Africa is coming online

While African research universities often have better commercial journal database access than their counterparts in the West, what of public access to African-focused research? Great to hear an African voice on this, as Africa starts to buckle up for growth and international access. Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr. of Nigeria says that there is an…

“overwhelming call for the accessibility of African research [about Africa, but that this] has stretched traditional archiving methods.”

With a substantial increase in population and wealth now happening on the continent, he asks if there is now an opportunity…

“for archiving and digitising African-focused research [in order to] make African research accessible on a global scale.”

Let’s hope so. Although the author also suggests a commercial option, seemingly more in terms of access to contemporary and commercial data…

“monetising the whole process through a subscription model for online hosting of knowledge resources – books, research papers, journals, dissertations, and reports to investors, product and policy developers. [With African researchers getting] “a revenue share for each download”.

That might work for useful locally-created data — one might get the article or substantial data summary for free, anywhere in the world. But if you’re outside Africa then you’d buy the data download direct from the researcher, and in affluent nations your university would require you do that as part of your ethics code as a researcher. Though I’m not sure a commercial pay-per-download model would be useful for things like folklore, the arts, oral history and natural history, which might be better funded by a big pan-African consortium of nations, philanthropists and donors. And thus kept freely available.

Added to JURN

Open Scholarship Initiative Proceedings (seems to be taking a journal-like form, with Vol. 1 now available)


The Inaugural Conference of the Open Scholarship Initative (above) seems to have missed the opportunity to establish a strand on ‘public search and discovery of OA’. But the paper “Information Overload & Underload” is the closest — a usefully concise overview of search, clearly given in broad brush strokes, and I’d suggest that it’s a primer that could be usefully passed on to an eager undergraduate or two.

In passing, this paper usefully highlights the potential to produce many more “The Year’s Work in X” survey articles…

…efforts that compile and promote the best publications over a specified period, whether selected by an expert jury or on the basis of post-publication use and citation metrics, alert investigators to impactful work in venues they might otherwise have overlooked.

Indeed, one could imagine a set of annual OA journals in the humanities, devoted only to such scholarly survey articles. Each long article would authoritatively survey the year’s work in one facet of a well-defined field of study. Such a journal might be preferable to the easier and more humdrum option of pushing out a bare hyperlinked ‘overlay journal + editor’s intro’, although it would be vastly more work. Nevertheless, I guess that some retired academics might welcome the opportunity to support their field in such a substantial manner, and memorial bequests might then support the ongoing financing of such time-consuming journals. Writing one 30,000-word annual survey essay for a friendly collegiate OA journal might be a more rewarding and public activity for many retirees, compared to continuing to grind out ten unpublished solo peer reviews of unpublishable papers for commercial journals.

A few such journals already exist deep within the subscription system, though in literary/historical studies the articles tend to be shorter and broader than I’d like, while focussing only on what can be found via an academic library’s discovery database (omitting grey literature, fannish works, independent scholars, items in small print-only society journals, OA items etc). Anyway I’ve never found one that’s ongoing and published in Open Access. If a wealthy philanthropist or foundation wanted to make a sustained splash, they might do worse than to set up a string of six such OA journals in their favoured field. Plus a trust to fund the retired academics who would run the journals, with a remit that they should prefer quality and deep scholarship while raising a sceptical eyebrow at fashionable easily-gamed metrics and superficial claims of ‘impact’.

Personally I would love to see, for instance, an annual OA journal of long survey essays titled The Year’s Work on Weird and Supernatural Fiction, with a table of contents that might include long surveys such as “The Year’s Work on H. P. Lovecraft and his circle” etc. Admitted there would be a high cost in simply acquiring the material for such an essay, if one wished to read everything — including the relevant essays locked away in expensive $80 academic anthologies or in collectable small-press titles (for the latter, miss the initial launch window and ooops… the vital book is then out-of-print and only available for $120+ on the collectables market). Alternatively, and far more cheaply, the journal might only survey content that’s freely and publicly available in OA.

Embargo Watch

The increasingly excellent Retraction Watch now has a spin-off, Embargo Watch. At present Embargo Watch seems to be mostly about tracking naughty media organisations which prematurely break embargoes on the reporting of new scientific papers.

There’s also a recent mention of press officers who refuse to write up new papers that have no embargo. I guess maybe the officers rightly think that any daily editor they send the story to will frown and say: “Old news. It was covered yesterday, elsewhere. Next story…”. Hence their work will have been wasted.

I don’t see Embargo Watch doing any tracking of advocacy groups — groups that use a press release about embargoed science to spin their alarmist news agenda across the media and blogosphere, days or even weeks weeks before the paper’s release, while avoiding awkward scrutiny of the actual paper. That sort of coverage in Embargo Watch, and perhaps even before/after comparisons, would also be welcome.

Retraction Watch’s Weekend Reads

Over the last month or so Retraction Watch’s Weekend Reads has become a must-read weekly newsletter. Not just the usual slate of links to stonkingly huge retractions but also tales of academic embezzlement, an article in The Economist on the systemic problems in Chinese science and academic publishing, ghost-management of the entire process of bringing a drug to market, news of quiet Elsevier acquisitions, and how Northwestern Polytechnic University in Silicon Valley became a corrupt test-faking visa-factory. That’s just a small sample from this week’s edition. There’s also optimism-inducing stuff, like this week’s news of Google’s new ‘Science Journal’ phone app which turns your phone into a citizen-science research lab.

DOAJ results are back in JURN

The DOAJ TOCs and article pages are once again appearing in JURN’s search results. The DOAJ’s Google presence is still not quite fully ‘clean’ of its many “An error has occurred” pages, but my tests indicate that Google’s current level of re-indexing has removed about 80% of them. The DOAJ had been temporarily removed from JURN in mid May, due to its many “An error has occurred” pages — resulting from the DOAJ’s mass removal of 3,300 journals.

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