Remove paywalls hiding the outcomes of publicly funded research

During FY 2014-15 the extramural R&D support expenditure reported by DST's annual report[1] is about INR 20 billion (i.e. 2000 crore). The allocation[2] to DST for funding R&D in 2015-16 was at about INR 95 billion. This is all taxpayer's money. It is not necessarily a bad thing to spend on such R&D as long as the outcomes are useful and accessible to public whose tax rupees are used to fund such "research".

One of the key outcomes (at least from the perspective of researchers and the organisations engaged in such "research") is the research articles that are published in various peer-reviewed journals and conferences etc. Examples  of such venues are Elsevier, Springer, IEEE, ACM and so on. If you try accessing a non-open-access article at any of such venues you will find that on an average onetime accessing of a single article can cost anywhere between 15 to 30 USD. Cost of annual subscriptions alone of these journals and digital libraries run into hundreds of crores of rupees[3].

These digital libraries, other than spending on managing the peer-reviews, thrive mostly on free labour: 
  • The "research" whose key outcomes are published in these venues is funded using taxpayers hard-earned rupees. 
  • Conducting the peer-reviews of submitted work implies further burden on the time of same pool of experts  (actually, on the employer of the expert). Typically, experts are not paid to carry out the reviews.
  • Now to read other's "research" articles from the same digital library the one will have to pay! Typically, it is the employer of an expert who subscribes the major digital libraries at heavy cost[3-7].
The cycle continues because anything that is not published is not considered "research" enough, and does not count towards any professional advancement/recognition of an expert. Hence, these digital library shops continue to thrive.

Anyway, a more serious issues is that a citizen whose tax rupees have gone into funding a work of research is denied free access to the outcomes of such research. At the very least the publications that come out of such publicly funded research need to be freely accessibly to public.

Opening access to such research publications will result in better opportunities for translating research into commercial products and services and in turn creating more jobs. Moreover, it also helps in improving education in the respective areas of research as well as accelerating scientific discovery in those areas.

Of course, I'm not the only one talking about this issue. Similar concerns have been raised in other countries, and as a result they have brought out policies[9-10] to create a framework viable for both the publishers as well as meeting the public obligations of free access to publicly funded research publications. It is time that our policy makers also took a look at this issue and formulated a suitable policy.




Fig. 1 (Source [8])


REFERENCES
  1. DST Annual Reports. Online: http://www.dst.gov.in/about-us/annual-reports
  2. India’s budget disappoints scientists -- Funding keeps pace with inflation, but renewable energy research is cut heavily. Online: https://www.nature.com/news/india-s-budget-disappoints-scientists-1.17026
  3. Rising cost of science journals worries top science officials. Online: http://www.livemint.com/Politics/trpj70vM3TaZW8j64orqMJ/Rising-cost-of-science-journals-worries-top-science-official.html
  4. Indian scientists burdened by cost of research published in open access journals. Online: http://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/indian-scientists-burdened-by-cost-of-research-published-in-open-access-journals-3692197.html
  5. Spreadsheet of journal subscription costs. https://figshare.com/articles/Spreadsheet_of_journal_subscription_costs/5656069/1
  6. Journal subscription costs - FOIs to UK universities. Online: http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1186832
  7. Journal subscription expenditure of UK higher education institutions. Online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4304214/
  8. India by the numbers -- Highs and lows in the country’s research landscape.. Online: https://www.nature.com/news/india-by-the-numbers-1.17519
  9. OSTP Memo Sets Goal of Public Access. Online: https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201304/ostp.cfm
  10. What is NSF's public access policy? Online: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2016/nsf16009/nsf16009.jsp#q1

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