Opinion: In wake of Aaron Swartz’s death, professors should consider open access - lsureveille.com : Columnists
"On Jan. 11, 26-year-old computer programmer and digital rights activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide, leaving behind a short but rich legacy. At 14, Swartz helped develop the RSS 1.0 specification, which allows people to aggregate and read web articles and blogs. He later created a company that would merge with what is now known as Reddit, and, in 2010, he founded Demand Progress, an online group which helped defeat the notorious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) last year. However, Swartz’s digital advocacy eventually led him into trouble. Swartz was arrested Jan. 6, 2011, for breaking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology storage closet and leaving a laptop he programmed to download millions of scholarly articles in bulk from the nonprofit database JSTOR. Although JSTOR dropped all charges, federal prosecutors led by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz would indict Swartz on 1313 counts of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — a charge that carried up to 35 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. Many have blamed the aggressive prosecution for contributing to Swartz’s death and have thus tried to expose and criticize Ortiz for her actions. Yet, I would like to focus on what I think was most important to Swartz: his determination to provide free and open access to scholarly research. As college students, it’s easy to take our access to the latest scholarly journals and research for granted. Paid for by our institution, most articles we need can be easily found and read in the library. Unfortunately for the general public, most scholarly research is sealed away behind paywalls. Traditional scientific journals pay for their costs through the reader via subscriptions or the purchase of individual articles. At most universities, subscriptions are paid through the library’s budget. These costs have become increasingly more exorbitant, however, and have served only to limit who can have access to the treasure trove of knowledge that rests just behind the paywall. 'The traditional model has become unsustainable,' said professor and Hearne Chair of Theoretical Physics Jorge Pullin. 'The cost of scientific journals has been rising at four times the rate of inflation over the last 20 years, library budgets are strained to the max and they’re cancelling subscriptions and so on because the costs are out of control.' Fortunately, there is an alternative: open access, which is a model of providing unrestricted access to peer-reviewed, scholarly research via the Internet. By shifting the costs away from readers and pushing them onto the authors, who usually have adequate funding to pay for these costs, open access journals broaden the potential audience that academic research can reach. Pullin, editor of the open access journal Physical Review X, believes more and more people from the public are interested in reading research that is typically locked in databases..."