Plan S

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2019), News, Volume 27

The implications for history journals, researchers and learned societies.

By Jacqueline Hill

Recent decades have seen certain publishers of science journals focus chiefly on profit. Naturally, libraries and other subscribers find such costs extremely challenging. A simple example should suffice. A one-year library subscription to the journal Irish Historical Studies, published by Cambridge University Press, costs €150; a one-year subscription to the Journal of Applied Biotechnology, published by Springer, costs €11,000.

Several European science research funders, known collectively as cOAlition S, have devised Plan S, which has the support of the European Research Council’s Science Council, UK Research and Innovation, the Wellcome Trust and, among Irish bodies, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). In the Irish context, the National Open Research Forum (NORF), co-chaired by the HEA, advises research funding bodies on the move towards Open Access.

Published in 2018, Plan S requires researchers whose work is funded by any of the signatory bodies to make their published articles immediately available to readers through Open Access. All researchers funded by such bodies must publish only in Plan S-compliant journals or Open Access platforms. And cOAlition S insists that its Open Access policy must apply to funded researchers in the humanities and social sciences as well as in STEM subjects.

Leading science journals will still receive an income, because most of those who publish in them are on funded research grants and can provide payments called article-processing charges (APCs) to such journals. For humanities journals, however, the implications of Plan S are serious. Should they wish to become Plan S-compliant, immediate Open Access is required—for the entire contents of the journal. This would undermine subscription income, but few who publish in humanities journals are in receipt of funding that enables them to pay APCs. This could challenge the very existence of such journals and/or produce a two-tier system. It will also endanger many of the learned societies that currently oversee the editorial process for such journals, ensuring proper peer review, and sometimes other academic-related services, such as publishing book series, awarding bursaries, organising conferences, etc.

Recently, several leading history journals in Ireland and Britain have become ‘hybrid’ journals. If a hybrid journal publishes an article by an author with a major research grant, the contributor pays the journal an APC and that article is immediately made available on Open Access. The rest of the contents are subject to an embargo period (often five years), during which time only subscribers have access to the whole contents in either hard or digital copy. This protects subscription income, but cOAlition S considers the ‘hybrid’ model to be incompatible with its objectives.

In February 2019 Irish Historical Studies and the Irish Economic and Social History Society sent in a joint submission to cOAlition S, NORF and the Royal Irish Academy, outlining their concerns for the humanities in general and for history in particular; for the societies that oversee and support publication; and for the manner in which Plan S is being pursued.

Following submissions from some 600 interested parties, cOAlition S produced a revised version of Plan S in May 2019 (https://www.coalition-s.org/). There are some signs of improvement. For instance, the overall time-line for compliance has been extended from January 2020 to January 2021. Meanwhile, in some countries research institutions have entered into read-and-publish agreements with publishers. Such agreements transform scholarly journals from subscription to Open Access publishing, by which resources hitherto spent on journal subscriptions are converted into funds to support Open Access models.

In the Irish context, NORF has issued a revised statement (July 2019) (www.norf-ireland.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/NORF_Framework_10_July_2019-2.pdf). It remains committed to creating ‘a National Action Plan for the transition to an Open Research environment in Ireland … across all disciplines’. NORF, however, is going further than cOAlition S. Its scope encompasses ‘all publicly funded research’, defined as ‘research undertaken in whole or in part via publicly-funded resourcing/remuneration, e.g. salaries, grants, contracts, etc.’. This means, for example, that anyone employed in a third-level institution in Ireland will be required to make their publications immediately available through Open Access.

There are some more positive indications. NORF suggests that it will be giving special consideration to ways in which the transition to Open Access affects the following groups:

  • arts and humanities researchers;
  • early career researchers;
  • researchers not in receipt of grant funding; publicly funded researchers with no formal institutional affiliation;
  • small, independent, non-profit journals and publishers (especially Irish journals and publishers);
  • learned societies (especially Irish learned societies);
  • researchers and citizens in the Global South;
  • citizen scientists.

Reassuringly, NORF notes that ‘An underlying principle of the National Framework and associated National Action Plan is that all researchers will have access to the resources necessary to enable them to publish through Open Access, without prejudice’. As of now, however, it is not clear how these aims are to be achieved and monitored, or—and this goes to the heart of the matter—where the money will come from once subscription income, and probably learned societies too, have gone. Accordingly, any Irish journals and publishers, learned societies and other interested parties would be well advised as a matter of priority to get in touch with NORF (www.norf-ireland.net) and raise their concerns. Don’t delay!

Jacqueline Hill is Secretary of Irish Historical Studies.

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