Rachel Pells: Rich ‘should pay to help poorer nations make open access switch’

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Research funders in richer nations should help fund the costs of the move towards open access publishing in developing countries, according to the executive chair of Research England.

David Sweeney said that research funders in 13 European countries had made “fantastic progress” by uniting behind Plan S, which will require all publicly funded research to be made freely available.

But Mr Sweeney, who will lead a task force exploring the implementation of Plan S, scheduled for 2020, acknowledged that “barriers” blocking the spread of open access further afield remained in place.

Researchers in developing countries are less likely to be able to afford the article processing charges that replace journal subscription fees under many open access models.

And a recurring criticism of Plan S is that it could restrict the ability of European researchers to collaborate with colleagues working in countries with more limited open access options, and therefore exclude those countries from cross-border collaborations.

“If Plan S were to be implemented in such a way that it were to limit options for those in poorer countries, that would be wrong,” said Mr Sweeney, speaking at a Royal Society conference in London.

While details of Plan S’ implementation are still being developed, Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s special envoy for open science, has declared his intention to cap article processing charges.
But in countries beyond the reach of Plan S, and where processing charges may remain prohibitively high, Western funders should go out of their way to help collaborators to publish their work, Mr Sweeney said.

“Where there are costs, let those of us in the wealthier nations take the responsibility for those who cannot afford it,” he said. “I want a culture of openness where it is a truly global scholarly enterprise that everyone can participate in.”

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Mr Sweeney said that wealthy funders “should take some responsibility to make sure that these countries are not excluded as a result” of the shift to open access.

“How we do that is definitely an issue that needs some discussing, but…contributing towards article processing charges is one example,” he said.

At the same event, Mr Smits said that employers also had a responsibility to shift the wider research culture away from targeted publishing in selective journals whose values did not marry with open access goals.

“Data hugging has to stop,” he said. “Get rid of this obsession that the impact factor [of a journal] can change someone’s career.”

A policy paper on Plan S implementation is expected to be published before the end of the year.

Originally posted in Times Higher Education

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