Last week was Open Access Week. I think this passed with little, perhaps no, attention from within the Faculty which is a shame, since, as my blog Plan S and You of April 2019 highlighted, everyone in the Faculty is affected by Plan S.

The concept of Open Access publishing is robust, but several of the principles of Plan S are potentially harmful to individual researchers, the academic community and institutions. It is these legitimate concerns that have delayed the introduction of Plan S which was initially scheduled to come into force in January 2020.

One concern is the requirement for research funded by many agencies, including pretty much all the major funders in biomedical research in the UK, to be published in fully Gold Open Access journals. As I mentioned in my April blog, this precludes publication in many of the most respected journals in medicine. I have been told that one of the Faculty’s main funders has already informed researchers that they should not publish their funded work in certain named journals; it so happens that those journals are amongst the most favoured by some of our researchers.

One knock-on effect of this is the possibility of harm to our precious learned societies that earn significant income from scientific publishing, with that income being used for the benefit of members and the wider academic community. It is true that journals can evolve away from the traditional publishing model to become fully Gold Open Access, but the success of this evolution is not clear and certainly is not guaranteed.

Another aspect that seems to me to be not fully considered is the actual cost of going fully Gold Open Access. Although Plan S initially suggested that Article Processing Charges (the Open Access “fee”) would be capped, this now seems less likely to happen, which may mean that some of the more prestigious journals could set very high charges.

One of the principles of Plan S is that institutions have some liability to pay the charges; this could place a significant financial burden on the university. Earlier this year at a workshop on Open Access publishing in the US, I was told that a research-intensive university could expect to pay between four and ten times more in Article Processing Charges than they currently pay in library journal subscriptions.

The US researchers seemed unconcerned because they see Plan S as a European initiative, even referring to it as such. Fully Gold Open Access in general and Plan S do not sit well with the US capitalist view of publishing: although NIH does have an Open Access policy it seems not to be compliant with Plan S and many US researchers seem to think that Open Access publishing is of little relevance to them. NIH has not signed up to Plan S.

I think the many concerns around Plan S sit well with the theme of Open Access Week which was “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge”. In going headfirst into Plan S, we need to at least consider who might be disadvantaged or even excluded and what inequalities might result.
By the way, the “S” of Plan S stands for “Shock” ….. Make what you will of that.

“Open Access” by Professor Philip Calder

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