L.S. Shahsidhara discusses the merits of Plan S and what we need to do to implement it properly and reduce misuse.
Many major funders of research in Europe, led by European Research Council, have declared that “After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”
This, known as Plan S, is expected to change the way science is practiced, scientific discoveries are made, communicated and evaluated. Much has been discussed on Plan S at global and Indian levels. For example, see articles in Nature, Science, and on many platforms. It is evident that there isn’t any difference of opinion on the need and importance of open access to all publications immediately after their acceptance by the publishers. Problem is, how to implement this?
Should Indian endorse Plan S?
Assuming that much of Europe, China and perhaps USA (Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has already announced its adherence to this policy) adopt Plan S, it is likely that most reputed journals would come out of the “subscribers-pay-to-read” model and turn to “authors-pay-to-provide-open-access” model. This will also change the way manuscripts are reviewed and impact of the work is evaluated globally for faculty recruitment/assessment and for further funding of research. India, the third largest publisher of scientific papers, cannot remain non-adherent to Plan S. Modern science is a global enterprise. Scientific community does not have national and cultural boundaries. Indian scientists are making seminal contribution to the global science. Indian scientists are routinely successful in obtaining international grants. Given this, when rest of the world embraces Plan S, Indian science can’t be hidden behind publication paywalls for months and years.
Impact on Indian journals
This may prove to be beneficial to Indian journals published by Science Academies and reputed societies. These journals follow good peer-review practices. Many are free and are already providing open access from the day of publication of papers. Some Indian journals do have page charges, but those charges are much less than what one would pay to journals being published from outside India. One would expect good work being reported from all over the world through Indian journals, thus raising their reputation and impact.
Impact beyond open access
One may expect and hope for positive impact of Plan S beyond how scientific work is made accessible to all. Disappearance of publication paywalls may reduce the strong hold of “fashion” journals. A handful of these journals with vast subscription base and financial strength, even while some are following a hybrid model, dictate what is publishable. As most scientists aim to publish in these journals and they only publish a small fraction of what is submitted to them, most other journals too follow their suit. Complete open access may make publication business less lucrative resulting genuine science publishers becoming more visible.
While this may be a tall order, if that happens, perhaps, no more bias on what is being published and/or from where the work is being reported. If so, Indian science would be adjudged without any bias and India scientists would then truly merge with global community. Indian scientists are either only outward looking and work on Global Science (which is often shaped by “fashion” journals) or only inward looking and work on local problems, often using sub-standard methods. Perhaps, global scientific community’s engagement with Indian science through our journals and unbiased review of science may provide much needed impetus for our community to work on original ideas, capitalize on unique features of Indian biological and geological resources and invest more resources and time on India-specific problems that need scientific solutions. This will also have a positive impact on the evaluation methods that we follow during faculty recruitment/assessment and review of grant proposals.
How to implement this?
Easy way is to publish in good peer-reviewed journals which provide open access without page charges. There aren’t that many such journals. With more submission of manuscripts to these journals, the cost of handling manuscripts and maintaining high standards of peer-review in a timely manner may make even those journals too to opt for page charges. This means, we all need to have access to funds to publish our work in open access journals. Indian funding agencies, as of now, do not provide for publication costs. But this can be easily made available without much financial implications on funding agencies. Let us assume that every grant of Rs 50 lakhs results in two publications. Publication costs would be anywhere between Rs 50,000 to 100,000 per manuscript. This means, just 2-4% increase in budget allocation.
How to prevent its misuse?
We have still not been able to come out of the impact factor menace. We are all flooded by predatory journals, which are not only cashing on our addiction to high impact factor journals, they are ahead of all funders and major academies in promoting open access!! Not only they are ready to provide open access to our scientific discoveries, they are also providing open access to mythical and fictional discoveries by people who never did any science in their life. These journals are damaging the very basic fabric of scientific integrity and ethics. Will Plan S channel more funds to their growth? Improved reputation and impact of Indian journals (large number of predatory journals are from India; thankfully, no one calls them as Indian journals!), might change the way we review the science and scientists in India. Thus, this menace of predatory journals too may be controlled by the more vigilant and globally-well connected scientific community.
LS Shashidhara is a Professor at IISER Pune and Ashoka University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All expressed opinions are personal.