Comment »Posted on Saturday 21 March 2009 at 12:03 pm by Jacob Aron
In Education, Getting It Right

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this week declared that all MIT papers will be freely published online and be readable by all. The MIT faculty voted unanimously to approve the motion, demonstrating a strong commitment to open access.

The rules will apply only to papers published since Wednesday, which was when the vote took place. This decision makes MIT, which is one of the top ten universities in the world, the first institution to promise full access to all of its research papers. All such articles will be held in MIT’s own online repository.

Individual researchers will however be allowed to opt-out of the open access scheme. This is in order to allow publication in journals that wont allow work to be distributed elsewhere. Harold Abelson, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and part of the committee that made the decision, thinks that the opt-out will be used “a fair amount” initially.

He hopes though that the new policy will allow MIT to use its prestigious standing in the academic community to negotiate new terms with publishing companies. MIT is also hoping to avoid paying journal subscription fees, often necessary for simply accessing their own papers. In 2007 the university spent three-and-a-half times more on subscriptions than in 1986; the new measures will attempt to combating this price increase.

MIT will now look to other universities to follow in their footsteps. Although some departments at Stanford and Harvard already have similar policies in place, Abelson sees this as just the beginning:

“It’s going to take a while to work things out. Even though MIT, Harvard, and Stanford are big places in terms of the amount of published papers, in the world of research, they represent a small fraction of published papers.”

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