Plan S Divides The Global Scientific Community: Part 3: Supporters Make Their Case For Support: An ATG Original

by | Feb 18, 2019 | 0 comments

Nancy Herther

by Nancy K. Herther
(This is Part 3 of a three part series. Please click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 2.)


Elliot Harmon, Plan S supporter and Activism Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes the scheme has important value. “The more publicly funded research is available to the public, the better. EFF thinks that the public ought to be able to read, use, and republish government-funded research–ideally as soon as it’s published. That’s why we generally favor open access mandates that require grantees to publish in open access journals, as opposed to ones that allow them to publish in closed journals and archive in repositories later.”

“There are certainly differences in the most strategic ways to get to that endpoint for different fields and different countries,” Harmon concedes. “It’s very important to ask questions about how to best build the kind of infrastructures that will support OA and make it most useful to the public. But it’s just as important to remember that funders’ policies play a huge role in moving the needle. As we’ve already seen – both with the 2013 White House open access memo and the more recent move among major foundations toward OA publishing requirements –  funders have the power to shift norms and effect positive change in publishers’ business models.”

Although Harmon concedes that OA access to articles isn’t enough. “Third-party tools will always be a part of the solution, and an open licensing requirement is essential to fully open that market to competition.”

Martin Paul Eve, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at the University of London sees this as a type of cultural change. “Plan S has been criticized extensively by some researchers in Europe and also by Learned Societies. The former, of course, derive symbolic capital from the current reputational system of publishing and the latter earn direct revenue, so both groups have an investment in the current mechanisms of publishing. One of the core criticisms, though, has been the speed at which Plan S moves. 2020 is the implementation date. I feel, though, that this is disingenuous. The alarms should have been sounding for journal publishers and societies for the last decade.”

“The challenge is that the US is a very decentralized system compared to the government-funding heavy mechanisms in Europe and elsewhere,” Eve points out. “Certainly, Plan S is the most seismic open access mandate that we have ever seen. Its magnitude is enormous, particularly if China joins, as it indicates it will. But US Federal funding covers only a small proportion of US research, unlike in Europe. So the question is: will the situation in Europe transform the environment enough such that US researchers, by default, find their venues converting to Plan S compliance?”

Marcel Swart, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies Research Professor, is the former Chair of Young Academy of Europe and working with EuroDoc and the Marie Curie Alumni Association, released a formal statement on Plan S which noting cautious approval of the plan with concern, calling “for more details on some key aspects of the plan, such as the amount and duration of the funding cap as well as the importance of self-archiving and publishing models with no author-facing fees. The plan should crucially not be implemented in isolation, but should occur simultaneously with the educating and training of researchers in Open Science, and the revision of the research reward system to include Open Science practices.” Swart tells ATG that “There is no question that Plan S will have a major impact on scientific publishing, especially since it will be fully integrated in the next European Framework Programme (HorizonEurope, 2021-2027). The inclusion of the Wellcome Trust in cOAlitionS with its more practical approach and focus on #OA papers instead of #OA journals has made the implementation of Plan S more realistic. For instance, hybrid journals that make up >95% of the relevant journals in 10 scientific disciplines for which I made this analysis, are no longer forbidden.”

“Instead, Swart suggest, “these journals can choose to flip to #OA (transformative agreement), or allow authors to publish immediately the author-accepted manuscript  when the journals accept their manuscript (self-archiving, repositories or through pre-print servers). Alternatively, the authors have to pay APCs for immediate #OA from own funds when publishing in hybrid journals. Without any doubt, Plan S will have a major impact on publishers and their financing models. In our statement we make it clear that Plan S should not prohibit researchers from publishing their papers, irrespective of their location, seniority, or funding situation. For this reason, the Dutch model whereby universities and university libraries negotiate package deals ( with publishers might be considered a blueprint for the future model of scientific publishing.”

John-Arne Rottingen, sharing appointments at Harvard and as Chief Executive of the Research Council of Norway, points out to ATG readers that the “more detailed draft Guidance for Implementation of Plan S that is now under open consultation, are in my view clarifying what has led to some of this misconception. cOAlition S will allow researchers to either publish in OA journals or deposit their papers for immediate access in open archives when they choose to publish in subscription journals.”

“Individual cOAlition S members will follow up the compliance of their grantees. Tracking how researchers adhere to Plan S will therefore differ in different settings. In Norway we have established a national system for registering all research publications and will therefore be able to follow this up in detail. cOAlition S funders will contribute to funding open access in subscription journals (hybrid route), if they are a part of Publish & Read agreements where the publishers commit to a transition to open access with a clear timeline.”

However Rottingen sees a strong continuing role for commercial outlets as well. “We want these commercial publishers to continue playing an important role in the scientific enterprise. However, they need to flip to open access business models where what is paid for is their publication services with coordination of peer review and editing. There are already many successful high quality open access journals run by both for profit and non-profit organizations “

As Norway’s Rottingen reflects, “there are leaders for open access in all regions of the world. Plan S has now been supported by stakeholders in both Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America and Africa. The federal US funders have been forerunners on requiring open access, in particular NIH that was the first national funder to adopt a clear policy on this. European funders are now going one step further in supporting a transition to a full open access publishing environment. I hope and believe that US funders and the OSTP will consider strengthening the US policies along similar lines.”

California Digital Library Associate Executive Director, Ivy Anderson, sees Plan S as a major milestone that sets the tone for the future of scholarly research publication. “The funders that have joined cOAlitionS are certainly planning to implement the policies they’ve set forth. I think their fundamental hope – and goal – is to accelerate the transition to open access by all of the major scholarly publishers (both commercial and non-profit). Whether they’ll succeed in changing the market in that way is a big question, certainly – right now the number of funders participating is fairly small, but some of them are important, so I imagine they’ll have a significant impact at least in certain fields. The recent Wiley-Projekt DEAL agreement is a good example of a major publisher deciding to move in this direction, and Plan S has certainly figured in their thinking. On the other hand, if transition doesn’t happen as quickly as they hope, they may wind up extending their timeline or modifying some of their requirements. So we just have to see what happens as we get closer to 2020.”

“Plan S isn’t a piece of legislation or a government policy that is subject to a vote,” Ivy Anderson continues, “it’s a voluntary set of guidelines that a group of funders have agreed to. The question is really about whether and how fast the number of participating funders might grow to achieve sufficient scale and impact. I don’t see US federal funders signing on to Plan S anytime soon, if ever – I think it would be perceived as interfering with the free market in a way that is antithetical to how our national government operates. But the Gates Foundation has signed on to it, and I know some other private funders are considering it. US federal funding policy does mandate green OA with allowable embargoes, and it also allows grant funds to be used for OA publication charges, so there are elements of US federal funding policy that are compatible with Plan S, even if they aren’t perfectly aligned.”

Bryan Callahan, Executive for Engagement at the Gates Foundation tells ATG that “we are in the process of formulating our guidelines for grantees in regard to Plan S, and we expect to have a detailed public statement available sometime in late Q1 or early Q2,” 2019. “In the interim,” Callahan suggests, “please let me direct you to the statement that we provided on the day we agreed to support the Plan S principles.”


Eduardo Franco hopes we all keep the dignity in the scientific research process. “I want to see OA progress but at the same time that we create models for career advancement that restore dignity in science and in a scientist’s career. Peer review must be protected at all costs and improved because the scientific community is not doing its proper share of civic duty. We need to imbue the next generation of scientists with the notion that serving as reviewer is an honor and an obligation. People should devote more time to provide constructive and insightful peer reviews. The quality of the science that the world produces is largely dependent on that.”

“We are in the honor system as scientists,” Franco reminds readers. “No journal asks for an author’s credentials when submitting a paper. There is no need to submit diplomas or certification that one is an expert on that topic. It is the intrinsic quality and value of the science that is embedded in the submitted paper that serves as substrate for the decision to publish. Unfortunately, with a few bad apples out there who lack integrity, augmented by the high visibility that such instances of lack of research integrity gain in social media, the public is losing confidence in the scientific pursuit.” Hopefully this is something that we can all agree with.

What might be a more successful path to true OA in the US? There have been significant developments, but nothing that would provide the type of cross-institutional/cross-disciplinary model that would be required for Plan S. “True. OA already exists in the US, and is enthusiastically adopted by some researchers—though in relatively small numbers,” Rick Anderson explains. “If by “true OA” you mean “universal OA,” I honestly don’t believe that such a path exists. Universal OA can’t exist without coercion—in other words, without taking away non-OA as a choice available to authors—and I just don’t see the US as fertile ground for that to take root.”

Ivy Anderson

“One underlying goal of Plan S is to create the incentives for existing journals to transition to OA (not just commercial journals, but also societies and university presses),” Ivy Anderson concludes. “Not necessarily to create a whole new infrastructure for scholarly communication. Transformative agreements (such as “publish and read”) are a mechanism to do that – if more institutions adopt those kinds of agreements, it will help to accelerate a transition to OA. And since many native OA journals have lower cost structures and are less costly to publish in than those of legacy publishers, if Plan S helps to direct more content into native OA journals and spur the development of new ones, that’s fine too! If a suitable OA journal isn’t available, then they’ve said that immediate green deposit in a compliant repository would satisfy the requirement.”

“There are already plenty of repositories that provide green OA now,” Ivy Anderson explains, “so that isn’t very different from the situation today (although it’s true that Plan S has set forth some pretty demanding policy and technical requirements). You’re right that Plan S also says that if there are no good routes to compliance, they’ll work with stakeholders to set up new repositories or platforms – but that isn’t terribly different from starting up a new journal – think of Open Library of the Humanities for example – and if platforms are listed in DOAJ and indexed by Google Scholar and eventually make their way into the major indexes, that wouldn’t be so different from what we have today either. If you read the technical requirements that Plan S has set forth, you’ll see that they have pretty high standards for what they expect from a compliant journal or platform.”

David Sweeney, chair of the Research England Council which provides leadership and oversight of Research England’s strategy and functions, is also the co-chair of  the Implementation Group for Plan S. “The timeline indicated in the Guidelines on Implementation provide time for transition and publishers are already producing new contracts which will deliver free and immediate open access over a transition period. The commercial sector is actively involved in feedback and discussion on the implementation guidance,” he tells ATG readers. “Indeed we have been criticized for being too close to the commercial sector. I see free and immediate open access becoming widespread, in Europe and beyond. My advice to the academic community to aim for free and immediate open access and engage with us and others to make that happen. In particular don’t assume that every other element of the system will remain the same. The publishers are visibly responding with new offers and new contracts will be signed.”


Jim O’Donnell, Arizona State University Librarian, believes there will still be, at the least, much more planning and discussion required before Plan S OA will be the standard, at least in the U.S. “The challenge with systemic change is managing all the variables at once and looking for unexpected effects. My question on observing the Plan S discussions is that there is ambivalence about possible cost reductions and I wonder whether there will be any effect on the quantity of publication supported by the new funding models. We haven’t quite had a pure market, but it’s been a market that responded to demand by publishing more articles and more journals – at increased systemic cost. Will the expectations of a new business model have the effect of constraining growth and thus publishing opportunity for individuals? I have not seen that discussed to my satisfaction.”

Rick Anderson predicts that “if it persists, Plan S will certainly succeed in making more scholarly content freely and immediately available for reading and reuse. But its stated goal is to ‘(accelerate) the transition to full and immediate Open Access to scientific publications’ on a global scale (to which end Plan S architect Robert-Jan Smits has been traveling around the world, trying to get other funders and governments on board). If your index of success is a universal transition to OA, then it’s difficult to see how Plan S can succeed, given how little luck Smits has had in getting other institutions to join the initiative and given what seems to be a pervasive desire among scholarly and scientific authors to retain their traditional rights of academic freedom.”

2019 is proving to be a most interesting year for research, OA, libraries and the academy. Can this top-down proposal created largely by and for European institutions succeed even in Europe? Will this effort be the “first chapter” in a new global effort to transform research methods and publication? Will commercial publishers be compelled to work out more lenient arrangements for opening access to research data? We can all expect to hear much more about Plan S and OA in the coming year. Stay tuned!


Nancy Herther is Sociology/Anthropology librarian at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus.


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