According to the international publishing giant Elseiver, less than 2 per cent of the global scientific output between 2012 and 2016 came from Africa. A World Economic Forum report projects an even more bleak outlook on research in Africa. According to the report, only 1.1 per cent of the world’s scientific knowledge in the first 15 years of this century came from Africa. While it’s true that much of the science about Africa is generated outside the continent, there is a fundamental problem in the way the contribution of African scientists is reckoned. The knowledge is measured using research articles published by scholars in globally-recognised journals. This means that a lot of the good work done in Africa does not get reported. In Scientific African, launched on April 10, the continent’s unsung researchers have a voice.
The journal has no relation to the Scientific American. But an article that the well-known journal ran 30 years ago lends salience to the new publication from Africa. The piece was co-authored by the Harvard scientist Max Essex, whose erroneous research spawned the theory that HIV originated in the African Green Monkey. Essex had admitted to his error by then. But the article still carried a full-page colour photograph of the African Green Monkey. The Scientific American of today is, of course, not the journal it was in 1988. It reports on cutting age developments in science in Africa, including those in the astrophysics marked by the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere, SALT.
Scientific African will be an open-access online journal with no subscription fee. That is apt in more ways than one. Though much of the scientific research in the world remains public funded, journals charge hefty access charges. Researchers in Africa often come up against the paywall and also find it difficult in getting their work published outside the continent. Scientific African is one step in addressing their problem.