The perverse effects of open access in academic publications

Since the beginning of last September we have been attending the start of the so-called Plan S, subscribed so far by twenty research agencies from different countries and that raises the obligation that all the investigations financed with their Funds are published in the open Access model from the year2020. This plan tries to respond to one of the major problems surrounding the international academic publishing system, the control to which it is submitted by a small group of large publishing corporations, which obtain exaggerated benefits at the expense of Public institutions. It is intended that the obligation to publish in Open access ends with the subscription access model that supports the publishing business.

Agreeing with the Plan S concern and intentionality, I believe that the alternative it poses is far from being a suitable solution, and that the problems it will generate are far more pernicious than the current system provokes. First, the publication in open Access does not imply the end of the publishing business model around scientific research. So far, its base has been the subscribers who want to access the published works and, within these, the main ones are the large university and scientific institutions that need that their professionals have immediate access to the latest advances In their disciplines. These institutions disburse huge amounts of money year after year to renew these subscriptions. But the model orpen access doesn't end with those disbursements, it just moves them. In it, it is the researchers themselves who must pay a fee to the scientific journals if they want their work published. That money usually comes out of research funds, which increasingly separates items specifically dedicated to that issue.

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

The Plan S points out that it is necessary to set limits on the amount of money that will be devoted to the payment of publication fees. However, it does not establish which procedure is going to be followed. Meanwhile, the quantity (mainly) and the quality (to a lesser extent) of the published works structure the system of competence through which the evaluating agencies allow the professional development of the investigators, which pushes to a logic Rampant that streaks in the absurd. The international system of scientific publication thus counts with a "captive offer" ready to pay amounts well above the costs of edition, reaching to the €5,000 in the most prestigious magazines.

In addition, the large publishing groups, which are supposedly in check with the S Plan, are already taking steps to adapt to the new model, creating their own lines of publication in orpen access. Moreover, the new model promises them even greater benefits, because their own professional prestige works as a basis for legitimizing publication fees, regardless of whether their journals are or not collected in the main indexing bases.

But there is an even more serious problem in the bet on the orpen access, and it is the increase of the inequalities that will provoke between the large research centres and the rest, at both regional and international level. Groups located in the periphery, with more difficulty accessing resources, will have more difficult to publish their results, especially in magazines that have more prestige (and therefore with higher rates). Inequalities at the international level are going to be dramatic, in a competitive context that does not account for virtually any kind of compensation for basic imbalances.

Groups located in the periphery, with more difficulty accessing resources, will have more complicated to publish their results

There is also another big problem, the phenomenon of predatory magazines. Paying for publishing has led to the emergence of supposed scientific journals that are exploiting that "captive offer". They contact investigators through massive emails where they often offer false or misleading information about their indexing, and sell agile publishing processes. Obviously, these magazines do not have any process of review of work or editorial work, and in many cases there is more than one person sosteniéndolas. Well, this type of "magazines" is growing exponentially and it is estimated that the number of articles published in them exceeds already 400,000. The Plan S bet 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 mastery of large publishers. Some scientists have already responded to the S-Plan, pointing out the problems we have pointed out here and proposing hybrid alternatives. Ultimately, the solution should be more related to reflection on the exaggerated role that we have given to the "culture of paper" as a central element of the valuation of research quality. The responsibility for that has happened is ours, the international scientific and university community. To be able to modify that structure is also in our hands, and that is the debate we must address as soon as possible.