Open access for science and development The case of India Subbiah Arunachalam Centre for Internet and Society Bangalore, India
"We are never completely contemporaneous with our present." Our vision is encumbered with memory and images learned in the past. “We see the past superimposed on the present, even when the present is a revolution." - Regis Debray in Revolution in the Revolution It takes considerable motivation and effort to get away from the burden of the past and really move on to the present.
The history of scholarly communication since 1665 revolves largely around dissemination of knowledge through print-on- paper and libraries subscribing to a large number of print journals and making them available to scholars and scientists. Despite the advent of the faster and far more convenient means of communication - in the form of Internet and the World Wide Web - print continues to hold sway in many parts of the world.
The inability to cope with the constantly rising subscription prices of journals provided the motivation for librarians to look for alternatives in the West. And men like Paul Ginsparg and Tim Berners-Lee who saw the potential of technology to facilitate easy and rapid dissemination of nascent knowledge helped others - especially in the physics community - to make the transition from the past to the present and become contemporaneous with the present.
The online revolution went far beyond speeding up knowledge dissemination and democratizing knowledge. It helped the very process of knowledge production in myriad ways. It facilitated visualization, synthesizing, data mining, international collaboration, grid computing, and ushered in the era of eScience.
Unfortunately, most developing countries have not made the transition from the past to becoming contemporaneous with the present. Neither have they seen the same levels of transformative impact of science and technology as the advanced countries nor have they taken full advantage of the new technologies and adopted open access to science and scholarship. Even China and South Korea, both of which have made rapid progress in science and technology in the past decade or two, have not taken full advantage of the open access movement.
In my talk I will present the situation in India. Together with China, India is widely perceived to be a rising global power. As the Harvard Business School Professor Tarun Khanna has pointed out China has gone way ahead of India in many respects. It is the same in science as well, with China accounting for three times the research output as India. Apart from China, Japan, India and Korea, some other Asian countries are also stepping up investment in science and soon Asia may rival USA and European Union in science.
There are two Indias at vastly different levels of development. With a huge population and a history going back to several millennia, India is keen to develop rapidly and become an advanced country and a global power. This India is reflected in growth rates upwards of 8% over several years, Indian companies acquiring overseas companies, growing foreign investments, increasing investment in science, etc. India is also home to the largest number of the poor in the world and is beset with a multitude of problems most of which could be solved only with research in the sciences and social sciences. The benefits of the high growth rate has not percolated to the poor and there is tension between the two Indias.
India needs to perform research that will make it competitive in global science and to perform science that can address local problems. In the first case India has no escape from the evaluation criteria and practices used in the advanced countries such as citation counts and impact factor. In the second case, India needs to adopt evaluation criteria Eve Gray suggests for South Africa and other developing countries. In both kinds of research, India will benefit greatly by adopting open access. Unfortunately, progress in the adoption of open access is slow. The story of OA in India is one of missed opportunities and half-hearted attempts.
India has an efficient space programme, a controversial nuclear energy programme and a network of national laboratories under different research councils. Science is managed by multiple agencies. There are two advisory bodies – Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government and the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister – and several departments under the Ministry of Science and Technology. There is a separate Ministry of Earth Science. But most of these agencies have not done much to adopt open access. The one exception is CSIR – three of its 37 laboratories have OA IRs and the director general of CSIR has appointed a committee to set up IRs in other labs.
The CSIR Director General is promoting open source drug discovery [ http:// www.osdd.net / ] and has secured substantial funding for the project. CSIR is also planning a national level repository for all researchers to deposit their papers irrespective of their affiliation. Last month CSIR made two its 19 journals open access. Agriculture is key to India’s survival and India has many agricultural research laboratories and universities. None of them has an OA repository. ICRISAT, a CGIAR outfit, has its own IR. ICRISAT, a CGIAR outfit, has set up its own IR.
India ranks first in the incidence of blindness, tuberculosis and diabetes. But health research is not paid as much attention as It deserves. No medical research laboratory or college has an IR. Many Indian medical journals are OA though, largely thanks to the efforts of MedKnow Publications and the National Informatics Centre of the Government of India. NIC has set up a central OA repository for papers in biomedical research. Indian Journal of Medical Research went OA a few years ago and since then its impact factor is increasing every year. The same is true of many journals made OA by MedKnow.
The Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi, signed the Berlin Declaration five years ago, and it took a while to make its journals OA. The Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, made all its ten journals OA a few years ago. The Academies can do a lot more. They do talk about OA in their meetings, but nothing much happens. A few months ago INSA convened a meeting on open access and copyright. Both Dr Sahu and I were invited to speak and INSA is now considering the recommendations. Their top priority is for requesting the government to pay page charges and publication fees to journals that charge such fees and not mandating open access for publicly funded research.
A suggestion to the Academies to set up an Indian equivalent of the Dutch Cream of Science project – an online archive of all papers by all Fellows of the Academies – is still awaiting action. The Academies could be proactive and advise both the government and the scientists to adopt a mandate for OA, but they are reluctant. Prof. P Balaram, a member of the Knowledge Commission and the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, is an ardent advocate of open access. In an editorial in Current Science, he said, “The idea of open, institutional archives is one that must be vigorously promoted in India.” The Academies would do well to listen to him.
The Department of Biotechnology supports over 60 Bioinformatics Centres and the coordinators of these centres meet annually. Seven years ago the plan for setting up IRs in these centres was discussed and till now the plan has not materialized although IRs have been discussed in many of the coordinators meetings. Early this year the Wellcome Trust and DBT set up a joint Programme of Fellowships to Indian researchers at three levels to prevent brain drain and ensure career advancement for those who stay and work in India. The Minister for S&T proudly announced that papers published by these Fellows will be available freely on the Internet.
If the Wellcome Trust funded research is made OA why not all Government funded research be mandated to be OA? Examples from the West, such as the OA mandates adopted by research councils in the UK, NIH, Harvard University Faculties of Arts and Science and Law and the Stanford University School of Education have not influenced Indian funding agencies and researchers. Largely because the majority of Fellows of Academies and Indian scientists in general are unaware of OA and its advantages, limits of copyright, relative rights of authors and publishers, etc. Indian authors rarely use the author’s addenda when signing copyright agreements with journal publishers.
The situation in the social sciences is even worse. With the kinds of economic and sociopolitical transformations taking place and caste, religious, regional, sectarian and linguistic divisions often threatening the multicultural fabric of the nation, one would think India should invest as much on social science research as on science and technology. But social science research is neglected. Only a few institutions and some think tanks in the non-governmental sector really count and even they have not adopted OA.
The National Knowledge Commission has made clear recommendations on the need for mandating open access for publicly funded research. But it is not clear when the recommendations would be implemented. In the area of open educational resources, some of India’s best institutions – IITs and IISc - have formed a consortium and have made available some excellent material for undergraduate courses in engineering
The open access revolution can go far beyond helping scientists and social scientists in universities and research Institutions. It can help the other India, the India of the poor and the marginalized, as well. In many developing countries, development organizations working with the poor have shown how improving access to information – relating to weather, market prices, location of large shoals of fish in the sea, government entitlements, availability of credit, training facilities, etc. – through a variety of technologies can make a difference.
If intermediaries such as rural doctors and local health workers can access medical information relevant to the current needs of their communities they will be far more effective. The power of sharing medical information was amply demonstrated when SARS broke out in 2003. The unprecedented openness and willingness to share critical scientific information led to the quick identifica- tion of the coronovirus responsible for the attack and Its geneome mapped within weeks.
The same way farmers around the world can benefit from the world’s agricultural research findings if they are freely accessible. That was the reason why the CGIAR laboratories were set up. That is the reason why we should resist privatization of knowledge, especially knowledge generated with public funds.
Open access is making slow progress in India. The main reason is lack of awareness of its advantages among policy makers and scientists. This is a problem common to most developing and possibly some advanced countries. Focused advocacy, especially among research students and young faculty, and training programmes (in setting up OA IRs can bring in better results. As the Wellcome-DBT project has shown, foreign collaborators can help. Projects like DRIVER can partner with developing country institutions and as Leslie Chan suggests, one may think of a global repository for developing country researchers.