ACCESS | Asia 's Newspaper on Electronic Information Product & Service
September 2005 No.54  
   In this issue

India moving ahead with open access 
By Subbiah Arunachalam
  Third World superpower or peripheral?
 
In his 1982 Annual Magnus Pyke Science Policy Foundation Lecture, Dr. Eugene Garfield said, "Clearly, India is the research 'superpower' of the Third World." Indian researchers alone authored half the 16,000 articles from the Third World indexed in Science Citation Index (SCI) 1973. India had maintained a steady ranking of eighth place in research papers published since the beginning of the 1970s, produced five times more mainstream scientific publications than the People's Republic of China in the early 1980s, and remained the uncontested leader among developing countries until the early 1990s. Since then, the People's Republic of China, which has shown far more determination, has raced ahead leaving India way behind. India now occupies the 15th rank in the number of papers published and is in danger of sliding into the periphery. Indeed research output is growing very much faster in China and Brazil, the other two large developing countries, and South Korea, which used to be a minnow. [see Table 1].
 
Table 1. Number of papers published by three leading developing countries
 
Country 
2004     
2003     
2002     
2001     
2000     
1981-85  
India      
23336    
23135  
20405
19339
17501
10,978
China        
57378    
49790 
40749
35392
30509
2,146
Brazil      
17731    
17014 
14998
12807
12317
1,124
S Korea         
24464   
22958  
18421
17343
14629
Not available  
 
Data obtained from Web of Science - SCI Expanded, except for 1981-85 for which the numbers were obtained from the print edition of SCI.
 
  Visibility and impact
 
When it comes to citation impact, Indian papers fare rather poorly. For example, Garfield had shown that the Indian papers of 1973 were cited an average of 2.0 times during 1973-78 compared to 6.9 times for US papers and 6.3 times for UK papers. The situation has not changed much. Most papers from India appear in low-impact journals with poor circulation, so much so that whenever an Indian paper appears in a high impact journal like Cell it makes news. The percent share of Indian papers appearing in high impact factor journals is low. 
 
A recent issue of Current Science (here) carried a news story reporting that two Indian journals have an impact factor of above 1.0 for the first time, in 2004. Ever since Journal Citation Reports started appearing, not once did an Indian journal record an impact factor of 1.0 or above!
 
As Indian journals are not perceived to be of high quality, many Indian scientists want to publish their work in foreign journals. And many of them are so expensive, not many libraries in India subscribe to them. The irony is that the editing and production of many of these 'international' journals take place in Chennai and other Indian cities. Many major commercial publishers of STM journals outsource these jobs to India. The result is papers written by Indian scientists, often with support from Indian taxpayers' money, are not seen, read or cited by other Indian researchers.
 
  Open access advocacy
 
Clearly what Indian scientists need is greater visibility and they would like their work to be cited more often. The obvious thing to do to achieve both these goals is to adopt open access (OA) in a big way. Until recently, not much was being done, except for a small percentage of Indian physicists, especially those working in the better known institutions such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Indian Institute of Science and Institute of Mathematical Sciences, placing their preprints (and postprints) in arXiv (here). 
 
In the past few years there have been some efforts to promote the idea of open access. I myself was largely responsible for two three-day workshops on electronic publishing held in 2002 as part of the activities of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore. The workshops were conducted at the well equipped classroom of the Indian Institute of Science's Digital Library programme (here). We invited Dr Leslie Chan of the University of Toronto and Dr Barbara Kirsop of the Electronic Publishing Trust to conduct the workshops. They were ably assisted by the Late Dr T B Rajashekar of the National Centre for Science Information. More than 40 professionals - mostly editorial staff of scientific and medical journals selected from different parts of India - benefited. 
 
  Open access journals
 
Today, at least 80 Indian STM journals are available via OA. These include the 11 journals of the Indian Academy of Sciences, IASc, (here), the four journals of the Indian National Science Academy, INSA, (here) and the Journal of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). The INSA journals and the Journal of IISc are available for search from Vol.1 number 1. Soon the digitisation of the back numbers of Indian Academy journals will be completed and they will also be available for search from the very first issue. The Indian Medlars Centre of the National Informatics Centre in New Delhi is bringing out the OA electronic versions of 35 biomedical journals. The Centre also has a bibliographic database called IndMED (here) which provides free access to abstracts of all papers in about 50 Indian biomedical journals. 
 
MedKnow Publications (here), a private firm in Mumbai, is bringing out both the print and the electronic OA versions of thirty medical journals published mostly by professional societies. I have seen many of them and their production qualities are excellent. Dr D K Sahu of MedKnow, who was a participant at the Bangalore workshop, says that since these journals went electronic and open access, subscription revenue of many of them has increased. In his talk at the 2004 CODATA symposium on open access and the public domain, Dr Rajashekar pointed out a similar increase in the number of overseas subscribers to some IASc journals after they went OA. However, I believe that the web presence of IASc journals can improve considerably. They could become as user friendly as the MedKnow journals.
 
Subbiah Arunachalam.
 
Until a few years ago the electronic versions of a few journals published by India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research were distributed by Bioline, but no longer. For some reason, the CSIR journals are not going OA.
 
  Open access archives
 
India is also experimenting with interoperable open access archives (or repositories) - both distributed (or institutional) and subject-specific central archives. Here again, there was very little awareness among researchers and librarians. The archive (here) at IISc, Bangalore, which uses the GNU Eprints software developed at the Southampton University, was the first to be set up in India. But subsequently, no other institution came up with an archive for a long time. 
 
We organized two three-day workshops on open access self-archiving at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, in early 2004. Fifty participants from different parts of India were selected for the workshop, with an assurance from the heads of their institutions that they would provide all help necessary for the participants to set up and populate the archives. The faculty consisted of Dr Leslie Chan of Toronto, Dr Leslie Carr of Southampton, Dr T B Rajashekar of Indian Institute of Science, and Dr D K Sahu of MedKnow Publications. Participants were given hands-on training in uploading the GNU Eprints software on to a Linux server and preparing metadata for papers to be deposited. Subsequently, both NCSI and Dr. A. R. D. Prasad of the Documentation Research and Training Centre, Bangalore, have also conducted a few workshops.
 
The participants of the Chennai workshops have set up institutional archives at the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, and the National Institute of Technology, Rourkela. A central archive for biomedical sciences, OpenMED (here) has been set up at the National Informatics Centre, New Delhi, and it has more than 550 papers. Another archive set up at the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, is finding it difficult to attract papers from the faculty and students of the institute. The Registry of Institutional Archives (here) lists eleven archives from India, but some of them have none or only a very small number of papers. As Stevan Harnad keeps pointing out, setting up an archive is no big deal, but filling it with papers seems to be difficult. The managers of the IISc Eprints archive and the NITR Dspace repository provide download statistics and find that it helps in attracting authors to deposit their papers.
 
The Government of India has advised all members of the INDEST consortia (here) to set up institutional archives, but progress so far has been slow. Thanks to sustained advocacy, most senior scientists in India today are aware of OA. Developments in OA both within the country and in the wider world are discussed in internet discussion lists such as oa-india@dgroups and lis-forum. 
 
  Results from India are disappointing
 
Overall, one is unhappy that in a country where there are more than 250 universities and institutions of higher learning and hundreds of research laboratories, both in the government sector and in the private sector, there are only 11 registered archives and some of them have hardly anything to offer. The situation can turn dramatically, if national donor agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Biotechnology, and heads of major research councils such as the CSIR, decide that the results of all publicly funded research should be made available through self archiving.
 
Subbiah Arunachalam is a volunteer with the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation for the past ten years. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals, and an Honorary Member of ASIST. His research revolves around the role of access to information in scientific research on the one hand and rural development on the other. He is a champion of the public commons approach and open access and can be reached here. 
 
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