‘Open access can vastly help Indian science’

July 4th, 2008 - 10:15 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, July 4 (IANS) Can India make the most out of its investments in scientific research to spur its growth and promote domestic talent through the Open Access route, a global expert in the field says. India could easily make its scientific research widely accessible for greater impact at very low costs, thus helping take its research forward, Open Access proponent Steven Harnad has said.

Hungarian-born Harnad, a professor at the University of Quebec, Montreal and Southampton, one of the big global names in Open Access philosophy in academic publishing, suggested that current gaps were making things tougher for researchers in India.

His comments came in the respected Bangalore-based Current Science journal, widely influential among the scientific community.

Open access scholarly publishing involves making material available to all potential users without financial or other barriers. It has proven successful especially in fields like scholarly journals, e-text or other e-books (scholarly, literary or recreational), music and the fine arts.

“There are plenty of institutional repositories in India, and they are cheap to create because the software is free. But they are mostly empty, because self-archiving has not been mandated,” Harnad contended.

Open Access institutional repositories hold digital duplicates of published articles and make them freely available.

Proponents of Open Access argue that prices of scholarly journals have risen sharply, particularly over the last decade. So, most universities, also in the affluent West, can no longer afford subscriptions to all of the journals that their academics need.

Even if a journal is available on-line, this does not mean it is freely available. University libraries have to pay large subscriptions to allow their academics to easily access scholarly journal material on-line.

Harnad argued that universities, research institutions and research fund providers “the world over” are at last beginning to require researchers to deposit on-line drafts of articles for their peer-reviewed journals in their institutional repositories.

Such deposits of academic journals would not result in costs or copyright issues, he noted.

This, he suggested, would make available all of India’s research output to the rest of the world, and, in exchange, India would have open access to “the research output of the rest of the world”.

Current Science had recently suggested in an editorial that Indian academic institutions are finding it “exceedingly expensive” to have a well-stocked library of science journals.

The editorial termed the pro-Open Access argument “compelling”, saying it was a “new wind” blowing over the “turbulent world of science publishing”.

Libraries in India, it noted, are facing worryingly growing costs, especially to sometimes maintain both print and on-line subscriptions, as also issues related to perpetual electronic access to back-files.

Current Science cited pressures on libraries worldwide to “prune their subscriptions in the face of mounting costs”.

It said Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science itself, probably India’s largest repository of scientific and engineering journals, was thinking of trimming its library’s subscriptions.

Beyond scholarly works, new technologies, including digital online databases, are rewriting the manner in which knowledge is created and shared in diverse fields.

Bangalore-based lawyer Lawrence Liang, known for his support to Open Access approaches, noted that all the Supreme Court judgements are now available online and most of high courts’ judgements are “on their way to being made available”.

“Under section 52 of the Copyright Act, it is very clear that all judgments can be reproduced without a problem,” Liang pointed out.

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