open access (go Harvard!) and peer review

After seeing versions of this headline — At Harvard, a Proposal to Publish Free on the Web — all day yesterday in my feeds I was actually waiting with bated breath to see what the outcome of the vote would be. Weren’t you? Okay, probably not. But some people wrote the headline in ways that made it seem like the vote had already happened, like this one — Open Access at Harvard – Seriously — and I would get all excited and click on it to find out what happened. Only to find out that we didn’t know yet. After a few of those, my breath started to get more bated.

But now we do know – and it’s a YES.

The gist of the story is this, yesterday the Harvard Arts and Sciences faculty voted on a policy that requires faculty to post their published scholarly work in a free, open-access repository. In other words, if a journal refuses to let an author do that, this policy says that Harvard A&S faculty won’t write for that journal.

It’s not absolute. Faculty authors can apply for waivers that will allow them to opt-out of the repository. But that’s exactly the opposite of the situation on most campuses, where including one’s work in a scholarly respository is an opt-in thing. And getting faculty to opt in is one of the more difficult things many libraries are trying to do.

I think one reason that I was so invested in the outcome of this story is the discussion/debate that’s made its way across most of my listservs and a lot of my regular blog reads over the last few weeks sparked by this post on danah boyd’s blog.

Not really getting into the details of that discussion (if you’re interested, I thought Anne Galloway’s response to the initial post was pretty great, and clear about why people were bothered by it) one thing that kept coming up, and kept bothering me was the way that discussions about boyd’s initial post would quickly shift into discussions about the need for or value of peer review.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good debate on those questions, but open access doesn’t immediately mean publishing free for all where no one evaluates the quality of anything. Never has, and I don’t think it ever will. But that’s where discussion after discussion seemed to end up. If you want to see what I mean, check out this thread on Air-L.

For a taste of what’s going on, check out the initial post by Barry Wellman, and the responses by Jimmy Wales and Jeremy Hunsinger I like this thread as an example of what I’m talking about because Wellman pretty quickly realizes that he’s conflated some issues and issues a correction. Most of the discussions I read weren’t started or continued by people who really think that if anyone can find an article than that article must have been written for the lowest common denominator. It’s more like something about the word “open” (or maybe it was the word “closed,” as in “closed journals”) pushes people’s minds to the question of audience, authority and peer review. And I started to get really worried about that — it made me think a lot about how much farther open access still needs to go in just communicating the issues and defining the terms.
So yes, Harvard’s just one school. And yes, this was the Arts and Sciences faculty, not everyone. But on the heels of this from the NIH, it’s pretty exciting.

(And yes, the second comment on the Inside Higher Ed article claims that this is the “academic equivalent of relaxed fit jeans” – that’s harshing on my happy moment just a bit)

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