Hundreds of scientists are pushing back against Plan S, a plan to crack down on scholarly journals’ paywalls, launched 2 months ago by 11 national research funders in Europe. In an open letter published on 5 November, about 800 signatories say they support open access (OA)—making papers available free to all readers online—but condemn Plan S as “too risky for science.”
The letter slams the plan’s decision to stop paying for researchers to publish in so-called “hybrid” journals of scientific societies such as the American Chemical Society. Hybrid publications earn revenue from both reader subscription fees and article processing charges (APCs) paid by authors who want to make their papers immediately accessible. “Effectively Plan S would block access to exactly those journals that work with a valuable and rigorous peer-review system of high quality,” the letter says.
Robert-Jan Smits, OA envoy for the European Commission in Brussels and one of the architects of Plan S, says he has “enormous respect” for the work of learned societies, but no tolerance for some journals’ “sometimes outrageous” subscription fees. Hybrid journals were meant as a step to help subscription journals move toward full OA, he says, but they have endured as profitmaking ventures that rely on public funding, without a clear exit in sight.
Plan S stipulates that funders will pick up the bill for APCs, which the letter signers see as a gift to publications that charge authors, instead of readers. (Some OA journals are free for both readers and authors.) Lynn Kamerlin, a structural biologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, who penned the open letter, says this move will provide an incentive for journals to publish a high volume of papers, rather than fewer, higher-quality articles.
In the 2 months since its release, Plan S has sparked heated debate, in part because its 10 principles are very brief statements that leave room for interpretation. Smits says the implementation plan, set to be announced at the end of the month, will flesh out the details and be open for public consultation. “We won’t step away from our goal of full, immediate OA,” he says, “but we can discuss how to get there.”
But Kamerlin says the Plan S definition of OA is too narrow. She hopes that instead of joining Plan S, funding agencies will “come up with strong models that respect authors’ choices and the full diversity of open access.”
The Swiss National Science Foundation, for one, did not sign Plan S, although it has publicly stated its support. Unlike Plan S, the foundation’s OA policy allows its researchers to publish in a subscription journal first, and later make papers available in an OA repository.
The open letter also warns that Plan S would endanger collaborations between grantees of funding bodies that apply Plan S rules and the rest of the scientific world, which can often publish papers in journals that have a paywall.
Currently, 13 government agencies and charitable organizations have signed on to Plan S. This includes France’s National Research Agency and UK Research and Innovation, as well as the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, these funders spend about $11.2 billion on research every year.