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Open access conference seeks to free research

When Newton famously remarked that if he had seen further than others,it was by “standing on the shoulders of giants”,he wasn’t just being modest.

Written by Amulya Gopalakrishnan | New Delhi |
March 26, 2009 2:08:58 am

When Newton famously remarked that if he had seen further than others,it was by “standing on the shoulders of giants”,he wasn’t just being modest. He was stating the simple fact that knowledge builds on previous knowledge,that the back and forth of ideas is vital for scientific achievement. Though the current proprietory publishing model is stacked against scholars,an emerging open access movement across the world aims to free scientific content – and India has big stakes in it.

A conference in New Delhi brought together open access evangelists including Prof. John Willinsky of Stanford University,Prof Leslie Chan of the University of Toronto,Prof Surendra Prasad of IIT Delhi,Dr D K Sahu of MedKnow Publications,and Narendra Kumar of CSIR.

Now,all research papers published from CSIR labs will be made open access,either by putting the full text on freely available institutional repositories or publishing directly in open access journals. Meanwhile,across the world,MIT has become the first university to throw open all its research papers through the online repository software DSpace.

Globally,academic tenure and promotion is traditionally linked to research published in reputed,peer-reviewed journals. These journals are owned by commercial behemoths like Springer and Reed Elsevier,who own stables of journals in various disciplines,and dictate terms to university libraries. But in recent years,journal prices have shot through the roof.

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Now,after years of weary negotiation,and empowered by new digital infrastructure,universities are teaming up via free institutional repository systems,to pool and circulate their collective research. In India,institutes like NIT Rourkela have adopted super-archives like DSpace for another reason — to showcase their scientific output to global peers. “NIT doesn’t have the research legacy of IIT or IISC — they needed the visibility,” says NIT director Sunil Kumar Sarangi.

Such a knowledge commons is especially valuable to developing countries — for instance,in agricultural research or public health,it is inexcusable that countries which could benefit most from the scientific debate are left out of the loop,simply because of prohibitive pricing (some journals cost up to 20,000 dollars,annually). This only widens the gulf between the state of research here and the US or Europe.

Even research produced in India with our taxpayer money is sent to big-name commercial journals and all copyright signed away,putting it out of reach for the Indian scholarly community. But all that could change if open access journals become the norm. S K Sahu,who runs MedKnow publications (over 80 open access journals),also busted claims that content on such journals tends to vanish into the ether after a few years online.

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