India to discuss free, universal access to scientific knowledge in runup to G20 summit

Steep subscription prices of sceintific journals, open access mandate for public-funded research among roundtable agenda

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Friday 24 March 2023
India discuss free, universal access to scientific knowledge in runup to G20 summit
Photo: Rohini Krishnamurthy Photo: Rohini Krishnamurthy

G20 Chief Science Advisers’ Roundtable (CSAR), a government-to-government level initiative of the G20 Presidency, will deliberate on a critical topic: Free and universal access to scientific journals that are behind paywalls.

India assumed the G20 presidency on December 1, 2022. The G20 summit will be held in New Delhi from September 9-10, 2023.

In the run-up to the G20 summit, CSAR will be organising two high-level meetings between March 26-28, 2023 in Ramnagar, Uttarakhand and August 27-29, 2023 in Bengaluru. 

“The chief science advisors and our equivalents are uniquely positioned in the overall governance framework to drive policy changes by providing evidence-driven science advice,” Ajay Sood, principal scientific adviser to the Government of India, said at a media briefing held March 24, 2023.

Participating G20 nations will discuss matters such as: 

  • Access to scientific journals that are free, immediate and universal
  • High subscription and article processing charges levied by journals
  • Interoperable inter-linking of national repositories with international repositories and archives
  • Open access mandate to make knowledge outputs of public-funded scientific research widely available

“We got enormous support from participating G20 nations. We hope to have some actionable items by the end of this meeting. We hope that by the end of the August meeting, we will come to a consensus and have a statement at the summit,” Parvinder Maini, scientific secretary at the office of the principal scientific adviser to the Government of India, told Down to Earth.

Most scientific papers charge high subscription rates from readers. In 2019, the University of California dropped its nearly $11 million annual subscription to Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of academic journals, according to news outlet Vox

Though open-access journals are free for readers, they charge fees from scientists who wish to publish papers in them.

Open access papers have drastically fewer lead authors from low-income regions than paywalled articles, according to science journal Nature.

Also on CSAR’s agenda is promoting One Health for disease control and preparedness, improving diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in science and technology (S&T) and setting up an institutional mechanism for inclusive, continuous and action-oriented global S&T policy dialogue.

One Health agenda

Participating G20 nations will discuss a pandemic preparedness plan for flexible, adaptive and timely responses to pandemics as well as integrated disease surveillance mechanisms for humans, livestock and wildlife, as part of the One Heath agenda. 

They will also talk about developing a roadmap for diseases and investing in analytics capacity (such as disease modelling, artificial intelligence and machine learning tools) and data standards.

Data sharing will not only help in responding to future pandemics but also in modelling, Sood said at the media briefing. “There are challenges. In general, there is an understanding that nations would like to contribute to this effort.”

“We want to also understand what is holding some countries from coming forward with this mechanism,” he added. This, he said, will be an open platform for countries to put their thoughts forward.

Besides CSAR, other government-to-government initiatives are a part of the G20. These include Science-20 (S20) and G20 Research Innovation Initiative Gathering (RIIG). 

The S20 Engagement Group will comprise the national science academies of the G20 countries.

RIIG aims to address the challenges of achieving socioeconomic equity through research and innovation. 

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