Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Open access

Yesterday, an open access proponent visited IISc and interviewed the Director and Associate Director. I was also interviewed on the applicability of open access and how it influences the research scenario in India. Unlike some academics who believe that scientists should publish in open access journals only, I have a different view as a researcher.

Unlike other professionals, research scholars write journal articles for free to advance knowledge in their field and, possibly, their careers. The entire process of writing a research paper, reviewing by other peers and editorial decisions are carried out at nearly no cost. There are four kinds of journals: (a) author pays, reader pays (b) author pays, reader does not pay (c) author does not pay, reader pays (d) author does not pay, reader also does not pay. Category (a) is followed by a few journals that are published by some societies. In this case, the author pays the page charges while the reader pays for access. Category (b) is the current open acess model wherein the author pays for publishing the article but the reader does not pay for access. Category (d) is a variation where some open access journals waive the payment for authors. These journals are generally supported by trusts. Category (c) is the most common and is adopted by all commercial publishers. Previously, when most the journals were available only in the print form, categories (b) and (d) did not make much sense and open access was not commonly used. However, with most journals going online and some journals going exclusively online, the cost of print is not an issue anymore.

Why is there such an uproar against commercial publishers and for open access? The average cost of a journal in chemistry, physics, engineering and biology are US$ 3490, 3103, 1919 and 1810, respectively, with an average increase of 5–9% in cost per year. The consumer price index (CPI) for the USA city average for all items is a widely used measurement for the general rate of inflation in USA. The Association of Research Libraries 3 USA mentions that the CPI has increased by 73% between 1986 and 2004, but the research library expendi-ture for journals has increased by 273% during the same period. These rapidly rising journal prices have thus battered the ability of researchers, libraries and institutions to access scientific publications. Global research article output is estimated to be around two million articles per year in around 18,000 journals (of which 8000 are indexed in ISI)and constitute an US$ 15 billion market. Researchers expect that the administration will subscribe to all journals that are available; librarians like to give access to all journals for the researchers,while the publishers would like to continuously increase their profit. With the current library budget of IISc at $ 2.4 million dollars per year, the efforts to contain bloating library budgets ultimately seem to rest on the director of the institute, who is unable to alter the dynamics because of resistance from every quarter. 

Thus many proponents of open access feel that scientists should publish only in open access journals. On the other hand, researchers in any prestigious institute like to publish their research in prestigious journals, which need not be open access. This is because publishing in a particular journal adds value not only to the journal but also to the publication. A publication in the top journal is likely to further the career of a scientist and he/she is not worried about whether the journal is open access or not. Therefore, a researcher, especially from South Asia/India, is likely to publish in a journal that is considered prestigious internationally, rather than just open access. Here is where an open access institutional repository will help. Almost all publishers (> 95%) of journals allow archiving a postprint of the research paper after peer review in an institutional repository. 

At the national centre of science information (NCSI) at IISc, we have the largest repository of research papers in India. Currently, the repository contains more than 11,000 full text research papers published by IISc faculty. The repository also contains the abstracts of all the 28,000 research papers published by IISc in its last hundred years. Because search engines like google index the full text of a paper that are available in these open access repositories, researchers using these search engines land up in the repositories rather than at the publisher site. Based on my analysis of the number of accesses and downloads of papers from the eprint repository of IISc, I find that people who search from developed countries see the paper in the repository but download it from the publisher site (for which they will access because the institution pays for it) while people who search from developing countries see the paper in the repository and download the postprint version of the paper. 

While agencies like NIH (and some NITs in India) have mandated that all publications should be archived in a repository, I am not so sure whether a mandate will be so effective. Instead of a top down approach, scientists should become convinced that deposition of their research work in an institutional repository will help. Why should the scientist take 10-15 minutes of his/her (or their student's) time to make the deposition in a repository? Other than the social issues aside, my analysis (not yet publishable) shows that the citations of a paper are bound to increase if it is available as open access in a repository. 

First the most prestigious journals in each field has to become open access. Then, the cost an author has to pay to publish in these journals should be reasonable. Till such time, scientists should be strongly encouraged to deposit their research papers in an open access repository. This would greatly impact the open access movement in India.


Arunn said...

Giridhar: Thanks for your views on OA. When you write most prestigious journals in each field has to become open access, I fully agree. I await this golden day.

Thanks for linking to my introductory essay on OA ( perhaps with a disagreeing text :).

While I keep writing about OA, I am yet to publish one paper in an OA journal for a variety of reasons, primary one being lack of OAJ in a relevant subject.

There is one more I wrote (sorry for the SSP) titled Myths of OA which touched upon some issues that you have raised in your note.


Giri@iisc said...

Dear Arunn,

Thanks for your comments.

Thanks for your link to the article on the Myths of OA. You can publish in Current Science, which is an open access journal !

I am an editor of an open access journal and I am on the editorial board of two other open access journals. However, unlike Current Science which does not require the author to pay, these open access journals require the author to pay, which I can not afford !

Thanks again