Saturday, March 9, 2019

Plan S end game

(This post is taken from a recent edition of my subscription newsletter Inside Public Access)

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: Now that the Plan S comment period is over and the comments made public, we can see that there is a raging debate over whether journals ought to comply or not. So it is time to consider the possible end games, which range from a lot of journals complying, to just a bunch, to almost none. The differences are pretty stark.

Everything depends on how many journals choose to comply, which in turn may well depend on how many articles fall under Plan S. At this point China and India look like the wild cards in the game.

The Twitter-verse indicates that India is considering signing on to Plan S. If true, this would be an important development. However, the Indian Science Adviser's tweets seem confused in several ways, so perhaps not to be taken too seriously. It sounds like he does not know what he is talking about, nor is this in any way official.

Note that under Plan S in its present form, middle income countries like India (and China) get an unspecified discount on all APCs. We do not know if this is 10%, 50% or 90% at this point. But a country does not have to join the S Coalition to get the discount. In any case if the discount is large it might prevent a lot of journals from flipping to Plan S compliance.

Financial disclosure is also one of the most onerous rules. It is also the funniest, because what is required -- direct costs, indirect costs and surplus -- are grant accounting terms, not business accounting. There is no such thing as indirect costs to a business.

But if India and China actually implement Plan S that is a lot of papers, perhaps bringing Plan S articles to 30% of the total submitted globally, which Smits is reported to be predicting.

The abstract question for a journal is this: What fraction of submissions has to be precluded by Plan S to make it a good decision to comply? I pointed out early on that if you have an 80% rejection rate that fraction can be large before damage occurs. On the other hand, journals do not want to write off large numbers of authors as unpublishable. It is a hard choice.

Assuming that something more than a few journals do make the leap, but many do not, we get a rather strange world in which Plan S authors can only publish in a specific subset of journals. This may be the most likely outcome, but it seems to be little discussed. The impact on the Plan S authors is probably adverse, especially if the top journals choose not to comply.

Another outcome that is quite possible is that relatively few journals choose to comply. That will be really bad for the Plan S authors, until the funders withdraw their Plan S rules, which could take a long time. A debacle in slow motion, as it were.

The worst (or best) case is where very few to no journals choose to comply. To my knowledge none are presently in compliance. What are the Plan S authors to do? This would call for emergency action by the funders, but most are government agencies so this might be difficult.

The spread of possible outcomes is very large at this point. Welcome to limbo.

A fascinating game indeed.

Two notices to notice

Two groups are now actively working to advise journals on transitioning, one to OA in general the other specifically to Plan S OA.

Here is the Plan S specific notice:

Helping learned societies transition to Open Access and explore Plan S-compliant business models

Wellcome, in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), have engaged Information Power to explore a range of potential strategies and business models through which learned societies can transition to Open Access and adapt and thrive under Plan S. The project is called Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S (SPA-OPS).

Plan S
, developed by the European Commission in partnership with Science Europe, seeks to move to a world where all research findings are made Open Access (OA). 

As the number of researchers covered by Plan S-compliant funding increases it will, in time, put pressure on the business models of many learned societies, which rely on hybrid journal publishing not only to cover their publishing costs, but to generate revenue for other important activities they undertake such as hosting meetings/conferences and awarding fellowships and other grants.

Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research at Wellcome said, Wellcome and UKRI recognise the value learned societies play in supporting researchers and contributing to a vibrant research ecosystem. We are keen for them to be successful in transition to OA in line with Plan S.  We are delighted to partner with ALPSP to explore via the team at Information Power a diverse array of potential strategies and business models through which learned societies can adapt and thrive to this changing landscape.

The team including Alicia Wise, Lorraine Estelle, and Hazel Woodward at Information Power plus additional expert Yvonne Campfens will document and develop a range of transition approaches and business models for Learned Society publishers to consider.  These will be developed in dialogue with Society publishers, libraries and consortia, funders, Society members, and Society publishing partners. Pilots with two Society publishers will bring some of the approaches and models to life.  The final report will be published in July 2019, and all materials will be available under a CC-BY licence.

About Wellcome Trust:
Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.

About UKRI
UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UKRI brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) is an international membership trade body that supports and represents not-for-profit organizations and institutions that publish scholarly and professional content.  With over 300 members in 30 countries, membership also includes those that work with these publishers. Our mission is to connect, inform, develop and represent the international scholarly and professional publishing community.

About Information Power:
Information Power Ltd has provided consultancy services in the research information space since 1985. The team works with funders, libraries, consortia, publishers, agents, vendors, and universities to advance learning, research, and scholarly communication.

Here is the more general one, from the ever active University of California:

On behalf of the University of California systemwide Office of Scholarly Communication, I am writing to share a new toolkit to help journals (& librarians or professionals who support them) interested in transitioning their publications to open access.

As explained on our blog post, (, we have just released two resources:

Guide to Transitioning Journals to Open Access Publishing. This guide is designed to help stakeholders understand basics about journal ownership, operations, and funding models, and to begin gathering important information necessary for OA publishing decision-making.

Checklist for Consultations About Transitioning Journals to OA
This checklist is for libraries and institutions to help facilitate consultations & conversations about journal operations, finances, and strategies so that journal boards and editors can come away from the conversation with a clearer understanding of how to proceed with an OA transition.

We hope these resources are of use, and we'll continue to add more. Please contact with any questions.

Rachael (on behalf of the whole OSC team)
Rachael G. Samberg, J.D., MLIS
Scholarly Communication Officer
University of California, Berkeley
438 Doe Library
Berkeley, CA  94720-6000
Ph. 510.664.5095 [N.B. new number]

Friday, January 4, 2019

Plan S does not exist

This article is based on the December 27 issue of Inside Public Access, which includes Inside Plan S.

December 27, 2018

Plan S does not exist

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: Absent the APC cap, Plan S is decisively incomplete.

In a very real sense Plan S does not exist, because one of its most central features has yet to be stated. This is the amount or form of the cap on APCs. I say "form" because it is entirely possible that the cap will be complex. For example, given the way the discussion is going, it might be different for society journals and commercial ones. Or it may be larger for smaller publishers, etc. It is, after all, clear that the Plan S people are trying to design a new publishing system. The APC cap is a good tool to tinker with.

The key point is that the APC cap is probably the biggest single factor that publishers need in order to decide whether or not to try to comply with Plan S. Thus the publishers and journals are all in limbo until this factor is specified. Given that the Plan S people say they are going to do a study on this first, it might be a long time coming.

But the supposed 2020 compliance deadline is approaching fast. So what we have at this point is a huge mess.

The tipping point for me was a recent article, innocently titled "Thoughts on Plan S implementation guidelines" by Tony Ross-Hellauer (R-H)

R-H argues that some of the implementation guidelines for repositories are so expensive that they might cause some repositories to choose not to comply, basically opting out of Plan S. Well the same is certainly true for journals, especially given the very limited membership of funders. They are presently estimated to generate less than 4% of all journal articles, so most journals can probably do without them.

Angela Cochran's fine piece in The Scholarly Kitchen -- "Plan S: A Mandate for Gold OA with Lots of Strings Attached" -- details many of the expensive requirements that flow from the guidelines. But the cap on APCs could be by far the greatest cost. It makes an enormous difference whether the cap is, say, $1000 or $3000. Given the apparent mindset of the Plan S people it might even be as low as $500 and it certainly will not be as high as the $5000 some leading journals say they need.

In fact the two types of Plan S costs are additive. Adding expensive features while cutting income might easily make compliance financially unsustainable for most journals. That the Plan S architects are either indifferent to this outcome, or somehow unaware of it, seems clear.

R-H, who is a prominent member of this radical wing of the OA movement, actually takes it a step further. He proposes that APCs be voluntary! That is, authors can choose to pay the full amount, or less, or even nothing. That a ten billion dollar a year industry, including many non-profits, can not reliably operate this way is apparently irrelevant.

Unfortunately this is the kind of anti-business thinking that seems to dominate Plan S. It is actually rather perverse to introduce a massively disruptive plan while withholding the central feature determining its viability. All of the discussion of its details that is presently going on may in fact be pointless if the APC cap is set too low, which almost seems likely.

Yet Plan S is calling for comments. It is hard to comment on a proposal when the cost is unknown. I attribute this folly to the arrogance of funders, who are used to having absolute power over researchers. They have no such power over the journals.

In fact at this point I have to say that Plan S is -- as the saying goes -- programmed to fail. The extent to which this is true will have to wait until the APC capping system is announced, presumably some time in 2019. I am not optimistic that Plan S will be viable.

In the meantime we, just like the journals, are all in limbo because there simply is no complete Plan S to evaluate. There must be (1) a proposal and (2) a price, but Plan S has no price at this point.

Half a plan is not a plan.

Interesting times lie ahead. Stay tuned.


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Monday, November 12, 2018

Plan S USA?

This article is adapted from my newsletter:

November 8, 2018

Plan S USA?

By David Wojick, Ph.D.
Synopsis: If the U.S. joins the Plan S Coalition it will change the game, maybe even win it. We begin to explore the legal and political issues.

We have said from the beginning that Plan S's biggest problem is the Coalition is far too small to be effective in boycotting the myriad subscription journals. As we reported earlier, even Smits (the "Plan S bulldog") admits this. He came to the U.S. specifically to lobby OSTP to make Plan S part of the Public Access Program. It is therefore worth exploring the complex issues involved.

The U.S. joining the Plan S Coalition would be a momentous decision. While this seems quite unlikely, it should not be ignored. Politics is full of surprises. The Trump administration seems to revel in bold moves and the Democrats now have the House to play with.

OSTP is conducting a review of the Public Access Program. But to begin with, I am not sure that the funding agencies have the legal authority to impose the Plan S restrictions on researchers. The present program is based on the (claimed) agency's federal use license to the accepted manuscript, because the government paid for part of the work. This is a very far cry from telling people which journals they cannot publish in. Federal use is not federal control. Adopting Plan S would be a huge legal step.

Congress could make such a rule but it well might wind up in the Supreme Court. As a precedent, "food stamps" apparently cannot be used to buy hot foods, alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, paper products, medicine, or household supplies. But I know of no precedent for restricting publication. That applying for a grant is voluntary is probably irrelevant, as grant programs fall under the same rules as regulatory programs. (I helped write some of these rules.)

It is a question of what the federal government is allowed to do. That Plan S is about restricting freedom of expression is very important.

I cannot see an agency passing such a restrictive rule without explicit legal authority, but things have become pretty wild in the last decade or so, when it comes to the Executive Branch making its own laws. Anything is possible, but it would probably take a Democrat president.

Thus the legal issues are pretty deep. Next come the political issues.

Until now there has been very little political appetite for something like Plan S here. The green Public Access Program is up and running. Congress won't even shorten the embargo period to 6 months, despite repeated attempts; much less boycott the subscription journal industry. But now we have a new Congress, led by Democrats. Most importantly, Plan S is a new proposal, albeit a radical one.

I suppose an agency might try to just sneak it in. That would be interesting but I cannot imagine which agency it would be. NIH is probably the only agency with enough money to be seriously interested in OA and they are very green with PMC, which has captured a bunch of other agencies under Public Access.

However, PMC already has a European arm so strong ties there. Moreover, the Welcome Trust, which just joined the Coalition, has actually made PMC a potential instrument of Plan S. Welcome has specified that articles deposited in PMC with the proper terms and conditions are compliant with its new OA mandate. It remains to be seen whether the Plan S Implementation Plan does this, but it looks like PMC is actively involved. I am sure they discussed this with Welcome, maybe even sold it to them.

Gates also joining the Coalition is something of a wild card, because it gives them a significant U.S. member. Plan S is no longer just a European initiative and this means a great deal politically in the U.S., where Gates carries weight.

In general, Plan S looks very much like the British approach writ larger and tougher. The U.S. has already rejected that approach, for now anyway, but that could change.

Interesting times indeed!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Plan S questions begin to cascade

This article is adapted from my newsletter:
Oct 25, 2018

Plan S questions begin to cascade

By David Wojick, Ph.D.
Synopsis: A meeting between Plan S architects and skeptics produces cascading questions.

The blog by Leonid Schneider has published fragments of an important discussion on Plan S. Schneider is a critic of Plan S so the thrust of his selection is somewhat negative, as well as confusing, but there is still a good bit of useful information. Schneider's headline is itself a bit of a pot boiler: Robert-Jan Smits: scholarly societies “will have to bite the bullet and go Open Access”

Here is the introduction: "The Plan S, developed by EU Commission’s special envoy Robert-Jan Smits and his partners of Science Europe, a lobby organisation of European funders, might become the biggest scholarly publishing revolution in history, or it might fail spectacularly. It all depends on who joins the cOAlitionS and how exactly it will be implemented. I obtained a near-verbatim transcript of a video-conference Smits and Science Europe president Marc Schiltz had on October 19th with Lynn Kamerin and other authors of the Appeal against Plan S, originally published on my site. It appears that Smits and Schiltz see the scientists and their scholarly societies as the reactionary elements blocking the road to the universal Open Access (OA)."

Below are some observations on the discussion and the issues, in no particular order. Plan S is entering that "emerging issues" phase where the questions grow exponentially. Initial basic questions raise multiple answers, each of which in turn raises multiple new questions, and this cascading dendritic growth pattern is repeated multiple times.

The resulting structure is what I have called an Issue Tree. There is a great deal of confusion and complexity to come. The issue tree structure is explained here in my never published textbook and I am happy to discuss it. It is the fundamental logical form of complex issues, which certainly includes Plan S.

Some observations and issues

1. The extent to which Plan S mandates gold OA is a big issue. Gold OA is not specified but no other feasible form seems to meet the 10 Principles. But forcing everyone in the world to pay APCs, while funding just your grantees' APCs, seems unfair.

2. Smits, the apparent leader and spokesperson, is bossy and hard to understand. He criticizes criticism. This is not a good combination of traits when it comes to dealing with the academic community.

3. There apparently is a German law on academic freedom, which specifically includes something like the freedom to choose which journal to publish in. If so then this strongly supports the argument that Plan S seriously attacks academic freedom. It may also mean that Germany cannot adopt the Plan.

4. Smits admits what I said originally, that without much broader support Plan S does not work. (Schneider opens by saying that Plan S may be a spectacular failure. This is certainly possible and it needs to be kept in mind.) At this point there is no sign of such support but these are very early days. A time frame of 5 to 10 years might be realistic. The interim could be chaotic. Smits has talked to the folks at OSTP about US support and OSTP has begun a review of the US Public Access Program.

5. There is mention of gold "mirror journals" published by publishers that try to parallel their existing prestige subscription journals. These are derided but they may well be the outcome of Plan S. As I said originally, the subscription publishers may just create gold OA journals to take the money. That is where hybrids came from.

6. Diamond option confusion. There is a lot of discussion of diamond OA, where the money comes from someplace besides readers or authors. For example, diamond journals funded from society endowment income was discussed here on TSK last year. A big obstacle here is that membership is often based on getting access to the society's journals. And of course commercial publishers do not have endowments so this version at least is not feasible. It sounds like Plan S does not include funding diamond journals.

7. As I predicted earlier, there is now a task force of Plan S funders hard at work developing (negotiating) an implementation plan. The number and complexity of the issues will grow enormously when this comes out. In addition to content, there is also the issue of the scope of consultation. Smits is (as usual?) vague about this.

The above are just a few of the complex issues driving the exponential growth of questions. Keeping in mind the fundamental issue tree structure might help.

Inside Public Access is published bi-weekly. For subscription information:
 We also do confidential research and consulting. 

Plan S Architect stonewalls interview

This article is adapted from my newsletter:

October 12, 2018

Plan S Architect stonewalls interview

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: OA guru Richard Poynder asks Plan S boss Robert-Jan Smits some hard questions and doesn't get many answers.

Poynder interviews Smits here. Robert-Jan Smits is the Open Access Envoy of the European Commission and previous Director-General for Research and Innovation at the EU. He is one of the architects of, and a principal spokesperson for, Plan S,

The questions are often detailed and probing, while the answers tend to be political and therefore superficial, but viewed in that light they can still be illuminating. Moreover, Poynder's explanations of the various issues are very good and worth reading all by themselves. Below is a quick look at some of the key points, in order of occurrence in the interview, not in importance.

When asked about the tight Jan 1, 2020 start date, Smits says this -- "Plan S cannot and will not override contracts which are in place before 1/1/20 and of course, we are willing to respect short-term transitional arrangements and on-going discussions on such arrangements."

Given that Plan S will be implemented via research contracts issued by the funding agencies in Coalition S, if it actually begins with contracts issued after January 1, then the papers involved will not appear until some time after, a long time after in many cases.

Just who "we" is, that will negotiate short term arrangements, is a very interesting question. Is this Coalition S or the individual funding agencies? As we said last issue, everything actually happens at the agency level, but there seems to be no indication of this at this point in the process. There may be serious legal issues here.

When Poynder mentions that publisher resistance is likely, Smits says this -- "We expect publishers to come forward with offerings which comply with the principles outlined in Plan S."

As we have said from the beginning, when it comes to the major publishers this expectation may be completely unrealistic. They can do perfectly well without the Plan S papers. But they may well start some new OA journals, closely aligned with their most prestigious subscription journals, to take the Plan S money.

Smits ducks the academic freedom issue, which Poynder puts very well. Here is the full exchange:

"RP: Another concern that has been raised is that Plan S is contrary to long-standing principles of academic freedom. For instance, since Plan S says that hybrid OA is not compliant with its principles European researchers will be banned from publishing in a great many journals that they currently publish in and love. As Nature put it, “as written, Plan S would bar researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including influential titles such as Nature and Science.” This concern about academic freedom might seem a genuine grievance in light of a 1997 UNESCO document that states, “higher-education teaching personnel should be free to publish the results of research and scholarship in books, journals and databases of their own choice”."

"R-J S: Strong mandates have been in place from many funders in different countries for many years so the principle of funder mandates in the research system is well-established. See what Peter Suber writes about this. It is for publishers to provide Plan S-compliant routes to publication in their journals so that researchers can choose where to publish when accepting funding from those who sign Plan S."

That funders have the power to dictate where papers can and cannot be published is not the issue. If authors have been free to publish where they choose, and that choice is now restricted, then this is clearly a loss of freedom. There is, however, the question whether it is a loss of "academic freedom," as that term may have a narrow technical meaning.

Smits also ducks the issue of the limited scope of the boycott mandated by Plan S, including the possible role of the US (which would fall under the Public Access Program):

"RP: (snip) I understand you also hope to get the US to buy into the Plan, which would seem to be an even greater challenge since the US has historically preferred green OA and it does not have the same centralised system as Europe. As Roger Schonfeld has put it, “[T]he higher education sector in most of North America is very different from Europe, in one key element: North America is as decentralized as Europe is, at a national level, centrally coordinated.” The challenge here surely is that Plan S can only achieve its objectives if the whole world signs up to it, or at least all those countries with large research budgets? Unless they do, for instance, Europe will find it is having to pay for gold OA plus continue to pay subscriptions in order to access the research produced in countries that do not sign up. Would you agree? How hopeful are you that you will manage to sign up a sufficient number of countries to make Plan S workable?"

"R-J S: Why do you keep on saying that Plan S is about Gold Open Access? Do read the 10 principles again and you will notice that the plan does not use Gold or Green terminology. The plan welcomes self-archiving and repositories. I am confident that Plan S is workable." (Emphasis added.)

The short emphasized statement is Smits' entire answer. The part about Plan S not mandating gold OA is something of a red herring. The major publisher's present terms for green OA do not comply with Plan S and it is hard to see the publishers changing that.

Poynder also raises the huge issue of the potentially adverse impact of Plan S on the global South:

"RP: On the other hand, if Plan S does succeed it will further marginalise and disadvantage those in the global South. If all the world’s subscription journals flipped to gold OA, for instance, where today researchers in the global South are not able to afford to access the world’s research, in future they would be unable to afford to publish their own research – which might seem a worse position to be in. Does Plan S have a solution to this problem? Will it provide money to enable those in the global South to publish their research? I am not aware that this issue is discussed in the various Plan S documents."

"R-J S: Getting rid of paywalls will help researchers in the global South to access publicly funded research without charge. This huge advantage cannot be denied. Furthermore, there are many routes to publishing research available to all countries including no-embargo open access." (Emphasis added.)

Smits' single sentence response (emphasized) in no way addresses Poynder's core question. It is virtually meaningless.

So all things considered this interview raises a lot of good questions but provides few good answers. This is not Smits fault, because these answers do not yet exist. They may never exist, because the problems Poynder points out may be irresolvable.

Inside Public Access is published bi-weekly. For subscription information:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Plan S coming soon (as of Sept 27, 2018)

The following is adapted from y newsletter -- -- September 27, 2018.

Plan S coming soon

Synopsis: The first wave of Plan S rules is under negotiation and the first big confusion has emerged.
All we have at this point are various statements from Plan S leaders, plus some public discussion, but these provide a modicum of useful information. 

The big news is that the Plan S Coalition hopes to have actual detailed rules out this year, which gives them just 90 days to do it in. Up until now all we have had to go on is just had a list of ten so-called principles, plus some preamble and public statements by leaders. Mind you the principles are pretty rule-like so the basic structure seems clear enough.

Presumable there is a lot of negotiation and debate going on among the 11 funding agencies and other parties to the Coalition. Rules can be a lot harder to write than principles. Unfortunately there seems to be a complete lack of transparency with these negotiations.

Then too, these rules are really just proposals. Looking ahead the big question is whether the many national funding agencies simply promulgate the Coalition proposed version of the rules or whether they each adapt them, change them, add to them, etc.  These are after all different countries, with different customs and systems.

So, for example, a country that does not get the rules it wants in the Coalition negotiations might implement them in its own directives. That these directives will all be finalized in 2019 may also be problematic, especially if there is local opposition. (Local in this case means within that country.)

At this point we have little idea what the outstanding issues are within the Coalition. There seems to be no transparency to their rule making, which is disappointing given that this is the Open community at work.

Regarding the ban on publishing OA in hybrid journals, last time we said we did not see the reason for it. A kind reader has pointed out that the Preamble actually addresses this issue. The reason is that using hybrids supports the subscription model. This makes it clear that Plan S is a full scale attack on the subscription model, which may make it a hard sell in the U.S., at least as long as the Republicans are in charge.

This leads us to the first big confusion. Some OA experts argue that subscription journal articles made immediately available via a repository comply with Plan S.  One Coalition leader seems to support this, saying the Plan S does not distinguish gold OA from Green.

On the other hand, allowing this sort of green compliance supports the subscription model. If hybrid OA articles are ruled out because they support the subscription model, then by that reasoning green OA ought to be ruled out as well. Statements from other leaders seem to support this view.

In addition, the conditions under which a repository deposit might comply may be of a sort that most subscription publishers do not allow. This adds a significant degree of complexity to the case. Since this issue of green OA compliance is now well known it should be interesting to see just how the coming Plan S Coalition rules handle it (if they do).

Also on the hybrid front, there is supposed to be what the Coalition is calling a "transition period," wherein hybrid OA articles are allowed to comply with Plan S. One leader says this is period likely to be 3 or 4 years.

There is some hubris in calling this a transition period, because it assumes that the subscription model will largely disappear by the end of the term. Thus the transition intended is to the end of subscriptions, perhaps where all the subscription journals flip to gold OA, or something like that. As we have said before, the relatively small number of articles that flow from Coalition member funding makes this a questionable scenario.

So all things considered, things are moving along pretty quickly with Plan S, or at least that is what the leaders are saying. That there is zero transparency makes it hard to know what is really going on. We therefore await the first wave of actual proposed rules with great interest.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Euro funders float radical rules

The following is adapted from the Sept 14 issue of my subscription newsletter: "Inside Public Access"

Euro funders float radical rules

Synopsis: Many European national funders of research are proposing to prohibit their funded researchers from publishing their results in subscription based journals. This is certainly a radical proposal, slated to go into effect very quickly.

Just when public access seemed to have stabilized the Europeans have dropped a bomb. It is called Plan S, a collaborative policy to be adopted by the funding agencies of almost a dozen countries. The countries range from Sweden to Slovenia, including France and the UK. At this point Germany and the EU are not in it, but that could change. Many prominent research funders are in Plan S, especially the British Councils.

There is some complexity and the exact rules have yet to be spelled out, but the basic idea is pretty simple. All articles flowing from agency funding must be published in fully open journals. All subscription journals are excluded, including open publishing in a hybrid.

These as yet unpublished rules are scheduled to go into effect in 2020, which is just over a year from now. As rule makings go this one is very rapid. There appears to have been no public consultation.

This prohibition is quite radical, excluding an estimated 85% of all major journals. This estimate may be high because it probably does not include most new wave, low Author Processing Charge (APC) journals, which may well benefit from Plan S. But basically publishing funded research results in most major journals is prohibited. This is truly radical.

Plan S is essentially a government mandated boycott of subscription journals. It is hard to imagine the research community being happy with these sweeping prohibitions, given that publishing in important subscription journals is a major measure of their accomplishments. Senior researchers have long standing relations with these journals, including being reviewers. Some are also on the editorial boards of subscription journals.

How this will play out remains to be seen. Does a journal want to use people who are prohibited from publishing in it? Are the Plan S researchers being forcibly removed from the mainstream communication world? Time will tell.

The idea seems to be that this boycott will force publishers to flip their journals to APC OA. Many of the news articles on Plan S say as much. However, at its present size, the Plan S movement may be too small to have this effect. Preliminary analysis suggests that funding from the Plan S agencies generates about 70,000 articles a year, half of which are British. This is a very small fraction of the 3 million or so articles published annually.

If most journals have rejection rates of 50% or more, with the majors being over 80%, then the absence of these Plan S articles will hardly be felt. In this case the most likely outcome is that the publishers will simply launch some parallel APC journals to take the  new Plan S money. Subscriptions are unlikely to go down, because the rest of the world's researchers are still sending in their articles.

That the Plan S researchers should be penalized while the subscription publishers benefit is certainly an unintended consequence, but it may well be the most likely at this point. However, if the EU and Germany join Plan S then this equation could change. If the US or China were to join as well, then Plan S might well work.

Regarding compliance, I have a hard time imagining the research community accepting this mandate. The first published response is a dense 14 page essay, titled "A Response to Plan-S from Academic Researchers: Unethical, Too Risky!" which hints at the depth of the issues. Telling scholars that they cannot publish in 85% of the existing journals, including most of the top ones, and those they already publish in, is a very big ask.

The compliance issue probably will not really arise until several years after the mandate goes into effect, but enforcement will be difficult and expensive. Noncompliance means daring to publish an article that flows from funding in a forbidden journal. It will not be easy for a Plan S funder to discover that this has happened. And punishing people for publishing great work in a leading journal must seem strange.

If there is too much resistance the obvious compromise is to allow publishing in hybrid journals. In fact it is hard to see why this is prohibited. The only reason I have seen is that hybrid OA is growing too slowly, but clearly including them in Plan S would speed their growth.

Plan S may work, or do nothing, or fail deeply. Much is to come!