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!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fund flipping threatens publishers

The following is adapted from the April 13 issue of my newsletter: "Inside Public Access"

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: A new movement has emerged in the OA community which has the potential to seriously threaten subscription publishing and therefore publishers. Institutions flip their funds from subscriptions to OA.

This movement seems to have no name as such but it flows from an international effort that is called simply OA2020. I call it "fund flipping" in analogy to journal flipping. In fact journal flipping to OA is an aspect of fund flipping.

The basic idea is very simple, as all potentially viable social movements are. In this case it is also breathtaking. Universities and other journal subscribers simply stop paying for subscriptions and instead direct these funds into OA. I am not making this up.

In the US this movement is centered in California, where several universities have signed the OA2020 effort's Expression of Interest. The Expression of Interest says this:
  • We aim to transform a majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to OA publishing in accordance with community-specific publication preferences. At the same time, we continue to support new and improved forms of OA publishing.
  • We will pursue this transformation process by converting resources currently spent on journal subscriptions into funds to support sustainable OA business models. Accordingly, we intend to re-organize the underlying cash flows, to establish transparency with regard to costs and potential savings, and to adopt mechanisms to avoid undue publication barriers.
  • We invite all parties involved in scholarly publishing, in particular universities, research institutions, funders, libraries, and publishers to collaborate on a swift and efficient transition for the benefit of scholarship and society at large.
The fund flipping movement is explained in some detail in this recent article:

"What’s behind OA2020? Accelerating the transition to open access with introspection and repurposing funds" by Rachael Samberg et al, C&RL News.

At this stage it is all just preliminary talk, or "introspection," but there is a worst case scenario here that could devastate publishers. If even a significant fraction of their subscribers suddenly stopped paying, many would likely go under. This includes both society and commercial publishers. This is what is meant by "repurposing funds."

Of course there are less draconian scenarios. For example if this movement actually became a serious threat, then the threatened publishers could choose to flip their journals to OA. They might even cut deals to do this, at least the big ones could.

At this point it looks like every university or other major subscriber is supposed to independently "introspect" about how they would like to repurpose their subscription funding. The University of California schools are apparently already doing this. They will be worth watching.

The biggest problem seems to be that there is no formal organization here. Thus there is no one to coordinate these myriad introspections, or for the publishers to deal with.

It seems very unlikely that this sort of uncoordinated grassroots effort could actually succeed. For example, how many university faculties will go along with ending most of their library's subscriptions in the name of OA? This looks like one of those schemes where everyone has to act before it makes sense for anyone to act.

But if it did succeed the result could be pure chaos, up to and including the collapse of the journal system. Uncontrolled revolutions have a way of getting out of hand. There is simply no reason why the independent OA funding actions of myriad institutions should add up to a coherent system of journals. But then some OA advocates claim that a coherent system of journals is unnecessary.

It is far too soon for doomsday predictions, but all major publishers should be aware that this fund flipping movement is growing in Europe and California.

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