The perverse effects of open access in academic publications | Science

The perverse effects of open access in academic publications | Science

Since the beginning of last September we have been attending the putting out the so-called Plan S, subscribed up to now by twenty research agencies from different countries and which states the obligation that all research funded with its funds be published in the open access model (Open Access) from the year 2020. This plan tries to respond to one of the great problems that surround the international system of academic publication, the control to which it is subjected by a small group of large publishing corporations, who obtain exaggerated benefits at the expense of public institutions. It is intended that the obligation to publish in orpen access end the subscription access model that underpins the publishing business.

Being in agreement with the concern and intentionality of Plan S, I believe that the alternative that it raises is far from being an adequate solution, and that the problems it will generate will be much more pernicious than those caused by the current system. First, publishing in open access does not mean the end of the publishing business model around scientific research. So far, its base has been subscribers who wish to access published works and, within these, the main ones are the large university and scientific institutions that need their professionals to have immediate access to the latest advances in their disciplines. These institutions disburse huge amounts of money year after year to renew those subscriptions. But the model orpen access it does not end with those disbursements, it just transfers them. In it, the researchers themselves must pay fees to scientific journals if they want their work published. Normally, this money comes from research funds, which increasingly separate items dedicated specifically to this issue.

It is the researchers themselves who must pay fees to scientific journals if they want their work published.

Plan S indicates that it is necessary to establish limits on the amount of money that will be dedicated to the payment of publication fees. However, it does not establish what procedure will be followed for this. Meanwhile, the quantity (mainly) and the quality (to a lesser extent) of the published works structure the competence system through which the evaluation agencies allow the professional development of the researchers, what pushes a rampant logic that borders on the absurd. The international system of scientific publication thus has a "captive offer" willing to pay amounts well above the costs of editing, reaching up to € 5,000 in the most prestigious journals.

In addition, the large publishing groups, which are supposedly putting themselves in check with the Plan S, are already taking steps to adapt to the new model, creating your own lines of publication in orpen access. Moreover, the new model promises them even greater benefits, since their own professional prestige functions as a basis for legitimizing publication rates, regardless of whether or not their journals are included in the main indexation bases.

But there is an even more serious problem in the bet for thepen access, and it is the increase of the inequalities that it will cause between the big research centers and the rest, both regionally and internationally. The groups located in the peripheries, with more difficulties to access resources, will have more complicated publication of their results, especially in the journals that have more prestige (and therefore with higher rates). Inequalities at international level will be dramatic, in a competitive context that does not take into account practically any compensation for basic imbalances.

The groups located in the peripheries, with more difficulties to access resources, will have more complicated to publish their results

There is also another big problem, the phenomenon of predatory journals. Paying for publication has led to the appearance of alleged scientific journals that are exploiting this "captive offer". They contact the researchers through mass emails in which they usually offer false or misleading information about their indexing, and sell agile publication processes. Obviously, these journals do not have any process of revision of the works or editorial work, and in many cases there is not more than one person supporting them. As well, this type of "magazines" is growing exponentially and it is estimated that the number of articles published in them already exceeds 400,000. The bet of Plan S stimulates this problem, generating more doubts about the editorial quality of the scientific media.

It is not easy to think of viable alternatives to the dominance of large publishers. Some scientists have already responded to Plan S, pointing out the problems that we have pointed out here and proposing hybrid alternatives. Ultimately, the solution must be more related to reflection on the exaggerated role we have given to the "culture of paper"As a central element in the evaluation of research quality. The responsibility of that has happened is ours, of the international scientific and university community. Being able to modify that structure is also in our hands, and that is the debate that we must address as soon as possible.

Aníbal Mesa López is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of La Laguna and co-author of the books Nature and post-development (Miguel Ángel Porrúa, 2008) and Water and post-development policies (Entimema, 2009).


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