Plan S (as Wikipedia puts it: ‘not to be confused with S-plan‘) is an plan by the European Research Council and other European research funders to promote open access publishing. They say that key idea is:
After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.
What Plan S is doing right, in my opinion:
- Research funders have realised that they have weight they can throw around. They can force change on publishers by telling researchers what to and deciding what they will pay for and not pay for.
- They emphasise copyright and strong licensing (i.e. cc:by) that give readers the rights to use and reproduce.
- They want publishing costs to be covered by funders, and be capped to be somehow reasonable.
What Plan S is doing wrong, in my opinion, can be summarised by quoting their ninth principle:
The ‘hybrid’ model of publishing is not compliant with the above principles
First, let us talk terminology. ‘Gold’ open access is where the journal is exclusively open access. ‘Green’ is when the journal may not be open access normally, but allows you to put up an accessible copy of the paper somewhere else, for example your friendly institutional repository. These labels unhelpful. They aren’t natural mnemonics, and as you might expect, they are used inconsistently. More importantly, author-pays full open access is not some higher form of publishing, so I wouldn’t call it ‘gold’.
‘Hybrid’ publishing is when only some papers in a journal are open access. This would not be allowed under Plan S. This would prevent publishing in Science, Nature and Cell. Depending on your stance on publishing that may be upsetting or encouraging. Of course, it would also disqualify a set of society journals like Genetics, Heredity, and Evolution.
Why, one might ask? Is it important that open access publishing happens only in exclusively open access journals? I guess the idea is to prevent library-pays journals from getting paid twice by also charging authors for some papers.
I think that is confusing a means with an end. The goal should be to get the most accessible papers with the least amount of effort, and to push scientific publishing in a positive direction. I am not sure that monolithic author-pays publishers are all that much better than monolithic library-pays publishers, so why should we give them a particular advantage?
In my opinion, a better option would be along these lines: We should accept preprints as a form of cheap open access, make sure to format our preprints a bit nicer (I’ve sinned against this by uploading double-spaced manuscripts with the figures at the end), and pressure subscription journals to accept preprinting of the final text without delay. Maybe one could even get journals to accept the preprints to be distributed under permissive licenses. This may be a tall order, but maybe no less realistic than trying to dictate the size of the publishing fee.
We could have the best of both: scientific communities could keep publishing in those quality society journals that all of our colleagues read, and everyone would get free and convenient access to papers. The problem of unreasonable subscription fees will remain, and that needs other plans for joint library and university action. For those of us that have a bit of an iconoclastic streak, it would also leave the field open for new ideas in publishing, rather than prescribing certain journals with a particular business model.
I’m looking at a life unfold
Dreaming of the green and gold
Just like the ancient stone
Every sunrise I know
Those eyes you gave to me
That let me see
Where I come from
(Lianne La Havas)