Plan S is about accelerating the process towards open results and cheaper scientific publications. The funding bodies behind the plan support ten principles. One of them is that hybrid publication is not allowed.

Time pressure with Plan S aimed at open access

Svenska 2018-10-17

Plan S is a European initiative, aimed at speeding up research results being openly accessible to all. According to the plan, all scientific results produced with the support of public funding bodies as from 2020 shall be published openly without delay. But the tight timeframe has been criticised.

The plan was presented at the beginning of September. It is backed by Science Europe, which is an organisation of European research funding bodies and research producers.

“For 40 years, we have moved towards open access without this leading to any change. Now we want to speed up the process towards open results and cheaper scientific publications,” says Stephan Kuster, Secretary General of Science Europé.

The initiative is supported by thirteen national research councils, among the the British, Dutch, Norwegian and Finnish research councils, and the Swedish research councils Formas and Forte. Behind these there are also organisations such as the European Research Council, ERC. According to Stephan Custer, funding bodies outside Europe will also join Plan S in the next few months.

Ten principles

Plan S is based on ten principles supported by the funding bodies behind the plan. One of the principles is that they do not allow publication in “hybrid journals”. These are journals funded by subscription, but where you can also pay for a particular article to be published openly. Among these are Nature and Science.

The main goal is for all research results to be published openly by 2020, with “open access”. Both the EU and governmental funding bodies, such as the Swedish Research Council and Formas, already have this requirement for research funded by them. But at the moment, publication may be delayed for up to six months.

“We support the initiative to speed up the transition to a system where the results of research are made accessible quicker, and can benefit society and other research,” says Ingrid Pettersson, Director General of Formas.

Too fast

Ingrid Pettersson can currently not state in concrete terms what exactly this will mean for the researchers funded by Formas.

“We are 13 funding bodies that work together and gradually develop rules for how to implement the principles. And we do not know how the publishers will react. By 2020, the system will not be the same as today,” she says.

The Swedish Research Council – which earlier, as part of its Government mandate, produced guidelines for how research results shall be made openly accessible in Sweden – will not sign Plan S. The main reason is the time plan. In the guidelines, they estimated that open access may be implemented in Sweden by 2025.

“We support the aims, but think that the time plan is too short,” says Sven Stafström, Director General.

The Swedish Research Council does not want hybrid publication to be an obstacle to receiving a grant.

“It is currently the most common way of publishing with open access. The Swedish Research Council’s interpretation is that if we sign Plan S, this means that researchers we support cannot publish in subscription-based journals, such as Nature. We must allow this during a transition period, which will last no longer than 2025. By then, the open publication models of the future will hopefully be generally established, and also associated with lower publication costs than is the case today,” says Sven Stafström.

Want to see Plan S 2.0

Plan S is based on researchers paying fees to have their articles published in open access journals.  The system is called APC (Article Processing Charge) and entails the publisher charging a fee to make an article openly accessible immediately on publication.

Jens Hjerling-Leffler, who is a researcher in molecular neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet, considers this to be the most troubling part.

“I cannot understand how people can believe that a financial model where the publisher gets paid for the number of articles instead of subscriptions is sustainable. The model does not drive quality. Instead, it risks lowering quality and reducing the credibility of research. And that is not good for society,” says Jens Hjerling-Leffler.

He does not think that funding bodies should sign Plan S in its current form.

“It is good that we force an important debate, but I hope that the plan is not approved in its current shape. I want to see Plan S 2.0.”

Many questions remain to be solved

Science Europe has received many comments on the plan. The comments have expressed both support and fears.

“We will look very closely at the comments. But we will not change the ten principles. On the other hand, we must think about how to implement them,” says Stephan Kuster.

He lists several questions that must be solved before 2020. While research results shall be presented so that they can be scrutinised, repeated and partaken of, there must be a strict peer review system to safeguard quality. The fees for publication or the amount of publications must not rise sharply. And the fact that results in social sciences and humanities are often published as monographs instead of in journals must also be managed.

“Another important question is how we can evaluate researchers in the future. Today, we look at how many articles they have published, and in what journals. We must not publish more, but publish better,” says Stephan Kuster.

Open access in Sweden

In Sweden, work is carried out in parallel intended to lead to all scientific publications becoming openly accessible. Since 2017, the National Library of Sweden has had a Government mandate to coordinate the work towards this. They will submit a final report at the beginning of next year, with concrete recommendations for how to do this.

“We relate to Plan S in our inquiry work. The plan is not about new issues, but about research funding bodies acting jointly. Open access is a major structural change, linked to digitisation. The research community is part of and affected by changes in society,” says Beate Eellend, Coordination Manager at the National Library of Sweden.

She notes that the initiative has managed to gather together many major research funding bodies.

“It is an important collection of strong actors who are participating. I think there is the potential to achieve major changes,” says Beate Eellend.

Text: Siv Engelmark