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The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association’s Conference 2020 (21–24 September) brought together an official list of 496 delegates to discuss the challenges and dilemmas of open access publishing under a broad theme of “Open Access at a Time of Global Challenge”. This was the first exclusively online and interactive conference for OASPA organisers. SciELO journal editors were invited to attend the conference free this year. Two of the attendees wrote about their highlights from the conference.

The Report on Conference held on 22–24 September 2020: Dilemmas and Challenges of Open Access Publishing and the Moves to Transparency

Dr. Na iem DollieCompiled by: Dr Na-iem Dollie

The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association’s Conference 2020 (21–24 September) brought together an official list of 496 delegates to discuss the challenges and dilemmas of open access publishing under a broad theme of “Open Access at a Time of Global Challenge”. This was the first exclusively online and interactive conference for OASPA organisers. [Read more]

Africa was represented by 14 delegates from Ghana, Algeria, Cameroun, Lesotho, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa. The five delegates from South Africa represented peer-reviewed and accredited journals, and academic institutions. The South Africans were Salmina Mokgehle from the Agricultural Research Council and who is an associate editor mentee at the South African Journal of Science, Cristal Hoole from the SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, Alfred Nqotole from the University of Western Cape, Sonja Brink from the SA Journal of Childhood Education (see her highlights below), and Na-iem Dollie from Education as Change. Mokgehle, who presented a slide show, also chaired panel discussions on “Small and Scholar-led Publishers” that attempted to answer the question, “What Can They Teach Us?”

Recognising the need to move away from the opaqueness of the peer-review process, Alex Mendonça, the Preprints and Online Submissions Co-ordinator from the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) platform in Brazil, led a discussion panel on preprints and the global shift towards transparency and greater accountability. He outlined SciELO’s initial plans to develop a collaborative preprint server directed at journals listed on this online library index.

While large delegations came from the United States (over 90 delegates), Britain (88 delegates) and European Union countries, conference proceedings reflected a diversity of views from different parts of the world. Significant contributions were made by Brazil, India, China and South Africa. Wei Yang, Professor and Chairman of the Development Council at Zhejiang University in China, delivered the second keynote address titled “Evolution of Basic Research and Assessment Metrics in China”. India’s Thirumalachari Ramasami, the former Science and Technology Secretary and Nayudamma-Abdul Wahid Chair Professor at the Anna University in India, provided a perspective on changes in the research landscape.

For more information about the OASPA conference programme and presentations, see https://oaspa.org/oaspa-2020-conference-program/

Highlights of the OASPA conference 2020

Sonja BrinkDr Sonja Brink – Associate Editor, South African Journal of Childhood Education

First of all I would like to express my gratitude for the wonderful opportunity to attend the OASPA 2020 conference. It has been extremely enriching to be exposed to such a rich array of new ideas and innovations in publishing and research across the world. The presenters and session facilitators were great – I found the poster presentations particularly invigorating and thought provoking. The overall message, however, is clear – the need for collaboration, inclusion and openness in the research ecosystem.

Some statistical information was really useful, such as that given by Juliette Mutheu from the African Academy of Sciences that despite the continent carrying 20% of the world’s disease burden, there are fewer than 200 scientists per million people in Africa. She also highlighted the dire need to fill the critical gaps in the research landscape on the continent by engaging the public and communities more closely in research and the dissemination of resulting knowledge. This sentiment was echoed by Erin O’Shea from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute calling for targeted public education through the use of news and films. It was very interesting to hear about the unconventional approach of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute where the ethos is to support people’s ideas and not (only) science which gives them some freedom to ‘follow their own noses, instead of dictating what research they should be doing.

In the panel discussion on the first day the Western system of evaluation (through publication) was critically discussed as was the issue of how important it was to include the people from the communities who are, in fact, contributors to the making of new knowledge. An interesting question was raised; should scientific journals mandate that researchers who had focused on a specific country should include authors from that country. To my mind this would help to guard against unscrupulous researchers ‘mining’ contexts that are already poor in knowledge resources and also enhance the capabilities for the members of such contexts. Other issues that were raised in the panel discussion were whether funders should require that research is published ‘open access’ so as to maximise the access to knowledge in an equitable way and to explore whether academics could be evaluated in ways than only through traditional formats of publication.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was the session by Anurag Aharya, the developer of Google Scholar who said that “smartness is not limited to the well-funded”. This pioneer also emphasised that we were at a point in the world where we need all researchers working on a shared frontier to solve the world’s problems pointing out that “what you don’t know about you can’t build upon.” Hearing how this pioneer of one of the most accessible sources of scholarly knowledge views knowledge as something that should be available to everyone, equally, was truly inspiring.

On Wednesday, fellow South African, Salmina Mokgehle, the associate editor to the South African Journal of Science, offered a thought-provoking presentation on how vitally important it is to engage reviewers, suggesting some innovative ways to engage these very important and often undervalued contributors to the process of scholarly publication. I found this particularly relevant as I am well aware of the importance of quality reviewers in the development of authors in our country. Making the reviewing of articles a ‘weighted’ aspect in terms of how academics are evaluated in their performance reviews is one way to ensure not only that reviewers will be more likely to accept an appointment as reviewer to a paper, but which will also ensure that reviewers ensure that their reviews are of a high standard.

In terms of journal platform management, I found Ritsuko Nakajima’s explanation of the challenges of managing the J-Stage platform where 85.4 % of the more than 5 million articles published in Japanese, English, and other languages are open access.

The poster presentations on Wednesday were fresh and thought provoking especially

Overall, the conference offerings adhered to a common topic – the research community need to reconceptualise the research habitat and how we navigate it – we will need to change our behaviour and how we think about research to make it more equitable in a world that, given the current pandemic,  would need ‘all hands on deck’ to address problems. As Leslie Chan said “science needs to be decolonised through ways such as data sharing and reuse.   Gender disparities also need to be addressed – Helene Draux’s statistics on the significant decrease of the number of women as first authors after March 2020 as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Ramasani Thrumalachari pointed out, COVID has made people realise the need for scientific collaboration and that ‘Science for Humanity’ should become a priority.