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  • CAREER Q&A

For better science, increase Indigenous participation in publishing

Lisa Loseto at a campfire, where she is shutting down a research site at a traditional whaling camp.

Lisa Loseto stands by a campfire.Credit: Oksana Schimnowski

Lisa Loseto is a research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a federal government department whose regional offices include one in Winnipeg, where she is based. Some of Northern Canada’s Indigenous people have shaped her research into how beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) interact with their environments, and have taught her to rethink her own part in the scientific method. As co-editor-in-chief of the journal Arctic Science since 2017, she is looking at ways to increase Indigenous representation in scientific publishing, including the editorial and peer-review processes.

What got you thinking about the role of Indigenous people in scientific publishing?

In 2020, Arctic Science published a special issue centred on knowledge co-produced by Western scientists and Indigenous people. As production of that issue progressed, the peer-review and editorial processes stuck out as aspects lacking Indigenous representation. We were soliciting papers to highlight the contributions of Indigenous knowledge — but the peer-review process was led by non-Indigenous editors like myself, and academics to review the articles. A few members of the editorial board thought, ‘Let’s talk about this and think about ways to provide more balance.’ We discussed the issue in a workshop that included representatives from several groups that are indigenous to Canada’s Arctic.

What did the workshop reveal about the Indigenous participants’ perceptions of scientific publishing?

For a lot of people, publishing seemed like a distant concept, so we explained how the editorial and peer-review processes work. We described peer review as a method for validating knowledge before it’s published, and many Indigenous participants recognized similarities between that process and one in their own lives: in the Arctic, each generation passes down knowledge of how to live in a harsh environment, and over time this knowledge is tested and refined. The Indigenous workshop participants said, “We would die if we didn’t have the peer-review process.”

The scientific method used by Westerners is colonial: it emphasizes objectivity and performing experiments in the absence of outside influences. This mindset can feel alienating for many Indigenous people, who see themselves as integral parts of nature. This makes me think scientific publishing doesn’t fit an Indigenous framework.

The dense jargon and idiosyncratic structures of scientific publications make them difficult for people without a formal scientific education to jump into. Even people training to become scientists often don’t get involved in publishing until they’re in graduate school because there’s so much background knowledge that they need to have first.

If a journal article draws on Indigenous knowledge, should it include an Indigenous peer reviewer?

Perhaps, but trying to force Indigenous perspectives into a process that was created to advance Western priorities can come with its own problems. Scientific publications serve the dual purposes of disseminating information and acting as a tool of measure for scientists’ careers. Most members of Indigenous groups aren’t concerned with building up their academic CVs; in fact, some are uncomfortable with being named as authors because they see their knowledge as part of a collective body, rather than belonging solely to themselves. So do publications have the same weight for Indigenous people? Maybe not. In light of this, is participating in this system really the best use of time for Indigenous people who aren’t in academia — especially when their communities are already overtaxed with researchers’ requests for guidance through prepublication aspects of performing research in remote areas?

In Arviat, Nunavut, Canada, a local woman demonstrates historic tools used by Inuit, with a polar tent in background.

Indigenous communities hold a wealth of knowledge that can advance science.Credit: Galaxiid/Alamy

As an alternative to contributing to research articles, we’re considering starting a commentary section of Arctic Science. This could give more Indigenous people a venue to publish their views on the scientific process, and their observations of natural trends, in a less technical format.

Can Indigenous journal editors help to bridge the divide between Indigenous people and academic publications?

Yes, but there are very few Indigenous journal editors. Historically, editor positions have been reserved for senior scientists, and many senior scientists are white men. I’m trying to bring on more early-career scientists as editors, as this group is often more diverse. By moving away from offering these positions to only the most senior scientists, I think we’ll see a shift in demographics. At the same time, I don’t want to put the burden of bridging current divides entirely on Indigenous people. That job is for all of us.

What is Arctic Science planning to do moving forward?

My hope is to build an Indigenous advisory group that can advise Arctic Science on the peer-review process generally and consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether articles could benefit from an Indigenous peer reviewer. Beyond that, we’re still figuring out how to engage more people without being prescriptive about how they’re engaged.

What do you hope these actions will achieve?

Publications are power. Policy decisions are based on things that are written down and tangible: peer-reviewed papers and reports. Not only do scientific publications guide policy decisions, they also determine who gets money. The more you publish, and the better the journals you publish in, the more power you have.

Indigenous communities have tremendous knowledge, but much of it is passed down orally rather than published in written form. I think the fact that Indigenous representation is weak in academia, including in publishing, upholds the power imbalance that exists between Indigenous people and settlers. I want to find a better balance.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00058-x

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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