We've discussed a few different efforts
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.