Gray Area

The State of the Nation 2: Clashing paradigms in South African research publication policy

When I set out to explore the policyframework for scholarly publishing in South Africa, I did so with aburning question that I have carried over from my publishing career.Given the scenario that I sketched in my last posting, in whichAfrican voices are largely silenced by the conventions of globalscholarly publication, what I would be looking for would be nationalpolicies that would grow the output and effective dissemination ofAfrican research in and from Africa, for African development, in themost appropriate media and formats. A publisher's approach would beto look at the goals articulated in national higher education andresearch policy and then ask whether policy for researchdissemination is encouraging publications that support those goals.

What I found was that there is strangeclash of paradigms within the different policy documents and, morestarkly, between the policies of different government departments.Before I get too critical of these illogicalities, I need to stressthat South African policy is not unusual in this regard. Worldwide,discussion of research dissemination is a blind spot. As the authorsof an Australiangovernment report on research communication costs put it:'despite billions of dollars being spent by governments on R&Devery year, relatively little policy attention has yet been paid tothe dissemination of the results of that research through scientificand scholarly publishing'.

Effective dissemination of highereducation research and the availability of that research knowledge tothe country that funds it - particularly in Africa - can be quiteliterally of life and death importance. Just think of the need forrapid responses to the AIDS pandemic, continually informed by thelatest research findings. Yet when the question of publication andeffective dissemination arises in the policy documents, it tends tobe in terms of a generally unchallenged set of presumptions aboutwhat constitutes effective research dissemination - articles inaccredited scholarly journals and registered patents. And, whileuniversities might spend large sums of money registering patents,there is a tacit assumption that publication is not something thatuniversities pay for. This is, in part, what JosephJ Esposito in a recent article on university presses in LOGOSand the Journal ofElectronic Publishing calls ' the free rider syndrome. Auniversity must provide for students and faculty and will activelyencourage faculty to publish, but a press can be stinted becausebecause it is always possible that a particular book will bepublished somewhere else.'

The major policy framework for highereducation research in South Africa is the research and innovationpolicy developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST).Starting with a backgroundreport commissioned from the IDRC in 1995, the departmentconsolidated these findings in a WhitePaper on Science and Technology in 1996 and then updated this inSouthAfrica's Research and Development Strategy in 2002. To summarisesomewhat brutally; the common theme across these policies is thatSouth African research must address national development needs andcontribute to employment and economic growth. The emphasis is on thevalue of collaborative and inter-disciplinary research in arapidly-changing technological environment. While attention is paidto the need to build the international reputation of South Africanresearch, this is balanced out by a developmental focus that insistson a responsiveness to national need


American publishers hire a 'pit bull'

The most startling news this week, picked up from Peter Suber's Open Access News and then in Slashdot draws attention to an article by Jim Giles in Nature: PR's pit bull takes on Open Access. In this article, which is available online (thanks are due to Nature), it emerges that the Association of American publishers and some of their members, including Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society have apparently hired a PR agent to defend them against what they see as a threat to their livelihood from open access publishing. The devil, though, is in the detail - the detail of whom they have hired.

As Jim Giles writes:

The author of Nail 'Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses is not the kind of figure normally associated with the relatively sedate world of scientific publishing. Besides writing the odd novel, Eric Dezenhall has made a name for himself helping companies and celebrities protect their reputations, working for example with Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron chief now serving a 24-year jail term for fraud.

Although Dezenhall declines to comment on Skilling and his other clients, his firm, Dezenhall Resources, was also reported by Business Week to have used money from oil giant ExxonMobil to criticize the environmental group Greenpeace. "He's the pit bull of public relations," says Kevin McCauley, an editor at the magazine O'Dwyer's PR Report.

Now, Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available. Some traditional journals, which depend on subscription charges, say that open-access journals and public databases of scientific papers such as the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) PubMed Central, threaten their livelihoods.



The Bangalore National Open Access Policy - a way forward for developing countries

At the end of the Workshop on Electronic Publishing and Open Access in Bangalore two weeks ago, it was agreed that what was needed was not just another declaration, but a document that could be used to drive policy implementation in developing countries. The final version has now been released and is revealed as a remarkably clear and pragmatic document, the National Open Access Policy for Developing Countries.

Where this differs from its predecessors is not only in its focus on the developing world, but the fact that it includes a brief but very clear policy undertaking for signature by national governments, accompanied by a statement of the advantages of Open Access publication to governments and to academics as well as practical implementation guidelines for effective and easy deposit of articles. The strategy that underpins its approach is that mandating deposit in institutional repositories of journal articles arising out of publicly funded research and making these available for harvesting provides a quick and affordable way of building a national record of research output.

From the first paragraph, this document reflects something I said in my previous blog - that the mood has changed and that there is now an assertive voice articulating the value of the knowledge that is currently largely marginalised in the global research hierarchy:

The Bangalore workshop was convened to bring together policy makers and research scientists from major developing countries to agree a path forward towards adopting full Open Access to publicly-funded research publications. The importance of access to the world's research information for the development of a strong economy and a vibrant research capability is widely acknowledged, yet financial barriers limit access by developing countries to the research information they need. Equally, the unique research carried out in countries representing 80% of the world's population is largely 'invisible' to international science because of economic or other constraints. The resolution of many of the world's problems, such as emerging infectious diseases, environmental disasters, HIV/AIDS or climate change, cannot be achieved without incorporation of the research from developing countries into the global knowledge pool.

Open Access to the world's publicly funded research literature provides equal opportunities for the communication of all research information, eliminating financial barriers. Furthermore, articles made available electronically on an open access basis have been shown to be cited on average 50% more often than non-open access articles from the same journal, thus ensuring the greatest possible benefit both to the authors, to the investment of funding agencies and to scientific progress. The benefits to authors, readers and their organisations is now increasingly recognised worldwide and by November 2006, 761 repositories had already been registered in the Registry of Open Access Repositories, and the Open Archives Initiative's OAIster search engine could search over 9,000,000 records in interoperable Open Access repositories.

The proven advantages of Open Access publishing for developing countries were spelled out in a number of papers at the Bangalore workshop: substantially increased citations leading to higher levels of research impact, the widening of the author base, greater research efficiency through the reduction of duplication and faster dissemination, to name only a few. However, while the SciELO initiative in Latin America demonstrates the considerable benefits of intervention at a national level and of regional collaboration over research publication, systematic policy interventions are still lacking in most developing countries, leading to a fragmentation of efforts that can, in reality, be ill-afforded. The policy undertaking included in the National Open Access Policy will therefore be a boon to those lobbying for national commitments to access to publicly funded research from governments in developing countries. As Subbiah Arunachalam put it in an email late last week, there is now work to be done:

The most important thing now is to get policy makers in India, China and many African countries adopt and implement the OA Policy Statement signed by all the participants of the Bangalore workshop. Your suggestions and help are welcome.

The full text of the National OA Policy for developing Countries can be found at


South-South Alliances - the Bangalore workshop on Electronic Publishing and Open Access

We met for our meals on a shaded terrace under palms and spreading tropical trees in the centre of the enormous campus of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and held our discussions in their senate room, distinguished home to many of India's leading scientists. Coming from India, China, Brazil and Africa, the UK and US, we were the guests of the Indian Academy of Science, the IISC and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and had met to discuss South-South relationships in the development of Open Access research dissemination.

The workshop was an important further step in a growing movement of South-South alliances. What emerged most strongly at the Africa-centred conference in Leiden a few months ago was the question, 'Whose knowledge, for what purpose for whom?' The issue there was the tendency for development rhetoric to focus on the supply of knowledge to the developing world rather than the production of knowledge in and from the African continent. This time, in India, the assertion of the rights of developing nations went a step further. Right at the beginning of the workshop, in one of the introductory addresses, Prof N Balakrishnan, the Associate Director of the Indian Institute of Science, said, 'What we need to do is change the “developing country” rhetoric to a world perspective.' Put another way – when I emailed Gordon Graham, of the LOGOS journal, one of the wisest people I know from the publishing industry, he wrote back, 'Do tell me more about the workshop. What a combination. India, China, Brazil and Africa constitute about two thirds of humanity.' They are both right – what this workshop reminded us is that we in the developing world are the norm - with all our challenges - not the privileged and powerful who call the shots in scholarly publishing. Alma Swan raised the same issue in another way, echoing something that was said in Leiden: that we have a problem with the common expression of the international/local dichotomy. Why should developing country issues be considered 'local' when these apply to the greater proportion of the global population, while , for example, we bow down to the 'international' status of the comparatively narrowly-focused ISI indexed journals?

Lawrence Liang, of the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, gave us the message in another way. In a typically virtuoso and mind-stretching keynote address, in which he charted different meanings of ownership, in different languages and cultures. He invited us to resist a property discourse that conflates property rights with academic rights and turns the collegiality of academe into the hierarchy of property. In that world, he said, those who have most freedom are those who own the most IP. Property in the English sense, he said, the conflation of 'self' and 'own' resting on exclusion, is something not common to other languages. In Indian, apnapen is not a matter of owning, or property , but of closeness. Ownership in this sense has the obligation of care and the opposite of care is brutality, like the 'war' on piracy that is currently being waged – passport control in a borderless world, Liang argued.


Ensuring access to your scholarly publications - practical steps for authors

South African academics are encouraged by national policy for publication reward to publish in accredited journals, with overseas journals considered the most prestigious. Leaving aside for a moment any critique of this policy, how can the successful authors ensure that the knowledge they have generated is not priced right out of the market for their colleagues and fellow-citizens? This is a real issue, given that the subscription prices of the big commercial journals have risen at about double the rate of inflation in the last decade. Even large and well-endowed universities are struggling to keep up their subscriptions to the leading journals (let alone all 24,000 journals out there), so it is no surprise that South African universities don't subscribe to a number of the journals in which their academics publish.

This came home to me when
a colleague, Dick Ng'ambi, emailed to his department the other day 'Maybe Eve Gray has a point. I've just received this alert from Springer alerting me on the electronic publication of my article. The cost of accessing this article is US$30 otherwise UCT has to pay (subscribe) to read its own output - are we being short changed?' The Springer announcement reads: We are very pleased to be the first to congratulate you on the electronic publication of your article "Influence of Individual Learning Styles in Online Interaction: a Case for Dynamic Frequently Asked Questions (DFAQ)" published in "IFIP International Federation for Information Processing". If your institution has access to this journal, you may view your paper at: (you may need to copy and paste the URL into your browser).
Well, UCT does not have a subscription, so how do Dick and his colleagues get to read his article, short of paying $30 a view (the price of a thick hardback book in this part of the world, or around 15 hamburgers on the 'hamburger index')?

There are in fact some practical things that academic authors can do to ensure that they have maximum access to their own publications. The most important would be to publish for preference in an Open Access journal if there is one in your field. (And yes, they ARE peer-reviewed and there are high quality publications among the 2,000-odd OA journals, as well as one OA author who has recently won a Nobel Prize.) Next, it is advantageous to secure the right to archive a preprint or postprint of an article on your personal or institutional website. A preprint is the article in the form submitted to the journal, before peer reviewing. A postprint is the article revised according to peer reviewers' recommendations, but without the journal's editing and typesetting.) What is clear from research conducted on the impact of archiving, is that the availability of a pre-or postprint increases the downloads of the journal article and can have a significant effect on the citation levels of your work. It also means that yourarticle can be made available to your colleagues, or more generally, depending on the policy of the publisher.

What local authors do not all seem to know is that most journal publishers - some 90% of them - including the major ones, do allow this practice. In Dick's case, Springer allows for both pre-and postprint archiving.

So how do you handle this if you are submitting or publishing an article? To check the policy of the journal you are thinking of publishing with, go the the Sherpa/Romeo website, where you can search on journals and publishers to establish their policies. The next step is to use one of the toolkits available through the Science Commons Rio Framework on Open Science (blogged in an earlier blog), which includes links to the Copyright Toolbox produced through a joint UK/Netherlands university collaboration. Then negotiate a contract with as much access as you can, using the sample clauses set out in the toolkits, which by now must be pretty familiar to the journal publishers, seeing that they were created by major university bodies. These include retaining copyright (if you can get away with it) or at least being able to archive your article in some form and being allowed to use your own article in teaching and further research.

The really important thing, though, is that we need to lobby for policies in South Africa for the creation and mandating of research repositories in our universities. This is vital, given the increased access to and impact for our research that this could achieve. But more about that in another blog....

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