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Recently, my university has expressed that it wishes to enforce compliance with Plan S, an European-wide initiative to 'transition' towards open access publications, for all researchers employed by the university.

I think that while the plan has good intentions, the execution seems to ignore important features of the publication process in my field, and could be actively harmful for the development of my scientific career (I have a more detailed description of my concerns at the end of this post).

While I don't think I am the only one who would oppose this plan, nor that this concerns only phd students, I would like to have my objections to this plan heard or considered. It seems the university board would like to treat this as a 'done deal' (only shortly after announcement, in spite of initial resistance), and does not see keeping the status quo as an option.

How can I, as a (relatively new) phd student, most effectively lobby against this decision?


I have thought about the following methods, which I can easily do (and will do). However, I am unaware of their effectiveness.

  • Contact the phd council of my department. These people are easily approachable, and should have more experience with influencing university policy than I have.
  • Discuss the matter with my advisor. I'm sure my advisor would have an opinion here, and I think he would share some of my concerns, as this also affects senior researchers.

The main concern I have with this plan is that it seems to ignore the primary publication venue in my field (computer science): conferences. The workflow for publishing in my field is roughly as follows:

  1. Submit to a conference.
  2. Simultaneously to 1, publish a freely accessible pre-print on the arXiv.
  3. If the conference paper was accepted and generally well-received, publish an extended version of the conference paper in a journal.

Many conference proceedings of top conferences in my field are not in open access and do not appear to be pressured by plan S to do so. (the entities that control these conferences include ACM, SIAM, and IEEE, who have quite a stake in closed-access proceedings and where the influence of European researchers does not seem to be particularly big.)

Plan S explicitly states that releasing freely available pre-prints is not enough to be compliant. This may make sense when publishing to non-open access journals, as it means the 'official' and hence mostly cited version of the publication is still not open access. However, publishing in conferences without open access proceeding does not have the same problem: For almost all important work, there will be a journal publication later, which can be open access. The journal version is the version that will usually get cited, rather than the conference version. In the mean time, any researcher can freely access the pre-print on the arXiv.

Note that disallowing publication at these venues also has the secondary effect that it hinders my option of attending these conferences. They are often held in North-America, and costs for travel+attendance are not cheap. It is therefore not easy to get sufficient funding to attend one of these conferences if you are not presenting or at least publishing something at the conference.

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    Like here, in many cases the first (or zeroth) step should be: Ask your advisor. – user105041 Feb 28 at 17:06
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    @holla Yes, I mentioned that. However, I doubt my advisor is omniscient and I think this question can be of use in more general settings. – Discrete lizard Feb 28 at 17:16
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    (2) The MO of researchers to publish a conference abstract first and then an extended, polished version of it as a paper is widespread and has a long history; however it might actually fall afoul of copyright and undermine open access. If your final paper is a derivative work of the conference abstract (as it often happens -- unless the abstract was really hurried, it's usually good enough to be partly copied over), then signing the copyright transfer actually gives the publisher some rights to the final paper as well. It is a non-issue in practice, but I understand ... – darij grinberg Feb 28 at 17:24
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    ... why Plan S is trying to go the full way to open access. This sort of "double selling" might even become a real problem when publishers start going bankrupt and getting bought up by litigation-focused buyers who then start asserting rights against all other sorts of venues. – darij grinberg Feb 28 at 17:24
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    Of course, you shouldn't say that you don't intend to publish. Just tell them, when it comes to signing the copyright transfer, that you can only sign a modified form due to Plan S. Quite possibly they will just let you do that without any issues. – darij grinberg Feb 28 at 17:59
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Plan S is explicitly meant to change the publishing practices of researchers, and the business model of publishers. This comes after decades of half-measures that did relatively little towards open access, and nothing to prevent subscription costs from increasing. Therefore, it will be difficult to convince your university and/or Coalition S to accommodate the existing practices in your field.

Some large American universities are committed to open access, irrespective of the field: for example Harvard, or the University of California. And the situation is evolving relatively fast. In this context, it may actually not be impossible to convince conferences to offer Plan S-compliant options. Lobbying for that would still be quite an effort: the first thing to do might be to contact well-known open access advocates in the field.

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I have to admit that I am biased on this topic and that my opinion may not be the most popular, but I honestly think you are asking the wrong question.

Those who threaten science are not the research funders who signed Plan S or the institutions that take up these ideas, but the publishers who have been using science for commercial purposes for decades. Publicly funded scientists do most of the work in scientific publishing: they produce the scientific results and write the publications, they are the reviewers of the publications, they are often the editors and, in LaTeX times, they are usually also the typesetters. In addition, they are even the ones who consume the content in the end, whereby this is usually only possible because the libraries of their scientific institutions buy access to it at a high price, again with public money. Publishers have thus made enormous profits over decades out of science and public money, while scientists have lost most of their rights to their own publications through the signing of copyright transfer agreements.

With this knowledge in mind, your question might be rewritten:

How can a PhD student lobby against publishers wide publication restrictions?

The answer to this question is a list of different approaches. There might be more approches than the ones I'm listing below.

  • Ask the publisher for a Plan S compatible alternative before signing the copyright transfer agreement.
  • Contact your library to see if any agreements are planned with the publisher that include Plan S compatibility for the conference(s) you want to attend.
    • If yes, ask when and how you can help.
    • If not, ask why not and what you can do to change that.
  • Contact the organizers of the conferences you want or will attend with a request for a Plan S compatible publishing agreement.

Regarding your argument that

Many conference proceedings of top conferences in my field are not in open access and do not appear to be pressured by plan S to do so.

you should keep in mind that the Open Access movement is progessing around the globe. Plan S is only a tiny bit of the whole story. Even US institutions are picking up these ideas. All bits together will in the end hopefully switsch scientific publishing to Open Access. Plan S is an approach to Open Access that tries to give scientist a more important standing while they are requesting fair publishing agreements.

I also want to address the following side note you made.

For almost all important work, there will be a journal publication later, which can be open access. The journal version is the version that will usually get cited, rather than the conference version.

This highly depends on your very specific discipline. Most Computer Science disciplines I know are usually not publishing most conference publications later in a journal, in fact, it's vice-versa in these disciplines. Plan S covers all disciplines and their peer-reviewd publication which, in fact, makes it difficult to match perfect to each discipline but if the goal is to make all publicly funded research publicly available, also conference publications should be included.

If you think this is not an answer to your question, feel free to request deletion.

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    Most answers here seem to challenge my assumptions, but the information in your answer is still useful to me. It is comforting that the move towards open access is progressing globally. I agree that the ideal situation would be to comply with plan S and be able to publish at the top conferences. However, my main concern is that if I have to choose between the two, I would rather be able to make this choice, instead of being forced. My secondary concern is precisely what you note: plan S does not seem to be designed with care for my specific discipline. – Discrete lizard Mar 1 at 8:00
  • I would have loved to see scientists making the choice to Open Access and push forward this idea instead of being forced to do so, but over the past 16 years - since the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in 2003 - the majority simply didn't or even thought about it. That's why initiatives like Plan S seem to be necessary and important. – FuzzyLeapfrog Mar 1 at 8:36
  • I understand why Plan S is not going to make small steps and is intent on forcing researchers to transition to open access. (they should be forcing the publisher, but the problem is that the publisher cannot be forced as long as the researchers continue to do business with them) I simply do not like the fact that this transition risks building (perhaps only temporary) speed-bumps that may limit my ability to publish at top venues. – Discrete lizard Mar 1 at 9:45
  • You can't have the one without the other. Scientific publishing is a self-reinforcing system that deals with reputation (impact factors, top venues, bibliometrics, and so on). You have to start somewhere to change the system. Publishers won't move as long as they see any chance to hold on to the current system because it's so profitable for them. Since publishers won't move and scientists didn't move much either, research funders are stepping in. You can definitely dislike the temporarily occuring side effects of this but the goal is worth it and should be supported, at least in my opinion. – FuzzyLeapfrog Mar 1 at 10:02
  • "You can definitely dislike the temporarily occuring side effects of this but the goal is worth it and should be supported, at least in my opinion." This aligns with my opinion as well, except that I do not think that this is a good moment in my career to put the plight of the scientific community before my own. – Discrete lizard Mar 1 at 10:09
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I've been to a European Plan S consultation, and the prime message they keep repeating is: they are looking for input on how best to achieve their goal of a full transition to immediate, copyright-preserving open access.

A lot of the input people gave their somewhat ignored that point, and therefore unfortunately in turn also gets ignored.

So, if you want to lobby against potential career impact, keep that in mind: the goal is paramount. That means that the most effective way would be to offer alternatives that do not impact your career as much, but will still allow them to achieve those goals in the same timelines.

That said, you are not the first to voice this concern, and wouldn't be the first to think of other ways (more specific than "do this slowly"). Hence, I think the realistic thing to do is to realise that these concerns have been weighed against the upsides, and that you adding a +1 isn't going to change that.

However, I'd also realise that you're not the only one who might no longer publish at certain places, and not to underestimate how unwilling the publishers are to lose all of you. Plan S also hasn't come into effect yet, and publishers will have several years to transition, so I wouldn't worry too much about immediate impact now.

And otherwise, I'm afraid you'll have to look for other sources of funding, as the one who pays calls the shots...

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I think you have very little ability to influence the university, as a new student. Even a very senior PI would just be one voice amongst many. Yeah, you could write articles or talk to the PIs or administration (who actually vote in departments and such). But the return on investment will be miniscule.

You have much more important things to work on (like your research) than the issue of what fads your university is getting involved in. New students are not usually swimming in completed research. This needs to be your focus.

Note this answer is irrespective of if Plan S is good or bad. I actually understand your position quite well and don't have a problem with it--you will get a lot of pushback here though since "open access is good" for the Internet oriented crowds, like you will find on a Q&A site. But again, my advice is irrelevant of if I think Plan S is good or not.

What you can do is "vote with your actions". The requirements have not been installed yet. So publish where you choose. (Of course this requires doing some research, not agitating on policies.) Even when/if it gets installed, you may find ways to get around it and publish where you like.

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