Science - January 31, 2019

‘Plan for open access going too fast’

Roelof Kleis

The science funding organization NWO is moving too fast in its desire to enforce open access publication. That is at the expense of the quality of the science, say Wageningen researchers.

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The Wageningen scientists make this argument in a letter to NWO and the other European initiators of what is known as Plan S. This plan, which was launched last autumn, makes a rigorous choice to only publish research funded by public money in journals that are completely open access (the gold standard) and to implement this by the end of 2019.

Plan S is causing a lot of disquiet amongst scientists. A group of prominent Wageningen researchers, including the professors Marcel Dicke, Jan-Willem van Groenigen and Ken Giller, have submitted their objections to NWO on behalf of the Wageningen scientists. The crux of their criticism is that the plan is too rigorous and inflexible. The researchers feel Plan S will have a disruptive effect. They agree with the aim of open access but advocate a more gradual transition that allows room for hybrid journals in the intervening period. These journals have a subscription system but also facilitate open access for a fee or as part of an agreement with universities.

Plan S uncompromisingly rejects such hybrid journals. The researchers feel this is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. A quarter of all Wageningen articles are published as open access papers in hybrid journals, and this share is expected to increase. But if Plan S becomes the yardstick, that will no longer be allowed. It is not clear what effect this will have. Only one in five peer-reviewed articles appears in journals that are fully open access, as required by Plan S.

The researchers fear that the urge to move fast to open access publishing will have some major disadvantages. The main problem concerns the check on the quality of articles. In open access, researchers pay in advance for publication so that readers no longer have to pay a subscription. This business model encourages so-called predatory journals that hardly carry out any quality checks and simply focus on publishing as many articles as possible. What is more, open access is expensive: it can cost up to 4000 euros to publish an article in a leading journal.

The Forum library has now set up an intranet group, Open Access Publishing, for the debate about open access within WUR.