Guest post: Overview of the African Open Access Landscape, with a Focus on Scholarly Publishing

Photo of Ina Smith, DOAJ Ambassador for Southern AfricaThis is a guest post by Ina Smith, our Ambassador for Southern Africa.

Ina managed the pilot  for the African Open Science Platform project from October 2016 until October 2019. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pretoria (South Africa) in Computer-Integrated Education, a Higher Education Teaching Diploma, and two degrees (BBibl and BBibl Honors) in Library and Information Science. She is Planning Manager at the Academy of Science of South Africa, and has vast experience of Open Access in general, Open Science, scholarly research activities, repositories, and Open Access journal management and publishing. Ina is the DOAJ ambassador in the region of Southern Africa.


This article reports on selected findings from the pilot African Open Science Platform landscape study, conducted by the Academy of Science of South Africa, on request of the SA Department of Science and Technology, and funded by the National Research Foundation. Direction was provided by CODATA (International Science Council).

1. Introduction

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) – during October 2016 until October 2019, conducted a landscape study (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019) of what is happening on the continent in terms of Open Science and progress made regarding Open Access. This formed part of the pilot African Open Science Platform, in preparation of building an actual platform addressing the collaborative needs experienced by scientists in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Awareness regarding Open Access is evident through the

Main findings on the status of Open Access scholarly journals on the continent, as well as factors contributing to the current status, are shared below.

2. Low commitment towards science, policy, incentives and infrastructure by African governments

It is estimated that Africa produces only around 0.74% of global scientific knowledge. Low levels of political willingness among African countries to make funding available towards advancing science, is at the core of this low level of contribution. From the landscape study, only 35 out of 54 African Union member countries (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019) demonstrate some level of commitment to science through its investment in research and development (R&D), academies of science, ministries of science and technology, policies, recognition of research, and participation in the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI). Only two African countries (Kenya and South Africa) at this stage contribute 0.8% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to R&D (Research and Development), which is the closest to the AU’s (African Union’s) suggested 1%. Countries such as Lesotho and Madagascar ranked as 0%, while the R&D expenditure for 24 African countries is unknown (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019).

2.1 Policies lacking and not harmonised

National Open Access policies are positioned within a broader regulatory framework, together with policies for intellectual property rights (IPR), research ethics policies, policies for STI, funding policies, HE policies and ICT policies.

According to the UNECA 2018 Sustainable Development Report, there are low levels of organisation and funding of many science systems in Africa. Although there are efforts towards aligning IP, ICT and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies on the continent with one another and with international policies, African governments still have a long way to go. Apart from developing the relevant policies, policies need to be aligned towards regulatory convergence, the environment required to implement the policies needs to be conducive, and accountability needs to be built into all policies.

The African Observatory of Science and Technology Indicators (AOSTI) were established in 2011 by the African Union to help African countries to build capacity for STI policy activities and initiatives. The AOSTI report on the Assessment of Scientific Production in the African Union, 2005–2010 recommended “creating open and free access publication outlets for Africa, with improved review committees” (African Union African Observatory of Science Technology and Innovation, 2014) and highlighted the challenge of high article fee requirements for publishing in citation-indexed journals and the high subscription prices to commercially available databases.

Policy is a process, and depends on the government of the day. Furthermore, Open Access policies registered in ROARMAP are at institutional level only, and not at national level. Ethiopia is the only African country this far with an Open Access policy on national level, announced and released during October 2019, paving the way for other African countries to hopefully follow suit.  For Open Access policies to be adopted and integrated as part of national Science, Technology and Innovation policies, far more advocacy and awareness initiatives are required across the African continent.

2.2 Insufficient e-Infrastructure

Science globally has become fully dependent on stable ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) infrastructure, which includes connectivity/bandwidth, high performance computing facilities and data services. And so have scholarly journals. Open Access scholarly journals can forget to exist if a stable ICT infrastructure does not exist. Especially where Internet shutdowns (or Internet censorship) is common. From the landscape study, 20 African governments applied some form of Internet censorship 45 times since 2001, of which 36 times the shutdowns related to anti-government related protests.

Academic and research intensive institutions in Africa rely heavily on NRENs (National Research and Educational Networks), which are endorsed by their respective governments and benefit from tax waivers or exemptions, free operator licenses or even Universal Service Funds, e.g. in Uganda and Zambia.

The concern however, is that selected African governments (with the exception of a few countries such as South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia and others) have low awareness of how the Internet works, how much ICT (and the 4th Industrial Revolution) have affected research, and the added value an NREN – through being connected to fellow NRENs – can bring to higher education and research in addressing the respective needs, which is far more complex than simply providing connectivity (Foley, 2016).  A main threat to NRENs in selected African countries is commercial public ISPs influencing governments, sometimes creating the impression that NRENs offer nothing more than what commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer. Galagan and Looijen (2015) confirm that each of the NRENs and Regional RENs have their own political, financial and other challenges. The main challenge is the unaffordability of telecoms’ pricing in many markets across the continent. Private industry Internet service providers (ISPs) have monopolies in many African countries (especially in Central and West Africa), closing down access to cable landing stations, which keep Internet connectivity very expensive in these countries within a closed market and not allowing other competitors to enter the market. This makes collaboration and participation with other NRENs, collaboration and sharing among researchers, and the publishing of Open Access journals, almost impossible in those countries.

Of the 36 African countries with NRENs1, 17 NRENs are connected to the global Research and Education Network, while 19 are not yet connected (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019).

In addition to Internet censorship and the threat commercial ISPs bring, power outages on the continent interrupting Internet service delivery is a further challenge, resulting in interrupting the flow of science. Africa has enormous infrastructure gaps, including broadband infrastructure, and access to broadband services, where they exist, is also very expensive (Economic Commission for Africa, 2017). Moreover, personal connectivity costs remain extremely high in most African countries (Alliance for Affordable Internet, 2017). Issues of connectivity are further complicated by ageing and unreliable power infrastructure and frequent power outages.

2.3 Skills shortage

In addition to a general lack of awareness of Open Access – especially at government level, there is also very low awareness around the availability of open source scholarly publishing platforms such as PKP Open Journal Systems (OJS) and other tools in support of the research and scholarly publishing process. Publishing high quality journals aligned with best practice criteria further needs upskilling, something for which there is a huge demand. Through ASSAf, DOAJ, EIFL, AJOL and efforts of many others, training has been conducted. More resources are however required to not only equip editors, but also reviewers, copy editors, proof-readers and authors with the necessary skills to deliver on high quality trusted Open Access scholarly journals and articles. Open Access online courses and virtual training are possible solutions to address the skills gap, but only if a stable infrastructure and connectivity can be guaranteed.

2.4 Incentivisation is non-existent

Publication-focused metrics are heavily used within African academia as a means of evaluation. This is often only one of very few – if not the only – criteria determining promotion. An unhealthy obsession with publishing in high impact factor journals often result in research conducted to address local problems, ending up in subscription-based journals unaffordable for the very audience it was intended for.

Funding to conduct research remains a challenge. African researchers mostly fund their own research, and there are few incentives for them to make their research and accompanying data sets openly accessible. Funding and peer recognition, along with an enabling ICT enabled research environment conducive for research, are regarded as possible major incentives.

3. Status of scholarly journals published in Africa

There is an increase in the North-South divide; publications not listed on international citation indexes are proven to suffer lower visibility, citation, and effect; and these research results make little or no contribution to the existing body of global knowledge. Furthermore, few African researchers form part of editorial boards of international journals. In some instances, African journals are published by publishers in Europe and North America, resulting in those not being regarded as African journals.

African scholarly journals are often not online available, and leadership on managing journals in a trusted way not available. Through an Ambassador initiative of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), slow progress is being made. More and more, scholarly journals are making the transition to using PKP Open Journal Systems, an Open Source journal workflow solution, to publish journals online.  African Journals Online (AJOL) another initiative, has been working on assisting journals to make the transition from print to online journals. According to DOAJ, 19 African countries representing 196 of the 13 773 journals are currently listed on this index that provides access to high-quality, Open Access, peer-reviewed journals. Until recently, 200+ journals published by Hindawi appeared under Egypt, which would have brought the number of African journals listed in DOAJ to 400+. These journals are now being classified as UK publications due to Hindawi’s move to London.

A notable development towards an Open Science publishing approach is the AAS Open Research mega-journal. Using the F1000 publishing platform, AAS Open Research implements open peer review and requires that data underpinning the research findings should be open by default.

The Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) SA hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) covers a selected collection of peer-reviewed South African scholarly journals, and forms an integral part of the SciELO Brazil project. Journals are considered for inclusion in SciELO SA when they have received a favourable evaluation after being peer-reviewed. This peer-review is coordinated by ASSAf, and occurs in cycles of 5 years. SciELO SA focuses on strengthening the scholarly journal evaluation and accreditation systems in South Africa.

Scienceafrique.org – an initiative by Florence Piron and project SOHA – addresses the need to have a platform to publish scholarly journals and share science in the francophone region. It currently hosts 5 French journals2. The main objective of this platform is to give African researchers (including Haiti) the opportunity to freely and openly share their research and text in their local language, to build quality African science, visible and accessible to all, from the perspective of cognitive justice and serving the common good.

Another important player in advancing equitable scientific partnership with developing Francophone countries in Africa and elsewhere is the French National Research Institute for Development (IRD). Being a French public research institution, “the IRD defends an original model of equitable scientific partnership with the countries of the South and an interdisciplinary and citizen science committed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”. The planned IRD “Open science in the South: challenges and perspectives for a new dynamic” symposium (23 – 25 October 2019) “will offer an opportunity to discuss the challenges of open science in developing countries and to present national, international and local incentive policies as well as practical case studies to initiate trends towards open science. It will focus in particular on research in French-speaking countries in the Global South.”

Open Science and Open Access in Arabic countries such as Algeria, are driven by the DGRSDT (General Directorate of Scientific Research and Technological Development). The vast majority of the total of 359 Algerian scholarly journals are only available in print, with 21 available as Open Access and registered in the DOAJ. The DGRSDT strategy includes:

  • training editors in managing and publishing scholarly journals;
  • promote sharing and collaboration among Algerian editors, and
  • promote global collaboration in advancing Open Access.

The aim is for all Algerian journals to make the transition from print to online, and to adhere to the DOAJ criteria for possible inclusion. An Algerian journal portal by the name Webreview has been launched by the Research Centre on Scientific and Technical Information (CERIST) for the science community to publish journals – whether open or restricted access. On institutional level, and similar to South African universities publishing their own journals (e.g. SUNJournals at Stellenbosch University3), many Algerian universities prefer to host and publish their own journals. An example from Algeria is the Université de Béjaïa4 (Belhamel, 2016).

Only one (1) African country thus far is participating in Plan S5 (i.e. the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Zambia6), while none subscribes to AmeliCA yet.

In response to the portentous need of access to scholarly content by the African research community, an additional SPARC Chapter, SPARC Africa7, has been established and was launched at the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Academic and Research Libraries (ARL) Satellite meeting on the 14th August 2015. The Chapter’s primary concerns this far has been to capacitate Africans in academic and research sectors to champion free access to scientific knowledge as a means to alleviate Africa’s lack of access to scholarly content. It further concerns access to Northern output which has the risk of continuing a neo-colonial agenda (Mboa, 2019). The SPARC Africa Open Access Symposium 2019 (4 – 6 December 2019) will be “challenging the open access movement and its advocates with their social justice principles to usher in equity and equal opportunity and to open the doors for full participation of new African voices in the scholarly communication landscape.”

4. Conclusion

For Africa to address its many challenges through Open Access, policies need to be developed, research sharing should be incentivised, provision should be made for skills development, and proper infrastructure and affordable and stable connectivity should be readily available.

A future federated African Open Science Platform (AOSP) in which policies, skills, incentives and infrastructure needs are addressed will not only encourage more collaboration among researchers in addressing the SDGs, but it will also benefit the many stakeholders identified as part of the research process. But only if there is commitment from African governments.

References

  1. Prof Meoli Kashorda, personal email communication on 13 May 2019
  2. https://www.revues.scienceafrique.org/catalog/
  3. https://www.journals.ac.za/
  4. http://www.univ-bejaia.dz/revues
  5. https://www.coalition-s.org/
  6. https://www.coalition-s.org/coalition-s-welcomes-its-first-african-member-and-receives-strong-support-from-the-african-academy-of-sciences/
  7. http://aims.fao.org/activity/blog/sparc-africa-capacitating-africa-towards-access-open-scholarship

Bibliography

Academy of Science of South Africa. (2019). African Open Science Platform – Landscape
Study. Unpublished.

African Union African Observatory of Science Technology and Innovation. (2014). Assessment of Scientific Production in the African Union, 2005–2010. url: http://aosti.org/index.php/component/content/article/88-reports/133-the-state-of-scientific-production-in-the-african-union?Itemid=437

Alliance for Affordable Internet. (2017). Affordability Report. Washington DC. url: https://a4ai.org/

Belhamel, K. (2016). Open Access Journals Strategy in Algeria. url: https://blog.doaj.org/2016/10/06/open-access-journals-strategy-in-algeria/

Economic Commission for Africa. (2017). Towards Improved Access to Broadband in Africa. Addis Ababa. url: https://www.uneca.org/sites/default/files/PublicationFiles/towards_improved_access_to_broadband_inafrica.pdf

Foley, M. (2016). The Role and Status of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in Africa. url:  http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/233231488314835003/pdf/113114-NRENSinAfrica-SABER-ICTno05.pdf

Galagan, D. and Looijen, M. (2015). National Research and Education Networks: Analysis of Management Issues. url: http://www.isoc.org/isoc/conferences/inet/99/proceedings/3h/3h_1.htm

Mboa Nkoudou, T. H. (2019). Epistemic alienation in African Scholarly communication: Open access as a Pharmakon. Old Traditions and New Technologies: The Pasts, Presents, and Futures of Open Scholarly Communication. Edited by Eve, M., Gray, J. Cambridge, MIT Press (in Press). url:  https://eve.gd/2019/06/07/old-traditions-and-new-technologies/

Guest post: a technical update from our development team

This is a guest post by Richard Jones, founding partner of Cottage Labs and member of the DOAJ team. Cottage Labs has hosted, developed and managed the DOAJ platform since December 2013 and is responsible for keeping DOAJ available to the vast number of individuals using DOAJ every day.


To the public, it may seem that not a lot has changed at doaj.org for the past year or so but in the background, a lot of work has been going on to prepare for some major improvements.

January – August 2019

During this period, our technical focus has been on 3 major areas: the Application Form; the editorial workflow system, which underpins the application process; and the User Interface (UI). In addition, we have been carrying out the final bits of work to improve the stability and scalability of the system, with the net result that in those 8 months there was only 3 minutes of unscheduled down-time.

The team measures its throughput via the number of issues that are successfully dealt with per month in our GitHub issue tracker. On average we’re handling 20-25 issues per month, some of which are support questions. These questions come from a variety of sources including DOAJ team members, end users, or from technical users of the API and other machine interfaces.

We’ve also been working with a new performance monitor to identify bugs, and for the first time we are able to detect issues with the system that go unreported or even unnoticed by end users.

Here are some of the minor improvements we’ve made:

  • Improved API documentation
  • Further GDPR compliance: cookie consent banner; marketing opt in/out preferences for users; and anonymisation of data used in testing and development
  • Data about articles in the Journal CSV file
  • A preliminary overhaul of the site’s layout template and CSS, in preparation for a much larger UI upgrade next year.

Here are some major bits of work that we have carried out:

  • Enhancements to our historical data management system. We track all changes to the body of publicly available objects (Journals and Articles) and we have a better process for handling that.
  • Introduced a more advanced testing framework for the source code. As DOAJ gains more features, the code becomes larger and more complex. To ensure that it is properly tested for before going into production, we have started to use parameterised testing on the core components. This allows us to carry out broader and deeper testing to ensure the system is defect free.
  • A weekly data dump of the entire public dataset (Journals and Articles) which is freely downloadable.
  • A major data cleanup on articles: a few tens of thousands of duplicates, from historical data or sneaking in through validation loopholes, were identified and removed. We closed the loopholes and cleaned up the data.
  • A complete new hardware infrastructure, using Cloudflare. This resulted in the significant increase in stability mentioned above and allows us to cope with our growing data set (increasing at a rate of around 750,000 records per year at this point).

And here are some projects we have been working on which you will see come into effect over the next few weeks:

  • A completely new search front-end. It looks very similar to the old one, but with some major improvements under-the-hood (more powerful, more responsive, more accessible), and gives us the capability to build better, cooler interfaces in the future.
  • Support for Crossref XML as an article upload format. In the future this may also be extended to the API and we may also integrate directly with Crossref to harvest articles for you. We support the current Crossref schema (4.7) and we will be supporting new versions as they come along.

Finally, we welcomed a new developer to our team, Aga, who joined Cottage Labs and the DOAJ team in July of this year.

Taking a longer view, developments coming down the pipe in the next 6-8 months or so are:

  • A major overhaul to the UI, following extensive design and user experience work by DOAJ’s UX consultant.
  • A lot of work on the editorial back-end (so you might not notice much change on the public side) to improve the throughput and usability of the system for the editors and administrators.
  • A new, revamped application form, which will be easier to use and offer you better support in applying to DOAJ or updating your existing Journals.

If you have any questions or would like more detail on anything you have read here, do please contact us or leave a comment here.

The Long-Term Preservation of Open Access Journals

The long term preservation of open access journals is one of the 7 criteria for the DOAJ Seal because DOAJ believes that it is an extremely important business process which a publisher of academic content should commit to. This couldn’t be more applicable than in the Global South where financial support and rigorous standards around journal publishing aren’t always available and, sadly, journals tend to just disappear from the Internet without warning. This is a huge problem for the academic footprint of the Global South, not to mention the hundreds of authors whose published papers just aren’t online any more and cannot be retrieved or ever cited.

When DOAJ established its criteria for the Seal in 2014, we were conscious that anything with a cost associated with it effectively put up a barrier to those low income or financially unstable journals to getting the Seal. DOAJ is committed to smooth that path as much as possible. In 2013, DOAJ announced a working agreement with CLOCKSS, one of the archives included on our application form, to seek out funding for a joint project which would get as many of DOAJ’s long-tail of single journals archived and preserved as possible. Unfortunately, those plans didn’t come to fruition and since then, the archiving and digital preservation landscape has changed somewhat.

What remains to be done is clear however: we must help ALL journals get into an archiving and digital preservation program and therefore I am delighted to welcome this guest post by Craig Van Dyck, the Executive Director of the CLOCKSS Archive.

Thanks for reading.

Dom, DOAJ Operations Manager


Users of scholarly content rely upon long-term access to that content. Scholarly research is long-lived, and users need to be able to re-access content repeatedly.

One concern about digital scholarly journals is that they could disappear from the web, which would undermine scholars’ ability to access the materials that they need.

In response to this concern, several Preservation services are available. These services work somewhat differently, but they all aim to ensure the long-term availability of scholarly content on behalf of end-users. Prominent services are CLOCKSS and Portico in the US, Scholars Portal and the Public Knowledge Project Preservation Network (PKP PN) in Canada, and CINES in Europe. Publishers are welcome to participate in any or all of these services. And some national libraries also have archival collections.

In today’s environment, it is considered best-practice for a scholarly publisher to include its content in a preservation service. To receive the DOAJ Seal, journals must be included in a preservation system.

In this post, we will focus on CLOCKSS, with some reference to PKP PN, because those two services both use the LOCKSS technology, which is arguably at the high-end of the spectrum of preservation solutions.

LOCKSS Technology

LOCKSS stands for Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. The technology was invented at the Stanford University Library about 20 years ago. It relies upon multiple copies of the digital content being hosted at geographically distributed nodes. The software (which is open source) includes a unique polling-and-repair mechanism. The multiple nodes are constantly exchanging information about the content that they hold. If one node reports a difference vs. the other nodes, that one node is out-voted by the other nodes, and the variant node’s piece of content is replaced by the correct content from one of the other nodes. In this way, the archive is “dark”, meaning that end-users do not access the content, but the technology ensures that the data is in good repair.

The CLOCKSS Archive

  • The C in CLOCKSS stands for Controlled. This is because CLOCKSS uses twelve servers located at blue-chip libraries around the world, all with first-rate infrastructure and security. CLOCKSS is a free-standing 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit organization, using the LOCKSS technology and working with the LOCKSS technical and operational teams at Stanford, to preserve scholarly content for the long-term. CLOCKSS is certified as a Trusted Digital Repository. In its Trustworthy Repositories Audit & Certification report by the Council for Research Libraries, CLOCKSS received the only perfect score for technology.
  • CLOCKSS includes many Open Access publishers. For example, 24 publishers using the open source OJS publishing system are preserved in CLOCKSS. In total, CLOCKSS is preserving over 20,000 journal titles, with over 30 million journal articles and 75,000 books, growing rapidly each year.
  • One unique aspect of CLOCKSS is that when content is “triggered” for access, CLOCKSS makes the content freely available to all, under a Creative Commons license, which is a sign of the commitment to the concept of Open Access. A “trigger” occurs if a journal has disappeared, or will soon disappear, from the web. To date CLOCKSS has triggered 53 journals.
  • CLOCKSS can access publishers’ journals in two different ways: by harvesting the content from the publishing platform; or by the publisher providing the content to CLOCKSS by FTP.
  • Another unique aspect of CLOCKSS is the governance structure. The Board of Directors is comprised half by libraries and half by publishers. The scholarly community itself is thus responsible for the policies and practices of CLOCKSS.
  • Publishers sign an Agreement with CLOCKSS, which governs rights and responsibilities. There is a small annual cost for participating in CLOCKSS. CLOCKSS is financially sustainable, which is an important element for a long-term preservation archive. 350 libraries around the world, as well as 250 publishers, contribute to CLOCKSS’s sustainability.

Public Knowledge Project Preservation Network (PKP PN)

  • The Public Knowledge Project is a multi-university initiative developing (free) open source software and conducting research to improve the quality and reach of scholarly publishing. PKP is based at Simon Fraser University in Canada, which is where the Open Journal Systems (OJS) software was originally developed.
  • The PKP Preservation Network is an additional capability that enables easy long-term preservation of journals using OJS version 2.4.8 or higher. PKP PN uses the LOCKSS preservation software.
  • There are currently 800 journals preserving their content in PKP PN.
  • There are no fees for participating in the PKP PN. A journal manager must agree to Terms of Use.

Conclusion

It is strongly recommended that scholarly journals and books should be preserved for the long-term in a preservation system. Content that is not preserved is at-risk of being lost. And publishers who do not contribute their content to a preservation system are at-risk of not being considered a serious publisher. The value of long-term preservation is well worth a small cost.

Craig Van Dyck
Executive Director, CLOCKSS Archive
cvandyck@clockss.org

Open Access in the Francophone Global South: Between Collective Empowerment and Neocolonialism

This is a guest post by Florence Piron from Université Laval, Québec, Canada.

fpiron_01

An anthropologist and ethicist, Florence Piron is a professor in the Department of Information and Communication at Université Laval where she teaches courses on ethics and democracy. She is the founding President of the Association for Science and Common Good and its open access publishing house. She is interested in the links between science, society and culture, both as a researcher and advocate for a science that is more open, inclusive, socially responsible and focused on the common good. She’s doing research on open science, and cognitive justice with universities in Africa and Haiti.

 

Two major issues are often lacking within the general conversation about open access, whether in blogs, discussion lists or papers. Indeed, their invisibility is in itself a symptom of the problem that I want to briefly expose here.

The first issue is the difference between openness and accessibility. Depending on where a person lives or what their resources are, they may forget that there exists such a difference, whereas it is obvious to others. A door may be open, but if a person does not have the ability to walk or find the path that leads to it, if many obstacles prevent them from moving forward, they will not be able to go through it: what then is the value or the meaning of the door’s openness? In other words, are articles and books in open access always accessible  and, if not, what does openness really mean? This question demands that more precise social and political analyses of accessibility be added to the usual discussions of publishers, copyright or policies.

The second issue concerns what lies behind the door, in other words what kind of knowledge is so precious that the opening of the door to get it justifies all kinds of fighting and arguing and huge amounts of money? This fundamental epistemological debate seems to me very seldom dealt with within the general conversation about open access. Should all types of knowledge be covered by the open access movement? Or only the “science” that lies within the boundaries of the Web of Science, Google Scholar and Scopus databases, that is to say the “centre” of the science world-system? Should knowledge produced outside these boundaries, for instance non-English non-indexed knowledge produced in universities from the periphery of the science world-system, be left out of the fight for open access because it is not “properly scientific”?  Should the invisibility of knowledge coming from minorities or the Global South continue to be seen as not a problem?

A detour to the Global South, particularly Haiti and Francophone Sub-Saharan African universities where I have been doing research for several years through the SOHA project (Piron et al. 2016, 2017), can open eyes and ears. In the North, open access is equivalent to effective access because a researcher or a student always has a computer, web access, electricity and a basic digital literacy that enable them to have immediate access to everything that is open. But this is not the case in the Francophone Global South, where our SOHA project has identified and documented several huge cognitive injustices. In this part of the world, not only is Internet access far from being generalized and remains very expensive, but students often touch a computer for the first time when entering university, lecturers rarely know how to use the web in their teaching and sometimes mistrust it, electricity can be cut for several hours a day, the quality of the connection is usually very low and connectivity is often not the priority of university leaders. Most important of all is the fact that digitalization of African theses and journals is very rare, which contributes to their invisibility. We have also met African academics who still hope to compensate for their meagre salary by selling books and are thus opposed to open access in general. Let’s add that very few of these countries have a research and innovation policy able to fund research, libraries and equipment, so that they usually depend on “partners” from the North who have their own research agenda, a neocolonial situation in itself (Mvé-Ondo 2005). That many people manage to do brilliant research there, without leaving to the North, is a feat in itself! Believing that “open access” is the grand solution to problems of research in the Global South is therefore a huge mistake, mirroring the general ignorance of the centre about the periphery. Open access is a necessary, but not at all sufficient, condition.

The second issue may be more complex to grasp, since it is of a socio-epistemological nature. Let’s just recall here the postcolonial and feminist scholarship that has shown that “science” is in fact a situated (fascinating) knowledge anchored in European male white history which became hegemonic during Modernity and its colonial project. This knowledge carries a specific epistemology based on the hope of producing a decontextualized (“universal”), neutral (value-free, culture-free, gender-free), explicative, predictive type of knowledge which I call “positivist” in short. Such a knowledge, defined as a normative ideal, obviously considers any mention of cultural/political context as irrelevant or even anti-science, anti-truth. Let’s do it anyway. If open access only concerns the hegemonic positivist science that is produced and showcased in journals obeying the norms and rules created in the North, it would contribute to maintaining other epistemologies or knowledges not quite following the said rules in their state of invisibility and inaccessibility, whether in the North or in the (Francophone) Global South. Yet these knowledges are indispensable to overcome the challenges in these countries, each country needing local relevant nuanced knowledge that could help its action, that “speaks” to local social actors.

In summary, if open access reinforces the visibility and usability of papers, theses and books from the North (even if only because they have a digital life), knowledge from the (Francophone) Global South, mainly constituted by un-digitized theses and research reports (Piron et al. 2017), will remain invisible and little used, unless published in journals from the North. This is why, if open access is only interpreted as facilitating access to “science” without any analysis of material conditions of access and without any conscience of the necessity of maintaining a “knowledge diversity” within an ecology of knowledges (Santos 2007), it could become just another tool of neocolonialism.

Conversely, open access can become a formidable tool of collective empowerment for the Global South – and of improvement of world science –  if its leaders and proponents make a sincere commitment to creating and maintaining within “science” a real openness to the plurality of epistemologies, of knowledges (in the plural form) and of normative frameworks. My African and Haitian colleagues and I have been working on numerous concrete projects in this regard, notably a pan-African open repository. We are convinced that DOAJ could also play a major role not only in showcasing African and Haitian journals without necessarily imposing on them a rigid normative positivist framework, but also in helping journals from the North become more open to epistemologies, languages and ideas from the Global South.

Let me conclude with a sad paradox: many critics of hegemonic science, whether from a decolonial, feminist or constructivist standpoint, do not care whether their own work is available in open access or not, and therefore accessible or not to the people suffering from cognitive injustices… The road is long!

References Continue reading

Open Access Asia

This is a guest post by Vrushali Dandawate (@vrushalisainath), DOAJ Ambassador, India.

“Open Access means free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.” (BOAI, 2002)

Open Access is playing an important role in developing countries to give equal opportunities for access to necessary E-resources. Open Access has rapidly gained popularity in Europe and the USA, but by comparison its growth in Asia has been very slow.

The situation in Asia is explored in a report published by Asia OA, a forum hosted by the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR). This report analysed the status of Open Access publishing in sixteen countries in Asia. The major finding was that all countries studied are already adopting Open Access policies, but that they lack the organised efforts and support to make Open Access successful in each country.

As an ambassador of DOAJ in India, and living in the Asian continent, I have decided to do research on Open Access development in Asia. Just a simple Google search (country name + open access) gave me the following indication about the state of Open Access in each country.

List of Asian countries* and whether or not they have an Open access policy, open access journals and open data

Afghanistan – Yes
Armenia – Yes
Azerbaijan – Yes
Bahrain – Yes
Bangladesh – Yes
Bhutan – Yes
Brunei – Yes
Cambodia – Yes
China – Yes
Cyprus – Yes
Georgia – Yes
India – Yes
Indonesia – Yes
Iran – Yes
Iraq – Yes
Israel – Yes, less information found
Japan – Yes
Jordan – Yes
Kazakhstan – Yes
Kuwait – Yes
Kyrgyzstan – Yes
Laos – Yes, less information found
Lebanon – Yes
Malaysia – Yes
Maldivesv Yes
Mongolia – Yes
Myanmar (Burma) – Yes
Nepal – Yes
North Korea – Information not found
Oman – Yes
Pakistan – Yes
Palestine – Yes
Philippines – Information not found
Qatar – Yes
Russia – Yes
Saudi Arabia – Yes
Singapore – Yes
South Korea – Yes
Sri Lanka – Yes
Syria – Yes, less information found
Taiwan – Yes
Tajikistan – Information not found
Thailand – Yes
Timor-Leste – Information not found
Turkey – Yes
Turkmenistan – Less information found
United Arab Emirates (UAE) – Yes
Uzbekistan – Yes
Vietnam – Yes
Yemen – Yes

The development of Open Access in Asia will be explored as a research project. “Open Access Asia”, born at OpenCon 2017, is a community of Open Access advocates in the region. The main objectives of the Open Access Asia project are:

  1. To make an open platform for all OA Advocates in Asia.
  2. To hold workshops/conferences/seminars in all Asian countries in rotation, helping effect culture change across institutions.
  3. Network sharing for OA Advocates in all Asian countries through bulletins and write-ups.
  4. A platform for advocating Open Access and sharing success stories of the OA movement in the world and in Asia.
  5. To invite everyone who is involved and interested in the OA movement to discuss and raise issues related to Open Access in general and specific to Asia.
  6. Collaborate with Open Access Network and leverage with other such networks for information exchange.
  7. That Open Access will influence policy makers, research workers, researchers, scholarly societies for their research and move institutions towards adopting open access policy across Asia.

To encourage more involvement of people from Asian countries with the Open Asia Project, a social media platform has been created:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1166441533488173/
Twitter: @Open_Asia_Org

With this blog post I invite all interested people to join Open Access Asia and help to promote Open Access more collaboratively in the Asian region and worldwide.

*Country list taken from https://www.countries-ofthe-world.com/countries-of-asia.html.

Open Access Publishing in China

This is a guest post by Xin Bi, DOAJ Ambassador, China.

29da926Following rapid development in the economy and huge investment in R&D, China is now widely recognised as one of the leading countries of the world in terms of the number of published journals and scientific articles. In 2015, there were over 10,000 journals in China, of which 4983 (49.76%) were in Science and Technology, according to the “Statistical Data of Chinese Science and Technology Papers 2015”.

 

Surprisingly, as of 4 June 2017, only 71 open access journals from China have been registered in DOAJ, which is about 0.75% of the total number of DOAJ indexed journals. If we take 10,000 as the estimated total number of journals in China at this moment, then this suggests only 0.71% of journals in China are open access. From these data people would think the open access movement in China is really lagging behind. Is this true? Does this actually means that Chinese scholars or publishers are not willing to share? The answer is no.

Though it is still in progress, my research on open access publishing in China now means that I have collated a list containing information on more than 1200 journals and I am checking many items of journal information against DOAJ criteria. The findings are quite exciting. I have not finished checking each journal, so I just provide my initial findings here.

Nearly no questionable journals found

In my list there are 1222 journals and the number is still increasing. As only state-owned organizations, such as universities, institutes, academic societies, government bodies and hospitals, are licensed to create a journal, among all the journals in my list, there are no questionable journals found. For any individual it is not possible to register a new journal in China. Some journals are registered overseas, with editorial offices in China, but as they only have one ISSN number and they could not be licensed with a CN series publication number from the Chinese authorities, these journals are not recognized in the academic system in China.

Open as free access

It is surprising to see that many Chinese journals are offering free reading and downloading of their current articles on their website. This could be something we call “free access” rather than true open access according to the BOAI definition and DOAJ practice. In my experience working as a DOAJ ambassador in China, making articles freely available in this way would be regarded as “open access” by many publishers and editors. There could possibly be 1,000 or so journals in my list that are applying this free access practice, as a best estimation at this moment. So we are actually quite open to sharing academic articles in China and editors and scholars are contributing to the open access movement.

Published in Chinese

Due to developments in technology, traditional print journals are now able to release their articles in both print and online format. But, although all the journals studied have a website, nearly all are in Chinese only, both for their website and articles and even abstracts. Making articles online for free access would definitely increase the impact of journals and that is one of the major motives for journal editors. So it is easily understandable that these journals were born in Chinese and their presence online is still in Chinese. However this makes the content only accessible for Chinese speakers in the world.

Some with embargo

Another common misunderstanding of open access in China is the accepted practice of imposing an embargo. As the majority of journals in China still operate under a subscription model for their print version, a period of embargo would certainly be beneficial for the journal, as the editorial office might still rely on the subscription fee of print journals to fund the publishing operation. I could not report an accurate percentage of embargoed free access journals but the feeling is that quite a large number of journals do have embargo policies in place.

Business model exploration

It was interesting to find that, though the number is very small among the 1200 journals in my list, some journals did cease to update their website with full text articles while keeping the site updated with news, announcements and even the table of contents or abstracts of the current issue. This may reflect the exploration of business models in recent years, as people embrace the open access idea but at the same time face financial challenges on sustainability. So some journals have changed back to a pure subscription model, using the website as a way to showcase the journal and increase awareness.

A very small number of journals are collaborating with commercial journal database vendors in China. While these journals provide extensive information online about the journal, for example, editorial boards, instructions to authors, current issue and archive article lists and even abstracts, access to the full text is directed to the commercial journal databases which then generally charge for the downloading of articles. Such commercial agreements would be likely to make a journal hesitate before converting to a free or open access model.

No open access statement and copyright statement

If there could be a clear statement of adherence to the BOAI definition of open access and adoption of Creative Common copyright licenses by Chinese journals, then we would be confident to say that we have quite a large number of open access journals in China, and to be able to increase the number of Chinese journals in DOAJ. However, this will require time and effort to communicate with editors to adopt best practices in academic open access publishing. As only state-owned bodies can be licensed to publish a journal, it generally means that the journals are managed by owners who are not publishers, the editorial office is often quite small and it is hard to make the move to a pure OA model. In fact, having  so many free access journals in China is already quite a big step.

New model of creating open access journals in English

Of the 71 Chinese journals already indexed in DOAJ, 25 of them are published by Elsevier and 7 by Springer. This reflects a new model in academic publishing in China where a university, research institute or hospital could create an English-language journal in partnership with a big brand publisher. With platform and technology support from the publisher as well as funding for the publishing operation, these newly established journals can apply standard open access practice from the very beginning, and usually the publisher rather than the editorial office will then apply for inclusion in DOAJ.

In general, the Chinese government is encouraging sharing, innovative, green and sustainable principles in both economic and social development. The open access publishing model is seen as the trend for the future by editors, scholars, librarians and publishers in China. Due to the different understanding of what is truly an open access journal, there is still work to do in the community in China to move forward to achieve our goals.

References

  1. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v528/n7582_supp_ni/full/528S170a.html
  2. http://www.nature.com/press_releases/nature-index-china-2015.html
  3. http://www.economist.com/news/china/21586845-flawed-system-judging-research-leading-academic-fraud-looks-good-paper