Friday, 21 May 2010

Access to agriculture and food science is urgent: CGIAR can help

There is a clear and urgent need to ensure free access to all research findings relating to agriculture and food science. It is on these discoveries that the well-being of the poorest people ultimately depends. It was with interest, therefore, that I came across an item on the Web titled, ‘Cheap dipstick can detect foot and mouth’, as it seemed a valuable development with the potential for immediate impact in developing regions. I found the reference on the SciDevNews website (see here) and clicked on the link to the full text. But this was available only on payment of a subscription.

Now that open science and open access to research findings is becoming mainstream, how is it that such information still remains behind barriers that prohibit access by those most in need?

Then by email came a timely letter that was to be sent to the CGIAR organisation encouraging with some urgency that its constituent organisations make all their publications freely available to all through open access. My fellow EPT Trustee, Professor Subbiah Arunachalam, had drafted the message reproduced below and was inviting colleagues prominent in the development of open access to add their names to the letter.

This was an immediate antidote to the irritation I had felt on being blocked a moment before. The message has now been sent to the CGIAR administration for their consideration and it is the fervent hope of its authors that the organisation will consider the purpose for which the CGIAR was originally set up and take steps to implement the recommendations in the letter, namely to join the growing body of prestigious organisations that have mandated open access distribution for all the research publications arising from their funding.

Here is the letter, and EPT urges all CGIAR partners to follow the lead of ICRISAT (see here) and begin the process of making their funded research globally available free of cost. CGIAR’s stated vision is ‘to reduce poverty and hunger, improve human health and nutrition, and enhance ecosystem resilience through high-quality international agricultural research, partnership and leadership’. By requiring open access to this research, they will be taking an essential and immediately achievable step towards realizing their aim.

“Dear Dr Carlos Perez del Castillo/ Dr Kathy Sierra:

About a year ago, on 20 May 2009 to be precise, Dr William D Dar, Director General of ICRISAT sent a Memorandum on Launching of Open Access Model: Digital Access to ICRISAT Scientific Publications to all researchers and students in all locations of ICRISAT [http://openaccess.icrisat.org/MemoOnDAIS.pdf]. In the memorandum Dr Dar had said "Every ICRISAT scientist/author in all locations, laboratories and offices will send a PDF copy of the author's final version of a paper immediately upon receipt of communication from the publisher about its acceptance. This is not the final published version that certain journals provide post-print, but normally the version that is submitted following all reviews and just prior to the page proof."

ICRISAT is the only international agricultural research centre with an OA mandate, and is second among the research and education institutes operating from India, the first being the National Institute of Technology-Rourkela (http://dspace.nitrkl.ac.in/dspace/). ICRISAT publishes a research journal (http://www.icrisat.org/journal/) which is also an open access journal.

Since then is growing fast and the portal now has virtually all the research papers published in recent times, and all the books and learning material produced by ICRISAT researchers.

We believe that it would be great if other CGIAR laboratories could also mandate open access to their research publications. Indeed, it would be a good idea to have a system wide Open Access mandate for CGIAR and to have interoperable OA repositories in each CGIAR laboratory. Such a development would provide a high level of visibility for the work of CGIAR and greatly advance agricultural research. Besides, journals published by CGIAR labs could also be made OA. There are more than 1,500 OA repositories (listed in ROAR and OpenDOAR) and about 5,000 journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Currently over 2050 journals are searchable at article level. Over 390,000 articles are included in the DOAJ service.

The world will soon be celebrating the International Open Access Week [18-24 October 2010] and you may wish to announce the CGIAR OA mandate before then.

As you may be aware, all seven Research Councils of the UK and the National Institutes of Health, USA, have such a mandate in place for research they fund and support. To see the full list of ~220 mandates worldwide, see .

We look forward to seeing an early implementation of open access in all CGIAR labs.

Sincerely,
- Subbiah Arunachalam [Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Internet and Society,Bangalore, India]
- Remi Barre [Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM), Paris, France]
- Leslie Chan [University of Toronto at Scarborough, Canada]
- Anriette Esterhuysen [Association for Progressive Communications, Johannesburg, South Africa]
- Jean-Claude Gu├ędon [University of Montreal, Canada]
- Stevan Harnad [Universite du Quebec a Montreal and University of Southampton]
- Neil Jacobs [JISC, UK]
- Heather Joseph [Executive Director, SPARC, USA]
- Barbara Kirsop [Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, UK]
- Heather Morrison [University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada]
- Richard Poynder [Technology journalist, UK]
- T V Ramakrishnan, FRS [Banaras Hindu University and Indian Institute of Science; Former President of the Indian Academy of Sciences]
- Peter Suber [Berkman Fellow, Harvard University; Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College; Senior Researcher, SPARC; Open Access Project Director, Public Knowledge]
- Alma Swan [Director, Key Perspectives, UK]
- John Wilbanks [Vice President for Science, Creative commons]
- John Willinsky [Stanford University and University of British Columbia]”

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