Plan S - on academic integrity and values

It is surprising that instead of questioning how we assess academic work we question the license under which it will be distributed.

Plan S, introduced in September 2018, pushes for a fast transition to open access across the European Union. From the moment Plan S was put forward objections to the plan came flooding in. Most prominently there was the open letter by Dr. Lynn Kamerlin and many other researchers suddenly coming out of the woodwork, all very concerned about open access and open science.

In the discussions that followed in the public sphere, twitter and elsewhere, many arguments were provided why Plan S was certainly a bad idea or at least needed bespoke fixes to the requirement of a CC-BY license on all published material.


Objections to Plan S have come in many shapes and forms. An often cited argument are the limitations on “academic freedom” ignoring the limits that currently already exists (financial / ethical or institutional). Others have argued that the possibility of re-use could discredit their work, while happily retweeting with statements that say “RT is not an endorsement”. The irony is lost on them. Many cite the financial burden being shifted to authors, which would discriminate the global South. Yet, this argument ignores the fact that the global South currently has to rely on illegal (criminal) actions to access the literature. Some argued that they have kids to feed and no tenure yet, so this whole open access thing will have to wait. This ignores the fact that others might equally well have kids to feed and currently don’t have access to literature, data, or worse medical advice, required to maintain a stable research position. Commonly PIs also co-opt students and post-docs, citing concern about promotion. However, in many of these discussions the concerns raised are not community concerns, or only veiled as such.

A dichotomy

Actually, most objections are based in personal concerns, about career paths, promotions and amassing of “prestige”. Item 4 in Kamerlin’s open letter explicitely mentions that Plan S “…will likely quickly result in lower international ranking and standing of individual cOAlition S researchers…”. Currently, tenure track positions hinge, to a large extent, on your publication record. Yet, it can be argued that if you only publish in high impact closed journals your direct impact on civil society, which generally does not have access to the work, is rather limited.

A dichotomy exists between what a researcher is suppose to produce, i.e. public knowledge, and how they are evaluated (for funding / tenure). It is therefore surprising that instead of questioning how we assess academic work we question the license under which it will be distributed.

Maintaining the status quo?

The positions taken by those opposing Plan S are akin to those of wealthy philantropists. Stating that there is a win-win solution for all, a bespoke solution, ignoring the tension between self-interest and doing good for others while maintaining the status quo. In most cases the proposed solutions will change all rules but those that protect their status.

I argue that the discussions surrounding Plan S are about academic integrety and values, not a copyright license. The resistance to the plan is a hallmark of the toxic winner take all culture which persists in academia, fed by faulty metrics of productivity and prestige. Those opposing Plan S should consider why they oppose open access rather than narrowly focussing on copyright issues.

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