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.