The Plan S conversation continues

Last week, the 10th Conference of the Open Access Publishing Association was held in Vienna (see the blog about the event). On the Tuesday afternoon Robert-Jan Smits spoke as part of a panel about Plan S [this link to a video of his talk was added 3 October 2018]. It was a calm measured discussion where he thanked many people who had worked with them to develop the plan. He noted that  things went ‘wild’ after releasing the plan, with over 70,000 tweets on the first day. The comments, he said, were mostly positive but there are some negative comments from publishers and some academics – which not surprising  because the plan is so robust. He also noted multiple positive comments from developing countries, thanking him “because they struggle to access research outputs”.

There were some suggestions that came from the floor. One was the need for transparency in pricing. Questions were asked about infrastructure and how the plan would support it. Smits noted “we need to look into this and decide what will we support to get this plan on the road and reach these targets”.

Stuart Taylor asked if there was a green option that would be compliant. Smits noted that he doesn’t discern between green and gold, he prefers to think about access and to that end, yes, publishing an AAM with zero embargo and CC-BY would comply.

Funders stepping up

Echoing other comments that had occurred throughout the conference, Smits noted that funding agencies have left open access negotiations to libraries, but the agencies are the ones that hold the key to the solution. This realisation is what led to the development of Plan S. While the funding agencies couldn’t push OA alone, Smits asked if they would be prepared to work together to move forward on open access.

Smits underlined that the principles are simple – “if you want to use the funds you are required to meet these rules”. He also emphasised that this “is not a menu”. If people sign up “they sign up to everything” to ensure a level playing field. The list of signatories may well increase, he noted, with discussions happening in Finland “and other countries”. He also mentioned charitable foundations and non-European organisations.

A question of timing

In terms of timing Smits gave three clear indicators. The first is to have a detailed implementation plan by the end of the year, including a “robust policy”. This will include information like the level of cap on APCs and other details. Smits noted that the cap exists initially to ensure there isn’t an explosion of costs, “and then let the market decide”. He suggested that the clever high quality journals will offer more value for money within cap. In terms of the cap amount, they are looking at how much it costs to create an article which will inform a “fair price”.

The second indicator about timing related to flipping journals. Smits mentioned that he has extended his invitation to the larger publishers (Elsevier, Wiley and Springer-Nature) to join the discussion about how to flip their journals. It was “not acceptable” for hybrid journals to become the new norm or business model so these arrangements need to be transformative and only for 3-4 years before flipping the journals.

The final timing indicator related to books, which were, according to Smits, a big point for discussions over formulation of the plan. They have agreed not to have a deadline for books as the compromise to funding agencies, noting that full OA monographs won’t be ready for 2020. Implementation plan will include language about how they see this happening, and while there is no specific date, the range of timing for OA books could be between 2022 – 2026.

Academic freedom?

Inevitably the question of academic freedom came up. Smits noted where to publish is about academic choice, not academic freedom. He said academic freedom is about researching what you want to pursue, not publishing where you want. If you take the academic freedom argument, he asked, what about wanting to stop people from publishing in predatory journals? Is that not also preventing academic freedom? Plan S pushes and encourages scholars to publish for access.

He also noted that academic freedom is the wrong argument in the debates we *should* be having. It is a way to stifle debate, and he noted the vested interests in scholarly publishing because it is so lucrative. In practice, currently many publication choices are not free anyway but are tied to impact factor. He said we should try to get rid of the “obsession with JIF”. Hiring on the basis of JIF is a “sad, sad, situation”, he argued, noting we need to adhere to the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and find better metrics. This calls for a transformation of culture, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

The conference discussions can be viewed at the Twitter hashtag #COASP10

Published 24 September 2018
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

6 thoughts on “The Plan S conversation continues

  1. Thanks Danny, always very helpful to get these summaries.

    Re: academic freedom vs choice. I have recently been listening to the very excellent podcast Revolutions ( discussing the revolutions of 1848. One of the points was that, at that time there was very strict censorship of publications and universities, especially in Germany and Austria. The choice of where to publish was very much an academic freedom as it allowed ideas to be expressed without censorship. This is the origin of the concept in Europe. I think Smits dismisses it a little too lightly.

    1. David – but it is not the funder who is restricting academic freedom. It’s the publisher! I can’t understand why some academics seem to blame the funder for this. All the funder is doing is requiring that the research they fund can be shared as widely as possible. This hardly seems unreasonable, does it? It is the PUBLISHER who is objecting and preventing the researcher from publishing in the journal of their choice.

  2. Stuart,

    I can understand that viewpoint, but from the researcher perspective this is only a problem because of the funder requirements. They feel they are being imposed upon, and in a way that has deep historical roots. Its a not a question of right or wrong, more a need to recognise that these concerns about “academic freedom” are not meant lightly.

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