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Plan S – what is it?

Bild: Artiklar i akademiska tidskrifter

Plan S is an initiative from several major research-funding bodies in Europe that want to ensure that all publicly financed research is freely available. But what does Plan S really involve? Research support coordinator Johanna Nählinder explains...

“What many people don’t know is that universities currently pay a lot of money for subscriptions to scientific journals”, says Johanna Nählinder, research support coordinator in the University Library. LiU, for example, pays SEK 28 million each year for subscriptions to scientific journals.

“You have to purchase packages with several journals”, says Johanna Nählinder, and compares this with how cable-TV packages used to be sold – forcing consumers to pay for channels that they didn’t want. “And not even a university such as Harvard can afford to subscribe to everything.”

Johanna Nählinder has also looked more closely at who owns the scientific journals.

“There are essentially only five large multinational publishing houses behind nearly all the major journals. This is an industry that involves huge sums, and this makes it difficult to change things.

And remember, the people who referee the papers in the peer review system do so without getting paid for it.

So the publishers are getting extremely well paid for the little work they put in”, says Johanna Nählinder.

Bild: Beskrivning av affärsmodeller av vetenskapliga tidskrifter.In parallel with subscription-based journals, there are now journals that do not require subscription. These are known as “open-access” journals, and are open to all. There are powerful democratic arguments that research results should be freely available. The research has most often been supported by tax-payers, and they should have access to the articles that present research results that they have paid for. Many research-funding bodies already require that the results of the research they support are published in open-access journals. The researchers sometimes pay to have their results published in these journals, and publishing one article may cost as much as SEK 40,000. However, many of the most highly ranked journals are not open-access.

“You’re faced with a choice: is it more important to reach many readers, or to be published in prestigious journals to gain merit?”, says Johanna Nählinder.

The issue is further complicated by the publishing houses offering hybrid alternatives, in which a researcher pays to be published in a prestigious subscription-based journal, and the article subsequently becomes available as open access. The researcher can in this way satisfy the requirements of the funding body. But the publisher gets paid twice – both through the subscription fee that the library pays, and from the researcher’s grant.

“This is known as ‘double dipping’”, says Johanna Nählinder.

Plan S has arisen against the background of this situation. It is an initiative taken by a number of European research-funding bodies to require that scientific publications based on research that the bodies have financed be published in open-access journals or platforms.

The Swedish funding bodies Forte and Formas support Plan S. Riksbankens jubileumsfond, in contrast, has withdrawn, while the Swedish Research Council has not signed up.

Bild: Johanna Nählinder“The proposal was put forward in September 2018; an implementation plan was adopted in November the same year; a consultation round has just been concluded, and it is planned that Plan S will come into force in 2020”, says Johanna Nählinder. “This is extremely rapid.”

What is the aim of Plan S?

Plan S has been avidly debated in the research world. Arguments have been put forward both for and against it.

The criticism against Plan S is that it reduces the options of researchers about where to publish. There are currently few open‑access journals in certain fields of research.

Of the ten points that Plan S contains the most controversial are that:

  • All research articles must be made freely available immediately, which means that the hybrid alternative will no longer be permitted.
  • The plan is to come into force as early as 2020.
  • Cap will be imposed for the fee paid for publishing in an open-access journal.

Those who support Plan S believe that an attempt to reform the market for scientific publications is positive. They point out that what was supposed to be a temporary solution of hybrid publication has become permanent, and that the publishing houses are always finding new ways of making money.

“I believe that open access is a positive development. But it’s important that the researchers have enough time to consider the proposal”, says Johanna Nählinder.


Translated by George Farrants


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Last updated: 2019-04-05