Open access: new science-tech policy
Might science in its true form stand a chance in India after all? In a welcome move, the Centre has put forth for discussion a draft science, technology and innovation policy under which it would buy in bulk subscriptions of all important scientific journals around the world and make their content freely accessible in India. This move could have positive and far-reaching implications for the pursuit of science and education in the country. For one, publicly-funded research will become legally available to students, members of the scientific community as well as other citizens, a privilege that was hitherto hard to come by given the prohibitive costs of science journals. There are reportedly over 3,000-4,000 high-impact scientific journals, most of which are so expensive that they become the single-biggest item of cost for even prominent institutes. The lack of access to these publications hindered the stimulation of ideas in scientific research. It is to be hoped that the open data policy promotes ground-breaking research, fostering a scientific temper in the process. This is of critical importance, given the concern that the present dispensation is eager to propagate unsubstantiated claims and belief as ‘science’. No less than the prime minister is on record eulogizing ancient India for its accomplishments in genetic research. Second, removing the barriers to quality scientific material and journals would also boost the prospects of pure research in a country where bright minds are increasingly turning away from a career in research on account of the lack of grant opportunities and research avenues.
The draft policy also stipulates that women form at least 30 per cent of all decision-making bodies. It is no secret that the pursuit of science — a vocation of reason — is mired in all kinds of social prejudice. Skewed gender representation is one example of the biases. In 2018, women made up a meagre 14 per cent of 2.8 lakh scientists, engineers and technologists employed in India’s research and development institutes. This discrimination is not merely an ethical blot. Lopsided gender and community representation is known to blunt cutting-edge technology. For instance, recruitment systems based on artificial intelligence have been found to discriminate against job applicants with female names. Free access and fair representation would also be consistent with India’s constitutional ideals, which uphold education and equality in all spheres of public life to be fundamental to the health of a democracy.