Harvard votes to free its research

It’s in danger of sliding off Techmeme as I write this, but I wanted to send a shout out to Harvard for its proposal to set academic research free on the Web (I wonder if that’s the first time the words “shout out” and the word “Harvard” have appeared in a sentence together). According to this report, the university today voted to require faculty in the Arts & Sciences department to make their research available for free on the Harvard website (although there is an opt-out clause).

This move is being promoted by the Open Access movement, which wants universities of all kinds to make their research freely available. The author still retains the copyright, and is free to submit his or her work to any academic journals, but the paper is also provided for free on the Web. Many proponents argue that too much research — much of which is publicly funded — winds up trapped in journals that no one but academics have access to, journals that cost universities a lot of money to subscribe to.

Web sociologist danah boyd recently called for a boycott of any journal that doesn’t provide its articles to the public in some form:

“Even if you read an early draft of my article in essay form, you’ll probably never get to read the cleaned up version. Nor will you get to see the cool articles on alternate reality gaming, crowd-sourcing, convergent mobile media, and video game modding that are also in this issue. That’s super depressing… I vow that this is the last article that I will publish to which the public cannot get access. I am boycotting locked-down journals and I’d like to ask other academics to do the same.”

Others who have written on this topic include David “Joho the Blog” Weinberger, who says he wishes the policy went even further. Weinberger is a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society. In a comment on his post, University of Toronto scholar Mark Federman says that he hopes “the academic journal business model heads down the same road as the aluminum-disk-coated-with-plastic business.”


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