What’s in a “NAME”? A study of African and Arab journals in the DOAJ

This is a guest post by Souheil Houissa, editor of the North Africa & Middle East (NAME) group, and long-serving DOAJ volunteer. He wrote the article in February 2020 so the statistics are historical. (As of today, the group has processed 536 applications.) However, the general conclusions drawn throughout the article are still valid.


Journal applications are reaching the milestone of 500 titles assessed by the ‘North Africa & Middle East’ (NAME) editor group at DOAJ. This group took over from the former Arabic group in 2016, and I have been honoured to be the editor of this group.

The purpose of the NAME group is to assess as many applications as possible coming from both Arab countries and West Africa, as the regions of former groups had very few applications.

Thanks to the efforts of the 6 volunteering associate editors, we have so far accepted 290 journals and rejected a further 196 applications, for different reasons. The rest of the applications include some completed assessments, 14 are still in progress, and 4 applications were put on hold. In fact, these numbers are very little, a “peanut” comparing to the DOAJ 14267 journals, including 11290 searchable journals at the article level and about 4, 620717 articles altogether from 133 countries. 

Most applications are coming from other (mainly Muslim) countries: Indonesia; and Iran.

Of the 155 applications from Indonesia, our group has rejected 67 applications and accepted 88 titles of the total 1598 Indonesian journals included in the DOAJ.

In 2017, the total number of applications submitted to DOAJ reached its highest ever level for one year. Out of the 2488 journals added that year, nearly one quarter (602) of them came from Indonesia. Certainly, for that reason, the DOAJ managing editors decided, in September 2017, to involve the NAME group in reviewing the growing number of applications.

Of the Indonesian applications we have reviewed, 51 out of 91 have Arabic as the main full-text language. However, there were also 146 in English and 79 in Indonesian.

Indonesia is ranked the second country with 1598 DOAJ indexed journals, after the United Kingdom (1604), and before Brazil (1461). 

Iran took the 7th place in the DOAJ with 522 journals indexed. NAME editor group has accepted about 1/6th of them, that’s 86 journals after editing 131 applications. Iranian journals tend to use English (303 titles) as the main language more than the national language, Persian (239 titles). Some journals are bilingual and very few are in Arabic or French (2 journals each).

From the end of 2016, we helped with the evaluation of mainly those Iranian journals publishing in English; that’s 80 to only 6 in Persian. The highest number of accepted Iranian journals in the DOAJ was in 2018 with 128 journals.

Journal applications from the Arab states are coming from:

  • Iraq (61),
  • Algeria (25),
  • Egypt (22),
  • UA Emirates (21)
  • Morocco (9)
  • Jordan (5)
  • Saudi Arabia (4)
  • Yemen (4)

Some journals are based in the United States (19), bearing in mind that the country of the journal is linked to the address where the publisher is based.

Journals of Arab countries

Only 18 from the 22 Arab states are represented in the DOAJ; there are no applications from the Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, and Somalia.

Country Applications* Journals** DOAJ ***
1 Iraq 61 30 45
2 Algeria 25 5 24
3 Egypt 22 17 32
4 UA Emirates 21 12 10
5 Morocco 9 6 18
6 Jordan 5 3 4
7 Saudi Arabia 4 4 18
8 Syria 4
9 Yemen 4 4 6
10 Tunisia 3 2 5
11 Lebanon 2 1
12 Oman 2 2 7
13 Bahrain 1 1
14 Kuwait 1 1 1
15 Libya 1 1 3
16 Soudan 1
17 Palestine 1
18 Qatar 4
Total 166 87 180

*NAME group applications ** Journals accepted by NAME *** All journals in DOAJ

Table 1: Journals of Arab countries

As shown in Table 1, the NAME group has reviewed 166 journal applications and decided to include 87 of them, out of the 180 journals accepted in the DOAJ so far. The difference between the two numbers is justified by the change of the DOAJ editor groups at the end of 2017; many applications that were made in 2017 and before remained with the main database. For example, there are 24 journals in the DOAJ from Algeria, but we can find only 5 journals with the NAME group that have applied in July 2017 and later. (Public searching doesn’t include this distinction.) However, many titles were removed because they failed to reapply after 2014 or have not answered the changing requirements, and sometimes duplications may occur.

fig1

Fig.1: Journals of Arab countries

Journals of African countries

I have added South Africa to the list of African countries covered by NAME editor group to the table below to reflect an idea about the “gap” that exists between this country and the rest of the continent. (See also Ina Smith’s guest blog post: ‘Overview of the African open access landscape with a focus on scholarly publishing‘.)

This gap is also represented between Africa and the Arab countries on one hand, and the rest of the world (as shown in the DOAJ) on the other.  South Africa has 100 journals, whereas the rest of African countries together have only 29 accepted journals. Only four (4) of them were included by our group among 11 received applications.  

Country Applications* Journals** DOAJ ***
1 South Africa 100
Country Applications* Journals** DOAJ ***
2 Nigeria 3 1 8
3 Ghana 1 6
4 Kenya 5
5 Angola 2
6 Cameroun 1 1
7 DR Congo 1 1
8 Malawi 1 1
9 Mali 1 1 1
10 Ruanda 1 1 1
11 Uganda 1 1 1
12 Zimbabwe 1 1
13 Ethiopia 1
Total (without SA) 11 4 29

*NAME group applications ** Journals accepted by NAME *** All journals in DOAJ

Table 2: Journals of African countries

There are 525 journals in the African Journals On-Line (AJOL) database but only half of them are open access. 

fig2

Fig. 2: Journals of African countries

Some journals are also in the DOAJ, for example, two Tunisian journals are in AJOL. Arab North African countries have modest participation in AJOL as well.

On the other hand, many Sub-Saharan African countries are more represented in AJOL than in the DOAJ. For instance, Nigeria is the first with 222 journals (only 8 in the DOAJ) followed by 96 for South Africa, then Ethiopia (30), Kenya (29) and Ghana (27) that each has around 5 DOAJ titles. Except for South Africa which nearly has the same representation in both databases, the other African countries are modestly represented in the DOAJ.

Languages

English is the common language in the DOAJ in general and in the NAME group as well. It dominates the national languages such as Arabic, Persian, or Indonesian both for the applications and the Journals, but most journals are bilingual or multilingual. Besides English, Journals use Arabic and/or French for the Arab countries, and Persian or Indonesian with Arabic sometimes for the others.

English Arabic  Indonesian French Persian
NAME  Applications 468 119 79 34 11
NAME  Journals 264 56 48 11 6
DOAJ Journals 10.859 161 1307 985 239
Table 3: Languages of the Journals 

The table shows that almost half of the applications in every language was rejected. Journals in the NAME group represent only a small proportion of journals in English, Indonesian, Persian or French. The rest is assessed and accepted by other DOAJ specialised groups in those languages. On the other hand, Arabic, that is supposedly the national language of most countries covered by the group, represents only 34% (that is 56 journals out of 161 in Arabic). We may think that the remaining journals were treated in other groups, but in fact, many journals remain in the account of former DOAJ Arabic groups. NAME accepted 48 journals out of 1307 in Indonesian (nearly 4%), and only 11 from 985 journals in French (about 1,1%), and just 6 journals in Persian (2,5%). English is used in 264 journals of this group, and out of the 10.859 journals using English in all the DOAJ, they only represent about 2,4 %. Ranking the languages used in the DOAJ shows English in the first place, while Indonesian comes in the 4th rank, followed by French in the 5th whereas Persian takes the 11th level, and Arabic is placed the 13th. Spanish and Portuguese are the most used languages after English.

fig3

Fig. 3: Languages of the Journals

Figures show the same rank and proportions of those five full-text languages in both applications and accepted journals, but a few other oriental languages exist among the rejected applications. 

fig4

Fig. 4: Languages of  NAME Journals

Journal subjects

Journal subject classes are usually the same as the topics suggested as keywords in the applications:

  • 34 journals were classified in medicine,
  • 23 in education,
  • 16 in Islam and
  • 13 in science.

The results for NAME journals broken down by keywords have the same order. In DOAJ, social sciences took the second place in subject classes (604 titles), after medicine (786), and before both education (556) and education (general) (552). 

Journal Licensing 

The DOAJ requires that journals allow reuse and remixing of content in accordance with a Creative Commons license or other types of license with similar conditions. 

License CC BY CC BY-NC CC BY-SA CC BY- NC-SA CC BY-NC-ND CC BY-ND
Journals 113 61 45 36 22 1
Table 4: Licenses of the Journals

The CC BY license is the least restrictive, it allows distribution, remixing, adaptation, even commercially, and provided that the work is clearly attributed to the original author and source. This offers a maximum diffusion and use of licensed Journals. CC BY is the most used license in the NAME group journals:

  1. CC BY – 41%
  2. CC BY-NC – 22%
  3. CC BY-SA – 16%
  4. CC BY-NC-SA  – 13%
  5. CC BY-NC-ND – 8%

If we look at all the journal licenses in the DOAJ, we notice the dominating use of CC BY license and the low use of CC BY-ND, but the order is almost reversed for the rest. Some 385 journals are using their publishers’ own licenses. 

Many journal applications were rejected by our group editors because of ignorance or misuse of licenses. There is a lack of awareness about Creative Commons licenses. Some journals mention more than one license on their website because they misunderstand the difference, and many others confuse the licenses withholding copyright and retaining publishing rights without restrictions by authors (Questions 52 and 54).

Journals per year

fig5

Fig. 5: Number of Journals/ Year

The earliest date of an application received by the NAME group is 19/5/2015 but a bulk transfer of applications started in November 2016. My own records as  DOAJ Editor show that the earliest application I assessed was from April 2014 and the “last updated” date is not found for about 12 journals.

Generally, DOAJ has been accepting journals gradually in the first decade from 2003 to 2012. DOAJ decided in 2013 to expand its criteria. In 2014 the number of journals in the database went down because all journals were made to reapply under the new criteria. Some journals were removed after they failed to reapply in time or did not meet the new requirements.

In 2016 and 2017, the number of journals increased dramatically as many journals were accepted after reapplication and many others joined after awareness campaigns were organised. Furthermore, twelve DOAJ ambassadors were appointed in different regions of the world.  From 2018 on, journals have been added steadily at a reasonable rate and many regions and languages are reaching interesting levels in the DOAJ database.    

APCs, the DOAJ Seal, and Peer review   

After the update about Article Processing Charges (APC) in April 2016, journals were urged to provide the information about it. Around one quarter of the total journals in DOAJ ask for an APC and the same percentage is reflected in the NAME journals (70 journals). 

The DOAJ Seal is a qualification given to journals having best practices to answer requirements “related to accessibility, openness, discoverability, reuse and author rights. Only two journals in the NAME group have been accredited with the DOAJ Seal: PSU research review (2018, UK) and Arab journal of nutrition and exercise (2018, UAE). This is very little compared to the total journals in DOAJ: 1381 journals have the Seal; 13157 journals do not.

When it comes to editorial review/peer review, DOAJ checks if journals have editorial boards and which type of review is done. The database shows:

  • Double-blind peer review (7382);
  • Blind peer review (4015);
  • Peer review (2593);
  • Editorial review (136); and
  • Open peer review (132).

On the other hand, the numbers for the types of peer review of journals from the NAME group are:

  • Double-blind peer review (119);
  • Peer review (65);
  • Blind peer review (43);
  • Editorial review (1).

In both cases, journals tend to favour the use of double-blind peer review, but they differ in other choices.

Conclusion

As we have no access to other groups’ details on their applications and rejections and because features of applications and accepted journals are not the same, comparisons and analysis could not be exhaustively made. However, we have managed to come out with certain conclusions that may help editors and managers to bring necessary changes to the process to assure best practices in terms of applications, assessments and use of the DOAJ database, especially concerning Arab and African journals.

Although many Arab journals are online, participation in the DOAJ is very little, and African journals tend to adhere to other databases. Rejection of applications from Arab countries is quite high and that is due to a reluctance towards OA, ignorance of the main features of Gold OA, and lack of appliance to principles of transparency and best practice for scholarly publications. Efforts need to be made to encourage publishing in Arabic and national languages, to assist publishers to meet requirements of peer-reviewing, publication ethics, copyright and licensing.

Raising awareness of Open Access is still needed among academia, journal publishers, and decision-makers in Africa and the Middle-East.

COVID-19: turnaround times may be affected

As with most organisations, COVID-19 is having an effect on DOAJ. Although we are an organisation without physical offices (virtual, already remote-working and Cloud-based), our team members and volunteers are all affected in real ways.

This means that we may take longer than usual to process applications. Many applications are processed in under 3 months but this may increase over the coming weeks. We ask you to be patient.

If you are a publisher waiting to hear from us about an application, the standard rules still apply:

  • do not email for a status update if you submitted your application less than 3 months ago.
  • before you contact us, check that emails from us aren’t in your spam folder. (Remember that our volunteers will email from their own email addresses and not DOAJ ones.)
  • always contact us using the Contact Us form and include the journal title and ISSN(s).

On behalf of everyone at DOAJ and all our volunteers, I’d like to thank you for your understanding but, more importantly, take great care of yourselves in these times of uncertainty.

Dom Mitchell
DOAJ Operations Manager

WANTED Portuguese and Spanish speakers: a call for volunteer DOAJ Associate Editors

DOAJ has a network of 130 skilled, voluntary Associate Editors and Editors who spend a few hours a week processing new journal applications for us. Would you like to join us? We are now recruiting volunteers who understand Portuguese and Spanish (You do not have to be a native speaker.) You must also be proficient in written and spoken English. 

As a DOAJ Associate Editor, you will be expected to do a few hours of voluntary, unpaid work a week. You will be provided with training materials to help you carry out your duties. The work you do will directly contribute to the quality, reputation, and prominence of open access, scholarly publishing around the globe. 

If you are interested, please complete this form. 

Requirements of the Role Your role as DOAJ Associate Editor will be guided and supervised by an Editor and a Managing Editor. 

Successful candidates will: 

  • have good knowledge about Open Access (OA); 
  • be passionate about OA; 
  • have good knowledge about OA developments in scholarly publishing; 
  • have a working understanding of OA publishing practices. 

In your work you must: 

  • be confident working online and have stable access to the internet; 
  • support and promote DOAJ and its goals, and be a DOAJ advocate; 
  • maintain confidentiality around information you have access to in the DOAJ database and shared Google Drive, particularly applications you review; 
  • assist in evaluating journals suggested to DOAJ in your specialist language; 
  • adhere to the recommendations around keeping personal data secure and confidential, as laid out by the DOAJ privacy policy

Applications are open to anyone with the requested language skills but please note that if you are associated with a journal in DOAJ, you may not be selected due to a conflict of interest. 

Thank you for considering volunteering for DOAJ!

Myth-busting: DOAJ takes too long to reach a decision

This is a myth.

From about 2012 until 2017, DOAJ was struggling to keep on top of the amount of applications being received.

Implementing new acceptance criteria and making 9900+ journals reapply exacerbated the problem and suddenly we had many reapplications and new applications coming in at the same time.

Triage
All applications go through an initial review to filter out incomplete or substandard applications. We call this process Triage. (From March 2015 to November 2017, Triage rejected 3112 sub-quality, incomplete or duplicate applications.)  Today, the average turnaround on an application from submission to initial review is a few days at the most.

From submission to decision
To improve the time taken to review an application and reach a decision to accept or reject, a revised and improved editorial workflow was implemented. You can read a full explanation on each of the 7 points in our progress report for 2018. The effects of those changes, which we have been monitoring carefully since 2018, are significant. 

Today we have no outstanding applications that were submitted in 2018, and only a small number dating from the first quarter of 2019 remain to be completed. We aim to reach a decision on all applications submitted within 6 months (and are still working hard to reduce that time too) although many are now completed in 3 months or less.

Even so, why does reviewing an application take time?
There are over 50 questions in our application form. Much of the work involved in reviewing an application is correspondence with the applicant and manually checking each answer. Each answer is checked for 3 things: that the answer in the form is correct; that the URL provided contains the information required in the question; that the information on the site is complete and correct.

Incommunicado
A contributing factor to the myth that DOAJ takes too long to reach a decision is the perception that DOAJ never responds. In the past, we did reject some applications without contacting the publisher about this. Since 2018, we have sent emails out for all rejected applications.

One of the most common reasons that an application is rejected is because we do not hear back from the applicant. There can be technical issues at play here: we suspect that sometimes our system-generated alerts, informing the applicant of the progress of their application, don’t reach their recipient. This is often due to particularly sensitive institutional firewalls, messages ending up in Spam folders, or email addresses no longer being valid. But it is also true that long delays in responding to DOAJ’s queries, or in making requested changes, can mean that an application is rejected.

Why do we ask applicants to wait 6 months before they apply again?

When we reject an application, the rejection email contains details about why the application was not successful and usually tells applicants that they must wait 6 months before submitting another application for the same journal to us. Why do we do this?

One reason is that it is an attempt to discourage repeat applications, made in haste, and we get many, many of those. Repeat and duplicate applications clog up the system and take our dedicated volunteers and team away from those applications which need some time spent on them. (In 10 months alone, DOAJ received 221 duplicate applications!)

The other reason is that many of the recommendations that we make in our rejection emails, recommendations made to help journals meet our criteria, take time to implement. Adding words to a website isn’t enough. Changes need to be implemented properly, communicated to stakeholders, tested, and managed. Some changes will require other parties to implement changes too. This all takes time. After the 6 months has passed, we welcome a new application but we ask that the journal website demonstrates very clearly that our recommendations have been put into practice and our editorial team will be very careful to check that all our recommendations have been implemented.