Funders should award competitive grants directly to journals to underwrite the costs of open access, urges Adriano Aguzzi.
I’m passionately in favour of everyone having open access to the results of the scientific research that their taxes pay for. But I think there are deep problems with one of the current modes for delivering it. The author-pays model (which I call broken access) means journals increase their profits when they accept more papers and reject fewer. That makes it all too tempting to subordinate stringent acceptance criteria to the balance sheet. This conflict of interest has allowed the proliferation of predatory journals, which charge authors to publish papers but do not provide the expected services and offer no quality control.
The problem is not addressed, in my view, by the Plan S updates announced in May by a group of mainly European funders and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington. Plan S is the push to make the research these agencies fund open access on publication from 1 January 2021. I am concerned the implementation of this honourable goal could cause long-term damage to the integrity of the scientific record.
But I know of a fix, and I have seen it in operation. I propose a model in which journals compete not for libraries’ or authors’ money, but for funds allocated by public-research agencies. The major agencies should call for proposals, similar to research-grant applications. Any publisher could apply with its strategic plans and multi-year budgets; applications would be reviewed by panels of scientists and specialists in scientific publishing.