It seems that the for-profit academic publishing industry’s days are numbered. The model it was built on depended on the necessity of ink and paper for its viability. But today, the Internet has made the exchange and storage of information and ideas so cheap, that taxing the free marketplace of ideas and knowledge that academia is founded upon no longer makes economic sense.
Enter the open access movement, which is slowly marching its way across academia. The open access movement seeks to displace the expensive, subscription-only elite journals that have long held a stranglehold on academic papers by publishing scholarly works online for free or at very low cost. Currently, the cost of subscribing to traditional scholarly journals is prohibitive for individuals and organizations (such as nonprofits) that would appreciate and benefit from access to articles the forefront of research and academia.
Some have argued this will undermine the peer-reviewed academic journal that is the cornerstone of many disciplines. This seems unlikely at best. Editors and referees put in hours not for higher pay but because of the prestige of the job and their sense of duty to advancing their profession. The open access movement thus does little harm to the peer review apparatus while expanding the distribution of academic papers. The publishers of print journals may be harmed, but open access makes academia thrive.
In this vein, we applaud the Harvard Faculty Council’s move to make manuscripts of articles written by Harvard professors in traditional scholarly journals available online for free. The measure, advanced last week, proposes creating Harvard’s very own online system of open access, where professors could put their work online at no cost, either on a personal or university Web site.
The creation of the open access system, however, would bear little fruit without professor participation. Though the proposed system would be “opt-out,” we encourage all professors to participate in this system, and further, urge Harvard to centralize every article in an organized, online database.
The free flow of information and research that would result from more universities taking up similar open access initiatives to Harvard’s would benefit researchers, students, and laypeople alike. We hope the Faculty as a whole goes through with the Faculty Council’s proposal and that other institutions will follow suit.