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Prof. Kamel Belhamel: “For the global south, Open Access is an opportunity in terms of innovation, the diffusion of knowledge and the emergence of new ideas.”

Continuing the highly successful Open Science Stars series, this round we’re honoured to bring you Prof. Kamel Belhamel, the recently appointed DOAJ Ambassador for North Africa. Here’s his story.

Hi Kamel, and thanks for joining us here! Could you start off by letting us know a little bit about your background?

Thank you for interviewing me Jon and congratulations on receiving your hard-earned doctoral degree. Best wishes for the future. (Ed: Thank you!! 🙂)

Image credit: Kamel Belhamel
Image credit: Kamel Belhamel

I am Kamel Belhamel, full Professor of Chemistry at the University of Bejaia, director of the Laboratory of Organic Materials and Editor in chief of Algerian Journal of Natural Products (E-ISSN: 2353-0391). I graduated in Chemistry at the University of Setif- Algeria and achieved my PhD at the same University in the field of Process Engineering and Chemistry of Materials. I have taken part to several international projects such as: Italian project, German – DAAD, French- Algerian framework programme CMEP and co-ordinator of several Algerian national research projects, CNEPRU, PNR). My scientific activity is focused on the chemistry of macrocycles; Solvent extraction of metal ions from ores and waste solutions; Extraction and study of chemical composition from plant extract; Electrodeposition of metals and alloys. I am author/co-author of 20 scientific papers in international scientific journals and more than 50 abstract books in national and international conferences. I was Supervisor of many Master’s and 11 PhD students. I am a member of the Scientific Committee of the Faculty of Technology, the Algerian Chemical Society, and Training Manager of Master of Science: pharmaceutical processes at the University of Bejaia. Recently, I was appointed as the DOAJ Ambassador for North Africa.

When did you first hear about open access/data/science? What were your initial thoughts?

I have heard about open access journals during my first scientific visit to Freie Universität, Berlin in 2000. When I selected an open access journal, Molecules, and edited by MDPI, in order to publish our research results, my friend, Prof. Rainer Ludwig, has refused to publish in this journal because, in this period it hadn’t obtained an impact factor and asked for high APCs (article-processing charges). One important element to keep in mind when discussing Open science, that this concept is very old. By the 12th century, Bejaia, my city was an important port and an open centre of science in the North Africa. The Italian mathematician Fibonacci (c. 1170 – c. 1250) has studied Arabic numerals and algebraic notation in Bejaia. He introduced these and modern mathematics into medieval Europe in his famous book Liber Abaci. Another influential North African Muslim thinker of the 14th century, Ibn Khaldun, has been extensively studied in the Western world with special interest. He has written a part of his famous Muqaddimah “Introduction” in Bejaia. This document, summarize his theories of the science of sociology, was the greatest legacy that he freely offered for all of humanity and the generations to come.

 

The bust of Ibn Khaldun  and the entrance door of the Casbah of Bejaia (built in 1154, place of learning for Ibn Khaldun , Fibonacci and other scientists). Image credit: Kamel Belhamel
The bust of Ibn Khaldun and the entrance door of the Casbah of Bejaia (built in 1154, place of learning for Ibn Khaldun , Fibonacci and other scientists). Image credit: Kamel Belhamel

You recently were appointed as the DOAJ Ambassador for North Africa – congratulations! What sort of activities does this role entail?

Really, I am very proud to join DOAJ team. It’s exciting and motivating to be a part of this not-for-profit organisation. DOAJ gives me the opportunity to work in a pleasant multicultural environment and to meet very nice friends from different parts of the world. Every member of the team collaborates and this synergy carries us further and faster than I could have imagined. DOAJ now operates from 15 different countries. One of my roles is to help editors and publishers from Northern African countries to increase the visibility of their journals and to facilitate the improvement of scholarly publishing. Many of those editors don’t have the experience of ensuring the quality and the transparency of the editorial process. As I am Associate Editor of DOAJ, I assist the group Editor with the processing of journal applications received from my region. Other activity is participating in seminars and conferences in order to promote the principles of transparency and best practice for scholarly publications.

We’ve heard from another couple of our Open Science Stars about the state of scholarly communication in North Africa. What has your experience been like in Algeria?

I have seen the blog post of my colleague Samir Hachani and I agree with him on many points. As many North African universities don’t have a strategic approach to scholarly communication, most of research production is growing slowly and relatively invisible. Nearly all Algerian researchers preferred to publish their papers in European journals with an impact factor, in order to achieve certain personal goals (e.g. better career opportunities and advancement, CV fortification, etc.). One other factor is that many editors of open access journals don’t have the experience of ensuring the quality of scholarly communication and the transparency of the editorial process. Due to poor connection quality, the Internet in Algeria requires new policies and strategies to be implemented in order to make the online situation more suitable for Internet end- users. The purpose of this strategy is to connect the majority of the cities in Algeria by using optical fiber to provide students and researchers with high-quality services. This technology will certainly contributed to increase the output and quality of academic journals and other forms of scholarly communication produced in Algeria through new models of communication such as blogs, wikis, social networking and RSS feeds. The Knowledge can’t be treated as a commodity and its dissemination is more than ever a vital concern in the Northern African countries.

Knowledge can’t be treated as a commodity and its dissemination is more than ever a vital concern in the Northern African countries.

What is the state of open access like at your institute? Is there a national policy for OA?

The Communications Technologies are transforming gradually Algerian Universities, especially at the University of Bejaia. The initiative aimed at increasing the visibility of researchers and student through harnessing the potential for scholarly communication in the digital age. The website of the University Bejaia seeks to share useful innovations, both in thought and in practice, with the aim of encouraging scholarly exchange and the subsequent benefits. We can find information about open access journals edited by Faculties, webTV of all recorded thesis and conferences, E-learning and personal website of all Staff of the University as well as a repository of published papers, books, book chapters and more.

How well informed are researchers about issues like open access, impact factor mis-use, and data sharing, in your experience? What can we all do to help improve the level of ‘open education’?

As I have already said in my blog post published in DOAJ website about Open Access Journals Strategy in Algeria, the Algerian researchers preferred to publish their papers in European journals with an impact factor. They have the access to those journals via their universities and think that access is free, when in reality it is not. The universities have often been involved in lengthy negotiations around the price of their site license and reuse of this content is limited. In order to limit the budget for the access to scientific journals, now there is only one portal for all Algerian Universities, this portal named ‘The National System of Online Documentation’ (SNDL) provides access to national and international electronic documentation, covering all areas of education and scientific research. As part of the outreach to interested Algerian researchers in open access, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has already decided that PhD students can defend their thesis by publishing their papers in Algerian open access journals indexed in Scopus, Web of Science, DOAJ, etc. One of the most important OA journal promoters in Algeria at this time is DGRSDT (National Council of Scientific Research and Technology of Algeria). Since 2015, the DGRSDT has organised workshops and supports Algerian editors in the implementation of open science.

Algerian researchers preferred to publish their papers in European journals with an impact factor. They have the access to those journals via their universities and think that access is free, when in reality it is not.

You’re also the founder and the Editor in Chief of the Algerian Journal of Natural Products, which is fully open access and charges no publication fees. Why did you establish this journal? How has this been received by the research community?

Many Open Access journals are labours of love produce by academics themselves. I think in this life we have a mission, the challenge is to seize the moment and utilize every opportunity we have to do more good. As I am a great believer and supporter of Open Access, I spent a lot of my free time to design the general layout and processes involved in publishing of my journal. As it is known, new journals are always with less reputation and don’t have an impact factor, however, the young researchers are well-advised to strive for publications in journals with high impact factors, and that is a big deal! I think that the decision about where to publish should be based on whether the journal is read and respected by your current and prospective colleagues, not on the impact factor. There are many journals with very low impact factors and very high reputation because they are quite difficult or/and their scientific field is of interest to a narrower audience.

Many Open Access journals are labours of love produce by academics themselves. I think in this life we have a mission, the challenge is to seize the moment and utilize every opportunity we have to do more good

Was it easy to set up this journal, technically and financially? Would you encourage other researchers in North Africa to consider doing the same?

I have launched this journal since 2014 on a voluntary basis. It was not easy at the beginning; however, in order to improve the quality and reach of scholarly publishing of my journal, I use Open Journals Systems (OJS). This publishing software has significantly enhanced the productivity and ease of use of my journal. In Algeria, if a journal involves fees (APCs), it will be considered as predatory, so this is why all Algerian journals are free of charges and do not charge an APC. Financially, they do not receive direct funding, but they are hosted for free on the websites of their universities. Out of 359 Algerian scientific journals listed by the DGRSDT, my journal is only one of 7 journals which are indexed in the DOAJ. Recently, ScienceOpen has launched a new competition for ‘platinum open access’ journals. My journal was selected to be included in the platform of ScienceOpen. I really encourage other researchers in North Africa to consider doing the same.

I think that the decision about where to publish should be based on whether the journal is read and respected by your current and prospective colleagues, not on the impact factor.

How are communities such as OA Algeria helping to catalyse open access developments in Algeria?

For the global south, open access is an opportunity in terms of innovation, the diffusion of knowledge and the emergence of new ideas. “Open access is good for researchers, good for innovation”. Many researchers work on the subject, but almost separately, with weak communication between groups. Our mission in OA Algeria seeks to achieve a) promotion of the exchange of ideas and experience among Algerian editors and researchers, b) Work closely with the researchers from Algerian universities to support the use of open-source platforms that can interface with outputs such as articles, journals and books. This collaboration with OA Algeria will foster more research and data sharing, with the aim of establishing global collaborative efforts by co-operating with international researchers and editors and organizations in the advancement of open access.

For the global south, open access is an opportunity in terms of innovation, the diffusion of knowledge and the emergence of new ideas.

How can platforms like ScienceOpen help younger researchers develop their skills in open research?

Usually young researchers are confronted with the problem that their scientific quality will be judged based on the impact factors of their publications. However, a paper published in journal with high impact factor and many citations takes long time, more than year. As ScienceOpen considered as ‘Research and Publishing Network’, younger researchers can publish more rapidly and their publications will be immediately available for Public Post-Publication Peer Review. This new concept for scientific evaluation can help in changing the old scholarly communication system. The researcher will be evaluated only on his scientific results not on the impact factor of the journal where his results were published.

What other tools or platforms would you recommend to researchers looking to get into open science?

 Twitter, Linkedin and ResearchGate are the most social networking sites for scientists and researchers to share papers, ask and answer questions, and find collaborators. However, I find the RG Score published by ResearchGate has questionable reliability and don’t reflect the citation impact of researcher because the measurement based on unknown calculation method. The citations measure the activity not the quality of the published papers.

If you could give one piece of advice to students looking to pursue a research career, what would it be?

Be patient and be sure about what you want, have projects and manuscripts at all stages of the process of publishing, look what journals are suitable for your research, what kind of research is needed, who their editors are, expose yourself to the world, and let others know your work and publications. At the end, be careful, some journals accept to publish anything for money.

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