An African Open Science Platform initiative – Invitation to a series of webinars on "Incentives for sharing research data" 25, 26 and 27 October 2017 (Open Access Week)

Invitation to a series of webinars on “Incentives for sharing research data” – An African Open Science Platform initiative 

The Open Science movement – focused on making research data, software code and experimental methods publicly available and transparent – is steadily gaining momentum. According to Gewin (2016), “[A]a spirit of openness is gaining traction in the science community, and is the only way, say advocates, to address a ‘crisis’ in science whereby too few findings are successfully reproduced. Furthermore, they say, it is the best way for researchers to gather the range of observations that are necessary to speed up discoveries or to identify large-scale trends.” 

Although many researchers are already sharing their raw data and data sets, there are researchers who still question why they should share their data, and what benefits are in it for them. In other words, how will they be incentivized, when others use the outputs of their hard work. These issues also apply on national and institutional levels.  What do research institutions have to gain by embracing Open Science?  Will the associated data expertise and opportunities for collaboration outweigh the perceived loss of intellectual capital that, if closed, can be exploited ahead of rivals?  Similarly, on the national level: is there a strong incentive for poorer nations not to be left behind as science is transformed by the digital revolution?  Or will open data and open science merely lead to data assets in the ‘South’ being more quickly exploited by better resourced researchers in the ‘North’? Very few countries and institutions have policies in place regarding the management (incl. curation) and sharing of data as an outcome of funded research projects.

The above just some of the issues the African Open Science Platform would like to address during this series of webinars, to be presented during International Open Access Week 2017

Presenters 

We are very excited to bring you 3 experts on this topic, to share their perspectives.

Registration (free)

If you are interested in attending any one/all of the webinars, please complete the registration form by 20 October 2017. The webinars are presented free of charge. Once you have registered, we will provide you with the login details and further instructions. 

We are looking very much forward welcoming you to the above!

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) influencing the direction of open science in SA

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) represents South Africa in the international community of science academies, and part of its mission is to proactively and reactively embark on a programme of systematic studies of evidence-based issues of national importance. As a signatory to the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, together with other organisations worldwide, it aims to – among others – find ways and solutions to further support the development of policy frameworks in order to facilitate optimal use and access to publicly funded research, of interest to the SA community in general. ASSAf will further be partnering with the SA Dept. of Science and Technology in starting the dialogue on an Open Science Policy Framework, with the first of a series of workshops diarised for 12 and 13 December 2016. 

The Scholarly Publishing Unit (SPU) within ASSAf plays a leading role in actively promoting access to publicly funded research. Some of its initiatives include: 

  • Open access to high quality SA scholarly journals through SciELO SA
  • Open Access journal publishing using Open Journal Systems
  • Publishing peer review reports on journal and book evaluations
  • Publishing the South African Journal of Science, the flagship scholarly journal of the country
  • Publishing Quest: Science for South Africa Magazine, aimed at young scientists
  • Promote transparency and openness through the National Scholarly Editors Forum and the National Scholarly Publishers Book Forum
  • Sharing knowledge on scholarly publishing via the ASSAf Scholarly Publishing Wiki and Blog
  • Managing the African Open Science Platform project
  • Managing DATAD (Directory of African Theses & Dissertations, in collaboration with the Association of African Universities)
  • Participating in Open Science initiatives, policy formulation
  • Ina Smith representing southern Africa as an ambassador for the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)
  • Conducting training on Open Access best practice and software available
  • And many more 

The ASSAf Research Repository was launched recently in support of international Open Access Week, celebrated from 24-30 October 2016. This repository will in future be used to disseminate the results from publicly funded research conducted as widely possible. The dissemination of data sets supporting the research output will also be explored, as well as making the data available in an open format for reuse.  A highlight this past couple of weeks was making the South Africa’s technical readiness to support the shale gas industry report available via the ASSAf Research Repository, which immediately attracted quite a bit of attention from the media and business sectors. This report – of huge importance for environmentalists and business entrepreneurs alike, influencing trends and national policy – concluded that much needs to be done to put in place a clear legislative environment and a rigorous regulatory and monitoring structure which will ensure that operators, in using their exploration and production licenses, apply best-practice technologies that are fully compliant with the rules and regulations governing the industry. This an excellent example of how research should be openly accessible for the public to be informed about decision making on national level, about issues related to their daily life and activities.

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) articles published in celebration of OA Week 2015

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) celebrated Open Access Week 2015 through publishing three articles in The Conversation (Africa pilot). The first article tried to set the scene and highlight the issues our country (South Africa) is facing, the second article tried to highlight challenges in terms of publishing fees, and the third article comes with possible solutions on how the challenges can be addressed.

Experts from ASSAf presented papers on OA at institutions throughout the country, and entered into many discussions with publishers.

Open Access Week was ended on a high note by hosting a webinar on Open Journal Systems, presented by Kevin Stranack. ASSAf is looking forward hosting more and more journals following the golden route to Open Access.

We are excited about taking OA forward, and to build on the great progress made this far!

Here’s one way to recover and protect Africa’s ‘lost science’

Robin Crewe, University of Pretoria

It’s been 20 years since Wayt Gibbs introduced the phrase “lost science” to the world. Writing in Scientific American, Gibbs suggested that science and research from the developing world was being lost because it wasn’t shared on global platforms. He wrote:

Many researchers in the developing world feel trapped in a vicious circle of neglect and – some say – prejudice by publishing barriers (and structural obstacles) they claim doom good science to oblivion.

Not much has changed. In 2010 the Africa Institute’s Solani Ngobeni warned that library budget cuts and the rising costs of subscribing to scholarly e-resources meant research from the developing world remains largely “lost”. This science is invisible to the reading public.

This invisibility has consequences. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, international research about the virus was not immediately available to the countries affected, which may have slowed treatment responses.

But developing countries are working hard to correct this imbalance with a homegrown Open Access research index that started life in Brazil two years after Gibbs warned the world about “lost science”.

Bringing African research to the world

Brazil established the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) portal in 1997. Today there are 14 developing countries in the SciELO network, mostly from Latin America. The platform is designed to tackle the global under-use of research publications from developing countries.

It is an open access – that is, free to access and free to publish – database of selected, high-quality scholarly journals. The full text of all articles is available rather than just an abstract. SciELO articles figure prominently in Google Scholar.

In 2009 South Africa became the first – and to date the only – African country to join the SciELO network. It was introduced by the Academy of Science of South Africa, which appreciated both its open access format and SciELO’s focus on developing countries. SciELO SA forms part of the academy’s scholarly publishing programme. The program focuses on enhancing the quality, quantity and worldwide visibility of original, peer-reviewed publications produced by researchers in South Africa.

The platform is funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology. Its journals which are listed in the SciELO Citation Index are accredited for funding purposes by the South African Department of Higher Education and Training.

A resource on the rise

To date, articles in the SciELO SA open access collection have been viewed almost three-and-a-half million times.

A resource on the rise. Google Analytics

As this graph shows, usage has climbed steadily and almost doubled over the last year. That’s significant exposure for the until recently “lost science” of South Africa.

The platform is helping to change South Africa’s research environment by providing equitable access to all researchers, globally and at home.

Some of these researchers may come from universities that don’t have access to traditional, peer-reviewed academic journals which charge high subscription fees. With SciELO SA, researchers can view, download and study information for free. To date there are 60 South African scholarly journals in the collection, and the Academy hopes this will eventually rise to more than 180.

Up next: the continent

After seven years of implementing SciELO SA, building expertise, establishing the model and enhancing the impact of the platform and journals, it is time to replicate this model in other African countries.

The Academy is working with the Network of African Science Academies to promote similar Open Access projects throughout the continent – a move that, we hope, will bring a great deal of Africa’s “lost science” to public attention.


This article was co-authored by Louise van Heerden, SciELO SA operations manager at the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and Susan Veldsman, director of ASSAf’s Scholarly Publishing Unit

The Conversation

Robin Crewe, Professor of Zoology and Director, Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why it’s getting harder to access free, quality academic research

Leti Kleyn, University of Pretoria

Academics at South Africa’s universities increased their research output by 250% between 2000 and 2013. Taxpayers funded a great deal of that research. For instance, R24 billion was spent on research and development in the 2012-13 financial year – more than half of it from the public purse.

That’s a wealth of research and knowledge. The problem is that it may not be accessible to the broader public, even though it was they who footed the bill. It may also be hard for policymakers and the private sector to access this information and apply it when developing initiatives that can help develop the country.

Why is South Africans’ access to important knowledge and research so limited? And, in the age of Open Access, what is being done to improve the situation?

The birth of a movement

It’s been more than two decades since the birth of the international Open Access movement.

The demand for access to information in an open society has grown rapidly since the 1990s, driven by the fast developing internet. Resources and movements like Creative Commons, founded in 2001; the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002); the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (2003); the Berlin Declaration on Open Access (2003) and the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development (2014) have followed.

South African universities followed international trends. They drafted Open Access policies and made available thousands of already-published journal articles and chapters from books free of charge through online platforms. They also used institutional research repositories to share “grey literature” – research not controlled by commercial publishers. This included theses and dissertations, research reports, conference proceedings and student projects.

The idea was to ensure that universities’ research outputs, which were all at least partially funded with taxpayers’ money, were made visible and accessible.

Until then, academic research was largely published and protected by international conglomerate publishers. They used online sales, library leasing and subscription fees to charge for access to research outputs.

Models change, profits don’t

The Open Access movement also saw the rise of new publishing platforms and mega journals like the Public Library of Science. It also birthed new business models for academic publishing, from the traditional journal subscription model to the Article Processing Charges (APC) or publication fee model and hybrid Open Access publishing options with traditional publishers.

Under the APC model, researchers, research funders or research institutions take responsibility for the payment of these charges, covering the journal’s costs, so that articles can be be published in an Open Access manner and be free to use.

But these changes in support of broader public access seem to have been to little avail. Publishers are maximising profits with a hybrid model of double payments, also referred to as “double dipping”. They collect Article Processing Charges from researchers to publish in an Open Access format and still collect subscription fees from users.

British higher education support body JISC conducted a study to explore this practice. It averaged the APC payment for 2014 by 20 universities in the United Kingdom at £1581. It concluded in a separate study that the overall increase in the total cost of ownership – subscription and APCs – when compared to capped subscription fees was as high at 73% at one UK institution.

The shifting model also brought with it a flood of predatory publishers, pirated academic journals and a variety of unethical research practices.

The South African story

So where does access to research stand in South Africa today? A survey by the country’s National Research Foundation revealed that only 20 of the country’s universities and three of its science councils have Open Access repositories. These repositories are used to make institutions’ research outputs publicly available while honouring existing copyright regulations.

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) also conducted an Open Access audit of accredited journals. Only 48% of published research in local journals is free and accessible to the public.

South African institutions are fighting the same battle with publishers as their international counterparts. The results of preliminary, unpublished research by ASSAf estimated that university libraries paid around R470 million to national and international publishers for subscription fees to academic journals in 2014. These were limited for use by registered students and employees at universities only.

With the weakening rand and the implementation of a value-added tax on electronic resources, libraries claim to have lost an estimated 40% of their buying power over the last four years.

This makes it hard to continue subscribing to available research and knowledge sources and impossible to also pay APCs in support of research visibility and public access to knowledge.

A global fightback – but is it too late?

Researchers, libraries and universities have started to lobby against large academic publishing houses. There is increasing resistance to publishers who are trying to restrict access to information with stricter regulatory policies on the placement of articles in institutional repositories.

To date, these protests have had little effect on the global transition to Open Access proposed by the Max Planck Digital Library.

This makes it hard not to conclude that South Africans will in future be paying far more for knowledge – and will have even less access to it.

The Conversation

Leti Kleyn, Research Fellow and Manager, Open Scholarship Programme, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Opening up access to research and information isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity

Children struggle to learn when they don’t have science labs and libraries. Learning becomes difficult in classrooms that are falling apart, or where children are expected to sit on the floor because they have neither desks nor chairs.

Access to free, accurate information is as important to learning as access to desks, chairs and science labs. Shutterstock

A lack of infrastructure is just one contributor to South Africa’s entrenched and ongoing educational inequality. There is another, less frequently discussed issue that is deepening this inequality: access to quality peer-reviewed information.

Such information should be available to all South Africans whether they are school children, university students, researchers or citizen scientists. This will encourage lifelong self-learning. It will spur continued research and innovation. Access to information can bolster education, training, empowerment and human development.

International Open Access Week offers a good opportunity to explore how South Africa can improve its citizens’ access to information.

Opening up access

It has been more than 21 years since apartheid ended, but a distinction remains between South Africa’s “rich” and “poor” universities. One of the reasons for this distinction is the richer institutions’ ability to invest in research resources. They can afford expensive subscriptions to databases which contain a wealth of research – ironically funded by taxpayers’ money.

The historically disadvantaged and predominantly black universities can’t afford such subscriptions. Their academics also can’t contribute to such resources, because authors are expected to pay a fee for the “privilege” of being published.

As university budgets are slashed, even wealthier institutions are beginning to struggle with subscription and publication fee costs.

This problem is not unique to South Africa. Research and academic institutions, funders and governments around the world are beginning to embrace Open Access for publicly funded research. In the internet age, it is possible to tremendously lower the cost associated with publishing.

Open source software has also made it possible to manage quality peer-reviewed research. Sometimes this involves having an article published for the first time in an Open Access journal. This is called Gold Open Access. In other instances, an article may first be published in a limited access journal and a second copy then made available in an institutional repository, a practice called Green Open Access.

The value of this second, open-access copy is that it allows more people to get hold of research being conducted by a particular university or academic. This in turn increases the number of citations an institution receives – and that translates into more money from government research subsidies.

Repositories also play an important role in risk management. Digitally preserving a copy of a research article and its accompanying data sets provides evidence of what was done with research funding. It means the data sets can be reused, which ultimately saves taxpayers’ money because they don’t have to fork out again for repeat data collection.

South African universities are also involved in the open access revolution. Presently, there are 31 institutional repositories in the country. These are used to digitally preserve research articles, theses and dissertations by scholars associated with the relevant institution. Of the 303 scholarly journals accredited by the country’s department of higher education and training, just fewer than half are available as open access.

Eight of the country’s research or academic institutions – including its National Research Foundation – have policies on Open Access to publicly funded research.

Still more to do

All of these are positive developments, but there is much more to be done to truly open up access to research and information in South Africa.

Researchers still have a deeply ingrained preference for publishing in the high-impact, high-profile scholarly journals produced by prominent publishers. This is driven by prestige. If academics have the money to pay the exorbitant author fees, they publish in these journals. These academics’ own universities must then pay again to access research that was conducted using institutional resources and taxpayers’ money.

The next step would be to formalise open access in South Africa and to provide proper guidance in terms of the standards that researchers and research institutions should adhere to. A well-informed national open access policy could be created by learning from what other countries have done. Until now, individual academics and institutions have driven the open access process. This bottom-up approach has its merits, but a push from the top is needed to ensure that we stay on track.

In keeping with this top-down approach, the Department of Higher Education and Training should consider allocating some of the money it generates through accredited journals to funding universities’ open access initiatives.

All South Africans should have access to quality, peer-reviewed, publicly funded research. How else can the country showcase what it has to offer in terms of research? How else can it increase the impact of this research? And how else can we inspire future generations of innovators and thinkers to embark on the research that’s needed to solve the country’s problems?

By John Butler-Adam, University of Pretoria


This article was co-authored by Susan Veldsman, the Director of the Scholarly Publishing Unit at the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and Ina Smith, the SciELO Planning Manager at ASSAf.

The Conversation

John Butler-Adam, Editor-in-Chief of the South African Journal of Science and Consultant, Vice Principal for Research and Graduate Education, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.