A new Open Letter against Plan S appeared on the internet. Presently over 600 scientists are protesting against what they see as a bit totalitarian Open Access (OA) initiative by the EU special envoy Robert-Jan Smits and his partners from the funder lobby organisation Science Europe, set to restrict “authors’s freedom of publication”. Among the Open Letter signatories are many early career researchers (PhD students and postdocs), but also numerous elite scientists and top academic executives, including Nobelists Ben Feringa and Arieh Warshel. At present stage, the highest share of signatures comes from Sweden, Netherlands, Spain and Israel. They declare:
“The views of researchers who will be directly affected by Plan S do not seem to have been solicited during its creation, and hundreds of them from around the world have now signed an open letter expressing their concern about its ramifications — not only for their own rights as authors and academics, but for the health of scholarly and scientific discourse worldwide”.
Among the signatories are Lynn Kamerlin and several of her chemistry colleagues who penned an earlier Appeal letter which was originally published on my site shortly after Plan S was announced. That led Smits and Science Europe President Marc Schiltz to invite the authors to a videoconference in October, the contents of which I leaked. We learned that Smits sees scholarly societies as part of the problem rather than part of solution on his roadmap to OA. Soon after, Smits doubled down and declared that the taxpayer should only pay societies for publishing papers, and apparently never subsidise their other activities like student fellowships, educational outreach or scientific conferences.
Other big news arrived when two large charity funders, the Wellcome Trust from UK and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from US, announced to join the cOAlitionS in implementing support for Plan S. Yet here, small print matters: these two funders do not follow the central tenet of Plan S which outright forbids researchers the publishing in non-compliant journals, and seeks to punish them for even trying. Instead, Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation will not cover article processing charges (APCs) for hybrid journals anymore. Scientists are free to pay the extra OA option from other sources, or negotiate with the journal a CC-BY licence would allow institutional deposition under Green OA. Maybe Plan S is not set in stone after all, as Smits sees it. Maybe it will become a pick-and-mix template. Or maybe another Plan will be designed, where actual scientists get a say, instead of commercial OA publishers.
The present Open Letter against Plan S is highly remarkable also in the sense that while here hundreds of academics put their signed criticism in the open, the unconditional support of Plan S came only from some faceless institutions and a handful of known OA activists. Some of these OA Party cadres tried to top each other in fundamentalism: preprints were denounced as bad or useless, green OA considered as a shameful escape route to be cut off, and predatory OA publishers defended from incompetent insults from scientists.
Some considered setting up their own Support Letter, to show loyalty to Plan S and to shut up the critics by outnumbering them. The idea however did not take off, unsurprisingly.
That was because the comrades remembered that there is no need to collect any support signatures, because Plan S is already supported by the masses, and even has been already in the past history. Seriously. Following the ideological contortion by Schiltz that Plan S is actually the implementation of the Berlin OA Declaration from 2003 and as thus retroactively supported by those same 600 institutions, all 17,000 human signatories of anti-Elsevier protest initiative “The Cost of Knowledge” from 2012 were retroactively delegated to supporting Plan S in 2018. While every scientist who accepts funding from a cOAlitionS member institution automatically lets the spirit Plan S into his or her heart.
It was also determined that all European early career researchers support Plan S. This is evidenced by the fact that their representing organisation Eurodoc issued a position statement endorsing Plan S unconditionally. The President of Eurodoc, Gareth O’Neill, ignored all my requests to disclose how many physical members his Eurodoc actually has, besides himself. I eventually learned there are 35 more.
It seems being a EU-funded institution makes Eurodoc an official speaker for every single postdoc and PhD student in Europe. Whether they like it or not.
With the popular support mandated from above and the 5-year Plan S set in stone, brochures were handed out by loyal politruks on how the masses are to implement the OA Politburo decision.
Of course, what can motivate the working academic masses better than a patriotic song? Soon enough, a suitable text was provided (however, by possibly not a fully vetted element), to be sung to an old DDR tune:
The heated debate on whether Plan S is just great or rather a stroke of genius even raised the question if chemistry, the subject where Kamerlin and several of her supporters come from, is actually a failed science and should be dealt with accordingly.
But now here is the Open Letter. And before Smits goes ballistic again: I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Below, I am merely quoting it.
The Open Letter was originally published on this specially created website, with an official version at Zenodo, an EU-funded scholarly publishing platform. Let’s hope it doesn’t get retracted there as Plan S-non-compliant.
Reaction of Researchers to Plan S; Too far, too risky?
An Open Letter from Researchers to European Funding Agencies, Academies, Universities, Research Institutions, and Decision Makers
We support open access (OA) and Plan S is probably written with good intentions. However, Plan S, as currently presented by the EU (and several national funding agencies) goes too far, is unfair for the scientists involved and is too risky for science in general. Plan S has far-reaching consequences, takes insufficient care of the desires and wishes of the individual scientists and creates a range of unworkable and undesirable situations:
(1) The complete ban on hybrid (society) journals of high quality is a big problem, especially for chemistry. Apart from the fact that we won’t be allowed to publish in these journals anymore, the direct effect of Plan S and the way in which some national funding agencies and academic/research institutions seem to want to manage costs may eventually even lead to a situation where we won’t even be able to legally read the most important (society) journals of for example the ACS, RSC and ChemPubSoc anymore. Note that in their announcement of Plan S, the Dutch funding organisation NWO (for example) wrote that they expect to cover the high article processing charges (APCs) associated with the desired Gold OA publishing model from money freed by disappearing or stopped subscriptions to existing journals. As such, Plan S may (eventually) forbid scientists access to (and publishing in) >85% of the existing and highly valued (society) journals! So effectively Plan S would block access to exactly those journals that work with a valuable and rigorous peer-review system of high quality. As a second note on this aspect: In the Netherlands, already for more than 6 months, researchers don’t have legal access to most RSC journals. Fully banning even more society journals is completely unacceptable and unworkable.
(2) We expect that a large part of the world will not (fully) tie in with Plan S. The USA, China and the rest of Asia highly value the existing (society) journals, in particular (for chemistry) the ACS journals and (for physics) the APS journals. Germany and Switzerland already indicated they will not conform to the plans as currently formulated. Belgium will also not join-in and independently introduced a different OA policy. Spain is also out, at least for the time being. A transition period for the rest of the world will surely take a long time, and a total global ban on hybrid (society) journals being taken up as a global initiative seems very improbable. Therefore, Plan S has the risk of splitting the global scientific community into two separate systems: cOAlition S grantees vs. the rest of the world, with all associated negative consequences. If that happens, this will have a strong negative effect on collaborations between the cOAlition S countries and the rest of the world, because joint publications in the highest quality selective journals, based on rigorous peer review and quality control procedures, with the highest standing in the community, won’t be possible anymore (e.g. JACS, Science, Nature, Nature Chemistry, ACS Catalysis and Angewandte Chemie are all forbidden under Plan S!). This will also have a strong negative impact on the internationalization of PhD students and postdocs. Why would someone with academic ambitions come to e.g. the Netherlands or Sweden to obtain a PhD or obtain postdoc experience if they are not allowed to publish in journals that are important for their career progression, on the international landscape, and would make them therefore uncompetitive if they want to leave cOAlition S countries? Students in our universities are already starting to wonder if it is wise to do a PhD in a cOAlition S country, or rather move to another country to increase their chances of a successful (academic) career. Furthermore, if Plan S succeeds in splitting the global research system, it puts the willingness of scientists to do something for anyone in ‘the other system’, such as acting as a peer reviewer for manuscripts and research proposals, under pressure. These are all highly undesirable developments that will hurt science as a whole.
(3) We fully appreciate and agree with ongoing concerns about the exploding costs of journal subscriptions. However, with its strong focus on the Gold OA publication model, in which researchers pay high APCs for each publication, the total costs of scholarly dissemination will likely rise instead of reduce under Plan S. Furthermore, it will not eliminate the so-called publication ‘paywall’, but rather simply shifts it from reading to publishing. Tying in with this, the strong focus of Plan S to support in particular for-profit Gold OA-journals (at the expense of high quality non-profit Society journals) has a serious risk that it leads to a surplus of papers of low quality/originality/newsworthiness and that research groups are confronted with high APCs. After all, this system is coupled to perverse financial incentives: Stimulate accepting as many papers as possible – regardless of their quality – and keep increasing the already high APCs in more selective journals.
(4) Plan S ignores the existence of large differences between different research fields. Plan S has (probably) a much larger negative effect on chemistry than on some other fields. A one-size-fits-all approach, as presented in Plan S, is therefore a bad idea. The ‘mountain of feathers’ effect that Plan S can trigger will likely quickly result in lower international ranking and standing of individual cOAlition S researchers, most certainly if little changes elsewhere.
Taken together, Plan S is a serious violation of academic freedom: Strongly reduced access to (and possibilities to publish in) suitable scientific journals of high quality, with a direct consequence that it also strongly restricts our choice of countries with which we can conveniently collaborate with or sustain lasting exchange programs. There are also issues with the copyright model (CC-BY) demanded by Plan S. A full ban on publishing in hybrid journals with imposed sanctions also feels as a serious degradation of existing rights. Most problematically, less radical and cheaper solutions are certainly possible. See for example the suggestions presented here: . In addition, more and more journals (for example, JACS and Elsevier journals) are allowing researchers to not only deposit preprints of their work but also updating with each round of peer review until the decision letter is issued such that the research becomes immediately available via the pre-print server. However, as currently framed, Plan S sees such modes of dissemination as only being of archival value and this type of Green OA publishing is non-compliant under the current 10 rules of Plan S.
Researchers should have the freedom to choose publication venue, and while complying with Open Access mandates to also choose how papers are made Open Access, in a way that contributes to minimal increased costs for the publishing system while not impinging on academic freedom or jeopardizing internationalization in research and higher education. We call on both funding agencies who are already part of cOAlition S and those who have not (yet?) signed up, to take into account the full landscape of ways that papers can be made Open Access, and not just the very narrow definition provided by Plan S (including the hybrid ban, and the fact that peer reviewed pre-prints such as allowed by the ACS are currently not an obvious compliant solution). In addition, we demand that cOAlition S signatories take responsibility for the implications and risks Plan S may have for the European research landscape, and to therefore take every possible action in the implementation stage to prevent these potential and unintended consequences.
You can sign the Appeal here:
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