Why the African Academy of Sciences is creating AAS Open Research

Nelson Torto

In 2016, the General Assembly — the highest decision-making body of the African Academy of Sciences — mandated the secretariat to set up a pan-African open access journal (PDF) to promote the visibility of research being conducted on the continent.

One year later, this has become a reality and goes one step further with the announcement of AAS Open Research, the Academy’s new innovative publication platform that will be powered by F1000 to provide the technology and the associated editorial and production processes to run it.

In recommending the creation of an open access journal, the General Assembly recognised the importance of providing a platform to place African research outputs on a global stage.

Immediate publication

The continent’s challenges call for expedited access to knowledge and research, which is not possible with the current publishing models. For example, the Ebola outbreak required access to datasets and existing research to build upon it to contribute solutions to the outbreak. This didn’t happen fast enough, and the traditional publishing model meant that research that could have otherwise been beneficial was restricted behind pay walls.

AAS Open Research makes this a reality by offering immediate publication of any research results worth sharing from AAS-affiliated and funded researchers within days. AAS affiliated researchers include its Fellows, Affiliates and those funded through the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), an initiative of the AAS and the NEPAD Agency, the technical arm of the African Union.

AAS is pioneering the open access publication model in Africa. Open access publishing has already taken off with a growing number of funder research dissemination platforms, such as those operated on behalf of The Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and soon Ireland’s Health Research Board.

Although the platform is currently limited to researchers within the AAS community, its implementation should demonstrate the impact of open access and pursuing this revolutionary publishing model in a continent with many pressing challenges.

AAS Open Research’s mission is to make a wide range of research output types accessible premised on the Academy’s belief that this will have a profound impact on the development of science and, particularly for improving health outcomes. Outputs that will be available range from traditional research articles and systematic reviews to non-traditional outputs, such as research protocols; replication and confirmatory studies; data notes; negative or null findings,  and case reports. These will have appropriate protection when data protection or patient sensitivity is important.

Accessibility, visibility and transparency

Researchers or indeed the public will no longer have to wait for up to a year to gain access to life saving research results as is with the current publishing models. The work will be fully searchable, readable, minable and reproducible without barriers. Articles are also immediately indexed in Google Scholar promoting their visibility. Once the platform has been formally approved by bibliographic databases such as PubMed, articles that pass peer review will be indexed there. The platform will have its own blog and social media presence to flag articles published there to a general audience.

The AAS Open Research publishing timeline will not only be immediate but it will reduce the impact of editorial bias that has seen research from lower income economies being often perceived differently from that of high income countries, which can influence whether an article is published or rejected by a journal. The transparent post-publication peer review model means that peer review reports will be published alongside articles allowing others to judge the quality of the article based on reviewers’ comments and to learn about how publishing process works.

This will tremendously impact the careers of young scientists on the continent for whom high publication rates are important to complete their qualifications, gain visibility, grow their careers and be promoted. For the AAS, this means getting a helping hand in achieving the goal of building the capacity of African scientists. In doing this, the AAS is building upon the work of other African initiatives, particularly African Journals OnLine (AJOL) - a South African non-profit organisation, which has been providing training about how academic publishing works since 1998.

Prof Nelson Torto is the Executive Director of the African Academy of Sciences