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The European Plan S Can Speed Up the Gradual Progress of Open Access, Despite Divided Opinions on its Effectiveness

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The Globe of Science and Innovation, CERN, Canton of Geneva, Switzerland, July 6, 2017 | © Courtesy of Tim Hughes /Flickr.

Whereas the latest Scopus data show a significant increase in the number of scholarly articles published in Gold Open Access in the last decade, the promises to revolutionize the scientific journal publishing that the Plan S of European research foundations apparently makes also meet with skepticism as to whether it can reach its goals on time.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


A recent European Commission (EC) report on Open Access trends, based on information from the Scopus database, has indicated that between 2009 and 2016 the share of scientific articles published in Gold Open Access has almost tripled from 5.4% to 14.4% respectively, whereas in the same period the percentage of academic papers published in Green Open Access has slightly declined from 15.2% in 2009 to 13.9% in 2016. Likewise, according to Scopus data, the share of non-Open Access articles in the total output has declined from 79.4% in 2009 to 71.7% in 2016.

However, absolute number paint a rather different picture. While the number of academic articles published in Gold Open Access has increased spectacularly by more than 4 times from 62,730 in 2009 to 257,402 in 2016, in the same period the absolute number of scholarly papers in Green Open Access has also grown, albeit by approximately 40% only. In other words, though in 2009 the number of academic papers in Green Open Access amounted to 176,939, which outstripped by almost 3 times the number of those in Gold Open Access in the same year, scholarly articles in Green Open Access have totaled 248,799 in 2016, when papers in Gold Open Access have crossed a tipping point in terms of their absolute and relative share of article output. Simultaneously, this apparently indicates the ascendance of Gold Open Access as the predominant Open Access publishing model.

At the same time, the number of academic papers published based on non-Open Access models has continued to rise. When non-Open Access models have accounted for 926,451 articles published in 2009, this number has grown to 1,283,115 non-Open Access papers in 2016. This corresponds to a growth of approximately 38% in the non-Open Access sector in the journal publishing market based on its absolute output numbers.

Moreover, according to the EC report results concerning the percentages of different Open Access models across different science and technology fields for the period between 2009 and 2016, with the exception of some academic fields, such as multidisciplinary, veterinary science, animal and dairy science, social and economic geography, other natural sciences, environmental engineering and art publications, where the share of Gold Open Access is greater than that of Green Open Access, the latter model predominates across almost 40 scholarly areas.

This is likely to be the reason for which, on September 13, 2018, Martin Angler from the Neue Zurcher Zeitung has expressed, along his appreciation of the Plan S’s aims, reservations that relate to its prospective effect on traditional scholarly publishing houses. This also could be behind the lukewarm welcome that the Plan S has received form the Swiss National Foundation that concurs with its objectives, but clearly supports the coexistence of the Green and Gold Open Access models as equally viable paths toward the transition to Open Access.

Similarly, Swiss academic and funding institutions favor 2020 as a target year for making Open Access the preferred option, even though Swiss universities consider 2024 to be a more realistic date for this transition. This indicates that doubts exist that restricting the choice of Open Access publishing to a single model, as the Plan S intends, will be effective.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: The Globe of Science and Innovation, CERN, Canton of Geneva, Switzerland, July 6, 2017 | © Courtesy of Tim Hughes /Flickr.

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