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.