Ukrainian researchers press journals to boycott Russian authors

Moscow: Russian scientists have been excluded from international cooperation.Credit: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg/Getty

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many research organizations quickly severed funding and cooperation ties with Russia. But these moves have sparked debate over whether Russian scientists should be able to publish in international journals. Some argue that boycotting is morally valid and could help end the war, but many journals say that indiscriminately isolating Russia’s scientists would do more harm than good. This week, Russian authorities appear to have responded to the boycott threats by saying they plan to drop the requirement that government-funded scholars publish it in recognized foreign journals. Some Russian researchers say the move could harm the country’s science.

Ukrainian scientists have made the strongest calls to ban Russian researchers from entering the journals. “Russian scientists have no moral right to retransmit any messages to the world scientific community,” says Olesya Vachuk, head of the Ukrainian Council of Young Scientists at the Ministry of Education and Science, in two letters dated March 1. Letters to publisher Elsevier and citation database Clarivate call for Russian journals to be removed from databases and Russian scientists to be removed from journal editorial boards.

Opponents of the ban – in Russia and elsewhere – say it will punish scientists who oppose their government’s actions, and science can serve as a diplomatic channel. “You have to ask what this will achieve. Is it about sending a signal? If so, there are better ways,” says Richard Sefer, co-founder of bioRxiv and medRxiv prepress servers.

Scientific exchange

Few journals have so far banned Russian scientists. Titles including temper nature And Science She condemned Russia’s actions in editorials, but also spoke out against the indiscriminate dismissal of its scholars. In the March 4 editorial, temper nature He said a boycott of publication against researchers in Russia “would divide the global research community and limit the exchange of scientific knowledge.”

At least one title, is Molecular Structure Journal, published by Elsevier, said she would no longer look at manuscripts written by scholars in Russian institutions. The invasion violates international law, says Rui Fausto, journal editor and chemist at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. Our decision will be valid until international legitimacy is restored. And he adds: “It is not addressed to Russian scientists, who certainly deserve all our appreciation and respect, but to Russian institutions.”

Elsevier said temper nature That he could not give a figure for the number of magazines that took a similar position, but it was “too low”. The publisher has not imposed restrictions on accepting papers involving Russian authors. “We will not enforce our preferred approach if individual editors feel strongly about the topic,” Elsevier said.

By contrast, in response to the Russian invasion, Clarivate, which operates the Web of Science citation database, announced on March 11 that it would cease all commercial activities in Russia and immediately close an office there. It had previously suspended the evaluation of any new journals from Russia and Belarus – which supported the Russian war – that it sought to include in Web of Science. Lisa Holm, Clarivate’s global head of external communications, says she’s dealing with Ukraine’s science minister.

Ukrainian scientists welcome such moves. “[By] Miroslava Hladchenko, who studies higher education policy at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences, says the rejection of manuscripts by Russian authors and the exclusion of Russian journals from Scopus and Web of Science. Ukraine in Kyiv. Hladchenko says Russia has bombed more than 60 educational institutions in Ukraine, highlighting its “attitude towards science and education”.

policy change

Several researchers in Russia have spoken out against the publication boycott. Most of the scientists there who strive to be part of the global scientific community oppose the war, says a Russian university political scientist who asked not to be named due to safety concerns. “Many take a personal risk to protest this,” says the researcher, who said they narrowly escaped arrest at an anti-war demonstration. They say a blanket refusal to review and publish the manuscripts “will have no effect on the Kremlin’s policy.”

But Hladchenko says she feels Russian scientists should do more to stop the war. She says that the exclusion of Russian authors and journals will force these academics to “re-evaluate their activity and contribute to the development of civil society in their country”.

For its part, Russia appears to have responded to the international community’s growing isolation. On March 7, the office of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko announced that it plans to abolish current requirements for scientists to publish in journals indexed in the Web of Science or Scopus, according to Russian news reports. Institutions in Russia currently receive a higher evaluation rating if their scientists publish in foreign journals, and researchers who receive grants from the Russian Science Foundation and other government programs must publish their results in indexed journals. Chernychenko also asked the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education to present its own system for evaluating research.

Some researchers say the move could harm Russian science. The requirement to publish in international journals has helped motivate the best research groups and increase the quality of research in Russia, says Andrei Kolbachinsky, a molecular geneticist at the Institute of Molecular Genetics in Moscow. Kulbachinskiy fears that a ban may soon be imposed on Russian scientists’ publication in international journals. Kulbachinskiy, speaking in his personal capacity, says that while removing these requirements may ease pressure to publish for many groups, he says, it will likely lead to a “rapid decline in the quality of publications.” It would “make science meaningless”.

Yuri Kovalev, an astrophysicist at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, fears that after financial sanctions are imposed, people in Russia will likely struggle to pay for goods and services. This could leave organizations unable to pay article processing fees or magazine subscriptions, he says. “I think we’ll use arXiv and Sci-Hub,” he says.

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