Harvard boosts open access for faculty publications
February 17, 2008 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Harvard's Faculty of Arts & Sciences voted unanimously last week to mandate "Open Access" to published articles - a first at a U.S. university, though the dean will apparently grant a waiver to anyone who wants to opt out. More to follow? Peter Suber's Open Access News is tracking reactions.

Inside Higher Ed article
Open Access Overview
More at the bottom of this post

"Harvard authors are not supposed to publish from now on in some extremely high profile journals like Nature and Science who prohibit fee access of papers for a period of time after publication. Whether these journals will publish Harvard papers under these conditions now is a question we don't know the answer to. It could get very, very interesting."

[Peter Suber previously in the blue]
posted by mediareport (23 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
This is great. Putting 'publicly funded research should be available to the public' arguments aside, it will be a great day when independent researchers can access up-to-date science.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 9:02 AM on February 17, 2008

...who prohibit fee free access of papers for a period of time... (error in source)
posted by langedon at 9:05 AM on February 17, 2008

I hope other prestigious universities and research institutions follow suit. Then, in a couple of years they could simultaneously stop granting the waivers.
posted by grouse at 9:46 AM on February 17, 2008

Where is the power in the journal / researcher marriage? Is Nature just going to say "no" and the researchers will want to get published anyways so they'll opt out?
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2008

Its an oldie but a goodie: you cannot spell EVIL without ELSEVIER
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:30 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's about time someone showed leadership here.

Where is the power in the journal / researcher marriage?

Primarily, in the journals. The value journals provide is reputation as maintained by reviewed articles. There's a ranking of journal reputation. If you're a researcher and want to advance your career, then you need to publish in the prestigious journals. The journal companies maintain stables of reviewers and the reputation of the journal. So they dictate their terms.

The crazy thing is that for the most part, the reviewers in those articles are other researchers. Unpaid researchers. So the journal companies are selling this whole thing about review and prestige, but aren't paying for it.

The other crazy thing is the entire academic journal business is tiny. It's not some massive empire Elsevier has built up that generates a lot of value, it's a tiny little remnant business from back in the day when printing and mailing things mattered. It's time for it to end.
posted by Nelson at 10:35 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Excellent. Many universities simply have to drop access to some journals because of the extreme expense, anyway. Not to mention that ordinary mortals outside the academy have no access period. The Harvard motion has no net harm and a positive direction.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:52 AM on February 17, 2008

Yes, issues of dissemination and specifically issues of access need to be addressed, but the challenges of access in the current system of scholarly publishing are primarily in the STM (Science, Technical, Medical) disciplines, not the Humanities. What Harvard is doing is laudable, but it is not focused enough at the most serious problems in the dissemination of scholarship, and could actually damage the careers of academics up for tenure. Though frankly, it's not like Harvard awards tenure anymore.

If post-refereed pre-print articles are posted Open Access will tenure committees equate that with publication in a journal? Very unlikely. What markets are most likely to be harmed by this move? According to Staley Katz, Anthony Graffton, and the current president of the Association of American University Presses (disclosure, Sandy is also the director of the press I work for), the non-profit university press portion and not the commercial sector which dominates the industry and creates the greatest obstacles to dissemination. In other words, this measure is unlikely to help the problem and is likely to confound it as they aiming at the wrong target. And most of those who are being asked to pull the trigger, specifically jr. faculty, would do well to consider the career implications of such a move.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:03 AM on February 17, 2008

I meant to mention the "via" from scienceblogs.com: A Blog Around The Clock.

Toekneesan, the comments in response to Katz' piece are interesting, thanks. Comment #7 would be a good one to send to any junior faculty worried about the supposed dangers to their careers. And tenure committees will just have to adjust - and they will very slowly, I'm sure.
posted by mediareport at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2008

This is a big deal for a number of reasons. It offers profs something they might not be able to get otherwise, which is freedom from page charges. Not only do prestigious journals conduct thorough peer review, rejecting all but the best papers and forcing the authors to revise their submissions extensively in response to peer-reviewers' criticism; but they also charge the authors by the page - thousands of dollars per page in some cases - to publish the article. That's a lot of money the NIH is spending every year that doesn't get spent on new research; any prof would be glad to opt out of that arrangement.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:23 AM on February 17, 2008

The journal companies maintain stables of reviewers and the reputation of the journal. So they dictate their terms.

My wife does not live in stable so I am pretty sure this is not true. Journal editors, who are researchers themselves and somewhat exploited as well are the ones with the relationships with reviewers and not the so much the journals themselves.

The whole journal publishing scam is obviously dumb to anyone outside the system. University fees for journal access are ridiculously and obscenely expensive and include all kinds of shady bundling. You want the best journal we have?.. well then you have to pay for these five crap zero value journals as well. And oh yeah ..you have to pay for every single student in your school to access them even though only your dept and seven other people will want to ever see them.

Journal publishers are rent-seeking middlemen bastards who are taking money not only out of taxpayer pockets but also out of cancer researchers' funds. Think about that for a moment. They provide a photocopy service and a website and somehow get away with charging thousands.

The need a little creative destruction. Only the distracted apathy driven traditions of academia give them the air they breathe.
posted by srboisvert at 11:33 AM on February 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

What seems unclear is how faculty are expected to apply for grant funding - and receive it - without high-profile publications to their name. There's certainly little financial incentive for publishers to play along with one school's edict - for that matter only one school within a massive research institution. For example, where is the School of Medicine? If I was untenured I would think twice about accepting a Harvard appointment - unless other schools and research institutes follow along in haste. I also wonder how Harvard will make up the lost overhead.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:40 AM on February 17, 2008

srboisvert, you need to differentiate the kind of journal you're talking about. What you are describing I suspect refers to commercial publishers, they are much less likely to be significantly effected by this decision.

mediareport, what comment 7 seems to be describing is publication through spamming. Does that really seem like a sensible alternative to the peer-reviewed, vetted, edited, and designed system for the production of scholarship we currently have?

OA is an awesome idea. But to get there we need approach this issue with a full understanding of it. The more important comment there was ignored by you and almost everyone else in this debate. Part four of the first comment. "In many countries, SSH publications are subsidized by governments." Here we subsidize the production of scholarship, but not the dissemination. And by dissemination I mean all of those things publishers add, like editing, vetting, and design, not just distribution. It's not just because I work in this field that I think those things are important. The creation of scholarship is a collaboration between editors, scholarly societies, publishers, and the scholars who use it. It doesn't happen just because someone emails 12,000 other scholars their article.

Blazecock Pileon, exactly. If Harvard really wanted to make a difference in this issue, they would have started with their medical school faculty.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:57 AM on February 17, 2008

Personally, I think we're going to see many waivers in the beginning. This will only stop when other universities adopt a similar policy.

If I was untenured I would think twice about accepting a Harvard appointment

As Toekneesan alludes, you would probably want to think twice anyway.
posted by grouse at 12:02 PM on February 17, 2008

What seems unclear is how faculty are expected to apply for grant funding - and receive it - without high-profile publications to their name.

I think the trick is that it's near impossible (at least in the fields I know about) for junior faculty to get tenure at Harvard anyways. They almost always seem to bring in tenured people from outside at the associate or higher level, and these people will already have high-profile publications, and probably will be bringing grants with them. I really can't see this move happening at any school that has a realistic tenure system.
posted by advil at 2:46 PM on February 17, 2008

srboisvert, you need to differentiate the kind of journal you're talking about. What you are describing I suspect refers to commercial publishers, they are much less likely to be significantly effected by this decision.

I am not sure I understand the distinction. Pay wall == commercial? Is the APA a commercial publisher because they have pretty much all of psychology locked up behind pay walls and university subscription proxy servers?

Call up the American Psychological Association pretending to be a school administrator or faculty member in charge of the library admin and see if you get some rates out them. When you find out how much each and every university pays to carry APA journals you will be stunned. I was. Then I was angry. I like these efforts because it shines a light on the middlemen rats who have injected themselves into the research process serving only themselves to the detriment of all else.

The taxpayers everywhere would be pissed if they found out that they funded the research in the first place, then funded the editors and peer review process, then had to buy the research back at insane rates so that the students and faculty who produced it could use it.


Of course researchers can all get around this. Publish in whatever journal you like. They own the copyright on their publication but not on your manuscript. Put the manuscript on your website and make sure google scholar can find it.
posted by srboisvert at 2:47 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Open Access journals have, on the whole, been shooting up the impact factor rankings, and the reason is simple. More people can read them. More people reading them means more people citing them. More people citing them means a higher impact. A higher impact means they receive more and better submissions and can produce a higher quality journal. Which means more people read them. Which means more people cite them...

It's a done deal, basically. After all, "prestige" is a pretty direct correlate to impact factor, and there are a number of OA journals that are now considered only 2nd tier to Nature and Science in my field.
posted by Jimbob at 4:09 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Note that in the nerdier fields (physics is one) open access has been the order of the day for a couple of years now. The traditional journals haven't evaporated, but they have had to raise their game. And it is beginning to happen in other fields, too, (witness the glorious, open access PLoS).

I'm with Nelson. Not sure which journals by ikkyu2 submits to, but in my experience, you neither pay to publish, nor get paid for the tedious, time-consuming process of peer review. It's one of the reasons peer review is such a sham. Most of us dash it off in the subway between the detox centre and the lab. In fact, this is another area where open access journals are turning the tables. Increasingly, they ARE charging authors to publish papers. And that introduces a whole other set of problems.

Will open access kill the trad journals? Not for a while. I recently left an online comment in the British Medical journal -- no reaction. When the same comment (minus a url) appeared in the print version, I was deluged with e-mails. We crusty scientists have some catching up to do.
posted by Elizabeth Pisani at 4:56 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also think that Journal rankings will start to matter less in the future. If you find an article that you are interested in , (by searching through web of science, which also needs to be open access, damn it, or Google Scholar), you are not likely to care too much which journal it's from. I think the value of having access to a paper is higher than knowing which journal it was in.

And I'm really biased, because I'm from India and having online access to these journals is so expensive that only a few Unis can afford it. Even here in Australia, I routinely come across certain journals that the Uni doesn't have access to, and which means that I have to circumvent this whole restriction.

Tangentially, several of my colleagues got a Sam/spam email asking them to be on the Editorial Board of a whole suite of Open Access journals, so there's that to watch out for as well.
posted by dhruva at 6:16 PM on February 17, 2008

PLOS is great, an we'll see more of that kin of thing.

Rates, page-charges, etc, are highly variable across the disciplines. Library subscription for American Antiquity (flagship archaeology) is something like $400.00/year, while for American Journal of Physical Anthropology (flagship BioAnth) it is more than $2,500.00/year, an I know of some chemistry journals that our library rep. says are costing more than $15,000.00/year. Whoever says academic publishing isn't big business isn't paying attention. The content moel may be old, the business model is very new -- a proliferation of journals, bundling, etc. On balance, in recent years our library has electronic access to far more science-type journals, but not to the social science/humanities one (I use all kinds in my research). I suspect the science-types are throwing their weight (an grant $) around. I project forward to massive continuing price rises for humanities and social journals as resources flow to the squeaky wheels.

And its not just the print journals -- I know several e-journals (no paper at all) that cost hundreds per year for access.
posted by Rumple at 6:24 PM on February 17, 2008

I'm interested in how this would affect the web on the whole. This would open the floodgates to much better content which could be disseminated and discussed in ways never before possible. One of my professors says that the average number of readers of a faculty publication is somewhere around 12-14 in total. All this quality research is being done and published but almost nobody reads it! This is a great step in the right direction.
posted by pwally at 8:54 PM on February 17, 2008

This is wonderful news. I did wonder about the issue of journals accepting work already online, but is there a reason you could not publish the article in a journal and then publish the manuscript online? You would have to make sure that your contract with the journal allowed that, but that would be easier with the moral force of the university behind you.

In the humanities and soft social sciences, open access web publishing would help a great deal. My biggest problem is not that my library cannot afford the journals I need, but that the occasionally I need an article from a journals in my field that is so small and so obscure that they don't bother to have them at my very large, and very well funded university library (though I am impressed at what tiny journals they do have). And for good reason - I'm sure I'm the only one in the whole place who would crack the spines. I really hope that these small journals - which are largely produced by unpaid editors from universities and historical societies - do go online; it would cut down on their distribution costs, and widen access in a small but geographically widely flung field. Of course, there is the problem that some humanities people fear and dislike technology, even the web.

As well, the costs of the major journals affects us all. For every expensive journal purchased by a library, that's another small journal, monograph or online resource which the library cannot subscribe to. Everyone who needs access to scholarly publications is threatened by the rapid increase in costs.

on preview: Open access might increase readership, but to be honest, most journal articles are not New Scientist (or insert other well-written, accessible publication here). I used to work as a library assistant for a research unit outside of my discipline, and I could barely understand some of the articles I was trying to pick keywords for (for a database). And that wasn't even in a very high science biology or chemistry research unit, for which I would not understand the articles at all. Even history articles can be often quite obscure, jargony and obsessed with scholarly debates that make no sense without a great deal of background, and literary articles are often inpenetrable. That's not to say that there aren't a great many trained readers in the public who would benefit from access, just that I don't see readership sky rocketing to a wide public audience, except for the occasionally skimming of abstracts (which I did a lot in that job).

Open access would make a huge difference to researchers at not well-funded institutions - whether that be smaller universities in the first world or many institutions in the developing world. This is one of the greatest problems of high costs of library materials.
posted by jb at 6:42 AM on February 19, 2008

I did wonder about the issue of journals accepting work already online, but is there a reason you could not publish the article in a journal and then publish the manuscript online?

Well, as you point out this is frequently not allowed. See the adventures of Peter Murray-Rust as he tries to do this with an article he wrote.

most journal articles are not New Scientist

Thank God.
posted by grouse at 7:16 AM on February 19, 2008

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