Saturday, 28 March 2009

Successful conference - now the challenge!

A report from Subbiah Arunachalam on CSIR OA Conference in Delhi, March 29th, with a question to challenge participants.


I was there at the one-day conference on scholarly communication organised by CSIR at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, yesterday [24 March 2009]. We had a good gathering - more than 150 people at any given time. We had good speakers: Prof. Sunil Sarangi, Director, NIT, Rourkela, spoke about how at NIT they were able to come up with faculty support for India's first and so far only institutional mandate for open access. Dr D K Sahu, MedKnow Publications, Mumbai, spoke from personal experience how open access publishing is profitable in more than one sense and cleared the many myths about the publication of OA journals. Prof. Mangala Sunder Krishnan of IIT Madras gave an overview of the NPTEL project and gave a glimpse of the National Mission supported by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Prof. John Willinsky of Stanford University told the audience that open access was all about the history of science and how even the usually secretive Isaac Newton came to acknowledge the importance of unfettered dissemination of scientific research results. Willinsky also told us how within months of joining the Stanford Faculty he persuaded his colleagues at the School of Education to adopt a Faculty-initiated mandate for open access to all their research publications. For Willinsky, open access is a basic human right. Prof. Leslie Chan of the University of Toronto stressed the importance, value and benefits of the commons - be it a spacious and well-maintained garden or the intellectual commons. He gave several practical suggestions. He gave a dramatic example of an African researcher whose papers, when placed in an open access server started attracting citations at an unusually high rate. In his inaugural address, Dr Gangan Prathap, Director of NISCAIR, CSIR's publishing arm, told us that CSIR journals recovered through subscription revenue only about 30% of the costs and the intangible benefits that would accrue by making all the journals open access would far exceed any loss in revenue. Dr Prathap mentioned it was only the mindset and our nature to hold on to 'the intellectual property' we generated that stood in the way of adopting open access. I pleaded for taking advantage of the web technologies in both accessing the information we need from around the world and making our own work more visible and stressed the need for walking the talk and converting intent into action.

The conference ended with a lively panel discussion moderated by Prof. Leslie Chan. Prof. Chopra mentioned two great benefits of journals going open access and online: the first is ecological - all the trees we cut to produce print journals could be saved; the second is control of plagiarism, as it is easy to detect in the online environment. Dr Hirwani, Head of URDIP, CSIR, Pune, told us that at CSIR they were interested in creating both intellectual property and intellectual commons.

Audience participation was very good. There were many questions and the discussion was lively.

I hope CSIR will soon circulate all the presentations and a report on the conference to all participants.

To me the conference was successful. Just before the conference came to a close, the CSIR's Chief of Finance asked a couple of questions: If this was a conference on open access why was it not being broadcast to a nationwide audience through videoconferencing? Would we be writing a report and forwarding it to the key policy makers in the government? The answer to the second question, says Dr Naresh Kumar of CSIR, is yes. The conference was restricted to participants at the conference venue only, but thanks to the foresight of Mr Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, the entire proceedings have been captured on video. The Centre for Internet and Society will place the video recording as well as all the presentations on its website.

The CSIR team led by Dr Naresh Kumar and Dr Chandra Gupt deserve to be congratulated for putting together this one-day conference

Now, what next? The participants came - some from as far away as Rourkela and Mysore, heard the speakers, some asked questions, and went away. What they do in the next few days is crucial. For starters, they could talk to their colleagues about what they came to know about the changing face of scholarly communication and open access at the conference; they could initiate action to set up open access repositories in their own institutions; they may place all their published work in an open access repository; they may resolve to make all their papers openly accessible either by publishing them in OA journals or by placing them in an OA repository. If they are already doing all these they may be proactive and persuade other scientists and institutions to adopt open access. They may write to leaders of science, policy makers and concerned government officials to mobilise support for the adoption of a nationwide mandate for open access to all publicly-funded research.

Best wishes.

Subbiah Arunachalam