Plan S entrenches elitism?

There has been a lot of kerfuffle in the world of Open Access to Scholarship around Plan S. I’ve written about it myself, generally pretty positively. However, I’m always ready to be argued with, and a recent post on the LSE’s impact blog has made me think about some of the unintended consequences of this particular model of moving to a world where everyone can share our collected knowledge and wisdom.

To oversimplify, Plan S encourages big institutions or academic blocs to settle with publishers one price to publish in their journals, and all of their work is Open Access. This is a kind of reverse subscription, where you pay to publish, not read.

The problem Jefferson Pooley raises is that it’s all and good, but it means that just as only rich institutions could afford subscriptions, only they will be able to publish in the prestigious journals. The effect of that is manyfold – limiting the careers of those in poorer places to be able to move to ‘better’ institutions, whatever the quality of their research, putting poor researchers’ work behind subscription paywalls, and therefore less accessible to their own colleagues and less read in general.

Is there an answer to this? Well, maybe. Preprint servers (arXiv, bioArXiv, &tc.) are free to ‘publish’ in, and their licencing regimens mean that the articles can be reused. Formal and informal networks then circulate the research, and it can be picked up (potentially in revised and edited form) but traditional journal titles.

I see this as the next step for OA – making articles and data available for free, and registering interest, as an essential first layer, available to everyone for free.

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