Europe’s Plan S Aims To Dramatically Reshape Science Publishing

A group of 11 national funding organizations in Europe has announced that they will require every paper it funds to be freely available from the moment of publication. Science Europe, a Brussels-based advocacy group that represents European research agencies, officially launched the policy. The 11 participants jointly represent more than half of the funding stream that Science Europe’s members control, spending about €7.6 billion (US$8.8 billion) on research annually.

Under the plan, grantees that accept funding from the pledged funders will have to forgo publishing in journals that keep their papers behind a paywall. They will also be prohibited from publishing in so-called hybrid journals, which charge subscriptions but also make individual papers open access for an extra fee. A preamble document that accompanies the pledge, called Plan S, says, “No science should be locked behind paywalls!”

As a term of accepting funding, authors will need to retain the copyright on their papers and publish them under an open license that would allow anyone else to download, translate or otherwise reuse the work. The 6- or 12-month delays that many subscription journals now require before a paper is made open access will no longer be allowed. The plan will cap the fees paid for publication in open access journals at a yet-to-be-determined level.

The move means thousands of journals, including high-profile ones such as Nature, Science, Cell, and The Lancet, will receive substantially less material for publication unless those journals change their business model. According to a December 2017 analysis, only around 15 percent of journals publish work immediately as open access. More than one-third of journals still publish papers behind a paywall.

Europe has taken the lead in pushing for open access in recent years. The European Commission and the European Research Council have said that they support the plan, but have yet to adopt similar requirements for the research they fund. Many other funders have publicly stated that they support open access, but only the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation requires “immediate open access.”

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