Scholarly publishing in SA – what do you know about this field?

imbali academic publishers

Imbali recently attended the seminar, Scholarly publishing: Challenges and future perspectives, hosted by CREST, SciCom, ASSAf and African Minds at Stellenbosch University. Some of the hotly debated issues included peer review, open access, digitisation, publishing economics, the burgeoning growth in science publishing and changes in the management of the system of scholarly publishing.

Prof Peter Weingart, SA Research Chair in Science Communication at the University of Stellenbosch (SciCOM), noted some of the areas in scholarly publishing which are most concerning, including publication bias, manipulation of review processes, plagiarism, scientific fraud and medialisation. Unfortunately, these elements are undermining trust in published research.

Dr Niels Taubert reflected on the origins of open access, and how the process has been hijacked, at least to some extent, by policy influences. He made recommendations about how science itself could take back control and close the gap between science and policy in scholarly publishing.

The guru of post-graduate research methodology, Prof Johann Mouton, director at CREST (University of Stellenbosch), reflected on the growth in scholarly publishing in South Africa over the last 25 years and how this has been influenced by the subsidy system of South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). He presented several reasons for concern over the journals in which South African academics publish most frequently, including the persistence of questionable publication practices and predatory journals.

Prof Weingart reflected that the traditional functions of libraries have changed fundamentally with the advent of electronic publishing and increased commercialisation of scientific publishing. In terms of giving academics access to journals and books, libraries are caught in the middle between scientists who rely on access to the latest information and the sharp increases in the prices charged by journal publishers.

Dr Susan Veldsman from the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) provided an overview of several strategic studies on scholarly publishing commissioned by ASSAf. She elaborated on how the implementation of recommendations from these reports have impacted on scholarly journals and books in South Africa.

Who pays? This was the key question in a presentation by Prof Keyan Tomaselli of the University of Johannesburg that focused on the research economy at South African universities. He highlighted some contradictions and imbalances in the local scholarly publishing scene, including the oversupply of accredited journals, problems with incentivising academics and the funding models of journals.

Francois van Schalkwyk from the book publisher African Minds reviewed scholarly academic book publishing in the local higher education sector, and made recommendations for sustained viability of university presses. Of interest was the number of presses at universities in Africa that have been operating under the radar, often unknown at their own universities.

Marilyn Deegan of King’s College London, presented a number of projects relevant to scholarly publishing, including the ‘Academic Book of the Future’ project, the ‘Academic Book Week’ and the associated ‘Academic Book that Changed the World’ competition. She noted how these projects have ignited public and scholarly interest in a wide range of academic books. Finally, she shared information about an ambitious archiving project in Rwanda currently digitising the transcripts of 40 million hand-written pages of information resulting from the legal proceedings following the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

(Based on the notes compiled by Marina Joubert, and with acknowledgement to CREST & SciCOM; reproduced with permission.)

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