Archive for March, 2010

Updates sent to Twitter, March 2010

Updates related to OA, sent to Twitter during March 2010:

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Video on importance of OA for research from Kenya

Prof. Mary Abukutsa-Onyango discusses the importance of Open Access for research from Kenya and other African countries, Leslie Chan, Bioline News Blog, March 27, 2009. Video (08:45 min) posted March 27, 2010 on Vimeo and March 20, 2010 on YouTube. See also [FriendFeed entry].

About this video:

In an interview conducted by Leslie Chan of Bioline International, Prof. Mary Abukutsa-Onyango of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology discussed the challenges she faced when trying to publish her original research on African Indigenous Vegetables (AIV) in “international” journals, and the importance of Open Access journals in Africa in ensuring that important research relevant to the continent are being published, read, and applied. The implications of Open Access for development in African countries were also discussed. The interview was recorded on Feb. 19th, 2010 at the University of Nairobi during a Workshop on Increasing the Impact of Research through Open Access, co-hosted by the University of Nairobi Library, eIFL.Net and Bioline International.

For an example of an article by Mary Abukutsa-Onyango in the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND), see: The role of home gardening in household food security in Butere division of Western Kenya, Musotsi, AA; Sigot, AJ & Onyango, MOA, AJFAND 2008; 8(4): 375-90. Abstract:

Gardening remains the most important method of food production for a majority of people in the developing world, yet high population density has put a lot of pressure on land as more of it is required for settlement. This has led to land fragmentation, which has negatively affected food production, hence, resulted in food insecurity. Food insecurity is a concern today in many parts of Kenya. Land use practices thus have to be intensified to maximize food production on the small land available. Home gardening has been identified as a means of providing all year round access to food for rural households. Home gardens can make a significant contribution in meeting daily household needs for better nutrition and health. A study was carried out among rural households in Butere division, western Kenya, to determine the role of home gardening on household food security. Simple random sampling was used to obtain a study population of 100 households, to whom an interview schedule and an observation checklist was administered. Twenty key informants were purposively sampled and responded to questionnaires. Data obtained were analyzed quantitatively. Pearson correlation coefficient was applied on home gardening indicators: size of land for home gardening, home garden crops and home garden livestock, and food security indicators: food stock and number of meals eaten daily by households. Results obtained showed that home gardening plays a significant role in food security of rural households with respect to size of land and food stock (0.336 at p≤0.01), and number of livestock and food stock (0.211 at p≤0.05). Home gardening did not play a significant role in food security with regard to home garden crops. Households, therefore, should be empowered and encouraged to improve their practice of home gardening to realize food security. Findings of this study will be useful to governmental and non-governmental bodies involved in promoting food security in the rural households.

See also the Bioline International entry for AJFND and the home page for AJFND Online.

Comment: One of Prof. Abukutsa-Onyango’s noteworthy comments about “the challenges she faced when trying to publish her original research on African Indigenous Vegetables (AIV) in ‘international’ journals” was that the AIVs were dismissed by some people as ‘weeds’. See the article KENYA: No longer a weed, IRIN Africa, August 7, 2009.

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Acceptance of technological changes

If Open Access to electronic versions of the peer reviewed literature is regarded as a technological change (or, an ‘invention’, in comparison with toll access), then what factors might be expected to influence the acceptance of such ‘inventions’ within a society? On the basis of his examination of the literature on technological change, Jared Diamond identified four main factors. (See Chapter 13 of “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies“, W W Norton, 2005 edition).

The four factors: 1) Relative economic advantage compared with existing technology; 2) Social value and prestige (which can override economic benefit, or lack thereof); 3) Compatibility with vested interests; 4) Ease with which the advantages of the invention can be observed.

The primary producers of the peer reviewed literature (researchers and scholars) may differ in their perspectives, about a least some of these factors, from the perspectives of the institutions that support their work (such as universities, research institutes and funding agencies).

From the perspective of individual researchers and scholars, there’s no obvious economic advantage to themselves that can be attributed to OA. For example, any extra time (or funds) required to achieve Green (or Gold) OA could instead be devoted to research or scholarship.

If OA yields economic advantages, they are likely to be achieved at levels beyond that of the individual researcher, e.g. by leading to a much more efficient and effective system for the dissemination of research outputs. The institutions that support individual investigators are much more likely to be concerned about such economic advantages than are individual researchers or scholars.

From the perspective of individual researchers and scholars, social value and prestige are linked to the indicators currently used (e.g. by promotions committees at universities and research institutes) to assess research or scholarly productivity. The journal Impact Factor (IF) continues to be the main quantitative indicator that’s used for this purpose (in spite of it’s well-known defects when used to assess the productivity of individuals, and especially, when used to compare the research outputs of individuals who have contributed to different research areas). Long-established, high-IF traditional toll-access journals have an advantage over more recently-initiated Gold OA journals. The Green Route to OA (via OA repositories) is permitted by many of these high-IF traditional toll-access journals. However, compromises must often be accepted, such as an embargo period between the date of publication and the date of OA, and/or access only to the final post-peer review postprint, rather than to the ‘version of record’.

Compatibility with vested interests is obviously an important factor. As noted above, the use of quantitative indicators (especially IFs) to assess research or scholarly productivity is deeply embedded into the policies and procedures of promotions committees at universities and research institutes, and into those of peer review committees at funding agencies.  As a consequence, whatever their personal views about how best to assess research productivity, individuals supported by these institutions must take this vested interest in such indicators into account when they consider routes of publication.

Of course, the publishers of traditional toll-access journals have an even stronger vested interest in maintaining (as much as possible) a system that they have dominated, and from which they’ve benefited, both economically and socially.

Finally, again from the perspective of individual researchers and scholars, the advantages of OA may not be easy to observe. The extent to which OA provides a citation advantage continues to be controversial, and probably varies across different research areas. The likelihood that OA increases and broadens attention to research outputs is less controversial. However, appropriate indicators (such as ‘Article-Level Metrics’, designed to provide credible multidimensional quantitative measures of the impact of individual publications) are still at an early stage of development.

Institutions that support research and scholarship may be more interested in the uses that are made of the new knowledge produced by the individuals that they have supported than are those individuals themselves. This question is asked: Has this new knowledge led to useful practical applications, of the kind that may serve to provide evidence that the public investment in the supporting institutions has yielded identifiable social or economic benefits?

If these four factors are indeed applicable to the acceptance of OA, then it’s not surprising that OA hasn’t yet become the dominant route to the quality-filtered research and scholarly literature.

How best to foster changes in the ways in which these four factors influence the acceptance of OA? So far, institutions that provide support for research (and especially, funding agencies) appear to be playing leadership roles in fostering appropriate changes. Acceptance of OA does appear to be increasing, although slowly.

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