Thursday 27 August 2020

(2/2) Open access mystery: why did ERC backstab Plan S?

In my first post about the ERC’s recent withdrawal from supporting Plan S, I tried to explain ERC’s announcement using publicly available information on the ERC, Plan S, and their recent news. The potential dangers of this approach were to miss relevant pieces of information, and to give too much weight to calendar coincidences.

We are still waiting for a detailed and convincing explanation from the ERC, and for a description of their open access strategy if they still have one. Meanwhile, I would like to complete the picture based on informal contacts with a few well-informed colleagues. There emerge two potential lines of explanation.

ERC and Plan S: the two-body problem

Rather than a substantial disagreement, the problem could simply be a power struggle over who takes decisions: how much influence the ERC has on Plan S, how much decision-making the ERC is willing to delegate.

The influence of scientific societies

Scientific societies such as the American Chemical Society are often also scientific publishers, and much of their revenues could be threatened by a transition to open access. Some scientific societies have been very critical of Plan S from the start. The ERC scientific council claims that it is especially motivated by the needs of young researchers, but that council is made of senior scientists, who might be more sensitive to the needs of scientific societies.

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