Recently, John Bohannon’s ‘sting operation’, which involved the submission of a fake study about a chemical with anti-cancer properties to a number of open access journals, has re ignited the debate about the viability of providing research findings for free. In India, Subbiah Arunachalam, one of the most prominent acivists of the Open Access movement categorically states that ” All science and scholarship constitute the knowledge commons and everybody should have access to this knowledge at will so that nobody needs to go through barriers to obtain that knowledge.”Known as “India’s and the Developing World’s great advocate for open access” he has been on the editorial board of several scientific journals. In an interview to Richard Poynder he had claimed that he spends atleast one third of his each working day on Open Access advocacy and promotion. Here he talks about a few aspects of the Open Access Movement.
Q1. In one of your lectures you had mentioned that open access in the form of preprint systems has been more of a culture among the physicists but not in other fields like biology engineering chemistry etc. What are the major reasons for such a pattern?
SA: Physicists have always been in the vanguard of knowledge seeking.The trend of prerint was started by Paul Ginsparg, a phyicist from USA. Preprints were nothing but the first drafts of the reseachers’ papers which were made available to other interested scientists. Paul Ginsparg used to store all the preprints at one location and then mail them to other interested sceintists. This was the beginning of the now popular ‘arxiv’ server.
Q2. You advocate 100% open access for publishing in STEM. What sort of commercial model you foresee as most viable to be able to absorb the legitimate costs ( editorializing, staff costs) related to publishing?
SA :I advocate 100% open access (not open access publishing). I advocate OA (Open Access) through archiving by authors themselves like physicists have been doing fotr a long time. Hardly any costs are involved.
Q3. Do you propose to bring even the commercially funded research under the fold of Open Access particularly with regards to need of text mining?
SA: Anything that is published – from a company or a university – can be made open through a repository without much hassle. Making open is in the best interest of the company and the researchers. If a company patents some new findings, then it would like to keep it for itself.
Q:4. The so called sting operation of John Bohannon which was published in ‘Science’ has raised a few questions about the quality of Open Access Journals. He talks about the emergence of ‘Wild West’ in academic publishing due to the proliferation of low cost OAJ. How the issue of quality can be addressed?
SA :It is not true. The quality has nothing to do with the business model. In India, for example, all the better journals are open access. There are many subscription journals which are not of high quality and there are many OA journals which are rated high.
Long before Bohannon published his (in many ways defective) study, Jeffrey Beall started compiling a list of predatory journals. These journals exploit a market that exists. In India, we have stipulated some STUPID conditions such as a minimum of x papers for getting senior research fellowship (never mind where you publish the x papers).
Q5. Despite growing support, resistance towards Open Access flow of information remains strong. What are major obstacles retarding the growth of Open Access Journals?
SA :What resistance? Last year had seen many major developments.Recently, as part of in the US Office of Science and Technology Policy has mandated that publications from taxpayer funded research should be made freely availabe after 12 months. Also, European Union has clearly stirred in the direction of digitisation and Open Access (OA ). Now every STM (Science, Technology amd Mathematics) publisher who opposed OA tooth and nail have accepted it as inevitable.