One common criticism of the open access and open science movements is that they tend to take a standardised view of science and scholarship, and so propose one-size-fits-all approaches when advocating for ways of making research and the research process more open and transparent. This often poses significant challenges for, for instance, researchers in non-STEM disciplines. It is also often deeply problematic for those based in the global South.
This is one of the reasons why open access has become a source of considerable conflict and divisiveness, particularly as more and more researchers find themselves subjected to increasingly demanding and standardised OA mandates.
For instance, while many scientists (but by no means all) may be willing to make their work available with a CC BY licence attached, those working in arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) subjects often object strongly when told they must do so – usually for .
Likewise, the increasing move to pay-to-publish gold OA poses serious problems for those without access to the necessary funds to pay the associated publishing costs. With growing calls for a global flip of all subscription journals to a pay-to-publish model, this is now a very real issue.
Again, it is those working in AHSS and the global South who are particularly challenged by this development. In addition, it presents those journals published by learned societies with an existential threat.
It is also important to bear in mind that scholarly communication is a global process and endeavour. As such, changes introduced in the global North tend to have implications for those in the South as well, often with harmful consequences.
This is the possible outcome, for instance, of the current European initiative dubbed . If it triggered a global flip to pay-to-publish (which currently seems very possible) Plan S would disenfranchise researchers based in the global South in a more fundamental way than the current subscription system does.
(For a more detailed exposition of the concerns researchers have over Plan S see this , which has attracted the signature of over 1,300 researchers so far).
It is important, therefore, that advocates for greater openness do not assume the world of science and scholarship to be uniform when advocating for change, and that those implementing open policies consider carefully disciplinary differences, local needs, local conditions and local practices before seeking to force change on the research community.
In short, governments and funders need to understand both the global forces at play and local conditions prior to introducing new open policies and initiatives.
It is therefore to be welcomed that the Centre for Innovation, Intellectual Property and Competition () in New Delhi has conducted a landscape survey of the current situation in India as concerns open science (although due to feasibility concerns, the sample was restricted to a limited number of disciplines and institutions: Economics, Law, Mechanical Engineering, Medicine, and Physics were).
The study’s principal investigator was Arul George Scaria, Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director at CIIPC, and he is currently working on a report based on the survey (available in draft form ).
In the interview with me below Arul George Scaria explains what the survey discovered and what recommendations the report will make as a result. He also answers some additional questions I put to him.
Here are a few quotes from the interview, but please read the full interview to get the complete picture. Those interested in the matter will clearly want to read the report too:
- “The overall scenario with regard to open science practices in India is not that promising and we need to take a lot more steps to make science open.”
- “It may not be advisable or possible to transplant the approaches being adopted for open science in the global North to a country like India, where access conditions and socio-economic situations are vastly different.”