Plan S and the Democratization of Knowledge

Issues in Science and Technology just published a piece I penned a while back on Plan S. The point of the piece is to question the extent to which Plan S is in line with the Open Science ideal of democratizing knowledge production and use.

Despite the steady progress that has been made over the decades, many [Open Access] OA advocates have become frustrated by its glacial pace and pin the blame for the delay on scholarly publishers. They argue that although technology has dramatically reduced the cost of dissemination, scholarly publishers continue to insist on both the value of traditional publications and the high cost of “quality” publishing. Publishers have also remained a step ahead of policy-makers by inventing new ways to take advantage of the push for OA. For instance, publishers developed a hybrid model that allowed the same journal to provide access to articles via the traditional subscription route, as well as via article processing charges (APCs) that would, if paid by the authors, make certain articles in the journal available OA. This hybrid model essentially enables publishers to double-dip, charging the subscriber and the author for OA articles. Policy-makers are now trying to turn the tables on publishers by putting funding agencies in charge.

To spur the pace of progress, in September 2018 a partnership of 15 European and one US-based research funding agencies formed cOAlition S and developed Plan S to make all research funded by their agencies immediately available for free for anyone to read and reuse. Slated to into effect by January 2020, Plan S could be a game-changer. But in order for it to succeed, funders beyond Europe—especially those from China and the United States—will have to join cOAlition S. China has announced its “support” for the plan but has not officially joined the coalition. In February 2019, India announced its intention to join, and Plan S architects are actively recruiting more members.

Plan S has set a lofty goal and a frenetic pace, but we would do well to remember that open access to the literature is not the ultimate aim. We should keep our eyes on the real prize—the democratization of knowledge pushed for by the champions of Open Science. OA alone is insufficient to change the practice of science to make it more responsive to society’s needs.

Comments on the piece are welcome.

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