'The world is yet to transform into a community that believes in the free dissemination of information.'

A decade has passed since the signing of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), but the world is yet to transform into a community that believes in the free dissemination of information and in knowledge as a public good. The scientific and academic community needs to spur policy makers to switch to Open Access platforms, according to Leslie Chan, head of the Department of Social Sciences, University of Toronto.

Mr. Chan, hailed as one of the leading figures in the movement towards a democratised system of information access, was speaking at the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management–Kerala here on Tuesday on ‘Emerging trends in scholarly communication and what prospects the near future held for Open Access.’

Flawed perception

One of the main issues raised by Mr. Chan, who is also one of the key signatories to the BOAI declaration, is the flawed perception of quality scholarly work and the impact it could engender. With the Internet revolutionising the process of information sharing, the unfortunate fact was that the sharing of academic research was still not recognised by the more traditional institutions, he said.

“The recognition of what constitutes scholarship is still very narrow and the quality of the content is secondary. It is the brand of the journal that is still the driving force behind every western journal,” said Mr. Chan.

He indicated a tension brewing among open access, quality control and the means of measuring impact. Market forces had infiltrated the realm of knowledge as well, for it was the companies that were increasingly taking over journals that were originally published by scholarly societies.

Mr. Chan described this as a “monopoly on the reputation management system” and “information feudalism,” for it was these companies that resold journals to institutions with the guarantee that this was the only way they could compete in the global-ranking game.

Review session

“We had a review session, looking back at the past 10 years and at the BOAI original declaration. There is an increased need to highlight social values of research. It is always done for a reason and has the potential to influence policy makers on a range of vital issues from food security, crop cultivation and diseases,” said Mr. Chan.

Access to them is imperative, he added, for it consequently led to even collaborations between lay people in that field, say a farmer, and scientists.

A researcher in the audience pointed out the value still held by the mention in one’s curriculum vitae of having had one’s work published in a known journal.

The need to educate administrators was raised, in addition to ironing out those creases involved in funding research.

“Funders should be made to give publication money,” said one researcher.

Also present was one of the country’s leading advocates for Open Access systems, Subbiah Arunachalam, who also called for a bottom up movement that would establish a more democratised information regime.