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An idealistic attempt at reforming academic publishing practices?

They said the conference was to be held in the Canary Islands. What a place for a conference in the middle of wintery January in the US! It was after jumping to accept the invitation to speak there, with visions of romping along the beautiful beaches on the island in shorts and t-shirts, that I realized the important mission behind the conference. It was called the 1st International PRIISEAL Conference (Publishing and Presenting Research Internationally: Issues for Speakers of English as an Additional Language). Other keynote speakers included John Swales, John Flowerdew, Francoise Salager-Meyer, and Srikant Sarangi.

The hospitality and entertainment exceeded my expectations. There is something to be said about the care European conference organizers take over their guests. They arrange tours for sightseeing between conference sessions. They organize grand banquets to honor their visitors. Local town officials compete with each other to fete you with wine, food, and music. Here in the United States they let the conference participants find their own way to their expensive hotels, turn up at the conference hall at the expected time, and then leave the town unceremoniously when they are done with their talk. Things are very impersonal in comparison.

But what surprised me even more was the radicalism of the mostly European scholars who attended this conference. They felt strongly about the inequalities in access to journals, the monopoly on academic journals by certain publishers, and the one-sided flow of scholarly knowledge in academia. I guess Europeans too are at the receiving end of the American dominance in academic publishing. But, more significantly, there are differences in the type of politics US and European scholars engage in. While US radicals focus on airy-fairy things like semiotic, textual, or identity politics, Europeans are focused on structural and material inequalities. (And this, despite the irony that much of this airy-fairy politics is a derivative of thinking imported from France!) Inspired by this activist mood in the conference, on the last day I proposed that we do something practical about the issues we cared about. I proposed that we formulate a statement to the scholarly and publishing world on the changes we would like to see in academic journals. The ideas generated in the collective brainstorming session in the final hour were soon drafted by the conference conveners Sally Burgess and Margaret Cargill. The feisty scholar and activist Francoise Salager-Meyer from Venezuela also played a key role in drafting the statement. It came to be known as the Tenerife Manifesto, after the island in which the conference was held.

When I circulated this statement later in an American meeting of editors in applied linguistics, I was surprised by the resistance. Some commented that titling it a “manifesto” made the statement unnecessarily confrontational and controversial. Others wondered how we could criticize the very publishers who help produce our journals. Representatives of major publishers were doubtful about the call for open access. They asked, “Then who would bear our publishing and operating costs?” I saw that there was once again a cultural difference between American and European scholars on publishing. What had seemed a straightforward statement in Tenerife seemed odious even to me when I landed in US soil!

Nothing has come of the Tenerife Manifesto now. It has gone through some revisions. Its title has been changed to “Tenerife Statement” to appease sensitive scholars and publishers. However, apart from the few who drafted the statement, no one has come forward to sign it. I post the statement in its earlier “provocative” version below. I wonder if anyone is interested in providing some thoughts on ways to revise it or getting concerned scholars to sign it.

‘The Tenerife Manifesto’

As part of the growing call for more just and equitable practices in the conduct and communication of research worldwide, the participants of the 1st PRIISEAL Conference took the decision, in plenary session, to produce a manifesto for promulgation within the various professional communities we belong to and beyond. The conference brought together people from 14 countries interested in identifying and addressing issues that affect speakers of English as an Additional Language (EAL) as they seek to publish and present their research internationally. We met at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain from 11-13 January 2007 and shared perspectives based in teaching, editing, researching, refereeing, publishing and translating.

We, the participants of the 1st PRIISEAL Conference, issue the following calls to the international community of knowledge producers and consumers, to governments (especially those of ‘non-centre’ countries beyond the mainstream of international publishing) and to international, regional and national governmental and non-governmental institutions.

1. That a review be conducted as a matter of urgency of the eligibility criteria for schemes designed to enhance the access of researchers in non-centre countries to published research findings, in order to overcome inequities related to issues including national income figures inflated by commodities such as oil. These schemes include HINARI (Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative, AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) and OARE (Online Access to Research in the Environment).

2. That the publishing houses that produce and distribute research journals be commended for moves they have made towards increased author support and journal development in some non-centre locations and allowing some of their journals to be available in some places following the “Open Access Initiative”. However, that the publishing houses also be reminded that these moves currently fall far short of what is needed to provide appropriate and equitable access to published research and publication opportunities in non-centre locations.

a. That publishing companies be urged to accelerate their efforts to provide online access to published journals at rates that are affordable by readers working outside the established Western academic systems, including at no cost where this is warranted (cf. International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications), as well as discounting the cost of books and hard-copy journals for libraries and individual researchers in non-centre locations.

b. That the publishing houses be urged to retain options for manuscript submission and subsequent negotiations to be conducted in hard copy or as e-mail attachments, to facilitate submissions from locations where internet access is unreliable, intermittent or unavailable.

c. That the publishing houses be urged to revise their policies to facilitate the inclusion of post-publication articles from their journals on institutional repositories or researchers’ homepages.

3. That international professional organisations in all fields be urged to ensure that access to their journals is not restricted, whether they publish them through a publishing house or independently. Of special relevance to this conference, journals such as TESOL Quarterly, published by TESOL Inc., should provide open access to their issues, and as a first step should be encouraged to develop a proactive stance of enhanced access for teachers and researchers in non-centre locations.

4. That all international professional and academic societies be strongly encouraged to provide reduced registration fees at their conferences for researchers from non-centre locations, and that bodies such as the commercial publishing houses be encouraged to provide grants to facilitate attendance at these conferences by non-centre researchers.

5. That regional editorial bodies be established in each region of the non-centre world (i.e. Latin America, Africa and Asia) to oversee the refereed publication of research in formats and languages that suit the needs of the region. That these bodies be funded by national governments and international research and development agencies, and fully supported by the nations of the region, including by the granting of appropriate credit in terms of academic assessment for editing and refereeing work conducted for these bodies and articles published by them.

6. That means be developed to effectively incorporate the knowledge base of teachers, researchers and practitioners of ‘EAL for publication purposes’ into international forums and initiatives seeking to develop equitable practices in the conduct and communication of research.

To this end we, as the PRIISEAL community of conference participants and like-minded colleagues, will take the following actions:

1. Publish on our conference website a list of open-access alternatives to journals such as English for Specific Purposes and the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, whose cost structures are currently prohibitive for libraries, researchers and teachers working in non-centre countries.

2. Seek to identify an appropriate open-access publication outlet that can be suggested to PRIISEAL presenters submitting papers for publication under the auspices of the Conference, as a possible alternative to those already planned.

3. Share through an open-access email list information regarding opportunities for access to articles and other publications of interest to our professional communities.

4. Participate in and encourage the development of open-access repository schemes for self-publishing and institutional archiving.

5. Whenever we referee manuscripts for publication, aim to do so in a spirit of constructive advice and collegiality; in addition, seek to develop training options for referees towards this goal, as may be possible and appropriate within our respective professional lives.

6. Proactively seek ways to maintain effective communication across the different areas of practice that were represented at the 2007 PRIISEAL Conference, and to collaborate as appropriate in initiatives to move forward the agenda expressed in this Tenerife Manifesto.


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Comments (2)


Kuddos for your efforts! Especially regarding open access. If it weren't for open-access materials and the postings of some authors who regularly feed their own site with their studies, I wouldn't have a good part of the references I'm using to write my master's thesis. I hope, someday, to be one of the brave few who posts their own materials for others to use, free of charge.

Amir H. Soheili-Mehr:

Thank you very much, Suresh, for sharing the info on this initiative! Another issue to consider is the local and national academic journals (mainly in the so-called developing countries) which are not indexed by Thomson ISI and alike. They are simply overlooked when the scientific contributions of nations are reported. If you have not already read it, you might want to take a look at the following article in NATURE (www.nature.com/nature), Vol. 430, July 15, 2004 (pp. 311-316):

The scientific impact of nations: What different countries get for their research spending
By David A. King

Thanks and regards,
Amir H. Soheili-Mehr (University of Toronto)

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