science politics

Since cOAlition S is asking for recommendations from the community for the implementation of their Plan S, I have also chipped in. In their feedback form, they ask two questions, to which I have answered with the replies below. With more than 700 such recommendations already posted, I am not deluding myself that anybody is going to read mine, so, for the record, here are my answers (with links added that I haven’t added in the form):

Is there anything unclear or are there any issues that have not been addressed by the guidance document?

The document is very clear and I support the principles behind it. The only major issue left unaddressed is the real threat of universal APC-based OA as a potential outcome. This unintended consequence is particularly pernicious, because it would merely change the accessibility of the literature (which currently is not even a major issue, hence the many Big Deal cancellations world-wide), leaving all other factors untouched. A consequence of universal APC-OA is that monetary inequity would be added to a scholarly infrastructure that is already rife with replication issues, other inequities and a dearth of digital functionalities. Moreover, the available evidence suggests that authors’ publishing strategy takes prestige and other factors more into account than cost, explaining the observation of already rising APCs. A price cap is de facto unenforceable, as authors pay any price above the cap, if they deem the cost worth the benefit. Here in Germany, it has become routine in the last decade, to pay any APC above the 2000€ cap imposed by the DFG from other sources. Hence, APCs have risen also in Germany unimpeded in the last ten years. A switch away from journal-based evaluations as intended by DORA also would lead to a change in authors’ publication strategy only after hardly any evaluations were conducted by journal rank any more, a time point decades in the future, given the current ubiquitous use of journal rank, despite decades of arguing against the practice. Thus, the currently available evidence suggests that a switch to universal APC-based OA, all else remaining equal, would likely lead to the unintended consequence of massively deteriorating the current status quo, in particular at the expense of the most vulnerable scholars and to the benefit of the already successful players. Therefore, rather than pushing access to only the literature (not a major problem any more) at all costs, universal APC-based OA needs to be avoided at all costs.

A minor issue is that Plan S does not address any other research output other than text-based narratives. Why is, e.g., research data only mentioned in passing and code/software even explicitly referred to with “external” repositories? Data and code are not second-class research objects.

Are there other mechanisms or requirements funders should consider to foster full and immediate Open Access of research outputs?

Individual mandates prior to Plan S (e.g., Liège, NIH, etc.) have proven to be effective. Especially when leveraged across large numbers of researchers they can have a noticeable impact on the accessibility of research publications. Widespread adoption of these policy instruments is also a clear sign of a broader consensus about what good, modern scholarship entails. However, so far, these mandates have not only failed to cover research outputs other than scholarly publications, some of them have also proven difficult to enforce or contained incentives for APC-based OA (see above). A small change to routine proceedings at most funding agencies today could provide a solution to these problems, prevent unintended consequences and complement Plan S. In support of Plan S, this small change has been called “Plan I” (for infrastructure). The routine proceedings, carried out by most funding agencies today, that would need amending or expanding are the infrastructure requirements the agencies place on the recipient institutions. Specific infrastructure requirements often are in place and enforced for, e.g., applications concerning particular (mostly expensive) equipment. General infrastructure requirements (e.g., data repositories, long-time archiving, etc.) are often in place for all grant applications, but more rarely enforced. Finally, most funding agencies already only consider applications from accredited institutions, which have passed some basic level of infrastructure scrutiny. The amendment or expansion that would have to take place merely expands on the enforcement of the infrastructure requirements to all applications and would need to be specific with regard to the type of infrastructure required for all research outputs, i.e., narratives (often text), data and code/software. Thus, Plan I entails to require institutions to provide grant recipients with the infrastructure for their grant recipients to be able to provide full and immediate Open Access of all of their research outputs (and hence comply with the Plan S principles and not just the implementation).

Here only an abbreviated list of Plan I advantages:

  • (publisher) services become substitutable
  • permanently low costs due to actual competition
  • no author facing charges
  • desired journal functionalities can be copied
  • if subscription funds are used for implementation, the demise of journals will accelerate journal-independent evaluations
  • cost-neutral solutions for data/code
  • no individual mandates that may violate sense of academic freedom required
  • technically easy implementation of modern digital properties to all research objects
  • modern sort, filter and discovery tools replace 17th century editorial/journal system
  • implementation of social technology that serves the scholarly community
  • sustainable long-term archiving that becomes catastrophe-proof with distributed technology
  • permanent, legal, public access to all research objects, with licensing under the control of the scholarly community.
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Posted on  at 09:36