MIT Faculty Perspectives

Randall Davis
Randall Davis, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering

“The models of reward differ significantly in the commercial environment and the academic research environment, and, importantly, rely on opposing mechanisms: where reputation depends on sharing and dissemination, commerce depends on the ability to exclude. The two camps are thus at times at odds for reasons deeply embedded in their world views. The difference matters because of the significance of academic research as a source of innovation: where considerable attention has been devoted to developing IP policies that encourage commercial innovation, less attention has been given to exploring what IP policies encourage the gift economy of research.” – from Dilemmas Faced by Creative People in IT (pdf)

JoAnne Yates
JoAnne Yates, Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management

“Like most of us, in the past I never questioned the role of commercial publishers in scholarly journal publication, nor the copyright agreements authors are asked to sign in order to publish in top journals. But today, libraries face a crisis with escalating journal prices, and authors and teachers face a bewildering array of new distribution options and associated copyright issues because of new electronic media.

We can no longer afford to stand on the sidelines. Instead, we need to get involved in our scholarly associations’ publication processes, engaging these issues and becoming more proactive voices in decision-making. We also need to educate ourselves about copyright issues so we can protect our own rights rather than signing them away.”

Catherine L. Drennan
Catherine L. Drennan, Associate Professor of Chemistry

“Proponents of ‘open access’ talk about the benefit of ‘free’ information to colleges and individuals with less money. While free information sounds great, publishing articles costs money (an estimated $3000-$4000 per article) and someone has to pay. It is not clear whether movement from the current publishing model (mixing contributions of author pays, consumer pays, advertiser pays) to an elusive open access model (author pays) will hurt or help the scientists and colleges with fewer financial resources.

I, for one, am concerned about the open access (or author pays) model for journals such as Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. Professional societies such as the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology often subsidize journals that benefit their constituency, and they can do this because other profitable journals put them in the black. It is essential that we, as a community, consider the effects on all journals before making any drastic changes in publishing models. There is no such thing as a free lunch or a free article, and the question of who should pay should not be reduced to false simplicities.”

Leslie Kaelbling
Leslie Kaelbling, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Machine Learning Research

“The Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) was founded as a direct reaction against commercial publishers’ restrictive electronic distribution policies and unreasonable institutional subscription rates.

Our goals from the beginning were to offer free electronic access to all of our content to anyone with a browser, to publish the highest quality articles in our field, and to archive the journal via print copies held in libraries.”

Kaelbling was inteviewed by the Association of Research Libraries about her thoughts on digital scholarship in computer science as part of a series called “scholars speak.”

Hal Abelson
Hal Abelson, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Founding Director of Creative Commons

“The problem is that copyright law is not intended for the public. It is a law that is unintelligible for anyone other than copyright lawyers. It has these draconian notions that anyone copying something is a pirate. This is just a lot of nonsense. What the Internet has done is put a fundamental strain on copyright law.”

Full interview

J. Brian Evans
J. Brian Evans, Professor of Geophysics

“It seems ironic that at the instant that digital communication technology has offered universal access to vast stores of information, the globalization and consolidation of the publishing industry and the legal conundrums posed by changing intellectual property laws have placed the traditional partnership of scholars, libraries, and publishers in jeopardy.

A growing number of people suggest that a serious crisis in academic publishing is developing. Perhaps the description as a crisis is overstated, but it is absolutely certain that these relationships are strained and that they will change. The debates about open access publishing, about the economics of publishing, and about fair use of research results have been joined, but the participants have largely been drawn from members of special interest groups.

Each of us within the academic community is a concurrent member of several different constituencies. As authors we want the widest dissemination of our journal articles, books, software, and visual media. As editors, we are genuinely invested in the success of a journal and its publisher. As educators, we wish to have free and flexible access to information to enrich our course materials. And as citizens and recipients of research funds, we are obligated to ensure unhindered access to the fruits of our intellectual endeavors to the widest possible audience.

Thus, as major producers on information, consumers of publications, and responsible and concerned citizens, we who are engaged in the life of the mind should be vigorously involved in the discussions. Yet, these debates have passed largely unnoticed within university. If we choose to remain uninvolved, our opinions will become –well — academic. In some circles, that description has come to mean ‘irrelevant’.”

Faculty Committee on the Library System
“The pressures on the scholarly communication system are significant and growing. We can no longer guarantee that our future students will have access to the scholarly literature they need. This is not simply a problem for libraries; it is a problem for the academy.”

– from MIT Faculty Newsletter, April/May 2004

Wai Cheng
Professor Wai Cheng, SAE fellow and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, spoke out against the limitations of digital rights management (DRM) technology being imposed on access to research published by the Society of Automotive Engineers. “It’s a step backwards,” he says. He felt strongly enough about the implications of DRM that he delivered a presentation to the SAE’s Publication Board meeting in April 2007, making a case that the SAE should revoke a new DRM requirement. His presentation resulted in SAE’s immediate stay in implementation of DRM for universities. Professor Cheng has written about his experience with SAE in the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of the faculty newsletter. (More on this) Photo courtesy of OpenCourseWare

Brian Evans

Professor Brian Evans, Professor of Geophysics, drafted a resolution in for MIT faculty on open access to research, under the auspices of the Faculty Committee on the Library System. The draft resolution states that “Broad dissemination and rapid, free flow of information is essential to insuring vigorous intellectual debate and efficient progress in any academic field, humanistic, engineering or scientific; is a key ingredient in providing for informed public debate of critical social problems; and is an obligation for researchers receiving public funding” and calls for MIT faculty to “support the general concept of open access, especially for publicly funded research, and recommend the use of the least restrictive copyright agreements, consistent with the academic and commercial intent under which the research was undertaken.” Professor Evans spoke about the resolution an an IAP event in January 2007.

Photo © Barry Hetherington

Professor Evans writes about the need for change in “A Failure in Communications: the Metamorphosis of Academic Publishing.” He says: “What we cannot do… is simply watch. The issues [related to changes in academic publishing] are too important for scientific and engineering research… and for the fulfillment of MIT’s core mission, to allow outside forces to decide the outcome.”

Kai von FintelKai von Fintel, Professor of Linguistics, and his colleague David Beaver (Univ. of Texas at Austin), launched a new open access journal in Linguistics in May 2007. Semantics & Pragmatics is designed to be “the next step in the scientific publishing revolution,” according to the editors. The goal of the new journal is to reach the widest possible audience as quickly as possible, while maintaining a formal peer-review process and allowing authors to maintain control over their own work: the journal leaves copyright ownership with the author. The editors are blogging about their experience , and von Fintel has also spoken about the origins and launch of the journal in a podcast.

ghoniem2.jpgAhmed Ghoniem, Ronald C. Crane (1972) Professor of Mechanical Engineering, says “I always make an effort to retain my copyright when I publish.” He wants to be able to reuse his work — including in future publications and through OpenCourseWare.

(MIT authors can work with publishers to retain rights to reuse and post their work by using the MIT amendment to standard publisher agreements.)

John H. Lienhard VProfessor John H. Lienhard V, Professor of Mechanical Engineering here at MIT, made his text book — the 3rd edition of A Heat Transfer Textbook — openly available on the web, with no charge to readers. This text was coauthored with Professor Lienhard’s father, John Lienhard IV, who is a professor at the University of Houston. It was published by Prentice Hall in two print editions in the 1980s, and remained in print until the mid 1990s. Professor Lienhard’s goal in making the 3rd edition openly available was to “fundamentally alter the economics of higher education.” The book has been downloaded over 150,000 times from more than 150 countries — an astounding success story that has yielded moving messages of gratitude and appreciation from around the planet.


Professor Eric von Hippel,T Wilson Professor of Management at the Sloan School of Management and Professor of Engineering Systems, has made two of his books available openly on his website at no cost to the reader: Democratizing Innovation, published in 2005 by the MIT Press, and Sources of Innovation, published in 1988 by Oxford University Press. “My whole purpose – doing all of my research – is not to get money from book royalties. That’s not my goal. I’m trying to diffuse my work and ideas, much the way MIT does with OpenCourseWare.” Sales of Sources of Innovation went up well over 70% after Professor von Hippel made the book openly downloadable, and he believes at least some of the sales of Democratizing Innovation were the result of the open access version. He says: “Readers tell me that they find it very helpful when authors add their works to the information commons. That’s really important to me.” Professor von Hippel says more about his successful experiment in a blogged interview, and in a podcast.

NOTE: Photographs on this page are all rights reserved; they are not covered by the Creative Commons license.