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.

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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!

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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.

Large-scale Implementation of Open Access in China

At the end of October, the National Science Library, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NSL, CAS), the National Science and Technology Library (NSTL) and ShanghaiTech University Library signed the Open Access 2020 Initiative. The Director of NSL, CAS, Mr. LIU Huizhou, said that open access is beneficial to scientific research, scientific communication and the development of a creative society. The signature of OA2020 means that China will actively contribute to the reform of the global scientific communication system. It will also accelerate the implementation of CAS’s open access policy.

China has long supported open access. In 2004, CAS signed Berlin Declaration on Open Access. In 2013, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and CAS signed GRC Action Plan on Open Access for Publications. In 2014, NSTL attended SCOAP3, and from then on Chinese authors can publish articles for free in journals funded by SCOAP3.

On the same year, CAS  and NSFC  made statements about making publications funded by public money open access, and requested researchers to deposit accepted articles in their institutional repositories or the NSFC’s Open Repository and to make them open access within 12 months after publication. CAS supports its researchers to publish in open access & quality controlled journals with reasonable APCs, and researchers can choose quality controlled journals according to the inclusion criteria of DOAJ

English version of the Expression of Interest document.

Chinese version of the Expression of Interest document.

Policy updates: open access statement and user registration

Open Access Statement

Until recently, DOAJ has insisted that journals state very clearly on their web site a full and detailed open access statement, preferably one that follows closely the Budapest Open Access Initiative definition.

From 8th September, DOAJ will accept a short open access statement—even as short as ‘This journal is open access.’—but ONLY in combination with a Creative Commons licensing statement, or equivalent licensing statement, on the same page and, preferably, in the same paragraph. As always, this statement must be on the journal web site and not held on a different site. If the licensing statement is not on the same page as the open access statement then the extended open access statement complying with BOAI definition will be required.

User Registration

From August 2016, DOAJ no longer accepts journals that require users to register to view the full text. This change was put into effect immediately. As DOAJ reviews journals that are already in DOAJ, as part of their regular update work, they will remove those journals that require registration and notify the publishers.

If you have questions, send email to feedback@doaj.org

‘Indexed in DOAJ’ versus ‘the DOAJ Seal’

I need to clarify what being indexed in DOAJ means and how the Seal is related to that, and how the reapplication process works.

There is a common misunderstanding that only journals that get the Seal are “indexed in DOAJ”, that only Seal journals are quality, peer reviewed open access journals. This is incorrect. ALL journals in DOAJ have been approved as quality, peer reviewed open access journals. The whole DOAJ list is the approved, community-curated list of reputable journals!

  1. What ‘Indexed in DOAJ’ means
    Being indexed in DOAJ means that a journal has passed up to 4 stages of independent and objective, manual review. It means that the journal has been investigated by our Editorial team who have researched whether or not the journal/publisher does what they claim to do on the journal site and in their (re)application to us. During the investigation, the DOAJ editors go through the pages on a journal’s site to make sure that all the information presented to a user is easy to find, clearly and accurately presented and easy to understand. The editorial board is investigated, and sometimes members of the board are contacted and their institutional connections verified, their work on the board is confirmed and which other boards that member sits on. Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal adheres to high levels of quality of its publishing services and services to authors and users, including: peer review, licensing terms, a strong open access statement, a fully functional editorial board and more. Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal is a good open access journal, a trusted open access journal.
  2. The reapplication process
    DOAJ upgraded its requirements for journals to get into DOAJ. The upgrade, which covered all new applications, was made live in March 2014. This meant that there were about 9000 journals already in DOAJ—accepted into DOAJ between 2003 and 2013—that had been accepted under less stringent requirements. We require that every one of them upgrades their information with us. To make it easier for users to see which journals have been accepted under the new criteria we added a green tick next to them. Journals without a tick next to them still have to be reviewed against the new criteria. Note however that even journals that have no tick against them have been manually reviewed and accepted into DOAJ as being reputable.If a journal is in DOAJ, it is on the list of approved and reputable journals.
  3. The DOAJ Seal
    The DOAJ Seal, think of it like this: journals that have the Seal are journals that adhere to outstanding best practice; journals that don’t have the Seal are good, trusted journals adhering to best practice. The Seal has been allocated to a handful of journals accepted into DOAJ since 2014. Journals that are awarded the Seal have answered ‘Yes’ to 7 questions that DOAJ has chosen specifically as indicators of an extra high and clear commitment to open access best practices, of extra high levels of commitment to publishing technologies, and the most ‘open’ form of open access. Importantly, the journals that DO NOT have the Seal still adhere to high levels of quality required for indexing in the DOAJ, especially those journals that have a green tick. No Seal DOES NOT mean low quality, non peer reviewed, questionable, ‘dodgy’, ‘scammy’.

I hope that this helps. DOAJ spends all of its time improving information on reliability, trustworthiness and accuracy. DOAJ also spends a lot of time ensuring that questionable journals do NOT get into the directory. DOAJ is already doing that work for you so that you can be exactly sure what levels of service you can expect when you choose a journal to submit to, to recommend to faculty, to read research in.

As ever, if you have any questions, leave a comment or get in touch!