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Open Source Economics

Is there an open source text book in use at Williams today? Not that I know of. But the economics department should consider using this one.

Why open source? Academics do an enormous amount of work editing journals and writing articles and now publishers have broken an implicit contract with academics, in which we gave our time and they weren’t too greedy. Sometimes articles cost $20 to download, and principles books regularly sell for over $100. They issue new editions frequently to kill off the used book market, and the rapidity of new editions contributes to errors and bloat. Moreover, textbooks have gotten dumb and dumber as publishers seek to satisfy the student who prefers to learn nothing. Many have gotten so dumb (“simplified”) so as to be simply incorrect. And they want $100 for this schlock? Where is the attempt to show the students what economics is actually about, and how it actually works?

Indeed. The book looks too hard (?) for EC 110, but would work fine for ECON 251. Will it be used at Williams? Probably not. After all, does the economics department really care how much students have to spend on textbooks?

50% of textbooks in use at Williams will be free and open source within ten years. You read it here first.

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#1 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On May 1, 2006 @ 11:01 pm

Ted Gilchrist’s audio version of this has been sitting on my MP3 player since last mentioned here on ephBlog. I’m afraid I haven’t gotten to much of the audio, and not nearly enough of the text.

I certainly hope the ten-year projection is correct. We’ve been waiting 10 years already!

#2 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On May 1, 2006 @ 11:49 pm

SafariU (www.safariu.com), a division of O’Reilly Publishing, lets computer science professors fabricate their own custom-made textbook via a Web site. The professor logs on, collects the excerpts and chapters he or she wants (selecting from 2,800 books and 5,000 articles), and pushes a button to create a PDF version. If that’s correct, the professor clicks a second button to order paper copies, which are delivered to the college bookstore within several weeks.

Due to the underlying computer standards (XML and XQuery) these roll your own capabilities are going to be easier and less expensive as time goes on.

#3 Comment By Ronit On May 2, 2006 @ 12:50 am

Or you could just major in philosophy or English, where most of the books assigned for class are already in the public domain.

#4 Comment By Jonathan Landsman On May 2, 2006 @ 5:39 pm

Hear hear, Ronit, although I once took a Philosophy class where a professor I respect very greatly told us that he had to have this last-year edition of 5 Dialogues of Socrates. Baloney, I thought, and was right. I know it happens that professors will send some business the way of their friends or mentors . . . there are honest and dishonest possible reasons for this, and I hate to think any dishonest ones of the professors I like.

Those interested in this subject may enjoy the 1914 Library article on Willipedia.

#5 Comment By Ronit On May 2, 2006 @ 5:57 pm

A few Williams profs behave in a fairly shady way. There’s nothing wrong with assigning your own textbook, but you really shouldn’t be requiring students to buy the latest edition of a book you revise every year, particularly when the changes are minor. Some Stat and Psyc courses come to mind.