Centre for Internet & Society

On Monday 24 October, the National Aerospace Laboratories in Bangalore held an event to mark the beginning of Open Access Week 2011

During the event, Professor Balaram spoke on 'Issues of Access in Science Publishing', and Dr. L Venkatakrishnan gave a talk 'Open Access: Promised Utopia or Eventual Reality?'

Before the speakers, Shyam Chetty framed the discussion by suggesting that India currently lags behind other nations in the adoption of Open Access. He said that the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research should lead an initiative to promote India's National Open Access Policy and perhaps bring it into law. 
Prof. Balaram spoke next, and brought some refreshing realism and complexity to the Open Access discussion. He noted that both as a reader and as an author he supports Open Access, but there are costs involved in making research available, and these will have to be covered in some way. He shared first-hand experience of expensive subscriptions for Indian institutions, and how even the IISc has cancelled many journal purchases. In a later interview, Professor Balaram discusses some solutions to these problems. 
Prof. Balaram highlighted that Closed Access journals do add value to scholarship ― in terms of peer review, editing, and aggregation (the collection of related articles in useful ways). While Open Access journals may offer these services too, Prof. Balaram suggested that some of the strongest supporters of Closed Access journals are working academics who value the increased reputation and status they can offer. This lead him to expressing an opposition to institutional Open Access mandates. Instead, he encouraged an approach where academics are motivated to open their work for self-interest, rather than by obligation. 
Prof. Balaram also said that India must take an independent approach to Open Access and not expect western nations to lead the way. Increasingly India and China are seen as real competitors in the international field, and in the future may not receive concessions in journal subscriptions or other help currently offered to developing nations.
Dr Venkatakrishnan was more skeptical towards Open Access. He emphasized that the price to make an article freely available in a Closed Access journal could be over USD $3000. From this he suggested that the Gold Route to Open Access lacked potential because the costs involved are prohibitive. This does leave out alternative ways of financing Open Access journals that do not involve the author paying for submission. 
Dr. Venkatakrishnan echoed Prof. Balaram in saying that a strong motivation to publish in top-tier Closed Access journals is the increased reputation or funding it can bring. While it is true that academics can usually still upload their work to Open Access databases, Dr. Venkatakrishnan concluded that he did not know if Open Access was an 'open door' or a 'blind corner'. 

This could be taken as a strange end to an Open Access celebration, but the implication seemed to be this: in order for more Indian academics to support Open Access, they must be convinced of the real benefits it can bring to their own reputation and career success.

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