Journals play a key role in bridging knowledge gaps

Lia Labuschagne

Lia Labuschagne

What role can scientific journals play in bringing the knowledge divide, not only between North and South, but also between researchers and policymakers?

A lively general discussion at Forum 2012 focussed on the role of journals in knowledge transfer in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights. But the same issues relating to disseminating scientific information also apply to other disciplines.

Some current topics relating to the international output of scientific journals were introduced by Marge Berer, editor of Reproductive Health Matters, and Ann Strode, senior lecturer at the School of Law, University of KwaZulu Natal, and editorial advisory board member of AIDS Care.

Journal articles can help bridge the gap between research and policymakers (Credit: Reproductive Health Matters)

Berer commented that “there has never been so much information before, nor so many means of disseminating and using it”.

Participants in the general discussion nevertheless pointed out that, especially in developing countries, there is often a big time lag between research being completed and finding its way into text books.

Factually outdated information is often still being taught. And although new health and other policies may be adopted, there may be no change in teaching material.

Scientific journals provide a useful link across this divide, partly because their up-to-date research findings and information is increasingly becoming available in accessible, electronic format to a global readership of academics and practitioners within various disciplines.

Advocates and lobbyists also use the information in journals as the basis of advancing well-founded arguments for change of policies and practices.

Strode said journals such as AIDS Care are therefore used by both researchers and policymakers as a high-quality source of knowledge that they can provide from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

Some additional ideas to emerge from the discussion of ways to use the contents of scientific journals to aid development included translations of articles into local languages, and selecting key pieces of writing on specific topics to be made them available as thematic packages.

In terms of the North/South divide, Berer pointed out that “more authors from developed countries than from developing countries have access to the resources to publish in international journals”.

To help to redress this imbalance, she said that RHM gives preference to papers about developing countries by authors from those countries, or written with authors from those countries.

Broader issues discussed at the session included the continued debates around open and closed peer review processes, formal recognition for reviewers, and questions of ownership and funding.

Lia Labuschagne is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

This blog post is part of our Forum 2012 coverage — which takes place 24–26 April 2012. 

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