The Commentary in the March edition of the SAIMM Journal was entitled ‘Ethical Research and Scholarly Publication in the Mining and Metallurgical Community – A New Era Dawns’. That article covered the meetings held earlier this year between the SAIMM, ASSAf, and SciELO in an attempt to align the SAIMM Journal with the new rules and regulations put in place by the DHET. This article expands on that theme, with the further comment that the New Dawn’, as inferred, has indeed come about in more ways than one could possibly have imagined some four months ago.

The background to the new rules and regulations of scholarly publishing may be found in a number of recent DHET and ASSAf reports, all aimed at improving the quality of South Africa’s accredited scientific and technical journals. In these reports it is stated that ‘it is in the interests of our higher education system and society in general that the quality of research conducted in the system should be continuously improved’.

In the light of the ASSAf requests for the SAIMM Journal to meet those rules, certain amendments to the operations of the Journal have now been implemented. The resulting changes include, for example, the requirement that at least 75% of the papers published in the Journal must emanate from multiple institutions. In this matter, the SAIMM Journal excels as, on average, over 80% of the scientific papers that it publishes are sourced from organizations and institutions in all corners of the world. A further requirement is that more than two-thirds of the members of all Editorial Boards of accredited journals must be comprised of topic specialists from diverse institutions. This proportion has now been met. Of specific concern to the SAIMM was the rule that dual publication of scientific and technical papers is no longer permitted, i.e. a paper published in peer-reviewed conference proceedings cannot be re-published in the SAIMM Journal.

It is under these rules and against these challenges that the Journal of the SAIMM now endeavours to break new ground and seek new horizons, in the following ways.

The first challenge is to speed up the reviewing process of submitted papers in order to meet the requirements not only of the submitting authors, but also to enhance the professional efficiency of the Journal.

In order to improve the current turnaround time, two matters have been introduced: first, a new system of discipline identification has been drawn up incorporating the full spectrum of subjects covered by the SAIMM Journal. Secondly, a panel of key specialists for each of the disciplines has been selected and these will serve to (1) aid in pre-reviewing submitted papers and (2) assist in the selection of appropriate specialists who will undertake the full peer review function. In future, authors will be required to identify the category (discipline) in which their papers fall. This step, along with a double reviewing process, is being instituted in order to shorten the overall reviewing pipeline.

The second challenge is to recognize the limitations of re-publishing papers in the Journal that have previously been published in peer-reviewed conference proceedings. In future, the Technical Programme Committee, working in conjunction with Publications Committee, will review all forthcoming conferences and, on selecting certain conferences, call for papers with the deadline some months ahead of the conference. On receipt, such papers would then be submitted to the Publications Committee for peer review and, if acceptable, published in the Journal prior to the conference. This will ensure full accreditation and financial reward from DHET for academic authors. No such accreditation, and only limited reward, is possible when publishing in conference proceedings.

Calling for themed editions of the Journal is a further step that has been undertaken to meet the third challenge, that of different focused interests in a multidisciplinary organization. In this manner, papers covering topics pertaining to a specific theme would be invited, generally with an honorary guest editor experienced in the chosen field who would work under the guidance of the Publications Committee. A wide range of subjects can therefore be covered without the issue of convening a conference to meet those themes.

The fourth challenge is to consider the nature of the papers when publishing in future. A paper may be presented as a research report, wherein the results pertaining to a specific project are presented as a simple statement of the outcome of an investigation or activity. This presents data in a static, non-combative format. Alternatively, a paper may seek to engender discussion and debate, to introduce new thought processes, and to challenge other authors to create further advancement in specific topics, all in an attempt to achieve higher levels of research and development in the field of choice. Both forms of paper are acceptable in the SAIMM Journal, subject to their level of originality and scientific and technical contribution, but higher impact is achieved when publishing the latter form of paper. A further and third form of paper, namely a comprehensive review of a process, product, theme, or topic, is welcome and indeed desirable if presented appropriately. In this case, a full review of the subject matter is required, including up-to-date coverage of all pertinent prior publications, a detailed critical assessment of previously published works, and the identification of gaps in knowledge, with comment on past, current, and future trends where applicable.

The fifth challenge is the need to come to terms with the world of COVID-19. Part of the ‘new dawn’ includes facing the immediate, if not longer-term, future in the light of the spread of the global pandemic. It is already apparent that the world of education at all levels has been severely impacted. With talk of abandoning the academic year of 2020 and severe uncertainties as to when scholars and tertiary students may return to academic institutions, research and development outputs this year, and indeed any time in the near future, may be severely limited.

Similarly, much in the world of work has changed beyond recognition, including situations in many mining, metallurgical, and related industrial operations. The closure or limited operation of many such entities, along with the severe financial stresses being encountered in most stateowned- entities (SOEs), does not bode well for major research and development in those sectors in the near future. However, taking a ‘glass half full’ approach, it is possible that such conditions may lead to advances in new and more efficient technologies, higher levels of mechanization, and the faster introduction of AI or the Internet of Things (IoT) in order to streamline operations and minimize costs.

Such considerations may well prove to be the lifeline that could pull specific industries and operations through this period. This, however, does not take account of the plight of the many people in industry who will have lost their positions in the course of this major global pandemic. The re-training, re-focusing, and diversifying of previously-gained experience into new and innovative fields may lead to opportunities for the workforce not considered before. Such matters can serve as food for thought and the development of new concepts for the deployment of unemployed personnel in future. Perhaps papers highlighting such innovative developments could find a place in the SAIMM Journal in future.

R.M.S. Falcon