By Shannon Shelton [Abridged]
|Although scientific journals have
often been the
source of many important medical and scientific breakthroughs, they are
heavily dominated by writings from North America and Europe, while
relevant research from other nations is virtually non-existent.
According to a copyrighted story in a recent issue of Scientific American magazine, researchers in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America often have their work rejected by prominent mainstream journals in favor of research from industrialized Western nations. In a profession where publication means respectability, many researchers in developing nations constantly find their work ignored by the rest of the world.
Wieland Gevers, a biochemist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, believes that because of his African location, his journal submissions were more closely scrutinized than submissions from America or Europe, the Scientific American article says.
"The quality of the peer review we receive in core life science journals is appalling," said Gevers in the copyrighted magazine article. "They seem to expect more from us than from American or European researchers."
The article states that half the "Third World" researchers interviewed believed that reviewers and editors of prominent journals are more willing to reject papers from scientists from developing nations than from industrialized ones. The researchers also stated that when their articles are published, they are often ignored by Western scientists doing similar experiments.
In some cases, they say that a Western researcher will even replicate or continue the research of a counterpart from a poorer nation, without acknowledging the source. The paper by the Western scientist, however, is usually the one cited by other scientists in further research. In Gevers' case, the heavy scrutiny he believes he received delayed publication of breakthroughs he discovered with anti-cancer drugs and with metabolism of lipoprotein particles in the human body.
"These papers were sent from pillar to post for many months before they were finally accepted, even though editors described the work as well executed," Gevers said in the article.
Unfortunately, the lack of published Third World research deprives the rest of the world of critical knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, deprives its own residents of knowledge that they probably need most of all. Developing countries have 24.1 percent of the world's scientists and 5.3 percent of the world's research spending, but major journals publish much lower proportions of research from these areas.
Richard Horton, editor of the medical journal Lancet, believes the lack of research coming out of these areas affects the world as a whole.
"One of the reasons why infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus are emerging is that economic changes in developing countries are bringing humans into contact with previously isolated ecosystems," Horton said in the Scientific American article. "The only way to understand that process and its effects is to publish work from local researchers." [...]
Ironically, the practice of rejecting Third World research evolves into a cycle -- since many Western scientists do not respect it, Third World scientists often are unable to improve their own journals because they will not be read outside their respective nations. Currently, the only answer seems to be finding acceptance into Western publications. [...]
One of the most interesting developments is in the telecommunications field. The World Health Organization and UNESCO have proposed linking researchers worldwide via the Internet. [...]
Many of the Internet supporters believe that globally connecting nations of color could greatly improve their research output and improve chances for publication. [...]
W. Way Gibbs, author of the Scientific American article, believes that any system that recognizes the merits of "Third World" research is necessary.
"Providing the ability to reach out to scientists in the richer countries as well as in other regions that share their priorities, to present their discoveries, participate in dialogues and collaborate in experiments, this is one circle that would be decidedly virtuous," Gibbs wrote.
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