Plan S. Because we need a plan.

Recently I’ve been feeling uninspired about Open Access.  We have the same discussions, preach to the converted, and there was a sense that perhaps things had plateaued.

And then came Plan S.

At its heart, Plan S is a set of principles that address the problems that plague the current scholarly publishing environment, including OA.    I’ll let you open the link above in another browser, and here is my interpretation of the principles.

The Key Principal.
After 1 January 2020, research paid for by public bodies has to be Open Access.   The mandatory nature of this is palpable.  No ‘best efforts’.  No ‘expected to’.  the words in the plan are “must be published [OA]”.

Nice, but we know that this full of thorns – regular readers will know that troubles with OA have been the main source material for this blog for some time.  The plan deftly deals with them, in the same direct way in a number of secondary principles that flow from the first.

Authors retain copyright.  If copyright isn’t transferred to a publisher, then the publishers need to do much more than just hold content hostage.  The preference is for CC-BY, but the minimum license is that it meets the aspirations of the Berlin Declaration. That is to say, the work is free to read, shareable and make derivative works from, as well as archived in a free and open way.

Funders ensure quality. Funding for OA has to come from somewhere, right?  This means that those who pay for the platforms that publish material are responsible for working out what quality means.  This used to be the job of scholarly societies – they worked out what made the grade.  Now its the job of those who pay for the research to say what is an acceptable platform to publish from.  Which leads to…

If there is no place to publish OA for you, then build it.  Funders should help communities develop that can provide OA infrastructure.

OA should be paid for centrally. Currently the way OA is paid for is either by journals not charging (because they are funded by universities or governments) or by researchers themselves.  The latter case is a classic divide and conquer strategy that has been working well for publishers who want to avoid the bargaining and negotiation they have had to suffer when libraries became the only consumer of journal subscriptions.   Some might argue that libraries have not done nearly enough to harry publishers – but libraries are in an invidious position here.   They have tried to get as much for as little as possible, but as the publishers have had a monopoly on information, power has not been on the librarians’ side.   By paying for OA publishing centrally it creates communities of interest looking for efficient and sophisticated publishing mechanisms.  In fact, innovation has been stifled so badly in scholarly publishing people still use PDFs.  Alternative and more appropriate ways to share data and information will blossom (see .dat, stenci.la and others)

Fees should be standard.  As a consequence of having centrally provided OA infrastructure, there should be transparent business models for the costs involved.

Funders will get universities in line.  Libraries and research organisations have a lot to do, and are often overly influenced by a few loud mouths for whom the status quo has worked Very Well, Thank You Very Much.  Getting progressive and modern policies past them has proven difficult.  Plan S says those holding the purse strings should decide who gets the results of their funding, not those with the highest H index, and will call for universities to sort out their regulations and policies.

Books are harder than articles. It’s going to take a bit longer to sort out monographs.

Green OA has a place.  Institutional and subject repositories are more than just websites.  They also have carefully curated preservation policies, and hold more diverse types of material than traditional scholarly publishing has.   They also provide a place to publish first, review later, a model that can only take root with progressive licencing.

Hybrid is crap. We knew this.

Funders will police their contracts. Weakly enforced policies are pointless.  The Wellcome trust has pioneered enforcing OA compliance, holding back 10% of grants until the final publications are made, and seen to meet their criteria.

I’m trying to see the downsides to the Plan S principles.  The author at the usual spot for anti-OA rhetoric, the Scholarly Kitchen, read the principles so poorly that their arguments were shredded in the first comments – in particular, the necessity of centralizing OA publishing funding was missed entirely.  Their only other response has been  that it will have ‘unintended consequences’.  Well, yeah.

I think streamlining the income stream for OA from funders,  through publishing infrastructure that scales, and encouraging new forms of assessment, review and impact for a wider range of material must be a progressive way forward.  I’m now excited about the possibilities for OA again!

Addendum.

Half an hour later…

The memorandum that comes as a preamble to the Plan S principles has a statement:

…research funders will mandate that access
to research publications that are generated through
research grants that they allocate, must be fully and
immediately open and cannot be monetised in any way.

I hope they don’t mean layer journals won’t be able to ask for a subscription.  I have a bit of a business model that relies on re-publishing OA articles in a journal – something like the Idealis, my best source of research outputs for my profession.  Likewise the Discrete Analysis arXiv overlay journal  does something similar.  I’d pay for an editorial team to sift through the vast amount of material coming out in librarianship, and provide it for me, with a bit of analysis, much like I’d pay for the New Scientist.  So, I’m against not being able to use research outputs for  any commercial purpose.

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