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As Support for the Plan S for Open Access Ramps Up, Scientists Around the Globe Draw Attention to its Risks and Implications

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Inner Court of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center, 440 Fifth Avenue N., Seattle, Washington, USA, May 12, 2012 | © Courtesy of Can Pac Swire/Flickr.

Whereas the British Wellcome Trust and the American Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation increase the financial heft of the Plan S by almost 30%, scientists from research and educational institutions in Europe and around the world have publicly expressed their concerns that this Open Access initiative may have severe negative consequences for the scholarly publishing system.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

On November 5, 2018, the Wellcome Trust and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which are the globally largest private researcher funders, have joined the Plan S of the consortium of initial 11 European science support agencies that intend to mandate that from January 2020 research results they have funded be immediately accessible upon publication. This development expands the expected spending power of the Plan S backers from the estimated total yearly budget of 8.7 billion USD to 11.2 billion USD.

However, this de facto transition to Gold Open Access also entails that in the near future the funding organizations, such as the Wellcome Trust, behind the Plan S will no longer be covering the article processing charges (APCs) of the articled published in journals based on Green or hybrid Open Access. According to the perspective of these grant-disbursing foundations, their support for the latter Open Access models was conceived of as a stage in the transition toward Gold Open Access. Combined with Creative Commons licensing, this planned implementation of Gold Open Access policies is expected to facilitate universal access to academic knowledge and scholarly information.

Whereas some journals can comply with these policies by allowing for the simultaneous archiving of the articles they publish at Open Access repositories, many high-ranking scientific journals are based on either closed-access or hybrid Open Access business models. Since the articles published in journals based on these models will be excluded from the Plan S funding both on the direct policy level, as only Gold Open Access APCs will be covered, and indirectly through the limits imposed on the level of APCs being paid, over 800 scholars from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Tunisia have signed an open letter that highlights the possible risks and deleterious consequences that this Open Access promotion initiative might have.

In particular, this open letter expresses the reservations that the funds directed toward the achievement of the goals of the Plan S may also involve reducing the budgets available for subscription-based journal subscription contracts. This also indicates that the Plan S is likely to have worldwide implications, in relation to Open Access adoption even in those countries in which national science funding agencies do not formally join this Open Access initiative.

At the same time, it remains to be seen whether the concerns for which this open letter gives a voice will be borne out by the reality of the transition to Open Access that the Plan S promotes, especially as regards the quality of Open Access journals, the rigorousness of their peer-review procedures, the sustainability of their business models and their effect on university and library budgets.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Inner Court of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center, 440 Fifth Avenue N., Seattle, Washington, USA, May 12, 2012 | © Courtesy of Can Pac Swire/Flickr.

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