The Compound Eye Mar 1

Policy Focus
Open Access Policy and Plan S:

In a tweet, the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, Professor K Vijayraghavan announced India’s intention to join cOAlition S (Plan S), a Europe-led initiative that encourages researchers to publish their findings in open-access journals. China has also announced its intention to join Plan S; but from the US only Gates Foundation has agreed to the terms of the cOAlition. India’s joining would effectively mean that research funded through Government of India grants – a major chunk of India’s research output – would now be publicly available immediately upon publication. Funding agencies- not authors or institutions- will cover the costs for publication. “Hybrid” journal models where authors pay for making public their papers, but other papers remain behind a paywall are not compliant with Plan S. Similarly, journals which keep an embargo on articles before their public release are also not acceptable in Plan S. (More information on Plan S here). For India, the biggest challenge would remain implementation of the scheme and timely release of funding so that publications are not held hostage.

The Compound Take:

This policy creates 3 important opportunities:

  • This is great news for multiple Indian institutions and universities who currently have to pay high prices to gain access to latest research. Colleges and institutions should respond by effectively utilizing this access by teaching students to read and critique papers in preparation of a research career.
  • Also, this policy puts into relief the institutional policies of recruiting personnel in academic institutions on basis of impact factors of the journals in which the author has published. Perhaps publishing in open access journals should also be made mandatory for recruitment ensuring that India-trained personnel are on a level playing field with their US counterparts.
  • Finally, the need to publish in open-access policy creates an opportunity for India-based journals with effective peer review processes to rise and promote research from India and other countries.

Click here to listen to Takshashila Institution’s conversation on whether publicly funded research should be free.

Its Controversial
Anti-vaxxers: The movement threatening global health:

In January 2019, the World Health Organisation released a list of public health hazards: keeping company with deadly diseases such as pandemic flu, dengue, Ebola and anti-microbial resistance is vaccine hesitancy. The movement has gained steam over the past few months coinciding with a rise in measles outbreaks across the world. While vaccine hesitancy is the only cause of this rise, it is definitely a major contributor to the 60,000 cases affected with measles in Europe in 2018.

Much of the debate is centered around research by Andrew Wakefield who in 1998 suggested a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The study was widely discredited [most pertaining to small sample size (12), uncontrolled design and speculative nature of conclusions] and later retracted, yet there was a drop in MMR vaccination in the UK.

What is concerning is that vaccine hesitancy has also been spreading to India – which has also been poor at adopting vaccination regimes despite the universal immunization programme. Many parents have also refused to get their children inoculated with the MR vaccine to avoid risking autism. Karnataka saw 6 cases of Kyasanur Forest Disease in early January that could have been prevented by vaccination.

India now shows two of the 10 public health hazards – anti-vaccine hesitancy and weak primary health care. If the vaccine hesitancy drive spreads across the India, there will be a considerable strain on the already stretched primary health care system. This will leave India vulnerable to a major outbreak if not tackled in a timely manner. More steps need to be taken to instill confidence in citizens of the credibility of vaccinations. Similarly, vaccine regimes need to be effectively regulated to ensure their safety – the recent deaths caused after injection of Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine in Philippines attests to the requirement of rigorous clinical trials and monitoring post-vaccine deployment in the country.

Vaccinations have remained a controversial subject over the last many decades, but data shows it can now be rivalled by clean water in protecting from disease. They will also remain the most cost-effective mechanism to protect individuals from disease, particularly where majority of medical expenses in India continue to be paid out-of-pocket by the victim.

Science in India
CSIR opens its labs to share equipments

CSIR India has made over 1000 instruments from 35 of its laboratories available to researchers from India. The analyticCSIR portal provides an easy tool for scientists to identify an instrument based on the desired test and locate it in a CSIR institution. Researchers can also book time in co-ordination with facility managers at the respective institutions. Outside users will be billed according to their usage.

This is an excellent mechanism to share public-funded resources – many of these instruments are very expensive and under-utilised in the institution. Sharing them with start-ups or other non-CSIR laboratories would lead to revenue as well as effective utilization of the instrument. Such a system is particularly useful to startups who often cannot afford to buy expensive instruments for their research.

Challenges to this system include ensuring adequate training of new users, responsibility of maintenance of equipment, time-sharing with existing users, resource sharing (for example consumables and reagents if required) and timely payment of charges. Recently, the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute won two arbitration cases against a private firm for non-payment of INR 13 lakhs in fees for technology transfer.

Meanwhile, here is remembering few path-breaking Indians
Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, birth anniversary – 21st February:  Revered as the “father of Indian laboratories” he was the first Director General of CSIR and under his leadership, a chain of 12 discipline based laboratories were established. He was also the first chairman of UGC and established the National Research and Development Corporation of India to translate science and technology into business. He recognized the immense potential of private and public science organizations creating infrastructure and solutions together – in 1925 he used the proceeds (one hundred and fifty thousand rupees) he received from a private company for using his solution to set up the Department of Petroleum Research at Punjab University. These are the linkages that India needs to establish today to build the infrastructure and expertise that can further research on India-specific issues.

Anandi Gopal Joshi, death anniversary – 26th February: Anandibai Joshi was a pioneering Indian lady, becoming the first woman doctor from India when she graduated with a two-year degree in western medicine in the US in 1886. At a time when educating women was not a norm, Anandibai with the staunch support of her husband, defied gender and religious norms to become a doctor specializing in obstetrics. Anandibai felt that young pregnant women could not adequately disclose their issues to male doctors – sometimes leading to suffering for both mother and child – and hence she insisted on this field of study. Having crossed all the major hurdles of society though, she died of tuberculosis at the young age of 22, only a year after completing her education. Yet in her wake, she has inspired many young people to follow their dreams despite the obstacles that lie in their path. (above picture: Anandibai with Kei Okami (Japan) and Tabat Islambooly (Syria), the first women from their respective countries to be awarded degrees in western medicine)

Sir C V Raman, anniversary of the discovery the Raman effect – 28th February: 28th February is marked in India as National Science Day in tribute to Sir CV Raman’s nobel prize winning discovery of the Raman effect in 1928. The first National Science day was celebrated in the year 1987. The day was celebrated throughout India with science exhibitions, talks and open-days at many public institutions. The spread of science is the best way to remember the man who said “The true wealth of a nation consists not in the stored- up gold but in the intellectual and physical strength of its people.”

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