Open Access to Science and Scholarship - Why and What Should We Do?

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Aug 10, 2010 11:55 AM |
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The National Institute of Advanced Studies held the eighth NIAS-DST training programme on “Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Science, Technology and Society” from 26 July to 7 August, 2010. The theme of the project was ‘Knowledge Management’. Dr. MG Narasimhan and Dr. Sharada Srinivasan were the coordinators for the event. Professor Subbiah Arunachalam made a presentation on Open Access to Science and Scholarship.

Professor Arunachalam started off with some questions to begin with:

Have you published papers in refereed journals? In open access journals? Have you received reprint requests? Have you been a referee for research papers? Have you placed your papers in open access repositories? Do you know the journal budget of your library? Do you use Wikimedia, Blogs, RSS feeds, and other web 2.0 facilities? Do you know the NPTEL courses can be stored in your cell phone, shared with others and can be viewed on a PC/laptop? Have you accessed Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg and Khan Academy?  

He also referred to a quote from Revolution in the Revolution:

"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. Scholarly communication is no different from other human endeavours. The main purpose—science is the production of knowledge. Some may say understanding the universe, but the two are virtually the same. There are two kinds of knowledge: knowledge one wants to give away free and knowledge one wants to encash. In the past two days we have heard several speakers speak about intellectual property, patents, royalty, court cases on infringement of rights, etc. All that is, of the second kind. Today I am not concerned with that kind of knowledge. I am concerned with knowledge that everyone wants to share, give away free to maximize one’s advantage. The means by which scientists give away the knowledge they generate is through scholarly communication. 

There are very good reasons for developing countries to pursue science. As there is a growing tendency to privatize science, issues of great social importance (such as health research related to malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, etc.) remain neglected. And if developing countries do not improve their stakes in knowledge production, they will eternally remain vulnerable to exploitation by the rich countries.

Without free and unhindered flow of information, it will be difficult to perform science let alone maximize the efficiency (and the benefits) of scientific research and build capacity for doing science.

The power of access to information was amply in evidence during the tsunami tragedy, when wherever people were exposed to a culture of information they were able to cope with the tsunami better.

Researchers in most developing countries are working under very difficult conditions, especially in regard to information access. To do research, they need access to essential global research findings, but they do not have such access. For example, a survey revealed a few years ago in the 75 countries with a GNP per capita per year of less than $1,000, 56 per cent medical institutions had no subscriptions to journals; in countries with a GNP between $ 1–3 thousand, 34 per cent had no subscriptions and a further 34 per cent had an average 2 subscriptions per year. What kind of research is possible in these institutions?

Eight countries, led by the USA, produce almost 85 per cent of the world’s most cited publications, while 163 other countries account for less than 2.5 per cent. In the ten years, 1998-2007, there were less than 800 papers from India that were cited at least 100 times. There is tremendous asymmetry both in access to information and in the production of quality research between the rich and the poor countries. As long as this asymmetry in research output and access to relevant information persists, scientists in developing countries will remain isolated and their research will continue to have little impact.

Here he borrowed an extract from Cornell University Library:

“Scholarly communication — the process used by scholars and scientists to share the results of their research — is fast approaching crossroads. Individual disciplines and the scholarly community as a whole will soon need to make far-ranging decisions about how scholarly information is formally and informally exchanged, because current methods of scholarly communication are increasingly restrictive and are economically unsustainable.”

The history of scholarly communication since 1665 revolves largely around dissemination of knowledge through print-on-paper journals and libraries subscribing to a large number of them 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.

From 1665 to today, the scholarly journal has changed considerably both in the way the content is presented and in the way technology is used. Gone are the leisurely descriptive prose used by people like Michael Faraday. Today the text is terse and most experimental details are omitted and just a superscript (reference) is given. We no longer use the movable types invented by Gutenberg but use personal computers and laptops to compose the text. We no longer use the four-line composing system for mathematical texts; we have TeX in different flavours. We now use sophisticated visualization techniques and multimedia tools. Here are two examples from two different centuries.

"I purpose, in return for the honour you do us by coming to see what our proceedings here are, to bring before you, in the course of these lectures the chemical history of a candle. I have taken this subject on a former occasion, and, were it left to my own will, I should prefer to repeat it almost every year, so abundant is the interest that attaches itself to the subject, so wonderful are the varieties of outlet which it offers into the various departments of philosophy. There is not a law under which any part of this universe is governed which does not come into play and is touched upon in these phenomena. There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle. I trust, therefore, I shall not disappoint you in choosing this for my subject rather than any newer topic, which could not be better, were it even so good."

Michael Faraday in “The Chemical History of a Candle” (1861)

ARPES measurements in the vortex liquid1 part of the pseudo gap region of underdoped BISSCO cuprates show that the spectrum retains an energy gap of d symmetry, but that around the nodal points that gap appears to have collapsed, leaving a finite arc of apparently true Fermi surface, which simply terminates. In the anti-nodal region the gap remains nearly as large as in the superconductor.2,3 In the experiments there is no indication that this arc represents a part of a true Fermi surface pocket, but this has not prevented the publication of various theoretical interpretations in such terms.4,5 Whatever other properties this region of the pseudogap  …   …   …

Simple Explanation of Fermi Arcs in Cuprate Pseudogaps: by Philip W Anderson, 2008

For a history of scholarly communication, I will refer you to the works of Alan Jack Meadows and Christine Borgman.

The inability to cope with the constantly rising subscription prices of journals provided the motivation for librarians in the West to look for alternatives. 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 and computing communities - to make the transition from the past to the present and become contemporaneous with the present. Both of them facilitated open access.

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 this talk I will present the situation in India. There are three sides to knowledge: education, research and innovation. We will begin with some indicators and set the context.

Together with China, India is widely seen to be a rising global power. China has gone way ahead of India in many respects.

It is the same in science as well, with China performing far better. Some other Asian countries are also stepping up investment in science and soon Asia may rival USA and European Union in science.  In terms of R&D investments (in current ppp US dollars), India is in the top ten countries in the world. Some of our labs are better equipped than labs in the West.

Rough estimate of R&D investment, as % GDP

Japan 3.67%
Sweden 3.60%
Finland 3.48%
USA 2.70%
EU average
China 1.40%
India 1.00%

In India, about 70 per cent of R&D investment comes from the government, but industry’s share is increasing. Despite the economic slowdown India's government allocated 284 billion rupees (US $5.8 billion) for R&D last year, 17 per cent more than the previous year.  [The US spends $370 bn on science, $270 bn coming from the industry.] In January 2010, the Prime Minister promised to keep hiking the budget for science for some more years. The allocation for the higher education sector is also on the rise and new IITs and IISERs have been set up.   Clearly, India is keen to make a mark in world science. Concurrently, a National Knowledge Network is coming up that would link all of India’s higher educational and research institutions and provide high bandwidth connectivity. 

India’s scientists have not betrayed the confidence reposed in them. In the past few years, their productivity measured by the number of papers indexed in Science Citation Index – Expanded rose from 18,138 papers in 2000 to 22,846 in 2003 to 30,992 in 2006 to 42,446 in 2009. But these papers have appeared in well over 2,500 journals published from more than 100 countries of the world and in widely differing fields from agriculture and astronomy to space science and new biology. As many of these journals are not subscribed to by most Indian libraries, papers published by researchers in one Indian laboratory may not be known to researchers working in the same field in other laboratories. That is not a good thing. In science, we need to know what others are doing. As Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Let us see the number of papers published by India and China in different fields.

India China
MathSciNet, 2006
1,949 11,762
Engineering Village, 2006
25,954 199,881
SciFinder, 2007
41,697 235,309
Web of Science, 2007
35,450 98,241

Data from Scopus show that India moved up from 13th rank in 1996 to 10th in 2006 among nations publishing the largest number of papers. In the same period China moved up from ninth to second. Data from SciBytes – ScienceWatch show that in no field does India receives citations on par with world average.

But after a few years of stagnation, science in India is looking up. Both investments and research output are increasing. New institutions – IITs, IISERs, IIITs and central universities – are coming up. Internet penetration is growing and the costs are coming down. Work done by development organizations has shown that access to scientific knowledge and data benefit not only researchers but also common people.

Scientists and scholars who give away their contribution to knowledge are hampered by copyright law which protects the interests of the intermediaries rather than those of the creators of knowledge. The OA movement is trying to restore the Knowledge commons to the creators. Knowledge commons differ from natural resources commons in one respect. They are not in the zero-sum domain; indeed knowledge grows when shared. Both require strong collective action, self-governing mechanisms and a high degree of social capital to thrive. But the OA movement is spreading unevenly. 

Information is the key to science development. It forms the ‘shoulders of giants’ as Newton said. Science in India suffers from two problems: They relate to access and visibility. Both these problems can be solved by widespread adoption of open access.  We need to persuade the world to adopt open access. Many advocates are already doing and things are improving.

India needs to adopt OA in a big way. We should take advantage of the potential of the Net and the Web and make the field level playing. But most of us still live in the print-on-paper era.

The access problem is solved to some extent by consortia subscriptions to journals at huge costs. There are at least ten consortia, big and small. A recent study, however, has shown that these journals are not used well.

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 per cent 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 have 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 more suitable for the purpose. 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. Despite a request by the DG of CSIR, most CSIR laboratories have not set up OA IRs.  The CSIR Director General is promoting open source drug discovery 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. CSIR-NISCAIR has made all its 19 journals open access.

Agriculture is the key to India’s survival and India has many agricultural research laboratories and universities. Very few of them have an OA repository. ICRISAT, a CGIAR outfit, has set up its own IR and mandated OA. CMFRI has set up an IR and it is filling up fast.

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 lab 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 six years ago, and it took a while to make its journals OA. The Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, made all its 11 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. Early last year INSA convened a meeting on open access and copyright. Dr Sahu, Mr Sunil Abraham and I were invited to speak and INSA is still considering the recommendations.

Their top priority is for requesting the government to pay 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 taken up by IASc after more than three years.

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 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.”

Is anyone listening?

Universities Scopus Scholar % Sco vs Sch
Univ College London
134,950 8,660 6.4
Univ of Cambridge
114,339 8,320 7.3
Univ of Oxford
99,723 7,800 7.8
Imperial College
91,537 4,720 5.2
Univ of Manchester
83,024 3,840 4.6
King's College London
60,407 1,100 1.8
Univ of Edinburgh
57,473 9,920 17.3
Univ of Southampton
44,013 14,000 31.8
Univ of Warwick
23,018 6,010 26.1
Univ of York
21,554 2,920 13.6
Loughborough Univ
18,902 4,030 21.3

This table is an example of the current situation regarding open distribution of scientific results by world universities. In the case of United Kingdom, the production of quality papers is far higher than the number of them available in repositories and thus being indexed by Google Scholar.

UK universities are not achieving higher ranks in Webometrics as compared to other research-based rankings and this is the most likely explanation for this behaviour. Southampton ranks above Columbia and Yale largely because Southampton has a mandate requiring that all of its research output be made open access on the web through an institutional repository.

The Department of Biotechnology supports over 60 Bioinformatics Centres and the coordinators of these centres meet annually. Eight 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 last 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 can be 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, the Stanford University School of Education and MIT 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 addendum when signing copyright agreements with journal publishers. 

The situation in the social sciences is even worse. With the kinds of economic and socio-political 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. IGNOU has recently opened up its course ware. Most NCERT textbooks are available for free on the Internet. The Ministry of HRD is planning to make virtually all educational content freely available to all educational institutions connected to a grid.

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 identification of the coronovirus responsible for the attack and its genome 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. About two months ago, I and 15 other OA advocates appealed to the top brass of the CGIAR to mandate OA for all research publications of CGIAR centres. Three weeks ago CGIAR held a workshop at Rome for the knowledge managers and they are planning one more in November for the senior management. We hope CGIAR will adopt a NIH-like mandate soon.

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.

What is there already?

  • World-class Open Course Ware.
  • About 200 OA journals. 
  • Academies led the way. D K Sahu has shown that going OA is win-win all the way. 
  • A small group is promoting OJS.
  • There are about 50 repositories. IISc was the first to set up. Its EPrints archive has crossed the 22,000 mark  and IISc is now depositing all legacy papers.
  • National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, is the first Indian institution to have an OA mandate in place.
  • There are three subject repositories: Biomedical research,
  • Library and information science, Catalysis.
  • Many physicists use arXiv and India hosts a mirror site.
  • Five Indian repositories are in the top 300 of the CINDOC list: IISc  36;   ISI-DRTC  96;   NIC 111;   IIA  228;   NIO  231.
  • The Catalysis repository is not listed. 
  • There are some efforts to digitize theses. 
  • Informatics India Ltd provides an alerting service called Open J-Gate.
  • An Indian, LIS software NewGenLib incorporates OA software into a library management software. It is open source.

But we are a country of 1.15 billion people. We should do much more. The major concerns are fear of publisher action, copyright and researcher apathy. But awareness of OA – green or gold – and author addenda is rather low among both researchers and policy makers. What we need is advocacy and more advocacies. We should adopt both bottom-up and top-down approaches. 

On the policy front Science Academies, INSA and IASc, are engaged in a discussion on OA. I was invited to address the Council of INSA and again to put together a half-day seminar for the Fellows of INSA and other researchers. I am also talking to IASc frequently.

Science managers have been alerted to the advantages of OA and the need for mandating OA to publicly funded research. But not many seem to care. There is much talk and little action. The Bioinformatics community provides a classic example. As India is hierarchical and to some extent feudal, one wonders if top-down approaches will work better than bottom-up approaches. But OA champions follow both. 

Many workshops and conferences on OA are held. Most of them are suboptimal and cannot achieve OA implementation. There are two online lists for OA, but most members are librarians and many of them believe they cannot implement OA on their own.

International collaboration and ways forward

A new society, Centre for Internet and Society, has come up to promote all things open, including open source software and open access. 

The Principal Scientific Adviser is a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He often meets his counterparts from other countries. Decisions on OA made in the UK and Europe may have an influence on him.

India is a key member of the InterAcademy Panel and Inter Academy Council. Leaders of Indian science can learn from their counterparts, especially from Latin America. It may help if international champions of OA could be brought to India for discussion with science administrators and public lectures.

eIFL does not work in India. We must persuade them to include India in their programmes. One never knows when things will happen in India. They happen when they happen. So we should be pushing all the time!

We need to create more knowledge and make the best use of it, says Janez Potocnic, the European Commissioner for Science and Research.

OA can help in both creating more knowledge and in making the best use of it. We all know that. But there is a big gap between knowledge and action. It is up to you now. Set up repositories in your institutions. Persuade your director/ Secretary to mandate open access. Set up an Alliance of Taxpayers for Open Access. Citizen groups can achieve what individuals cannot. Write to the Minister, MPs and other policy makers.

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