Monthly Archives: June 2009

India ‘limping’ in science publication rates

India has been ‘limping behind’ in science publishing rankings over the past decade, a leading analyst of India’s scientific publication output has cautioned. The warning follows an analysis of the total number of science and social science papers published by countries during the period 1 January 1999–31 October 2008 in journals indexed in Web of Science. The analysis was published by Thomson Reuters earlier this year. India is ranked twelfth in the index. While China — ranked fifth in the index — has jumped from 1.5 per cent of the world share in 1988–1993 to 6.2 per cent between 1999 and 2008, “India has limped” from just 2.5 to 2.6 per cent during the same time frame, observes Subbiah Arunachalam, a scientist with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and former editor of one of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s journals. Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan have also recorded a much higher growth rate than India, he notes. “India has a long way to go. Mere ambition to become a knowledge power is not enough,” Arunachalam, who tracks India’s annual scientific publication performance, told SciDev.Net. “When we recruit new faculty we do not give them sufficient funds and other infrastructure such as lab space,” Arunachalam says. “Where will they get bright students unless the schools are strengthened? Processes take time and you cannot compress them into here and now. Long term planning is necessary.” Arunachalam told SciDev.Net he sounded the first warning of India’s stagnation in scientific publications as early as 2002 but it was largely ignored by the country’s science administrators. The country has now started to take remedial measures by announcing new institutes for science education and research, new Indian Institutes of technology, and polytechnic institutes (see Indian plans boost next generation of scientists). But these “will take at least a decade to make a difference”, says Arunachalam. But Padmanabhan Balaram, director of Indian Institute of Science and editor of Current Science — a journal of the Indian Academy of Sciences — cautions in a 25 May editorial against the growing over-emphasis on counting citations and impact factors by the scientific community worldwide. “Even as we [Indian scientists] collectively lament the lack of enthusiasm of young students of science, there is little discussion of how institutions and the researchers within them are perceived from outside. ‘Fun’ may be a word hard to associate with [the] scientific community, obsessed with quantitative performance parameters …”


Scholarly communication in the age of the commons – A southern perspective

International PKP Scholarly Publishing Conference 2009 Harbour Centre – Simon Fraser University July 8, 2009 – July 10, 2009

Keynote Abstract:

The contours of the geography of science and scholarship have been changing and the change is likely to be even more pronounced in the years to come. The dominance of the advanced countries of the West is eroding and the erstwhile colonies are no longer content to remain hunting grounds for safari science. Some of them are unwilling to play second fiddle to science in the advanced countries any longer and want to be equal partners.

The need for science to be performed everywhere and take roots in all countries is now well recognized.

The toll-access journal system that was set up some 350 years ago and which has served well till a few decades ago evolved, for historical reasons, largely to serve the needs of North-North knowledge exchange and have failed to take cognizance of the aspirations of the South. In addition, the spiraling costs of journal subscriptions have effectively locked researchers from the South out of access to new knowledge and the much-needed international dialogue, thus making the notion of universality of knowledge and science a distant ideal and not a practicable goal.

Even advocates of open access do not fully recognize how important it is today for scientists in the North to learn about developments in the South. The value of South-to-North flow of knowledge was well demonstrated by what happened during medical disasters such as avian flu and swine flu when speedy exchange of not only research results but also research data enabled dealing with the disasters quickly.

Open access to knowledge is not merely important in science but also in development. Organizations such as IDRC and to some extent DFID support open access to all the reports from development projects they support.

If OA is so very important to the South, why is the progress slow? While computers, internet access and bandwidths continue to pose problem in a number of southern countries, in general the situation is improving. The more important factor is scientists’ apathy. Scientists in the South, by and large, do not exercise their rights to the full; often they give away on a platter copyright to their research papers to journal publishers. The publishers themselves indulge in practices that would entice publishing scientists and librarians to act in ways that would benefit the publishers. Funding agencies and governments of southern countries are not as proactive as they should be.

Focused advocacy on the advantages of the public commons approach can bring about some revolutionary changes. Such advocacy should be aimed at all levels of stakeholders. Some examples of what is being done in India will be presented.


Open Access to Scientific Knowledge

S. Arunachalam

DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology, Vol 28, No 1 (2008)

The open access movement, well known in the domain of journal articles, came about because of several reasons. These include scholars’ and researchers‘ willingness to share knowledge, and advances in technology which enabled opening up free access to information. It also include journal publishers who raised the subscription rates forcing researchers to look for alternative ways of sustaining knowledge sharing. The paper discusses two ways of achieving open access (OA) and argues that sharing knowledge and building partnerships have been recognised as the best and most optimal means of creating and benefiting from knowledge. It focuses on various fronts where OA is making good progress, and also deliberates on issues like OA endeavours in India, OA and sustainable development and what needs to be done in India to promote OA activities.

Global Research Libraries 2020 Asia Position Paper

S. Arunachalam

GRL2020 Asia, 2009

Predicting the future is never an easy task. (I say that in spite of the fact that India is home to millions of astrologers and followers of astrology.) Predicting how knowledge exchange will happen in about ten years from now is even more difficult because new technologies keep coming that transform everything we do in unexpected ways.

I firmly believe that the basic tenets of research libraries will continue to remain the same, unchanging like the laws of thermodynamics. (Everything else may change in physics – remember the uncertainties physicists face in defining physical reality: waves or particles, matter or energy, and so on – but not thermodynamics.) Research libraries will continue to be service organizations supporting the knowledge production activities of researchers and gathering and disseminating information. It will continue to play a key role in knowledge discovery. The major developments will pertain to the ways in which advances in new technologies impinge on knowledge acquisition, production and discovery.

Technology is a double-edged sword. In our context, it can facilitate both democratization of knowledge and privatization of knowledge. The Google book digitization project is fast becoming a distinct threat (of monopoly), and among the major institutions only Harvard University has opposed it. Journal publishers, especially in the area of science, technology and medicine and also in other areas of scholarship, are keen not to let go the current ways of doing things although technologies are in place to carry on with cheaper and faster knowledge dissemination. Institutions like ARL, SPARC, PLoS will find, at least for some time, the battle with the large publishing firms an unequal one. This tension between democratization and privatization will become increasingly pronounced in the near future. Unfortunately, public support for initiatives that will lead to greater democratization is rather slow. But then eventually, Ghandi won freedom for India and Mandela got rid of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Movements like Access to Knowledge (Yale Law School and others) and Internet archive (Brewster Khale and others) need to gain greater momentum for the democratization aspect of technology to offset the privatization efforts. But then we also see Elsevier floating free services and Google coming up with Google Knol.

As technology advances, it not merely helps us do things faster but it even transforms the way how we do what we do. Specifically, the ‘tool’ interacts with ‘content’ and advances the content. The more sophisticated the technology (or tool) the greater its capacity to transcend its original role of facilitating (or reducing drudgery). Now, technology of creating structured databases and data mining have led to developments where without actually performing an experiment Don Swanson (Chicago University) could see the connection between migrain and magnesium. Swanson is neither a doctor nor a life scientist. Ron Kostoff of the US Naval Research laboratory advanced such ‘connection finding’ further and called it the Discovery approach.

Increasingly, people will stay put in front of their computers, drawing a whole lot of tools, techniques, data and letting them all interact in the ‘cloud’ and collaborate with distant partners through the ‘cloud’.
Looking from the point of view of a traditional librarian, in some sense, we will be rediscovering what J D Bernal told his audience at the famous Royal Society conference on scientific information over half a century ago: we will no longer look for journals; we will look for individual articles (or more accurately, preprints or postprints). Going one step further we will be looking for specific parts of some work – some data or idea – and we will often pluck it from the cloud.

That brings me to the role of librarians and information officers. As always, they are the intermediaries connecting researchers and knowledge. But as the capacity of the individual researchers and the way they work change, librarians need to change too and acquire new niche roles. It is going to be exciting times in library schools.


Silicon subcontinent

S. Arunachalam

15 January 2000, New Scientist,

WHEN a group of eight-year-olds at a secondary school in Chennai (what was until recently Madras) were asked recently what they’d like to be when they grow up, most replied: “Work with computers” or “work with computers in America”. Fifteen years ago, the smart ones would have picked medicine, engineering, the civil service or banking. A few adventurous ones would have dreamed of Bollywood or cricket. And the studious types would have chorused: “scientist”.

Those days are gone. India’s young and their parents know that the domestic software industry was worth 178 billion rupees (£2.5 billion) by 1999 and is growing fast. They know that popular websites such as Hotmail, the shopping site Junglee and the people search engine who were created by Indians. They know that the world’s youngest Microsoft certified software engineer Govind Jajoo is a 14-year-old boy from Jaipur in northwest India. And they watch enviously as executives from …

UK-INDIA: Research and education partners

S. Arunachalam

University World News, 15 June 2008

The United Kingdom wants to strengthen its collaboration with India in research and higher education, says British High Commissioner to India Richard Stagg. Britain is willing to assist India in building world class universities and the two countries will collaborate in establishing a new Indian Institute of Technology, a new Institute of Science Education and Research and a new central university, Stagg says.

International cooperation in education and research is moving up the political agenda. It was then-Prime Minister Tony Blair who announced the UK-India Education and Research Initiative when he visited India in September 2005 and later launched it in April 2006.

Under this programme, the UK pledged £26 million (US$51 million) for research initiatives with India and will soon open Research Council offices in New Delhi to identify opportunities for collaboration.

Stagg describes the research initiative as one of Britain’s biggest commitments and says it signifies the importance of India as an education partner. Its two principal activities are promoting research partnerships between centres of excellence and developing joint and dual course delivery.

Following a meeting between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January, a delegation of British vice-chancellors visited India to discuss collaboration in higher education.

British universities see India as a pool of talent that can be tapped into. Through such collaboration, the universities will have access to a large number of students although Britain is already the second most favoured destination for Indians after the US.

Yet the last time the UK was involved in setting up a major educational institution in India was in 1961 when it assisted in establishing the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. Now, if the Indian government give permission, British universities are ready to set up their own campuses in India.

“It would be much cheaper for students than to take huge loans to go abroad,” Stagg says. “Also, students would not feel homesick being away from their families. So it is a win-win situation where students would get quality education but at a lesser cost.”

Such collaborative initiatives are expected to have implications far beyond education and research. Tim Gore, British Council project manager in India, says the UK-India research initiative is “the key to building trust between the two countries”.

Similarly, British Education Minister Bill Rammell says it has made “a major contribution towards stimulating UK-India research collaboration at the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation, as well as creating stronger higher education partnerships”.

“This closer collaboration is playing an important part in developing the wider strategic relationship between the UK and India,” Rammell says.

PAKISTAN: Changing landscape of higher educatin

S. Arunachalam

University World News 31 August 2008

Ever since Pakistan came into being 61 years ago, the country has been going through turbulent times. But the past six years have seen a remarkable change in the landscape of higher education, a silent revolution as a World Bank report refers to it, largely thanks to the six-year old Higher Education Commission and its extraordinarily capable chairman Professor Atta-ur-Rahman, an internationally renowned organic chemist. Rahman’s goal is to democratise quality education without diluting excellence.

Speaking at a meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy, recently, Rahman noted that:

* Research funding had increased by 2,400% in the past five years, bringing the total amount of public funding for research to more than US$1 billion.

* There had been a 20-fold increase in the budget for higher education over the past seven years.

* Performance determines pay: Pakistan’s new tenure track system allows salaries up to $5,000 a month for really productive professors with evaluation by a committee of international experts working in the best universities.

* Maximum tax payable by academics is 5%, and a 75% tax waiver exists for university professors that allows them to keep much of their salaries.

* More than 500 scientists and professors have come from abroad to work in Pakistan; although many are Pakistanis, several are foreigners attracted by good salaries and other reasons.

* Twenty centralised laboratories provide analytical testing services to all researchers.

* The Higher Education Commission’s $1 billion foreign scholarship programme helps about 2,000 students each year attend foreign universities for higher studies.

* Between 2006 and 2010, more than 600 Pakistani students will have enrolled in masters and doctoral programmes in American universities as Fulbright scholars while 500 will go to Australia.

* PhD enrolment in Pakistani universities increased to 8,000. In the past five years as 56 new universities were set up, enrolments grew by 130%. PhD output doubled from 300 a year to 600, and is expected to double in the next four years.

* Full advantage is taken of developments in information technology to stimulate learning and creativity. The Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN), a broadband fibre-optic network of 310 Mbps total bandwidth, currently links 97 universities and provides a platform for nation-wide data exchange and digital library service. PERN is now connected to the US as well to facilitate research collaboration.

* Students and faculty have access to more than 23,000 journals, and they downloaded more than 1.2 million articles in 2006. More than 40,000 textbooks and monographs published by 220 publishers are available as e-books.

* A mirror site facilitates access to the open courseware of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

* HEC has forged partnerships with reputed universities in Asia and Europe to set up campuses in Pakistan. Partners will come from Austria, China, France, Germany and Italy in the first phase. Japan, South Korea and Sweden will join later.

The Web of Science reveals that Rahman’s efforts have paid rich dividends. There has been a rapid rise in the number of papers published by Pakistani researchers in journals indexed in the Web of Science in the last few years. In 1999, Pakistan published more than 600 papers in a year for the first time. The number rose to 785 in 2002, 1,279 in 2005 and 2,457 in 2007.

Most of the papers are published in Pakistani journals and although a small number appear in overseas journals the number is increasing. Chemistry and plant science appear to be the dominant areas of research.

Social sciences seem to be lagging far behind. But, says Dr Sohail Naqvi, Executive Director of the HEC, efforts are afoot to secure 1,500 fellowships for social science students and researchers to go to foreign universities for higher studies.

The pace of progress is likely to fall this year. There is a ban on recruitment of staff although the rise in student admissions continues. A budget crunch means that of the total education budget of $3.4 billion, only $376 million, or 13%, is allocated to higher education compared with an international norm of 25%.

Addressing Pakistan’s vice chancellors, Rahman urged them to raise funds from sources other than the government, including sources outside Pakistan.

ASIA: Increase in exchange of scientists

S. Arunachalam

University World News, 20 July 2008

The Japanese government has drawn up a plan to promote exchanges of scientists and joint research among 16 Asian countries to boost the level of the region’s science and technology to that of the United States and Europe. The plan, proposed by Fumio Kishida, state minister in charge of science and technology policy, comes at a time when China and India are witnessing remarkable advances in both the economy and scientific research.

The plan will include the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and six others: Japan, Australia, China, India, New Zealand and South Korea, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The plan envisages the creation of a unified database of scientists and researchers at universities and research bodies in the 16 countries. The database will help identify appropriate researchers for the planned collaborative projects. Databases on research projects carried out in the region and intellectual properties developed through the projects are also planned.

Although each of the 16 countries has its own database of domestic researchers, the databases are not interoperable. China, Indonesia and Cambodia operate their databases only in their own languages, and items listed in the databases cannot easily be cross-referenced. This has hindered the active exchange of scientists in the region.

Asia has great scientific and technological potential. There are about 1.8 million researchers in the 16 countries, compared with 1.4 million in the USA and 1.2 million in the European Union. Currently, international collaboration among the16 countries at best can be called modest as seen from the table below:

Only about 5% of the more than 35,000 papers from India and about 6% of the 97,500 papers from China in 2007, for example, have resulted from collaboration with five other leading countries of the region.

Mere number of researchers or papers is not a good indicator. What matters is how productive the scientists are and what impact their work has on science, industry and the economy. On these criteria, Asia has some way to go before it can challenge America and Europe.

The envisioned plan aims at strengthening Asia’s international competitiveness, under Japan’s initiative, as the third scientific and technological power after the United States and EU.

CHINA-INDIA: Scientists forge closer ties

S. Arunachalam

University World News, 14 September 2008

Indian and Chinese scientists are increasingly working together but it might take a few years before it becomes significant or sets the pace for South-South scientific collaboration. Until 2003, only a small percentage – around three-fourths of one per cent – of Indian papers were written in collaboration with Chinese authors, according to a report of a study published by Chennai-based Subbiah Arunachalam and IIT-Madras’ B Viswanathan.

Published in Current Science, a prominent Indian science publication, the study says that from 2004 onwards there has been a slow but perceptible rise in collaboration.

“International collaboration in scientific research is on the rise… The two great civilisations (of China and India) have learnt from each other for many centuries since the days of the Buddha and have had cultural and trade relations long before the well-documented travels in India by Fahian and Xuanzang,” note the authors.

But the past 50 years have seen the two Asian neighbours go through some border disputes and an uneasy peace. Yet, with doors open for improving ties, bilateral trade between the two countries has spurted in recent years.

In the study, South-South Cooperation: The case of Indo-Chinese collaboration in scientific research, Arunachalam and Viswanathan note that until a little over a decade ago, scientists in India were publishing a larger number of papers than those in China in journals indexed by the global Science Citation Index.

In 1997, China overtook India when Chinese scientists published 17,177 papers in SCI-indexed journals, as against 16,909 papers published by Indian scientists. Since then, China has accelerated the pace of R&D, and in 2007, China accounted for more than 2.76 times the number of papers from India, note the authors.

They found that in eight years from 2000, researchers from India and China have co-authored 1,807 papers. Of these, 1,682 were articles, 45 were reviews, 18 were letters, 36 were meeting abstracts and 26 concerned other issues.

“The number of Indo-Chinese papers has steadily increased over these eight years (from 124 in 2000 to 361 in 2007),” says the study.

Physics was found to be the most prominent area of India-China collaboration. Way behind came medicine. Multidisciplinary physics, physics of particles and fields, astronomy and astrophysics, nuclear physics and applied physics top the list with 468, 189, 181, 83 and 59 papers respectively
In many cases, India and China collaborated with partners from other countries, especially in areas like experimental high physics.

Other prominent nations on the global research scene considered collaboration with China to a much larger extent than with India, said the study. It noted that the ratio of preferring China over India for different countries was 4.2 for Japan, 3.52 for the US, 2.42 for South Korea, 2.30 for Russia and 1.95 for France.

How do journals on the periphery compare with mainstream scientific journals?

S. Arunachalam and K. Manorama

Scientometrics Volume 14, Numbers 1-2 / July, 1988

Based on the premise that citations in scientific journals can tell us a lot about the journals, we have compared Indian journals in the fields of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, geology and ecology with leading world journals. The two criteria compared are the age of references and the journals often cited in each of the journals considered. Our results show that although overall Indian science is mediocre, parts of India’s scientific enterprise are cognitively better related to world science. The peripherality is not uniform across the board, but some areas like astronomy and to some extent physics are closer to the central or mainstream science than others. Although citation analysis is not normally used for cross-field comparisons, this paper demonstrates that, if used judiciously, citation analysis can yield valuable insights into issues involving many fields.