Can Open Access offer science where no one is left behind?
India is making noticeable progress in the field of ‘Open Access’, a growing global trend which could help it get out of the trap which blocks researchers from here reading what other Indians have published.Yet, a lot more still remains to be done, say experts working in the area. "Nearly a hundred journals have already taken the Open Access route," says Chennai (South India)-based Subbiah Arunachalam, an information scientist once called India’s and the developing world’s "great advocate for open access".
India is making noticeable progress in the field of ‘Open Access’, a growing global trend which could help it get out of the trap which blocks researchers from here reading what other Indians have published.Yet, a lot more still remains to be done, say experts working in the area.
"Nearly a hundred journals have already taken the Open Access route," says Chennai (South India)-based Subbiah Arunachalam, an information scientist once called India’s and the developing world’s "great advocate for open access".
Open Access (OA) implies the free online availability of research-oriented scientific and scholarly journal articles. It picked up globally since around 2002.
"Journals of the Indian Academy of Science, the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), the Mumbai-based (medical publishing) MedKnow, NIC-Medlars and the Calicut Medical Journal, among others, have gone the Open Access route," Arunachalam told APC..
In early 2006, the Bangalore-based information company Informatics (India) Ltd, launched Openj-gate (www.openj-gate.com). This portal covers 3500+
English-language journals. Some 2000 of these are peer-reviewed.
Tracking this trend via a debate on the Net, Raman Research Institute former librarian A Ratnakar notes the IMCR’s Indian Journal of Medical Research and the Indian Journal of Pharmacology had been made Open Access too.
But much is needed. Says Arunachalam: "Research performed in India, funded by Indian taxpayers, is reported in a few thousand journals, both Indian and foreign. Since some of these journals are very expensive. Many Indian libraries — including sometimes the author’s own institutional library —
are not able to subscribe to them."
So researchers can’t even read their peers. Besides, most Indian journals have a very poor circulation. Only six of the CSIR’s 20 odd journals has over 1000 subscribers.
(The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) is a funded-by-government industrial research and development organization in India. It was formed in 1942 by a resolution of the then Central Legislative Assembly. It is funded mainly by the Science and Technology Ministry of India and it is one of the world’s largest publicly funded R&D organisations, having linkages to academia, other R&D organisations and industry. It operates as an autonomous body.)
Few Indian researchers reach high-impact journals abroad, though roughly half of all Indian research is published abroad. Resultantly, Indian research work does not reach a wide audience "affecting both its visibility and its impact".
"Government arms in India like the DST (Department of Science and Technology), DSIR (Directorate of Scientific Industrial Research), CSIR (Centre for Scientific Industrial Research) and the DBT (Department of Biotechnology) should fund Open Access," Arunachalam told this writer.
He estimates that Indian researchers publish approx 20,000 papers a year in 2,500 to 3000 journals in 130 countries "including in (small countries like) Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Croatia".
Arunachalam praises the NIT-R (National Institute of Technology) at Rourkela for having the "best open archive". He feels top Indian officials should do than just pay lip-service. "Only three out of 40 CSIR labs are currently doing Open Access," says he.
"Open Access makes research seen by many more than ‘Current Science’ which puts out 4000 copies (each issue)," he says. "We are spending crores on journals, and still researchers don’t get to read what they need," Arunachalam says. One brain-research journal costs $20,000 per year!
Unlike in the West, journal publishing in India comes from taxpayer-funded government or professional bodies, and is not dominated by commercial publishers.
India’s close to a hundred Open Access journals include eleven journals published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, four journals published by INSA, one journal published by the Indian Institute of Science, one journal published by the Indian Council of Medical Research, and three journals published by the Calicut Medical College.
India’s National Informatics Centre of the Government of India operates the Indian Medlars Centre, which makes available electronic versions of 38 Indian biomedical journals, mainly published by professional societies. And Indian Journals.com, a Delhi-based company, publishes eight OA journals.
The Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc) was the pioneer in Open Access archiving in India. Says Arunachalam: "So far as institutional repositories are concerned, however, there is currently much talk and little action, and in total there are still only about twenty-five institutional archives.
The best known is the GNU EPrints archive at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. It current has over 4000 papers, not all in full-text though.
The National Chemical Laboratory also has an archive. It has very few papers but a large number of PhD theses. The Laboratory’s scientists are reluctant to deposit their published research papers in the archive. The Indian Institute of Management at Kozhikode in Kerala also has an archive but, again, author reluctance to archive is rather high.
Some see the South Indian city of Bangalore as becoming the Indian leader in Open Archive archiving, with interesting initiatives by The Raman Research Institute, National Aerospace Laboratory, The Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
Arunachalam also points out that Dr A R D Prasad, an ardent advocate of OA and DSpace, has set up an archive for library and information science — the Librarians’ Digital Library — at the Documentation Research and Training Centre of the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore.
Indian Medlars Centre at NIC, New Delhi, has an EPrints-based archive called OpenMED where biomedical researchers from anywhere in the world can deposit their papers.
IndianJournals.com has five Open Access journals — dealing with subjects like forensic medicine, fire engineering, neonatology, agricultural sciences, and vet sciences.
medind.nic.in offers free access to 38 biomedical journals. Open Access goes beyond Free Access by also granting "distribution rights" to the end user.
Interestingly, some major global commercial publishers had promised to offer access to countries having less than $1000 per capita incomes. But they went back on their word, on the plea that they enjoyed sizeable subscriptions in India.
So, will this solve the dilemma of having so much science, and yet so little of it — for a world which is "developing" but where the gap is simply growing?