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OA and the developing world (fwd)

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Mon Mar 7 09:31:54 EST 2005

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 07 Mar 2005 08:59:33 -0500
From: Peter Suber <peters at earlham.edu>
To: BOAI Forum <boai-forum at ecs.soton.ac.uk>
To: SPARC-OAForum at arl.org, boai-forum at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Subject: OA and the developing world

[Forwarding from Subbiah Arunachalam.  This is the version of his editorial 
that he submitted to NMJI.  The published version may differ in small 
ways.  --Peter Suber.]

Guest Editorial for the _National Medical Journal of India_
November/December, 2004

Open Access and the Developing World

by Subbiah Arunachalam

We live in an unequal world. Doing research in the developing world is not 
all that easy. In every respect - training, funds invested, laboratory 
facilities, workshop facilities, access to information, opportunity for 
meeting with other experts - researchers in the developing countries suffer 
from a relative disadvantage compared with their counterparts in the 
developed countries. Indeed developing country researchers have to work 
much harder under far more difficult conditions and achieve a lot more than 
scientists in developed countries to win recognition.

Take for instance access to research literature. Most new knowledge in the 
sciences appears in the form of papers in research journals. In the halcyon 
days of the early part of the last century, there were only a small number 
of journals and most laboratories in the world could afford them. True, as 
most of them were published in the west, researchers in the rest of the 
world had to wait for a few months to receive them by sea mail. But today 
there are more than 20,000 refereed professional journals, many of them 
published by for-profit companies.  The subscription prices of most of 
these journals rise year after year at rates much higher than the general 
inflation rate. Consequently, most institutions in the developing countries 
are unable to subscribe to even the most important core journals. Even many 
university libraries in the United States of America, boasting much higher 
budgets than academic libraries in the developing countries, have felt the 
pinch of the serials crisis.

Scientists such as Harold Varmus have thought of an alternative business 
model for scientific journals to overcome the serials crisis, wherein 
authors (or their institutions or funding agencies) would bear the cost of 
the journals and the readers will get them at no cost. The well-known 
examples of author-pays open-access journals are PLoS Biology and PLoS 
Medicine (published by the Public Library of Science) and the more than 100 
journals published by BioMed Central. Incidentally, all the journals 
published by the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science 
Academy are open access journals and authors do not have to pay, as the 
entire cost of publishing is absorbed by the publishers and the earnings 
from subscription to the print versions.

Fortunately, the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web has also 
opened up another means to do away with the inequality in the field of 
accessing research information. Imagine that every author makes the full 
text of his/her papers (preprints or post-prints) available on the Net so 
anyone interested in the papers anywhere in the world can access them with 
a few keystrokes and mouse clicks. That is precisely what Paul Ginsparg 
aimed at when he created arXiv, a central archive and forum for discussion 
for physicists, at Los Alomas in 1991.  Since its inception, thousands of 
physicists start their working day with a visit to arXiv. They check for 
papers of their interest, download them and comment upon them. As all these 
comments are also in the public domain, they can be read by the author(s) 
of the papers as well as by others visiting the archive. The authors can 
improve their papers based on comments received and place an improved 
version of their papers. Currently owned and operated by Cornell 
University, arXiv is an e-print service in the fields of physics, 
mathematics, non-linear science, computer science, and quantitative 
biology. In the words of Ginsparg, "This resource has been entirely 
scientist driven, and is flexible enough either to co-exist with the 
pre-existing publication system, or to help it evolve to something better 
optimized for researcher needs. The arXiv is an example of a service 
created by a group of specialists for their own use: when researchers or 
professionals create such services, the results often differ markedly from 
the services provided by publishers and libraries. It is also important to 
note that the rapid dissemination it provides is not in the least 
inconsistent with concurrent or post facto peer review, and in the long run 
offers a possible framework for a more functional archival structuring of 
the literature than is provided by current peer review processes."  A key 
point is that the cost to archive an article and make it freely available 
to the entire world in perpetuity is a tiny fraction of the amount to 
produce the research in the first place. This is, moreover, consistent with 
public policy goals for what is in large part publicly funded research.

There are similar services for cognitive sciences [Cogprints managed by 
Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton], computer and information 
sciences [CiteSeer, a public specialty search engine and digital library 
created by researchers at the NEC Research Institute (now NEC Labs), 
Princeton, NJ, USA], and economics [RePEc: Research Papers in Economics 
(http://repec.org), a volunteer-driven initiative to create a public-access 
database that promotes scholarly communication in economics and related 

Experts such as Stevan Harnad believe that interoperable e-print archives 
set up by institutions will be better than centralized subject-specific 
archives. The advantages of Open Access Archiving (of already published and 
refereed research papers in interoperable, minimal-cost institutional 
archives) are:

[1] Nothing need change regarding the future of the publishers (because 
they will continue to publish as before and in parallel with the OA 
Archives - as already proven to be successful in physics through the 
14-year old archive http://arxive.org and the major physics journals. Over 
90% of journals have agreed to the institutional archiving of already 
published papers in OA Archives, including journals published by Elsevier 
and Nature Publishing);

[2] Nothing need change for the authors (because they can continue to 
publish papers in their favourite journals). However, the impact of their 
work will be hugely increased if they also archive their full text 
publications in institutional archives using the free software that allows 
interoperable searching across all archives. Authors would be wise to 
publish in one of the majority of journals that agree to OA Archiving in 
order to benefit from this much increased international impact. 
OA-compliant archives are now also searchable through the Yahoo and Google 
search engines.

[3] The research output of the authors' institutes will be greatly enhanced 
through the establishment of institutional OA Archives, showcasing their 
academic publications. OA Archives are set up using free software and there 
are many support organisations offering help if needed. In India, Indian 
Institute of Science was among the first to set up an institutional archive.

[4] If institutes are unable to set up their own institutional archives, 
authors may archive their 'already published' research in any of the 
established archives (Cogprints, Bioline International, etc). It does not 
matter at all where papers are archived, since the archives are all 
interoperable. However, establishing institutional archives has the 
advantage of additionally promoting the research output of the institutes.

[5] As more and more archives are established, more and more of the world's 
research becomes internationally accessible for free. Harnad of Cogprints 
says 'Archive unto others as you would have them archive unto you'. For the 
developing country institutes, sharing their research with countries facing 
similar research priorities has clear benefits, and making their research 
'visible' internationally will lead to many other advantages. In summary, 
archiving already published research in interoperable institutional 
archives greatly benefits global science at almost no cost.  This could be 
done now, without changing established publishing practices. For developing 
country science and medical research this offers enormous opportunities. 
Maybe WHO, ICMR, Ministry of Science and Technology and UGC should consider 
supporting the setting up of OA Archives for medical research publications. 
Both the National Institutes of Health, USA, and the Joint Information 
Systems Committee of the UK are trying to implement mandating of open 
access archiving of publicly funded research in their respective countries. 
Developing country governments will do well to mandate that all publicly 
funded research is made available through interoperable institutional open 
access archives. India should lead the way for the rest of the developing 

Subbiah Arunachalam
Distinguished Fellow
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation
Chennai 600 113,  India
<arun at mssrf.res.in>  

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