In 2020, Indian researchers invested a substantial US $17 million to publish their work as open access, accounting for more than half of the global expenditure of approximately $30 million in the same year. These expenses, known as Article Processing Charges (APCs), have been claimed to be crucial for maintaining the sustainability of open access (OA) scholarly journals. A study conducted by Raj Kishor Kampa from Berhampur University’s Department of Library and Information Science, Manoj Kumar Sa from the Indian Maritime University in Kolkata, and Mallikarjun Dora from the Vikram Sarabhai Library at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, revealed that Indian researchers contributed 26,127 gold OA articles in various disciplines to journals indexed in the Web of Science (WoS). This investment highlights India’s expanding role in global scientific discourse and reflects the broader challenge of maintaining integrity and quality in scientific publishing.

Exploring the Spectrum of Open Access Models: Benefits and Challenges

Open Access (OA) research, freely available online, includes various models, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Gold OA provides immediate visibility and high citation potential, but its high APCs can be a barrier. Green OA allows authors to self-archive their work at no direct cost, though it may involve embargo periods and not always provide the final published version. Hybrid OA offers flexibility but can be costly and has faced criticism for ‘double dipping’. Diamond/Platinum OA, funded by institutions or societies, removes financial barriers but might face resource limitations. Bronze OA offers free access but lacks clarity on reuse rights. Overall, OA enhances visibility, promotes collaboration, and accelerates discovery, but it also grapples with challenges like potential quality concerns, financial sustainability issues, and the rise of predatory journals.

The Double-Edged Sword of Article Processing Charges in Open Access Publishing

APCs, especially significant in Gold Open Access, enable free global access to research, thereby enhancing its visibility and impact and often comply with funding agency mandates. These charges cover the costs of peer review and editorial processes, ensuring quality standards. However, they present financial barriers for underfunded authors and can lead to inequities in research dissemination. The APC model is also susceptible to exploitation by predatory journals and can raise ethical concerns, such as prioritizing profit over quality. Hybrid journals charging APCs alongside subscription fees have been criticized for ‘double dipping’. This shift also strains institutional budgets and influences publication choices. While APCs enhance research accessibility, they introduce financial and ethical challenges that necessitate a careful balance for sustainable open access publishing.

Nobel Laureate’s Stand Against Prestigious Journals

Randy Schekman, a Nobel laureate, has criticized leading scientific journals like Nature, Cell, and Science, for distorting the scientific process. Awarded for his work in Physiology or Medicine, Schekman argues that these journals, driven by non-scientist editors, favor trendy topics and sensational studies over rigorous scientific research. This approach is likened to creating a demand similar to limited-edition luxury goods, over-emphasizing the impact factor and potentially misrepresenting a paper’s true scientific value.

Researchers like Daniel Sirkis and Sebastian Springer support Schekman’s concerns, noting the difficulties in publishing within these journals, which might not always reflect true research quality. In response, editors from these journals defend their practices, emphasizing their commitment to scientific significance and a robust peer-review process.

Indian Academia’s Research Struggles

In parallel with this global discourse, Indian academia faces its own challenges. Despite its status as one of the largest global education sectors, it contributes only 2.7% to research. This shortfall results from a lack of research incentives, inadequate funding, issues with plagiarism and publication quality, and a general disinterest in research among graduates, particularly in social sciences. The pressure to publish in prestigious journals leads many to unethical practices like publishing in predatory or cloned journals, exacerbated by digital platforms that sometimes inadvertently promote these dubious journals.

Investment in Open Access Publishing

The Indian research community’s significant investment in open access publishing indicates a strong inclination towards enhancing the visibility and accessibility of Indian research on a global platform. This commitment aligns India with global trends, supporting a diverse range of studies from health and medical sciences to multidisciplinary research.

However, this trend also has drawbacks. The financial burden on researchers, particularly those with limited funding, is a significant challenge. The dominance of a few commercial publishers in the open access model raises concerns about the monopolization of academic publishing. Moreover, the focus on publishing in high-APC journals might divert attention from the quality and relevance of research.

The Way Forward: Balancing Visibility with Integrity

As Randy Schekman, now the editor of eLife, an open-access journal, advocates for a publishing model prioritizing scientific merit, the global academic community, including India, faces a pivotal moment. It’s vital to balance the need for visibility and impact with the integrity and quality of research. The growing acceptance of open access publishing, reflected in the increasing number of journals adopting the APC model, presents both opportunities and challenges. Ensuring that the financial model of publishing does not overshadow the essential purpose of scientific inquiry and dissemination is crucial.

The Indian academic sector, in particular, needs to address its internal challenges. The University Grants Commission (UGC) and other bodies must step up to combat the rise of predatory publications and foster a research culture that values quality and ethical practices over mere publication metrics.

Conclusion: A Global Call for Ethical and Quality Research

The $17 million investment by Indian researchers in open access publishing is a testament to the country’s dedication to advancing scientific knowledge. However, as the global academic community faces challenges in publication ethics, research quality, and financial sustainability, there is a clear need for a more sustainable and equitable approach to scientific research and publication. The future of scientific advancement depends on our ability to balance these complex factors, ensuring that research not only reaches a wide audience but also maintains the highest standards of scientific integrity.

Prof. Dr. Prahlada N. B
3 December 2023

Leave a reply