Diversity Data Reveals Academic Journal Biases

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This article was supported by The Elsevier Foundation.

Dora Tchiasso was filled with pride and doubt. Obtaining a Masters in Public Health from the Catholic University of Central Africa in Cameroon was a particular achievement.

His research was original and independent, and Tchiasso’s supervisor suggested that he submit the thesis for publication in an academic journal. She was excited by the suggestion. As a young student and researcher at the start of her career, Tchiasso felt that this was recognition of her talents as a scientist and innovator.

But his excitement quickly darkened.

“I had never written an article before and I had no confidence in myself. It was too difficult without more experience,” she says. SciDev.Net.

Although she overcame her writing insecurities, Tchiasso says she would not have been able to submit her article: the fees required to publish in a journal that could launch her budding career were too high.

“If it’s a good journal and they publish quality articles, it’s too expensive. I couldn’t afford it,” she says.

Capacity Building

The story of Tchiasso is familiar to many researchers in the South. Less equipped than their northern counterparts to communicate in the mainstream style of academia, to pay high publication fees or to sit on editorial boards, they are often left behind.

But this trend may be changing. New publishing organization strategies aim to enhance the capacity and contributions of more researchers. Conducted alongside equity efforts by the publishing industry itself, the goal is to ensure that more knowledge and innovation is shared around the world.

“There is no shortage of innovation from the South,” says Gracian Chimwaza, executive director of the Information, Training and Outreach Center for Africa (ITOCA), a nonprofit capacity-building organization. “What we need is to allow researchers to access what has been published in their field and to add their own innovations to the international standards of their specialization.”

On average, countries in the Global North – those that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or are classified as high-income economies by the World Bank – have produced more than 35,000 scientific journal articles and techniques by country in 2018, according to research published in Scientometrics.

Countries in the Global South – those classified as upper middle income, lower middle income and low income – produced an average of 9,700. There is also a disparity in the number of researchers in these two regions: Scientometrics A study found 4,351 researchers per million people in the North in 2017, and just 713 in the South.

A first step to overcoming this global publishing imbalance could be to improve capacity building for young researchers, says Yap Boum, Africa representative at Epicenter, the research arm of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

In 2021, Boum participated in a scientific writing training program in Cameroon which aimed to strengthen the academic writing skills of those involved in the country’s response to COVID-19. The program was supported by Epicenter and the Elsevier Foundation.

“One of the first challenges we identified was that scientists had no training in how to write,” says Boum. “They were able to do research and write a thesis, but they lacked the skills to develop a methodology and write a manuscript.”

Tchiasso, one of the 45 participants in the program, also recognized this problem. “You really need to understand the standards for writing a paper before submitting it and know what’s required for the journal you want to publish with,” she says.

After completing the program, Tchiasso says she is ready to submit her first article. For Boom, this is a testament to the program’s impact.

He hopes to expand the course to involve other African countries and link it to university curricula. “If we don’t develop this ability to write, our voices won’t be heard,” he says. “But first we need to know how to make our voices heard.”

Pay to post

With the growth of open access publishing – where articles are available online at no cost to the reader – there has been an increase in journals charging article publication fees (APCs). These are one-time fees paid by authors of academic papers to cover publication costs, including editing, peer review and archiving.

APCs are used by open access journals in lieu of subscription fees paid by libraries and readers. For researchers from developing countries, these fees may be exclusive.

“Most of the journals considered the best in the world are located in the North, and their APCs are exorbitant,” says Camila Matos, a professor in the Department of Health Sciences at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Brazil.

With costs close to the equivalent of a year’s salary for the average Brazilian, she says “these costs are inaccessible to us”. Review fees range from $800 to over $11,000.

Donations in the article Announcement 1 2022

While many journals grant APC waivers to researchers from the Global South, waiver policies may be unclear or hampered by a lack of knowledge of these policies and a lack of consistency in their application.

A possible solution could be for publishers charging APCs to automatically waive fees for researchers from the Global South. This was suggested in a 2020 white paper which emerged from a discussion between academic publishers and the publication coordinator of Research4Life, a non-profit organization that supports access to academic content for researchers in low- and middle-income countries. *

Supported by over 200 publishers, international bodies such as the World Health Organization and Yale and Cornell Universities, and in partnership with the Elsevier Foundation, Research4Life provides free or low-cost online access to over 194,000 leading journals and books in the fields of health. , agriculture, environment, applied sciences and legal information.*

“We want to make sure that researchers in the South have access to up-to-date literature and are allowed to publish their own work,” said Chimwaza, the new chair of Research4Life’s executive board.

“Access is key, but we also need to make sure researchers know how to take advantage of and use Research4Life.”

The organization has created a best practice guide to PCA Waivers. “We view Research4Life as a collaborative effort to work with researchers, policymakers, and publishers to ensure inclusiveness in the future,” says Chimwaza.

Collective diversity

But improving inclusiveness will require buy-in from publishers, say academics. Helping to drive is the shared commitment to action on inclusion and diversity in publishing, led by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Launched in 2020, it is a collective of 52 publishing organizations, representing over 15,000 journals, who recognize industry biases and agree on minimum standards for inclusion and diversity.

Recognizing the need to assess the diversity status of the group, it endorsed a set of questions for self-reported data on gender identity, race and ethnicity.

“One of the main goals was to make the task less daunting if done as a collective,” says Holly Falk-Krzesinski, chair of the joint subgroup on engagement issues and co-chair of the group. Elsevier’s work on gender equality.

“We can then leverage the data to set goals about where we want to be in terms of diversity, in terms of the boards and pool of reviewers we leverage. And to track this information to understand if there are biases of any kind in the editorial review process.

The goal is to share data on journal homepages, so anyone considering the journal can see its diversity trends and use it to influence their decision to submit.

The data will also provide a starting point for publishers and editorial boards to help determine successes and gaps in achieving equity goals.

“It’s exciting to think that we can support data-driven diversity and inclusiveness efforts in a way that is meaningful and powerful, and in which we can earn the trust and support of the researchers we want to work with.” , says Falk-Krzesinski.

This piece was produced by the SciDev.Net Global Office.

This article was supported by the Elsevier Foundation, part of the corporate responsibility program of global publishing body Elsevier, and focuses on sustainability in gender, health, climate and reduction. some inequalities.

*This article was corrected on June 27 to show that Research4Life was not the author of the white paper on automatic APC waiver, and to clarify that Research4Life is supported by publishers and universities as well as organizations international.

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