The global movement to make all research freely available to everyone has just upped the ante. As spotted by Nature News, research funders within 11 European countries – the UK, Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, and Sweden – have joined forces to strike a huge blow to paywalled journals.
Falling under the banner of “cOAlition S”, they have vowed to make all of the scientific publications they have helped fund open access in some form or another from January 1, 2020. As part of this push, they have outlined their 10 Principles of Plan S.
One stresses that authors will retain copyright of their publication with no restrictions. Another notes that the hybrid model of publishing isn’t acceptable; this is a nascent journal type that includes a mixture of open-access and paywalled articles, with additional fees required from the researchers to make their work open.
Such a move has been a long time coming.
The venerable prestige journals are often seen by many in academia as the best way to advance up the career ladder and gain respect, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that a journal’s impact factor has no bearing on the quality of the research. Why not write in journals that still take research seriously, but are also available for anyone – not just wealthy institutions – to read?
Although there’s plenty of debate to be had as to how best to make the transition from pay-per-view articles and journal subscriptions to open-access journals – whose publication fees are still often prohibitively expensive – there’s clearly a consensus growing that scientific work should be free to access by all.
Over the past few years, major institutions, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have made sure all their work and underlying data is open access. An increasing number of open-access pre-print servers, taking the form of something like arXiv, have cropped up. Relatively new apps like Unpaywall, and sites like Sci-Hub, are designed to find free-to-access copies of paywalled papers, both legally and illegally, respectively.
Several universities in various European countries are refusing to renew their journal subscriptions. Boycotts by academics are now not unusual to hear of.
One of the most prominent open access declarations is the Cost of Knowledge, signed by 17,217 academics from a range of backgrounds and fields. Targeting Elsevier, a major publishing company, the petition emphasizes that it charges “exorbitantly high prices for subscriptions to individual journals” while aiming to “restrict the free exchange of information.” The company denies such charges.
Per ScienceMag, Plan S has plenty of support from open access advocates and academics from a range of countries, particularly when it comes to the hardline principles of the coalition. However, plenty of research councils have yet to declare their support.
Others have expressed concern over the short timeline, and the unequivocal rejection of hybrid journals, suggesting that one or both could make the movement short-lived or difficult to get off the ground.
It certainly won’t be an easy task. As Nature points out, open-access journals make up just 15 percent of the total right now, so those in the coalition will be locked out of 85 percent of them, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
At the very least, though, it’s a noble cause. In a statement, coalition co-founder and the President of Science Europe, Marc Schiltz, refers to the Berlin Declaration. Signed in 2003, it aimed to use the Internet to further the cause of open access science and humanities.
“15 years have passed since the Berlin Declaration and Open Access is still far from being a reality,” he said. “I am glad that a core group of research funders, driven by their collective duty of care for the good functioning of the science system, have committed to take a decisive step to change the situation.”