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Free MIT Engineering Text For Download 207

An anonymous reader writes " The (sci-tech) Library Question is reporting, "The third edition of A Heat Transfer Textbook, written by John H Lienhard V (MIT) and John H Lienhard IV (U Houston), has been made available on the web. The book is an introduction to heat transfer, geared towards engineering students. It may be downloaded free of charge. The authors explain: We are placing a mechanical engineering textbook into an electronic format for worldwide, no-charge distribution. The aim of this effort is to explore the possibilities of placing textbooks online -- effectively giving them away. Two potential benefits should accrue from doing this. First, in electronic format, textbooks can be continually corrected and updated, without the delays inherent in printed books (second and later editions are typically published on a five-year cycle). Second, free textbooks hold the potential for fundamentally altering the economics of higher education, particularly in those environments where money is scarce."
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Free MIT Engineering Text For Download

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  • posting textbooks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by neuroinf ( 584577 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:25AM (#9099041) Homepage
    This is a great initiative. It promotes the idea that we should look at the real value in education. The real value is in the people students get to work with (eg. the authors), and the personal experiences they go through on the way to graduate. Why should publishers make profits in this process when they don't add value?
  • by acceber ( 777067 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:32AM (#9099060)
    Two potential benefits should accrue from doing this. First, in electronic format, textbooks can be continually corrected and updated, without the delays inherent in printed books. Second, free textbooks hold the potential for fundamentally altering the economics of higher education, particularly in those environments where money is scarce.
    It would also eliminate the need to carry around excessively heavy textbooks which often lead to back pain and other detrimental health issues.

    Schools and other educational institutions would probably welcome this as well as it saves storage space, and most importantly, financial resources which can be used in other areas where the money would be of better use such as upgrading technology which is a critical factor. There is nothing worse than having equipment and resources which are outdated and obsolete.

  • Noble Effort (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:34AM (#9099066)
    As a college student, I can certainly appreciate the benefits of free textbooks, lord knows the bookstore overcharged by several limbs. The question is not whether or not this would benefits students and the community at large, but instead one of costs versus benefits.

    Writing a textbook is no small endeavor, professors often spend months upon months writing and revising a single text. While the Open Source community can survive off the valiant efforts of thousands of coders worldwide, the number of individuals in higher academia qualified to write textbooks is much more limited.

    I just can't envision a scenario where this kind of approach is sustainable in a long-term or wide-reaching context. Thoughts?

    -- Frag00
  • Incentive (Score:4, Insightful)

    by timealterer ( 772638 ) <slashdot&alteringtime,com> on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:40AM (#9099077) Homepage

    Here's something to ponder. Why does somebody write a textbook? Is it because they enjoy the subject matter, enjoy writing, and want to write an engaging, accurate book? Or is it because one can charge large sums for such a textbook? Unfortunately it's often the latter.

    While the idea of an epic "Commercial vs. Open" textbook rivalry akin to that seen in software is romantic, writing a textbook tends to be somewhat less pleasant, less rewarding, more expensive, and more exacting than writing software. I'd hate to think the foremost experts in fields may be discouraged from writing one day because they can't compete with free, mediocre sources.

  • Quality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cperciva ( 102828 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:41AM (#9099079) Homepage
    Free textbooks sounds like a nice idea, but I have to wonder if quality will suffer as a result. There is going to be great pressure from student groups to use free textbooks, even if there are better textbooks available. Since the vast majority of authors can't afford to give away their work for free, this will inevitably reduce the competition between textbooks.
  • by Osty ( 16825 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:42AM (#9099080)

    provide it as a free service to a university's students ... It cost almost $600 last time I bought books

    You do realize that you'd just be transfering the cost, right? "Free" means "included in your tuition", which means rather than paying $600 for your books at a book store, you're paying $600 more in tuition and get your books for free. Sure, some amortization is possible, but is it really fair for a student whose major typically requires $200 in books to subsidize a major that requires $600 in books? I'd rather see textbook costs drop to a realistic level ($90+ for a single book is ridiculous, but it's the way things are going), rather than provide it "for free" in your tuition.

    Then again, I'm no longer in school, so it won't affect me unless I have kids at some point in the (very very far) future.

  • by Kulic ( 122255 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:44AM (#9099087) Homepage
    I applaud the authors for their attitude and their willingness to make this textbook available for free download. However, I think that they may be over-estimating the value of a good textbook.

    Let me clarify that last statement - I think that a good textbook is an essential element of a good education on a particular subject, but I do not think that it is the only element required. A well-rounded education should also include hands-on lab time (costs money) and people you can ask to help you and to explain what you are having problems understanding (costs money).

    Now, if this book is aimed at people for whom money is a problem, isn't it naive to think that they have access to a computer (and enough time on that computer to read and understand the text)?

    This book could quite possibly replace existing texts and lower the cost of an education, but I doubt that it would become the entire education. However, I don't think that you can have too many alternative texts on a subject, especially when they are free.
  • by kardar ( 636122 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:53AM (#9099108)
    I still have on one of my hard drives somewhere a PDF file that points out really horrible errors in typical school textbooks; these were mostly high-school books, but in any case, it really points to the pressures that are placed on book publishers; many pressures that have nothing to do with accuracy of information, but coming from a sense of policital correctedness, and so on. There are influential people in the management levels of the textbook publishers, and there are certain standards that must be upheld in order for that book to be selected by a school system, especially a school system that is funded with taxpayer dollars. Obviously, having checks and balances when it comes to taxpayer dollars is an important thing. But the errors are pretty bad, and there are quite a few of them, at least in the one review there that I read.

    Perhaps the idea of putting this kind of information online, if there is a way that this can be done without too much lost inertia from the fact that you are just giving away your hard work for nothing (i.e. also sell the book in hard-copy), have a donation place for it, or somehow organize funding in some other way. Also, you don't necessarily go through a big publisher to do it this way - you can have more freedom to simply produce an accurate textbook, without having some committee breathing down your neck or having your work thrown in haphazardly with ten other authors' work.

    And there may be more control over the authorship, and the way the whole thing is put together.

    But generally speaking, for instance, O'Reilly books are not that particularly expensive, and I just kind of feel better contributing some type of financial money to the author, and having a hard-copy book has its benefits as well, in case you feel like not being tied down to the computer or laptop screen. I like buying books, but I also like using electronic formats sometimes (it's easier and faster to take notes), it's especially cool when you are studying a programming language and you can see examples in the book and try out your own while you are physically sitting at your computer.

    Electronic formats are good, and hard-copies are good too. What really needs to happen is that the cost of the textbooks, the hardcopy textbooks, need to come down by at least 50%. Again, this can be blamed on the "big publishing companies" - many of the policies and procedures that are commonplace at these types of embedded publishers drive the costs of textbooks up, and increase the number of errors in those textbooks at the same time. Paying some 30 dollars for a very excellent O'Reilly book, for instance, is really no big deal, considering how long it's going to take to read it and work through it, and hopefully the authors are getting some kind of reward in there too. Having an electronic format available for free, especially in the situation where one has purchased the hardcopy, is, I think, a really good idea; especially if that electronic format can have an errata somewhere or something.

    To sum up, I think that the price of textbooks needs to come down, and the errors need to be lesser in number as well. These two things appear to be tied in together, to some extent. Furthermore, there should be a means to reward the authors for their work; I don't think that giving away books for free is really going to encourage people to write quality material; there needs to be some sort of way to integrate the hard copy and the electronic copy in a way that increases the benefits to the reader and still rewards the author and encourages more people to write quality material.

    I think that this is going to turn out to not be quite as easy as it sounds.

  • by Lucidus ( 681639 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:00AM (#9099124)
    This is a wonderful initiative, which I think most of us will want to encourage - but to really determine it's value, we need to know how good the book is. Does it match the standards of currently available conventional (i.e. expensive) texts? It would be great to see a review by a highly-qualified engineer or professor.
  • Re:Quality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tootlemonde ( 579170 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:00AM (#9099125)

    I have to wonder if quality will suffer as a result.

    I would expect free textbooks to improve the quality of both free and non-free ones.

    First, assuming that a qualified author writes a free textbook, there should be a fairly high base quality because the author's reputation among his peers is at stake. Another author of a non-free textbook would then have to write a better book than the free one if he expects to charge for it.

    Second, because the free electronic books are subject to frequent revision, other experts and students can submit criticisms and suggestions that can be instantly incorporated.

    Since the vast majority of authors can't afford to give away their work for free..

    Actually, in the textbook field, they can afford to give their work away because they're paid by a university. One should not underestimate the desire for the esteem of one's peers in any endeavor.

  • good idea ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cinnamon colbert ( 732724 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:37AM (#9099212) Journal
    Lets take calculus, which has not reallly changed in, say , 200 years... I could buy a nice, acid free paper reprint, which will last for years without batteries for a few dollars from dover, or I could spend 100s of $$ to have something which only works out of the rain, in the right light.... This is an example of not focusing on the problem. The problem is not the delivery technology (print vs online), or the need for updating on a 5 yr cycle (does heat transfer really change that much ?). The problem is the (a) the greed inspired by our capitlist system, which winds up screwing the students, and (b) the complicity of professors, educators and boards of education, which in many states mandate texts. ... To restate the point, if you ask, not is it neat technology, but how would I best serve the students. I think that a co-operative, nonprofit publisher, organized over the net with cvs like software, putting out nice high quality texts on acid free paper, would be a better solution for high school and entry college texts. Even in fast moving fields ( I am familiar with molecular biology, genomics and genetics) most of what gets taught is old; you only need a small handout each year for updating. Even on a strict environmental basis, if only 10% of the "free" heat transfer texts get printed out, is that a plus, considering that home printers are probably environmental disasters, compared to commercial plants ?
  • Re:Incentive (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BlightThePower ( 663950 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:45AM (#9099225)
    Why does someone write a textbook?
    Well its certainly not for the money. The typical textbook brings in negligable sums at best. Typically about 2000 GBP as far as I can tell. The general reason is because you require a book for your students that doesn't exist. And if you have the course notes you've written to hand then its more or less there as a by-product. A bit of polishing and you are away.

    Sorry, I know this sounds a little disappointing, its done for reasons of dull expediency and neither fame nor fortune.

    For graduate level texts/"professional" publications the story is of course rather different, and the reasons for doing it are pretty much the same as writing journal papers; (i) "publish or perish"; (ii) mindshare within your field; (iii) again, the damn book you wish was written for your students (this time grads) doesn't yet exist. Writing a whole book is a little inefficient insofar as its only one line on the CV and indeed, if we look back before the days of "publish or perish" you will note that practically everyone had written a book at some point in their careers. However, this seems to be a declining trend, at least within the sciences where time is perhaps better spent on publishing normal papers or writing grant applications.

  • by cmdrxizor ( 776632 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:52AM (#9099236)
    Of course, it could also be asked why should the authors participate in this process if they don't make any profits?

    Writing a textbook is not an easy feat, and posting them online for free download doesn't give the author any sort of compensation for their work other than the satisfaction of making students happy.

    Also, I find it unlikely that this will really catch on, simply because most of the professors I've dealt with simply would not consider a textbook like this, or wouldn't even be aware of it. The publishing industry does market itself really well - professors get sample books which often end up being used for classes. A prof might see an online book as being somehow of lesser caliber (in terms of factual accuracy, author credentials, or otherwise) than an actual printed book.

    I would imagine there would also be legal liability issues involved in this, suh as if the text accidentally contained false information.

    It's a good idea, but I don't think it's the way to go. Low-cost textbook distribution needs to happen, but I don't think no-cost will work -- at least not yet.
  • by Shisha ( 145964 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:02AM (#9099261) Homepage
    It is a well known fact that the authors don't get much (financially) for publishing a textbook. On the other hand I wouldn't go as far as saying that publishers don't add any value, but I'd say that the value they add is not proportional to the final price.

    The trouble, of course, is that with (especially graduate) textbooks, there are very few people who'd possibly buy it, making publishing them an expensive task.

    By the way, if you're intrested in mathematical analysis but you aren't prepared to spend an entire years budget on those nice yellow Springer books, check out Modern analysis online [] for not so much books as lecture notes; still a good source.

    As a side note: The papers on "Modern Analysis Online" are still copyrighted by their respective authors. I'm sure you can download them, print them, but certainly not publish them. The website has all the boring details.
  • by Bob Zer Fish ( 568540 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:41AM (#9099344) Homepage
    I dunno, I use a library myself! ;)
  • Re:Noble Effort (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rsheridan6 ( 600425 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @09:09AM (#9099406)
    My dad was a professor, and he wrote a few textbooks. The writer doesn't make much money off of them unless it's something like a popular Econ 101 textbook which will sell lots of copies. More specialized books for higher level courses (like this heat transfer book) don't sell many copies, and if you're in it for the money you'd be better off mowing lawns than writing one. Professors do get recognition, better raises, etc. for publishing a textbook and that's probably more of an incentive.

    The editors and the publishing company are in it for the money, though. I don't know how important they really are, and how much of a substitute direct contact with the readers is for them. We'll see.

  • by matthewr84 ( 469595 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @10:17AM (#9099640)
    Authors generally don't make much money off of textbooks anyway, it's more about name recognition and being a productive member of academia.

    As far as other professors adopting the books, I could see it happening. I've had quite a few professors that seemingly complained about the price of textbooks more than the students did. I've even had a handful that put a textbook on the syllabus to keep the state happy but then told us not to waste our money on the textbook on the first day of class and instead make use of the online resources and class notes provided. They'd love to see something like this.

    Not to mention in good old open-source fashion, professors using the books could quite possibly be able to have more input in the process. They might be more favorably inclined to the accuracy of the material if they knew they and others can and do correct mistakes.
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @11:50AM (#9100143)
    Writing a coherent text clarifies one's knowledge of a subject. If you havent taken the time to write down your material, even in an informal text, then you probably havent consolidated your subject well.
  • Re:Quality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @12:05PM (#9100265) Homepage
    Free textbooks sounds like a nice idea, but I have to wonder if quality will suffer as a result. There is going to be great pressure from student groups to use free textbooks, even if there are better textbooks available.
    Students have zero influence over textbook selection. Teachers pick textbooks based on their own criteria. That's what's goofy about the textbook market: the people who pay for the books aren't the ones who pick them.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!