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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Richard Poynder interviews Subbiah Arunachalam, Part II

Richard Poynder, Open Access: Science in which no one is left behind, Open and Shut, May 10, 2006. This is Part II of Richard's interview with Subbiah Arunachalam. Part I came out on May 5. Excerpt:

RP: ...[Many]scholarly publishers - including large commercial publishers like Elsevier, Springer and Blackwell - agreed to participate in a number of low-cost or free access schemes - schemes like HINARI, AGORA, and OARE. Have these not resolved the access problems faced by Indian researchers?

SA: No. In fact, although Indiaís per capita GNP is less than the $1,000 figure below which free access to journals under HINARI and AGORA was supposed to be triggered, the publishers participating in the schemes have proved unwilling to provide Indian researchers with free access, on the plea that they enjoy a sizeable subscription income from India.

RP: So while paying lip service to equality of access, in practice scholarly publishers are only willing to help developing countries if doing so will have no impact on their revenues?

SA: Exactly. They are only providing free access to developing countries that do hardly any science. As a consequence, they are getting undue credit for their philanthropy....[B]oth WHO and FAO should have negotiated a better deal with the publishers. As it stands, they have not protected the interests of India; and they have not protected the interests of the other developing countries whose per capita GNP is below $1,000 and yet who are denied free access to the HINARI and AGORA journals.  What organisations like WHO and FAO should do now, however, is devote their time and energy to promoting Open Access throughout the world....The aim now should not be simply to provide Indian researchers with access to a few more journals, but to level the playing field in terms of information access; and in my view OA is the only effective way of doing that. The fact is that scientists in developing countries have the most to gain from OA, since they are currently the most deprived of access to scientific information....

RP: Finally, what’s your message to researchers and research institutes, both in the West and in the developed world?

SA: My message to all researchers in the world is this:

  • Adopt OA whole-heartedly; it can only do you good
  • Never give away the copyright in your work to publishers, especially if your research is funded by the public
  • Donít fall prey to the blandishments of publishers when they offer you membership of an editorial board, or ask you to guest edit a special issue, if the journal is not Open Access.

And my message to research institutions is this:

  • Set up an interoperable institutional archive and mandate archiving as soon as possible
  • Provide high bandwidth Internet access to your scientists, and always try to take advantage of advances in technology
  • Remember that the purpose of all science is ultimately to benefit the people. Be proactive in sharing your institutionís knowledge with the rest of the world.

The key point is that science and society can only progress if we all share knowledge, and build partnerships. We increasingly talk about e-Science and the information commons, but what is even more important is inclusive science - science in which no one is left behind.