There has been a lot of social media chatter about Plan S since the announcement in September 2018 by a number of European governments of their intent to implement this initiative designed to ensure open access to research supported by public funds. In short, Plan S, to be fully implemented in 2020, requires authors to assign all copyright use to the general public, prohibits authors from publishing in subscription or hybrid journals, and threatens “sanctions” against authors who do not comply. Posting preprints is deemed insufficient compliance as is “green” open access, unless the author agrees to immediate public access with additional rules and requirements (Schiltz, 2018; https://www.coalition-s.org/). Nursing Research is a hybrid journal; some of the articles we publish are open access, but all are not. Making an article open access in most hybrid journals generally requires paying an article publication or processing fee (APC) to the publisher; these fees are often built into grant costs or are paid by researchers or their universities.
The stated and laudable aim of Plan S is to achieve full and immediate availability of all publications resulting from publicly funded research. However, the prohibition against publishing in hybrid journals is not needed to accomplish that; funders can stipulate publication in gold open access, and for most hybrid journals including Nursing Research, the goal of full and immediate open access would be met.
More concerning to many researchers/authors, editors, and publishers is that the primary objective of Plan S appears to be a shift toward new models of academic publishing (e.g., see https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/11/26/do-you-have-concerns-about-plan-s-then-you-must-be-an-irresponsible-privileged-conspiratorial-hypocrite/). The promoters of Plan S, European funders, the European Research Council, and others, have argued that researchers have chosen to publish in certain journals to achieve a “wrong” goal, primarily to publish in high-impact factor journals, rather than public dissemination of their work. They further argue that the current publication “system” is essentially outdated as extensive typesetting, layout design, printing copies, and so forth are no longer essential to distribution. Although Plan S promoters note that publishing will continue to have costs, particularly for review, editing, and dissemination, there is no reason for subscription publications to exist in our largely online world. Of course, Plan S would require reduction in publication costs, which would have to be paid by funders or “universities,” in much the same way current open access articles are funded. However, because all publicly funded research will be publicly available under Plan S, costs will be saved as universities and, presumably, scientists and readers will no longer have to subscribe to journals. Everything will be online and “free.”
The European funding agencies supporting Plan S are estimated to account for only about 4% of global scientific productivity, so predicting the effect of plan implementation is difficult. However, these agencies are actively engaged in spreading Plan S to other countries, including the United States. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy ensures public access to the published results of NIH-funded research via the NIH National Library of Medicine PubMed Central (PMC), a free digital archive of full-text journal literature (https://publicaccess.nih.gov/index.htm). NIH-funded investigators are required to submit an electronic version of final, peer-reviewed manuscripts to PMC; these are made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication. However, because many journals do embargo full release of articles that are not gold, there may be delays in getting information into public access. This is likely an area where publishers need to consider changes.
In any event, many journals, including Nursing Research, submit articles supported by NIH funds to PMC on behalf of the author(s). Institutions and authors are also responsible under NIH Public Access Policy for ensuring that publishing and copyright agreements comply with the policy. The PMC reference number (PMCID), issued at the time of compliance with the policy, provides a link to full-text articles in PMC. PMCIDs are different from the PubMed reference numbers (PMID), which only link to abstracts in PubMed and are not part of the NIH Public Access Policy. The Public Access Policy applies to all peer-reviewed articles resulting from research supported in whole or in part from NIH.
Current publishing models generally work well for research and practice communities. These models support open access while recognizing that APCs may be a barrier to publication. Thus, we have the hybrid model, where authors choose whether to make their work immediately available or not. For authors who wish to have their work immediately accessible via liberal reuse licenses, gold open access options are readily available. For authors who cannot or do not wish to pay an APC, nearly all journals support green open access with varying embargo periods, which aligns with federal policies in the United States and much of the rest of the world.
How concerned should we, researchers, authors, editors, and readers, be about Plan S? The answer is not clear. Journals such as Nursing Research have an important place in the dissemination of scientific findings, advanced methods, and innovative thought. We are committed to providing avenues to immediate (gold) open access for authors who chose that route. We are also committed to green open access for those unable or unwilling to pay gold open access fees. We will remain fully compliant with the requirements of NIH public access policies. We are also, as are most researchers, supportive of public access to our work, and we are concerned that initiatives such as Plan S may restrict where and how we make our work available. We are also concerned about the burden of costs for publication that initiatives such as Plan S support. Who will, in fact, bear the cost of full open access? Authors? Their universities? The NIH or other funders? We just do not know. Perhaps, it will amount to nothing. More likely, however, there will be changes in how we, and all journals, do our work.
Our mission at Nursing Research is to report scientific research findings that advance understanding of all aspects of health. We intend to do this in the way we understand best—through editorial assessment, peer review, academic editing, and highly efficient production processes. We hope that all researchers strive to make their research findings known through careful, unbiased publication such as we aim to provide at Nursing Research. We welcome your comments and, importantly, your continued contributions to achieve the mission we have set for ourselves and nursing science.