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African open access publishing platform in the works

[ACCRA] African science bodies have teamed up with a UK-based open access publisher to create an open science platform for their members and grantees.

The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa and the African Academy of Sciences announced the collaboration on 4 July during a meeting this week in Accra.

The platform will be open to AAS fellows and affiliates, as well as to holders of AESA-administered grants. According to its backers, it will offer scientists a quick,  free alternative to publishing in traditional journals.

“We want to change the way that research is measured and how to change the whole reward culture globally,” said Rebecca Lawrence, managing director of the F1000 group, which will help AAS and AESA create the platform.

The F1000 group helped UK biomedical research charity the Wellcome Trust launch its open access publishing platform, Wellcome Open Research, last November. The trust is one of the funders of AESA, a Nairobi-based agency that manages several research programmes on behalf of international funders.

The system would be especially useful for early-career researchers who need publications to obtain their degrees, said Lawrence. It might also make reviewers engage more constructively with authors than if comments are hidden, she added. (For more, see ‘How it would work’ further down)

However, Sharon Fonn, co-director of the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa, a graduate training programme, warned that urging researchers to publish on open research platforms might put them “between a rock and a hard place”.

“There are institutional systems that reward certain outputs. I would challenge the [Wellcome] trust to give some additional money to AAS where they can get together and convene the institutions and government departments to engage in the discussion so this change doesn’t put researchers in a double bind,” she said.

Tom Kariuki, director of AESA, said that nobody would be forced to publish on the platform. “We don’t want to be in a position where we put these things out there and make conditions. This is a beginning of a journey,” he said.

However, he added that both AESA and the AAS, of which he is the interim director, are keen to push the open access publishing and research agenda in Africa. “In terms of us going the traditional way, the answer is: No we won’t,” he said.

No firm launch date for the platform has been set. But Lawrence said it could be within a year.

How it will work

Authors will make submissions to the platform electronically, in the form of traditional articles, raw data sets, research protocols or software.

The submitted work will be checked quickly by an in-house team to rule out blatant plagiarism and substandard work. Then it will be published on the platform, where it will be visible to others. Data considered sensitive, such as clinical data, might be access-controlled.

Reviewers will be invited to comment. They will be identified, and their reviews will be published and citable. They will give a narrative review of the work as well as a mark: ’approved’, ‘approved with reservations’ or ‘not approved’.

Authors can respond to the reviewers, and, if they want, publish a revised version of their work. Reviewers can then take another turn—a process that could continue until the author wants to stop.

The work will be indexed by the big research indexing companies if they have achieved either two ‘approved’ scores or one ‘approved’ score and two ‘approved with reservations’ scores. Authors will be able to update their articles if they obtain fresh data or results.

The length of time between submission and receiving the reviews will vary, but it could be as little as a month—way shorter than the six-to-twelve month waits common in traditional publishing.