The bold plan to realize an open science future

The future of open science is high on the agenda right now since the introduction of a new plan last week describing the future of open access in Europe. In this blog post, qBionano’s Mattias discusses these recent developments. Our previous 1-step guide on how to make your research freely (and legally) available may also be of interest.

Last week a range of European research funders (including the European Union) announced Plan S which has the stated goal of “accelerating the transition to full and immediate Open Access to scientific publications”.

While some journals and publishers predictably reacted very strongly with Nature calling it “radical” and Science saying it will “disrupt scholarly communications“, researchers (especially early-career researchers) have been supportive: e.g. the Marie Curie Alumni Association (with 10,000+ researchers as members) announced its support early on.

Parts of the publishing industry have staggeringly high profits which has been controversial for years, and I have previously argued that a re-alignment is necessary to once again make many of these publishers central and valued members of the research community. (I was encouraged when I recently learned that the Editor-in-Chief of Springer Nature also thinks along these lines.)

When it comes to Plan S, highly recommended reading is a blog post by Peter Suber (Harvard University) and a blog post by Danny Kingsley (University of Cambridge) who elegantly describe key pros and cons with Plan S. An important aspect of this is that large parts of Plan S should not be contentious. In fact, much of Plan S is just a natural continuation of policy and guidelines that have been successfully developed over years by diverse actors across the US, the UK, the EU and elsewhere.

The two key points I’d like to focus on — which are core to Plan S — are immediate access and full rights retention by authors.

Immediate access

Immediate free access (i.e. zero embargo) to publicly funded research outcomes is of importance both morally and practically. For the healthcare worker trying to contain an epidemic or the cancer patient trying to understand different treatment options, there is an obvious urgency to being able to access the latest research — even if they are not affiliated with a well-funded academic institution. On an even broader level, as stated by the European Commissioner Carlos Moedas: “free access to all scientific publications from publicly funded research is a moral right of citizens”.

It’s also important to note that before 2012 most publishers allowed authors to post their accepted papers on their personal webpage or their institutional repository without any embargo, demonstrating that sharing embargoes are a relatively recent invention and that journal publishing and zero-embargo sharing is not incompatible. It is encouraging that a large publisher like Springer Nature recently also acknowledged that immediate availability is the desired future for open science and open access.

Rights retention by authors

Another important aspect of Plan S is that authors of research papers should not transfer the rights of their work to publishers. For example, today authors need to ask permission from many publishers to re-use their own papers in teaching and outreach etc. An alternative to the current common scenario of transferring rights to the publisher, is instead to follow the example of 70+ US-based institutions who have adopted the “Harvard open access license” in which authors retain the rights to their work.

In the UK this has inspired the development of the UK Scholarly Communications License which ensures that authors retain their copyright and, by extension, their moral rights. These and similar examples demonstrates that not only is rights retention by authors fully possible, it has also been established practice for years in dozens of places.

Compliant publishing models

Many types of publishing models are compatible with these two criteria (i.e., zero embargo and rights retention by authors). This includes green open access and gold open access, as well as publishing in journals and platforms that are free for both authors and readers: including Gates Open Research, Wellcome Open Research, and journals published by the Beilstein Institute among many others.

Most likely a combination of diverse approaches that all embraces zero embargo and rights retention by authors will be the most effective path towards full open access.

Building on a solid foundation

Perhaps the main message here is that most of these developments are neither completely new nor untested. A good summary of the long, global progress in these areas was released last week by the MIT Open Access Task Force.

For those that remain hesitant, it may be useful to remember that the Gates Foundation have had a very strong open access policy for several years already (effective since January 1st, 2015) and these and similar developments have greatly helped advance open science and matured these type of guidelines.

With Plan S, depositing the accepted paper in an institutional repository with zero embargo and with a Creative Commons license or similar seems to be compliant with Plan S, which would make widespread adoption and implementation straightforward — especially as deposition in institutional repositories is already routinely done in many countries (e.g. US, UK, Australia and others).

While there are challenges that remain (e.g., as raised in the press release by the Marie Curie Alumni Association) the future of open science is brighter than ever.

Update 2018-10-01: Great blog post by Stephen Curry discussing academic freedom and responsibility: “Why Plan S is not unethical

Update 2018-09-30: The Royal Society’s journals might provide a guide for the future of society-based journals. For example, authors that publish in Proceedings of the Royal Society B retain copyright to their work and can share the Author’s Accepted Manuscript (see image below) via an institutional or disciplinary repository with zero embargo.

Update 2018-09-25: Robert-Jan Smits confirmed at the Conference of the Open Access Publishing Association that sharing an Author’s Accepted Manuscript (see image below) with zero embargo and CC-BY in an institutional repository will comply with Plan S.

Update 2018-09-24: Today, Eurodoc, MCAA and YAE published a joint statement endorsing Plan S, and offered suggestions for its implementation.

Update 2018-09-16 [see update 2018-09-25 above which supersedes this comment] Good point that was raised on Twitter: Plan S is not yet explicit about which version that can be shared through an institutional repository, e.g. if it’s the Version of Record or the Author’s Accepted Manuscript (see image below for definitions). Discussions on these details are ongoing.



The different versions of a manuscript. Image reproduced from here under a CC-BY license.

The turtle photograph at the top of this blog post is in the public domain under a CC0 license.


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