I wrote here about a European plan to mandate open-access scientific publication – one whose sweep many found startling when it was proposed. And some of the ones who were startled were researchers themselves, it seems – here’s an open letter opposing the plan as written. Chemists seem to be among those leading the charge, because as written, “Plan S” would probably take away the greatest number of well-regarded publishing venues from that field. The letter starts off with just that point:
The complete ban on hybrid (society) journals of high quality is a big problem, especially for chemistry. Apart from the fact that we won’t be allowed to publish in these journals anymore, the direct effect of Plan S and the way in which some national funding agencies and academic/research institutions seem to want to manage costs may eventually even lead to a situation where we won’t even be able to legally read the most important (society) journals of for example the ACS, RSC and ChemPubSoc anymore. Note that in their announcement of Plan S, the Dutch funding organisation NWO (for example) wrote that they expect to cover the high article processing charges (APCs) associated with the desired Gold OA publishing model from money freed by disappearing or stopped subscriptions to existing journals. As such, Plan S may (eventually) forbid scientists access to (and publishing in) >85% of the existing and highly valued (society) journals! So effectively Plan S would block access to exactly those journals that work with a valuable and rigorous peer-review system of high quality. As a second note on this aspect: In the Netherlands, already for more than 6 months, researchers don’t have legal access to most RSC journals. Fully banning even more society journals is completely unacceptable and unworkable.
I hadn’t realized the “we’ll pay for it by dropping non-OA journals” aspect of this (nor was I aware of the RSC-Netherlands dispute). This is indeed a big potential problem, but there are more. As the letter goes on to say, researchers in the US, China, Japan, etc. will continue to publish in the various other journals that fall short of Plan S standards (which includes the great majority of the most widely read and well-respected ones out there, given the proposed ban on “hybrid” OA models). Joint publications will become much more difficult, as will attracting post-docs and new faculty members, as long as publishing in these journals is considered a good thing for one’s career. Meanwhile, scientists in Plan S countries will probably still be asked to referee papers from journals they can’t even publish in.
The argument is also made that the problems above are in fact a violation of academic freedom – although the funding agencies that have proposed the plan in the first place might be in more of a “He who pays the piper calls the tune” mood about that. At any rate, here’s how the letter ends up:
We call on both funding agencies who are already part of cOAlition S and those who have not (yet?) signed up, to take into account the full landscape of ways that papers can be made Open Access, and not just the very narrow definition provided by Plan S (including the hybrid ban, and the fact that peer reviewed pre-prints such as allowed by the ACS are currently not an obvious compliant solution). In addition, we demand that cOAlition S signatories take responsibility for the implications and risks Plan S may have for the European research landscape, and to therefore take every possible action in the implementation stage to prevent these potential and unintended consequences.
As far as I know, there have been no big public moves by the scientific societies and publishers (often the same people, true) regarding Plan S, so it looks like the first one is now from the scientists themselves, at least some of them – and they’re not overjoyed. One wonders if the plan itself was deliberately written so as to provoke reactions and shake everyone up (if so, it’s probably succeeded). And if there will be a new fallback position now that the points have been made, with some allowance for reviewed preprints, some sort of hybrid publishing, etc. For what it’s worth, I’d probably prefer some solution in that range. Or perhaps the people signing this open letter (and those who agree with them) will in the end get the European equivalent of “Gosh, maybe y’all need to pick some new favorite journals and deal with it”. After all, they’re already saying something similar to the publishers themselves, namely “It’s your problem to come up with journals that we’ll accept”. More popcorn.