[Eleven research funders in Europe announce ‘Plan S’ to make
all scientific works free to read as soon as they are published.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 RADICAL OPEN-ACCESS PLAN WOULD DEMOCRATIZE SCIENCE  
[https://portside.org/2018-09-07/radical-open-access-plan-would-democratize-science]


 

 Holly Else 
 September 4, 2018
Nature [https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06178-7] 

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 _ Eleven research funders in Europe announce ‘Plan S’ to make all
scientific works free to read as soon as they are published. _ 

 Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission's special envoy on open
access, spearheaded the Plan S initiative, Nikolay Doychinov/EU2018BG 

 

Research funders from France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands
[https://www.nature.com/news/dutch-lead-european-push-to-flip-journals-to-open-access-1.19111]and
eight other European nations have unveiled a radical open-access
initiative [https://www.scienceeurope.org/coalition-s/] that could
change the face of science publishing in two years — and which has
instantly provoked protest from publishers.

The 11 agencies, who together spend €7.6 billion (US$8.8 billion) in
research grants annually, say they will mandate that, from 2020, the
scientists they fund must make resulting papers free to read
immediately on publication (see ‘Plan S players’). The papers
would have a liberal publishing licence that would allow anyone else
to download, translate or otherwise reuse the work. “No science
should be locked behind paywalls!” says a preamble document that
accompanies the pledge, called Plan S, released on 4 September.

“It is a very powerful declaration. It will be contentious and stir
up strong feelings,” says Stephen Curry
[https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01642-w], a structural
biologist and open-access advocate at Imperial College London. The
policy, he says, appears to mark a “significant shift” in
the open-access publishing movement
[https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05191-0], which has seen
slow progress in its bid to make scientific literature freely
available online.

As written, Plan S would bar researchers from publishing in 85% of
journals, including influential titles such
as _Nature_ and _Science_. According to a December 2017 analysis
[https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2017/monitoring-transition-open-access-2017.pdf],
only around 15% of journals publish work immediately as open access
(see ‘Publishing models’) — financed by charging per-article
fees to authors or their funders, negotiating general open-publishing
contracts with funders, or through other means. More than one-third of
journals still publish papers behind a paywall, and typically permit
online release of free-to-read versions only after a delay of at least
six months — in compliance with the policies of influential funders
such as the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And just less than half have adopted a ‘hybrid’ model of
publishing, whereby they make papers immediately free to read for a
fee if a scientist wishes, but keep most studies behind paywalls.
Under Plan S, however, scientists wouldn’t be allowed to publish in
these hybrid journals, except during a “transition period that
should be as short as possible”, the preamble says.

Source: Universities UK

“Hybrid journals were always viewed as a step towards full open
access. They haven’t succeeded as a transitionary measure,” says
David Sweeney, who chairs Research England, one of the funding
agencies subsumed under UKRI, the United Kingdom’s national
research funder [https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05199-6].
The plan also states that funders will cap the amount they are willing
to pay for open-access publishing fees, but doesn’t lay out what
charge would be too much.

Putting the ‘s’ in Plan S

The initiative is spearheaded by Robert-Jan Smits
[https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-02508-x], the European
Commission’s special envoy on open access. (The ‘S’ in Plan S
can stand for ‘science, speed, solution, shock’, he says). In
addition to the French, British and Dutch funders, national agencies
in Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland and Slovenia have also
signed, as have research councils in Italy and Sweden.

“Paywalls are not only hindering the scientific enterprise itself
but also they are an obstacle [to] the uptake of research results by
the wider public,” says Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe, a
Brussels-based advocacy group that represents European research
agencies and which officially launched the policy.

PLAN S PLAYERS

_So far, 11 national funding agencies in Europe have signed up to Plan
S._

Austrian Science Fund

French National Research Agency

Science Foundation Ireland

National Research Fund (Luxembourg)

Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics

Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research

Research Council of Norway

National Science Centre (Poland)

Slovenian Research Agency

Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and
Spatial Planning

UK Research and Innovation

Smits says he took inspiration from the open-access policy
[https://www.nature.com/news/science-journals-permit-open-access-publishing-for-gates-foundation-scholars-1.21486] of
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
[https://www.nature.com/news/gates-foundation-announces-open-access-publishing-venture-1.21700],
the global health charity based in Seattle, Washington, which also
demands immediate open-access publishing. Because Plan S forbids
hybrid publishing — and because it involves multiple funders — its
impacts could be even more far-reaching than the Gates policy, which
by itself has nudged several influential journals to change their
publishing models
[https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05729-2].

Not quite all aboard

Despite Smits’ role, the European Commission hasn’t itself signed
the plan. But Smits says that he expects the requirements to be
integrated into the terms and conditions of future research grants
from the commission. That hasn’t happened yet because policymakers
are still debating the details of its next research and innovation
programme, Horizon Europe, which begins in 2021 and will be worth
€100 billion over 7 years
[https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05392-7]. Smits says he
expects more funding agencies to join, and that he will discuss the
plan in the United States next month with White House officials,
scientific academies and universities.

“The plan is roughly what one would want after about 15 years of
funder experimentation with weaker policies,” says Peter Suber,
director of the Harvard Open Access Project and the Harvard Office for
Scholarly Communication in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We are very
supportive of the ambition set out in Plan S,” adds Jeremy Farrar,
director of the Wellcome Trust, a large private biomedical charity in
London. He says the funder is finalizing a new open-access policy.

But national research agencies in some of Europe’s leading
scientific nations, such as Switzerland, Sweden and Germany, have not
yet signed. In Sweden’s case, this is because it has doubts over the
tight timetable, says Sven Stafström, head of the country’s
research council. He says the council agrees with the aims of Plan S
and will review its position on the document at a board meeting later
this month. Peter Strohschneider, president of Germany’s national
research council, the DFG, says his council hadn't signed because of
the way the plan mandates recipients of public funding to specific
forms of open access. “We request our researchers to publish their
findings from DFG grants open access but we do not mandate them," he
said. He also cautioned that if researchers were all told to publish
in open-access journals, costs of publishing could increase.

Sweeney says that, in the United Kingdom, it isn’t possible to
calculate how much funders will need to pay under open-access
publishing without a fuller picture of how publishers will respond.
“What it costs depends on the reaction of the industry. This is a
statement about principles, it is not a statement about [publishing]
models,” he says.

And for Stan Gielen, president of the Netherlands Organisation for
Scientific Research (NWO), Plan S goes beyond the economics of
publishing. “This is part of a bigger transition towards open
science and a re-evaluation of how we measure science and the quality
of scientists,” he says.

Publisher concerns

Asked for comments ahead of the plan’s launch, publishers said they
had serious concerns — particularly around the banning of hybrid
journals. A spokesperson for the International Association of
Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), based in Oxford,
UK, which represents 145 publishers, told _Nature_’s news team that
although it welcomed funders’ efforts to expand access to
peer-reviewed scientific works, some sections of Plan S “require
further careful consideration to avoid any unintended limitations on
academic freedoms”. In particular, the STM spokesperson said,
banning hybrid journals — which have delivered a lot of growth in
open-access articles (see 'Growth in open access') — could
“severely slow down the transition”. The publishing giant Elsevier
said it supported the STM’s comments.

Source: UUK (2017)/BMC Med. 10, 124 (2012).

In another statement, a spokesperson for Springer Nature said:
“Research, and the communication of it, is global. We urge research
funding agencies to align rather than act in small groups in ways that
are incompatible with each other, and for policymakers to also take
this global view into account.” Removing publishing options from
researchers “fails to take this into account and potentially
undermines the whole research publishing system”, the statement
added. (_Nature_’s news team is editorially independent of its
publisher).

Meanwhile, the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS), a non-profit organization that publishes the
journal _Science_, said that the model outlined in Plan S “will not
support high-quality peer-review, research publication and
dissemination”. Implementing the plan would “be a disservice to
researchers” and “would also be unsustainable for
the _Science_ family of journals”, the AAAS says.

Smits, however, says that it is essential that high-quality peer
review remains part of the science publishing system under Plan S.
“Publishers are not the enemy. I want them to be part of the
change,” he says.

S for sanction?

Only a few funding agencies currently punish researchers who decide
not to follow their open-access policies — including the Wellcome
Trust and the NIH. But under Plan S, funders promise to “sanction
non-compliance”, the initiative states. Smits suggests that a
possible sanction for researchers who don’t comply could be
withholding the final instalment of a grant, which is usually paid
once a project is completed. But this, and other details such as the
amount that funders are willing to pay to publish each article, will
be worked out by the coalition in the run-up to 2020, he says.

Many European funders have been trying to make research free to read
by brokering new ‘read-and-publish’ contracts with publishers, in
which a single fee is paid to cover both the costs of reading
paywalled research and of authors publishing under open-access terms.
But some of the funders who have signed Plan S — including those in
the Netherlands and Norway — now say they don’t intend to pay any
more subscription fees beyond a transitionary period.

If other funders follow the Plan S idea, it could spell the end of
scientific publishing’s dominant subscription business model, says
John-Arne Røttingen, the head of Norway’s research council.
“Subscription journals will see the opportunity to flip their
business models into a system where what is paid for is the solid peer
review, editorial reviewing and electronic dissemination of research
results,” he says.

But Curry cautions that shifting from a subscription to an open-access
business model around the world, as Plan S signers advocate, could
bring a new challenge — how scientists in poorer nations will be
able to afford to publish open-access work. “That has to be part of
the conversation,” he says.

Nature 561, 17-18 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06178-7

Find information about Holly Else in Pub Med
[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=search&term=%22Holly%2BElse%22], Nature.com
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