Indian scientists burdened by cost of research published in open access journals

Some journals levy a charge that is equivalent to two months' salary of an assistant professor in India.

Indians spend close to $2.4 million annually to get their scientific research output published in different open access (OA) journals, authors of a new study say, raising concerns that scientists often have to cough up two months equivalent of salary to get their work into those journals. "We estimate that India is potentially spending about $2.4 million annually on Article Processing Charges (APCs) levied by those journals. To publish a paper in OA, some journals levy a charge that is equivalent to two months' salary of an assistant professor in India," Muthu Madhan of DST Centre for Policy Research, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, told IANS.

Criticising the practice, Madhan says it is not right, given the major part (about 70 per cent) of research funding is sourced from taxpayers. "And there is shortage of funds for research. It is not right for researchers to give part of it to rich publishers -- who overcharge anyway for the meagre services they provide and take home profits in the range 30 to 40 per cent year after year even when the economy was not doing well," he said. The authors arrived at the figure based on the data mined from Science Citation Index Expanded that revealed 37,078 papers were published by Indian researchers in 881 OA journals during the five-year period from 2010-2014. An abstract of the analysis is available in the Current Science journal, ahead of publication.

"This accounts for about 14.4 per cent of India's overall publication output, considerably higher than the 11.6 per cent from the world," the study notes. It is co-authored by Siva Shankar Kimidi of the Library Department, Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad; Subbiah Gunasekaran of the Knowledge Resource Centre, Central Electrochemical Research Institute, Karaikudi; and Subbiah Arunachalam of the DST Centre for Policy Research. The authors suggest that it would be prudent for Indian researchers to make their work freely available through inter-operable repositories, a trend that is growing significantly around the world.

The study does not include the expenditure on OA papers published by Indian researchers in subscription journals which make papers available on OA on payment of a fee. Raising the financial and ethical issue of paying for getting papers published in professional journals, the authors opine the funding agencies in India should "forbid researchers who are now using research grants" (funds provided only for research) to cover APCs. The analysis shed light on the fact that Indian authors have used 488 OA journals levying APC, ranging from Rs 500 to $5,000, in the five years, to publish about 15,400 papers.

Use of OA journals levying APC has "increased" over the four years from 242 journals and 2,557 papers in 2010 to 328 journals and 3,634 papers in 2014. There has been a spike in the use of non-APC journals as well, but at a slower pace. More than half of these papers were published in just 13 journals. PLOS One and Current Science are the OA journals Indian researchers use most often, the authors note.

Though most leading Indian journals are open access ones and do not charge APC, there is a leaning towards "foreign journals" in the pecking order. "Most Indian journals are nowhere near the top in this order. In general, researchers prefer to publish their papers in prestigious journals (as considered by the community), irrespective of the publishing country of a journal. However, most of the prestigious journals (in science, technology and medicine) are published from either North America or Western Europe," Madhan observed.

To circumvent the expenditure, Madhan suggested researchers make their papers OA in two ways. "They can publish their papers in traditional professional journals that do not levy an APC and place the accepted manuscript (called post-print) in an inter-operable institutional repository. There are ways -- protocols -- by which all the distributed institutional repositories could be viewed as a single mega repository by a searcher."

Institutions can also establish and maintain an inter-operable repository at a negligible cost using open source software such as EPrints and DSpace. In India, there are many institutions that have set up such repositories. Notable among them is ScienceCentral -- maintained by CSIR -- URDIP Pune, which hosts repositories for institutions of CSIR, DBT and DST, and harvests and indexes metadata of the contents in those collections. It provides a single search interface, points out Madhan.

At the global level, Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) is a major player. The attitude, "paying money to publish papers" that the APC levying journals are trying to nurture, is dangerous for the scientific community, Madhan warned. "There is a feeling that this idea offers space for dubious publishers who exploit the scientific community and corrupt the research system, and one can no longer ignore the growth of such predatory publishing," he added.


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