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Updated: June 6, 2013 14:38 IST

Will open access replace costly commercial publishing models?

Vasudha Venugopal
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Cost of research journals going up while funds available are coming down

Technology has inherently changed the way science education is propagated. Digital libraries, wikis, webinars, videoconferences, open access and repositories — all seem to be excellent tools for sharing scientific knowledge.

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But with the escalating cost of research journals and the economic and logistical challenges that often accompany attending a conference, the open access model is increasingly being recognised as an alternative to expensive commercial publishing models.

Consider the situation at, say, a biological sciences research firm in Chennai. At least 16 per cent of its total budget is spent on the subscription of journals; more than 50 per cent of that going to the two largest publishing companies. Experts say the cost of journals is increasing at an average of eight per cent a year. Further, many academics do not consider work to have been adequately shared if it has been merely published in over-priced journals.

Boycott

Incidentally, last week, more than 5,700 researchers started boycotting Elsevier, a leading publisher of science journals, amid growing concerns at cost and accessibility. More than 3,000 academics have signed a petition that claims the publisher charges “exorbitantly high” prices for its journals and criticises its practice of selling journals in ‘bundles,' forcing libraries to buy a large set with many unwanted journals, or none at all.

“Since 1950, the volume of research results started getting too large for the scientific societies, leading to the entry of commercial publishers into the field. The cost per journal and the number of such journals are proliferating, while the funds available are coming down,” says Francis Jayakanth, who has been instrumental in creating an institutional repository, ePrints@IISc, which has more than 32,000 publications by researchers.

India has nearly 53 registered open access repositories that allow users to download and use documents free.

Open access advocates say Indian papers appear in both Indian and foreign journals, roughly in equal proportions, but most Indian journals have a very poor circulation, many of them below 1,500; and most Indian papers appear in low-impact foreign journals. “Most scientists in India are forced to work in a situation of information poverty. Others are unable to access what Indian researchers are doing, leading to low visibility and low use of their work. Thus, Indian work is hardly cited. Both these handicaps can be overcome to a considerable extent if open access is adopted widely, both within and outside the country,” says Subbiah Arunachalam, an open access advocate.

Experts say many U.S. universities, including Princeton, MIT and Harvard, have their own repositories. Institutions in India, too, need to set up open-access repositories to ensure their work is available to the public even if it ends up being published in an expensive journal. Even if these are made available in different repositories, one can still access them all if all the repositories are interoperable.

Trustworthy

The established method for an academic to circulate his work is to publish in a peer-reviewed journal of repute, and the reader, too, places some degree of trust in the quality of the work being presented. So will open access, with the huge volume of papers, change that? “Not at all, open access is not vanity publishing or self-publishing or about publications that scientists expect to be paid for. Since every paper is peer-reviewed, the quality is never compromised,” says Dr. Jayakanth.

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In our University, we have published recently a bio-med central
article(Open access based). In general, it created a view point that it
is a wastage of project resources for publication charges. This kind of
Indian academic mindset has to change. Our funding agencies should
provide funds for maintaining open access policy with our articles. If
every one does it, knowledge becomes virtually open to all! Then,
citations will also increase considerably and in general, it will be overwhelming for young investigator's growth.

from:  Gopi GR
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 22:27 IST

Fantastic article! It has increased my awareness of Open Access Journals in India. I was considering submitting a paper of mine on Software Development Career Track for CS & IT academia to US/UK open access journal. Now I will seriously consider submitting it to an Indian Open access journal instead. BTW the preprint of it is already on arXiv.org.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank all Indian Open Access advocates & activists for their service to the country.

from:  Ravi Iyer
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 16:59 IST

The blogosphere is a medium of choice by many people writing on various aspects of the world and life. People must force newspapers to have a blogosphere where people can write spanning all aspects of life. Also free blogspaces must be made available by the government by law. People can be allowed to make reviews, comments on all the blogs. People can recognise the quality of the blogs by the amount of "quality" reviews/comments as judged by the people themselves. No politician or any authority should sit in judgement over these. This illustrates well a need for democratic exchange of information. Basic data bases may be made available to the public so that the aware public could verify the authenticity of the contents of blogs. The government being fascists today is hindering such an approach because of vested interests. There should be viciferous checks and balances by the people themselves. That way for example we can check crimes against humanity like excesses of modern life.

from:  Ramaswami Kumar
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 11:39 IST

In view of such situations, where an unattached person interested to undertake research or gather useful information in advanced areas of science faces many problems.I suggest all such bodies publishing research journals to come to a common platform ,where such person can get access to literature at least.A simple monthly payment like mobile recharging or similar system may be introduced after some verification.

from:  Atis
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 11:14 IST

I wish "The Hindu" India's National Daily can take some lead in this
matter and try to bring out the talents of our scientists' to the fore
so that it can be viewed and used by others.

from:  V.Krishnan
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 08:41 IST

Open access publishing is still considered inferior to publication in the conventional journals. Perhaps, the scentific fraternity is not convinced with PEER REVIEW system of it. Nevertheless, i agree that same work can be made available in more than one repository.

from:  Arunopto
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 08:30 IST

Dear Writer,
It is really heartening to see an article published about research in
India. It is interesting that you mention that articles from India are
not published in high impact foreign journals. Does this not reflect
on the quality of work that is produced? I understand that research
quality may be impaired by what you call information poverty but is
that the sole reason?
I am not completely aware of how research universities in India are
funded, but I may be correct in assuming that there is not a lot of
industrial funding as compared to the investment that the private
sector makes in research labs say in the US.
Although open source publications will help improving research quality
and reducing costs, the main scheme of research must be more industry
oriented. The purpose must be to being new technology to society and I
hope well written proposals will receive the appropriate industrial
interest.

from:  Sunand
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 01:52 IST

This entire idea of private companies having strangleholds on
research, being run as commercial entities while purporting to be
disseminating learning, has to stop. I'm only a graduate, but I do
find the entire idea of open access to countless papers and journals
pleasantly refreshing. I do access more than 10 different journals,
both Indian and foreign, almost daily, which would have been
impossible without open access.
But a pinch of salt - isn't this same Elsevier the one that exonerated
Indian research in terms of quality when our PM was aggrieved over the
low volume of research generated in India?

from:  Aritra Gupta
Posted on: Feb 20, 2012 at 00:26 IST
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