Plan S promotes open science, to break Journal Paywalls, make open access publishing the norm for scientists

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Eleven  National Research funding organizations from France, United Kingdom, Netherlands and eight other European nations have launched  cOAlition S plan on 4th september 2018.

This plan that could possibly transform the face of science publishing by 2020, has instantly provoked protest from publishers. The initiative spearheaded by Robert-Jan Smits, mandates that, from 2020, the scientists that these 11 organizations fund must make resulting papers free to read immediately on publication. Smiths was inspired from the open-access policy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also demands immediate open-access publishing.

Unconventional Demands of Plan S

“No science should be locked behind paywalls!”
a preamble document that accompanies the pledge

According to an analysis conducted in December 2017, only around 15% of journals publish work immediately as open access. More than one-third of journals publish papers behind a paywall. This means free-to-read versions will be released online only after at least six months of its publishing. Also, less than half of these journals 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. Plan S, however, changes the publishing game as scientists wouldn’t be allowed to publish in these hybrid journals, except during a very short transition period.

Another striking clause of the Plan restricts researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including influential titles like Nature and Science.

The papers published under the agencies that have adhered to the plan would have a liberal publishing licence. This will allow anyone to download, translate or otherwise reuse the work.

According to Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe, which officially launched the policy, Paywalls hinder the scientific enterprise itself and are an obstacle to the uptake of research results by the public

The one thing that the plan doesn’t cover, and which is a topic that has stemmed out of the concerns of this release is this – how will scientists in poorer nations be able to afford to publish open-access work? This is one of the many thoughts that has led to a surge of sentiments from a number of research funding agencies around the globe.

Mixed Sentiments for Plan S

National research agencies in some of Europe’s leading scientific nations, such as Switzerland, Sweden and Germany, have not yet signed the plan.

Peter Strohschneider, president of Germany’s national research council, the DFG, says his council hasn’t signed because of the mandate the plan exercises on recipients of public funding to specific forms of open access. He is also apprehensive about the fact that publishing in open-access journals could increase costs of publishing.

Along the same lines, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a non-profit organization that publishes the journal Science, asserts that Plan S “will not support high-quality peer-review, research publication and dissemination”. And would “be a disservice to researchers” and “would also be unsustainable for the Science family of journals”.

John-Arne Rottingen, the head of Norway’s research council believes that this plan could result in the end of scientific publishing’s dominant subscription business model.

While many research agencies did not receive this plan well, there were many optimistic replies among the 11 agencies that have signed the plan. David Sweeney, who chairs Research England, believes that the plan is to set certain scientific principles and is not a statement about [publishing] models.

For Stan Gielen, president of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), Plan S is part of a bigger transition towards open science and a re-evaluation of how we measure science and the quality of scientists.

What’s in store for scientific Publishers and the general Public?

The intention of Plan S is to break the barriers and help the wider public gain insights to scientific research for free. However, the journals that are financed by charging per-article fees to authors or their funders or negotiating general open-publishing contracts with funders, will see a decline in their income. It may also lead to a decline in journal subscriptions. All-in-all, with these situations, the sun isn’t shining bright on the open source journal funding agencies.

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