Helicopter research and its effects on project sustainability – A conversation with Nicholas Outa
Bridging Academic landscapes.
At Access 2 Perspectives, we provide novel insights into the communication and management of Research. Our goal is to equip researchers with the skills and enthusiasm they need to pursue a successful and joyful career.
This podcast brings to you insights and conversations around the topics of Scholarly Reading, Writing and Publishing, Career Development inside and outside Academia, Research Project Management, Research Integrity, and Open Science.
Learn more about our work at https://access2perspectives.org
Nicholas Outa is a PhD student at Maseno University, Kenya. Currently, he is researching 'The Potential of Freshwater Integrated multi-trophic Aquaculture (FIMTA) in Lake Victoria' to help reduce the negative environmental impacts of Cage aquaculture in the lake. He is a Trainer in Scientific Writing and Publishing at TCC Africa
, which trains and mentors students and early career researchers on Scientific communication and Data analysis. Mr. Outa is a champion and campaigner for Open Science, a moderator at Africarxiv
, and a Reviewer for several journals in the areas of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences.
At Access 2 Perspectives, we provide novel insights into the communication and management of Research. Our goal is to equip researchers with the skills and enthusiasm they need to pursue a successful and joyful career.
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Nicholas Outa is a PhD student at Maseno University, Kenya. Currently, he is researching The Potential of Freshwater Integrated multi-trophic Aquaculture (FIMTA) in Lake Victoria to help reduce the negative environmental impacts of Cage aquaculture in the lake. He is a Trainer in Scientific Writing and Publishing at TCC-Africa, Access 2 Perspectives, and founder of WritingHub Africa, which trains and mentors students and early career researchers on Scientific communication and Data analysis. Mr. Outa is a champion and campaigner for Open Science, a moderator at AfricArXiv, and a Reviewer for several journals in the areas of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences.
Google Scholar: /citations?user=P-mAhyUAAAAJ&hl=en
Which researcher – dead or alive – do you find inspiring? Prof. Julius Kipkemboi. He is such an honest and humble researcher who has achieved a lot in the field of Aquatic Science and Dr. Erick Ogello, my current mentor who has achieved so much at a very young age. HE has also taught me research integrity.
What is your favorite animal and why? The rabbit!
Does the phrase ‘rabbit hole’ make you think of something that is very hard to understand and master? Whenever you think you have found it, then you realize that it was just a scratch on the surface and you have to keep going after it for an uncertain amount of time. Well, I have several versions of myself for every occasion!
Name your (current) favorite song and interpret/group. How am I supposed to live without you? This song, done by Michael Bolton, reminds me of a very special part of my research journey! It is the first song I listened to when I arrived in Europe (Vienna, Austria) for my MSc. I associate it with Dreams coming true! This too was the first time I was flying out of the country (and also my first time on a plane).
What is your favorite dish/meal? Ugali and Pork
(related web links and research articles)
- Helen Mendes (2019). Q&A: How to stop ‘helicopter research colonisation’. SciDevNet; scidev.net/global/opinions/qa-how-to-stop-helicopter-research-colonisation/
- Fernanda Adame (2021). Meaningful collaborations can end ‘helicopter research’. Nature; https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01795-1
- Angela I. N. Obasi , Seye Abimbola , Ndekya Oriyo , Ben Morton , André Vercueil & Refiloe Masekela (2021). Credit local authors fairly on international research papers. Nature; https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02831-w
- ORCID for researchers: info.orcid.org/researchers/
- ROR (Research Organization Registry): ror.org/about/
Jo: Welcome back to Access to Perspectives Conversations. We are here today with Nicholas Outa from Kisumu, Kenya, talking about helicopter research and how it jeopardizes project sustainability. We will also convene around best practices to do research in a collaborative approach, the right way, the better way to avoid helicopter research practices. And Nicholas will share with us what he has observed, what that entails, which is a recurring and very predominant issue in North-South collaborations. Welcome, Outa.
Nicholas Outa: Thank you so much, Joe, for inviting me and for having me for this conversation. I think it’s one of those conversations that are also very passionate to me. And as a young researcher, I’ve had experience in several projects and it would be a good thing to share my insights and also maybe my suggestions on how this can be done.
Jo: We’re very keen on hearing that. Let me briefly introduce you. So you’re a PhD student at Mercenary University in Kenya, currently researching on the potential of Freshwater Integrated Multitraffic Aquaculture, also known as FIMTA in Lake Victoria to help reduce the negative environmental impacts of cage aquaculture in the Lake. You are a trainer in scientific writing and publishing at TCC Africa and also since recently the founder of Writing Hub Africa, which trains and mentors students and early career researchers on scientific communication and data analysis, which we also do have Access to Perspective. So we’re also happy to have you on our team and looking forward to more. We’ve done workshops together, we co-facilitated some of our training, and we’re keen on future collaborations. You are championing and campaigning for Open Science and also a moderator of our initiative and organization, Africa Archive (AfricArxiv) as a reviewer and quality control manager. And you also are a reviewer for various journals under Fisheries and Agriculture and aquatic Sciences ecosystems really all scholarly disciplines. So yeah, let’s get the conversation started. What do you think? Or maybe if you introduce us to some of your daily practices within fisheries, could you map out for us what a typical day in your research realities looks like? Are you working more on the lab or more on the field? What does it look like or a little bit of both, I assume? What is your research reality most of the time? Nicholas Outa:
Okay, thank you. I think it’s a blend of both and because I’m also a part-time lecturer in Merceno, so I train undergraduate students and also sometimes master students. My research work basically is sometimes I go to the field and just set up experiments in the field and also sample fish and sample water and sediments from the leg. And so sometimes whatever I can process in the field, like taking a metric characters of the fish like length, weight and just looking for sex and stuff like this. Those ones I can do in the field, but part of analysis. Also I do in the lab that content analysis, I also do analysis of water quality because we know that water quality affects fish because that’s where they live. And also my research focuses on what influence these have on the water quality. So basically I work within the club and also in the field, but I enjoy being in the field because I get the chance to interact with the fishermen. I get the chance to interact with people doing aquaculture in the Lake so that I can also share part of what I got. So if it’s just even about the feeding rates, how best can they feed the fish to enhance growth but also not do too much that will interfere with our lake ecosystem? So that is the kind of information I also share with them so that at least they get a bit of what I’m researching on rather than just seeing me there every day and they don’t have an idea. They see me picking free samples, they see me picking water samples or sediment samples, but they don’t know what I do with them. So when I come back I tell them, hey, I think you’re feeding too much because a lot is accumulating the sediment. So what can you do to reduce this? So basically, typically that is what I do.
Jo: Basically helping the farmers as well as doing your own research, but also helping the farmers to increase the yield and the harvest from the fish. I don’t know if you can use the same word. I’m talking about animals here instead of crops and also respecting the animals as individuals and also as organisms in the fish that they are. We’re both also concerned about the wellbeing of the fish as much as the people who work with them and use fisheries as the source of their livelihoods. So in my view, I think that’s also what we share. Everybody needs to be okay, the fish needs to be okay, the fishermen need to be okay. The Lake needs to be OK, like in a balanced ecosystem. So it’s functional and what we do in Sprouts, where some of your research focuses on, that if we do practice aquaculture into the extremes, like compressing too many fish into a small area of a cage or whatever, then we have a problem with the ecosystem and we need to either filter more, which demands for more cleaning and rinsing. Is it right when I say that you’re trying to find an approach, where you can work with the fishermen and to develop small scale fish farming in a way that’s balanced also with the ecosystem where you can have big enough yield while making sure that the system in the ecosystem as the function won’t get compromised in the process?
Nicholas Outa: Yes, basically that’s right. Increasingly there’s pressure to produce more fish, there’s pressure to feed the human population. And one of the things I was reading through is, I just realized that right now this is the nutrition here in Africa. So the African Union has selected this as the nutrition. So part of it is increasing the production of food items and one of them, one of the most nutritious ones, is fish. So we need to produce fish and we cannot stop people from producing fish in the cages. But how can we do it in a way that does not interfere though, because the Lake, Lake Victoria is already choking in condition? So the Lake is polluted as it is. But if we also produce fish out of it, we know that the fish that have been thrown into the cages, not all of it is eaten. What then happened to whatever remains? So my research is focusing on whether we can have a technology where we will now find other organisms and other aquatic classes that now take up the excess nutrients that come out of these places? And also at the end of the day, we want money in the pocket and food on the table, but not at the expense of the environment, because if you touch too much on the environment, then one day it will retaliate. Of course, it will. You cannot harm it forever. So we don’t want to produce as much as we want while harming the environment. Part of what I also do is I can also try to standardize the optimal stocking densities for the fish because if we crowd too much of them, one, the growth is compromised and also there are incidences of diseases and also in terms of handling and stuff like that. So those are all things I am aware of. But the most important thing about this is how is my research is going to be important to the people? Not just to me, because I think it’s also most of the researchers. I think it’s also part of why we are having this discussion today. How do we deal with the people we collect data from? Apart from just the fact that it’s my research, I’m also working with the people, I’m also trying to improve their life. So what if I do this research, get very good information, but they don’t even know they don’t get to know this information or I package it in a way that they are not able to access it. So will they know the perspectives of my research? So it’s about access to perspective. So do I allow them access to my perspective of the design? Because that also gives me the chance of getting their perspective about what I’m doing. Because you don’t have a monopoly of knowledge. You might think you are a researcher, you’re coming from the university and you’re living with fishermen, but there are a lot they know that might end up improving so much on your research.
Jo: Yeah. And that’s also one aspect of open science, what’s normally known as citizen science. But we’re talking about stakeholders’ science. You work on one project with stakeholders of the project which in your case, some of which are fishermen and women, I suppose. So for you as a researcher to share with them the information that you gather and observations you make. And like you said earlier, you are probably overfeeding. So we need to make sure that there are not as many extra settlements in the pond or in the cage so that the water in the Lake does not choke. So everybody loses. On the other hand, it’s important for the fishermen to share with you their realities and their challenges, but also opportunities and maybe also in many aspects, traditional knowledge that they’ve collected over generations and what sustainable fish farming can look like and how that can be scaled now using technology and research insights. That’s really exciting to hear about. And please join us again as you’re progressing with this project and also the other research initiatives to share with us your insights. Also for a wider audience, I’d now like to move us back to the announced topic of this conversation, helicopter science. Could you briefly map out what that entails? It’s also known as predatory or parasitic research, and I would frame it in such a way that it’s probably oftentimes not intended as such, but it easily turns into that. And what does it look like for in your case, a Kenyan researcher engaging in international research projects like as much as the researchers coming from Europe, the United States, Asia, wherever in good faith and then with good intentions. But then what are the realities that you observe, which then turn it into a disproportional or only unilateral beneficial engagement? And then we further down the line, we’ll talk about how we can change that and what would be a more beneficial approach and mutually beneficial approach. But could you please map out what you’ve observed, what the difficulties and challenges are? Nicholas Outa: Thank you for bringing this. I think one of the things is you also brought it out clearly, many at times it’s never the intention. Most of the time I think most researchers are maybe not aware of this, but they don’t come with bad intentions. They’re not coming just to pick data and disappear, or just benefit ourselves. But it happens because many times we don’t have these very candid conversations and sometimes we need to have very good conversations at the beginning so that we are sure why they are coming here. And if you come, how are you going to work so that everything is set up? Because if nothing is set up, then I might not know. Let me just give you an analogy. If I live with my wife and if I don’t know what she likes and what she does not like, or if I don’t know what she expects me to do for her, I might think I’m doing my best, but maybe I’m not doing my best because I don’t have an idea what she expects me to do. But if we sit down and say hey, for this month, this is what I expect us to do and this is how we are going to operate, then it’s very easy for me to know what to do. So I might end up exploiting her or hurting her in a way, but I don’t have an idea. So it happens in two ways. One is that sometimes there are researchers on this side. Let me give the Kenyan context. Sometimes we are not open enough about what we expect of the people, of our partners from the other parts of the world. So they come and then either we do things in ways that do not really facilitate the research in ways that are required. I think as much as it’s not a good thing, it’s happening sometimes, but of course it’s reducing these days because people are becoming aware of these things. And also we are having stronger institutions in Kenya right now, for example, that will now help vet and you need to get permits from here and clearance. But the other thing is sometimes I think we blame the people who come to do research entirely on this. But sometimes we also have our wrongdoing. I want to give you examples. Without mentioning the names of projects, I just give you examples of what happens. Sometimes we have a partner from Europe as an example. I worked on a project and we had partners from Europe. So sometimes they visit and say hey, we can go to the field together, collect data. You go to the field to do the data collection and set up experiments. And then sometimes they observe the way you deal with the communities because this is what happens. I think for me parasitic research is not just about people coming from other countries that are a bit more privileged to come and play on us and take advantage of us. The local researchers also take advantage of the local communities. It happens in that way, I’ve witnessed it. So you go to the field as a researcher and find some people in the village whom you think are not as privileged as you are. And then you want to take advantage of them and you’re doing this sometimes in the glare of your partners, what do they take you for? So I think sometimes let’s also be sincere and also be as much as we want to blame other people for our problems, we contribute to this. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to take advantage of anybody, but as local researchers, if I am partnering with somebody from Japan, if I’m partnering with somebody from the UK or Sweden, and then they come to me and we are going to the field and then they see that I’m taking advantage of the people I work with, I’m not saying that there are chances they will take advantage of me, but that’s what I’m showing them. People treat us, the way they see us treat others or the way we allow them to treat us. And also the other thing is, as I said, we don’t make it clear that this is what we expect. Now at the local level, leave alone whatever is up there. At the local level, you go out there and because you want to get information from the local community, you lie to them about what you are researching. It happens with researchers even here. So parasitic research is not just about someone from another part of the world coming to Africa to take advantage of Africa or collect data, but also we also take advantage of the local communities by let’s say I’m giving you an example. We go and say I want to take samples and I’m only going to test for the prevalence of malaria along this region. And then I end up checking about HIV, TB and other diseases without really getting your consent. I’ve taken advantage of you, whatever I want to do with my information is my own thing as a researcher. So I think we also need to come down because if we have everything set up, if you are not going to take advantage of the people that are within our communities, then somebody coming from somewhere else might find it very hard to take advantage of us because they say, hey, these people have ways of doing things. Why are we trying to do things differently? So that’s one of those things that I’ve seen. That’s one thing I’ve observed in the projects I’ve worked with, sometimes we take advantage of our own.
Jo: I just suddenly had a trigger of thought because when you explained and just mapped out sounds similar to what happens with research on human stem cells because in Europe that’s restricted it’s forbidden to conduct research on stem cells, but it’s not restricted in Asia. So what happened is that many researchers from Europe, including from Germany, went to China to do the research because they believe that’s important research to be done. But we can’t do it here because of the regulations. So let’s go somewhere where we can actually do it. So it might sound a bit far fetched, but I think the issue is similar where like I said, well, you pointed out in some cases the researchers end up lying to the target audience or to the data collectors and how the samples are going to be used, which I’ve also heard about and saw in practice, it’s nothing that’s very glamorous. Of course, oftentimes it’s also due to regulations that seem unreasonable and are mismatching with the ambitions that research is trying to solve and serve. But we still need to comply with the highest possible standards when it comes to human rights, when it comes to research integrity or human integrity really to be honest and transparent about the process. And I mean, there’s also in between so research on human stem cells you might find unethical because it’s basically human being, some would argue a lump of cells or a human being because it has the potential to develop into such, whereas others see, these are just three or four. Well, hardly ever three, but 1,2,5 or 6 cells. You know where I’m going. So why would you consider that a human being and we kill the cells before it develops into anything that has a brain, so there’s no ethics or harm in it. So that’s one thing. And these conversations are necessary in research. But when it comes to south collaborations, what I’ve often seen is in Africa, there’s no such strict data privacy regulations. So we can just use people’s credentials or we can take samples and then repurpose it without telling everyone. Whereas in Europe now on paper, you need to inform the patients what the blood samples will be used for. Another question, is this really always happening? But on paper it should be done. So I’m feeling we’re going a bit far with this conversation. So if we focus on helicopter science, again, helicopter research. So the idea is that a helicopter comes, drops down, doesn’t drop from the sky, but researchers come into the country, collaborate, converse with the local researchers, and then collect the data, and then go out again and then publish the research outcomes in a Western Journal without acknowledging the African contributions or the contributions made by the African colleagues. And whatever means that you’ve seen and heard about to avoid that from happening. And also when working with the local communities, also, like you said, that this also happens on a local level, on a regional level, the African scholars go to the communities and explain to the people, oh, we need this and that from you to do whatever research project, and then the results are never presented to the people. So there’s no benefit for them to actually contribute. And they have invested time, often also time that’s precious because they didn’t then use the time to harvest. They didn’t use the time for work that they would normally have to do. So they have a constraint in investing in the project and none whatsoever reward from it. Okay, that’s two lines of thought to pursue. If we take one after the other. And I think you already mapped them earlier how it’s possible to engage with the various stakeholders of a research project when it’s local or fish farming, then of course, bring in the fish farmers into the conversation and explain to them throughout the process designing the project with them, and then also making sure that they can benefit from the research results. And is that something you’re also working towards? And you have found best practices and how this can be achieved, how they can see the benefits once the project ends or gets published, what’s the outcome that can be presented from the work that you’re doing back to the fish farmers?
Nicholas Outa: I think as you say, it’s about two lines. One, I’ll bring the conversation back to the helicopter science you’re talking about. So people come, they collect data, then they go and publish this data without acknowledging the local researchers they collaborated with. Or they do the acknowledgement but sometimes not really bring out the contribution, given the weight of the contribution, maybe they publish and then you are told the paper has been published and your name is there, but you never maybe got the chance to contribute actually like being into the publication thing. Like I was part of the publication or I just found my name on that paper. So I think it happens sometimes, not all the time, but as I say, most researchers are not really malicious. But I think this starts with us as researchers. Being a scientist does not make you. You need to make a decision. It has to also be very deliberate. You could have very good laws but you need to be very deliberate on what you do and also just share this with your team members and sometimes insist on best practices and ask them at the point of designing a proposal or when you’re writing these things, we really need to know who we are going to work with. We are going to celebrate with somebody from here, somebody from here. What about our local stakeholders? Where are they? Then you map all the stakeholders and say we are going to deal with fishermen, women who are maybe feeding mothers. If you want to do studies on how the fish could improve their lives and stuff like this, we really need to be very conscious and plan with them consciously. It’s not like we just say we just list them, we need to really engage them into integrating them into our site, designing and saying what role will this person play, what role will they play and then inform them of what we expect out of them? We would say, hey, we are coming here. This is a project, this is what we intend to achieve, this is what we are doing and this is how you’ll benefit from this. But at the end of the day there needs to be a formal event with the local communities because this is one thing we’ve learned about for a long time. We are doing a project called the KESAP (Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project). So I am in the aquaculture sector and one of the things we did is we would go to the communities and ask them. We would really of course, sometimes when you come to the communities and try to solve their problems, you might end up solving your own problems, not solving theirs because they know what is pressing. So you could take meat, but they want vegetables. So we went out and asked them what the pressing issues were in terms of aquaculture and we found some of them wanted to be taught on how to formulate fish feeds. Some of them wanted to be supplied with fingerlings. So it’s different. And then now we agree with them. With this project, this is the benefit you are going to get. So we are going to train you on this, this and this. And then at the end of the project to ask them, we really want you to tell us if indeed you got the kind of feedback we wanted. And then we go to the local area assistant chief, which are the local government representatives, and deposit this document with them because we work with groups. So we deposit this document of agreement. And it’s not a complex agreement. It’s just about what they benefitted. It was translated into Dulu, which is the local language, and it’s read to them and they also read it in their language. So the assistant chief, the area government representative, has that document. So when the project ends, it’s just about just talking and saying, this is what we said we’ll do, did we do it? This is what we said, did we do it? And once in a while I would always go out there with my team members and just tell them where we are, what we have done so far, without maybe not getting them into poor science, but just telling them, yeah, we found out that your fish is growing very fast. And I think it’s because of the feeds or you need to adjust the feeding rate from this one to this one, because we sampled last week and we realized now they have this number of grams instead of this one. So I think it’s about just making those deliberate moves, because otherwise, of course, human beings are in our very own nature. We are very selfish. And the lowest level I tell people, when somebody tells me they’re not selfish, I ask them, when you go to a store, a grocery store, and you find the person selling, you will tell them, I want you to choose the best tomatoes for me or the best for me. What does that mean? It means that whoever is coming behind me should get something of a lower quality than what I got. So every human being is selfish, but it’s about to what extent, especially in terms of research. To what extent can you control your selfishness and just try to moderate it? And just don’t be too selfish on something because I’m going to get the data I’m going to publish out of it. Why can’t I just give something to these people? So that because without them I might not have gotten, I could not have gotten the results I have. So I think it takes however much we have given it out. You said that on paper that we could have very good laws, but these laws have to be followed by human beings. Even if there is a police officer standing there and telling you that if you don’t do this, you’re not going to do that. Human beings will always find their way around every single thing under the sun. So I think if you want to find your way around it, find your way around it in a good way and also try to just be deliberate, just be a good person, be a good researcher and deliver and be open in your research. I think open science is not just about because for a long time for me I talked about open access. So you publish open access. But we realize it’s just about being open. Be open in what you say, be open in what you do. Be open in what you feel. Because if you feel the committee is not treating you right, be open with them, tell them can we go back and renegotiate because I see you said you are going to give me three points through my experiment. Now you are saying two and only giving me one. So just be open throughout the research period. Be as open as possible. That will help everybody.
Jo: Yeah. I feel it’s also a matter of respecting everybody’s contribution and acknowledging everybody’s contribution. And as scholars, one way to acknowledge when it comes to the scientific writing and publishing part is by embracing new taxonomies instead of having an alphabetical author list or not alphabetical, alphabetical would be one approach. So instead have a hierarchy of contributions by scholars only. What is the credit taxonomy? And we put the link to that also on the show notes that credit taxonomy suggests to list each and everybody’s contribution to the project which might include also local communities or a brand for fish farming agency or institution to list the individuals and also the institutions that have contributed to the success of a research project. And that can be clearly described through the credit taxonomy. And then as far as start that’s been on record on paper. And there can also be other rewards like you described if we allow in your case as a fisherman to participate in the project design, to learn about the extra needs and then let them also learn from the research progress by you informing them how to change the formula for the fish to grow not quick but as slow and as fast. It makes sense for their organic system to be functional and to be like a healthy fish bread, but also to yield big enough of a harvest for food production, then everybody wins. And to make that transparent in the process and to make it part of the project design in the first place. I think it’s how we can create equal acknowledgement, equal opportunities for everybody in the process and avoid earlier levels of helicopter science or data research on a local or international level. Would you agree and can you add to that?
Nicholas Outa: I agree with that and I’ll just add to it because I know we are going to that discussion. I think we can just put it here. Part of the things that can now also be done is I think one of the things is the partners from more privileged places. Sometimes in research, I don’t even want to say that people are more privileged than others because you are coming to do research in Africa or you are coming to do research in this part of the world because there’s something you cannot research on. So we are privileged in that sense. It’s only that sometimes we don’t want to see it. We are privileged to have Lake Victoria that is not there in Sweden. We are privileged to have Lake Victoria that is not there in Mozambique, for example. We are privileged. So it’s only that sometimes it may be the technical logical privilege that would be there. But I think what can happen is if you focus on empowering the locals. So like the local researchers, there was a time when I was working on a project and we were talking to Japan, and we were trained for six months under the project. The collaborators took us to Japan as research assistants and trained us for six months before the project kicked off. So when we came back, we had the idea. So we really had all the information required for us to do the research. So I have that skill even right now, that partnership helped me because I was empowered by being taken to a lab where I would get the kind of equipment that I may not be able to get from here. So with those kinds of things, one is to empower local research. Secondly, sometimes most of these editors and reviewers, if a paper is sent to you, and this could be perfect. But if a paper is sent and then you see, because sometimes in the writer, you could figure out, you could see, okay, maybe this research was done in Uganda, because sometimes even the title could say something in Uganda, and then you realize, hey, am I seeing Ugandans in this paper. You might not, of course, I may be somebody who say, you have been that mentor or something like this, but sometimes it takes those kind of steps just you could ask the authors, because if you see through the affiliation and you realize there is no Uganda institution in the affiliation, and this research is all about Uganda, fisheries of Uganda, fisheries in Kenya, aquaculture in Kenya, malaria in Mozambique, and there is no institution in Mozambique and not anybody in the authorship that is from that country. So as a reviewer, as an editor, ask a question, ask them, hey, this research is about Uganda. And I’m not seeing any Ugandan here maybe can you explain. You are not going to reject the paper, but give them the chance because that challenges them. They might just feel shy and go and include somebody and tell them, hey, we submitted a paper and there’s a question here that we need to address. So let’s put you as part of. So even if they are doing it out of fear, next time they will deal differently because they will know when they want to submit another paper without somebody or nutrition from that country, they will ask themselves what if it backfires or what if we are asked about the same thing. So editors and reviewers can also help us in this. If you find a paper and you find it there in the country and there’s no one from that country, there is no interest from that country. Ask them, hey, I’m not saying throw it out, but ask them. I’m concerned. This is about Lake Victoria and the site was based in Kenya, but I’m not seeing any Kenyan institution. I’m not seeing any Kenyan here completely. So maybe would you mind explaining why that is? They can have a very valid reason. Maybe they approached us, so we say we don’t want that kind of publication or we don’t want to associate with them, but let them give some explanation. Then that will make them next time when they are dealing with other people, they will be like, okay, so we really need to do things differently. So at the point of publication, that is one thing that can really be done. And also the other thing is some of these projects, even before they end, most of them are presented in seminars or conferences at international level as a researcher sitting and listening to these things. If somebody is presenting data from a different country and they’re not mentioning, you can find the way they are mentioning them, maybe. I’m a PhD student doing my research in Kenya. So when I’m presenting something in a conference and I am from Iceland, of course this is my data, it goes into my PhD. So I might not really put everyone there. But just look at how they talk about the people who help them, who contributed towards the collection of this data. Are they talking about anybody or are they saying like they came and collected this data loan, this was their sole work. Ask them. I’m not saying to challenge them, but ask them in a polite way, even in the Q and A question section, ask them, hey, did any other person from that country contribute to this? Just look at them and see how they react to it. You shall have enlightened them to something. So next time they will act differently. It’s about just creating awareness about I think when we create enough awareness, people will start acting differently and they will start seeing things differently. So those are some of the other many things that can add to whatever you talked about.
Jo: It’s true. I’ve also observed it and oftentimes it’s just encouraging. Also this young Icelandic PhD student. So because he or she might not have seen other people do the same, but it’s an increasingly emerging practice that acknowledges everybody’s contribution. And as much as you often see acknowledgement slides and presentations where the funders are being acknowledged that people who work within your research group, you might as well acknowledge the people who actually facilitate the work in the host country. Like another issue that I was just recently, last year, I became aware that African scholars have, not all but some have learned to intentionally not mention their home institution to stand a higher chance of getting the paper through the review process. So instead of listing like even their first or second author, instead of listing their University, they would name the partner affiliation, which might be Cambridge University which is a natural go through door opener for editors and reviewers. So that also needs to change. So it’s basically also a call on the African office to step up the game and that can be daunting because experience is discouraging oftentimes. But I think there’s also increasing awareness that we’re all here to contribute and learn from each other as scholars in a global sense. Of course, the acknowledgement should go also to the institutions who provide the facilities, who trained and taught the researchers throughout the academic career. For them to become young, ambitious and successful scholars and then the credit through the research writing then goes to the partner institution. Doesn’t make sense, but it’s a reality that African scholars have faced that it’s the only way to get the paper through the review process or it has been in the past. So there’s a need for a change of attitude for everybody in the process. Is that something you’ve also heard about as much as yeah…?
Nicholas Outa: It is true that it happens. And I think this also goes to the fight of reviews and that’s why I think we said there are a lot of conversations you can have. But also reviewers as I said, we are getting back to them if we are going to review and we also have to be very open reviewers and also be very vigilant and also just be objective because if we realize that reviewers there are chances of my paper being accepted, if I list maybe negative University in Japan because that is part of, let’s say we were part of a project with Nagasaki and I realized hey, I’m submitting this paper to at least if Nagasaki comes fast and then Merceno will follow, somebody will look at Nagasaki before they look at Merceno and then they will think that this is a more serious research than if it was just done by some Merceno people. And that’s true. We are shooting ourselves in the foot and we are trying to as I say, we are lamenting sometimes but sometimes we also have a role to play as the local researchers because if I’m not proud of myself invested, how am I helping the institution be visible? And also how am I helping myself because collaborations can also result out of those things. So if I publish a paper with merceno somebody will read the paper and say, oh, this was about a certain topic. It was done in Lake Victoria by Merceno.
So I want a collaborator in Kenya. I know where to go. Researchers, especially researchers from Africa, it’s our time to change things. When I said that, I’m a young scholar, there was a Professor who told me, you’re not going to be a young scholar forever. So you start doing things now. You’re not young anymore. No scholar is young. So use your experience right now to fix whatever you can fix. So scholars were just coming into the limelight. I think it’s my responsibility. It’s the responsibility of everyone to also just step up and say, I’m proud of this. Let’s just list our institutions and make them be visible because we are capable, we have whatever specs. Why is it that we are behaving like we don’t have what it takes? Because I say people will treat you the way you want to be treated or the way you treat yourself. If today I come and start looking like I’m helpless, I don’t know what to do with myself. Someone will not be sure about me. They will be like, this guy does not. But if I come out and say, hey, I have the capacity, I have the chance, and I have the expertise that is required to do this thing. So let’s acknowledge our institutions, let’s make them visible.
Jo: On that note, I want to mention the organization called ROR.org which provides persistent identifiers like the Orcid ID for researchers. This is an identifier for institutions and affiliations to be mentioned also in the research paper and an increasing number of publishers integrate that in the submission process to list the identifying number based on ROR as you submit your paper. So basically, what affiliation are you from? Is it Messenger University? Then look up that number, that Identifier and also add it to the submission portal and you will find the link to that as well. So coming to the conclusion of this conversation and it’s been really enlightening and also it’s always uplifting to talk to you and it’s always fun and thought triggering to have conversations with you and very happy that we agreed to have a few more to follow up with. But now on this topic, what would be three to five simple steps any scholar can take? For once, avoid helicopter science. I think we mentioned a few, but let’s just summarize them again. Maybe do I have to start with? Well, you could maintain and showcase your public record of your Rocket profile where Rocket is also currently working on integrating the ROR Identifier. You can mention your home institution, which would be naturally, but sometimes there might be areas or bad experiences from the past that prevents some of us in doing so to give the fair acknowledgment and recognition for also the institutions that support our work and to ensure that everybody who contributed is listed as a contributor or author, coauthor on a paper as the result of a cooperative and collaborative international research journey in lines and aligned with the credit taxonomy. So these are three systems that I put on the table. What would be some of the attitudes in summary from our conversation and we want to see more that you can see that each of us can take to do better research and equitable approach.
Nicholas Outa: One is to be human even as we do research. So be human. Treat other people with respect and respect their views and their expertise and their time and their resources. So whether they are local people or the people you are collaborating with. So even if they are coming from other countries, let’s say they are flying in from China and they are coming to your country as a collaborator, just respect them. And because that also encourages openness. If I feel you respect me and respect my values, I’ll be very open with you and I’ll be able to treat you the best way possible. That is one. Secondly, we need to also have very candid conversations at the beginning of our collaborations and have very sincere collaborations because sincerity only comes when we are open. So when we are setting conversations, make it very clear that this is what I expect from us, this is the benefit I’m going to get and this is how publication is going to be done. Let’s make it very clear. Any output from any research collaboration, how is it going to be without there? Who is going to do what? So if publications are going to be done, who is going to do the publication and the ownership, how is the authorship going to be determined? These are things if you know that publications are part of the output of your research, of your collaboration and make them part of your collaboration, make them very clear and say, this is the procedure that needs to be followed. If you develop a manuscript, it has to go through this. I’ll make them very clear so that if somebody violates them, you just point to that and then it’s very easy for them to identify, hey, I have violated this one. The other thing is let’s empower local researchers. So let’s train local researchers. And even if it’s not about, let me not even say local, let’s empower our collaborators. Because if somebody flies in from Japan, for example, into Kenya, there’s a way we can empower them. We can give them a certain knowledge that they do not have so that when they go back it can also help them on the other side. So maybe how we set up experiments in very difficult conditions. What happens when a flood comes and appears on all your crosses that you are researching on. So how do we adjust? Because that might help them on the other side? They might also go to a different country, for example, another time, and if they had learned something in your area, then they would know how to handle it elsewhere. So let’s empower each other. It’s not about empowering the local researcher, but of course, that is part of it. But let’s empower each other. Be open to training. So if somebody comes from a different country and asks you, hey, how do you deal with drought in this country? Just tell them what you know so that you never know where that will be useful. And I think lastly, let’s just practice and advocate for open science. That will help so many things. Open science is just being open. I think that is the only thing. Be open about what you feel. Be open about what you do. Be open about what you feel, and be open about how you reason and be open about how you deal with people. Let us be open and let science be open. That’s it. I think that will solve everything. Let’s be open. Let’s just be open.
Jo: I think a very recent new viewpoint I have on open science. I keep preaching like open science doesn’t mean you have to put everything on the table of the conversations. Yes. Like you said, be clear about your project approach. Pre-register the project plan. Basically have a plan in mind before you engage into collaborations and also inform the prospective collaborators what your goal is. And also listen to what their stake is in working with you. Like you just said, be aware that everybody has to bring something to the table. And it’s not just crisis management. There’s regional expertise that the Northern partners can learn and should learn and be ready to listen instead of coming with an attitude. We’re here to teach. Everybody is also there to learn and again, how to deal with crises and how to work in a low research environment. But there’s so much expertise also on the topics like in terms of fisheries and agriculture, there’s local and regional expertise. How do the ecosystems function, what is sustainable fishes, what is traditional fissuring? How can the Fisher be scaled through the technology without harming the ecosystem? So everybody wins if we have an open approach. And when it comes to science, like, what open science is calling for is really to have a clear project plan, to have open conversations about the approach, and then to make informed decisions to manage your data well, to plan out your data management, and then to package in sequences along the process. What of our findings can be packaged in a way that’s consumable and positive for other audiences Besides the research team that’s actually working in the project, at what stage can we communicate to other stakeholders and inform them along the process to also inform ourselves and get feedback from other stakeholders that then will further inform the project itself? To be concluded with the research paper. So that’s basically what open science is and becomes more and more to me. It doesn’t mean that you have to put all your cards on the table. There’s also a level of closeness necessary for closeness in the process in terms of sensitive data and project design. There’s an iteration process Where it doesn’t make sense to put all the messiness online, but you want to clean up your data first and learn from it before you can present it to others. I think that’s a common misconception about open science and people are scared. Like, I don’t know what I’m doing here, so how should I make that accessible? It doesn’t make sense to me, so I would rather harm the project and myself in doing so. But no, that’s not what open science is calling for. It’s rather a package as well. Understand your own research, be open about your approach, Why you’re doing a certain project and that should be communicated and then work with as many stakeholders as feasible for certain projects, give credit to everybody’s contributions and then present the results along the way and also the final package in form of a research article or project report or whatever form.
Jo: That’s it. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been really like, again, I’m repeating myself, but it’s always a pleasure talking to you and learning from you and I’m glad we’re doing this together and already keen on our next conversation on this channel and others.
Nicholas Outa: Thank you.
I’m grateful for this conversation. I think we need to have this and we need to have even more of this. I think the most important thing is helicopter science is happening, though. Maybe it’s reducing because people are becoming more and more aware, But I think we put out a few recommendations that are just what we think in this conversation and also we cannot exhaust all of them in this one fitting way. So I think it’s just making us aware that it’s happening and it’s not a good thing for science. So part of it, as we also mentioned, is let’s try to practice science that can also help us solve a bit of this. There are so many resources out there and you can always reach out to access to perspectives, for example, there is a way that you can always just ask questions and you can get answers to this, but let’s try practicing just responsible science, responsible research and everything will just be good for everybody. Thank you.