Caption: Five-group classification of countries based on the localization rate of studies that mention a country name or demonym in their abstract. From Torres and Alburez-Gutierre (2022)
Our paper looking at how educators understand the datafication and digitalisation of teaching and learning has just been published. ‘Technology is not created by the sky’: datafication and educator unease”, written by myself and Jennifer Feldman, explores datafication in education as well as educator agency. I hope it will be read because it gives voice to educators and makes what we think are important arguments about how datafication has inequitable manifestations and consequences in education. Also that educator responses are theoretically and pragmatically rationale even while so many are exploited by the dominant business models of big tech in education.
But I am not going to synthesise the paper here. I want to talk about something that happened in the peer review process, which is that one reviewer recommended – twice- that the country where the empirical study took place, and where the authors are located, should be mentioned in the title.
The journal editors are in the UK, and the journal has an international readership. LMAT is known for astutely raising critical issues of international interest. We did not agree with this recommendation, because if we used our country in the title, we felt that this that it would signal that the issues were of local interest only, and less likely to be read. Fortunately, the LMAT editor agreed with us.
Our instinct is backed by evidence. One study which analyzed research between 2004 and 2011 found publications with a country name systematically receive lower impact values both at the general level and by subject category (Abramo et al 2016). This is confirmed by another study which analysed a longer period, which found that mentioning a country in either the title or the abstract is associated with lower citation rates, and that this is observed for every country when all disciplines are combined (Archambault 2017).
The findings are especially marked when comparing the global south and the global north. A 2022 study analyzed half a million social science research articles indexed between 1996 to 2020 finding that “empirical articles written by authors affiliated to institutions of the global North, using data from these countries, are less likely to include a concrete geographical reference in their titles. When authors are affiliated to global South institutions, and use evidence from global South countries, the names of these countries are more likely to be part of the article’s title”.
We agree with the authors of the 2022 paper that evidence from and about the global north is assumed to be more universal. The assumption of a paper named as from the global south is probably that it is a case study, reflecting or exemplifying a local case, quite possibly of an issue described elsewhere as being relevant by researcher from the north. It is less likely to be regarded to be making a general point of broad interest.
Yet, to return to the paper we published, we make a key argument about datafication and how it reflects, aligns with and contributes to inequality. Yes, this is a very South African concern given our sorry status as the country as having the worst inequality in the world of the countries measured, with a Gini coefficient score of 63.0. But is by no means a local issue, or even a global south issue. Many of the richest countries in the world suffer from severe inequality. According to the World Bank, the USA has a Gini coefficient of 41.4, the UK of 34.0, and Australia 34.4. (BTW the country with the lowest measured inequality in the world, Slovenia, has a score of 24.6 which is awful given that closest to zero is most equal). Inequality is a shockingly global phenomenon.
It is not only a country level issue. Much research shows how within education sectors, institutions are stratified unequally, for example through inevitable rural/urban divides, and other considerations. Educators themselves within countries, regions and systems have unequal access, abilities to participate, and abilities to make choices.
This is widely known. It is important to understand how new manifestations of inequality are asserting themselves, through emergent sociotechnical arrangements which shape education. Inequities play out and morph when educators and institutions engage with the forms of datafication expressed in dominant business models brought into the system in recent years by big tech. This point is illuminated by the educators interviewed for this research, building on research by colleagues in other countries. Those with less access to resources of all kinds (from technical to cultural capital to regulatory) are the ones most vulnerable to data exploitation.
Which is why datafication in education is an equity issue. Everywhere.
Abramo, G., D'Angelo, C.A., Di Costa, F. (2016). The effect of a country's name in the title of a publication on its visibility and citability. Scientometrics, 109(3), 1895-1909
Archambault , AH; Sainte-Marie, AM; Larivière PMV (2017) On the citation gap of articles naming countries . Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Scientometrics and Informetrics, Wuhan, 16-20 October 2017, 976-981.
Torres, AFC and Alburez-Guteirrez,D (2022) North and South: Naming practices and the hidden dimension of global disparities in knowledge production in Fiske, S (ed) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 119 (10) e2119373119, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2119373119
World Bank Gini Co-efficient by country 2023 ,
I am a professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, interested in the digitally-mediated changes in society and specifically in higher education, largely through an inequality lens