Panel to discuss whether journal articles should be freely accessed

levitz open access
Stuart M. Levitz, MD


A relatively recent phenomenon in academic publishing is “open access” (OA) publication, where full-text articles, research results or complete journal issues are promptly and freely available online, rather than accessible only to journal subscribers or through libraries with institutional, and often expensive, subscriptions. While supporters say OA may reduce barriers to access, subscriber-supported journals counter that subscriptions are necessary to sustain the vital gatekeeper role that scholarly journals can play and also support the cost of paper publication, editing and indexing.

On Nov. 22, the OA conversation at UMMS continues, with a panel discussion and forum featuring a range of perspectives on the subject. Sponsored by the Lamar Soutter Library, the discussion promises to be lively, timely and pertinent. Currently, more than 5,000 OA journals are published around the world, in all disciplines, including the entirely open-access Public Library of Science, which produces seven PLoS journals.

One of the panelists will be Stuart M. Levitz, MD, professor of medicine and molecular genetics & microbiology, who also serves as chair of the UMMS Patent Policy Committee (PPC) and is associate editor of an open access journal, PLoS Pathogens.

“The Patent Policy Committee supports the Federal Research Public Access Act, which we think strikes a reasonable balance that takes into account author’s rights, the need to have scientific knowledge freely disseminated and the concerns of publishers—particularly the concerns of the not-for-profit organizations that publish journals on behalf of professional societies,” said Dr. Levitz.

Levitz will be joined on the panel by Richard Holton, PhD, chair of the faculty committee on the library system at MIT; Ellen Finnie Duranceau, the program manager for scholarly publishing and licensing for the MIT libraries; and Stuart M. Shieber, PhD, director of the Office of Scholarly Communications at Harvard University.

“Ultimately, I think the best solution is for the NIH and other large funding agencies to mandate a more stringent uniform public access policy, such as those in the Federal Research Public Access Act, rather than a series of piecemeal policies by different institutions,” Levitz said.

The issue of open access is an important one to the library community, as well. “We’ve been working with the Medical School Faculty Council to educate for a campuswide open access resolution,” said Sally A. Gore, manager of research and communication services at the Lamar Soutter Library. “Over the past six months or so, a task force made up of individuals from the library, faculty council and faculty affairs have worked to conduct background research on OA to create a draft resolution. The draft was presented to the council in June for review and comment. Our goal is to engage participants and the campus in a dialogue about what having an open access resolution on campus really means and what really occurs, by incorporating lessons learned from institutions like MIT that have a resolution in place.”

“The PPC endorses many of the basic principles of the open access policy that have been advanced by the UMMS Faculty Council, but we do have some concerns, including whether the UMMS policy would add an extra layer of paperwork to busy faculty; whether the policy would delay peer review or publication of manuscripts; and whether the policy would ultimately impose additional open access fees on authors, which is something some journals are already doing,” said Levitz.

The forum will take place from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m. in the Faculty Conference Room. Lunch, and a lively discussion, will be provided. For more information, visit the event page on the Library Web site.