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European research funders demand open access

Declaration could push change at scientific publishers

by Andrea Widener
September 6, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 36


In a move that could potentially disrupt scientific publishing, 11 European science funders have mandated that by 2020 their grant recipients publish only in journals that make all content freely accessible.

Chart showing percentages of journals that are open access, hybrid, delayed, and subscription.
Journals by publishing model
Restricting researchers to fully open access publications would significantly limit their choices.
Note: Hybrid journals offer both subscription and freely accessible content. Delayed content is made freely accessible after a certain period of time. Analysis is based on journals indexed in Scopus in 2016, including those in physical, life, and social sciences; engineering; arts; and humanities. As of Sept. 5, 2018, Scopus claims to index more than 23,700 peer-reviewed journals.
Source: Universities UK

Signatories to Plan S say scientists can publish their research only in journals that are completely open access. That would eliminate 85% of publications worldwide, including high-profile journals like Science and Nature, as well as most chemistry journals. The participants include national funders in the U.K., France, the Netherlands, and other European nations.

“The current publication paywalls withhold a substantial amount of research results from a large fraction of the scientific community and from society as a whole,” the Plan S coalition said in a statement. “No science should be locked behind paywalls as this hinders the scientific enterprise in its very foundations and hampers its uptake by society.”

Many publishers, including the American Chemical Society, have introduced open access through hybrid journals that allow scientists to pay for papers to be immediately available. But publishing in those journals would not be acceptable under Plan S.

If other funders follow suit, including the European Union, the effects on scientific publishing could be wide reaching.

Egon Willighagen, editor of the open access Journal of Cheminformatics, says that publishers have been slow to move from subscription-based publishing to open access models.

“If 11 major funders make this strong push towards change, with a vivid ecosystem that already made that change, publishers of hybrid journals have to take the next step” toward complete open access, he says.

Publishers are skeptical of the plan. Funder mandates should not “restrict researchers’ freedom to publish in the journals of their choosing,” says Glenn S. Ruskin, director of external affairs and communications at ACS, which also publishes C&EN. ACS is also concerned that disrupting scientific publishing could hurt the integrity of the scientific record and the viability of global scholarly communication. About 25% of ACS first authors are from Europe.


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