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Indian science could gain from open access push

Bangalore: Indian academic institutions are finding it 'exceedingly expensive' to have a well-stocked library of science journals. New ways to access research is needed, a prominent science journal has said.

Bangalore - published Current Science, India's prominent fortnightly journal of research, has editorially argued for 'the idea of open, institutional archives' and called for it to be 'vigorously promoted in India'.

Open access is free, immediate, permanent, full-text, online access for any user web-wide to digital scientific and scholarly material, especially research articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Explains Wikipedia, the collaboratively crafted online encyclopaedia: 'Open access means that any user, anywhere, who has access to the internet, may link, read, download, store, print-off, use, and data-mine the digital content of that article. An OA article usually has limited copyright and licensing restrictions'.

Libraries in India are facing growing costs, specially to sometimes maintain both print and on-line subscriptions and issues related to 'perpetual' electronic access to back-files.

Current Science, in the signed editorial titled 'Science Journals: Issues of Access', called the open access movement a 'new wind' blowing over the 'turbulent world of science publishing'.

Open access campaigners point out that science is most often paid for by public funds. Therefore, they say, the results of research must be freely available to anyone who wishes to read. This, argued the Current Science editorial, would 'presumably enhance the worldwide reach of science'.

Sometimes, authors even pay the publisher to get their article published with funding coming out of their research grant. This allows reading to remain free.

'With internet search engines becoming ever more powerful, with every passing day, open archives may indeed lead to greater visibility and higher citation rates for publications; an outcome that is most desirable for both individual scientists and their institutions,' the April 10, 2008, issue of the magazine said.

Editor P. Balaram noted that scientific literature was globally exploding and publishing was an increasingly profitable enterprise.

'The frenzy to judge scientific output in terms of numbers of publication is now exploited by publishers, who are rapidly expanding their stable of journals,' the editorial added.

It suggested new laws to vest copyright with institutions, when research was publicly funded.

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 (IISc), probably India's largest holding of science and engineering journals, was thinking of trimming the library's subscriptions.

Journals that the IISc faculty did not publish for a few years, which were not cited by IISc authors and also did not cite papers emerging from this Bangalore institution, were listed. This list could save Rs.10 million (US$250,000) by way of subscriptions.

'Surprisingly, when the list was circulated there were strong pleas for retention of journals in which no one seemed to publish and there seemed little evidence for readership,' said the editorial in the Current Science.

It hinted that the relationships between readers, writers, editors, publishers and buyers are extremely complex in the world of academia; sometimes bordering on the incestuous.

'Large publishing houses like (the European) Elsevier Science and Springer-Verlag are beginning to monopolise the world of science journals; a situation that promotes a seller's market. Efforts to contain bloating library budgets meet with resistance at every step,' said the editorial.

Current Science, founded in 1932, is published in collaboration with the Indian Academy of Sciences. It aims to serve as a medium for communication and discussion of important issues that concern science and scientific activity. IANS

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