Why I am positive to Plan S

Plan S has been the biggest political topic in the research community here in Norway this fall. Several researchers have raised their concerned voices. I am among the positive ones, and I will here try to explain why.

Just to rewind a little first. Coalition S is a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC). On 4 September 2018 they announced Plan S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality:

“By 2020 scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

There has been a political shift to making research openly available over the last decade. In many countries this has also been added to various types of policy documents. Here in Norway it is part of the Government’s longterm research plan. The difference with Plan S is that it is not just “fluffy” words, it is a concrete plan with a concrete deadline.

The 10 Principles

Plan S is based on 10 principles:

  1. Authors 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. In all cases, the license applied should fulfil the requirements defined by the Berlin Declaration;
  2. The Funders will ensure jointly the establishment of robust criteria and requirements for the services that compliant high quality Open Access journals and Open Access platforms must provide;
  3. In case such high quality Open Access journals or platforms do not yet exist, the Funders will, in a coordinated way, provide incentives to establish and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary;
  4. Where applicable, Open Access publication fees are covered by the Funders or universities, not by individual researchers; it is acknowledged that all scientists should be able to publish their work Open Access even if their institutions have limited means;
  5. When Open Access publication fees are applied, their funding is standardised and capped (across Europe);
  6. The Funders will ask universities, research organisations, and libraries to align their policies and strategies, notably to ensure transparency;
  7. The above principles shall apply to all types of scholarly publications, but it is understood that the timeline to achieve Open Access for monographs and books may be longer than 1 January 2020;
  8. The importance of open archives and repositories for hosting research outputs is acknowledged because of their long-term archiving function and their potential for editorial innovation;
  9. The ‘hybrid’ model of publishing is not compliant with the above principles;
  10. The Funders will monitor compliance and sanction non-compliance.

My reason to support Plan S

I have both idealistic and practical reasons for supporting Plan S.

I am working at a public university, and think it is obvious that the results of what I am doing should be available for anyone. That is why I also for a long time have been uploading my publications to our institutional archive (DUO), have made my source code available on GitHub, uploaded educational material to YouTube, and so on.

I have published my research in a number of different channels over the years. Several of these, and particularly all the conference proceedings, are freely available online. In my field we are also lucky to have some high quality open access journals, such as Empirical Musicology Review, Music & Science, and TISMIR. There are also the more general open access publishers, such as Plos ONE, Frontiers, etc. All of these are still fairly new, but have been helped by the political push for open access.

Many of the critics of Plan S argue that they don’t have anywhere to publish if they cannot use their traditional channels. The answer to that is that now is the time for traditional publishers to change their business model. The ones that do today, will be the winners tomorrow. If they do not, there will be new alternatives developed, either by the researchers themselves (as has happened in my field), or by the new commercial players (Plos ONE, Frontiers, PeerJ, etc.).

The challenging thing right now, and the reason why it is important that Plan S has a short deadline, is that it is tricky to leave with two different publication systems at the same time. Currently, most of the money in the system is spent on paying for old-school, expensive subscriptions to (some few) commercial publication giants. That means that there is little money left for those of us who want to pay so-called article processing charge (APCs). Changing the model quickly is therefore important, freeing up money for a pay-to-publish model.

An important thing in the discussion, is that the individual researcher should not suffer. Changing the publication system, and the underlying payment system, needs to be done at an institutional/national level. That has been very difficult up until now, because the players have been too small and not coordinated. Plan S changes this, since many of the major European players are on board, and more are joining forces from the rest of the world as we speak.

Plan S is disruptive. That is the point, and that is why it will succeed!

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.