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June 29, 2020

Why Programming Historian is not fully implementing Plan-S Recommendations

Adam Crymble

Programming Historian has been fully Open Access since day one. For a decade now our team has been publishing academic content and making it freely and widely available online to more than 1-million people per year. In that time, we’ve never charged an author, reader, or a library a penny for accessing our material.

We therefore welcomed the arrival of ‘Plan-S’, an open access initiative in scholarly publishing that encourages new standards across the sector. As practicing academics, we look forward to a day when knowledge is more widely available to those who can benefit from it. We’re happy to report that we already meet most of the suggested requirements, including open licenses for published content, DOIs for all articles, high quality metadata, and transparent costing (free in our case). But as a not-for-profit open access scholarly publisher built on the backs of thousands of hours of passion and voluntary effort, we can’t, and we won’t implement the entire set of recommendations made by Plan S, in their current form (mid 2020).

This is because our business model does not rely upon article processing charges (APCs), extensive subscription fees from a scholarly society, or a home within an academic library who pays all of the bills. We’re a group of scholars who believe in what we are doing. So we put our own time (and in some cases, money) into making that happen. We have a small budget generously gleaned from members of our community who have decided to financially back us, as well as some wonderful library partners who provide cash or in-kind support.

However, our budget remains extremely tight, and we owe it to our supporters to make sure every penny goes where it’s needed most. We are therefore extremely dismayed that so many of the ‘Plan S’ recommendations or requirements cost money, without obviously adding value to our publications or our core mission of sharing knowledge openly and for free.

We have therefore decided as a team, NOT to implement the following Plan-S requirements without direct on going financial support to do so:

1. The journal/platform must provide, on its website…at least basic statistics…covering in particular the number of submissions, the number of reviews requested, the number of reviews received, the approval rate, and the average time between submission and publication.

Programming Historian operates principally on an open peer review process of which we are very proud. This review system makes most of these questions answerable to anyone curious. But our system does not easily generate these requested statistics. To provide them one of our team mates would have to dedicate voluntary hours counting and checking them, and for no obvious benefit to our authors, readers, or supporters. We will therefore not be implementing this unnecessary set of metrics.

2. Helpdesk: as a minimum an email address (functional mailbox) has to be provided; a response time of no more than one business day must be ensured

Our voluntary team of academics who support our publishing activities always aim to provide a speedy response to queries, but we cannot and will not impose a one-day turnaround requirement upon them. This is unreasonable to demand of even paid employees.

3. Deposition of content with a long-term digital preservation or archiving programme (such as CLOCKSS, Portico, or equivalent).

We have for many years been depositing our entire publications in Zenodo which offers free archiving for research organizations around the world. The suggested services, CLOCKSS or Portico, cost between $242 and $250 per year, and assume a connection to a subscribing academic library or the means to pay these fees, which we do not have.

4. Registering the self-archiving policy of the venue in SHERPA/RoMEO.

(Update 6 July 2020 - as a result of this post we were contacted by SHERPA / RoMEO and have since been added to the database:

We tried to register our policy on self-archiving with SHERPA/RoMEO in October 2019 and June 2020, but our emails were ignored. If the service cannot meet the demands upon it, it cannot be part of a required infrastructure.

5. The repository must be registered in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) or in the process of being registered

We tried to register our Spanish publication but we were refused. Our English publication (which is identical in every way except for language) was accepted. All attempts to discuss this further have been ignored. If a service cannot meet the demands upon it or makes arbitrary and inconsistent decisions about listing journals, it cannot be part of a required infrastructure.

6. OpenAIRE compliance of the metadata

We provide extensive metadata with our publications, which include detail above and beyond most academic publications (such as reviewer and editor names). However, we do not have OpenAIRE expertise within our voluntary team, nor do we have the money to pay for training or to pay team members for their time to develop this expertise in order to comply with a new set of standards in metadata. Without direct and ongoing support we will not be able to comply with this requirement.

7. Availability for download of full text for all publications (including supplementary text and data) in a machine-readable community standard format such as JATS XML.

Our publications are all formatted in Markdown, a widely used and human/machine readable format. We do not have anyone on our voluntary team with expertise in JATS XML, nor do we see the direct benefits to our authors or readers of providing our material in such a specific format. We do, however, have a lesson published that anyone can use to learn how to convert documents between a range of file formats using Pandoc (with thanks to Dennis Tenen and Grant Wythoff), and we would encourage anyone datamining to build their own skills rather than expecting publishers to provide them with the different formats they might need for their own purposes.

We remain enthusiastic about Open Access and conversations about how we can all work better together. But we aren’t a multi-billion pound publisher. We don’t collect APCs or subscription fees from libraries. We haven’t got 1000% profit margins. We’re a group of scholars trying to improve our field by doing things well, efficiently, and inexpensively.

Our time is overwhelmingly voluntary, and we want to use this blog post to remind policy makers operating in the Open Access space that we’re here too, we’ve done a great job of open access for years now even without your prompting, and we’d like a seat at the table. Because the decisions you make have serious implications for teams like ours, and we’d like to be here for the long-term because we’ve got a lot more to offer.

This post was edited 1 July 2020 to correct point 5 which, in error, referred to the Directory of Open Access Directories. This should have referred to the Directory of Open Access Journals. We apologise for the misattribution

About the author

Adam Crymble, University College London.