Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Knowledge Management and Dissemination

One of the requirements for obtaining my PhD (eventually) here at Duke is that I must go through 12 hours of training in what is called 'Responsible Conduct of Research'. I attended a recent RCR forum on the issue of copyright and was alerted to a few issues which I think are of relevance to our local universities.

The production and dissemination of research is the lifeblood on which academic life runs. The system here in the US is very good at doing both. There are multiple journals in which one can get one's academic work published in. Usually, the problem here is a case of too many articles chasing too few journals. I won't go into the details of how one gets published but what I do want to highlight is the fact that the distribution 'power' of these journals make being published in them valuable. The more one's work is read, the more one's academic career progresses.

Many of the journals which I'm familiar with (American Economic Review, American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, Journal of Economic Literature etc...) are easily available online through institutional and personal subscriptions. Many of these journals are also part of a larger 'network' of journals which are accessible through bulk subscription on the part of an institution. For example, subscription to JSTOR allows one access to a few hundred journals across different fields.

Their accessibility combined with their reputations as leading journals ensures that there is a steady supply of good papers by good academics whose reputations are enhanced by publishing in these journals.

By contrast, I know of no economics or political science journals published in Malaysia which are either available online or 'plugged' into a larger network of journal subscriptions. For example, the Malaysian Journal of Economic Studies, published by UM only have paper abstracts online. This means that a university such as Duke cannot even subscribe to online versions of this journal but has to opt for the hard copy version instead. What this means in practice is that the works by academics published in this journal won't be read widely which decreases the value of this journal.

Note: This also might impact the 'citations per faculty' index in the THES rankings for our local academics.

I tried to do a few 'Malaysian journal' searches on google and came up with these sites.

The first site is called the 'Electronic Journal of University of Malaya' (EJUM). It has 5 journals in it mostly covering engineering and scientific fields but I don't think it's plugged into a larger network of journals, making the articles less accesible to a wider audience.

The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, a USM publication, is actually part of a larger network called Bioline International which makes these articles accessible to a wider audience.

Journals to do with Malaysian law are, arguably, the best organized (both online and offline) probably because of the high demand and profitability of such journals which can be access here.

Finally, I tried to locate papers or research which have been funded by IRPA (Intensification of Research in Priority Areas) and didn't manage to locate any such database or publication. In contrast, the National Institute of Health (NIH) here in the US has a database in which research and papers on the projects in which they fund are deposited there and they are in the process of making this mandatory for all their funded projects. There are many universities which collect works done by their own professors and graduate students from various fields and puts them on an online database. This way, knowledge can be shared and the research done by academics can be appreciated and acknowledged by others.

I think there are some concrete proposals which can come out of this and I'll list some of them here:

1) Ensure that all Malaysian journals are available in online versions (and past volumes should be converted into soft copies to be uploaded)
2) Encourage the universities who publish these journals to try to be plugged into a larger network of journals (perhaps an Asian wide body that is similar to JSTOR) to improve accesibility (and perhaps profitability)
3) Encourage universities to set up databases and collect published works by its own staff and make these available online for knowledge sharing and research acknowledgement purposes
4) Ensure that one of the conditions of IRPA funding is that the result of the funded research is made public (within a reasonable time frame)

While this issue of knowledge sharing and dissemination is not as important as the other larger structural factors which have been brought up in this blog and elsewhere, sometimes, it's these small incremental steps which can be taken that together, make a bigger difference towards improving the state of our public universities in the long run.


Anonymous said...

IRPA research need not be published in renowned journals as it got a far better outlet for its research findings such as the gold medals in Geneva Trade Convention. Malaysians yearly got "tons" of gold and silver medals there. he he

The only problems is that these gold medals are not recognized by THES university assessment


Anonymous said...

What is this thing in Geneva, BTW? I keep hearing about it from Malaysian sources, but nobody else seems to know what it is.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming,

Two further suggestions/questions might be:

1. Are our periodicals listed in databases such as Web of Science, Lexis Nexis etc.? (As you know, each field has their preferred database and I don't know all of them.)

2. How good is journal access - especially online journal access - at our major universities? These days humaninites people still spend time rooting around in archives, but scietists almost never borrow hard copy journals from the library any more. We get everything online.

Untimately though, to be read, Malaysian academics have to publish in the high impact journals in their fields and also attend international conferences. There is just too much being published nowadays for everyone to keep up with everything. I think most scientists will admit that they read almost exclusively papers (a) by people they recognise and respect, and/or (b) in journals they consider to be good.

I wonder if trying to produce our own journals is...well, misguided?

Another interesting thing to do when you are procrastinating is to search for all papers from a given Malaysian university and then sort by number of citations. :-P

Anonymous said...

In the field of Social Science, another useful database is the Social Science Research Network ( Here one can access the full text of cutting edge research papers before they made their ways into the top tier journals. Rather sadly, not many Malaysian academics are capitalising on this opportunity provided by SSRN to make their work accessible. In the field of accounting, the presence of "too many" local journals such as Malaysian Accounting Review (UiTM), Asian Academic Jounal of Accounting and Finance (USM) and The International Journal of Accounting, Governance and Society (UUM), to name a few, may also adversely affect the overall quality of published work.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it should be Asian Academy of Management Journal of Accounting and Finance (USM).

Anonymous said...

P.S. In physics and some other sciences, there is also the pre-print archive, which is not reviewed/moderated: It's quite useful as some journals have a long lead time. Access is free.

Anonymous said...

The MMU Cyberscape Journal is an online journal with full-paper downloadanle and FREE subscription. You can get the webpage with "".

Anonymous said...

Previously, respected journals in sciences are reported in the current contents of SCI ie Science Citation Index. You can be assured that the highly regarded journals will be mentioned there

But in Malaysia they prefer in house, faculty and departmental bulletins where the board of editors publish their own or their cronies papers. These in house magazines often do not get mentioned in SCI due to poor research quality

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming in his suggestions has just laid the foundation for someone of authority to make perhaps a couple of million ringgit at the side. I am cynical, but do not be too surprised (or flattered, Kian Ming) if someone soon highlights your article and proposes a "scheme" for implementation based on your recommendation. Who knows, it may yet be announced that you will be offered the post of a gaji buta advisor to the scheme. Can lend credibility, what. Sad reaction from one who is half-a-century old. Remember the Smart Schools and the smarter brains behind those schemes.

coleong said...

In order for the journal to be favoured by fellow scientists, the quality of the articles published have to be good. Unfortunately, none of the paper in the Malaysian journal achieve such high standard as in international journal. I doubt if there is any researcher interested in citing those paper eventhough it's available freely. Sad to say but it's the painful truth.

Hournal such as Nature and Science take a long way to establish their name. With such high reputation, they have the ability to choose the highest impact paper to be published among thousand of papers receive every week. None of our local (Malaysian) journal has such competitive ability.

If you want your work to be noticed, the best way is to publish in those high impact journal. Here, in Harvard, jounrla where you publish your article is the key factor for your career success. A paper in Nature or Science is better than ten or hundred of papers in other low impact journal. They are really looking for quality rather than qualiy. One could easily publish a paper in any low impact journal without a doubt. But, it's considered waste of time to do so here because it's considered waste of time and effort even to write it. Everyone is hunting for big story and big breakthrough here.

Again, unfortunately, the situation in Malaysia is very different. No matter what journal you're published in, the "system" will classified it either as a local journal or international journal. Article publish in international journal give you a higher point when you come to promotion to Assoc Prof/Prof. Even if you publish in Nature (with an impact factor of >30), it's considred the same as publication in, say "Natural product letters" (impact factor 0.6) in our university system. Not to mention, someone can achieve their professor status merely by publishing lots and lots of "rubish" in local journal in low impact journal just to make up the point while no one really care what those article are about. No one even read it. Some might even be totally bogus.

So, my bottom line is, if the local research work want to be notice in the international journal, publish you work in high impact journal. Improving the quality of Malaysian journal is one thing but you need first to improve the quality of the research. With a good name in research, it will attract more good quality article. Without good quality article, the journal is going no where.

Anonymous said...

CO leong said:
someone can achieve their professor status merely by publishing lots and lots of "rubish" in local journal in low impact journal just to make up the point while no one really care what those article are about. No one even read it. Some might even be totally bogus.

In addition to that, I would add promotion is sometimes based on the amount/number of research grant obtained with disregard as to whether the research completed fits to be published in reputable journals.

Anonymous said...

I think this thread has become way too American-centric and elitist. Views like 'but scientists almost never borrow hard copy journals from the library any more. We get everything online' or 'read almost exclusively papers (a) by people they recognise and respect, and/or (b) in journals they consider to be good' or 'it's considered waste of time to do so here because it's considered waste of time and effort even to write it' etc.

Firstly, a good scientist listens to anyone who has interesting views, not just those who consider themselves elitist (I think the latter is very North-American culture). Secondly it is extremely arrogant to think that having only one publication in Nature/Science is far superior than a number of papers in other journals. It is like having a Ferrari compared to other vehicles that are used daily to serve mankind. A Toyota Yaris serves many more people than a Ferrari which is nice for occasional gloss but otherwise isn't very practical. Publishing is also highly political, so it is easier to publish within a lab which has a track record in doing so than otherwise.

Lastly national based journals (they exist in many countries including Japan, China, Croatia) are often not catered for international readers. It is useful to make networks locally, but I would say that for the purpose of disseminating research output, there are more than sufficient international journals out there.

coleong said...

Dear anonymous,

Sorry if I sounded arrogant. But, the truth is that I’m so disappointed by the lack of motivation for local researcher to publish in good international journal. It seems that there is no incentive/encouragement to do so in the current university system. One could either spend 5-10 years to produce a Nature/Science paper (if you’re lucky) or use the same period of time to produce several small papers. Under the current policy, it’s without a doubt that one will consider to emphasize on quantity vs quality.

Of course, a paper in Nature/Science would be nice but it doesn’t mean that it is the only good journal around. Others like, JBC, MCB, Cell and etc (biology) are good journals as well. In fact, there are numerous good international journal which serve a broad spectrum of audience. The bottom line here is that, aim high and plan a more thorough study. Give the audience a full story rather than a small story in separate paper to increase the no. of publication. One could do all kind of experiments and each will sure give you result. But the most important point is to have a definitive experiment that will put your hypothesis into test.

I’m totally agree that a good scientist should listen to anyone who has interesting views. But at the same time, I believe that a good scientist should also be capable of analyzing any published data/experiment critically. When I was a student, I used to read all kind of paper, from good journal, local journal, low impact journal and etc. If you’re in a biology field, it’s not difficult to find an explanation for any type of observation whether it’s positive or negative. There are so many papers out there. Question is, which one to believe ? In the early years off my research career, I used to just absorb whatever the writer claims for their discovery. As I move on to the recent lab, it totally open my eye about how one should be critical and sceptical about what we read in a journal article. While some of the work in the low impact journal has some really good quality. But most of the time, if you look it carefully, think from the beginning on how they collect the samples, run the experiment to the end results, you will sometimes be surprise that the hypothesis that they put through could lead you to a totally wrong direction. This is, of course, true for paper from Nature/Science as well. We learn from asking why the author do what they do, how did they achieve such results, how well does it fit into the recent understanding of the field, how good the results fit into previous model and so on. When we write, we write what we know, what we’ve done and what we think is true. Often, the readers will disagree with us because they think they are right and we’re wrong. Then we sit down, plan the most definitive experiment to prove it. Ahhh…… then you get the answer. That’s how scientific research work. There is no definitive true of a hypothesis unless it can stand scrutiny.

Now back to the publication issue. The main interest of publishing in good journal is not because it will generate enormous reputation. In fact, most people do not like to do so unless they’re absolutely sure their work is correct. Retraction of article is not something that anyone would like especially if it’s known to million of readers in the world. The most important thing to publish in good journal is to generate interest. People from around the world read them, analyze them and put your hypothesis into test. It’s the feedback from these people that could sometimes stimulate the progress of the field. You’ll be surprise how other people who work in the same line agree/disagree with you. Then you take consideration of all the feedbacks, sit down, and think carefully you could improve your hypothesis and move forward. In contrast, if your work is not being notice, you will be limited to just going around your own thought. You may argue that, Einstein do the same when he generate his general relativity theory. He basically ignore all the work out there (including the concept of quantum mechanics which is hot during that time) and generate his own idea. Well, how many scientist could do so. How many scientist can be absolutely sure he is right and the world is wrong. To be a successful scientist, you need feedback, you need information from others and you need collaboration. And to achieve that, publication in good journal is very important to gain audience of your field.

Now, as to local journal for communication purposes. Well, I think the best way to serve for this purpose is to organize local conferences. There, you can catch up with other people’s recent work, discuss about collaboration and etc. I think a conference will better serve for networking than publication in local journal (which most of the time is just collecting dust in the library). To improve the impact of our local journal, we first need to improve the quality of the article. And to do that, you need to improve the quality of the lab in university, improve the quality of the investigator and etc…. (a long list). Or, why not use the existing international journal as a stepping stone. Do the research, publish in international journal, gain reputation for the institute then launch a world class journal.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comments and insights. I am aware that I am coming from a North American perspective, which is unfortunately the only thing I know.

I am aware that the attitude of many North American scientists is as you say elitist and it's not something to be proud of. I would be curious as to how you think the situation here compares with other parts of the world. For example, you say that 'a good scientist listens to anyone who has interesting views, not just those who consider themselves elitist'. How does this work in practice elsewhere?

I am particularly interested in your comment that 'national based journals are often not catered for international readers'. What, in your opinion, is the purpose of national journals, particularly Malaysian journals, and how well do you think our journals fulfil this purpose?

Anonymous said...

hi there, anyone knows any free online political science journals available? I can`t find many local political scientists' writings in the academic journals. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear All,

I agree that Nature and Science are the first class journal for publication. If you can have one paper in either journal being published, definitely your research ability and academic reputation are recognised. However, for electrical engineering related research, IEEE and IEE journals are world-wide recognised as top journal. Most of the EE researchers or PhD students are required to publish one paper before they can obtain their degree.

Anonymous said...

hi Kian Ming,
UM does not have access to JSTOR and many of its thesis and dissertation are not easily available to anyone outside UM.

As for the journals published in a number of Malaysian universities, particularly UM< I am not sure how they will fare online within a larger globalscape since it takes them up to a year to print a journal meant for the year before. And this has not yet included the time lapse between paper acceptance and publication. Hence, the papers published will not be taking into account sources and references of the latest developments in their respective field.

The other problem Malaysian academia faces is the lack of expertise in many areas, something which I encountered while doing my MA. It can be a fight, especially for Masters level students, to get their work examined by an expert outside of Malaysia, especially in the fields of humanities and social science, since the universities are more interested in churning out large numbers of postgraduates rather than ensuring that these postgrads meet standards of minimal quality. Some deans use the excuse that they want a quicker turnaround time by not utilising examiners or referees outside of Malaysia, when most of the delays are caused from WITHIN the university administration. Of course, I understand that there is also the issue of cost. But, until Malaysia can produce and retain expertise in a wide area, I don't seen any other viable option.

I think, akin to the issue of plagiarism now rife in Australian universities, there is a head-in-the sand approach to academic excellence.