After Plan S, Here's Plan U: Funders Should Require All Research To Be Posted First As A Preprint

from the instant-open-access? dept

Preprints are emerging as a way to get research out to everyone free of charge, without needing to pay page charges to appear in a traditional open access title. The growing popularity is in part because research shows that published versions of papers in costly academic titles add almost nothing to the freely-available preprints they are based on. Now people are starting to think about ways to put preprints at the heart of academic publishing and research. In the wake of the EU's "Plan S" to make more research available as open access, there is now a proposal for "Plan U":

If all research funders required their grantees to post their manuscripts first on preprint servers -- an approach we refer to as "Plan U" -- the widespread desire to provide immediate free access to the world's scientific output would be achieved with minimal effort and expense. As noted above, mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists have been relying on arXiv as their primary means of communication for decades. The biomedical sciences were slower to adopt preprinting, but bioRxiv is undergoing exponential growth and several million readers access articles on bioRxiv every month. Depositing preprints is thus increasingly common among scientists, and mandating it would simply accelerate adoption of a process many predict will become universal in the near future.

There is a precedent for mandating preprint deposition: since 2017, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) has mandated that all grantees deposit preprints prior to or at submission for formal publication. This requirement has been accepted by CZI-funded investigators, many of whom were already routinely depositing manuscripts on bioRxiv.

The proposal goes on to consider some of the practical issues involved, such as how it would fit with peer review, and what the requirements for preprint servers might be, as well as deeper questions about guaranteed long-term preservation strategies -- a crucial issue that is often overlooked. The Plan U proposal concludes:

because it sidesteps the complexities and uncertainties of attempting to manipulate the economics of a $10B/year industry, Plan U could literally be mandated by funders tomorrow with minimal expense, achieving immediate free access to research and the significant benefits to the academic community and public this entails. Funders and other stakeholders could then focus their investment and innovation energies on the critical task of building and supporting robust and effective systems of peer review and research evaluation.

Those are all attractive features of the Plan U idea, although Egon Willighagen has rightly pointed out that using the right license for the preprints is an important issue. At the time of writing, the Plan U Web site is rather minimalist. It currently consists of just one page; there are no links to who wrote the proposal, what future plans might be, or how to get involved. I asked around on Twitter, and it seems that three well-known figures in the open science world -- Michael Eisen, John Inglis, and Richard Sever -- are the people behind this. Eisen has been one of the leading figures in the open access world since its earliest days, while Inglis and Sever are co-founders of the increasingly-popular bioRxiv preprint server, which serves the biology community. That augurs well for the idea, but it would still be good to have the details fleshed out on a more informative Web site -- something that Sever told Techdirt will be coming in due course.

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Filed Under: academic research, open access, plan s, plan u, preprint, replication crisis, research, studies

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 9:30pm

    The thing with peer review is that it is mostly not verification anyway - that is left for replication. I don't see why potential reviewers, who are not compensated anyway, could not leave review comments on a preprint server.

    Most anyone truly interested in a paper is going to be doing their own mental review. Idiots who want to "cite" papers for bullshit idiot things are going to do it regardless as to peer review status, the quality of the research, or any facts involved. Those sorts will make expansive claims or cite things that don't say what they claim they say regardless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 11:41pm

    Broad mirroring please

    Yes, the licenses are ever important. It would be very unfortunate if an Elsevier could set fire on the bioArxiv server and destroy it all, like it happened thousands of years ago when the feared Elsevirus conquered Alexandria.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2019 @ 4:39am

    Techdirt readers might like to read a more thorough paper on the potential for preprints in this new article

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2019 @ 7:11am


    That raises the question of what "pre"print will mean. If nobody's going to see the "final" version, there's little reason to make changes during that process, which leaves little reason for the process to exist. Kind of like certain ISO standards where everyone works from the latest draft version because the "real" version is locked up. (I'm told my company actually has purchased the C language standard, but I'm not going to waste the time to track that down when I can bring up a draft instantly.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2019 @ 8:15am

    I'm waiting for the next 4 plans that are all aimed at undermining Elsevier and making science free.

    Plan C Plan K Plan I Plan T

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2019 @ 7:54pm

    Re: Re:

    Not really. Final versions are generally edited for format and grammar - not for results. Bad or faked research nakes it's way into journals anyway. The only thing journals do is add cost and limit the number of papers published in physical paper journals for purely practical limitations and editorial taste as to what they think is important or interesting this month or quarter.

    None of this stops "final" (whatever that means in the scientific realm) versions from being published also, if people want to continue paying ridiculous sums for access to esteemed journals for whatever added value they expect they get from these.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2019 @ 8:01pm


    seems maybe an interesting way to track some citation impact. new to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Châu, 8 Feb 2019 @ 10:36pm

    License: CC0 - Public Domain

    Simple, require all pre print is public domain. Simplest and easyest!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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