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Giving Indian scientists a platform to showcase their work

31.01.2012 21:44 EST
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-राकेश खुडिया
Like in practically everything else, the Chinese beat us hollow when it comes to publishing their scientific research in international journals like Science, Nature and Lancet.
Indian scientists often publish in local journals. While such publications are respected within the country, many are simply ignored abroad. Which means even if an Indian finds a slightly better way of doing an experiment or stumbles upon interesting results that could some day unlock a new technology - foreigners might never hear of it.
That's one problem. Now, try on a very different hat. Imagine you are a government administrator, a very rich philanthropist, or even a foreign venture capital fund. Let's say you want to encourage and fund research in India.
But you don't want to throw your money away. You want topick sectors where our scientists already have an interesting body of work. With the right backing, they might repay your investment many times over.
How do you identify those scientists? Those promising sectors? A scientist's worth is often measured by the numberand regularity of original articles he's published. The amount of positive attention his work has earned, from colleagues in the same field. Like I said before, our scientists often publish their work in obscure journals. Which often aren't read, or archived, or catalogued, beyond a small group of individuals.
Unless you're really well networked in the community, you'd be hard pressed to identify the best candidates for your money. And even then, you might miss out on the startling work someone's doing in far away Imphal or Ranchi.
The West probably grappled with similar problems in their early days. They seem to have found a robust solution. Professional companies sprangup, whose sole job was to index and tabulate the huge reams of scientific data published there. Now, as India struggles to increase its scientific productivity, those companies have sniffed a business opportunity here.
Take Elsevier for example. Based in the Netherlands, it's now slowly building relationships with Indian universities and scientific labs,one step at a time. In the simplest possible terms, here'swhat they do. Get access to scientific journals in the country (they've polished this into a fine art internationally), no matter how small the readership or how specialized the content. Feed vital data about the scientists and their papers into a central database. Turn that database into a monster, crammed with the works of scientists from across the country.
Now here's where things get interesting. They have specialized software that sortsthrough those gigabytes of data better than a human librarian could. That shows up incremental works of innovation in the same field done by different scientists in different corners of the country. It also flags new workdone by say Indian chemists, which could be of interest to biologists. Or points to a steady surge in work in a specialized area of science that had not been in the limelight earlier.

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