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Reaction to Plan S

Consultation receives more than 600 suggestions on how open-access strategy could be changed


Plan S, an EU initiative supported by funding agencies from 14 countries, states that from 2020 onward, the results of publicly funded research must be published in open-access scientific journals, freely available to all. The potentially transformative effect of the plan if it is widely adopted has led to a loud response from many areas of the scientific community. A public consultation on the initiative, which ended in early February, received more than 600 suggestions from universities, funding agencies, publishers, and scientists in more than 40 countries. “Never before have our diverse scholarly communities seen a debate on Open Access and the future of scholarly communications play out on such a global scale,” said David Sweeney, co-chair of cOAlition S, the international consortium behind the plan, in a statement.

The content of the recommendations was not published by the consortium, which will review them all shortly. However, a significant portion of them were made public by their authors. The Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) gathered more than 420 of the suggestions on its website. A forum on the social media website Reddit shared around 105 of them. The document from the Research Council of Norway (RCN) has 885 pages.

The challenge will be to seek points of convergence amid a diverse range of voices and interests. The comments generally reflected concerns about how publications will transition to a fully open-access model and suggested pushing back the date that the initiative comes into force. There were also calls to make journals published by scientific societies exempt due to the important role they play and how much they rely on subscription fees. The European Physical Society, for example, believes that forcing the transition to an exclusively open-access system could jeopardize the economic viability of such journals.

Fee limit
Several comments questioned whether it is feasible to control article publication charges (APCs). One of the principles of Plan S is to set a limit on these fees, which can range from US$1,500 to US$5,000 per paper. “It is important that this limit does not fall below the costs of reviewing and publishing in a quality journal,” said the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), based in Heidelberg, Germany.

The decision to ask for public feedback on the project was made in November after a strong reaction from publishers and scientists. In its original proposal, Plan S prohibits the publication of articles in hybrid journals, through which all papers are available to subscribers, but authors can pay an extra fee for the article to be made freely and openly available online—a practice seen by some as potentially abusive. Many researchers complained about potentially losing their freedom to publish in high-impact journals, most of which follow a hybrid model.

Major publishers, with the exception of Dutch publishing giant Elsevier, have also shared their thoughts on Plan S. American publisher Wiley says the plan would lead to the demise of most scientific journals due to its excessive restrictions, noting that there are already many options for open-access publishing. “Plan S does not advocate for any one specific model—just free and immediate access to research results,” Dutchman Robert-Jan Smits, senior advisor for open access at the European Commission, told Pesquisa FAPESP. “We believe the initiative will encourage the creation of new, high-quality open-access journals. This will happen over time,” says Smits. A new version of the Plan S implementation guide is expected to be published in the first half of 2019.