Should MIT strengthen its activities in support of open access to scholarly publications?

Should MIT strengthen its activities in support of open access to scholarly publications?


I think MIT should certainly

I think MIT should certainly strengthen its activities is support of open access to scholarly publications. The Libraries and the Provost's Office along with the Committee on Intellectual Property offer support, but the conversation needs to be broader. Access to the intellectual production of MIT needs to be available to all.

I believe that there should

I believe that there should be open access to scholarly publications where the research was supported by federal funds and I believe that the NIH, etc. has a site for this. However, I do not think that all scholarly work should be made freely available without consideration of the intellectual properties, etc.

MIT's current Open Access

MIT's current Open Access Policy addresses the author side of the publication process, but it should further encourage open access by addressing the reviewer side.

Paid-subscription journals currently justify their high costs largely by the editorial and peer review services they provide, but the more substantive peer review services are given to them for free by scholars such as MIT faculty. Indeed, the vast majority of journals not in full cooperation with MIT's Open Access Policy permit authors to post their original paper submissions, but retain exclusive rights to any peer-reviewed versions.* By this route, MIT faculty (among others) are indirectly providing charitable support to these profitable businesses.

The MIT faculty should adopt a similar default policy against providing peer review services to publishers not in full cooperation with MIT's existing Open Access Policy. If adopted by other institutions, such a practice would end the effective subsidies that research institutions provide to these publishers, and ultimately compel them to revise their own policies; the publishers would profit only from the editorial services they provide themselves. Once this shift occurs, MIT will no longer need to offer faculty members the option to opt out.


I totally agree with the

I totally agree with the previous comment from tcoffee. MIT policy only focuses on the author side (which is already better than the vast majority of universities), as illustrated by those additional links:

It's time that MIT puts pressure on parasitic publishers.

In a more long-term perspective, MIT should get more strongly involved into open research (open access being only the first step toward it). MIT is opening education through MITx / edX: it should start opening research as well (I know it's an extremely involved issue though).

Right now, most academic research is impressively inefficient: research should not expressed as a set of passive PDFs behind paywall.

Yes, MIT's open access policy

Yes, MIT's open access policy is already far ahead of the norm, but "ahead of the norm" should not be enough. I believe MIT should follow the lead of Michael Nielsen and Timothy Gowers in creating online research communities (and not merely online coursework).

A high-level partnership between MIT and PLoS would also be very exciting.

I agree with @tcoffee,

I agree with @tcoffee, @francky and @davidad. MIT does need to think seriously about going beyond open education.

In fact open education requires that information needed to educate be available openly. As such, transferring copyright to publishers despite MIT policies is a step backwards in making such information available. When a prominent journal accepts a paper, most authors would rather see the paper published than negotiate terms. This is a place however, where MIT collectively can stand up with other institutions to refuse a transfer of copyright.

Bringing together peers to improve the quality of an article has been in practice from the earliest days of scientific discourse with or without the presence of publishers and continues to happen at a lab or collaboration level. Providing a review platform to do the same should enable publishers to derive commercial benefit from making the process efficient (in those cases where this is really true), but should not require transfer of copyright of the information contained in the article. Sadly, this is true even of many Society journals.

Yes to most of the above --

Yes to most of the above -- but beware of indiscriminate "laws of open access" which do not allow for opting out. Currently, every PhD dissertation is forcibly published and no doctoral student can opt out. This means that our young grads are failing to get book contracts (why bother? the bulk of the work is already published -- no matter how much better the book will be). In a cascade effect, they are then slower to get tenure if not failing altogether in our very own academy, whose rules have not adapted to unrefereed "open access," for example. (Check the minutes of tenure cases in the MIT Academic Council.)

the open access policy needs to be nuanced and adaptive, adjusting to the micro-politics that differentiate parasitic monopolies such as Elsevier and Kluwer from struggling university presses from self-publishing disciplines (PLoS) from emerging and powerless PhDs. MIT should be a leader in working this all out.

Yes... at least to the extent

Yes... at least to the extent it should oppose government over-reach by contesting all records requests. If the institute is currently blindly cooperating with the NSA, FBI, CIA, or other agencies that have recently overstepped the bounds of privacy, brodering on thuggishness, we should no longer oblige them with the assumption they will abide by confidentiality agreements, which they have repeatedly broken by sharing information with private contractors.

MIT should stringently lobby for open-access, not merely cowtow to those who tell them what the law is. Laws are not made by prosecutorial interpretation, and I was disappointed to find MIT's response so trusting and naive.

Yes. The current Open Access

Yes. The current Open Access policy is laudable on paper, but faculty compliance is spotty (many publications are never submitted) and there is no tracking or follow-through. The Libraries do not have enough resources to keep up with the submissions they do get, and there can be lengthy delays between submission and publication on DSPACE. And the archive of Open Access papers is unattractive and few people probably look at it -- the publications are just shoveled into DSPACE.

My proposal would be:
1) Track faculty compliance with the mandate. For every paper that appears in a Nature or Science or IEEE or PLoS journal, the ACM digital library, etc., the public should be able to figure out if the faculty member affirmatively opted-out or, if not, find the author copy in DSPACE. The libraries should publish a list of the "most participating faculty" every semester to reward participation. Maybe the most-participating laboratory or research group can get a pizza party with the MIT provost every semester as an added inducement. The point is, we need to look like we're taking this seriously.

2) Fix the long delays between submission and publication in DSPACE. If this takes dedicated staffing in the Libraries, great. My understanding is they don't have the resources right now.

3) Create an attractive and well-designed "MIT Research Home" website, maintained by the News Office and Libraries, with the latest MIT publications, a featured "Publication of the Week", links to News Office interviews and releases about big studies, etc. This should be high-quality enough to be linked from -- indeed, the latest 3 publications should be a persistent feature on at all times. Again this will bring more visibility to the Open Access publications coming out of MIT.

4) MIT should think about providing start-up funding to faculty members who want to found new open-access journals in their fields, competing with traditional venues. Maybe we can team up with edX and the X Consortium members to review these proposals and fund them jointly.

MIT's entire ethos is based

MIT's entire ethos is based on the societal imperative to spread knowledge. That was the impetus behind Open Courseware many years ago. It increased knowledge worldwide. That's the impetus behind the MIT X online courses - that will spread knowledge. ANYTHING that impedes the spread of knowledge is a VERY BAD THING.

The Swartz situation was exacerbated by our federal justice department having abandoned any pursuit of justice in favor of naked ambition. Spitzer used to bring public charges, preen for the press, settle the case for trivial sums, and move on. He rode this to the office of Governor. Nifong won an election by bringing bogus rape charges against the Duke Lacrosse players. Sen Stephens of Alaska was convicted of violating financial laws based on prosecutorial misconduct. USA Today published a series showing that prosecutorial misconduct is routine at the Federal level. points out that the result is the sort of official abuse that led us to dislike being ruled by King George.

MIT should throw its considerable influence behind making abuse of government powers less beneficial to those who practice it.

Open access does not mean

Open access does not mean uncompensated. A fee pool should be established across students, faculty, and researchers, administered by MIT much in the manner that cable networks compensate providers of basic tier content after collecting a fixed charge from subscribers. Access should then be unlimited to journal content providers participating in the fee pool.

Few members of the MIT

Few members of the MIT Community realize the importance of open access because they have such good access to online articles. Many publishers that MIT associates with perform authentication by IP address, so as long as MIT students and faculty are on campus, they do not realize just how closed much of the Internet is. I've worked with independent academics and researchers that are not at a university and I am routinely shocked by how much of the academic and professional literature is essentially closed to them. Even in my work at another university, I routinely come up against a pay wall.

The pricing for individual articles is really surprising to people who do not need to pay for them. For example, a single PDF of a single conference article might be $35 from a major for-profit publisher. That same publisher will require authors to sign a copyright release form, as a condition of having their work published, that relinquishes the right for the author to put the final version of the edited article on their author's own web site. This is not an isolated case—the vast majority of the professional and academic literature on this planet is published by for-profit corporations. But even some non-profit societies have similar policies.

For an academic at MIT, that PDF might be one of a hundred that is reviewed in the course of working on a research project. For a person not affiliated with MIT, that PDF is going to be a big decision — do I want to spend $35 to see what it has to say, or spend 15 minutes filling out an Interlibrary Loan Request to get a photocopy of someone's printed copy? All in all, such pricing is a barrier to the global spread of knowledge.

Yes. As an alumni the

Yes. As an alumni the typical $35 per paper charge -- often working out at more than $10 per page -- required to continue to read and remain up to date on science represents an unworkable barrier. In today's ever-more politicized view of science (for example climate change) it is ever more important that real science be publicly accessible, and not available only to institutions. Newspapers, even the well-intended newspapers, often print erroneous statements about science, and only by referring back to the original paper can one understand the real science. And often bad science is hid behind a paywall and then publicly misrepresented. Good science cannot exist behind a paywall.

It's worth noting that open

It's worth noting that open access would directly hurt MIT. Specifically, since the costs of publishing aren't likely to disappear anytime soon, open access would likely mean a switch to "author-pays" subsidy of publishing, meaning that the many organizations that subscribe to journals but contribute few articles (liberal arts colleges, for instance) would effectively stop supporting publishing costs, leaving the full burden on research-intensive institutions like MIT. Those $35 download charges are so high precisely because small institutions' subscription fees work out to nearly that rate per download, allowing MIT to pay less. While those prices may be offensive to alums without access (I've been there), that price represents a subsidy to MIT and its peers.



MIT has long been a pioneer in open access and open source. Some examples of MIT initiatives or spin-offs from MIT include X-windows, GNU, Open CourseWare, and others. I find all these projects inspiring and believe they are a great thing for society and the world.

I support MIT's further initiatives at open access. Perhaps MIT could create a fund or project that alumni and others could contribute directly to promote open access. I would certainly contribute.



Restricting public access to publicly funded research hurts everyone except publishers who act as little more than middlemen. Without open access, we cannot have an informed public and scientifically supported reasoning will suffer everywhere.

Yes! The point of research

Yes! The point of research is to share the knowledge that you have created with others so that they may build upon it further (or steer clear in the case of a negative result). This is the ONLY reason to publish research.

The current publication system is ridiculous: We do all the work to get funding, do the research, write the papers, and submit them to journals that charge insane rates for access to the research. We never see any of that money. We get an "impact factor." Who cares? Charging such a high rate makes it so that very few people read your work, and in turn, very few people are able to build upon it. It just doesn't make any sense.

I would support an MIT initiative that made all work done at MIT publicly accessible. Think of it like opencourseware. Let's be fair, much of the course material that we teach in advanced classes is the direct product of research here at MIT.

This is a call for:
More realistic ratings of articles that communicates the strength of the research and its impact on others in the field.
Open access to research publications (publically or non-publically funded) for as many people as possible.

Yes - I believe MIT should

Yes - I believe MIT should show intellectual leadership by supporting open access. Most scholarly peer-reviewed articles - and the vast majority of articles in scientific and engineering fields - are supported by taxpayer funds, and the results should thus be freely available to those who enabled it. Swartz's hack in the basement of bldg. 16 was a step to do just that.

For a bit of perspective, I'm

For a bit of perspective, I'm doing my phd in the UK where they have recently required that all publicly funded research is published in an open manner. It is a new policy that has just gone into effect, and negotiations for how to enact it are ongoing (including funding to pay the fee required by some journals to make your publication open access). Interesting that the government of the second most prolific country of research publications is ahead of MIT on this.

I believe MIT should support

I believe MIT should support open access to scientific literature as it supports the mission of MIT (i.e. education and research). The default assumption should be that all literature is open. In some cases it may be justifiable that open publication is postponed for a short period of time (for example, to allow the commercialization of technologies developed within the university).

Carefully thought should be given to how the costs of publication (and peer review) should be covered. In the past, the tax payer has subsidized libraries (certainly in Europe) so there is already a precedent set for the government subsidizing the distribution of knowledge for the benefit of the population.

Yes. Research that is funded

Yes. Research that is funded by the public should be publicly available. I understand that this is difficult. Publication in peer review journals is essential to success in academia, and essential to test ideas, solutions, and data. The most influential journals demand copyright on published papers, thus it gets locked away to some extend. To read the literature one must go to a library. This is old school, and frustrating in the digital age. Open digital access, or at the very least inexpensive access, would yield improved productivity and an expanding universe of ideas and solutions.

Publishing a specialty

Publishing a specialty journal has never been a route to riches. The comments about "parasite publishers" and the like are most likely from academics that have never had to cover their own costs and payrolls. Found your own journal, see what is entailed in establishing a reputation for printing meaningful articles, attract the needed talent for doing that peer review, and then I'll pay some attention to your complaints. As for having to go to libraries to find the papers, well boo-hoo. That is the way it was done for centuries, and it still works. If you want the convenience of instant access, convince the publisher to put it on-line, and make it worth the effort. I strongly suspect the same people whining about access would be the first to complain if their intellectual property was pirated.

I'm struck by the simplistic

I'm struck by the simplistic position so many are taking. Unless you are willing to do it, including finding the money for publishing these papers, you have no call on the people that do it. Ask the MIT Press about giving away their books, and see how far that gets you.

@steelguy74 - Precisely.

@steelguy74 - Precisely. Organizing, storing and serving data is not _free_. Someone's got to pay for the hardware, electricity, maintenance and bandwidth. Many institutions internalize this cost on the Internet, but I suggest folk compare to Wikipedia at a minimum. Even PLOS One managed to kick off with significant donations and only recently seems to be staying afloat, but the costs are borne by the authors.

I find it ironic that JSTOR (non-profit) was conceived to save publications from getting lost forever as well as reduce the overall costs of archiving, storing and organizing these publications. Perhaps what needs to be done is figure out further methods of funding JSTOR to reduce access costs even further. No....wait. I take that back - for those that _don't know_, a Boston Public Library card will get you JSTOR access (well, at least a subset: ). I'd say that's pretty free, since the BPL card is free. Maybe all that needs to be done is further pushing of public institutions to pay for the effective costs that JSTOR incurs to get complete access instead of just the subset, but good luck getting penny-pinching taxpayers to agree.

I remember that some US

I remember that some US scientists were promoting open access in the first half of 1990's when I was a Ph.D. student at MIT. As a supporter of open access to scientific journal articles, I was involved in those debates at that time. As a national of a developing country my argument was: since we are all trying to improve scientific knowledge for humanity, including scientists from developing and poor countries, we should not prevent anybody to access to scholarly journals and economic means to support open access can be found with national funds if most of the scientists promote this view. Today, I still keep this view strongly and urge MIT community to push for open access rights in the federal and international levels.

Yes, definitely! Open access

Yes, definitely! Open access to scholarly publications is very much in line with what an educational institution's objectives ought to be. I think MIT has been pretty great about making knowledge available to the world through OpenCourseWare and EdX, and support for open access to publications falls in line with that vision.



I recognize the distance that has been covered by MIT here alerady (OCW, DSpace and other initiatives), it is high time to press on (and be more vocal about it -- I have the impression that not many have heard about DSpace outside of the MIT community, for example). (And by the way, why are the PDFs from DSpace printing-restricted? Not like there is anything difficult about getting that pesky PDF encryption out of the files, but I believe it is sending the wrong message.)

I think brought up an issue which exists only in theory. There are at least two serious mitigating factors:

1) If a place like MIT makes a clear-cut (and well-advertised) open-content policy, employers will take it into account when they read applications and expect less publication in commercial venues. In practice this effect might be delayed, but ultimately it is going to happen.

2) Most opinions about publishing books (as opposed to papers) in science seem to suggest that it is a bad idea for one's career anyway (e. g. ). I am not sure in how much a PhD thesis published as a book would be much different; certainly it is not *expected* of an applicant.

steelguy74 is missing a lot in his comments, making me wonder when he has been looking up papers in a library last time. The situation *was* better a dozen or two years ago, so this could explain his attitude. By now, the number of journals has increased so far (and not just due to lowest-quality outlets like "Chaos, Solitons and Fractals", but mostly due to the growth of the science community) that the MIT library is moving reputable Elsevier periodicals into warehouses, encouraging its users to download them from the internet instead (where, surprise, Elsevier is not always doing a good job of making them accessible, although their decision to do so should be lauded). Papers published by smaller publishing houses (World Scientific) are often not available at all, as are various conference proceedings. It is easy to argue that publishers should be compensated for making scientific work accessible and preserving it over time, but it is questionable in how far they are doing this job any better than arXiv with its annual budget of less than $1.000.000 for managing probably half of the worldwide turnover in mathematics and physics papers.

I agree with

I agree with

"I believe that there should be open access to scholarly publications where the research was supported by federal funds and I believe that the NIH, etc. has a site for this. However, I do not think that all scholarly work should be made freely available without consideration of the intellectual properties, etc."

My opinion: yes, absolutely

My opinion: yes, absolutely yes.

I think darij, tcoffee, and others here have some good points.

One of the biggest things that drew me here was MIT's attitude toward open education, specifically things like OCW.