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September 14, 2009, 03:00 PM ET

5 Major Research Universities Endorse Open-Access Journals

In an effort to support alternatives to traditional scholarly publishing, five major research universities announced their joint commitment to open-access journals on Monday.

The institutions—Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Berkeley—signed a compact agreeing to the “timely establishment” of mechanisms for providing financial support for free open-access journals.

While conventional journals require institutions to pay subscription fees to access articles, open-access publications make their material free to the public, thus aiding libraries forced to cut back during difficult financial times, officials at the universities believe.

John M. Saylor, associate university librarian for scholarly resources and special collections at Cornell, says it is a much healthier research environment when the financial burden is taken off the reader and everyone has access to the same research. Mr. Saylor says, however, that the challenge now is to develop a system that pays for the operation of journals that give away the store. “We just don’t know if it’s going to be too expensive,” he said.

According to Robert B. Townsend, an assistant director at the American Historical Association, one of the problems with a commitment to open-access journals is that it does not “acknowledge the stark differences between journals in the sciences and other fields," as far as the cost of operating the journals is concerned. He says he is “suspicious of the one-size-fits-all logic that seems implicit in this compact.”


1. n4rky - September 14, 2009 at 05:18 pm

And why, exactly, does a journal in the sciences face different operating costs than in other fields?

2. chansonellensky - September 14, 2009 at 06:07 pm

As a poor student with wide interests and many papers to write but no physical university library access, I applaud this move toward a saner approach to academic publishing!

3. paievoli - September 15, 2009 at 06:28 am

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4. 22181326 - September 15, 2009 at 08:15 am

@n4rky: Townsend's comment about differences in operating costs refers to a recent study that established that humanities and social science journals cost more per article to operate; visit http://www.nhalliance.org/news/humanities-social-science-scholarly-journal-publis.shtml.
The Chronicle story on this is at http://chronicle.com/article/Pricey-Cost-per-Page-Hurts/48257/.

5. josa33 - September 15, 2009 at 10:31 am

I would just like to point out that there are already some free "open access" scholarly journals already publishing on the web. Check out, for instance, Romantic Circles, a peer-reviewed scholarly website dedicated to British Romanticism (full disclosure: I am an associate editor at Romantic Circles):


6. jqjohnson - September 15, 2009 at 10:41 am

One should be very suspicious of claims that the Waltham study actually shows a difference between Hum/SS and STM journals. With a tiny and biased sample size (13 journals) any global differences could easily be sampling error. My own belief is that with a larger sample we'd see the global differences reversed, and STM journals would on average come out cheaper.

However, the point that STM and Hum/SS journals differ is a very good one. As a fairly trivial example relevant to OA: researchers in biology have much greater access to grant funding to pay OA author fees than do researchers in english, and not surprisingly there are numerous journals in biology that charge such fees but essentially none in english. Like Berkeley, we have a project to subsidize faculty payment of OA author fees, but we are very sensitive to the interdisciplinary equity issues that that project has created.

By the way, although the Waltham study shouldn't be taken to prove global differences, it's a worthwhile study to read, and is very helpful for anyone trying to understand the almost secretive business of scholarly publishing.

JQ Johnson, University of Oregon

7. stevan_harnad - September 15, 2009 at 09:20 pm


(Hyperlinked version of this comment: openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/627-guid.html )

Regardless of the size of the asking price ("reasonable" or unreasonable), it is an enormous strategic mistake for a university or research funder to commit to pre-emptive payment of Open Access Journal Publishing fees (Gold OA) until and unless the university or funder has first mandated Green OA self-archiving for all of its own published journal article output (regardless of whether it is published in OA or non-OA journals).

There are so far five signatories to the "Compact for Open-Access Equity." Two of them have mandated Green OA (Harvard and MIT) and three have not (Cornell, Dartmouth, Berkeley). Many non-mandating universities have also been committing to the the pre-emptive SCOAP3 consortium.

If Harvard's and MIT's example is followed, and Green OA mandates grow globally ahead of Gold OA commitments, then there's no harm done.

But if it is instead pre-emptive commitments to fund Gold OA that grow, at the expense of mandates to provide Green OA, then the worldwide research community will yet again have shot itself in the foot insofar as universal OA -- so long within its reach, yet still not grasped -- is concerned.

Stevan Harnad, Université du Québec à Montréal & Southampton University

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