Disrupting the Scientific Publishing System? Plan S and the Future of Open Access

The open access initiative Plan S has rekindled the debate on the future of open access and pushed the European research community to renew its commitment to a transition towards a fully open science system. ALLEA joined the discussion with the expertise of its working groups and elaborated an initial response to shift the focus of the initiative for the benefit of science and society. The debate is far from close and many ethical, legal and disciplinary considerations are still on the table. We asked ALLEA working groups’ chairs about some of the most relevant aspects of the future of open access.

We need to look at more than sticks and carrots – an analysis of conditions and infrastructures promoting high quality research is essential.


Göran Hermerén, Chair of the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Science and Ethics

Question: The past year has seen some great strides in the advancement of open access. Your working group has contributed both to addressing ethical considerations in general as well as those within Plan S. Do you think that we are now on the right path to achieving a good, ethically fair system of open access?

Göran Hermerén: Yes, on the whole. But more work on the implementation of open access remains to be done – including comprehensive dialogue with different stakeholders. This will take some time, but it is important, since the challenges, needs and publication habits vary among various disciplines. Care must be taken that countries and research institutions with less economic resources are not disfavoured. The role of the funding agencies is crucial, since they can impose conditions for their financial support of research projects.

Q.: ALLEA’s response to Plan S stressed the need for a corresponding reform of the research evaluation system. Where do you stand on this issue and what do you think is important to consider in any such reform?

G.H.: At our next meeting we will plan an activity focusing precisely on this. In the evaluation of research performance it is important to consider not only commonly used metrics that are thought to drive poor behaviour, such as journal impact factor, citation rates or even just numbers of publications, but take a broader view of approaches and incentives that could be used to promote research integrity and good scientific practice. Some metrics are required but these will need to be supplemented by other considerations such as the quality of the research (idea or output) and its potential to have beneficial societal or economic impacts in the longer term. The San Francisco DORA declaration is an important document in this debate. This also means we need to look at more than sticks and carrots –an analysis of conditions and infrastructures promoting high quality research is essential.

In the answers to both questions it will be important to keep an eye on unintended consequences of well-meaning proposals, and realise that what may work or even work well in one country or discipline might not work (or work well) in others.


Natalie Harrower, Chair of the ALLEA Working Group E Humanities

Question: While Plan S is putting a focus on open access to scientific publications your working group’s activities also include the broader context of open science and open data. What principles do you recommend should be followed here and how could they best be implemented?

Natalie Harrower: The movement towards greater openness, transparency, and widespread access to scientific research and the multiple products of that research has been grouped under the broader concept or movement known as ‘open science’. In terms of research transparency, integrity, acceleration and the democratisation of access to knowledge, open science as a movement is nothing less than revolutionary, and it should be broadly welcomed and supported at all levels.

Alongside the movement towards open access to scientific publications is the movement towards opening access to the research data that enables the findings detailed in these publications. Researchers should now turn their attention to following the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reproducible) in data management, and seek guidance on how to create a data management plan (DMP) as early as possible in the research process (i.e. when preparing grant applications, or before undertaking a new programme of research). Researchers, and research support staff, should make themselves aware of any national policies on open science/open research/open scholarship, and can turn to funding agencies, research offices, academic libraries, or European sources for specific guidance. Umbrella organisations working to support and enable better research data sharing include the Research Data Alliance, CODATA, and Science Europe.


Researchers should now turn their attention to following the FAIR principles in data managament, and seek guidance on how to create a data management plan as early as possible in the research process.

Joseph Straus, Chair of the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Intellectual Property Rights

Question: Open access may generate conflicts with some aspects of the patenting system. One of the recommendations of the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Intellectual Property Rights refers to the need to adopt a grace period in Europe. Why is such a measure necessary and how should Plan S take into account this demand?

Joseph Straus: It may first be recalled that under the European Patent Convention and the patent laws of the EU Member States novelty destroying state of the art is everything which has been made available to the public in any way prior to the filing of the patent application. In other words, also own publications of the inventor him/herself constitute such a prior art.
In a number of countries, such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the United States, to name but a few, the institute of a so-called grace period exists, which enables the inventor, or his/her successor in title, to apply for a patent within a certain period of time (six or twelve months) from the publication date and enjoy immunity against their own publications.
Although all inventors and their research institutions have to be careful in allowing publication of research results prior to the filing of a patent application, inventors, especially from academic institutions, publish their research results without an adequate control as regards their patentability and potential commercial exploitation, and thus deprive themselves and their employers, eventually also the tax payers in case of publicly funded institutions, of any property rights in such research results.


Since the Plan S puts pressure on early publication of research results, the lack of grace period in the European patent law (s) will obviously aggravate the situation of European scientists/researchers and put them at even greater disadvantage as compared with their colleagues overseas.

ALLEA has since the 1990s repeatedly, but in vain, advocated in favour of an introduction of a grace period in the European Patent Convention and the patent laws of the EU Member States. For that purpose representatives of ALLEA met even the responsible EU Commissioner, and on different occasions also other representatives. It should be emphasised that because of intricacies of patent law, often, even a timely filed patent application does not adequately protect the inventor and his/her research institutions as regards the follow-on research.
In any case, a prudent handling of publication activities results, on the one hand in some delay of publication and still does not offer the necessary legal certainty. Since Plan S evidently puts pressure on early publication of research results and on open access to them, the lack of a grace period in the European patent law(s) will obviously aggravate the situation of European scientists/researchers and put them at an even greater disadvantage as compared with their colleagues overseas.


This interview was originally conducted for and published in ALLEA’s Annual Report 2018/2019

Academies call for a sustainable European data governance approach

The ALLEA/Royal Society Discussion Paper ‘Flourishing in a data-enabled society’ examines how a European approach to data governance can unlock the full potential of data-based technologies, while at the same time safeguarding European values.

SAPEA Report: The challenges of ageing must be faced by the young


A new SAPEA report looks into the future of ageing. It reviews the best evidence available and assesses how different public policy options might help EU countries to achieve inclusive, fair and sustainable health and social care in the future.

Society must tackle the challenges presented by ageing in every generation – not leave them until old age. This is the key conclusion of a major new Evidence Review Report entitled Transforming the Future of Ageing, published today by SAPEA.

The report is destined for the desks of the new European Commissioners expected to take office later in 2019. It reviews the best evidence on what public policies might help EU countries to achieve inclusive, fair and sustainable health and social care in the future.

The authors, leading scientists nominated by academies across Europe, conclude that the ageing process needs to be transformed – and that the best way to improve life outcomes in old age is to anticipate and tackle them in youth and middle age.

Among the report’s other headline conclusions are:
• Ageing in the future will take place in a very different context from the past and will be profoundly affected by phenomena such as climate change, air pollution and antibiotic resistance, as well as ongoing social changes. Policies will only be successful if they are able to accommodate these changes.
• Age-friendly communities enable older people to feel secure and to go about their daily life comfortably. Architects, urban planners, experts in mobility and ergonomics, social care experts and geriatricians must cooperate to make age-friendly communities the norm.
• Technology, including wearable and assistive devices and the advent of AI, is already changing the experience of ageing, and could transform it if barriers of acceptance and practicality can be overcome.

Further information and the report itself are available on SAPEA’s website.

International Symposium on the Future of Learned Academies

On 12-14 June 2019, the American Philosophical Society (APS) held the Public Keynote ‘International Symposium on the Future of Learned Academies’ as the closing event of its 275th anniversary celebration. ALLEA President Antonio Loprieno joined other renowned scholars from nearly 30 academies from around the world to discuss the major challenges and opportunities facing scientific institutions in the current political, economic, and social context.

The symposium consisted of an International Keynote Panel held at the APS’ Franklin Hall on June 13 to highlight major challenges to the scholarly and scientific enterprise. The Panel was chaired by CEO of The New York Times Company, Mark Thompson, and the panellists included ALLEA President Antonio Loprieno, Ali Alpar from Bilim Akademisi  (Turkey), James Liao from Academia Sinica (Taiwan), Marcia McNutt from the National Academy of Sciences (United States), and Moneef Zou’bi from the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (Jordan).

Five different sessions about distinct aspects and components of Learned Academies today were led by the panellists on June 14, with Professor Loprieno leading session one on the issue of Academies’ Membership. You may see the full programme of the symposium here.

A livestream of the public keynote event on the evening of June 13 can be seen in full here.

Revised Plan S principles and implementation guidelines published

Plan S, the initiative to transition the scientific publishing system towards open access, was updated and postponed for a year. Its initiators, the cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funding organisations, have published a revision of its principles and implementation guidelines, taking onboard the feedback received by ALLEA and other stakeholder organisations. The update extends the envisaged starting date by one year until 2021. Affected researchers and scientific organisations will now have more time to adapt to the new open access policy requirements.

ALLEA’s initial statement published in December 2018

ALLEA supports open access as a major step towards realising the universality of science. In response to the first proposal of Plan S in 2018, the federation published an initial statement assessing key aspects that need to be taken into consideration in order to prevent unintended consequences in the scientific publishing sector and the research evaluation system. The revised version of the plan explicitly praises the work of ALLEA in this regard and calls for continued dialogue with the academic community.

According to cOAlition S, the revised Plan S maintains the fundamental principles:

  • No scholarly publication should be locked behind a paywall;
  • Open access should be available immediately i.e. without embargoes;
  • Full open access is implemented by the default use of a Creative Commons Attribution CC BY license as per the Berlin Declaration;
  • Funders commit to cover open access publication fees at a reasonable level;
  • Funders will not support publication in hybrid (or mirror/sister) journals unless they are part of a transformative arrangement with a clearly defined endpoint.

But a number of important changes are proposed in the implementation guidance:

  • In order to provide more time for researchers and publishers to adapt to the changes under Plan S, the timeline has been extended by one year to take effect in 2021;
  • Transformative agreements will be supported until 2024;
  • More options for transitional arrangements (transformative agreements, transformative model agreements, ‘transformative journals’) are supported;
  • Greater clarity is provided about the various compliance routes: Plan S is NOT just about a publication fee model of open access publishing. cOAlition S supports a diversity of sustainability models for open access journals and platforms;
  • More emphasis is put on changing the research reward and incentive system: cOAlition S funders explicitly commit to adapt the criteria by which they value researchers and scholarly output;
  • The importance of transparency in open access publication fees is emphasised in order to inform the market and funders’ potential standardisation and capping of payments of such fees;
  • The technical requirements for open access repositories have been revised.

The summary was extracted from the cOAlition S rationale for the revisions.


Opening up the dialogue

In the beginning of this year, ALLEA also submitted recommendations to the consultation on the implementation guidelines. ALLEA President Antonio Loprieno met in Brussels with Robert-Jan Smits, Open Access Envoy of the European Commission, and Marc Schiltz, President of Science Europe, to discuss the next steps of Plan S.

Seeking to build a constructive dialogue within the research community on the future of Open Access, ALLEA has worked with its Member Academies to spur the debate on the topic. For instance, the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of Barcelona have organised public events to promote a better understanding of the implications of Plan S for individual researchers, scientific organisations and publishers.


ALLEA participates in forum about the impact of Brexit on UK research at the RSE

ALLEA’s President Antonio Loprieno participated in the summit organised by the Scottish Funding Council ‘Rising to the Challenges of a Post-Brexit World’ hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 30 May.

The event brought together Scotland’s college and university sectors to discuss how to address the challenges raised by the potential UK’s exit from the European Union. Participants included the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead, and Matt Lancashire, Director of Public and Policy Affairs at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.

The debate revolved around two main questions: how to secure Scotland’s relationship with its European partners, and how to meet Scotland’s need for a skilled workforce in a post-Brexit environment.

“Political uncertainty can unintentionally lead to undermining long-standing research collaborations between international partners. European scientists must work together to protect and reinforce existing relationships among partners at all levels and ensure that close collaboration continues without disruptions,” said Loprieno.

Since the vote to leave the UK on 23 June 2016, ALLEA has worked closely with its member academies to raise awareness of the critical role of EU-UK scientific collaboration. In various statements and letters, the federation has called for greater clarity on the future relationship between EU and UK science policy and warned of the detrimental effects on the quality of scientific research and European citizens’ well-being on both sides of the English Channel.