Researchers from developing countries and peer review

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Bird on a Fire
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Researchers from developing countries and peer review

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:11 pm

Researchers from developing countries* face a lot of barriers to publication. Levels of English education are often quite low. There are obviously severe financial constraints, and often a lack of political support or even a hostile political environment to research. Publication fees for many journals are out of reach, as are language editors.

Scientists should be concerned about this, because we need a diversity of ideas and information in the published record. Where the underlying science is sound, we should be making extra effort to guide papers from developing-country into the record, for instance by offering free English-language revision and fee waivers. Where the science needs some refinement that should be pointed out constructively and supportively.

So the case in this twitter thread is concerning:
Submitted a paper to a @SpringerNature
journal and was shocked with one of the reviewers' comments. Apparently, scientists outside the West are incapable of conducting competitive research on their own— we need Western scientists to hold our hand @AcademicChatter
#AcademicTwitter
Image
https://mobile.twitter.com/heba_kurdi/s ... 72643?s=09

It's not an attempt to empower researchers to publish their own research, but a suggestion that they need their hand held by 'more experienced' Western collaborators (without knowing, of course, how much of their career the researcher in question had spent outside of KSA) - and coupled with the suggestion that their request might be impossible, in which case, why make it?

We need to be better than this. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say - there are massive inequalities in the topics that get researched and the perspectives that get published, and redressing this imbalance is to everyone's benefit (as we'll probably see, for example, with more investigation into COVID's origins). I hope this reviewer and anyone with similar attitudes gets hit by a ton of bricks, to be honest.

*This isn't an uncontroversial phrase to use, as 'development' is a continuous process. But the alternatives aren't always satisfactory: in this case, Saudi Arabia certainly isn't a 'low income' country, and 'global south' includes rich Anglophone countries like Australia that don't face all these problems. Open to suggestions.
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Bird on a Fire
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Re: Researchers from developing countries and peer review

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:12 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:11 pm
*This isn't an uncontroversial phrase to use, as 'development' is a continuous process. But the alternatives aren't always satisfactory: in this case, Saudi Arabia certainly isn't a 'low income' country, and 'global south' includes rich Anglophone countries like Australia that don't face all these problems. Open to suggestions.
I quite like the suggestion in this NPR article - 'majority world'.
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sTeamTraen
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Re: Researchers from developing countries and peer review

Post by sTeamTraen » Thu Aug 20, 2020 10:31 am

Until a couple of years ago, I tended to have a rather skeptical view of research from places like Iran and India, because I saw so many papers --- many of them ludicrously bad --- being retracted. But these days I'm less sure. I think that more research from those countries may be getting retracted simply because the fraudsters from those countries, just like the honest researchers from those countries, are less familiar with the rules of getting published. As a result their fraud is "laughably obvious", in that they often pick topics that don't make much sense in Western (see Pedantic PS below) cultures, their English is often poor, and the result is "point and laugh at the funny foreigners".

The fact remains, though, that when you submit a scientific paper, it needs to be written in careful academic English. When reviewing, I find more than a small amount of grammatical errors to be very distracting, especially since it's quite easy to inverse the meaning of a sentence if you're not careful. Even native speakers sometimes struggle with this; I have marked assignments on Masters courses from students with very traditional White British names that would have had red ink all over them in a GCSE English paper. For non-native speakers it is very hard indeed. Unless journals start to provide a full editing service, this problem will continue (and even then, the journals are unlikely to rewrite your manuscript before sending it out for review). There are services that advertise that they will help you write your paper for submission, but I suspect that in most cases this is the sign that says "relaxing healthy massage here" outside an establishment whose principal business is providing happy endings, in this case in the form of a paper that is completely ghost-written from scratch, including data and images.

Pedantic PS:
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:11 pm
'global south' includes rich Anglophone countries like Australia that don't face all these problems. Open to suggestions.
I don't think that the term "global south" includes Australia. ISTM it's a way of noting that north/south is a better approximation of the distribution of wealth in the world than older terms like "Western", which excludes places such as Japan (and, increasingly, China).
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Sciolus
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Re: Researchers from developing countries and peer review

Post by Sciolus » Thu Aug 20, 2020 1:06 pm

sTeamTraen wrote:
Thu Aug 20, 2020 10:31 am
The fact remains, though, that when you submit a scientific paper, it needs to be written in careful academic English.
Maybe it would help a bit if instead it needed to be written in careful good English?

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