Plan S – response to alternatives proposed by Kamerlin et al.

The recent substantial critique* by a group of mainly chemistry researchers to Plan S has garnered a lot of discussion on Twitter and in blogposts (e.g. Plan S, Antwort auf die Kritik), mostly around the risks the authors associate with the implementation of Plan S in its current form. The authors, in their well-thought-out piece, also include four solutions as alternatives to Plan S, and these have as yet, to our knowledge, not been given as much attention they deserve. To further the healthy debate around both Plan S and alternative (existing) options for open access, we hereby provide our point-by-point response to the four scenarios sketched by the authors (below in cursive) and how we feel they relate to the goals and methods as proposed in plan S. 

(1) One possible solution would be to convince all subscription (TA) journals to make all papers fully OA after an embargo period of 6-12 months, without APCs. In this environment, libraries would still buy subscriptions to allow scientists to catch up with the most recent developments, and the broader public would have access to all research without a paywall (but with a slight delay). While this plan does not provide immediate access to everyone, it is a safe and easy solution that would be beneficial for most stakeholders. Under this model, most publications would be read by scientists in the first 6-12 months after publication, and after the embargo period is over, no further costs should be accrued to access a scientific paper. In a modification of Plan S, rather than an indiscriminate blanket ban on all non-pure Gold OA journals, it would then be possible to exclude any (non-society) journals that won’t accept this policy from the list of ‘allowed’ journals. This will likely still result in some journals being excluded as possible publication venues, but is a smaller infringement on academic freedom, and could become an acceptable situation for most researchers and a model to which any journal can easily adapt without compromising on quality. We note that according to Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s Open Access Envoy, even an embargo period of 6-12 months is “unacceptable”, but he does not explain why  29 exactly that should be the case. Very recently, Belgium accepted a new law following this exact 6-12 month embargo model. This embargo period is intended to “give authors the chance to publish their papers in renowned journals, and prevents that publishers are damaged by a loss in income from subscriptions’, as is the opinion of Peeters’ cabinet.”

This option is currently executed by a number of journals/publishers, and is often referred to as delayed OA. While this would indeed be an option that would not disrupt the current reputation-driven publication system (the disruption of which is arguably one of the goals of plan S), it has also several issues:

1) by limiting immediate access to subscriptions, it would limit access to only those researchers (typically from richer institutions) that can afford those subscriptions, excluding researchers from other institutions, non-affiliated researchers, members of society, NGOs, small and medium (and large) companies, start-ups and non-profits, from immediate access to scientific and scholarly findings and the benefits flowing from that. Thus, this is arguably not an optimal solution for most stakeholders.

2) Currently, most delayed open access models do not include an open license for the publications involved, making this a read-only model rather than a true open access model that enables access as well as re-use.

3) Currently, as far as we know, publishers making journals available free to read after a number of months or years do not guarantee in any way that they will remain available. If the journal is sold to another publisher, volumes may become unavailable again.

4) This does not solve the problem currently unsustainable subscription prices, one of the very reasons of the push for OA.

NB1 The law recently approved in Belgium deals with the authors’ right to archive and sharing the manuscript of a publication after 6-12 months embargo, e.g. in a repository, not with the publisher making closed publications open on the publisher platform. It therefore more closely relates to solution 2 proposed by the authors. (see below).

NB2  It is unclear why the authors seem to argue that society journals should be exempted from this model (“it would then be possible to exclude any (non-society) journals that won’t accept this policy”).

 

(2) Another model, which can be implemented in conjunction with point (1), is a mandate on depositing preprints in appropriate online repositories (Green OA), similar to the Open Access requirements of the US National Institutes of Health . This is the model frequently employed by scientists to meet funders’ Open Access requirements. These are then easily searchable using a range of search tools, including (but not limited to), most easily, Google Scholar. This is a solution with great benefits to the reader and limited risks to the author, as it allows for rapid early-stage dissemination of research, the provision of real time feedback to the authors, while opening up research to the scientific community and general public much faster than waiting for the very long publication time scales inherent to some journals. (…)

There seems to be a misunderstanding here around the difference between preprints and the deposition of published articles (either publisher version, or the author-version after acceptance by the publisher). The OA requirements of NIH and many other funders concern the latter (e.g. through deposition in PubMed Central). While this model has indeed resulted in a large proportion of publications from NIH (as well as, for instance, the Wellcome trust) to be OA, where an embargo is involved (such as with NIH) it has the same drawbacks regarding non-immediate access as discussed above for scenario 1. As with scenario 1, it also does not provide incentives for publishers to change their publication model nor for funders, institutions and researchers to change the reputation-driven publication system.

NB The further benefits discussed in this scenario (early-stage dissemination, real-time feedback, circumventing long publication time scales) are benefits that are associated with preprints. Additional benefits of this model include a demonstrable trace of the scholarly record (e.g. being able to see changes made in an article as the result of peer review and community feedback).

(3) We note here also that more and more reputable publishers are now adding high quality open access publications to their repertoire of journals. In particular, we encourage fully open access journals published by scientific societies. A brief (but by no means exclusive) list of examples of such journals include ACS Central Science , ACS Omega , Chemical Science , RSC Advances , the Royal Society journals Open Biology and Open Science , IUCrJ and eLife , among others. A move to a fully open access landscape is clearly going to become much easier when there are more journals that can guarantee the same level of quality control and sustainability as current reputable subscription journals, as venues to disseminate one’s work. It may be a slower transition, but making this transition in an ecosystem that supports it does not infringe on academic freedom as Plan S does. Clearly, the overall march towards Open Knowledge Practices seems inevitable, as well as desirable, as researcher consciousness about the means of research dissemination, the possibilities, and the important ethical issues surrounding closed science increases. We must be careful to encourage this march in a way that does not replace one problem with another.    

The increase in the number of good quality open access venues (both from commercial and non-profit publishers, as well as from scholarly societies) is fully in line with what Plan S aims to stimulate. While there are clearly different opinions on the ways in which this development is best stimulated, there appears to be no difference in opinion as to the benefit of having a wide array of qualitatively good full OA publication options. It is encouraging to see that the authors include in their examples journals  for multiple disciplines that do not claim to be selective based on perceived impact, but judge research on the basis of soundness (like ACS Omega and Royal Society Open Science), indicating that they do not equate quality with selectivity per se. It should also be noted Plan S includes the commitment of funders to apply rigorous criteria as to the quality of full OA publication venues, although the exact nature of these criteria remain to be decided on. Plan S also wants to cap APCs. Though it is as yet unknown at what level, it probably will be at a level below the highest APCs currently asked for by full OA journals. It is interesting to see that the examples given have APCs ranging from 0 to 2500 USD.

Finally, the debate about Open Access, and APC, ignores the Diamond (also known as Platinum) model of OA publication. Diamond publication is a fully sponsored mode of publication, in which neither author nor publisher pays, but rather, the journals are funded by a third party sponsor. An example of Diamond OA is provided by the Beilstein Journals, all publications for which are covered by the  non-profit Beilstein Institute in Germany . Similarly, there is no fee for publication in ACS Central Science, and all publication costs are covered by the American Chemical Society . It is important to ensure the moral and ethical integrity of that sponsor. But, when performed in an ethically uncompromised framework, this would be an ideal model for publications by scientific societies, whose  journals could then either be sponsored by funders and other donors. In such a framework, rather than simply transferring costs from readers to authors, while allowing questionable journals to flourish and exploit APC, quality control can be ensured by financially supporting high quality not-for-profit publications. Would this not be a much braver step for European and National funders to mandate, than  a push for pure Gold OA?  

Plan S explicitly does not state a preference for an author-paid APC model. Other forms of pure gold OA, like indeed diamond and platinum OA, are fully in line with plan S. Diamond not being compliant is thus a misunderstanding. Depending on the implementation, the stated intent of funders to “provide incentives to establish and support full gold OA versions where appropriate” might also take the shape of enabling diamond/platinum models. One possible model for this would be the announced plans for a publication platform financed by the EC that will require no APCs from authors or institutions.  

Overall, the four solutions proposed by the authors all represent tried-and-tested solutions that are practiced in various settings, and all are providing valuable contributions to progress in open access (or in some cases, free-to-read access) of research articles. Two of them (3 and 4) are, as models, fully in line with plan S. The other two (1 and 2) facilitate access but fall short of the ambitions of plan S to not only provide immediate open access to research articles, but also to stimulate a shift in publishing away from a subscription-based journal system. Whether those ambitions and their proposed implementation are deemed to risky, too forceful and/or too limited in geographical scope to be beneficial to research and researchers remains a topic of debate even (or perhaps especially) among proponents of open research practices, which include both the original authors and ourselves.

Bianca Kramer (@MsPhelps) and Jeroen Bosman (@jeroenbosman)
Utrecht University Library

Bianca Kramer is currently also a member of the EC Expert Group ‘Future of Scholarly Publishing and Scholarly Communication 

 

*The piece is also published as part of a  post on the For better science blog

Linking impact factor to ‘open access’ charges creates more inequality in academic publishing

[this piece was first published on May 16, 2018 on the site of Times Higher Education under a CC-BY license]

The prospectus SpringerNature released on April 25* in preparation of its intended stock market listing provides a unique view into what the publisher thinks are the strengths of its business model and where it sees opportunities to exploit them, including its strategy on open access publishing. Whether the ultimate withdrawal of the IPO reflected investors’ doubt about the presented business strategies, or whether SpringerNature’s existing debts were deemed to be too great a risk, the prospectus has nonetheless given the scholarly community an insight into the publisher’s motivations in supporting and facilitating open access.

In the document, aimed at potential shareholders, the company outlines how it stands to profit from APC (article processing charge)-based gold open access in an otherwise traditional publishing system that remains focused on high-impact factor journals. From this perspective, a market with high barriers to entry for new players is a desirable situation. Any calls for transparency of contracts, legislation against exclusive ownership of content by publishers, public discussion on pricing models and a move towards broader assessment criteria – beyond impact factors – are all seen as a threat to the company’s profits. Whether this position also benefits the global research community is a question worth asking.

The open access market is seen by SpringerNature as differentiated by impact factor, making it possible to charge much higher APCs for publishing open access in high impact factor journals. Quite revealing is that on page 99 of the prospectus, SpringerNature aims to exploit the situation to increase prices: “We also aim at increasing APCs by increasing the value we offer to authors through improving the impact factor and reputation of our existing journals.”

First, this goes to show that APCs are paid not just to cover processing costs but to buy standing for a researcher’s article (if accepted). This is not new: other traditional publishers such as Elsevier, but even pure open access publishers such as PLoS and Frontiers, tier their market and ask higher APCs for their more selective journals.

Second, this prospectus section shows SpringerNature interprets impact factors and journal brands as what makes a journal valuable to authors and justifies high APCs – and not aspects such as quality and speed of peer review, manuscript formatting, or functionality and performance of the publishing platform.

Third, and most striking, is the deliberate strategy to raise APCs by securing and increasing impact factors of journals. SpringerNature admits it depends on impact factor thinking among researchers and seeks to exploit it.

The explicit aim to exploit impact factors and the presumed dependence of researchers on journal reputation is in sharp contrast with SpringerNature (to be precise BioMedCentralSpringerOpen and Nature Research) having signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). By signing, these SpringerNature organisations agree with the need to “greatly reduce emphasis on the journal impact factor as a promotional tool” as the declaration states.

Additionally, in their 2016 editorial, “Time to remodel the journal impact factor” the editors of SpringerNature’s flagship journal Nature wrote: “These [impact factor] shortcomings are well known, but that has not prevented scientists, funders and universities from overly relying on impact factors, or publishers (Nature’s included, in the past) from excessively promoting them. As a result, researchers use the impact factor to help them decide which journals to submit to – to an extent that is undermining good science.”

The information revealed through the prospectus now raises the question whether signing DORA and the Nature editorial statements were in effect merely paying lip service to appease those worried by toxic effects of impact factor thinking, or whether they have real value and drive policy decisions by journal and publisher leadership. It could be argued that commercial publishers are foremost responsible for their financial bottom line, and that if enough researchers (or their institutions or funders) are willing and able to pay higher APCs for high impact factor journals, then that is a valid business model.

However, scientific publishers do not simply “follow the market”. For better or for worse, their business models influence the way academic research is prioritised, disseminated and evaluated. High APCs make it harder for researchers without substantial funds (eg, researchers from middle- and low-income countries, unaffiliated researchers and citizen scientists) to publish their research (or require a dependency on waivers), and a continued push for publishing in high impact factor journals by publishers, researchers and funders/institutions alike hampers developments towards more rigorous, relevant and equitable research communication.

How do we break out of this? It is promising to see initiatives from publishers and funders/institutions such as registered reports (where a decision to publish is made on the basis of the research proposal and methodology, independent of the results), the TOP guidelines that promote transparency and openness in published research, and moves towards more comprehensive assessment of quality of research by institutions and funders, as highlighted on the DORA website.

This will all help researchers do better research that is accessible and useful to as many people as possible, as might alternative publishing options coming from researchers, funders and institutions. Simply adding an “open access” option to the existing prestige-based journal system at ever increasing costs, however, will only serve to increase the profit margin of traditional publishers without contributing to more fundamental change in the way research is done and evaluated.

Jeroen Bosman (@jeroenbosman) and Bianca Kramer (@MsPhelps)
Utrecht University Library

* The prospectus has since been taken offline. We secured an offline copy for verification purposes, but unfortunately cannot share this copy publicly.

Support for Open Science in EU member states

In preparation for the EU Open Science Conference on April 4-5 in Amsterdam, we looked at what our survey data reveal about declared support for Open Access and Open Science among researchers in the EU.

Support for Open Access and Open Science

Of the 20,663 survey respondents, 10,297 were from the EU, of which 7,358 were researchers (from PhD-students to faculty). Most respondents provided an answer to the two multiple-choice questions on whether or not they support the goals of Open Access and Open Science, respectively. A large majority expressed support for Open Access (87%) and Open Science (79%) (see Fig 1).

OA/OS support from EU researchers

Fig. 1 Responses from EU researchers to survey questions on support for Open Access and Open Science

Even though support for Open Science is less than for Open Access, this does not mean that many more people actively state they do NOT support Open Science, as compared to Open Access (see Fig 1). Rather, more people indicate ‘I don’t know’ in answer to the question on Open Science. This could mean they have not yet reached an opinion on Open Science,  that they perhaps support some aspects of Open Science and not others, or simply that they found the wording of the question confusing.

It is interesting to note that the Open Access support figure roughly corresponds with results from Taylor & Francis Open Access surveys of 2013 and 2014, that reported only 16 and 11 percent respectively that agreed with the statement that there are no fundamental benefits to Open Access publication.


Differences between member states

When we look at the differences in professed support for Open Access and Open Science in the various EU member states (see Fig 2, Table 1) we see that support for Open Access is relatively high in many Western European countries. Here, more funding opportunities for Open Access are often available, either through institutional funds or increasingly through negotiations with publishers, where APCs are included in institutional subscriptions for hybrid Open Access journals. Perhaps many researchers in Southern and Eastern member states associate Open Access with either expensive APCs or with “free” or nationally oriented journals they wish to avoid because they are required to publish “international, highly ranked” venues.

Conversely, support for Open Science is higher in many ountries in Southern and Eastern Europe. As pure conjecture, may we state that in these regions, with sometimes less developed research infrastructures, the benefits of Open Science, e.g. for collaboration,  might be more apparant? The observed outliers to this general pattern (e.g. Belgium and Italy) illustrate both the limitations of these survey data (number of responses and possible bias) and the fact that the whole picture is likely to be more complicated.

OA-OS support EU member states

Fig. 2 Level of support for Open Access (left panel) and Open Science (right panel) in individual EU member states. Scale is based on non-weighted country averages. Results for states with less than 20 individual responses are omitted (see Table 1).

In general, the above differences between member states come into even clearer focus when support for Open Science is compared to that for Open Access, for each country. Fig 3 shows whether support for Open Science in a given country is higher or lower than for Open Access. Again, in most Western European countries Open Access is easily embraced while Open Science, perhaps because it is going further and being a more recent development, meets more doubt or even resistance. In many Southern and Eastern European countries, the pattern is reversed.  Clearly though, this cannot be the full story. Finding out what is behind these differences may valuably inform discussions on how to proceed with Open Access/Open Science policies and implementation.

OS vs. OA support EU member states

Fig. 3 Ratio of support for Open Science (OS) and Open Access (OA) in individual EU member states (red = relatively more support for OA than for OS, green = relatively more support for OS than OA). Scale is based non-weighted country ratios. Results for states with less than 20 individual responses were omitted (see Table 1).

Irrespective of differences between countries, the overall big majority support of Open Access as well as Open Science among European researchers is perhaps the most striking result. Of course, support not automatically implies that one puts ideas into practice. For this, it will be interesting to look at the actual research workflows of the researchers that took our survey, to see in how far their practices align with their stated support for Open Access and Open Science. Also, since our survey used a self-selected sample (though distribution was very broad), care should be taken in interpretation of the results, as they might be influenced by self-selection bias.

Data

The aggregated data underlying this post are shown in Table 1. For this analysis, we did not yet look at differences between scientific disciplines or career stage. Full (anonymized) data on this and all other survey questions will be made public on April 15th.

Do you support the goal of Open Access? Do you support the goals of Open Science?
Yes No I don’t know # responses Yes No I don’t know # responses
Austria 95% 2% 3% 60 83% 3% 14% 66
Belgium 89% 5% 6% 103 88% 3% 9% 102
Bulgaria 81% 14% 5% 21 72% 0% 28% 18
Croatia 85% 12% 3% 33 94% 0% 6% 31
Cyprus 69% 8% 23% 13 69% 8% 23% 13
Czech Republic 73% 13% 13% 75 69% 13% 18% 78
Denmark 90% 1% 9% 80 84% 0% 16% 82
Estonia 85% 8% 8% 13 92% 8% 0% 13
Finland 84% 4% 12% 92 83% 3% 14% 95
France 87% 5% 8% 686 79% 5% 16% 699
Germany 87% 3% 9% 1165 76% 7% 18% 1179
Greece 81% 7% 12% 214 85% 4% 12% 222
Hungary 89% 9% 2% 45 83% 10% 7% 41
Ireland 81% 5% 15% 62 82% 5% 13% 62
Italy 79% 7% 14% 407 77% 4% 18% 413
Latvia 86% 0% 14% 7 83% 0% 17% 6
Lithuania 88% 0% 13% 8 75% 13% 13% 8
Luxembourg 86% 0% 14% 7 57% 0% 43% 7
Malta 100% 0% 0% 8 75% 0% 25% 8
Netherlands 89% 2% 9% 1610 75% 5% 20% 1627
Poland 86% 7% 7% 85 88% 5% 7% 83
Portugal 88% 5% 8% 129 84% 5% 11% 133
Romania 80% 5% 15% 82 85% 5% 10% 82
Slovakia 70% 5% 25% 20 82% 6% 12% 17
Slovenia 96% 0% 4% 27 96% 0% 4% 28
Spain 87% 3% 10% 537 88% 2% 10% 542
Sweden 90% 3% 6% 146 76% 6% 19% 145
United Kingdom 88% 3% 9% 1113 79% 4% 17% 1123
Total 87% 4% 9% 6848 79% 5% 17% 6923

Table 1 Aggregated data on support of Open Access and Open Science per EU member state.