Two of the world’s largest biomedical research funders have backed a plan to make all new papers open access immediately on publication by 2020.
On 5 November, the London-based Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, announced they were both joining ‘Plan S’, adding their weight to an initiative already backed by 13 research funders across Europe since its launch in September.The plan was spearheaded by Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s special envoy on open access.
The Wellcome Trust, which gave out £1.1 billion (US$1.4 billion) in grants in 2016-17, is also the first funder to detail how it intends to implement Plan S. Its approach suggests that journals may not need to switch wholesale to open-access (OA) models by 2020 to be compliant with Plan S — if the initiative’s other backers decide on a similar line.
The biomedical charity already has an OA policy, but in some cases it allows an embargo of up to six months after publication before papers have to be made free to read. The organization says that by 1 January 2020, it will ban all such embargoes. Wellcome-funded work will not be able to appear in Nature, Science and other influential subscription journals unless these publications permit Wellcome-funded papers to be published openly (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of its publisher).
Researchers the charity funds could still publish in subscription journals, says Robert Kiley, the charity’s head of open research. But only if those journals agree that the authors can immediately deposit their manuscript in the PubMedCentral repository under a liberal publishing licence. Some publishers, such as the Royal Society in London, already allow this.
Plan S also states that scientists can’t publish in ‘hybrid’ journals, which collect subscriptions but charge for some papers to be made open. Wellcome says that it will stop paying OA fees for publishing in hybrid journals. But it will not bar its papers from hybrid journals if authors can find other ways to pay, or if a journal agrees to let authors also post their accepted manuscripts elsewhere at the same time under OA terms.
Kiley adds that until 2022, Wellcome will also support hybrid journals if their publishers have made ‘transformative OA agreements’ en route to becoming open access. These might include, for instance, ‘read and publish’ deals in which an institution’s subscription fees also cover the costs of their authors publishing openly in a hybrid journal.
This essentially follows the spirit of a Plan S statement that some hybrid-journal publishing would be allowed for a transitional time.
Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation, which already demands immediate open-access for the papers published as a result of the research it funds, said it would update its policy to comply with Plan S over the next 12 months. The initiative’s hybrid-journal component is the only part not covered under Gates’ current policy, a spokesperson says.
Taken as a whole, the revised policies put more pressure on non-OA journals to change the way they operate, says Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project and the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I applaud Wellcome and Gates for taking this step,” he says, adding that Harvard University has for many years decided not to pay open-access fees for publishing in hybrid journals.
The Gates Foundation, which spent $4.6 billion in 2016, much of it on science, has already been influential in changing the policies of subscription journals by demanding immediate open-access for its researchers.
Since 2017, when Gates began enforcing its policy, journals including the New England Journal of Medicine and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have been offering a permanent OA publishing route for the charity’s grant holders. The organization also arranged a pilot partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC, which publishes Science, under which more than 25 papers were published openly. That trial ended in June.
The Wellcome Trust’s new OA policy also says that when there may be a significant public health benefit to sharing preprints widely — such as during a disease outbreak — the work it funds must be published before peer review under a liberal license.
The other funders supporting Plan S are expected to launch a public consultation on their implementation ideas at the end of November, according to Smits,.
STM, a global trade association for academic and professional publishers, says it welcomes the efforts by the Wellcome Trust, Gates Foundation, and others to work towards expanding access to peer-reviewed scientific works to maximise their value and reuse. “We continue to urge funders and institutions to consider all effective methods for supporting a successful transition to open access,” a spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Springer Nature said: “Like the Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation, Springer Nature supports the intention to move faster towards a system where publicly-funded research is openly available at the point of publication.”
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