fellow scholars, register for conferences (local and international), submit journal articles electronically, and even the ability to contribute to ones field as a reviewer for a foreign journal. The latter case highlighted a latent consequence of acquiring a digital presence. One scholar said that he had been approached digitally by a foreign editor he had never personally met. The scholar imagined his mentor abroad may have suggested his name, or the editor may have read a publication of his and thought him an able candidate to be a reviewer. The Internet, in effect, my have promoted the global reputation of this scholar without his knowledge.
One of the interview subjects had even employed the Internet as a methodology. An exiled scholar during the Pinochet years, he became interested in immigration patterns of professionals. When he returned to Chile in the early 1990’s, he was interested in learning what had happened to other professional like himself after the 1973 Golpe. He admitted that the chance of getting funding to travel all over the world to interview exiled professionals, within the Chilean funding environment of the mid 1990s, was remote. His field, sociology, was just reintroducing itself as a discipline. National research funds were limited even for high profile disciplines, let alone his. So he “had to turn to the Internet.” At first, he searched online list-serves of Chilean professionals abroad. He joined chat groups and documented these interchanges. He exposed himself to a few chat rooms as a researcher and was able to conduct at-length digital interviews about the experiences of these professional in the exterior. From these interviews and with collaboration from his university’s computer science department, he was able to construct a general online questionnaire; and from the listserves of professionals he had identified earlier in the investigation, he drew his sample. Over 400 Chilean professionals in 40 different nations completed the immigration survey he made available for a one month period on line. He later experimented with chat versus email qualitative interview techniques with a sub sample from earlier studies. He concluded that chat was by far more effective in recreating the intimacy of a face-to-face interview. Eventually, he added content analysis of online newspapers and websites to his ‘Internet as methodology’ toolbox. He is even considering adding ‘webcam’ to his chat sessions to deepen the experience. He concluded that for the social scientists in a developing nation, the Internet can be extraordinary because of its affordable cost and extensive reach.
This example above illustrates the transforming potential of the Internet in addressing global science asymmetries. A researcher in the United States for example exists within a research funding environment that could have supported an immigration study of exiled professionals abroad. Yet perhaps because the United States has not experienced an exiled Diaspora like that experienced in many developing nations over the past half century, this would not be a relevant question to ask. Paradoxically, this research question is relevant in the developing context, yet the resources are rarely available. In the case above, the Internet, as a cost effective methodological tool with global reach, closed the funding gap for this particular researcher. To lend perspective to this example of successfully employing Internet technologies in research, it is helpful to acknowledge that Chile enjoys a well-developed digital network that is supported by the wider society. It also helps that the population that this scholar was investigating was made up of professionals with advanced communication and information skills that lived in developed nations with superior Internet infrastructures. The same researcher in Burundi, for example, who was interested in Burundian refugees across Africa, may not enjoy the same success. Developmental context matters here.
To a lesser extent, some researchers mentioned the impacts on teaching as well. One benefit was the Internet’s vast resource of material (images and texts) that augmented lecture presentations. Some also mentioned the benefits for students: to retrieve information for class projects. But this was balanced by the apprehension that this technology may facilitate plagiarism.
Generally, the Internet was of great assistance to this group of Chilean scholars. But many of them also admitted the liabilities of this technology that included too much information, relatively little Spanish language content, and the security risk of being connected. As one scholar pragmatically suggested, “The Internet magnifies the ongoing struggle between security and freedom that frames much of the world’s concerns today.” Another concern was too much dependence on the technology. A scholar who had worked for the majority of his professional life in the pre-Internet era mentioned, “When the net is down, the halls get filled with researchers that do not know what to do anymore.” Fortunately, this occurred infrequently; yet it does foreshadow the potential risk of dependence to a technology like the Internet that is characterized by a fast paced innovative environment and generational interface glitches. Keeping up with upgrades and mutating digital threats is a major concern in resource poor regions.