As I was savagely attacked on Twitter just recently by a troll who was accusing me to play double game in terms of supporting or rejecting Plan S (I spare you the invectives ad hominem), here is, with more space available, my nuanced point of view on this plan.
- Plan S is full of good intentions and certainly represents the boldest and most proactive official step forward in the Open Access (OA) saga to date. For the most part, the principles correspond to the wishes of all OA supporters. However, there are still serious concerns about its implementation within a very short time frame and about the partnerships that this entails, particularly because of the involvement of shark-editors who can be seen participating in the ongoing reflection…
- Plan S is supposed to be enforced in such a short time that there is little hope that most journals that do not require APCs (article processing charges) will move to the desired model. They will therefore be banned for the benefit of « unfair gold » publications.
- Plan S does not solve the problem of « predatory » or « parasitic » publishers. Rather, it would have the effect of encouraging them and it may even be profitable for them.
- It is highly unlikely that publishers who will be asked to concede more rights to authors (no embargo, licence, etc.) would agree to significantly reduce their APCs and even to avoid increasing them to counter the loss.
- Plan S does not take into account the differences in the way science is conducted in the various fields of research. Publication practices are highly variable and the plan finds its best justification in the material and life sciences, although less, if at all, in the human and social sciences. Particular attention must be paid to these pitfalls when implementing the plan.
- Plan S does not clarify the future of learned societies that live from subscriptions to their editions, and whose price is usually very reasonable and not worth a fight.
- Plan S applies to the various partners in scientific research in Europe but it runs the risk of placing European research at a disadvantage compared to research of other continents that do not adopt these new rules. Consultation is therefore essential beforehand, otherwise our researchers will rebel against any constraint that they may feel dangerous for their international positioning and such consultation, which will take time. This is all the more serious as it could mean excluding these European researchers from publications by international research teams….
- There is serious concern about principle number 5 of Plan S. Indeed, by considering the assumption of publication costs by funding agencies – an excellent initiative – the plan paves the way for a price increase as requested by shark-editors. It encourages publishers to switch to an open access formula where the author pays to publish and the author will be in favour of it as long as his/her funder covers the cost. A quick calculation shows that if a research laboratory of respectable size publishes about a hundred articles per year, and each article would cost between €2,000 and €5,000, based on the current norm for « big » publishers (who cannot afford any financial loss in the transition or afterwards), we are heading towards a cost of half a million euros for this laboratory alone. One therefore understand immediately that the system goes straight into the wall… While principle #6 provides some comfort by stating that costs will be capped and controlled, it is questionable how such control can be exercised. The future will tell us, but without a truly effective solution, the system will not be viable.
In conclusion, although we live in a world where, if you are not entirely in favor of something, you must be against it, I strongly support the concept of Plan S but with several important changes and clarifications.
This text is largely the translation of an extract from the book I am publishing on Open Science (in French, sorry, but the English version is in preparation) at the Editions de l’Académie Royale de Belgique and which will be released on December 10, 2018, both in print and as a free downloadable e-book. My deepest thanks to the Académie for understanding the value of OA to the point of granting a toll-free access to the downloadable version of the book.