Will science funders provoke a universal switch to open access publishing?

Tania Rabesandratana writes a long piece in Science describing the push for universal open access to the scientific literature: “Will the world embrace Plan S, the radical proposal to mandate open access to science papers?”

The idea is to get research funders to require scientific research articles to be made open access at the time of publication. This would require funders to commit to put up the money for article processing charges (APCs) that publishers would require for publication.

From there, things get more complicated. Today’s APCs range from zero to very expensive. Journals like Nature Communications are charging $5000 or more to publish an article open access. PLoS ONE, which publishes tens of thousands of articles a year, charges $1595.

For research in my field, those APCs would add up to a substantial proportion of the total funding for any project. This is a matter of concern for those of us who strongly support open access publishing for reasons of public engagement and responsibility to the countries that host our research.

Hence, the section of this article that discusses a broader range of countries than Europe and the U.S. is worth noting.

Outside Europe and North America, funders gave Science mixed responses about Plan S. India, the third biggest producer of scientific papers in the world, will "very likely" join Plan S, says Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan in New Delhi, principal scientific adviser to India's government. But the Russian Science Foundation is not planning to join. South Africa's National Research Foundation says it "supports Plan S in principle," but wants to consult stakeholders before signing on. Jun Adachi of the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo, an adviser to the Japan Alliance of University Library Consortia for E-Resources, says that despite interest from funders and libraries, OA has yet to gain much traction in his country.

Field-specific journals like Elsevier’s Journal of Human Evolution have an open access option that charges an APC of $3000 per article. Some research groups are in a position to pay that kind of fee for each article they publish, but most are not.

There are high-quality open access journals that charge no fees, including PaleoAnthropology. It is not clear whether the no-fee model can scale to encompass a larger fraction of the scientific research published in this area. I think it’s fair to say that the idea hasn’t been tried.