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.”
The interview begins …
Open access vs. open science
AGS: Yes, the report results from a survey we conducted among researchers in India working in different disciplines/ institutions. The data, in general, suggest that open science is yet to become a priority for most researchers. While it may not be possible to discuss all the findings, let me share some of the key findings:
The survey data show that while most researchers use publications and data which are accessible online, only a minority share their publications or data through open access repositories.
While unwillingness to pay article processing charges (APCs) and an inability to pay these are cited by many as important factors dissuading them from sharing their publications, it is important to note that around 44% of respondents said that they would be prepared to share their data openly only when all the research and publications based on those data are completed. This reveals the “exclusivity” approach we currently follow with regard to knowledge resources!
In considering these responses we need also to be aware that for most researchers there will never come to a point in their academic life in which they feel that all potential research and publications based on their data have been completed.
I would also note that our survey also shows that most of the researchers we surveyed did not see any benefit from sharing either publications or data!
As I noted, making knowledge production inclusive is an important aspect of open science. Unfortunately, our survey data also reveal that we as researchers are not taking sufficient steps to make science inclusive.
If we take the case of people with disabilities as an example here: we still view such people as consumers of science and not potential producers. Thus, our survey data show that although many institutions have started to provide ramp and wheelchair facilities, only around 11% provide Braille textbooks and only around 18 % provide audiobooks. Don’t we need a change in this approach?
We also found that most researchers are unaware of any institutional measures for making research outputs produced in their institution accessible to people with disabilities, further indicating that there are hardly any measures taken at the institutional level in this regard.
We found a similar situation with regard to communicating science in a language accessible to the broader public. The survey data show that only a small number of researchers regularly share simplified versions of their research findings. In a multilingual country like India, it is also important to communicate science in regional languages in order for it to be accessible to the broader public. While some of our policymakers, including the current Principal Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister, have emphasised this aspect in many interviews and talks, our data show that the vast majority of respondents (around 79%) have never shared translated versions of their research in regional languages.
The survey data also provide some insights into transparency-related measures taken by respondents. While close to half of them were of the view that the failure to reproduce scientific studies is a major problem in their field, the data also indicate that there are insufficient disclosure practices on the part of researchers.
That is, while most researchers reported that they share research methodology, most of them do not appear to be routinely sharing other important information like negative results and sources of funding. Yet these are integral to addressing the reproducibility crisis in science.
Our survey data also show that most respondents are unaware of any mandates from their funding agencies or institutions with regard to the disclosure of research methodology, research tools, negative results, errors in research, errors in data, and other limitations.
To summarise, 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.
AGS: Our main recommendations are made in Chapter 4 of the report. So, we suggest that if Indian researchers want to address the crisis in science, we need a holistic and inclusive approach involving participation from all stakeholders. Hence our chapter is addressed to all the stakeholders in science including, but not limited to, researchers, policy makers, funding agencies, and institutions.
Apart from providing examples wherever possible with most of our recommendations, we have also tried to specifically mention what each stakeholder can do with regard to that recommendation.
This was done with the aim of not just making it easier for each stakeholder to understand what they can do, but also to convey to each stakeholder that their action is part of a broader set of actions required in that particular area.
The main recommendations of the study include the need to create more awareness of the necessity for open science; to make openness and open science a priority in science at all levels; to introduce more robust open access, open data, open source software, and open hardware policies and practices; to have funding agencies, institutions and the government properly monitor and enforce such policies; to create shared resources; to fine-tune approaches towards IP (in particular, taking a more liberal approach to the limitations and exceptions under the copyright law); to introduce broader educational policy reforms to alleviate socio-economic barriers with regard to gender, caste, disability, etc. so as to make production of science more inclusive; to create facilities that enable the accessibility of knowledge resources for people with disabilities; to create incentives for sharing simplified and translated versions of research; to make research outputs available in machine-readable and interoperable formats; to enable a shift from pursuing sensational or “attractive” findings in favour of transparent and socially relevant research; to introduce and implement transparency-related mandates; to improve peer review; to encourage intra- and interdisciplinary collaboration; to share intermediate processes and findings; and to pursue more meaningful engagement with people outside the ‘mainstream’ scientific community.
The report also suggests the need for re-thinking the criteria used by policymakers, institutions, and funding agencies when evaluating the performance of researchers. We need a radical shift from the current approach which focuses solely on the number of publications, journal impact factor, number of patents, etc. Open science practices must be given due weight in the evaluation process.
Finally, the report points out that 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.
In the context of the global South, it is also important to focus on creating offline resources, and some of the specific suggestions we put forward in the report include a greater focus on print media, community radio stations, and creation of shared physical infrastructures.
Offline open access
RP: Can you say a little bit more about offline open access resources and who would benefit from them? I assume this is intended to inform and educate the public, and perhaps “citizen scientists”, rather than researchers? Can you give me an example? Do you see this as a peculiarly Indian need?
AGS: says that it is the duty of every citizen to develop “scientific , humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. Can the citizens of India develop this scientific state of mind without access to scientific knowledge?
In a country like India, where the digital divide is substantial (some estimates suggest that only around 31% of the population in India has internet access, while a suggest that only around 21% of adults in India use the internet at least occasionally or own a smartphone), it is extremely important to focus on alternative offline resources.
One way of doing this would be to share simplified versions of scientific information in print form. In fact, it should be mandatory to share simplified summaries of research produced in publicly-funded research and educational institutions. So doctoral candidates defending their theses could be asked to make a short and simplified presentation of their research on the thesis defence day.
Some of the more reputable universities (e.g. the ) are already insisting on this, and as a thesis examiner, I have witnessed how useful it is for both the public and the doctoral candidate.
Another important area where we need radical change is in providing access to libraries. In a country like India, it is important to invest in building an excellent network of public libraries across all villages and towns in the country. Every such library should be able to provide access to a good collection of books. Inter-library loans can facilitate this to a great extent, as the practices in German public libraries demonstrates.
This network of libraries should also provide easy access to digital journals. The Government of India should use the power of collective bargaining to reduce the costs of both print and digital materials in this regard.
It is also important to provide easy access to the libraries of publicly-funded educational institutions. While technically many of these institutions allow access to the public, they tend to put in place enormous bureaucratic procedures, including requiring recommendation and authorisation letters from faculty.
Why should the public need a recommendation letter before they can access materials bought using taxpayers’ money? It is high time to challenge and change such elitist practices in educational and research institutions in India.
As I briefly indicated earlier, we should also try to make use of opportunities like community radio stations to communicate science to the broader public. Maybe specific incentives could be given to educational and research institutions to encourage this. We should also encourage them to communicate science in the context of local problems, with the use of local examples.
Only through such diverse efforts will we be able to develop scientific temper in the country, as envisaged under the Constitution of India.