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The Salvador Declaration

The conference ended as it had begun -- a long row of notables up on the big stage, making speeches about how grand it all was.  This time, however, Bruce was among them, which made the thing more amusing.  (As chair of the health libraries sector of IFLA, he was instrumental in getting the conference to Brazil in the first place.  But they hadn't told him he needed to be up on the platform for the closing until the day before, and he didn't know he was expected to speak until they moved the microphone in his direction.  He did a very nice job).    The Australian reps (assisted by Bruce) did the drawing for the big stuffed koala that everyone had been lusting after during the conference and that gave it a more festive air as well.

The main business of the closing was the "Salvador Declaration on Open Access: The Developing World Perspective", a copy of which we were all handed as we came into the hall.  Open access was one of the dominant themes of the conference, and this declaration was the result of the "parallel conference" on open access that was going on at the same time (it remains unclear to me what the relationship between the two is/was).   It was presented to the rest of the congress to resounding applause, and I suppose will be quoted hereafter as one more building block (or paving stone?) along the Gold Road.

There was a greater sense of urgency to the open access discussions here than I typically find in the US.  It was a stark reminder of just how great the gulf in access to information between the developed and developing worlds still is, operations like HINARI notwithstanding.  The delegates from Africa and Asia and throughout Latin America perceive themselves to be  so far behind the US and Europe, and they see better access to information as a key element in economic and social development.   A system of open access seems even more self-evidently the right thing to do for many of them than it does to the PLoS folks.  And when you look at it from their perspective, the need is pretty compelling.

What I did not see discussed, however, was much in the way of practical approaches to getting there, and of course that's the hang up.  The Salvador declaration calls upon "governments to make Open Access a high priority in science policies" and on "all stakeholders in the international community to work together to ensure that scientific information is openly accessible and freely available to all, forever."  The devil is in the details, and there is a far greater sense here that government ought to just "solve" the problem than one sees back home.

At the plenary on Friday morning, Jan Velterop spoke about the Springer Open Choice option (he's now employed in promoting that.)  It is still very difficult for me to take that program seriously and even Velterop didn't sound all that enthusiastic about it.   His attitude seemed to be, "It might work!  Let's give it a try!"  Sure.

Margaret Reich, from APS, was supposed to be on that panel as well, and I was looking forward to what she had to say, since she would have been one of the few voices at the conference presenting a different view.  But she apparently was unable to make it at the last minute.

My own paper that afternoon went over fairly well, and I had some good comments and discussion with people afterwards.  Carla has suggested that I take some of the charts and tables and do a poster for MLA, and I might go ahead and do that.  The evidence for the increased reach of the JMLA is pretty compelling, and helps to make the potential costs seem very worthwhile.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the conference.  It's good to spend time with people from outside of the US, who share many of the same issues, but approach them from very different perspectives, and in very different social and governmental settings.   One hopes to come away from a meeting like this with one's perspective slightly altered, expanded, enriched.  From that standpoint, the conference was a definite success.  Whether it has any demonstrable impact on the changing face of scholarly communication remains to be seen.


World Congress on Health Information and Libraries

The theme of the 9th International Congress on Medical Librarianship (or World Congress on Health Information and Libraries, as I've also seen it referred to) is Commitment to Equity.  I am struck by how every seriously this concept is taken by many of the delegates here.  In the plenary sessions I've seen a number of presentations that describe what is happening at a national level in a number of countries that are working very hard to develop healthcare systems that ensure an adequate level of care for eveyone.  Accurate and timely information management is taken for granted as a part of that mission.

Makes me feel like I come from a backward nation.  At lunch yesterday, discussing this with a couple of friends from the UK, Lynn quoted Jocelyn Elders from her talk at MLA last spring:  "In the United States we don't have a healthcare system; we have a sick-care system."  Our friends are baffled at why the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the planet doesn't fix this problem.  The problem is obvious and the resources are at hand.  It is incomprehensible to observers from other countries.  I doubt that I do a very good job in trying to explain.

I was moved by the mayor of Cotacachi, Ecuador, who described the efforts in his area to develop the local health system.  He spoke with great pride of how low the infant mortality rate is (much lower than the US), and how they've developed a sophisticated system for prenatal care that leverages the knowledge and abilities and talents of women throughout the community.  I wonder if we could get him as a consultant to Alabama.

Iain Chalmers gave a brief, pointed, and extremely lucid presentation on what he considers the "scandalous" failure of contemporary science and scientific journals to do a barely adequate job of "cumulating" knowledge scientifically, rather than simply continuing to do, and to publish, isolated studies.  He presents shocking data on the numbers of deaths in a variety of areas that could have been prevented if scientists and editors insisted on doing a better job of putting their work in context systematically.  I touched on this same theme in regard to the literature of librarianship in my April editorial earlier this year, but Sir Iain's presentation was far more elegant, persuasive and sobering.  He sees a tiny ray of light on the horizon, however, with a new policy announced by the Lancet, in which they will insist that articles that they publish must do an adequate job of reviewing the literature and putting each new study into the appropriate context (Young C, Horton R. "Putting clinical trials into context." The Lancet 2005 Jul 9-15:366(9480):107-8).  It's something that the new editor of the JMLA may well want to consider.  We may not be killing people by failing to heed Sir Iain's advice, but we're not helping them much, either.

Anca Dumitrescu, from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, reported on what sounds like a very interesting project -- systematic reviews directed towards public health policy makers, rather than health care professionals.  I haven't had a chance to look yet, but the website is public.  Imagine, political decision makers developing policy based on evidence and facts.  Obviously a fool's errand, but noble nonetheless.

Discussions of open access are everywhere, of course.  Even the director of PAHO, in her videoed remarks at the opening session on Tuesday evening, talked about the importance of the open access movement for the developing world.  I'll be in the thick of that tomorrow, since my paper is being included within the open access track.

I marvel at the complexity of putting on a meeting like this.  For those of us from the US, who are used to the very tightly scripted, by-the-clock, MLA annual, section and chapter meetings, it can be agonizing if you don't let yourself just go with it.    The first of yesterday's morning plenaries, for example, was supposed to end at 10:15.  I arrived about 10:00 (since I'd spent the previous 90 minutes in a fruitless quest to get my own registration sorted out), to find that the first of the four speakers was just finishing.  The 2nd panel was supposed to start at 11:00, but it was already after that when the first finally ended.  If this was the US, the organizer, at that point pulling out his or her hair and screaming profanities at the assistants, would have announced a five minute break to try to get the damned thing back on schedule.  But here in Salvador it was time for the brilliant Sons of Gandhi to put on a drum show that led everyone out of the hall and into the exhibits.  It was marvelous, with dancing and singing and beads being thrown around and aromatic essences fizzed into the air and even a little dead ringer of the Mahatma himself tottering along behind the troop.  I think the 2nd panel started around noon, and I'm not quite sure what time it ended.

But it'd be petty to fuss too much about that.  We've got a thousand interesting people here, all (more or less) dedicated to the importance of effective information management for improving the health of the world.  It's good to be together.  I think that tonight we're all going out dancing.


Salvador

Directly across the street from our hotel, as I look out the window, is an apartment building named Verlaine, and next to it is an apartment building named Paul Gauguin.  This pleases me no end.

We were a little disappointed when we first got into our room to see that we weren't on the ocean side, but now I'm glad to be looking out at the city.  There's a wonderful large deck down by the pool where we can sit out and look at the waves crashing up against the rocky beach below, so I don't really need that view from my window as well.  It wasn't the beaches that I was eager to get to Brazil to see.    It's the city and the people in it that I find fascinating.

Whenever I travel outside of the United States, I am reminded how parochial and provincial we Americans still are, to a shocking extent.  (The fact that we even refer to ourselves as "Americans" as if nobody else on two continents is entitled to the title is indicative of our warped view of the rest of the world).  It's surprising, in a way, because our country is so huge and vast and the regional differences seem so striking.  You'd think we'd be better at dealing with the unfamiliar.  We fuss about red states and blue states and rural and urban, and even those living in Northern California think that those in Southern California are an alien species.

But for all of that wonderful diversity, our history, our political system, our rules and regulations, our common laws across state borders, and our ubiquitous national media, give us a homogeneity that is only really apparent when you drop into another country's culture -- particularly one where few people see any reason to learn English.  Being on somebody else's turf in a major way is both frightening and liberating.  It requires leaving all of one's assumptions about "how things ought to be" behind. 

I go into what Lynn and I refer to as "anthropological expedition mode" -- I want to drink it all in, see it for what it is, and make no judgments.  I'm pleased with myself when I've learned enough Portugese to tell the waitress in our hotel at breakfast my room number and instead of trying to figure out what I'm saying (as she had to do yesterday when I tried to use English), she smiles brightly and writes it down.  "Obrigada," says says.  Thank you.  I find myself saying that a lot.

I spent a couple of hours in the hotel room this morning after Lynn went off to the conference, catching up on email and working on a few things that I want to have in order before I get back to work next Thursday.  At mid-day, I took a break and went walking.  While it is true that it wasn't the beaches that were my prime interest in anticipation of this trip, they certainly are magnificent.  I walked west along the Atlantic coast.  It's hot -- mid-eighties with humidity that's even higher than what I'm used to, but it feels fresher and less oppressive.  Maybe the breezes blowing in from the Atlantic keep it that way.  Poor fat little northern boy, I'm wearing a light colored t-shirt and a ballcap over my bald head and I'm slathered with SPF30 sunscreen and I still know I'm going to be lobstered in this equatorial sun.  (Salvador is at thirteen degrees south; for comparison sake, Birmingham is at thirty-three and a half degrees north).  I muse that the fact that I see very few bald Brazilian men is that natural selection has weeded them all out.

But the sweat running down my neck and back and legs feels fine.  I buy a bottle of agua com gas from a vendor and remind myself that I'm fine as long as I keep hydrated.  Sure, I'm envious of the men and women walking around shirtless and hatless, admiring their own and each other's physiques.  This is a culture that prides the body much more than the schizophrenic culture that I'm used to.  Breasts and butts are considered wonderful and joyful appendages here, to be celebrated and not needing to be shielded from the eyes and minds of children.

And the beaches seem endless.  I walk along the avenue that borders the beach, and there are dozens of people, stretched out on blankets, splashing in the water, sitting under umbrellas, chasing after each other.  Every fifty yards it seems, there is another vendor with a cart full of green coconuts -- they'll slash off the top with a machete and stick in a straw so you can have a drink.  About twenty cents (US) for a "natural" one, thirty cents if you want it chilled.

This beach ends at a big lighthouse, and there's a curve in the avenue -- and then there's another long stretch of beach.  This pattern repeats for some thirty-five miles.  Across the avenue from the beach, little shops and restaurants, ranging from a hole in the wall with four tables, to a fancy japanese restaurant with a terrace overlooking the water.  There is not a clock to be seen.

This is our fourth day here, and I'm starting to get comfortable making my way around.  Tomorrow will be another full length conference day (I give my paper about 4:30), and I think on Saturday we'll take a tour with Bruce.  Tonight the conference event is in the old quarter of Pelourhino, and I'm anticipating quite a fine time.  We spent a couple of hours over there on Tuesday afternoon and I'm eager to go back...


The List: Six

Cold Irons Bound
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: Time Out Of Mind

Beautiful Day
Music: U2 / Lyrics: Bono
U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind

India

(Sunday, November 5, 1961)
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

The Speed of Light
Julie Miller
Julie Miller: Broken Things

I Fall In Love Too Easily -- The Fire Within
Jules Styne & Sammy Cahn -- Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett: Live At The Blue Note, The Complete Recordings

Amelia
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell:  Travelogue


Brazil

It´s odd to take such a long time to get somewhere and only be a couple of time zones away.  We left our house about 2:00 on Sunday afternoon, and after layovers in Atlanta and Sao Paulo, finally arrived at our hotel here in Salvador around noon yesterday.  Now I´m down in the hotel business center where it´s ten in the morning -- only two hours later than back home.

Internet access from the room is a bit iffy.  We finally figured out that we needed a DSL modem, and a great young guy brought one up.  He speaks no English and I speak no Portugese, but we managed  to figure out what we needed and to get it to work.  Worked fine all afternoon, but then in  the evening we could no longer get an IP address.  So I don´t know if it´s a hotel problem or the modem is busted or what.  But we´ll figure it out, and in the meantime, there´s a 24 hour business center -- where the IE browser is in Portugese, and the keyboard is just different enough from what I´m used to to be a challenge.

We haven´t seen much of the city yet -- although we had a great long ride in from the airport as our driver went through tiny little back streets trying to figure out how to get around the traffic jams.  Today though, we´ll go down into the old city and explore.  The conference opens tonight...


The List: Five

Beautiful Day
Music: U2 / Lyrics: Bono
U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind


India
(Sunday, November 5, 1961)
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

The Speed of Light
Julie Miller
Julie Miller: Broken Things

I Fall In Love Too Easily -- The Fire Within
Jules Styne & Sammy Cahn -- Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett: Live At The Blue Note, The Complete Recordings

Amelia
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell:  Travelogue