South-South Alliances – the Bangalore workshop on Electronic Publishing and Open Access

We met for our meals on a shaded terrace under palms and spreading tropical trees in the centre of the enormous campus of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and held our discussions in their senate room, distinguished home to many of India’s leading scientists. Coming from India, China, Brazil and Africa, the UK and US, we were the guests of the Indian Academy of Science, the IISC and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and had met to discuss South-South relationships in the development of Open Access research dissemination.

The workshop was an important further step in a growing movement of South-South alliances. What emerged most strongly at the Africa-centred conference in Leiden a few months ago was the question, ‘Whose knowledge, for what purpose for whom?’ The issue there was the tendency for development rhetoric to focus on the
supply of knowledge to the developing world rather than the production of knowledge in and from the African continent. This time, in India, the assertion of the rights of developing nations went a step further. Right at the beginning of the workshop, in one of the introductory addresses, Prof N Balakrishnan, the Associate Director
of the Indian Institute of Science, said, ‘What we need to do is change the “developing country” rhetoric to a world
perspective.’ Put another way – when I emailed Gordon Graham, of the LOGOS journal, one of the wisest people I know from the publishing industry, he wrote back, ‘Do tell me more about the workshop. What a combination. India, China, Brazil and Africa constitute about two thirds of humanity.’ They are both right – what this workshop reminded us is that we in the developing world are the norm – with all our challenges – not the privileged and
powerful who call the shots in scholarly publishing. Alma Swan raised the same issue in another way, echoing something that was said in Leiden: that we have a problem with the common expression of the international/local dichotomy. Why should developing country issues be considered ‘local’ when these apply to the greater proportion of the global population, while , for example, we bow down to the ‘international’ status of the comparatively narrowly-focused ISI indexed journals?

Lawrence Liang, of the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, gave us the message in another way. In a typically virtuoso and mind-stretching keynote address, in which he charted different meanings of ownership, in different languages and cultures. He invited us to resist a property discourse that conflates property rights with academic rights and turns the collegiality of academe into the hierarchy of property. In that world, he said, those who have most freedom are those who own the most IP. Property in the English sense, he said, the conflation of ‘self’ and ‘own’ resting on exclusion, is something not common to other languages. In Indian, apnapen is not a matter of
owning, or property , but of closeness. Ownership in this sense has the obligation of care and the opposite of care is brutality, like the ‘war’ on piracy that is currently being waged – passport control in a borderless world, Liang argued.

Its insistence on the importance of a developing world view has led India to be an early and successful adopter of Open Access. The Indian Academy of Science publishes 11 OA journals and, strikingly from my point of view as a publisher, Prof Chandrasekran, the Secretary of the IAC, said that whenever the IAS works with international partners, it insists that this must be on its own terms, in ways suitable to the situation in the developing world. There is a lesson to be learned here by those struggling African journal editors who hand over their journals to UK publishers in the name of ‘viability’, all too often landing up unable to afford to buy back their own output.

The general tone of the contributions and discussions at the workshop was pragmatic, echoing Subbiah Arunachalam’s plea at the start of the workshop that we move from words to action in developing South-South collaboration. Barbara Kirsop and Alma Swan both gave admirably clear expositions of the advantages of OA for developing countries, speeding up the solution of global problems, avoiding expensive duplication, increasing impact factors and providing grater visibility for national research. With preprint archiving, the impact or journal articles can begin even before the publication date of the article. Muthi Mathan of NIT in Rourkela gave quietly impressive practical advice on how to swing an organisation round to mandating OA archiving.

Medknow, the Indian OA medical publisher goes from strength to strength, now publishing 40 journals all of them Open Access, none of them dependent on author fees, said DK Sahu, the MD of the company. He took us through an impressive account of the increased impact factors, the wider range of author submissions, the expanding global readership and the resultant improvements in quality, that come from making developing world journals OA. In this way, he argued, small local journals are being turned into international journals. Moreover this has come, in Medknow, without loss of print subscriptions, which remain the main revenue source for OA journals.

In Latin America, SciELO , too, came early to Open Access. Abel Packer stressed the ways in which this collaborative effort across Latin America and the Caribbean is moving journals from the status of local and regional towards the international flow of scientific information. It creaties scalability by publishing collections rather than individual journals and takes care to maximise the exposure of all articles through search engines and databases. SciELO, said Packer, is among the ten most clicked searches in Google Scholar. There are 360 journals currently certified by SciELO and another 64 that should be added soon. The success of SciELO depends on its
independence – the main institution in each country is the science council, so that is is not directly involved with any university or individual journal. The cost efficiencies from the $1 million invested every year are also impressive at about $100 per article per year and 3.7 cents per download for the 27 million articles that are
downloaded every year.

In an interesting insight into the ways in which Chinese scholarly publishing is working, Prof Zu Guang, the Head of the Department of Publication at the Natural Science Foundation Council revealed that most journals were government supported, something that influences the journals’ ability to choose its publication mode. There are 143 OA journals with the NSFC publishing four broad-based journals in Chinese and English and supporting and funding another 30. Most Chinese journals, he said, were not covered by any database and there is a small market at the moment for Chinese scientific journals outside of China.

Amit Kapoor of Topaz also stressed the importance of developing countries even in his very high-tech environment. Topaz needs increased international participation, he said, getting other communities and developers involved. It is difficult to deal in change, however, he argued, as there are established communities out there, creating push-back. Developing countries provide greater potential for expanding new ideas. And, he said, rounding things off nicely, they are only about 80% of the world population.

Against this background, African efforts seem fragmented and decentralised. As Susan Veldsman put it, after her account of the work that EIFL is doing in southern Africa, few repositories are actually up and running, most still in the incubation phase. The problems faced are lack of HR capacity, lack of government support, decentralised efforts and the need for strategic and not only operational efforts. My own paper, based on the work I have been doing for my OSI fellowship, looked at the consequences of publish and perish policies in South Africa in a context where government is, in contradiction of its scholarly publishing policy, looking for
development impact from national research spending. Most of all, I have discovered a black hole in the policy documents where discussion of research publication and development impact ought to be. The most promising development is the South African Academy of Science report on scholarly publishing, commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology, that has come up with the proposal that the Academy take on the role of scholarly publishing coordination and quality
control – something that seems in line with SciElO’s success, if we can pull it off. We could learn from the forward-thinking developments that we have heard about from India and Latin America. The African vice-chancellors meet in Cape Town next week to discuss ICTs in higher education. It will be interesting to see where this
leads.

Papers from the Bangalore workshop are online on www.ncsi.iisc.ernet.in/OAworkshop2006/presentations.htm

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