Sunday, November 18, 2018

The OA Interviews: Arul George Scaria

One common criticism of the open access and open science movements is that they tend to take a standardised view of science and scholarship, and so propose one-size-fits-all approaches when advocating for ways of making research and the research process more open and transparent. This often poses significant challenges for, for instance, researchers in non-STEM disciplines. It is also often deeply problematic for those based in the global South. 

This is one of the reasons why open access has become a source of considerable conflict and divisiveness, particularly as more and more researchers find themselves subjected to increasingly demanding and standardised OA mandates.

For instance, while many scientists (but by no means all) may be willing to make their work available with a CC BY licence attached, those working in arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) subjects often object strongly when told they must do so – usually for good reasons.

Likewise, the increasing move to pay-to-publish gold OA poses serious problems for those without access to the necessary funds to pay the associated publishing costs. With growing calls for a global flip of all subscription journals to a pay-to-publish model, this is now a very real issue. 

Again, it is those working in AHSS and the global South who are particularly challenged by this development. In addition, it presents those journals published by learned societies with an existential threat.

Global process

It is also important to bear in mind that scholarly communication is a global process and endeavour. As such, changes introduced in the global North tend to have implications for those in the South as well, often with harmful consequences.

This is the possible outcome, for instance, of the current European initiative dubbed Plan S. If it triggered a global flip to pay-to-publish (which currently seems very possible) Plan S would disenfranchise researchers based in the global South in a more fundamental way than the current subscription system does.

(For a more detailed exposition of the concerns researchers have over Plan S see this open letter, which has attracted the signature of over 1,300 researchers so far).

It is important, therefore, that advocates for greater openness do not assume the world of science and scholarship to be uniform when advocating for change, and that those implementing open policies consider carefully disciplinary differences, local needs, local conditions and local practices before seeking to force change on the research community.

In short, governments and funders need to understand both the global forces at play and local conditions prior to introducing new open policies and initiatives.

It is therefore to be welcomed that the Centre for Innovation, Intellectual Property and Competition (CIIPC) in New Delhi has conducted a landscape survey of the current situation in India as concerns open science (although due to feasibility concerns, the sample was restricted to a limited number of disciplines and institutions: Economics, Law, Mechanical Engineering, Medicine, and Physics were).

The study’s principal investigator was Arul George Scaria, Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director at CIIPC, and he is currently working on a report based on the survey (available in draft form here).

In the interview with me below Arul George Scaria explains what the survey discovered and what recommendations the report will make as a result. He also answers some additional questions I put to him.

Here are a few quotes from the interview, but please read the full interview to get the complete picture. Those interested in the matter will clearly want to read the report too:

-        “The overall scenario with regard to open science practices in India is not that promising and we need to take a lot more steps to make science open.”

-        “Some of the most experienced scientists and policymakers in India maintain strongly that there is no crisis in science in India, despite clear evidence of the magnitude of the problem. Some of them might be taking that position because they think that accepting the existence of the crisis is harmful to the image of science in India.”

-        “It may not be advisable or possible to transplant the approaches being adopted for open science in the global North to a country like India, where access conditions and socio-economic situations are vastly different.”

-        “In the context of global South, it is also important to focus on creating offline resources and some of the specific suggestions put forward in the report include more focus on print media, community radio stations, and creation of shared physical infrastructures.”

-        “We need to ensure that initiatives like Plan S do not incentivise a complete shift to the pay-to-publish gold open access model. This would certainly be detrimental to researchers in the global South, as it would mean that most would be unable to share their research due to the exorbitant charges imposed by publishers.”

-        “Predatory publishing is an important challenge that needs to be addressed in India.”

-        “What we are witnessing today is the capture of shared community resources by a handful of cash-rich conglomerates who want to monopolise every aspect of science communication. We as a community need to fight back against the monopolisation of our resources. As most researchers still appear to be unaware of the long-term consequences of such monopolisation, extensive campaigns are needed in order to create awareness among researchers.”

Monday, November 12, 2018

Plan S and Researchers’ Rights: (Re)Framing Academic Freedom

When in 1915 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was formed, and published its Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, it was responding to a specific historical situation.

Today the historical situation researchers find themselves in is different and academic freedom faces new challenges. What complicates the picture is that there is considerable disagreement over what exactly academic freedom is, and what aspects of academic life it covers.

This lack of consensus has become all too apparent in the current discussions about Plan S. Indeed, some of those who support Plan S maintain that academic freedom is no longer relevant, or has ceased to exist in any meaningful way.

The key principle of Plan S – which a growing number of funders are signing up to – is that “After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

Most (if not all) researchers would surely agree that this is a laudable goal. But for some (we don’t know how many) the way in which it is currently envisaged that Plan S will be implemented raises a red flag with regard to academic freedom. It does not help that those who devised the initiative dismiss these concerns out of hand. The main architect of Plan S –  Robert-Jan Smits – has even bemoaned the fact that people are citing academic freedom in the context of Plan S, “because it stifles a lot of debate.”

Be that as it may, it is clear that some researchers believe Plan S does have implications for academic freedom. And a growing number of them (currently approaching 1,000) are signing a petition that asserts, amongst other things, that Plan S “is a serious violation of academic freedom”.

Given the apparent disenchantment with Plan S amongst at least some in the research community, and given that researchers find themselves increasingly subjected to ever more demanding OA policies like it (in which new duties, new restrictions and limitations, and new responsibilities are imposed on them), it is surely time to look again at what academic freedom does and does not mean, and what it should and should not mean in today’s context, and try to redefine and/or refine it for today’s historical situation; or at least to, as Marc Couture puts it in his guest post below, seek to “reframe” it?

What seems clear to me is that there is a pressing need for a debate about the relevance, role and responsibilities of academic freedom in the context of the growing list of open access policies, with a view to arriving at some kind of consensus.

What also seems clear to me is that this discussion ought to take place amongst researchers before funders seek to impose radical initiatives like Plan S on them. After all, if academic freedom means anything, it surely means that it is researchers and their institutions who should be in the driving seat over this, not funders.

But why not read what Marc Couture has to say below and think about the questions he asks before reaching your own conclusion on these matters. It may well be that Marc’s views on whether and how Plan S has implications for academic freedom are different to mine. But I am not a member of the research community, so my views are not what counts here. What I think does count is what the majority of researchers think. And without a meaningful debate, we will never know that.

Plan S and Researchers’ Rights: (Re)Framing Academic Freedom

By Marc Couture
The announcement of Plan S has generated many much needed (and much heated) discussions. I’m pleased to observe that these don’t concern the relevance of open access, whose wide-ranging benefits now seem to be almost universally acknowledged, but only potentially negative side-effects of the massive, if not global, shift to open access that the plan hopes to bring about.

Though many aspects of the plan are somewhat unclear, and most details of its implementation are still being drafted, what we do know already raises various worries. One is a possible conflict with academic freedom.

Two requirements of the plan are specifically targeted: (1) publication only in compliant journals (full OA, no hybrid) and (2) dissemination under a licence compliant with the Berlin OA definition, which would require authors to accept ceding generous usage rights in their works to others.

I must say first that I firmly believe that academic freedom is important; it is at the very heart of higher education. Drawing from the numerous available definitions, I would formulate its basic, most general definition as follows:

Academic freedom (AF) is the right, for individual academics as well as their institutions, to decide by themselves the subjects and ideas they wish to investigate, disseminate or teach upon without fear of reprisal or censorship, with the ultimate purpose of benefitting both scholarship and the common good.

Some definitions of AF include further rights, for instance the right – individually or as a community – to decide not only what is investigated, disseminated or taught, but how it is done.

Others add more specific freedoms, the most relevant in relation to Plan S being the freedom to choose the publication venue for one’s research results. One also remarks that the language used in some definitions can be very strong, qualifying such freedoms as “full”, “complete” or “without constraints”.

A quid pro quo

It must be pointed out that AF is neither an absolute, divine-like right, nor a “blank check” granted to researchers. It’s rather a privilege, bestowed to academia by society. Moreover, a quid pro quo is at work here.

On the one hand, society acknowledges that scholarship is the most powerful and trustworthy way to explain the world and solve its problems, as long as it is protected from ideological, political and economic vested interests.

On the other hand, scholars, both individually and collectively, must act in a responsible way, by living up to the values underpinning scholarship (rationality, critical thinking, honesty and respect in debates) and the common good (equity, inclusivity, human dignity).

So far, the discussions on actual or potential conflicts between Plan S and AF have involved specific freedoms found in one or another definition, with participants arguing that:

(1) This or that requirement of Plan S does (or doesn’t) concern, or conflict with, AF

(2) This or that measure proposed in Plan S may concern or conflict with AF, but other things as problematic, if not more, have been going on for years in academia without anybody complaining

(3) (Generally, in response to #1 or #2) this or that definition of AF is unclear, outdated or irrelevant, and must be dismissed, or interpreted in this or that way

My stance is that while more freedom is a priori preferable in the academy, the exercise of rights included in AF, especially the more specific ones found in its various definitions, may or may not contribute, in a given situation or context, to AF’s ultimate purpose of benefitting scholarship and/or the common good. In fact, it could even do the exact opposite, or entail both benefits and harms.

Thus, when a measure or a policy seems to conflict with those rights, one should not simply brandish AF as a “trump card” as an argument to counter it, but see this conflict as a warning, inviting one to examine to what extent the exercise of AF, in the situation at hand, effectively benefits – or hinders – scholarship and the common good.

Let me illustrate this approach by looking at the two issues I mentioned in relation to Plan S where the topic of AF has been brought forth.

(1) Constraints on publishing venues

Plan S puts severe constraints on the venues where research results may be published. This will reduce the choices available to researchers. However, to what extent it will do so is currently hard to assess, as it depends on publishers’ response to Plan S.

Here, any conflict with AF would be of utmost concern, since the right to disseminate one’s results is viewed as part of the basic definition of AF. One such conflict I could foresee in this context is if, when Plan S is finally implemented, researchers choosing marginal or unpopular, yet legitimate, topics or methods found they were unable to publish their results in peer-reviewed scholarly journals altogether, because not one, or too few of those complying with Plan S would consider, let alone accept, their papers.

However, I haven’t seen any mention of such a dire scenario in the discussions about Plan S; considering the ever-increasing number of OA journals in all fields, this is understandable. Rather, the major complaint is that Plan S will impede researchers from publishing in very specific journals, meaning highly selective, high impact ones.

This is viewed as conflicting with AF, on the grounds that definitions of AF either imply researchers must be the only ones to have a say in the way research is done (this may or may not include publication), or with reference to more specific freedoms, like “full freedom in publication” or the right to choose the publishing venue.

It is thus not surprising that critics have invoked specific rights associated to AF to oppose measures that could either (1) hurt leading, generally (for the time being) non-compliant journals or (2) impede researchers from publishing in them.

However, researchers wouldn’t lose the possibility of disseminating their results. Most papers submitted to these highly selective journals are rejected not for being faulty, but because they are deemed unimportant, not original enough, or unfit for the venue.

Nevertheless, most of them are subsequently published in other journals, often journals that focus less on criteria like relevance and potential impact and more on the general quality of the paper and the soundness of reasoning and analysis.

What those researchers who succeed in having their papers published in prestigious journals really fear is losing the ability to benefit, career-wise, from the so-called “prestige economy”, where journals are evaluated and ranked according to qualitative (perceived prestige) and, increasingly, quantitative criteria (rejection rates, impact factors), and where individual researchers are judged by their peers in large part on the number of papers and the journals in which the papers appeared.

But there are strong reasons to believe, and mounting evidence to that effect, that this prestige-based evaluation system, as deeply ingrained in academia as it may be, is deeply flawed on many accounts.

In addition, the “publishing oligopoly” of large publishers has skillfully used it to increase its stranglehold on scholarly publication and to justify its skyrocketing costs.

One can even argue that the current system conflicts with the freedom of choice in research included in AF’s basic definition. After all, giving prominence to the number of papers and restricting journals that really “count” towards evaluation to leading, high impact ones may in practice make researchers, if they hope to remain in academia, avoid research topics or methods that take too much time to produce results, or that won’t be considered by these highly selective journals.

Here we face a peculiar situation where, in the very name of AF, the research community hesitates to let go of, or significantly reform, a system that is far from optimal and that, quite paradoxically, may well limit the AF of individual researchers.

The Preamble of Plan S alludes to this prestige economy, by speaking of a “misdirected reward system” and by endorsing the DORA Declaration, which proposes that researchers are judged upon the quality and impact of their research, both multi-faceted notions not reducible to numbers and journal names. And while its principles don’t refer explicitly to this system, Plan S has certainly the potential to disturb, or even disrupt it, again to an extent difficult to assess.

Thus, one has to put into balance two consequences of the drastic change Plan S hopes to achieve.

On the one side, there could be drawbacks for some researchers, though one can think that under a new evaluation paradigm, many if not most of them would still see their valuable work recognized.

The importance of high-impact journals, possibly imperilled by Plan S, for assessing the quality of scholarship has also been highlighted, although studies (like this one) draw a more nuanced picture of the efficiency of the gatekeeping they provide.

On the other side, there are potential benefits to scholarship, in terms of efficiency (e.g., the overall burden of peer-review being reduced, publication delays shortened), and to society (e.g. fewer public funds diverted towards publishers’ revenues and profits, universal access to research results).

(2) The requirement to publish with a liberal licence

Plan S also requires that the main research results are disseminated under a licence with minimal restrictions (CC BY or similar). Since deciding the way in which one’s works are used may be part of “full freedom in publication”, this requirement may also be viewed as conflicting with AF.

True, some researchers don’t like to see their works used by others to “make money”; many are also reluctant to let others adapt them, fearing that this may endanger both the quality of scholarship and the author’s own reputation.

Again, we might wonder to what extent allowing researchers to decide how their works are used (this includes, ironically, letting publishers become the ones to decide) is beneficial to scholarship and society.

What contributes more to AF’s ultimate purpose: protecting works against uses researchers dislike or fear, or allowing those works to be easily used and adapted?

There are numerous studies and discussions on this topic, covering issues like fear vs actual risk, the fuzziness of the various usage restrictions, and their effects on potential users, that could feed the discussion (see for instance here, here and here).

In short, what I propose here is to reframe the role that academic freedom plays in discussions about the proposals put forth in Plan S, by assessing both their potential consequences on scholarship and the common good as well as the nature of their actual or potential conflict with AF, keeping in mind that the raison d’être of AF is, after all, to benefit scholarship and the common good.

While this leaves much room for interpretation and discussion, notably how we define quality in scholarship and what constitutes the common good, I believe it would help answer questions like: Is Plan S a sound, or reasonable proposal? How can it be improved and implemented in order to reach its stated goal, that is flipping to OA a sizable part of scholarly communication, while bringing benefits to both scholarship and society?

These are crucial issues, and I see a real danger that a strict, almost dogmatic stance on AF could cause Plan S to fall short of its potential to pave the way towards a less costly, yet more fair, full-OA scholarly publication system.

The author thanks Marie-Josée Legault and Richard Poynder for their helpful comments.


Marc Couture was until recently science professor at TELUQ, University of Quebec distance education arm. He views himself as a generalist, having over his 30-year career had his areas of interest and activity evolve from physics (his PhD was in optics and lasers) to the application of IT in science education, to intellectual property in academia and, above all, open access, for which he remains a dedicated and shameless advocate.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

“It is for publishers to provide Plan S-compliant routes to publication in their journals.”

An interview with Robert-Jan Smits, with preface

Robert-Jan Smits
On 4th September, Robert-Jan Smits, the Open Access Envoy of the European Commission, and Marc Schiltz, the President of Science Europe, announced Plan S, a radical new initiative designed to ensure that by 2020 all research papers arising from funding provided by 11 (now 13) European funders are made open access immediately on publication.

The plan is based on 10 clear principles but short on detail as to how those principles will be implemented. If successful, however, Plan S could have a dramatic impact on both publishers and researchers. For instance, reported Nature, as written the 10 principles could see European researchers barred from publishing in 85% of journals, including influential titles such as Nature and Science.

The ‘S’ in Plan S can stand for ‘science, speed, solution, shock’, Smits told Nature. Shock would certainly seem to be an appropriate word, and shock was surely what publishers felt when Plan S was announced. After all, they have successfully managed to delay and subvert open access for some 25 years now. They perhaps assumed they could continue doing so. But if successful, Plan S could bring this dilly-dallying to a dramatic end. Alternatively, Plan S could fail to achieve its objectives.

That publishers do not like Plan S is, of course, no surprise. That was doubtless what the architects of the initiative anticipated. What they perhaps did not anticipate was that they would face pushback from researchers. Yet just a week after the announcement nine researchers published a critical article entitled, A Response to Plan-S from Academic Researchers: Unethical, Too Risky! This appears to have shocked the Plan S architects as thoroughly as their plan must have shocked publishers. Smits immediately summoned two of the authors to Brussels, and Schiltz took to Twitter to suggest that the article was “slanderous”. [See comment below for more on this].

Since then there has been a torrent of commentary and critique of Plan S, and the initiative is proving uncomfortably divisive. While publishers (and at least some researchers) are appalled by Plan S, open access advocates, as could be expected, have welcomed the initiative.


The problem right now, however, is that there is too little information on how Plan S would work in practice. This means it is nigh impossible for informed commentary to take place, and we are seeing frequent calls for clarification.

On 12th September, therefore, I invited Smits to do an interview with me, in the hope that he could provide that clarification. I suggested we do this either by telephone or email. Smits agreed and said he would prefer to do it by email. So, I emailed him a list of questions and waited for his replies. These arrived on Monday this week.  

I have to confess to being disappointed on reading them. From my perspective, they do not provide the clarification I was hoping they would. I accept that my questions are long and somewhat sceptical (some might say tendentious) but, as I saw it, they offered Smits a chance to dispel some of the confusion around Plan S and to demonstrate that my scepticism is misplaced. I didn’t feel he did either.

When I shared my disappointment with Smits he expressed surprise and replied, “I looked once more to the replies I sent to your questions and remain of the opinion that they address the issues you put forward.” He added that he is getting over 300 emails a day and tries to reply to each one – signalling that time is in short supply for him. 

I am, of course, entirely sympathetic to the challenge Smits faces with Plan S, and the huge demand it must be making on his time. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of confusion out there, and on reading his replies I could not help but feel he had missed an opportunity to clarify matters.

This seemed the more striking given his assurance to me that, “my door is open to anyone who wants to drop by to discuss Open Access and Plan S”. He added that he prefers a ‘face to face’ approach to using email. Perhaps it might have helped, I thought, if he had taken up my offer of a telephone interview – or even a face to face on Skype.

Meat in the sandwich

But maybe I was missing the point. What we learn from what Smits says below perhaps is something that had not occurred to me, and perhaps has not occurred to the many commentators on social media calling for clarification. In two of his answers, Smits indicates that the ball is now in the publishers’ court. As he puts it the first time he says it, “We expect publishers to come forward with offerings which comply with the principles outlined in Plan S”. Later he says, “It is for publishers to provide Plan S-compliant routes to publication in their journals so that researchers can choose where to publish when accepting funding from those who sign Plan S.”

This would seem to imply that Smits and the members of cOAlition S (the group of funders who have signed up to Plan S) are not currently especially concerned about the details of how the 10 principles will be implemented, just that they will be implemented. In other words, cOAlition S is saying to publishers: “These are the conditions that we plan to insist on when funding research in Europe from 2020. So long as you can meet these conditions the details of how you do so are not of great interest to us right now. It is for you publishers to tell us how you plan to implement the principles.”

Presumably, it is only after publishers have done this that cOAlition S expects to publish the implementation plan that Smits talks about below. And while he says he is happy to discuss Plan S with “all interested groups”, Smits insists that cOAlition S will “stand by the principles set out in Plan S”. We might wonder what benefit there is in discussions if cOAlition S is immoveable on the 10 principles. And in the meantime, of course, researchers can expect to face a great deal of uncertainty.

That said, at first blush, this might seem like a good approach. In fact, I have myself on a number of occasions argued that publishers should not be treated as stakeholders, but as service providers. As such, the research community should be telling them what services it would like them to provide, and then inviting them to quote for providing them. Only if the conditions and the price are acceptable should the research community then proceed to contract any particular publisher to provide the service tendered for.

The problem with the way in which Plan S seems intent on doing this, however, is two-fold. First, regardless of the talk of (unspecified) APC caps, it is not clear how these can be effectively applied – particularly if the rest of the world does not follow Europe’s example. As a result, the research community may find it has to shell out even more money for publishers’ services, regardless of any caps. And what happens if publishers decide not to engage with Plan S in any meaningful way?

Second (and more importantly), it could be argued that European funders are not part of the research community. They are its paymasters. And in the neoliberal environment in which universities now have to operate, researchers’ interests are not fully aligned with those of research funders. This means that in its battle with publishers, cOAlition S may end up punishing European researchers as, or more, brutally than it punishes the real target – publishers. Researchers will be the meat in the sandwich of Plan S, collateral damage in a war that the vast majority of them never signed up to, or wanted to see take place. There are also very real concerns that Plan S will wreak havoc on learned societies.

It is for these reasons, I believe, that in opposing Plan S researchers often do so in terms of a threat to academic freedom.

That OA advocates tend to ridicule and deride those who fret over academic freedom suggests to me that they have become so focused on the ends of OA that they are blind to the damage that the means might inflict on their peers, and on many societies.

Highly unlikely

Finally, I want to answer one of the questions that Smits puts back to me below. He asks, “Why do you keep on saying that Plan S is about Gold Open Access? Do read the 10 principles again and you will notice that the plan does not use Gold or Green terminology. The plan welcomes self-archiving and repositories.”

My answer is this: It doesn’t matter whether the terms Green or Gold are used. Principle 1 of Plan S states, “Authors [must] retain copyright of their publication with no restrictions. All publications must be published under an open license, preferably the Creative Commons Attribution Licence CC BY.” And cOAlition S insists that this applies to both gold and green OA, and in all cases OA must be immediate.

It seems highly unlikely to me that for-profit legacy publishers will offer green OA on those terms. Instead, they will focus on gold OA and seek to extract as much money as possible from the research community, caps or no caps, even as many non-profit learned societies face an existential financial threat.

Importantly, as Peter Suber has pointed out, there is no acknowledgement in Plan S that repositories can provide OA. This suggests they are seen as archival tools alone.

The good news is that when I expressed my disappointment with his answers Smits said he would be happy to meet with me when he is in London next month. If that meeting takes place perhaps I will be able to get a clearer view of how Smits sees Plan S achieving its objectives, and why he routinely pooh-poohs any talk of academic freedom in relation to his initiative.

The interview begins …

RP: As I understand it, the background to Plan S is that during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2016 the EU issued the Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science. (At the time you were Director-General for Research and Innovation at the EU). This called for “immediate” open access to all scientific papers by 2020. But by the end of 2017 it was clear that this goal was not going to be achieved unless more drastic action was taken, not least because the Amsterdam Call offered no specific strategy for achieving OA by 2020. Earlier this year, therefore, you were appointed Special Adviser on Open Access and Innovation and charged with making sure it happened. Plan S is your solution and it consists of 10 principles, the key one being that “After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.” In fact, Plan S is a list of principles, not a detailed action plan. That is, it is not a mandate but what OA advocate Peter Suber describes as “a plan for a mandate”. I realise that some transition arrangements are envisaged, but how realistic is it to expect that in 15 months’ time all European research will be made immediately available on an OA basis, particularly if legacy publishers prove reluctant to co-operate in a meaningful way?

R-J S: The 2016 Amsterdam Call set the 2020 target and, since little progress is being made, Plan S provides the specific strategy which you mention to achieve that target. However, Plan S cannot and will not override contracts which are in place before 1/1/20 and of course, we are willing to respect short-term transitional arrangements and on-going discussions on such arrangements.

RP: I wonder if it might be more accurate to say that Plan S is intended to frighten legacy publishers into moving more quickly towards OA, with the end game (presumably) of having them flip all their subscription journals to open access (as some have proposed), and reducing their prices in the process? Either way, do you expect legacy publishers to accept all the principles outlined in Plan S (and incorporated into cOAlition S under the aegis of Science Europe?). As things stand, it would seem that the International Association of STM Publishers does not accept the proposal that hybrid OA be outlawed. And I do not think it expects publishers to reduce their prices. As STM puts it, “in the absence of adequate funding a transition to Open Access as envisaged by cOAlition S is unlikely to happen in practice.”

R-J S: We expect publishers to come forward with offerings which comply with the principles outlined in Plan S. We make no statement about whether publishers are ‘legacy’ or whether they are new providers with new platforms.

RP: I assume you anticipated there would be pushback from publishers, but perhaps you did not expect pushback from researchers? Either way, we are seeing pushback. Last week, for instance, one of the leading open access advocates Stevan Harnad called for Plan S (and all OA policies) to drop any requirement for gold OA publishing and focus exclusively on mandating green OA (self-archiving). This would seem to envisage Plan S being reversed since it is currently almost exclusively focused on gold OA. Three days earlier, eight researchers published a highly-critical article about Plan S, denouncing it as unethical and too risky. I assume such criticism is of concern as I am told you called the lead author of the article Lynn Kamerlin and invited her to Brussels to discuss Plan S. How confident are you that you can address her and other researchers’ concerns? They clearly feel they are becoming the meat in the sandwich in the struggle between research funders and legacy publishers. And might we see resistance amongst researchers grow as the implications of Plan S are more widely publicised and become clearer? Combined with publisher resistance might this necessitate significantly watering down or even abandoning key Plan S principles?

R-J S: You probably have seen the many positive reactions from researchers and representatives of the science community to Plan S. Of course, there are also critical voices. I have indeed invited Britt [J Britt Holbrook, one of the co-authors of the above paper] and Lynn for a meeting to see why it is we differ of opinion. In developing the implementation plans there will, of course, be discussion with all interested groups. We will, however, stand by the principles set out in Plan S.

The role of repositories

RP: One of the concerns being expressed is that Plan S portrays green OA and repositories as having little more than an archival role, not as providers of OA. This is one of the concerns expressed by de facto leader of the OA movement Peter Suber, who has written of Plan S, “There's no acknowledgement of their [repositories and green OA] importance for OA itself! This is the same mistake made by the Finch Group in 2012, which was inexcusable even at the time, and should never be repeated by informed, high-level policy-makers.” I assume, however, that the reality is that green OA inevitably conflicts with the principles of Plan S, which calls, amongst other things, for papers to be made OA “immediately” and with a CC BY licence attached. I cannot envisage many legacy publishers agreeing to this. So I guess the point is that if green OA cannot conform to the principles of Plan S then it cannot be viewed as providing open access, and that is presumably why Plan S does not view it as such. Would that be right? If not, how can this circle be squared?

R-J S: Plan S does not talk about Gold, Green, Diamond or Platinum Open Access. Plan S is entirely supportive of pre-prints and repositories and welcomes those journals where the final publication is published without paywalls and no embargo, being also published under a CC-BY or similar licence.

RP: Another concern that has been raised is that Plan S is contrary to long-standing principles of academic freedom. For instance, since Plan S says that hybrid OA is not compliant with its principles European researchers will be banned from publishing in a great many journals that they currently publish in and love. As Nature put it, “as written, Plan S would bar researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including influential titles such as Nature and Science.” This concern about academic freedom might seem a genuine grievance in light of a 1997 UNESCO document that states, “higher-education teaching personnel should be free to publish the results of research and scholarship in books, journals and databases of their own choice”.

Concern about academic freedom is also being cited as one of the reasons why some countries (notably Germany) have not signed up to Plan S. Indeed, researchers at the University of Konstanz have taken their university to court for simply trying to mandate them to self-archive their papers in their institutional repository, which might seem far less of an imposition than telling them that they are henceforth barred from publishing in 85% of the journals they currently publish in.

Some also argue that requiring researchers to publish their work with a CC BY licence attached raises issues of academic freedom.

On the other hand, in the Plan S document signed by Science Europe President Marc Schiltz it says, “We recognise that researchers need to be given a maximum of freedom to choose the proper venue for publishing their results and that in some jurisdictions this freedom may be covered by a legal or constitutional protection.”

How do you respond to the claims that Plan S threatens to infringe researchers’ academic freedom? And how does Schiltz’s statement about freedom to choose fit with the principles of Plan S? Once again, how can this square be circled?

R-J S: Strong mandates have been in place from many funders in different countries for many years so the principle of funder mandates in the research system is well-established. See what Peter Suber writes about this. It is for publishers to provide Plan S-compliant routes to publication in their journals so that researchers can choose where to publish when accepting funding from those who sign Plan S.

RP: Plan S also argues that current researcher evaluation systems need to be changed so that publishing in prestigious legacy journals is no longer encouraged. Might it not have been better to change evaluation systems before banning publication in subscription journals? Would this not have been fairer than suddenly telling them to stop publishing in 85% of the journals that their universities are still incentivising them to publish in, and have been doing for many decades?

R-J S: The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment and the Leiden Manifesto both pre-date the Amsterdam Call for Action. There is nothing ‘suddenly’ happening. That during all years not much action was undertaken, is exactly the reason why Plan S was developed.


RP: Another reason why some European countries appear to be dragging their heels over signing up to Plan S is that they assume it will increase the costs of publishing rather than reduce it. The DFG, for instance, says that “it surmises that open access mandates can lead to increased article processing charges (APC), an effect that the DFG strives to minimise.” I understand Plan S envisages APCs being capped, but what in your view is a reasonable APC? And how would a cap work in practice? (Presumably, for instance, universities and researchers could decide to themselves pay more than the cap in order to have their papers published, and indeed to publish them in expensive hybrid journals produced by Springer, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, and Elsevier?).

R-J S: Caps on APCs will be considered as part of the implementation of Plan S. Publications arising from our funding must be Plan S-compliant.

RP: Plan S says that it will support the creation of open access journals or platforms and open access infrastructures where necessary. Another concern raised by Suber is that this does not include a commitment to creating and supporting open infrastructure. I.e., he says, “platforms running on open-source software, under open standards, with open APIs for interoperability, preferably owned or hosted by non-profit organizations.” As such, Suber says, Plan S, will not prevent open infrastructure being appropriated by legacy publishers in the way that SSRN and bepress were acquired. As you will know, a number of funders (Wellcome, Gates etc.) have created their own publishing platforms but outsourced fulfilment to the for-profit company F1000. The F1000 platform, I believe, is a proprietary, and details of what it charges funders are secret, which does not seem to fit with the ethos of open science. The EU also plans to create its own publishing platform. I wonder, therefore, if the reference to platforms and OA infrastructures in Plan S is essentially a reference to the planned EU Open Research Publishing Platform? As I understand it, this will not necessarily be open source, and some believe that the exacting requirements specified in the tender document means that it could only be operated by a large legacy publisher or similar. Can you comment on these points?

R-J S: Plan S sets out the principles for an open access funding system. It says nothing about the ownership of journals and platforms. It does not mention any particular platform.


The same trap?

RP: Open access is a hugely complex topic. I believe you suggested to Kamerlin that in order to better understand the issues she should watch the movie Paywall. However, I wonder if the issues are more complicated than either Paywall or Plan S assumes? The movie, we could note, was made by an OA advocate, funded by an OA advocacy organisation, and consists of interviews primarily with other OA advocates. It includes interviews with just two legacy publishers. As such, as I pointed out in the review I did for Nature, Paywall is an advocacy film, not one intended to explore the complexities of open access. At no point, for instance, does the movie mention APCs or explain how OA can be funded. As such, it tells us what OA advocates want, but fails to explain how this can be achieved financially. The OA movement has a history of making declarations, issuing calls, and offering up what in the movie John Wilbanks calls “witness and testimony” but it has consistently failed to come up with financially feasible solutions. Is there a danger that Plan S has fallen into the same trap?

R-J S: Plan S does not mention the Paywall movie. All of the parties involved in Plan S will have their own views about the publishing industry but Plan S states what we have collectively signed up to.

RP: How likely do you think it is that all European countries will sign up to Plan S? Neither Germany nor Switzerland has yet done so, and researchers in Norway are asking whether the likely consequences of the proposed changes are proportionate to what can realistically be achieved in such a short period of time. Meanwhile, those European countries with limited research budgets will surely be unhappy to commit to paying for gold OA. I understand you also hope to get the US to buy into the Plan, which would seem to be an even greater challenge since the US has historically preferred green OA and it does not have the same centralised system as Europe. As Roger Schonfeld has put it, “[T]he higher education sector in most of North America is very different from Europe, in one key element: North America is as decentralized as Europe is, at a national level, centrally coordinated.” The challenge here surely is that Plan S can only achieve its objectives if the whole world signs up to it, or at least all those countries with large research budgets? Unless they do, for instance, Europe will find it is having to pay for gold OA plus continue to pay subscriptions in order to access the research produced in countries that do not sign up. Would you agree? How hopeful are you that you will manage to sign up a sufficient number of countries to make Plan S workable?

R-J S: Why do you keep on saying that Plan S is about Gold Open Access? Do read the 10 principles again and you will notice that the plan does not use Gold or Green terminology. The plan welcomes self-archiving and repositories. I am confident that Plan S is workable.

The global South

RP: On the other hand, if Plan S does succeed it will further marginalise and disadvantage those in the global South. If all the world’s subscription journals flipped to gold OA, for instance, where today researchers in the global South are not able to afford to access the world’s research, in future they would be unable to afford to publish their own research – which might seem a worse position to be in. Does Plan S have a solution to this problem? Will it provide money to enable those in the global South to publish their research? I am not aware that this issue is discussed in the various Plan S documents.

R-J S: Getting rid of paywalls will help researchers in the global South to access publicly funded research without charge. This huge advantage cannot be denied. Furthermore, there are many routes to publishing research available to all countries including no-embargo open access.

RP: It seems to me that one thing most people agree on today is that legacy publishers have become too powerful and have acquired indefensible monopoly powers. Is it not time to hand the matter over to the EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager with a view to, say, breaking up these monsters?

R-J S: I still am optimistic that through plan S, we can accelerate the transition to full and immediate Open Access in partnership, including in partnership with the publishers you are referring to.

RP: I understand that on 1st March you will be moving on, to become President of TU-Eindhoven. Would it not be better to stay with the project until it is clear that it has been a success? 

R-J S: Plan S is carried by a consortium of funders under the umbrella of Science Europe. It is not the work of one person. Furthermore, I am far from being indispensable.