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Scientists worried over a “too open” science

In our September edition, we covered some important developments of Plan S: an initiative first proposed in 2016 by all EU Member States according to which, by January 2020, the findings of EU-funded researches will be made immediately available to the wider public via an open access platform. The European Commission and an alliance of 11 national research agencies (cOAlition) are now taking concrete steps towards the achievement of this ambitious goal. However, worries and skepticism over this initiative by researchers have been the other side of the coin since the very beginning of the negotiations, and for a number of reasons. 

First of all, researchers complain that once Plan S will be implemented, they will no longer be able to publish on hybrid society journals. Hybrid journals are journals in which some of the articles are open access but the authors of those articles have to pay a pubication fee to publisher (on top of the subscription to access the rest of the journal). In fields like chemistry and physics, these journals - such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, RSC - remain among the most authoritative sources of information on research developments. Moreover, national funding agencies and research institutions might decide to completely cut their subscription to those socity journals in order to manage the high costs of the article processing charges for the Open Access online platform. It will therefore be extremely hard for researchers even to simply read other society journals.
Secondly, some EU member states such as Germany, Belgium and Spain, have decided not to join the initiative for the time being. There is therefore widespread concern that this will translate into a situation in which some researchers will be part of the wider scientific debate, being able to read and publish article in the highly valued society journals, while others will not, with a possible negative impact on internationalisation of PhD students and postdocs. Further worries concern the costs of management of this new open access journal and the fear that this will not go hand in hand with quality, as well as the fact that its one-size-one-fits approach will not take into account the profound differences between different research fields.   

These concerns have now been put together in an open letter, so far signed by 1367 researchers from all over Europe, who explain what the risks of a “too open” science might be. On 27 November, the "cOAlition S" has released a roadmap on how to implement Plan S, indicating that a three-year transition period will be granted to academics funded by the EU, in which they can continue publishing on hybrid society journals.