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Harvard to Publish Free Online?

The Harvard faculty will be deciding next week whether to start publishing their scholarship free online.   It would only pertain to their arts and sciences faculty.   In the current system scholarship is published in journals which subscriptions can be very costly.   The journals also are read by a very small population. Each author though could decide whether they want to have the university publish their scholarship online.

Most of the professional journals are against it because they believe fewer subscriptions will result and that it will damage the integrity of research.     And for those that are for it argue that it was a costly, privileged system that needed to be available to anyone that wanted to learn.

Via NYTimes

Ned Litte

is Jane's long suffering husband who enjoys high fantasy novels and the occasional romance that Jane disguises as a fantasy book. He is also the photographer and artist of the multimedia reviews here at Dear Author.


  1. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 06:08:08

    Their proposed method for achieving open access is a little different, but there are already many open access, peer-reviewed journals, and there’s a directory of them here.

  2. Leah
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 14:41:53

    How in the world will it damage the integrity of research–isn’t that dependent in the integrity of the researcher? I understand the problem with losing subscription monies, but they could rectify that by not making the articles free–I am going to pay $12 for an article sometime this week, and I figure it is money well-spent. I would love to have access to other journals online, and would pay for copies (e or otherwise) from them as well. Another thought—these people are also forgetting that their work is already available for fairly minimal charges at interlibrary loans nationwide, and that anyone with access to a university library and cash can copy as many of these articles as s/he wants. The online program would simply improve the materials’ accessibility, and why would that be undesirable? Integrity of research compromised? I love academia!

  3. Ned
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 14:58:11

    I know, I laughed a little about the integrity of research also. The journals are arguing that if this gets passed, then any author could get their “research” published free and individuals like you would not know whether it is sound research (without the peer review of the journals).

  4. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 15:07:15

    They do have a point, Leah. Journals send papers out to peer reviewers before the editor decides whether or not to publish them. The peer reviewers will point out any mistakes, gaps in the research, and any other problems. Their recommendations may mean that the editor asks for the paper to be partially re-written, or the editor may reject the paper.

    If the research is published online but isn’t peer reviewed, it is a bit less likely to be good and may not be as reliable, so in that sense there may be damage to the “integrity of research” inasmuch as the general standard of papers available will drop, because the weeding-out process won’t be in place. In that respect, this current proposal is a bit like self-publishing for novels. Someone might self-publish a really good story, but most readers prefer to have had editors involved in the process of selecting the best novels and helping to perfect them before publication, so that the reader has a guarantee of quality.

    Another issue to bear in mind is that publication in more prestigious journals is one way of assessing how good an academic is (which affects their employment prospects).

  5. Leah
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 20:33:09

    Hmmmm…. I did not realize that the articles would not be peer-reviewed…I guess I just envisioned it as, say, the Jrnl of Am. History, run precisely as it is now, only available online just like Time or Newsweek–that does make a difference. Thanks for pointing that out

  6. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 15, 2008 @ 05:07:27

    I just double-checked, Leah, to make sure, and according to the NYT article Ned linked to

    Under the proposal Harvard would deposit finished papers in an open-access repository run by the library that would instantly make them available on the Internet. Authors would still retain their copyright and could publish anywhere they pleased -‘ including at a high-priced journal, if the journal would have them.

    So although some of these papers might eventually end up in a peer-reviewed journal, they wouldn’t, at the point at which they’re placed in the repository, have been peer reviewed. And if they did end up in a journal, the journal might ask for changes prior to publication, and I’m not sure if the Harvard depository’s version would be updated to reflect that. If it wasn’t updated then you might have two versions of a paper in circulation, and the version most widely available could be the least reliable/of inferior quality.

  7. Leah
    Feb 15, 2008 @ 13:10:04

    Then I withdraw my comment. That’s what I get for not following the link! Thanks for seting me straight!

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    Apr 06, 2008 @ 10:01:39

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