Sunday, February 17, 2008

Some News from Harvard

A few interesting pieces of news from Harvard.

First, Harvard is setting up a scheme to avoid restrictive access policies of some journals. Essentially, as I imperfectly understand it, Harvard is obtaining from the faculty a non-exclusive right to disseminate articles written by the faculty. The intention is that a Harvard faculty member should be able to say to any journal that insists on having an exclusive copyright to an article, "That's fine, but I work at Harvard, and as such Harvard has a non-exclusive right to my work, which will be placed in an open repository." Stuart Shieber, a Harvard computer science professor and a strong proponent of open access, was behind this faculty legislation. Perhaps all the universities can get together and give a message to the journals that they are the ones that actually pay the faculty, and they will work against journals where the business model depends on restricting access to the research to only those who pay a monopoly-based fee.

Second, the Dean for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard, Dean Venky, is stepping down. Venky and I began about the same time at Harvard, and he's done a lot for improving the visibility and status of computer science and engineering at Harvard. I hope we can find a new Dean that can continue the push to build up these areas at Harvard.


Harry Lewis said...

The open access legislation is an excellent initiative; Stuart deserves a lot of thanks for negotiating it. The first step in extending it will be for other Harvard Faculties to pass similar motions. I am only now becoming aware that in some professions, the standard is for the author to retain copyright when a work is published, so maybe it will be easier in the Law School, say. On the other hand, in the Business School, where everything is monetized, perhaps not so easy. And yes, I hope it gives heart to other universities to act similarly.

Having said all that, let me just note that as an ex-dean, the hair still rises on the back of my neck whenever anyone says, as you did, something like "Perhaps all the universities can get together and give a message ...". This seems to be saying "to save everyone some money, let's all agree not to pay the price they are asking." If I'm not mistaken, that would be anticompetitive collusion in the eyes of the antitrust division of the DOJ. I'm pretty sure universities are not supposed to be making agreements with each other on prices they pay and costs they charge, or other similar matters.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Harry -- I understand your concern, and perhaps I misstated my intent. My point was not that universities collude to not pay publishers; my point was that if other faculties similarly maneuver so that their work is guaranteed open access ("getting together" just meaning that they take some action on the issue of open access, even in a distributed fashion), publishers that utilize a business model based on "if you want a copy of the article, you have to pay what we ask, because you can't get a copy of the article otherwise" will have to change to a model where they offer some sort of service based not only on availability. (That is, rather than engage in price-collusion in payment, universities simply start doing what they can to prevent publishers from appropriating exclusive copyrights from their faculty, in any reasonable fashion.)

So I imagine we agree. However, I'm also happy to have you comment on what's "realistic" for universities to do, since I also often find people have unrealistic ideas as to what's actually possible.

David said...

It bugs the crap out of me that I have to pay for John Harsanyi's Nobel Work.