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‘Indian science journals need a quality upgrade’

Indian science journalsBy K.S. Jayaraman,

Bengaluru : Although the number of Indian research journals has spiraled to over 21,000 in 10 years, they are sadly not making a mark globally, says Subash Lakhotia, a leading academician at the Banaras Hindu University.

In a hard-hitting editorial in the “Current Science” journal that is likely to kindle a fierce debate, the emeritus professor with over 50 years of research experience has put the blame for this predicament squarely on the country’s science establishment, academies and its top scientists.

While on one side a large proportion of research journals from India are “predatory” or bogus, “it is a matter of concern that even the journals of long-standing do not attract high-quality research output even from (scientists) within the country,” the editorial says.

According to Lakhotia, India’s older and established journals were started decades ago by well-known scientists and learned societies “with a clear conviction that a country needs to have its own good research journals to support growth of competitive and quality research”.

“Unfortunately today, most of our established and reputed scientists do not like to publish in Indian journals,” he says. The present tendency to publish in journals outside India “will retard the process of building up a scientific tradition for India and keep her in a position of semi-dependence in the world of science”, the editorial warns.

Top Indian scientists not only fail to publish their work in local journals but think it below their “level” to review the manuscripts of other researchers for journals published in India.

Lakhotia says he found many young researchers around the country are willing to publish their research results in journals from India but “their single major inhibiting factor is the fear that they would receive low or no scores for publications in Indian journals when their seniors evaluate them”.

The editorial puts the blame partly on India’s scientific establishment, saying it does not seem to have strong faith in the quality of research journals published within the country “as none of them” has a significant impact factor — frequently used as a proxy for the relative importance of a journal within its field.

The editorial also notes that a large number of Indian research journals now have “co-publishing” arrangements with commercial publishers abroad ostensibly to improve their global visibility. Lakhotia says this justification “is fallacious and not much change has occurred in the quality of what is published in their pages”.

The only advantage is that the journals can share a percentage of profits earned by their co-publishing commercial houses that charge substantial amounts for the journal articles down-loaded from their sites. “In my perception such acts impinge on the academic autonomy of the academies/learned societies that publish these journals.”

Lakhotia says India’s science establishment continues to look down upon papers and researchers who publish in Indian journals, notwithstanding their association with a “foreign” brand name.

If established scientists in the country do not wish to publish in Indian journals, do not wish to review manuscripts for these journals and, more importantly, directly or indirectly penalise those who publish in them, “these journals would continue to struggle and fail to become internationally competitive”, Lakhotia warns.

The editorial adds: “Our established researchers should publish some of their original research output in Indian journals, participate in critical review of manuscripts when invited by an editor, and, more importantly, must not look down upon researchers just because they have published in Indian journals.”

Lakhotia concludes by saying that “as a community, we need to strive hard to be proud of our journals rather than be apologetic. Individuals and institutions must be assessed on the basis of what they publish rather than where they publish.”

“I am in substantial agreement with Lakhotia,” Professor Mamannamana Vijayan at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru and former President of the Indian National Science Academy, told this correspondent, adding: “However, I do not know how to completely solve the problem when the centre of gravity of world science remains in the West.”

“Of course, Professor Lakhotia is right,” says Subbiah Arunachalam, a Chennai-based information consultant who had been editor of several scientific journals.

“Many (or most) senior scientists in India have abandoned their responsibility to nurture science. No doubt they are keen to do good research and publish in top journals, but what about contributing to the development of a community of active researchers or supporting research institutions (and smaller universities and colleges) in the neighborhood?”.

Professor Lingadahalli Shashidhara, at the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Pune, says he only partly agrees with Lakhotia.

“Some introspection is needed on why we need Indian journals in a digital world,” Shashidhara told this correspondent. “If we publish in Indian journals the kind of work that is being published by hundreds of other such journals, we tend to lose out on quality if we only depend on Indian submissions,” he added.

“Considering that the Indian scientific community is large enough to spin out its own schools of thoughts (evolution, biodiversity-ecology, high-energy physics, astrophysics/astronomy — to name a few), Indian journals should focus on such topics giving not only appropriate platforms to Indian community, but also pushing the frontiers of knowledge,” Shashidhara contended.

(K.S. Jayaraman is a veteran science journalist. He can be contacted at killugudi@hotmail.com)


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