Saturday, 17 November 2018

How strong are the objections to Plan S?

After a coalition of European science funding agencies announced their Plan S initiative for open access, a number of researchers wrote an open letter criticizing the move, under the title “Reaction of Researchers to Plan S: Too Far, Too Risky”. To summarize, they fear that Plan S would increase costs, lower quality, and restrict academic freedom. In order to evaluate how seriously these fears should be taken, let me start with a 5-point analysis of the issues, before discussing the open letter’s specific concerns.

Point 1: Traditional journals are overpriced by an order of magnitude.


Overall, publishers earn about 3800-5000 euros per article they publish. The true costs of organizing peer review are much lower: a few hundred euros per article at SciPost or PeerJ. The difference is therefore not mainly due to commercial publishers’ profits, but rather to large inefficiencies at all traditional publishers. (Have a look at the salaries of the American Chemical Society’s executives.)

Some publishers also use the money for subsidizing other activities, such as conferences (learned socities) or science journalism (Nature, Science). While these activities are valuable, they are not the main purpose of scientific publishing, and should not determine its future.