Newspapers stacked on a shelf. Photo: yeaki/Flickr, CC BY 2.0
- Almost two years after the Indian government proposed its One Nation, One Subscription plan, there have been no public updates on its progress.
- ONOS proposes to centrally negotiate payment to journal publishers so that the articles they publish can be viewed by the people of India free of charge.
- Subhash Lakhotia, Distinguished Professor at BHU, said “the main issue is to what extent the government will access the commercial interests of publishers.”
- Science policy researcher Moumita Koley said India’s size and number of institutes mean it will be difficult to identify a single cost for a national subscription.
- Experts also said the government shouldn’t spend so much money on subscriptions, but rather bolster good journals and promote a culture favorable to preprints.
bangalore: Last month, the United States announced that all taxpayer-funded research should be made available to the public by the end of 2025. In India, nearly two years after the government proposed its One Nation, One Subscription (ONOS) plan, there has been no public update on its progress.
The proposal emerged in the fifth draft of India’s Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020. If implemented, Indians will have access to scientific publications at a fixed and centrally negotiated cost that the government will pay the publishers directly.
Typically, scientists publish articles in a journal and the reader – an individual or an institute – pays a fee to the publisher to access an article. At the institute level, libraries subscribe to journals at a fixed cost, making their content available to institute students and researchers.
As journal publishers increased their prices over time, librarians formed consortia to increase their bargaining power when negotiating with publishers for subscriptions.
Over the past decade, the open access (OA) movement has emerged as an alternative means of accessing scientific literature and has garnered considerable support within the scientific community. The three most popular types of OA are:
- Gold OA – The research result is immediately available to the reader on the journal’s website, and the researcher (or their funder) pays for the article to be published;
- Green OA – Institutional repositories save copies of articles published by their researchers, making them freely available to anyone after a specified embargo period set by the journal (usually six months to one year).
- Diamond OA – Journals publish articles at no cost to either institutes or journal readers.
Essentially, ONOS is proposing to extend negotiations at the level of library consortia to a nationwide scale: a centrally negotiated payment by the Indian government with journal publishers, through which all individuals in the country can access these journals at no additional cost. .
The idea emerged from the deliberations of a committee comprising members of India’s three major academies of sciences: the National Academy of Sciences of India, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences of India. India, as well as other invited experts.
According to the committee’s report, released in April 2020, India spends around Rs 1,500 crore every year on journal subscriptions. The hope with ONOS is that the government can strike a better deal, said K. VijayRaghavan, former chief scientific adviser to the Indian government and chief negotiator. The science of yarn in 2019.
The idea that politics might get us a better deal did not go unchallenged. According to Subbiah Arunachalam, a retired scientist and pioneering OA advocate in India, commercial publishers may be able to make the most of negotiations with a small centralized group, enforcing their commercial interests, rather than with several entities such as institutional libraries. .
“There is no need for such a policy,” Arunachalam said, “because it will only take money from poor taxpayers and give it to rich publishers.”
Many other researchers are also wary of the cost – although they also find the ONOS policy appealing.
“The ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ policy sounds nice and logical in principle,” said Subhash C. Lakhotia, a distinguished professor at the Hindu University of Benares, Varanasi, and a member of the committee that proposed the idea. “However, the main snag is to what extent the commercial interests of publishers will be respected by the government.”
Lakhotia also doubted the “total feasibility” of the policy: while a central committee can negotiate with a few “mega-publishers”, there will be many publishers who will not fall under this umbrella – not to mention “predatory journals “.
Arul George Scaria, associate professor of law at the National Law School of India’s Bangalore University, echoed those concerns. Scaria also participated in the “Access to Knowledge and Resources” consultations, a thematic group formed to draft the STIP 2020 document.
“The idea sounds very appealing, but the devil is in the details,” he said. He warned that we should wait to find out which journal editors are on board and what their terms of participation are.
“While the goal is laudable, we need to ensure that the price we pay is not exorbitant to the Indian taxpayer,” he added.
Scaria also expressed concern about the lack of transparency in the process. “The unfortunate thing is that we don’t know much about the negotiations so far. It’s all in the dark, and that’s not desirable,” he said.
Size and diversity
Moumita Koley, a science policy researcher at the DST Center for Policy Research at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, focused on another potential problem: India’s size.
ONOS-type policies have been successfully implemented in Egypt and Uruguay, two countries much smaller than India. Koley said the “fragmented” nature of journal subscriptions in India — a country with multiple institutes and consortia — complicates the challenge at the first step: identifying a single cost for a national subscription.
Peter Suber, senior open access adviser at the Harvard Library, said Nature in September 2020 that “publishers might…turn down such a big deal due to the technical challenges of accessing a population the size of India.”
Currently, India has a dozen library consortia funded by 12 agencies, according to a recent report by Usha Mujoo Munshi, Chief Librarian of the Indian International Center, and Jagdish Arora, Advisor to the National Accreditation Council, both in New Delhi. .
While many publishers are increasingly adopting a model where researchers pay to make their articles available online, Koley added, the subscription policy may not be a good deal if researchers have to pay for journals. Again make their publications accessible to all.
“Double payments happen quite frequently,” Koley said. According to her, authors of research articles often resort to payment to have their work open access, as their research grants may allow or require it. “So you can’t mix those two aspects, because they’re [designed] to achieve two different goals,” she said.
Either way, with many journals weighing part subscription model and part OA Gold model, a long-term subscription deal would be a bad idea, Koley said.
Culture of preprints
The panel’s proposal included two other recommendations for open access.
The first was to archive preprints – an article in preliminary form, before peer review and publication – and “accepted” versions of articles (the edited version that a journal had agreed to publish). At the time of the proposal, a few government funding agencies had set up repositories where researchers could upload study materials paid for with taxpayer funds. And the committee said the government should strengthen those benchmarks.
Indeed, the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Biotechnology require that research articles funded by the agency be deposited in their common repository, called ‘Science Central’. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research also has a reference system: researchers do not have download CSIR-funded articles, but it is recommended that you do so.
Both Lakhotia and Arunachalam emphasized the need to promote such a culture of preprint and the culture of repositories. “I think that instead of spending [a lot of] money from publication/OA fees and subscriptions, the government must strengthen good academic journals in India for green OA and repositories where preprints and authors’ manuscripts can be freely deposited and accessed by all without no cost,” Lakhotia said.
The committee’s second recommendation was to use a “recommended” list of journals to which the government would pay publication and/or open access fees. This idea, however, met with resistance during the STIP 2020 discussions. Scaria and Muthu Madhan, Librarian at OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, wrote a dissenting note explaining why authors should not be encouraged to pay fees publication and/or open access.
This recommendation did not ultimately appear in the draft STIP 2020.
Rahul Siddharthan, a professor at the Chennai Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and who chaired the “Access to Knowledge and Resources” thematic group, said negotiations were ongoing but he did not know the details. VijayRaghavan said he would post a personal note “soon”.
For now, in the public domain, the plan has not evolved from its form in the draft RICT published in December 2020.
Joel P. Joseph is a science writer.