OSTP Remains APC-friendly

The just-released U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) report on OA financing is definitely interesting—it’s far more in-depth in its scope than the last year’s Nelson Memo. References to cOAlition S, diamond OA, subscribe-to-open, and other funding-landscape arcana, for example, litter the new report. And the report’s authors, among many other things, tried to estimate how much US taxpayers are forking over for APCs. Their guess is $375 million a year in 2021, a $100 million increase over five years.

Another fascinating (if unsurprising) detail on publisher concentration:

In the U.S., five publishers — Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, the American Chemical Society (ACS), and Oxford University Press (OUP) — account for 51.4 percent of the volume of federally funded publications from 2016 to 2021, according to data retrieved from Clarivate’s Web of Science. Similarly, five publishers — Elsevier, Spring [sic] Nature, Wiley, OUP, and MDPI — account for 51.4 percent of the volume of openly accessible federally funded articles from 2016 to 2021.

The report, for all its taxonomic detail, is a disappointment. That’s because the bottom-line conclusions haven’t changed: the report endorses the same non-committal APC-friendly stance as the Nelson Memo. This despite earnest paragraphs on “inequities in publishing” and due mention of the author-excluding implication of APCs.

‘LexisNexis Sold Face Recognition, Spy Tools to CBP’

A coda to Tuesday’s post on SPARC’s Elsevier report. Here’s Sam Biddle, writing for The Intercept on Elsevier corporate sibling LexisNexis Risk Solutions:

The popular data broker LexisNexis began selling face recognition services and personal location data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection late last year, according to contract documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to the documents, obtained by the advocacy group Just Futures Law and shared with The Intercept, LexisNexis Risk Solutions began selling surveillance tools to the border enforcement agency in December 2022. The $15.9 million contract includes a broad menu of powerful tools for locating individuals throughout the United States using a vast array of personal data, much of it obtained and used without judicial oversight.

Are any of the LexisNexis tools on offer drawing on data gathered through Elsevier’s ScienceDirect? Who knows—there’s no real answer in the contract documents nor the ass-covering LexisNexis FAQ page.

The ScienceDirect Data Hoover

From SPARC North America’s overview of its important new report on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect data tracking:

By analyzing the privacy practices of the world’s largest publisher, the report describes how user tracking that would be unthinkable in a physical library setting now happens routinely through publisher platforms. The analysis underlines the concerns this tracking should raise, particularly when the same company is involved in surveillance and data brokering activities. Elsevier is a subsidiary of RELX, a leading data broker and provider of “risk” products that offer expansive databases of personal information to corporations, governments, and law enforcement agencies. 

The report—based on a review of legalistic disclosures, library agreements, and under-the-hood web tracking—is a sobering read. In particular, SPARC highlights the likely cross-product pollination from Elsevier to parent RELX Group’s LexisNexis “risk” businesses:

There is little to nothing to stop vendors who collect and track patron data from feeding that data—either in its raw form or in aggregate—into their data brokering business.

The report, in short, provides granular evidence about the scholarly world’s worst surveillance publisher.

Tables from 2023 SPARC report on ScienceDirect data tracking

The Redemption of Plan S

On Tuesday—Halloween here in the US—cOAlition S released a new open access blueprint, one that, in effect, proposes to dismantle the prevailing journal system. Under an anodyne title (“Toward Responsible Publishing”), the group of (mostly) European state funders and foundations endorsed a future for scholarly communication in which publishers are recast as competing service providers. It’s also in basic alignment with the movement to shift peer review to a post-publication phase—with curation and discoverability detached from the per-title, periodic-release journal system. The third major pillar of the plan is to de-throne the version-of-record article (and, implicitly, the monograph), by granting other outputs (like datasets and reviews) equal footing in the realm of recognition.

The plan, to borrow a phrase from Joe Biden, is a BFD.

In this post, I want to make three quick points, which I hope to expand on soon. The first is that the Plan S initiative represents an uneasy convergence between two strands of the nonprofit, mission-driven OA world: between (1) those who’ve championed scholar-submitted preprints to open repositories, coupled with an emergent post-release review ecosystem; and (2) advocates of nonprofit, fee-free OA publishing, who tend to employ the traditional version-of-record journal and book formats. The distinction, in the bizarre lingo we’ve inherited, is green versus diamond.

I don’t want to exaggerate the differences between these two approaches. There’s a shared belief, most crucially, that the academic community should restore custody over the scholarly publishing system—wrench it back, that is, from the oligopolists. A second shared tenet is that an OA system based on APCs (or their read-and-publish equivalent) is arguably worse than the tolled system it seeks to replace. APC-based OA trades barriers to readers for barriers to authors, with the right to publish meted out according to institutional wealth or national origin. So that’s a lot of agreement: a nonprofit, community-led system that doesn’t exclude authors.

Still, the differences are important. The green route—sometimes termed Publish, Review, Curate (PRC), in that order—aims to replace the journal system altogether. The diamond route, by contrast, seeks to fix that system.1

The rethought Plan S leans green. From the plan’s first Principle:

Authors – and not third-party suppliers, such as publishers — should decide when and where to publish, including versions before and after peer review and the associated peer review reports. Service-related elements (copyediting, typesetting, submission systems, hosting, formal quality checks) can be outsourced.

It’s true that the “Responsible Publishing” vision can probably accommodate diamond journals and book publishers. Curation, after all, is a crucial component of any publish-then-review system. The concept of an overlay journal is one obvious zone of compatibility.

It is, nevertheless, striking that cOAlition S has gone all in on the green route. In the last couple of years, the group has made major investments in propping up the diamond OA ecosystem (up to and including its role in last week’s mega-summit). The new plan, if not exactly a departure, is a significant shift in emphasis.

That’s the first point. My second observation has to do with the plan’s aim to recast publishers as “third-party suppliers.” This vision—of a marketplace of service providers, competing to offer copy-editing, typesetting, and other contract work—is in near-perfect alignment with the approach championed by Björn Brembs, the tenacious German neuroscientist. In a series of posts and articles—most recently in July—Brembs and his allies have pushed for a system in this service-provider mold. When he first floated the scheme, I thought the idea was dead-on-arrival—a noble but quixotic campaign. I was wrong. The first big sign of the approach’s viability came last May, when the Council of Europe embraced what I call Plan Brembs. Tuesday’s Plan S endorsement is more significant still—a system-rattling grant of momentum and legitimacy.

My third and final claim is about the evolution of cOAlition/Plan S. The group’s public embrace of a post-publisher future is a major departure in strategy and mission. Tuesday’s announcement included doth-protest-too-much quotations from Plan S’s original 2018 roll-out, to signal continuity over the plan’s five-year history. In its first few years, however, Plan S was a very different beast. The group treaded cautiously, abandoning a planned APC cap and providing generous exemptions and leeway to the big commercial publishers. Though the first-phase Plan S was undoubtedly well-intentioned, its on-the-ground effect was to pave the road for Springer Nature and co. to charge usurious APCs. An argument can be made, indeed, that Plan S midwifed the so-called “transformative” read-and-publish deal, whose effect has been to bake in an author-excluding OA system. Provisions to permit the oligopolists to run with a double-dipping “hybrid” OA approach—with APC-funded OA articles published in subscription journals—had the (unintended) effect of tightening the corporate bear-hug.

Those concessions to the likes of Elsevier were always meant to be temporary. To its credit, cOAlition has announced sunsetting deadlines, fast-approaching indeed. But the group’s real break with its original strategy came—we can now say, in retrospect—with the 2020 hiring of Johan Rooryck as executive director. A Dutch linguist, Rooryck had a major hand in an early Elsevier journal-flipping. He has worked tirelessly, by all evidence, to shift cOAlition S away from its initial (and disastrous) APC embrace. Prominent among his initiatives have been recent efforts, alluded to above, in support of a nonprofit, diamond OA ecosystem.

The tension between Plan S old and new surfaced in a September opinion piece from Robert-Jan Smits, who had helped establish the group. In many respects the article is a multi-paragraph sub-Tweet aimed at Rooryck. Smits doubles-down on APCs, and lashes out at the May Council of Europe statement—the very vision that Rooryck’s cOAlition S just (in effect) countersigned. The “last thing to do,” Smits wrote, is to “change course,” adding that this is “exactly what I am afraid is happening.” Decrying a “left turn,” Smits made his first-phase Plan S loyalties clear:

It was also surprising that the [Council of Europe] gave the impression with their conclusions to wish to exclude the large commercial publishers, which provide a quality service to the science community. These key players in the world of scientific publishing just need to be forced to change their business model and embrace open access at a fair price.

The just-released Rooryck blueprint is a (long-gestating) riposte. Among other things, the plan makes a decisive break with the APC:

The overwhelming majority of academic journals cover their costs through subscriptions, article processing charges (APCs), or both. As a result, researchers can find themselves unable to access relevant research findings (because of subscription paywalls) or unable to publish (because of APC barriers). We fully recognise that publishing incurs costs, but we believe that all researchers should be able to publish their work as Open Access, without author-facing charges.

In what can’t be a coincidence, Rooryck and Smits are set to meet today, in a “5 Years of Plan S” webinar. In my view, Rooryck, with key allies no doubt, has redeemed Plan S. As with Brembs, I was initially a skeptic, sometimes blaming the group for what I’ve called “friendly fire.” That’s still a good description of Plan S phase-one, now dead. Tuesday’s bold announcement was its obituary.


At today’s webinar, Robert-Jan Smits seemed to endorse the “Responsible Publishing” plan, calling it “Plan S 2.0”. It was a somewhat pained endorsement, qualified by skepticism about the viability of a diamond route. In effect, he blamed the commercial publishers for digging their own graves.

  1. I have a foot in both camps, as a director of a diamond OA press and co-lead of the MediArXiv server. 

‘An Initial Scholarly AI Taxonomy’

Adam Hyde, John Chodacki, and Paul Shanon, writing on FORCE11’s Upstream on seven key roles that “AI” could play in a scholarly publishing workflow:

  1. Extract: Identify and isolate specific entities or data points within the content.
  2. Validate: Verify the accuracy and reliability of the information.
  3. Generate: Produce new content or ideas, such as text or images.
  4. Analyse: Examine patterns, relationships, or trends within the information.
  5. Reformat: Modify and adjust information to fit specific formats or presentation styles.
  6. Discover: Search for and locate relevant information or connections.
  7. Translate: Convert information from one language or form to another.

It’s a useful breakdown, but I’m stunned—given the authors and outlet—that there’s no mention of commercial exploitation. Scholarly publishing is dominated, of course, by a for-profit oligopoly, one that mines scholars’ behavior to bundle into proprietary prediction products. As a flurry of recent announcements makes clear, Elsevier and co. are charging into the post-ChatGPT future—with the aim to expand their surveillance-publishing footprint at the expense of scholars and universities. In the real world, the seven Upstream verbs—to extract, to discover, to generate, and so on—will be turned on us.

‘Article defending private-equity involvement in autism services retracted’

From Retraction Watch:

An article that proposed potential benefits of private equity firms investing in autism service providers has been removed from the journal in which it was published.

The author

is founder and CEO of the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE), a company that offers accreditation for organizations that provide ABA services, and she co-founded the Autism Investor Summit, an annual meeting focused on the business side of autism services. She is also an advisory board member for Calex Partners, a firm that provides advice on mergers and acquisitions for autism-related businesses.

Blatant self-interest, but that wasn’t the issue. She seems to have had, um, a ChatGPT problem:

The article titles provided in 22 of the references do not appear in the cited journals’ table of contents or in Google search results.

Jeff Pooley is professor of media & communication at Muhlenberg College and director of mediastudies.press, an open access scholarly publisher.

pooley@muhlenberg.edu | press@mediastudies.press

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