UAE researchers want more recognition

Researchers complain of little international recognition for their research, citing lack of international indexing of regional publications, language barrier and a lack of a culture of offering papers.

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As the country's first university press prepares to launch this month, some academics and experts in the UAE say they struggle to gain international recognition for their work unless they publish it in collaboration with institutions overseas.

Across disciplines, the country's peer-reviewed journals are not listed on highly visible indices used by scientists worldwide. The peer review process requires experts in a field - often other scholars - to critically examine an article before it is published.

One journal that was broadly indexed, Emirates Medical Journal, published through the Emirates Medical Association, ceased publication this year.

"There is a general feeling that there is a bias in the selection of international journals," said Dr Ghazi Tadmouri, the assistant director of the Centre for Arab Genomic Studies. "Once you try to publish as a group from the UAE and not with someone from the US or UK, you will have trouble surviving the review process."

In 2005, Dr Tadmouri conducted a review of medical journals and found there were 453 peer-reviewed journals in the Middle East. Less than 10 of those were internationally indexed.

Part of the problem is that there is not a culture of offering papers, he said. Medical scientists who practise in the field do not have time to write reports that would be competitive at an international level.

Language is another obstacle. "Whenever a scientist doesn't have English as his mother tongue, the text would not be as professional as someone else's and they would have a hard time competing for review," he said.

The University of Sharjah's two peer-reviewed periodicals, Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences and Journal of Shari'a and Law Sciences, are mostly in Arabic.

"Because the percentage of English articles in the journals is very low, it is not easy to be indexed in a way to have a high classification," said Basem Attili, the editor-in-chief of both publications. "That is an issue that needs to be addressed."

As a result, research done here rarely makes it into international indices. The popular repository of medical papers MedLine, for instance, does not have any listings for research journals from the UAE, although it does list local articles, most of which are from UAE University.

There is extreme competition from within the region to have work published abroad, especially in social sciences, said Ali Noor Mohamed, the chairman of mass communication at UAE University, who serves on the editorial board for an online journal published by University of Toronto Press.

UAE academics say international journals tend to have an appetite for only a few articles from the entire Gulf or Middle East region.

That is despite an explosion of new journals around the world.

"New journals are coming out almost every month, every year, but that in effect waters down the research itself," Mr Mohamed said. "Now there is even more competition within academic branches to be published in higher-quality, specialised journals."

Of the UAE's 13,000 research listings across different disciplines in Scopus, one of the broadest international citation databases of scholarly articles, nearly half are directly affiliated with UAE University.

The other half are from medical centres, government facilities and other universities.

In comparison, more than 46,000 come from Saudi Arabia, while more than nine million listings are from the United States and 2.4 million are from the United Kingdom.

Most research projects at local universities focus on issues that affect the country and might not be as relevant overseas, said Mohammed Yousif Hasan Baniyas, the dean of medicine at UAE University.

His department has been able to overcome that challenge by including international implications in its research of, for example, communicable diseases.

Zayed University will this month begin distributing a peer-reviewed journal and book series worldwide through an agreement with the British academic publisher IB Taurus. It will be one of the region's few university presses, alongside American University in Cairo Press and American University of Beirut Press.

Zayed University's new journal on culture and society, Encounters, will include articles from authors around the world on subjects including intellectual traditions and political systems.

"The education sector here is so young, but with growth I believe we'll begin to see more development in research meant to be read abroad and more publications coming out for different fields of study," said Rafael Reyes-Ruiz, the journal's editor.

Zayed University Press will eventually produce books for the public, including works of fiction and travel guides. Its publications will be edited and typeset in-house, printed in Dubai and then shipped to London for distribution worldwide.