How journal metrics and rankings deceive African writers, publishers, readers and universities

In recent years, several online based measurements of publications and research quality have emerged. Most (if not all) of these metrics and rankings were designed in developed countries and they are linked to powerful publishers or institutions. These measurements, called metrics or rankings, have been criticised for disadvantaging researchers, writers and publishers from developing countries who have said metrics and rankings are exaggerated and given too much importance. Others have looked at them as colonial projects whose intentions are to keep other publishers on the periphery while others have looked at them as offering a pathway to quality research.  This article will highlight what those who have criticised these metrics have said and offer some solutions for Africa.

  1. Metrics and rankings are biased and not just. They are based on the internet whereas Africa has less internet penetration. They are based on historical data e.g. prestige of a journal yet Africa was colonised for a long period during which its publications were in European or American publications.
  2. They promote dissemination of findings to international not local audiences, making research less useful for communities and countries where people research.
  3. High ranked journals require payments, as high as USD5000, money which all writers and universities in developing countries won’t afford.
  4. Most publications are in English language which on its own is a huge barrier to developing countries. Production of literature in local language will not happen where English is the norm.
  5. In other countries, e.g. South Africa, researchers receive an incentive for publishing. However, if a journal is not listed in an international index, mainly SCOPUS, you will not get the incentive. This disadvantages African publishers and force them to seek accreditation with the international indexing companies. Further, African journals will have less submissions as academics take their research to high ranking international journals.
  6. Achieving high rank status comes at a cost, including but not limited to cost of running an independent journal website, cost of hiring a journal management system and many other costs such as DOI etc.
  7. The definition for impact used by those who rank and index publications is questionable. If a published paper is read several times in Europe and not in Africa, does it make it high impact? If an article is published in a non-indexed journal and is read several times in Africa, isn’t that stronger impact?
  8. Most of the so called high impact journals are not even global, they are national or regional, they promote interests and values of the countries or regions. A journal article accepted in Europe or America will carry their values otherwise it will not get published.
  9. African libraries are impacted too, they end up ordering so called high impact journals and books that do not address local issues. This happens because publishers and writers of ‘less impact work’ are not found in databases the librarians search for books and journals.
  10. Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) are advertised as permanent identifiers but they are not.  They are advertised as free but they are not. It is thought that they increase visibility or discoverability but this only happens outside Africa. While permanent identification is important if achieved, the problem is that it neglects crucial issues like open access, print access and it increases the workload of editors and publishers, pushing the cost of publishing and publications up. In sad cases, the requirement to use applications such as DOI as a mark of quality results in another journals dying.

What are possible solutions?

Solutions include African universities using local databases to determine quality of publications. An example is the African Journals Online which has a ranking system. Universities or countries can also create their own ranking systems. Africa needs more publishers, including university presses, government and independent publishers. More importantly, African  researchers and writers need to cite African research. If African research is not cited, it will not grow. Librarians play an important role in making available literature to read, it is natural, therefore that librarians should decolonise the library – order African literature, decommission colonial literature and promote growth of African literature. lastly, the impact of African research must not be measured solely by standards developed in developed and more developed countries, our impact should be measured by how much our research is changing lives, addressing problems, impacting governments and is relevant to local situations.

What to read more?

Nkomo, S. M. (2009). The Seductive Power of Academic Journal Rankings: Challenges of Searching for the Otherwise. Academy of Management Learning & Education8(1), 106–112.

Mugumbate, J., and Mtetwa, E. (2019). Reframing social work research for Africa’s consumers of research products: a guiding tool. African Journal of Social Work, 9(2), 52-58.