Oct 25, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Eleven research agencies recently announced 'Plan S', a move to make all scientific articles free immediately upon publication -- news which has the scientific journal community wary but could please readers and students in STEM disciplines. 

The agencies, from France, the UK, the Netherlands, and eight other European nations, which spend a total of $8.8 billion annually in research grants, want to mandate a free-to-read plan for all scientific journal publications by 2020.

After that, the articles would allow anyone to download, translate, or reuse the work.

In a preamble to Plan S, released September 4, it says, "No science should be locked behind paywalls!"

According to a September article in Nature, Stephen Curry, a structural biologist and open-access advocate at Imperial College London said, "It is a very powerful declaration. It will be contentious and stir up strong feelings."

Plan S would prevent about 85 percent of researchers from publishing in journals such as Nature and Science. Nature reported that only 15 percent of those papers currently published go to immediate open-access status.

Some journals have a hybrid system, too, where some papers are immediately free to read for a short time. Plan S would cut out hybrid systems, too.

David Sweeney, who chairs Research England, said, "Hybrid journals were always viewed as a step towards full open access. They haven’t succeeded as a transitionary measure."

So far, French, British and Dutch funders, national agencies in Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland and Slovenia, and research councils in Italy and Sweden, have signed onto the plan.  

Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe, the advocacy group representing European research agencies which officially launched the policy, said, "Paywalls are not only hindering the scientific enterprise itself but also they are an obstacle [to] the uptake of research results by the wider public."

The European Commission itself has not yet signed the plan. In the US, talks are underway.

Critics fear that the new process will prevent quality peer review and could be unsustainable for the future of scientific publishing. However, for readers and students, the plans could allow for a broadening of knowledge. 

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Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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