Conversations on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in scholarly publishing vary between the Global North and the Global South. While race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability often dominate DEI discourses in the North, for example, the South spends time on gender equality and early career researchers, skipping other issues as not relevant or uncomfortable. But when we see the scholarly publishing of the world as a single system — by looking beyond our individual countries or regions — ensuring sufficient geographical representation becomes a crucial DEI challenge.

While focusing on authorship, many publishers expressed their commitment to geographical inclusion by making their diversity and inclusion policies public, while some launched new open access (OA) journals to support a specific region. Offering discounts and waivers on article processing charges (APCs) is probably the most widely-practiced geographical inclusion policy adopted by many large and smaller publishers, as well as OA megajournals.

By analyzing the editorial boards of 525 journals, the authors of a recent Learned Publishing article showed that the editors in chief often choose board members from their own geographical regions. This is, however, not true for the newly launched PLOS Climate, which has 99 strong editorial board members representing 38 countries from all major regions. Editorial boards of established journals are increasingly becoming diverse, as seen in different disciplines (e.g., biological sciences, chemistry, agriculture, and scholarly publishing).

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As a part of DEI conversations, scholarly publishing events organized by the North often discuss the Global South, how research data defines development there, and how to create a level playing field for the South in an increasing OA world, for example. Over the last 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented rise of virtual events, positively affecting geographical inclusion. Many from the South could join these sessions — as long as their society membership and registration fees permitted — which were not possible in pre-COVID-19 times due to high travel costs. In addition to such events, the Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC) and the DEI committees of publishing societies (e.g., the Society for Scholarly Publishing) are also playing an important role by keeping the DEI conversation going, spreading best practices, and making a positive impact on the stakeholders through sensitization and advocacy.

The above examples show how the Global North (which is currently leading the scholarly publishing industry) is creating an enabling environment so that the South (which presently is lagging behind in academic publishing) could be a more effective part of the global scholarly system. In almost all cases, the inclusion is achieved by attracting individuals from the South, as authors or editorial board members of the Northern journals, as members of societies’ committees, or as presenters or panelists at global conferences or webinars. But this is not the whole picture of geographical inclusion. I see three other dimensions within it.

First, to achieve the geographical inclusion outlined above, publishers and societies are investing in their DEI strategies, undertaking DEI promotion projects, allocating funds and human resources (e.g., Elsevier supporting Research4Life), and sacrificing profits (e.g., by waiving APCs), for example. But how do such investments reach beyond the participating individuals from the South? Are these individuals translating their acquired skills, experiences, and exposures in their home countries? Are they making any impact there? How do we determine if such impacts are being made?

Let me share a story from my country. I have seen the scholarly leadership of Bangladesh, who have extensive exposure to global scholarly communication, publicly encourage young Bangladeshi researchers to publish ‘only’ in ‘international’ journals. In recent years, this notion has gained strength, since the global university ranking systems consider only those journals indexed by internationally reputed agencies, like Scopus. Although many of these senior Bangladeshi scientists also strongly criticize Bangladeshi journals for their low editorial standards, they have made no effort to raise the standards of these ‘national’ journals to internationally accepted levels. The BanglaJOL, a platform now hosting 154 Bangladeshi journals, represents a disappointing case in this regard. The Bangladesh Academy of Sciences (BAS) — a prestigious organization currently having about 70 eminent scientists as fellows — has been managing the BanglaJOL since 2014. In 2017, the Oxford-based charity INASP, the founder of the BanglaJOL, developed the ‘Journal Publishing Practices and Standards’ (JPPS) to rank Southern journals according to their quality. But, BAS’s own 45-year-old journal has yet to achieve the minimum level of the JPPS, let along supporting the quality improvement of 150 odd journals on the platform. Global exposure motivates Bangladesh’s research leadership to embrace ‘international’ journals, while the country’s academic publishing continues to fall behind.

Scholarly publishers, and concerned societies, networks, and consortia promoting geographical inclusion, therefore, need to look into whether their efforts are positively affecting the Southern scholarly publishing system. Northern journals, for example, need to trace if the Southern scholars who serve on their editorial boards are acting as ‘champions’ by improving the quality of editorial processes of their respective countries’ journals and contributing positively to transforming the whole publishing ecosystem.

Second, besides being a business opportunity or potential client, the South has also been attracting the North from a DEI point of view. Making journal readership inclusive, for example, has long been a challenge, which still continues since majority of the academic journals are still subscription-based or hybrid (offering both subscription and OA options). Established in 2002, Research4Life still remains relevant, effective, and impactful to the hundreds and thousands of Southern researchers by giving them access to 132,000 journals — as a user review revealed earlier this year.

When INASP was established in 1992 by a global consortium, with the full name ‘International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications’, it focused on meeting the demands of the Global South for availability and accessibility of published research. Six years later, it started focusing on increasing the visibility of Southern journals through the Journals Online (JOLs) initiative — a different type of inclusion making the Southern research part of global knowledge. Its AuthorAID Network has been building the capacity of Southern researchers since 2007, through e-resources, mentorship, MOOCs, and online journal clubs. [Disclosure: I have been associated with INASP since 2008 through its BanglaJOL and AuthorAID, and since 2020 as an Associate]. Since 2020, INASP has more strongly been working towards an equitable knowledge ecosystem, with its partners in the South and the North taking ‘influencing’ and ‘gender and diversity’ as two of its core approaches. In July 2021, INASP’s Board of Trustees shifted to the South by appointing a new chair and three new members from the Global South. On 27 August, the organization declared it would make itself more Southern-led by implementing an organizational restructuring over the next few months. These developments show how the concept of geographical inclusion has evolved within an organization working with the Global South’s scholarly system for the last 30 years, long before DEI became a well-recognized concept.

For the third dimension in geographical inclusion, we need to look into South-South cooperation. The simplest area of such collaboration is capacity development, where experts from one Southern country voluntarily support the scholarly communications initiatives of another country. Given the North’s dominance in scholarly publishing, sometimes there is a need to contextualize certain scholarly practices for the South. Earlier this year, four African organizations organized a series of peer-review workshops with African researchers to explore the opportunities for open, equitable, and inclusive practices in research evaluation reflecting the African context. Southern journals publishing Southern articles from beyond the publisher’s country is another example of South-South cooperation. For instance, about 64 percent of the articles Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy (BJPT) published in the last five years were by non-Bangladeshi authors, mostly from the Global South. Since the Government of Bangladesh fully funds the publication of the JCR-indexed BJPT, it is therefore a remarkable example of how public funding by a Southern country is helping other Southern researchers in communicating their research for free. Such aspect of geographical inclusion is overlooked in the DEI discussions.

Geographical inclusion in scholarly publishing shouldn’t only mean how the Global North is bringing the Global South closer. It should also mean how the best practices from the North are contextualized in the South to improve its publishing system, how the South is changing the North, and how the Southern countries are helping each other. Without appreciating these aspects, true ‘inclusion’ won’t be realized in scholarly publishing.

Haseeb Irfanullah

Haseeb Irfanullah

Haseeb Irfanullah is a biologist-turned-development practitioner, and often introduces himself as a research enthusiast. Over the last two decades, Haseeb has worked for different international development organizations, academic institutions, donors, and the Government of Bangladesh in different capacities. Currently, he is an independent consultant on environment, climate change, and research systems.

Discussion

11 Thoughts on "The North is Drawing the South Closer, But, This is Not the Whole Picture of Geographical Inclusion"

Thank you for this post, Haseeb, and for the actionable steps you propose. In thinking about how to make DEI efforts globally relevant, I know that I and others have struggled to come up with good solutions and frameworks. Thank you for this helpful context and for the work you and INASP are doing.

Thank you for your comment, Jocelyn. It is indeed a challenge to reduce the gap between the North and the South, be it from an economic point of view or that of scholarly communication, all are so much connected. But, understanding all aspects of the current situation as “dots” and connecting those dots is a crucial starting point. Our individual/organizational efforts need to be widely communicated so that frameworks could be developed and used.

This is a wonderful read Haseeb. Geographical inclusion has been ongoing for a while now, and one I could remember outside scholarly publication is the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP), where Africans in Diaspora are supported to travel to Africa to develop scholars. And I agree that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an unprecedented rise to this, via numerous virtual events. In addition, the pandemic also showed that the world does not have many boundaries as we had thought. All it needed is a pathogen to break that boundary. My question is, is scholarly publishing the pathogen that will help bridge the gap between the Global North and the Global South? I kind of agree as the scholarly publication has been the most impactful. We just have to find more innovative ways like INASP and Research4Life to conjugate this marriage.

Thanks Felix, for your interesting insight and sharing an exciting initiative like CADFP. Back in 2004, a web-based network was born bringing together biotechnologists with origin from Bangladesh. It is called GNOBB (Global Network of Bangladeshi Biotechnologists, https://gnobb.org/). They organize amazing events. I also took part in one in Bangladesh before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innovation indeed is a key to reduce the gaps between the North and the South. We need to showcase the organizations working towards this.

“…since the global university ranking systems consider only those journals indexed by internationally reputed agencies, like Scopus.”

I’m on the Editorial Advisory Board for the Asian Journal of Distance Education, so I know this is also a criterion required by Wikipedia editors to fulfill the “notability” requirement for there to be an article there on a particular scholarly journal. Given the cost associated with that, it’s a burden for full participation from otherwise legitimate South-based journals like ours.

Thank you Steve. The challenge you mentioned is faced by many journals from all around the world, the North and the South alike. I also believe disciplines we belong to also influence our journals’ inclusion by certain indexing agencies. Selection/inclusion criteria also sometimes not clear to the journal editoral offices in the South, thus we saw some journals were indexed by some reputed ones, but not by the others.

Thanks Haseeb for this insightful post. I think that you overlook a very important point in this issue: Do researchers and organizations from the GS want the change to happen ? I , and you I guess, live in a GS country and both know the weight of the organization in charge of the research landscape which does impede any effort by people who want to progress and not simply ( knowingly) pile up ” publications ” in suspicious outlets ? In Algeria where I live and work, higher education is in shambles: plagiarism is encouraged to the point where a country of Algeria’s size does not have – in a centralized system- an anti plagiarism system ? Of course when most those who have “risen” have done it by simply plagiarizing. I personally fought with many ministers of higher education for the acquisition of the tool but no one accepted!!! The issue is not APCs waiver, putting GS researchers in editorial boards, etc… it is a problem of system that is dominated by people who do not want real science to emerge because they have become “ something ” by breaking the rules. Let me just give you an example: The Algerian Scientific Journal Platform (https://www.asjp.cerist.dz/ ) is a diamond open access platform funded by The Ministry Of Higher Education and instead of showcasing Algerian scientific output , it has become a tool exclusively put to have “publications” needed to be promoted. Check it out and browse it and you will see what I mean. Last and speaking of the ‘Journal Publishing Practices and Standards’ (JPPS),let me give you a link to the PPT of the talk I gave at The 2019 Munin Conference in Tromsø ( Norway) https://septentrio.uit.no/index.php/SCS/article/view/4928/4907. You could also see the video at the following link https://mediasite.uit.no/Mediasite/Play/e5f1503280464f7ba69a94eb832990a81d?playFrom=1973000.

Thank you Samir, for your comments. As you also pointed out in your JPPS presentation, plagiarism is indeed a big concern. In some universities in my country are now using tools like Turnitin, especially for checking plagiarism in students’ assignments, but haven’t heard any journals of my country using it.

I fully agree with you if the South wants real change or be included. I also saw a tendency of some countries creating silos on their own by reading global literature, but publishing locally, without making any effort to improve these journals’ standard. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2019/03/25/guest-post-what-does-bangladesh-tell-us-about-research-communication/

Thanks for raising this topic and providing many important details and ideas! Nevertheless, I have a feeling that this dichotomy is becoming dated and could be scrapped in favor of a more nuanced – and diverse – view. Like, currently the biggest country in terms of scholarly output is China, which is hardly g-south or g-north. The fastest-growing publisher is Chinese MDPI, which, I’m afraid, could be considered “industry leading”.

Here in Russia we are kinda north, but look at one of the main blights associated with “global south” – the share of papers in potentially predatory journals (see for example our paper in Scientometrics https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-021-03899-x) and the picture gets more complicated. Then, look a the current WoS\Scopus conference papers bubble: the two most affected countries are Russia and Indonesia.

Yet you use this rigid GN-GS classification extensively as something static. This seems to me more of an ideological, than academic approach, and possibly even strengthening the status quo.

This in no way means that the problems you mention are not vital for the global academic system. They are crucial and the countries are affected very disproportionally. Just asking for more diversity 🙂

Also, the point raised by Samir Hachani seems very important.

Thanks Ivan. We had an internal debate here about the terms “Global North/South”. If any of our readers has a better set of terms that they’d suggest, we would appreciate it!

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