Shortly after the initial publication of Plan S, Tim Vines proposed a Plan T, which addressed some of the problems he saw with Plan S. Plan T seems to focus on identifying the “real cost” to the publisher, which Vines argues is a function of acceptance rate. According to Plan T, a submission fee, or even a submission fee plus a publication fee, would cover journal costs, would be much less expensive than current APCs, and would be at the same level for all journals. Of course, they would mean that there would not merely be a barrier to publishing, but a barrier to the very act of submitting one’s research results for consideration.

Further escalating the alphabet race, Richard Sever, co-founder of bioRxiv then proposed plan U. “Just mandate preprint deposition and let a downstream ecosystems of overlays/journals with various business models evolve in response to community need”. I couldn’t agree more.

Initially an off-the cuff tweet with a playful title, Plan U now has its own web page. Plan U is much simpler than either Plans S or T and achieves their main stated aim: to make research available. The complexity of Plans S and T is that they seek to change both how researchers and journals operate. Plan U does neither. Plans S and T both shift the barrier to access from the consumer of research to the contributor. Plan U imposes no barrier.

Plan U has the further advantage that it requires the imagining or creation of no new types of infrastructures. There are now numerous, and some long-standing pre-print servers. Plan U might require the expansion of existing infrastructures, but surely we can cover that with some of what we collectively spend right now on publishing our own work, in the form in institutional subscriptions and APCs. Of course, if institutions start to maintain more and larger repositories, they may have less money to buy subscriptions and support APCs. That would not be such a bad thing.

I firmly believe that journals are now obsolete and that we still use them simply because we haven’t figured that out yet. Under Plan U, with all publically funded research in repositories and available for post-publication peer-review, I believe journals would slowly die out or be significantly transformed (the downstream evolution that Sever envisions). Other than commercial protectionism, there is no reason not to let journals evolve or die out under Plan U.

One could even propose an even simpler Plan U’, under which we must make our work available in a venue that meets certain criteria for availability and curation, rather than strictly on what we must now call traditional pre-print servers. The traditional pre-print server typically assumes that it is a way-point on the road to publication in a traditional journal with pre-publication peer-review. Plan U’ makes no such assumption and simply seeks to make the work available freely (both to contributor and to consumer) and permanently.

Pending the eventual evolution of U’, I will be quite happy to support Plan U.


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