Journal Editorial Boards: Is There Space for Geographic Diversity?

I would like to start this post providing some social and personal context. I am a researcher located in Chile, South America. As of Friday October 18th,my country’s democracy has been under threat. The military  are out on the streets and there is a curfew in place that limits our freedom throughout five major cities. This extreme repression has resulted in 11 deaths, 84 people were wounded by gunshots and more than 1,000 detained. Also, I would like to clarify that I bring my own personal experience into this post and into my research on geographical diversity within academic publishing. Specifically, these experiences comprised situations of linguistic and ethnical marginalization while studying abroad. 

There was a time when it was good to link global and international concepts with academic publishing and knowledge production: globalization of science, global communities, international databases, and international fields, amongst others. Nevertheless, this universal focus left an unfulfilled notion: the achievement of inclusion (in terms of gender, ethnicity, and geography, as well as other factors). Particularly in journal publication, there are certain spaces -those which yield power- where diversity has not yet manifested. 

Evidence shows a lack of geographical diversity in ‘international’ databases, published papers and references in a myriad of disciplines (Rivera-Lopez, 2017; Tennant et al., 2019). Unfortunately, this is also the case with journal’s Editorial Boards, which play a critical role in defining the trajectory and boundaries of knowledge in each field of study (Espin et al., 2017). The decisions that Editorial Boards members make on a daily basis -coordinating the peer review process and establishing relevance in their fields- decides what gets published and what gets rejected. These practices have a great deal of relevance, because it is widely known that publication confers legitimacy to certain authors and their knowledge over others. Additionally, Editorial Board members act as gatekeepers of editorial communities: they nominate collaborators and choose new journal editors, conferring greater status and visibility on a select group of scholars (Espin et al., 2017). 

For example, in disciplines such as Environmental Biology, Marketing and Geography (Espin et al., 2017; Rosenstreich and Wooliscroft, 2006; Bański and Ferenc, 2013) more than 50% of the Editorial Boards members are based in the US or UK. Moreover, there is a perceived editorial bias against authors based in the Global South regarding the use of academic-level English and the selection of local research topics -they are considered exotic or too parochial-, among other examples (Min, 2014; Matías-Guiu & García-Ramos, 2010; Romero-Olivares, 2019). 

As a consequence, only a select group - their methods, epistemological orientations, language, and theories- is at the forefront of knowledge production and dissemination. Therefore, there is a large group absent from academia, which results in fewer research questions being asked and weaker investigatory methods being used (Medie & Kang, 2018). Leslie Chan (2018) associates this imbalance with a deeper historical and structural power “that had positioned former colonial masters as the centres of knowledge production while relegating former colonies to peripheral roles, largely as suppliers of raw data”. Furthermore, we could use the concept of epistemicide (De Sousa Santos, 2007) to describe the invisibilization of certain knowledge and academic communities. These phenomena currently take place at institutions of higher education (Hall, 2017) and other centers of knowledge production and dissemination.

As with other forms of diversity, geographical richness and equality in journal publication can foster author representation, minimize editorial biases and broaden the scope of theoretical, epistemological and methodological approaches (Espin et al., 2017). If all voices are read or heard, a more interesting debate could take place within varying disciplines.  

In reflection of this context, we as authors should be aware and more in-tune that publication is a political act within itself. Whether you choose to publish in a subscription, an Open Access journal, or in a journal with an open equality policy, your choice to publish exists as a political statement within a scholarly system. It would be naïve to deny accountability under the current culture surrounding knowledge production and dissemination (research assessment, career advancement, tenure process). Nevertheless, as publishing authors, we could use our position and power within this academic environment to not act as accomplices to practices that we do not agree with. 



Bibliography

Bański, J. and Ferenc, M. 2013. ‘‘International’’ or ‘‘Anglo-American’’ journals of geography? Geoforum, 45, 285-295.

Chan, L. (2018, December 10). Open Access, the Global South and the Politics of Knowledge Production and Circulation. An Open Insights interview with Leslie Chan [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.openlibhums.org/news/314/

De Sousa Santos, B. (2010). Descolonizar el saber, reinventar el poder. Montevideo: Trilce.

Espin J, Palmas S, Carrasco-Rueda F, Riemer K, Allen PE, Berkebile N, et al. (2017). A persistent lack of international representation on editorial boards in environmental biology. PLoS Biol, 15(12): e2002760. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2002760

Hall, B.L. & Tandon, R. (2017). Decolonization of knowledge, epistemicide, participatory research and higher education. Research for All, 1(1), 6–19. DOI 10.18546/RFA.01.1.02  http://unescochair-cbrsr.org/pdf/resource/RFA.pdf

Matías-Guiu, J. & García-Ramos, R. (2010).  Editorial bias in scientific publications. Neurología, 26(1), 1-5.

Medie, P. & Kang, A. (2018, July 29). Global South scholars are missing from European and US journals. What can be done about it [Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://theconversation.com/global-south-scholars-are-missing-from-e...

Min, H-T. 2014. Participating in International Academic Publishing: A Taiwan Perspective.

TESOL Quarterly, 48(1), 188-200.

Rivera-Lopez, B. (2017): Internationalisation in (old) academic publishing: A Case Study in the disciplines of Biochemestry and Molecular Biology. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.5548453.v1

Rosenstreich, D. and Wooliscroft, B. 2006. How international are the top academic journals? The case of marketing. European Business Review, 18(6), pp. 422-436.

 Romero-Olivares, A. (2019, October 3). Reviewers, don’t be rude to nonnative English speakers [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2019/10/reviewers-don-t-be-rude-...

Tennant, J., Crane, H., Crick, T., Davila, J., Enkhbayar, A., Havemann, J., Kramer, B., Martin, R., Masuzzo, P., Nobes, A., Rice, C., Rivera-López, B., Ross-Hellauer, T., Sattler, S., Thacker, P. & Vanholsbeeck, M. (2019). Ten Hot Topics around Scholarly Publishing. Publications, 7(2), 34: https://doi.org/10.3390/publications7020034 

Note: The first paragraph of this blog post was updated to reflect the current events happening in Chile.

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