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[CAPE TOWN] An attempt to make African science more visible by tracking the scientific publications of the continent's scientists is underway.

Africa Science Trackers (AST), based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, aims to record every peer-reviewed paper by African scientists published in both national and international journals as well as information available through non-conventional channels — so-called 'grey literature' — since 2000.

AST has already collated information on more than 200 electronic and print journals from the continent, most of which come from Nigeria and South Africa.

AST is hoping that its data will also be included in international listings.

"We want to tackle the under-representation of African researchers in international indices such as Web of Science, Scopus and Pascal," says Taurai Imbayarwo, a Zimbabwean science metrics researcher and the founding director of AST.

Volunteer southern African scientists have been creating the database for the last ten months but AST hopes to survive as a functioning business by charging researchers from outside Africa — including researchers in the diaspora — to use it. It will be available free to African scientists and institutions by the end of 2010.

"There is good peer-reviewed science on the continent. But this science, for various reasons, is not visible. The number of African scientific journals is not known. Vast amounts of research never circulate beyond the author's institution," says Imbayarwo. 

"If research done in Africa by Africans is lowly cited internationally, it is hardly going to be utilised to improve the socioeconomic development of Africa and its peoples," he adds.

At least three consecutive issues of a journal are needed for evaluation prior to being registered by AST. If a journal is rejected, publishers can resubmit a year later.

So far all the journals have met international standards including peer-review, a diverse editorial board, and regular and timely publication, Imbayarwo says.

Ssempa Nurudean Norman, programme manager for the Agency for Science and Technology Advancement in Uganda, a partner in the initiative, says recording African scientists and their publications, whether working abroad or on the African continent, encourages greater scientific collaboration and sharing of expertise.

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