Elite journals in development studies are dominated by northern scholars, with little developing world representation on paper authors or on the publications’ management boards, a study has found.

Fewer than 15 percent of papers in the 10 surveyed journals were at least partly written by authors based in developing nations, while some editorial boards consisted entirely of northern representatives, according to a study presented at the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes in Bonn, Germany.

While the concentration of funding and journal offices in the developed world may be partly responsible, the results paint a “worrying environment of exclusion”, said Sarah Cummings, an information and knowledge development consultant based in the Netherlands, who authored the study.

“The problem is that, without representation in the research community, developing countries become the object of research and not participants in it,” she said.

The study analysed three years’ worth of articles across 10 journals identified as influential.

Using the Web of Knowledge, an academic citation indexing and search service, it found that only 14.5 percent of the 1 894 articles were authored or co-authored by researchers based in developing countries – a figure that drops to less than 6 percent one journal.

Editorial boards are even less representative, with the University of London accounting for one in 10 of the 300 board members. Only 7 percent of board members came from southern institutions. Women were under-represented on most of the 10 journals’ editorial boards, with less than 30 percent – and as low as 8 percent – of the boards being women.

This small proportion was dominated by emerging nations such as China and India, leaving only three countries with a low Human Development Index score – Bangladesh, Uganda and Zimbabwe – with representation.

Cummings said that limited access to academic literature due to high journal fees may also inhibit developing-world researchers from producing work to the necessary standard for publication in top journals.

The results are shocking, said Alan Stanley, a climate change expert at the UK’s Institute of Development Studies, even though they are “totally unsurprising”.

A lack of capacity to produce work to the standards needed for publication played a role, but the close links between editorial boards and elite Northern institutions made it harder to gain visibility, he said.