Southern scholars missing in top development journals

Ugandan writer whose books have been published around the world
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Speed read

  • Southern scholars as authors were identified in 14 per cent of 2,112 articles
  • Only nine per cent of editorial board members are located in developing nations
  • An expert says that scholars from the global South need more R&D funding

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[NAIROBI] Authors and editorial board members from developing countries are underrepresented in elite journals in the field of development studies, a new study has found.

According to the study’s coathors, although some studies have accessed representation of authors from developing countries in the social sciences, little is known about those focusing on the field of development studies.

“Underrepresentation from the developing world in research means that we are losing a perspective including the lived experiences of scientists from the South.”

Jemimah Njuki, International Development Research Centre

The study published in the April issue of the European Journal of Development research finds that scholars from developing countries as members of editorial boards and authors play a marginal role in academic knowledge production.

Sarah Cummings, the study’s lead author, says that of 2112 articles identified, 43 per cent of the authors are located in the United States (US) and United Kingdom (U.K), 43 per cent are from other developed countries, while only 14 per cent are from developing countries. Also, 62 per cent of the 329 editorial members are located in the two developed countries (US and U.K.), 31 per cent are from other developed countries, while only 9 per cent are located in the developing countries.

“One of the most shocking things I established was that development studies field was doing a lot worse than the medical field,” Cummings tells SciDev.Net.

The researchers collected data from ten “well-known journals” in the field of development studies using the Web of Science database for articles and the journal websites for the editorial board members. They assessed affiliations of editorial board members for March–April 2015 and authors of articles published between 2012 and 2014.

 “If we accept development is something which societies need to do for themselves, then development studies and the journals in this field can only make a limited contribution to development if they do not work at including colleagues from developing countries in their research as equal partners and coauthors,” Cummings, an information and knowledge development consultant, explains.

According to Elizabeth Marincola, a senior advisor for scientific communications and advocacy at the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), limited access to journals especially in science research is a big contributor to the disadvantage of scientists in developing regions, especially in Africa.

“Careers are dependent on the opportunity for developing countries’ scientists to interact with colleagues, serve on funding panels, and to publish,” says Marincola, adding that serving on editorial boards of top journals aids visibility of scientists.

Where journals disclose the names of editors, Marincola tells SciDev.Net, it provides an additional opportunity for exposure, which signals both healthy participation in the science community, and advancement of the editor as an expert.

She revealed that the AAS is developing a fully transparent publishing platform to enable and facilitate engagement and visibility for scientists in Africa and all over the world.

Jemimah Njuki, Kenya-based senior programme officer of the International Development Research Centre, adds: “Underrepresentation from the developing world in research means that we are losing a perspective including the lived experiences of scientists from the South”.
To diversify authorship and representation, Njuki suggests more South-South research collaboration, increased funding to researchers from developing countries as one of the ways to elimination of bias in representation by the global north.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.