Although a good case can be made for the idea that science has an important role to play in the process of global development and the abolition of poverty, scientific journals quite often focus upon subjects and research of greater interest to the developed world than to the developing regions. To an extent, this is not at all surprising: the bulk of the research happens in the West and in Japan, and scientists do tend to work on issues that are important and interesting to them. Yet there are large numbers of working scientists in the developing world, too; how can their voices be better heard?
That's the goal of AuthorAid (PDF), a proposal from the editors of the Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP), with the backing of the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and the Council of Science Editors' (CSE) Task Force on Science Journals, Poverty, and Human Development. AuthorAid recognizes that talented scientists in the developing world are doing outstanding research on locally-relevant subjects, but often cannot get published in the mainstream science journals for reasons of language expertise, laboratory support or basic access. AuthorAid links developing world authors with volunteer editor/scientist mentors around the world, on a manuscript-by-manuscript basis:
Writing for peer-reviewed, academic journals is an accepted part of the academic environment in higher income settings, and something students privileged to study in these environments may learn from mentors, or by trial and error. For would-be contributors to Medline-indexed journals from developing countries, such editorial assistance is likely to make the difference between rejection and acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal. Especially in lower income countries, potential mentors have too little time to help their young colleagues edit manuscripts for publication in competitive journals–they are simply overwhelmed with responsibilities. We propose a four-part project to bring more developmental editing assistance to authors seeking to publish in the widely read, peer-reviewed journals:
Reach out to find the authors in developing world public health programs and institutions with good ideas and/or results to publish, but insufficient experience to be likely to succeed without assistance. Engage experienced researchers, practitioners, and policymakers who have published frequently in widely read journals (chiefly those who have retired from major institutional responsibilities) to serve as mentors and developmental editors. Triage requests from “would-be authors” and assign and link them to appropriate mentors. Assemble a roster of journals that subscribe to sustain AuthorAid so that they can benefit from better submissions from authors who are working directly with public health challenges in developing countries.
The AuthorAid proposal was originally drafted just about a year ago, and its proponents -- JPHP editor Phyllis Freeman, Jerry Spiegel (Director, Global Health at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia), Anthony Robbins (co-editor of JPHP) and National Coordinator of the Canadian Coalition for Global Health
Research, Vic Nuefeld -- have been working to build support for the idea. Freeman and Robbins published an editorial at SciDev.Net describing their goals with AuthorAid. Interestingly, one aspect of the project that they emphasize is its facilitation of South-South scientific interaction alongside the expected North-South pairings:
In the age of the Internet, geography is no longer a barrier. Author-mentor partnerships might be created within a country, such as India or Vietnam. They could be created within a region by matching an author from Bolivia with a mentor in Chile or Mexico.
They could also be created across wider distances, by matching an author in Haiti or Burkina Faso with a mentor in Geneva, Lyon or Quebec, or one in Kenya with a mentor in Stockholm, London or Los Angeles. Together these teams will increase capacity to communicate knowledge locally and globally, particularly in and from developing countries.
Collaboration efforts like AuthorAid in and of themselves will not be enough to focus scientific research on the needs of the developing world. They should, however, be able to create a better balance, and to open the eyes of researchers in the West to the needs of the poorer parts of the world. One potential result of AuthorAid would be greater thought given to developing world applications of scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs that otherwise would be heralded exclusively in the richer nations. Building personal connections between scientists across economic and political boundaries could well have the effect of improving conditions across the globe.
(Thanks for the tip, Kim Allen!)