Jyrki Hakapää

Latest developments towards open access to scientific publications

15 Oct 2020

Considerable progress was made with the implementation of Plan S – an international initiative for open access publishing – in the spring and summer of 2020. Work on Plan S can also be tied in with the objectives of Finland’s national Policy for Open Access to Scholarly Publications. There are still a number of practical questions that must be answered, however. For example, what steps are actually being taken to prepare for the adoption of Plan S principles as of the beginning of 2021?

What makes a scientific journal compatible with Plan S?

There has been much debate about how open access to scientific publications will be implemented in practice ever since Plan S was published in autumn 2018. Fundamentally, the responsibility for applying the principles of Plan S lies with funding agencies. On a practical level, however, the question is how the implementation can be made understandable and easy for researchers. After all, it is researchers who will have to battle these challenges on a day-to-day basis.

One of the solutions proposed by cOAlition S – the group of national research funding organisations in charge of the implementation of Plan S – is a database called Journal Checker Tool, which will be launched later in 2020. The database is designed to give researchers an easy way to check whether their chosen publishing venue (journal) enables compliance with Plan S. Compliance is not necessarily dependent on the policies of the journal but also the contents of the publisher’s agreements with individual research organisations or governments. The team responsible for building the tool is led by UK-based Cottage Labs. The team also includes some of the most important compilers of open access data, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

Immediate access a core priority

Immediate access is one of the core priorities of both Plan S and Finland’s national Policy for Open Access to Scholarly Publications. The traditional model of parallel publishing is hampered by what are known as embargo periods. An embargo period can delay the deposition of an article in public repositories by several months and up to a year.

To address this issue, cOAlition S published a new Rights Retention Strategy in mid-July. The strategy is designed to enable immediate parallel publishing and to discourage publishers from demanding exclusive copyrights to peer-reviewed scientific articles. In practice, this means that the funding agency ensures that the authors retain rights to at least the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) version of their article, while also stipulating and advocating immediate access to the AAM version.

Opening access to the AAM makes peer-reviewed research findings immediately available under an open licence. In theory, the Rights Retention Strategy makes it possible to pursue the objectives of Plan S without involving publishers. Nevertheless, cOAlition S recognises the importance of scientific journals to the scientific community. Scientific journals will continue to play a role in the peer-review process and help to compile and edit scientifically significant bodies of work. Moreover, researchers will always want to cite the actual published versions of articles in their works. This is why cOAlition S continues its efforts to also get scientific journals and publishers behind the open access movement.

Support for parallel publishing practices

The adoption of the Rights Retention Strategy calls for changes not only in funding agencies’ funding criteria but also in relationships with scientific publishers. There are considerable local differences in current practices, which is why members of cOAlition S will be deploying the strategy according to slightly different schedules in 2021. The Academy of Finland is waiting for the Finnish Copyright Act to be harmonised with the European DSM Directive before taking any action itself.

The international Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) published a report on the ability of different repository platforms to support compliance with Plan S in June 2020. The survey found no major barriers for repository platforms in complying with Plan S. However, the reform of the parallel publishing system requires clearer objectives and closer cooperation between funding agencies and repository platforms as well as practical implementation tools.

Status of early-career researchers in dispute

Both international and national operators recognise that the implementation of open access affects the publication options and career opportunities of early-career researchers in particular. This is why Plan S also calls attention to the value of intrinsic merit and the need to reform the assessment system. The Academy of Finland is committed to promoting this aspect of the plan by aligning its assessment practices with the national recommendation for the responsible evaluation of researchers and recommendation for the responsible application of publication metrics. The Academy has also made a commitment to the objectives of the international Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA).

The issues surrounding the status of early-career researchers came to the fore last summer, when the governing body of the European Research Council (ERC) decided to withdraw its support for Plan S, citing risks to the career development of young researchers as one of its reasons. The announcement came as a shock, as the ERC Scientific Council has been involved in the preparation and implementation of Plan S since the beginning.

The ERC’s decision is a major blow to Plan S. The European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc), the Global Young Academy (GYA), the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) and the Young Academy of Europe (YAE) published their respective positions on the career opportunities of early-career researchers in support of Plan S shortly after the ERC’s announcement. COAlition S also released a response to the ERC’s statement.

The ERC is still committed to promoting open access. Moreover, the European Commission has made a commitment to opening access to scholarly publications in line with Plan S in its research funding criteria. In other words, the Academy’s efforts to promote open access are still aligned with the European Commission’s research funding policy. Furthermore, cOAlition S recently gained two new members in the US, when the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Templeton World Charity Foundation joined the network.

More information needed to promote open access

The objective of Plan S is to improve the standard of scientific publishing in the long term. In respect of the future of Finnish scientific publishing, one of the most exciting recent developments is a study commissioned by cOAlition S on the potential of collaborative non-commercial publishing models (known as Diamond OA), the results of which are expected later this year. Not all open access scientific journals collect article processing charges (APC) from authors but instead have other sources of funding. When this blog post was written, more than 2,000 scientific journals and publishers had already contributed comments on new open access funding models to cOAlition S’s study.

cOAlition S also announced two price transparency frameworks for scientific publishers in the spring. The frameworks were developed in collaboration with ten international publishers, and they are due to be adopted as part of the implementation of Plan S in 2021 at the latest. The members of cOAlition S would ideally like to only sponsor publishers who comply with the transparency requirements.

The aforementioned studies, reports and developments are only some of the steps that have been taken to ensure that the implementation of Plan S will not end with its deployment at the beginning of 2021. The aim is to enable and prepare for a more comprehensive change in the longer term. A permanent change is the only way to ensure that scientific publishing platforms continue to serve the scientific community and the public in the future.

There is a FAQ section on cOAlition S’s website, which explains how Plan S is being promoted both now and in the long term. The list of questions and answers is regularly updated.

Also, make a note in your calendar for Friday afternoon on 27 November. The Academy of Finland plans to host a webinar on the implementation of open access to scholarly publications that day. One of the confirmed speakers is cOAlition S’s Open Access Champion Johan Rooryck. More detailed information about the event and the programme will appear on our website and on Twitter in due course.

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