New Open Access Working Group Formed:
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I’m not alone in objecting to Elsevier’s behavior: outrage at their policies has sparked an Elsevier boycott. This was launched as a result of a posting by Fields medal-winning mathematician Timothy Gowers, which cited Elsevier’s pricing practices and their support of the Research Works Act (which would make the NIH Public Access Policy or any similar policy illegal) as his motivation for declining to review or edit for them, or to publish in their journals. He suggested that a public Website be created, which a volunteer did a few days later. The site, “The Cost of Knowledge,” now has around 8000 signatures, including at least 45 from MIT. The more signatures, the greater the pressure will be. So great is Elsevier’s domination, that in some areas publishing in an Elsevier journal is close to inescapable, especially for junior faculty who need to get their work noticed. But the boycott petition allows for this; if you feel that you cannot undertake not to publish with Elsevier, but are sympathetic to the aims of the boycott, you could sign up not to referee or to do editorial work. (And yes, you will see my name there.)
Scott Aaronson (EECS), one of the Working Group members, argues that this boycott has been a long time coming. “I’ve simply been waiting for what I saw as the inevitable moment when a critical mass of academics would ‘wake up’ to the issue that the existing publishing model, with ever-increasing prices, was ‘unsustainable,’” he says. “Now that one of the greatest mathematicians on earth (Timothy Gowers) is spearheading the boycott movement, and dozens of other leading figures in the mathematical community have declared their support, that moment may have arrived.” Seth Teller, also from EECS, cites access concerns: “I signed the petition simply because I believe that if taxpayers fund research, they should have access to the results of that research without going through a paywall.” And Kai von Fintel (Linguistics), another Working Group member, in addition to signing the boycott, has announced his own personal manifesto, which would exclude publishing in Elsevier journals or any others that don’t allow “authors to deposit at least the final manuscript version in an open access repository (such as MIT’s Dspace or the Semantics Archive), without any embargo.”
Some have questioned whether Elsevier is really worse than other publishers. Their response to open access policies is one area where they clearly are worse. There is a growing sense that some response is needed, and the new Working Group is planning to consider what, if any, response should be made. One of the premises of the MIT Faculty Open Access Policy was that it would make it possible for “MIT” to be at the table for discussions, rather than leaving each MIT faculty author responsible for negotiating their author rights alone. We hope the Working Group will offer an efficient means of arriving at principled positions to take to Elsevier and other publishers. Elsevier has reacted to the boycott by withdrawing their support from the Research Works Act; we hope that they will reconsider their attitude to open access more generally.
The commercial journals provide an important role in ensuring quality control and we expect The Libraries will go on subscribing to them. But we need to make the articles available to those who don't have access to a major university library.
Many individual faculty members already post their articles on their own Websites. What the Policy does is to bring some order to this process: the copyright status is made clear, then the library collects the pieces, gives them stable URLs that will persist even if the faculty member moves or retires, and makes sure that they are visible to Google Scholar, and so on. The results of this speak for themselves: the collection of papers gathered under the MIT Faculty Open Access Policy sees 26,000 downloads per month, originating from all around the world.
The Working Group would welcome your thoughts on a response to Elsevier, or other matters that we should take up on behalf of the faculty, in relation to the Open Access Policy. Please feel free to contact me or other members of the group.
Scott Aaronson (EECS)
Hal Abelson (EECS)
Janet Conrad (ex officio, as Chair of the FCLS) (Physics)
Sasha Costanza-Chock (Writing and Humanistic Studies)
Kai von Fintel (Linguistics)
Eric von Hippel (Sloan)
Richard Holton (Chair) (Philosophy)
John Lienhard (Mechanical Engineering)
Anne Whiston Spirn (Urban Studies & Planning)
George Stephanopoulos (Chemical Engineering)
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