Mendeley platform reveals global science reading trends

Researchers in Africa have below 142, global average, academic papers in their personal Mendeley libraries Copyright: Flickr/ US Army

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A low spend on research and development (R&D) by a country may be limiting researchers’ access to academic papers, and could be undermining their productivity and achievements, a report has found.

Limited access to scholarly content, which is a particular problem in developing nations, may have an indirect but negative impact on the number of papers published and Nobel prizes won, according to the ‘Global Research Report’,published by research collaboration platform Mendeley yesterday (1 November).

Such links between R&D spending, journal access and achievement highlight the potential benefits of open source academic publishing, particularly in low-income countries, the report says.

The report — which analysed reading and studying habits of two million researchers by tracking their workflows within the Mendeley system — found that with the exceptions of four South American nations (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay) and China, researchers in developing countries have below the global average of 142 academic papers in their personal libraries on Mendeley.

Researchers across Africa, the Middle East, South and South-East Asia, whose countries have relatively low R&D budgets, average only between 37 (in South-East Asia) and 73 papers (in Africa) per researcher.

Although other factors such as broadband access, cultural differences and university structure may play a part in determining access to content, the report provides "compelling evidence" for economic influence on access to research papers, said Victor Henning, chief executive of Mendeley.

"The numbers quite clearly show that if you are limited in terms of funds, that clearly limits access to content," he told SciDev.Net.

Accessibility issues, Henning added, affect developed nations as well, but are most acutely felt in developing countries.

"We would like this report to showcase the magnitude of the issue," he said.

But, while useful, the report was not "earth-shaking," according to Subbiah Arunachalam, an open access specialist and fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society, in Bangalore, India, as the relationship between funding, access and productivity is already well known.

The report would do little to stimulate debate on academic access and the potential of open source, he told SciDev.Net.

What is needed to solve access issues, according to Arunachalam, are studies that find out why researchers are currently slow to take up existing open source publications.