MIT Should Make All Its Research Open Access In Honor Of Aaron Swartz

from the a-step-in-the-right-direction dept

We've discussed a few different efforts to continuing the work that Aaron Swartz started -- and Farhad Manjoo over at Slate has a good suggestion specifically for MIT: it should make its own academic research open for all, while also working with other top universities to do the same. Of course, MIT is in the middle of a self-investigation into its role in the Aaron Swartz prosecution, as many people familiar with the case have said that it helped prosecutors, and drove the case forward, rather than recognizing that Swartz's actions were not criminal and, at the very least, fit with MIT's overall culture (even though Swartz was not a student there).
If MIT truly wants to atone for joining the federal case against Swartz, it should do something much grander: It should pledge to spend its money, prestige, and moral authority to launch a multiuniversity campaign to free every scholarly article from behind pay-wall archives like JSTOR. In other words, MIT should pledge to finish the project Swartz started.

Making academic articles available to everyone is one of the most direct ways for MIT to fulfill its public-spirited mission to expand the world’s access to knowledge.
This is not a crazy idea at all -- especially for MIT. While lots of colleges and universities are now putting full courses online, MIT was really the first big university to do exactly that, announcing plans to put all of its courseware online for free way back in 2001. Is it really such a stretch to seek to do the same thing for research as well? Manjoo even has some good suggestions for how it could go about doing this logistically, pulling ideas from a few others, mainly Michael Eisen::
MIT could stop the whole business with a few bold steps. First, it should declare that, within three years’ time, its libraries will cease subscribing to all academic journals and archives that do not make their articles available online to everyone. Second, MIT should require all of its faculty, grad students, and other affiliated researchers to submit their work only to open-access journals. Third, MIT should instruct its deans and other officials to no longer look favorably upon the mere fact of publication in a “prestigious” journal when making hiring and tenure decisions. Instead, promotions should be based on the quality of a person’s work, wherever it’s been published. (This sounds obvious, but most people in academia will tell you that where you publish is just as important as what you publish.)

Finally and perhaps most importantly, MIT should encourage other universities to participate in this effort. Specifically, it should establish a fund that pays for the true costs of publishing academic journals. Call it the Aaron Swartz Memorial Open-Access Fund. Instead of paying exorbitant subscription fees to for-profit journals, universities would instead contribute to the fund. (The amount would be a function of a school’s size and research budget.) Journals would draw from the fund according to how often their work is accessed. It’s not unlike the compulsory license system that pays musicians when their work is covered or played on the radio, except instead of allowing for more poppy renditions of Elvis tunes, this fund would let anyone in the world access any academic article at any time.
This move seems almost too reasonable for it to actually happen. It matches with MIT's efforts in other areas. It would drive forward one of Aaron's key efforts, and it would act as a serious mea culpa for any role that the university did play in his prosecution.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    hester (profile), Feb 5th, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    Nice idea. Hope it happens. But i've got no faith that it will. MIT and US Gov't have very strong ties.

     

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    Nathan Poe, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 1:28pm

    "First, it should declare that, within three years’ time, its libraries will cease subscribing to all academic journals and archives that do not make their articles available online to everyone.

    Second, MIT should require all of its faculty, grad students, and other affiliated researchers to submit their work only to open-access journals.

    Third, MIT should instruct its deans and other officials to no longer look favorably upon the mere fact of publication in a “prestigious” journal when making hiring and tenure decisions."

    Nonacademics do realize that universities can't make their tenured faculty do anything, correct?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 1:29pm

    So they should stop subscribing to these journals that are incredibly useful to research and learning? Um. No.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 1:35pm

      Re:

      No, MIT should publish them for free, even if it's only to MIT students. Because that would be a step int eh right direction.

      Then, if the journals don't want to be the best, then they have the choice of not distributing to MIT.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 3:38pm

        Re: Re:

        You're missing this part:

        Manjoo: First, it should declare that, within three years’ time, its libraries will cease subscribing to all academic journals and archives that do not make their articles available online to everyone.

        Mike: This move seems almost too reasonable for it to actually happen.


        So basically Mike has no problem with MIT no longer providing access to tons of journals that benefit everyone with access to them, which is everyone at MIT. So instead of continuing to use the stuff that is already working for them nicely, benefiting everyone at MIT, Mike thinks they should rely on "free" before "free" has proven itself. This is the problem with Mike. He thinks everyone should jump to "free" before that way of doing things has shown itself to be better than the ways that rely on exclusionary rights. Everyone is already able to create journals without relying on big, bad, evil companies like JSTOR. Nothing is stopping "free" from proving that it is better right now. To suggest they should dump what's working and switch to what's not working is not "too reasonable." It's not reasonable at all.

         

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          CK20XX, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 4:26pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Uh... but the free model HAS proven itself. It actually IS better than than the system MIT is currently running.

          It's not even a new concept either. I think it was Jesus who first suggested that if you treat people with the kindness and respect that you want to be treated with, then they'll be very willing to give back to you.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 4:37pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If the free stuff is so much better, why does MIT pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for JSTOR?

             

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              Sneeje (profile), Feb 5th, 2013 @ 6:48pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Because they always have.

               

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                Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:02am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                So you think they pay that money out of habit and not because they are getting something of value? Yeah, right.

                 

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                  Sneeje (profile), Feb 7th, 2013 @ 5:43pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  No one said they aren't getting something of value. Rigid perspectives like yours are part of the problem. You see significant change almost never happens overnight. If you spent even an ounce of time studying business you'd realize that what I said is the primary reason why any organization (AOL is a great example) continues to do what they always have as the environment changes around them.

                  In hindsight, their folly is easy to see, but when it is happening, it is almost impossible to recognize the slight decrease in the value equation year after year.

                  But hey, hold tight to those hardened perspectives, I'm sure they'll serve you well. It couldn't possibly be that there are others out there that might have something to teach you.

                   

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                Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:47am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Insightful? Seriously?

                Sneeje and the people that marked this insightful obviously have no idea how academic libraries function.

                 

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                  Sneeje (profile), Feb 7th, 2013 @ 5:39pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Well, my spouse is an academic librarian at a large, public university, so... perhaps you are the one that needs to reconsider?

                   

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    Chris B, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 1:35pm

    misguided

    The MIT libraries would be doing their community a great disservice if they ceased subscribing to all resources that were not fully OA. Particularly in humanities and social sciences, OA has not had much traction.

    Universities do not decide where their faculty submit, and it would be an infringement on professors' academic freedom. They could require deposit in their institutional repository though.

    The committees that make tenure decision may not be able to judge whether a certain project merits tenure, particularly from narrow specialists. However, it has been reviewed and published by a top journal, that's a good sign. I'd like to see some big changes to the tenure process, but it's a tough nut to crack.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 2:01pm

      Re: misguided

      Particularly in humanities and social sciences, OA has not had much traction.

      That's just sad. I would think that those specialties should be on the cutting edge of these types of movements. Their scholars should have fully studied and thought through the benefits of OA, and should be in the forefront of making the argument in favor of these efforts.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 1:47pm

    Knowledge should be free, it's to bad in isn't, will MIT do anything to correct this, no!

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 5th, 2013 @ 2:27pm

    "Unleash the knowledge!"

     

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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Feb 5th, 2013 @ 3:04pm

    End of an Unwritten Epic Poem...

    .

    ...
    ...
    ...
    ...
    And such was the warning of Farhad Manjoo,
    "They did it to Swartz, and they'll do it to you."


    .

     

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    anon, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 12:32am

    I just sent in corrections to a proof of a manuscript that will be published in a paid journal in a month or two. The reason it was published in this paid journal was because it is free for me to publish in it as I am a member of the the society that edits the journal. Other open source journals may be free to the reader but they are not free to the researcher. Here is what PLOS charges per article for scientists from the developed world:

    PLOS Biology US$2900
    PLOS Medicine US$2900
    PLOS Computational Biology US$2250
    PLOS Genetics US$2250
    PLOS Pathogens US$2250
    PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases US$2250
    PLOS ONE US$1350

     

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    Ninja (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 3:32am

    That would be good. Humanity experienced a great deal of evolution sparked out of the printing press that made it much easier to copy and spread knowledge. The intertubes allowed this to be scaled in a truly amazing length and now some greedy people are trying to limit that. This should end. As soon as possible.

     

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    K, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 6:36am

    "Farhad Manjoo over at Slate has a good suggestion specifically for MIT: it should make its own academic research open for all"

    That already happened nearly four years ago:
    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/open-access-0320.html

     

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