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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

South African gold

Eve Gray, The State of the Nation 3: Journal publishing in South Africa - the green or gold route in the country of gold? Gray Area, March 19, 2007.

Quite a spat has broken out in open Access circles about whether it would be better to take the 'green route' to open access mandating open repositories, or more effective to go for the 'gold route' of developing open access journals....

The debate made me step back and rethink my approach....The 'green' route seems to have become the accepted orthodoxy as was evidenced n the Bangalore workshop late last year, which produced the Bangalore Open Access Policy for Developing Nations. This makes sense, as it is quick and easy way of providing access to scholarship published in international journals that is otherwise often inaccessible in its country of origin. This means a win-win for the universities that push for publication in accredited journals for the sake of personal and institutional prestige. I have noted that there is also a considerable emphasis among the funding agencies on the need for repositories as the first and best way of providing access to developing country research.

However...when it comes to the very particular case of Africa, should we not make the growth of open access journals our first priority? In a perverse way, Africa's potential to leap the technology divide and adopt more radical transformational of scholarly dissemination could be helped by its very low profile in the existing publishing systems....This is due to the fact that Africa has a very limited investment in the traditional print-based scholarly publication system and this frees policy-makers to engage with new trends in ways that their more privileged counterparts min the North may be constrained from doing.

The recent lobbying efforts of the large journal publishers against open access policy initiatives in the USA, UK and Europe are evidence of the conservative power of entrenched commercial interests....The vested interests that are at stake are substantial....As a result, the conventional wisdom in open access circles seems to be that the most reliable way to create access to research knowledge, in the first instance, is to mandate deposit in open access repositories....

I would suggest that this is not necessarily the case in Africa...

As an ex-university press publisher, I am only too aware of the resistance of USA and UK libraries to taking publications from African publishers. This leads me to wonder if the creation of repositories alone is going to be enough to drive greater recognition of African scholarship. The HSRC Press, with its open access monograph publication programme, has demonstrated the importance of aggressive marketing to get local and international attention. In other words, publishing activities are needed....

The [South African] Academy of Science Report endorses open access journal publication (Recommendation no. 6) as the way forward and the Department of Science and Technology appears to endorse this recommendation....

Bearing in mind that South Africa has only 23 journals listed in the ISI indexes(most African countries have none and Kenya and Ethiopia have one each), it becomes clear that the African continent as a whole is hardly at all invested in the global scholarly publishing system....Africa has real potential to leapfrog technological gaps using the 'gold' route in fact this might be an imperative rather than an option....

[O]ne also needs to bear in mind the scale of things one is talking about. If South Africa were to adopt a policy to deposit pre-or post-prints of all journal articles published in foreign journals in the ISI indexes, this would represent, at current publication rates, around 3,500 articles a year - hardly an insurmountable task. So perhaps we could be greedy and go for both the green and gold routes for journal articles.

PS:  This is Part 3 of Eve's analysis of the state of research dissemination in South Africa.  Also see Parts 1 and 2.