How is Open Access (in Africa) characterized?


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December 14, 2020

Sulaiman Adebowale:

To further on Eve Grey's and other thoughts around encompassing alternative and diverse forms and genres of scholarly knowledge, I would like to touch on an important dimension to Open Access which somehow has not been stressed enough. Today and in the coming futures  machines will take more center-stage in the tools we need to access knowledge. Researchers and scholars will not just require the content to be available free out there, but also tools to gather the data and knowledge for them to use when needed. Same for policy holders, journalists, same for editors in publishing houses trying to verify a fact and librarians. The volume of content of data, both textual and graphic, and sounds and images, increasingly out there and growing can best be accessed by machines, Artificial Intelligence systems, to sum up for the users. Until we ensure that industry-wide problems such as metadata and interoperability are resolved collectively, we are not preparing for the best opportunity to tap AI. How can the cOAlition support the work of intermediaries in the scholarly publishing enterprise, eg academics, publishers and librarians in adequately preparing content for AI?

April 10, 2020

KM: I was interested in Eve Gray's point about the Budapest Initiative, and Leslie Chan's comment on it.  Is this a case of contradictory perceptions of what was happening, or of one person seeing the underlying objective and pursuit of democratic Open Access, and the other seeing the hijacking of that objective by commercial interests? From what I've read, it sounds like these things were happening in parallel, rather than one or the other.

I have a sense that the same is true of journals.  Some see them and use them as ecosystems of scholarly debate where scholars work for free and publish for free.  Others, like Ruth or Sulaiman see them as commercial publishing ecosystems that serve needs of promoting local scholarly voice, but some form of profit is necessary for them to be sustainable. Still others see them as sources of capitalist profit and reshape them to serve financial and competitive rather than scholarly objectives.  But this was not how journals developed, and until recently is not how scholars saw them and many still don't relate to them that way. To such people, journals are about scholarly community or scholarly voice in areas of interest, not profits and promotions. I think Leslie Chan's idea of ecosystems is useful here: there are scholarly ecosystems, professional publisher ecosystems, and corporate publisher ecosystems, and they are not always trying to do the same things. It depends on which interests are driving them. We need to look at the ecosystems and the agents behind them, and understand how particular types of change reshape the ecosystems, and whose interests these changes serve.  That appears to be the only way that we can work out how to push for constructive change, and work out the kinds of scholarly ecosystems that best support African research needs.

Leslie Chan's picture
April 9, 2020

Leslie Chan: I noticed this line from Eve about the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) as being the wrong turn (repasted in full below). Well, for me, I was interested in making sure that journals from the global South could participate in OA and finding sustainable models, and many like Ruth [Oniang'o]’s journal did, so I don’t think it was a wrong turn. It was a transition period. But of course we didn’t know a lot about the “architecture” of the internet that we do now, and about the consolidation of the big publishers. Also, repositories and self-archiving was a big part of BOAI, and one I pushed for over the years, so it was not purely just focused on “journal culture”. And as Ruth also pointed out, a journal is only the front facing part, there are lots of mentoring going on in the background, so a “journal culture” is not all bad. The bad part is that commercial publishers turned journals into products, and the processes of review, etc. became highly impersonal and anxiety making. Of course we made what in retrospect were mistakes, and I said some of them in this "Confessions of an Open Access Advocate" piece. One thing I still regret is how the journals that became visible became the target of takeover and with that the decimation of local capacity. So how to avoid takeover or capture is something that we should have planned for, and that requires first and foremost open and shared infrastructure.


Eve Gray 15:40:

"So to me, the Budapest Initiative turns out to be the wrong turning. And I said this at the time, and I was given a curt two-word response and thrown out because the Budapest Initiative talks about journals and the journal culture. And I think that was a fatal mistake, because the journal culture is Robert Maxwell. It's the purposeful commercialization of everything. And it was the wrong move. We don't want commercial journals; we want I think that vision of open discourse and communication with one another. So that's just some of it. But that's the way my thinking was going. But we had an excitement of real openness and real Creative Commons. And then it was slowly throttled back commercial interventions. So Budapest Initiative turned out to be the low point I think, and the throwing out of Larry Lessig from Creative Commons, he was very embittered by that. So in an African context, it's also a seesaw between something that comes naturally to us which is communicating openly and the European imperative to be profitable and commercial, and ambitious and climb ladders."