Hundreds of scientists, including talented Wageningen researcher and associate professor Joris Sprakel, are against the European plans for open access. They sent a letter of appeal.
Soon, all scientific articles by Dutch researchers will have to be openly accessible to anyone. As of 2020, scientists will not be allowed to publish in journals that use a paywall.
Just like several other countries, including France and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands supports Plan S (article in Dutch), an initiative of eleven European countries that is to force a breakthrough in open access publishing. The idea is that scientists do not pay to read journals but pay to publish in them instead.
Associate professor Joris Sprakel, who works in the Physical Chemistry and Soft Matter group, is one of the signatories of a letter that warns of the consequences. The letter is an initiative of Bas de Bruin, professor at the University of Amsterdam, and was spread i.a. by Twente professor and Spinoza Prize laureate Detlef Lohse.
The letter was signed by hundreds of Dutch and international scientists, mainly chemists. Sprakel: ‘One of the concerns within the field of chemistry is that a lack of free options for open access will press on project budgets and cause problems. The budgets for chemistry research are generally tight as it is due to the high resource costs.’
Food scientist Martijn Katan, emeritus professor at VU Amsterdam and former professor at WUR, also signed the letter. He warns for protests from more scientists. ‘In the system of open access, the payment shifts from the university library to the individual scientists. Universities are always short on money. The next thing you know, they will have to cut costs again, and scientists will be unable to publish. They will be left to find funding somewhere.’
Katan thinks that journals are still thinking of their reputation but expects that this will change. ‘In the current setting, a journal prefers to publish the very best articles in order for everyone to subscribe. This will change, as the money will flow if they accept more articles, even if those are of lower quality. These publishers will start accepting having a lower reputation. Besides, this system will turn out more expensive for the Netherlands. We are productive, and that will have its price.’
According to Katan, the advocates of open access do not know the “darker side” of research. ‘There is a reason that the advocates of open access, such as Stan Gielen and his predecessor Jos Engelen of NWO, mostly hail from physics. Physicists are incredibly honest, and there are fewer interests at play. Physics is like a small village with strong social supervision. Physicists are decent people, who are less pressurised by industry. If someone asks me: “could you share the data from that study in which you conclude that sodas are bad for your health?”, I get suspicious. Soda manufacturers would love to sift through my data to sow doubts.’
Katan thinks that the universities failed in their approach of publishers of scientific publications. ‘A publisher like Elsevier needs us more than we need them. If we don’t pay, they will go bankrupt. The problem is that the universities have let themselves be played out against one another. They should join forces, like the diamond workers in 1894. This failure on the part of the universities and governments should not be passed on to individual scientists.’