Time for India's own open-access digital publishing platform?
Knowledge sharing is the key to research in academia, and scientific journals play a crucial role in that. It started with noble intentions and sponsorships from various learned societies almost 400 years ago. Then in the 1950s, Robert Maxwell turned scientific journals into a money-making instrument. Presently the academic publishing industry functions in a concentrated market filled with big players and driven by revenue. Elsevier, one of the biggest publication houses, earned aprofit margin of more than 35% higher than tech giants like Apple and Microsoft. The success of their business model hinges on the prosumer nature of the researcher. Even though technological advancements have shifted the industry to adopt the digital format, most knowledge is still paywalled. Initiatives likeBudapest Open Access Initiative, stresses self-archiving and open-access. The extortionatelyhigh article processing fee (APC) charged by publishing groups for open-access publication beats the purpose of equity and inclusivity. Academic communities in transitioning economies like India also face the added challenge of scattered community involvement in the peer-review process, which combined with theUS effect, breeds inequity.
Advancements in open-access practices have fuelled innovative approaches, especially in Latin America.Non-commercial models to scholarly communication like the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) and Redalyc have emerged. They successfully function with decentralised electronic publishing platforms, no APCs, open-access repositories, and not for profit indexing services. On a similar adaptability approach, African Journals OnLine (AJOL) and Nepal Journals Online (NepJOL) also function in open-access mode.
Viewing the increasing acceptability and advocacy of open access, some dominant and young academic publishers such asF1000Research,eLife,Gates Open Research, etc. have also made subtle shifts in their operating model. Concepts like an open peer-review system removes the opaqueness of the peer-review by publishing the reviewer comments along with the manuscript. Preprint open-access repositories like bioRxiv, engrXiv, SocArXiv, etc., are also steering the changes in online paper archiving models.
Technological progression and open-access advocacy have trickled down to compel the publishing industry to evolve its business models and practices. Still, this hasn’t changed the management of peer-reviewed academic journals. Non-profit initiatives such as Public Knowledge Project, supported by Stanford University, the Simon Fraser University Library and various other development partners, have focused on strategizing and developing open software solutions to improve the online environment for better management, publication, and indexing of journals.
Indian academia, as a result of access and equity challenges, is falling prey to predatory publishing. Recognition biases coalesced with financial and infrastructure constraints prevent researchers from publishing in high-quality journals. TheUGC mandate of one compulsory publication as a pre-condition to PhD also fuels predatory publishing. This calls for the development of a digital open-access environment with minimal (funded by the research project) to no-APCs. There is already a precedent, the Open Research Europe by the European Commission. This platform encourages quick but quality open-peer-reviewed publications for research across all subject areas, stemming from Horizon 2020 funding.
India has many opportunities to leverage from its own digital publishing platform. The country is currently positioned third in the world in scientific publication with a 12.9% growth rate in scientific publications. India’s digital expertise at both individual and corporate levels is also well acknowledged. Only a few Tier 1 public sector universities at present can afford to make scholarly publication accessible to researchers. A potential solution discussed is One Nation, One Subscription (ONOS). But it will call for huge investments every year without addressing core issues like improving the quality of Indian research, more practical research evaluation matrices, and monetisation of public-funded research output by a few corporate publishers. Against this backdrop, a digital publishing platform will address access issues of publicly funded research in India. It can create a vibrant community of researchers enabling scholarly knowledge sharing and communication. Further, a digital publishing platform with a very firm stand on quality publication not only holds promises to provide fair and open-access avenues for Indian (and the rest of the world) researchers to publish, but associated analytics such as views, download, social media presence, etc. of a published article. This can open up new possibilities to judge the impact of research not based on the impact factor of a journal but the real impact of the said work.
Innovation Challenge to build an AI powered pre-print and publishing platform
Currently, the scientific publishing system faces the problem of access and equity. Commercial publishing houses charge exorbitantly high article processing and subscription charges. Even though most of the research published is publicly funded and digital interventions have substantially reduced the processing costs, most of the scholarly knowledge still resides behind paywalls, not only for the general public but also for researchers generating academic content. The exclusion of the global south perspective and increase in the number of predatory journals have also escalated the debate on the knowledge-quality and effectiveness of the current process of knowledge creation and dissemination.
The recently released draft UNESCO Open Science recommendations advocates for open access to scientific publication, unrestricted distribution, interoperability and long-term digital préservation and archiving.The draft of the 5th STI policy India also promotes open access to publicly funded research output.
With the belief that knowledge is a public good and must be accessible without barriers, we propose an open-access publication platform. One of the primary goals of this platform will be to foster unhindered access to scholarly publications, primarily through digital technologies. Working on the recommendations of various stakeholders, the idea is to build a robust digital platform that is transparent, efficient, cost-effective, and addresses the mainstream problems faced by both the scholars and editors.
The problem is one of access and equity. Access relates to both access to read and access to publish. A bulk of material is behind paywalls. Open Access publication is prohibitively expensive. Community involvement is scattered and peer review is difficult to find. Metric bases are cherry-picked by corporate interests, like impact factor, h-index, etc., and promoted in a way that it benefits those who are already at the top of the food chain (western, first world scholarship).
There is an opportunity to build a pre-print archive and an open national research publishing platform that solves the problems of access and equity. There are possibilities to attribute matrices on each article based on pragmatic research evaluation criteria that suit the needs of Indian funding agencies. This will encourage research that address the local challenges which usually are overlooked by the international community and benefit in one or more of the components of research content, namely:
Title, Abstract, Affiliation, Keywords, Bibliography.
Additional opportunities are available: A pragmatic approach to a publishing model that is digital first with an option to print, when and if needed, can leapfrog the platform ahead of all prior art.
Develop an automated, AI-powered digital open-access publication platform for accessible, equitable, and efficient dissemination of knowledge in academia.