Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO
Open Access - Plan S

Norwegian research communities join forces to change new Open Access plan

The Norwegian Research Council and other European research councils are about to make a radical alteration of the scientific publishing model by forcing Open Access for all scientific work. The scheme is called Plan S. 27 Norwegian research leaders, including CCBIO Director Lars A. Akslen, suggest changes to improve the European Plan S Open Access scheme.

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The 27 research leaders, scientific experts in their fields, claim the idea is good in general, but the implementation of «Open Access» is not. They are proposing a change that would eliminate the weaknesses of the plan.

The main problems of today’s model

Today’s publishing model is challenging for several reasons. 

  1. Too much research is published without the necessary quality assurance.
  2. Commercial journals claim large subscription charges, resulting in public spending both for the research itself, and for access to read about it.
  3. The public has poor access to scientific publications. Public access to public funded research is an important democratic criteria, as well as help to distinguish good research from bad.

To address problems 1 and 2, the Norwegian Research Council and 12 other European research councils have recently passed the socalled «Plan S» scheme. The essence of the European plan is that research funded through the research councils, must, as from January 2020, be published in open access journals. That means journals without subscription charges. This is a dramatic change.

Authors’ version in open archive

The 27 research leaders do not wish to criticize the plan, but to propose an alternate way to reach the goal.  They recommend that publishing of the authors’ version in an open archive should be approved as open access.

By authors’ version is meant the authors’ final version of their scientific work following completion of peer review.

The authors’ version should then be published in parallel with publication in a scientific journal. A similar arrangement (REF 2021) has been succeedingly practised in the UK for several years.

Avoiding the most radical consequences

As the research communities see it, the proposal has two main advantages:

Firstly: this moderate Plan S version kan actually be realised within 2020, which is the ambitious goal of Plan S. The Plan S transition process will otherwise be likely to extend in time and be cause of great uncertainty.  

Secondly: a moderate implementation such as this will save European and Norwegian research for many of the serious Plan S consequences critics have pointed out.

It is believed that the implementation of Plan S can lead to the extreme consequence that no researcher receiving funding from the Norwegian Research Council or a number of the other research councils, will be able to publish their results in traditional subscription journals.

Such a radical prohibition would cut off the possibility to publish in nearly all top and mid level journals in almost all disciplines.

Undermining and harmful

The Norwegian research leaders list the following serious consequences they firmly believe would arise from the Plan S implementation:

  • Plan S would undermine today’s quality assurance system, hence aggreviate the main problem no. 1 above. Today's system is an irreplaceable tool based on a well established division of labor in the research community. Nobody has the capacity to read thousands of articles to find the best. We depend on the journals to identify research that meet scientific demands and which hold the highest scientific value.
  • Plan S would be harmful to young researchers. A well-functioning quality assurance system is democratic: Young and skilled researchers at less known institutions can get their work published in a renowned journal, thus gaining recognition they would not otherwise receive. Without such quality assurance, the scientific community will have to go by subjective and unfortunate criteria, such as whether a researcher has the backing of a prestigious university.
  • Plan S can end up as a very expensive scheme. Today's commercial publisher will exploit his market power to claim payment from the author when the script is to be reviewed or published. Who will afford to pay possibly NOK 40,000 to publish the research article? Neither poor countries nor universities with tight budgets.
  • Plan S would undermine the opportunities for researchers in Norway and Europe to compete in an increasingly global research community, where attention and impact is closely linked to publication in high-rated journals. The opportunity to participate in the research community in line with researchers in countries that are not subject to Plan S, such as the USA, would be strongly diminished.

Safeguarding the central objectives

The Norwegian research comunities claim that if Plan S is implemented in the proposed moderate manner, the central objectives of Plan S will be safeguarded, the implementation can be done in the time frame required, and the adverse effects of an extreme implementation will largely be avoided.

Then, focus can remain on strengthening quality assurance and forcing publishers to keep reasonable prices by collective negotiations and competition supervision, they conclude.