Gray Area

An African citation index? The AFC-Codesria conference on digital publishing

Around 65 delegates met in a mild and sunny Leiden in early September, as guests of the African Studies Centre of the University of Leiden, to discuss the the North-South divide and scholarly communication in Africa in the digital era.This was a follow-up to an initial conference on the topic in Dakar two years ago. The differences between the two conferences were telling: while the 2004 event consisted largely of informative and explanatory papers, laying the ground for an understanding of the terrain, this time there was a much more confident interrogation of the assumptions that underlie international scholarly communications systems and the power relations at play in the scholarly community. The papers were of a very high standard and the conference teased out many key issues facing African scholarly publishing, bringing delegates up short against of the major challenges that face the continent, yet not descending into the abyss of Afro-pessimism that so often characterises meetings of this kind.


Appropriately, given the venue, collaboration and partnership were very much on the agenda. As Adebayo Olukoshi said in his opening speech, global knowledge dissemination is characterised by asymmetries from previous systems of knowledge production. The conference was designed to address these asymmetries, he said, with the aim of developing strategies for using CODESRIA's CODICE documentation centre to help leapfrog institutional practice across the continent. In this context, CODICE is seen as a pioneer centre on the African continent for the development of digital media and online resources in the social sciences. The main lines of discussions that emerged at the conference were cogently summarised in this opening speech - the inequalities inherent in the scholarly system and the marginalisation of African knowledge in that system; the problematic yet ultimately liberatory role of technology; the need for leapfrogging disadvantage; and the vital importance of collaboration and resource sharing.



Open Access publication seemed to have ready acceptance across the board as the most enabling dissemination model for African scholarship, offering greater citation impact, greater efficiency and, most important, more democratic access to knowledge. Given that a number of speakers identified distribution problems as the major barrier to research dissemination, the potential for Open Access digital distribution was doubly attractive, leading to an increase in impact factor of between 56% and 227%, according to Marlon Domingues of the ASC.

The conference agreed that Codesria should propose the creation of an African citation index as a way of addressing the inequalitites that characterise the marginalisation of African publication.



A new journal concept - Plos ONE launches

Plos ONE, the radical new journal concept (see my16 July blog) has launched. Eric Kansa, , in his Digging Digitally archaeology blog, has this to say:

...PLoS One represents an experiment in a lot of ways. Papers are more clearly part of an ongoing process of communication and discussion and are less like static artifacts. Evaluation and review continue well after initial public dissemination. And in PLoS One, the community is invited to add value to papers through “Web 2.0? collaborative tools...

Drawing value from user interaction and making users more than consumers of information but inviting them to be participants in creating valuable knowledge sounds like a great approach. It has been widely successful in several high-profile commercial sites, such as Flickr (tagged photos) and Del.ic.ious (tagged web content)....The uptake of these community-participatory (“Web 2.0”) approaches is relatively limited in academic and professional communication (though see Connotea). I doubt this has much to do with technophobia as it much as it has to do with the special social, incentive and professional needs of scholars. If PLoS One can help figure out how to motivate professional communities to use participatory tools that add value to scientific communication, I think they will have made a fundamentally important contribution.

(Thanks to Peter Suber's Open Access Newsletter for this link)


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