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Harvard adopts open-access policy

February 15, 2008 By Heidi Ledford This article courtesy of Nature News.

Will the university's policy change affect publications?

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The Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has adopted an open-access publishing policy. Under the new guidelines, announced on 12 February, scholarly articles written by Harvard researchers will automatically be licensed to the university and published on the university's website for free, unless an exemption is asked for by the researcher.

Many universities maintain their own open-access repositories for scholarly articles, both to increase access to and improve the visibility of work done at their facility. Harvard is the first to make open access the default option for its researchers. The University of California system has been considering a similar policy for years, but has not yet reached a decision.

“Before, the situation was that if you wanted to retain rights and allow open access, you needed to opt in,” says Stuart Shieber, a computer scientist at Harvard, who proposed the new policy. “And this changes it to an opt-out situation.”

The language of the policy makes it clear that any request to opt out of the programme will be granted, says Shieber. “If the author requests a waiver, the dean will provide a waiver,” he says.

Critics to open-access policies say that the free distribution of articles may reduce the value of journals and increase the prominence of non-peer-reviewed research.

Not yet clear

Although Harvard faculty members are now more strongly encouraged to submit a final draft of their papers, the university has not yet established a time limit for submission, nor have they defined what constitutes a ‘final’ draft of the paper. Harvard intends to establish an ‘office of scholarly communication’ to define these issues.

Such issues will matter in terms of how Harvard's policy interacts with the policy of various journals. At Nature, for example, authors are encouraged to submit their own, unedited version of their paper to funding bodies and universities for public dissemination six months after publication, along with a reference to the official peer-reviewed version in Nature. The appearance of a preprint in an online archive, such as arXiv, does not automatically disqualify a work from publication.

"It will be interesting to see the Office of the Dean's interpretation of this policy," says David Hoole, a spokesperson for Nature. "Hopefully, the new policy will be compatible with our existing licence to publish, without Harvard authors requiring exemptions from the Dean."

Opt-out, or not

Spokespeople from the American Chemical Society and Cell Press told Nature News that they didn't yet know enough about Harvard's policy to comment on it.

"It is a significant development," says Allan Adler, vice president for legal and government affairs at the Association of American Publishers (AAP) in Washington DC. The AAP has criticized recent efforts at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, to make open-access publishing mandatory. "At least the Harvard policy is not mandatory," says Adler. "It does provide an opt-out option, but still one would have to question why it would impose such a straight-jacket policy on faculty [members]."

Others, however, say that Harvard should take a stronger line and scrap the opt-out policy, in order to force journals to take a more liberal attitude to open access.


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