Plan S and Its Impact on Historians and History Journals

Catherine Cocks's picture

A post from Feeding the Elephant: A Forum for Scholarly Communications


Catching up on open access news: In October 2019, the United Kingdom’s Royal Historical Society published a report titled “Plan S and the History Journal Landscape,” by Margot Finn. Drawing on a survey of journal editors and other research, Finn raises serious questions about whether historians and history journals will be well-served by the implemention of Plan S. This major initiative by several European governments and nonprofit foundations aims to convert all publicly-funded scholarly publishing to open access, starting in 2021 with journals and eventually extending to books.

Like everything OA, Plan S started in the STEM fields and primarily focuses on those disciplines. It was not designed with the publication and funding patterns typical of the arts, humanities, and social sciences (AHSS) in mind. That criticism is well-worn by now, yet Plan S continues to rumble forward.

The RHS report responds to the decision of two major UK funding agencies, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Wellcome Trust, to sign on with Plan S, and in the case of the trust, to declare all its grantees would be required to publish in Plan-S compliant journals starting in early January 2021. Scholars not based in the United Kingdom may shrug and focus on more urgent matters. Particularly in the United States, few AHSS scholars are aware of Plan S and the major funding agencies haven’t signed on. But as the RHS report shows, scholarship in history is international and interconnected. If Plan S is implemented in the United Kingdom with no adaptation or exemption for AHSS publishing, many historians will find themselves severely limited in their choice of journals, and many journal publishers (especially scholarly societies or university presses) will have to sacrifice either a lot of their contributors or their financial sustainability.

The RHS report is very much worth reading in its entirety. Here, I’ll just excerpt a few of its conclusions.

  • Few history journals publishing entirely or partly in English are compliant with Plan S’s requirements, nor do they plan to become so in the near future. If scholars at UK institutions are required to publish in OA journals, they will find their options severely curtailed.
  • Few HSS scholars receive much external funding for their research, and they are unlikely to have the resources to cover the article processing charges (APCs) that are one of the main sources of funding for OA journals.
  • Needing to pay APCs makes getting published particularly difficult for early-career scholars, those without an institutional affiliations or working on temporary contracts, and scholars outside the Global North. Within Global North countries, early-career, unaffiliated, and contingently employed scholars are more likely to come from minority or historically marginalized groups.
  • Another Plan-S approved form of OA publishing, the deposit of a zero-embargo copy of the article in an institutional repository under a Creative Commons CC-BY license, also disadvantages researchers who don’t have institutional affiliations or who are employed at institutions without such repositories. Moreover, none of the publishers who responded to the RHS survey accepted the CC-BY license.
  • The Directory of Open Access Journals listed only 110 publications under history at the time that the RHS study was done in mid-2019, and these focus on either Europe or the Americas, with no coverage of the rest of the world. Another study found 157 OA history journals in a total global count of more than 1,000 (RHS 2019, 26). Further, whereas some 78 percent of history journals worldwide publish partly or entirely in English, most of the OA journals publish primarily in Spanish (evidence of robust government-funded OA publishing options in Latin America and Spain).
  • Additionally, being listed in the DOAJ does not mean a journal is fully Plan-S compliant.
  • The Plan S requirements are detailed, technical, and hard to understand, and they are only available in English, despite the fact that European government research agencies and the EU are major Plan S funders. Many publishers simply don’t understand what’s being asked of them, even when the instructions and timeline aren’t internally contradictory.

The RHS report ends with a call for Plan S funders and OA advocates to recognize the difference in publication patterns and funding between STEM and AHSS publishing, and to reconsider the structure and pace of its implementation in light of those differences. Stay tuned.