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By Leah Poffenberger
In September, Science Europe, an association of funders, announced the formation of cOAlition S and its Plan S (Plan S website), a 10-point program aimed at expediting a global transition away from subscription-based scientific publishing.
Spearheaded by Robert-Jan Smits, the Open Access (OA) Envoy of the European Commission, the initiative would require grantees to publish exclusively in journals that make all of their articles OA immediately upon publication. The requirement for full OA publishing would go into effect in 2020. To date, thirteen European funding agencies have expressed various levels of support for Plan S.
Amid favorable response to the proposal by some OA advocates, there is a growing backlash among researchers to the Plan S requirements. More than 1,400 scientists have signed an open letter stating that the plan goes “too far” and is “too risky” (Reaction of Researchers to Plan S). According to the letter organizers, the “views of researchers who will be directly affected by Plan S do not seem to have been solicited during its creation.”
The original Plan S did not allow publishing in so-called “hybrid” journals—subscription journals that offer an option to have individual papers published OA upon payment of an article processing charge (APC). In response to ongoing comment and criticism, cOAlition S issued more detailed implementation guidelines on November 27 (Implementation & Feedback).
The new guidelines allow cOAlition S-funded papers to be published in hybrid journals that commit by the end of 2021 to transform to full OA by 2023. In addition, authors may comply with Plan S by immediately making available the final published version (the “Version of Record”) or the final version, accepted by the journal, that includes any changes made after peer-review (the “Author’s Accepted Manuscript”) in an OA repository under a Creative Commons CC BY license. However, this option is not commonly available for articles published under a subscription model (including those published in APS journals) and it remains to be seen how publishers respond.
For now, Plan S is largely considered aspirational and is limited for the most part to a subset of funding agencies in Europe, but journal publishers are already assessing likely impact of its aims.
“Many people who heard about this plan may have been perturbed, but those of us in publishing, and especially open access publishing, have seen increasing pressure from funders to move away from the hybrid open access model for some time,” says Matthew Salter, APS Publisher. “The announcement of Plan S is bold, but not surprising.”
APS Editor in Chief Michael Thoennessen adds that “APS has long been a proponent of OA publishing that is financially sustainable and does not compromise the high standards of quality and peer-review of the APS journals,” referring to a commitment in the official APS statement on OA issued in 2009 (09.2 Statement on Open Access). Salter and Thoennessen wrote about the impact of open access on the integrity of science earlier this year (See APS News, February 2018, Special Commentary).
Currently, three of the 12 APS primary research journals—Physical Review X, Physical Review Accelerators and Beams, and Physical Review Physics Education Research—are published fully OA. The other APS journals are published under the hybrid model.
Under the stringent requirements imposed by Plan S, researchers funded by cOAlition S members who choose to publish in the Physical Review journals would currently only be allowed to do so in three fully OA APS titles. The original Plan S requirement to publish only in fully OA journals puts most APS Journals, including Physical Review Letters, off-limits, along with other prestigious journals such as Science and Nature, and some commentators have estimated that under Plan S, researchers would be banned from publishing in about 85 percent of existing journals.
“The restriction to publish only in fully OA journals brings up critical questions around author freedom and choice, and could have a profound effect on the way researchers collaborate across international boundaries” says Salter. These questions, as well as likely impacts on mission-driven scientific societies such as APS, were among those raised by Salter, Thoennessen, and APS Chief Government Affairs Officer Francis Slakey, when they met with Smits in Washington DC at the beginning of October.
Financial considerations are also at the heart of Plan S. OA journals flip the traditional journal model, placing the responsibility of meeting publishing costs, such as editing and management of peer review, on article authors through payment of APCs. These costs have traditionally been borne by library and institutional subscribers.
Another key aspect of Plan S is the introduction of a maximum APC. According to Salter, although cOAlition S is yet to spell out the level of the cap, APS already offers very competitive APCs and it is likely that these would fall within the limits being considered by the authors of Plan S. The November guidelines did not offer much greater detail although Plan S signatories have indicated that they will commission studies of APC levels and the academic publishing landscape to assess which disciplines require more OA publishing options. Subsequent initiatives to provide financial incentives to create new OA journals or flip existing ones to OA are also being considered.
Given that many of the details of the plan have not yet been released and, so far, many large funders have not joined the coalition, Plan S is still a moving target. With this in mind, Salter counsels against a precipitate response and pledged that APS would pursue a journal program focused on offering the best publishing choices to authors in the community. “As part of our strategy to develop further the APS journals we have been actively considering how to expand choice of fully OA publishing venues for some time,” says Salter. “We want all authors, including those who prefer to publish OA, those who are mandated to do so, and those who collaborate with colleagues or co-authors wanting or needing an OA publishing model, to find suitable options within the APS journals portfolio.”
Editor's note (December 12, 2018): The text has been corrected to accurately reflect the involvement of a non-European funding body (the Gates Foundation) in Plan S. In addition, after the article went to press, China announced support for Plan S.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik