Skip to the Main Content

Note:These pages make extensive use of the latest XHTML and CSS Standards. They ought to look great in any standards-compliant modern browser. Unfortunately, they will probably look horrible in older browsers, like Netscape 4.x and IE 4.x. Moreover, many posts use MathML, which is, currently only supported in Mozilla. My best suggestion (and you will thank me when surfing an ever-increasing number of sites on the web which have been crafted to use the new standards) is to upgrade to the latest version of your browser. If that's not possible, consider moving to the Standards-compliant and open-source Mozilla browser.

February 18, 2008

Harvard Research Free Online

Posted by John Baez

Last Tuesday, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted overwhelmingly to make their research papers freely available online!

Under the new system, faculty will deposit finished papers in an open-access repository run by the library. The papers will instantly become available for free on the Internet. Authors will still retain their copyright. So, they can still publish anywhere they want — as long as the journal is okay with this. (Most are.)

Sounds like the arXiv, right? One difference is that this covers all faculty in the arts and sciences, including departments where free online access is not a given. And, instead of an “opt-in” system, Harvard is adopting an “opt-out” system: all papers will be included unless the author specifically requests them not to be.

Let’s get our universities to do the same thing! I know the UCR librarians are interested.

Here is the full text of the motion that Harvard faculty approved, from Peter Suber’s blog:

On behalf of the Provost’s Committee on Scholarly Publishing, Professor S. Shieber will move:

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Dean or the Dean’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written request by a Faculty member explaining the need.

To assist the University in distributing the articles, each Faculty member will provide an electronic copy of the final version of the article at no charge to the appropriate representative of the Provost’s Office in an appropriate format (such as PDF) specified by the Provost’s Office. The Provost’s Office may make the article available to the public in an open-access repository.

The Office of the Dean will be responsible for interpreting this policy, resolving disputes concerning its interpretation and application, and recommending changes to the Faculty from time to time. The policy will be reviewed after three years and a report presented to the Faculty.

A Web site instructing the faculty on how to transmit articles is already up and running — can anyone find it? The technical work should be completed by April.

A bit of bad news: the Faculty of Arts and Sciences does not include the medical school. Medical journals are the really expensive ones.

Posted at February 18, 2008 4:40 PM UTC

TrackBack URL for this Entry:   http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/cgi-bin/MT-3.0/dxy-tb.fcgi/1604

13 Comments & 1 Trackback

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

By any chance, do you know who owns the medical journals?

Posted by: Walt on February 18, 2008 5:31 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

To amplify on Walt’s question, what happens when the research can and does lead to commercial applications? It is my understanding that the University retains patent rights and ordinarily shares these with the faculty. Maybe, this is part of the opt-out option.

Perhaps, public universities such as UCR have a duty and are entrusted to provide such results to be freely available. Still, I wonder about various scenarios such as The Man in the White Suit cropping up all over the university.

If faculty in a given department or division routinely opt-out, does that not mean that the freely available content is not so free? I suspect that departments in which commercial applications are commonplace have worked these matters out. What are their (your) answers?

Posted by: Scott Carter on February 18, 2008 7:50 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

Scott Carter:

To amplify on Walt’s question, what happens when the research can and does lead to commercial applications? It is my understanding that the University retains patent rights and ordinarily shares these with the faculty. Maybe, this is part of the opt-out option.

I don’t know much about this stuff: nn-categories will eventually have enormous commercial applications, but I plan to be dead by then.

Still, it seems you’re mixing up publication and patenting. Harvard’s now saying that anything you plan to publish, you should first put on their open-access library. But people don’t usually publish things they plan to patent! After all, according to the fount of all wisdom:

Prior art (also known as state of the art, which also has other meanings) in most systems of patent law constitutes all information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that might be relevant to a patent’s claims of originality. If an invention has been described in prior art, a patent on that invention is not valid.

This sets up a conflict between the scholarly desire to publish and the entrepreneurial desire to patent. Universities worry about this all the time. But, I don’t see how Harvard’s open-access policy touches on this. It only affects papers that the faculty want to publish.

Again, I’m pretty naive about this stuff…

Posted by: John Baez on February 18, 2008 11:57 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

There’s a great SF story in which a couple of physicists have a new breakthrough theory
but to be sure they gain $$$$ from it, the first create a game that illustrates it and patent that!

Posted by: jim stasheff on February 20, 2008 2:03 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

For patent law, your own prior art doesn’t count as prior art. That’s why the RSA inventors could patent RSA after they’d already published it.

Posted by: Walt on February 20, 2008 11:43 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

I can’t help thinking that there’s not a lot of real-world substance in this announcement.

Typical academic researchers want their research disseminated as widely as possible anyway and would always distribute it for free if their peer-reviewed journal would permit.
So those with recalcitrant journals will have to opt out, and the rest are getting their name on a website and maybe a couple new readers.

The pessimistic view is that the Harvard announcement is symbolic at best.

Posted by: Andy Ford on February 19, 2008 3:20 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

In my own subfield anyway, “typical academic researchers” don’t necessarily behave that way in practice (although what’s typical is slowly changing). I think many (if not most) mathematicians who don’t use the arxiv don’t use it mostly out of inertia, not because it’s prohibited by journals. Strong institutional encouragement to disseminate papers freely may be largely symbolic, but it does have the potential to make a real difference to how often that’s done.

Posted by: Mark Meckes on February 20, 2008 1:02 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

In the humanities, most researchers I know do not make their research freely available electronically. When I suggest doing it, they often act surprised. They think it’s an interesting idea… but they’re scared to actually try it.

For example, they’re scared about possible plagiarism. They don’t have a tradition of widely spreading ‘preprints’ before publication clinches ones claim on a piece of work. So, I tell them that having a time-stamped version of your paper on a publicly available website is the best defense against plagiarism. For this, of course, it’s not enough to put your paper on your own perrsonal website. But for lots of disciplines there’s nothing like the arXiv yet.

So, the example of Harvard could have a big effect in the humanities. “If they can do it, so can we.”

Posted by: John Baez on February 21, 2008 12:54 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

It would actually be good if the arxiv would have a timestamp possibility for pre-preprints.

That is assume you have some idea, you hack it in roughly so that it is not yet a preprint, but already in a very understandable form - i.e. a pre-preprint.

Lets say you are a cabdriver, means: you are much too slow in casting the idea into a preprint form, on the other hand you also dont want to give away the idea for nothing. In that case it would be useful to have the possibility to get a timestamp on the document without publishing it.

This is in particular important if you need to speak about your work and some evil person could take advantage of your situation.

In short: it would be good to have the possibility to submit pre-preprints of a preprint to the archive (one could limit the number e.g. to five) which are not public (however one could think about the possibility to invite registered readers) and of course to have the possibility to publish the work if it is ready. That would may be also reduce the number of revised versions, which are sometimes flooding peoples mailboxes.

Posted by: nad on February 25, 2009 12:56 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

You can simulate this without needing the arXiv to support it directly. Just take a cryptographic hash of your paper (say md5sum) and publish the hash somewhere that will confirm the date of publication to interested parties.

Posted by: Tom Ellis on February 25, 2009 1:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online


You can simulate this without needing the arXiv to support it directly. Just take a cryptographic hash of your paper (say md5sum) and publish the hash somewhere that will confirm the date of publication to interested parties.

but who would publish the hash with a certified time stamp? Could I please dump all my hashes here at the cafe within a comment? :)

Posted by: nad on February 25, 2009 5:23 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

“Video lectures: Academic Earth is an organization founded with the goal of giving everyone on earth access to a world class education.”


Posted by: Thomas on February 24, 2009 10:08 PM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post Open Access at MIT
Weblog: The n-Category Café
Excerpt: MIT has passed an open-access mandate!
Tracked: March 22, 2009 7:27 AM

Re: Harvard Research Free Online

For patent law, your own prior art doesn’t count as prior art. That’s why the RSA inventors could patent RSA after they’d already published it.

This is actually not correct. “Your own prior art,” such as an article published by you, can constitute prior art. In the U.S., you have one year from the date of the prior art event to file a patent application. If you do not, you are forever barred from filing a patent application later on. If you were able to file a patent application after you published an article, it’s because you were filed the application within the one-year deadline. It should be noted that this one-year grace period is the law only in the U.S. In every other country, the publication constitutes prior art and there is no grace period in which you can bring an application after the date of the publication.

Posted by: NY Patent Attorney on September 18, 2010 5:59 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Post a New Comment