Create and empower lead authors from the global south

Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

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Dyna Rochmyaningsih argues that the position of authors from the ‘global south’ on papers with Western scientists could be unfairly affected by their limited access to funding (Nature 553, 251; 2018), citing our paper on a new species of orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) in Indonesia as an example. In that case, however, an Indonesian (A.N.) is one of 4 lead authors, and listing of the 37 co-authors was decided on the basis of contribution rather than funding. Nevertheless, such collaborative standards are rare.

Authorship is too frequently a bargaining point to enable international scientists to work in developing countries or it is politicized, as seems to be happening in Indonesia. National and international scientists from the global south are still less likely to have their papers published (K. A. Wilson et al. PLoS Biol. 14, e1002413; 2016) and cited (E. Meijaard et al. Conserv. Biol. 29, 920–925; 2015). These biases need to be addressed.

Access to funding is not the key constraint for aspiring lead authors from the global south (see also Nature 554, 415-416; 2018); scientific capacity is. They need more and better instruction on how to lead the conceptualization, implementation, analysis and write-up of the research. As well as participation in international research, this requires training in scientific leadership, publishing culture and in English reading and writing skills. Once they become science leaders, this will rapidly translate into lead authorship.

Nature 555, 443 (2018)

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