Towards an open, scholar-led communication ecosystem: a new proposal from cOAlition S


cOAlition S, a group of research funders including EC and SNSF, recently published a proposal to transform the scientific publishing landscape. This proposal envisions a community-based scholarly communication system in which all versions of an article and its associated peer-review reports are openly available from the start, without authors facing any charges. Furthermore, it advocates that authors, rather than publishers, decide when and where to publish their work.

towards responsible publishing proposal summary
Towards responsible publishing: summary version

The Plan S principles, introduced in 2018 and adopted by over a dozen research funding organizations, has pushed the move toward immediate Open Access. A few weeks ago, a proposal titled "Towards responsible publishing" was published by cOAlition S, which takes a look back at five years of experience with the Plan S principles and develops a rather radical perspective for a community-based scholarly communication framework.

The proposal identifies several critical issues with the current scholarly publication system:

  1. The mainstream publication models are often unfair from a cost perspective, as many researchers either do not have access to publications (because of subscription paywalls) or to publishing (because of APC barriers).
  2. Pre-publication peer review significantly delays the accessibility of research outcomes.
  3. Confidential peer review procedures do not realize the full potential of scientific peer review. The efforts and insights of reviewers are lost when an article is rejected. In addition, inaccessible peer review reports hinder research assessment based on intrinsic merit rather than relying on proxies such as journal names or impact factors.
  4. The coupling of editorial gatekeeping with academic career incentives is damaging science. The selectivity of journals via rejection and resubmission practices is considered an excessive burden on researchers, particularly at early career stages.

In this new proposal, cOAlition S addresses these challenges by proposing a vision and a set of principles that should guide the future scholarly communication system. It advocates for complete transparency by openly publishing all article versions and their related peer-review reports from the start, without authors bearing any fees. Additionally, it suggests that authors, rather than publishers, should decide when and where to publish their work.

This vision of a scholar-led communications ecosystem moves well beyond current publishing models. While traditional publishers might continue offering services like copy-editing, typesetting, and manuscript submissions, they lose their authority in shaping scientific reputation and core publication decisions. The innovation of the model lies not only in the complete switch to a scientific communication system controlled by the scientific community, but also in the separation of peer review and publication decisions. Consequently, journals and their impact factors would lose their role as proxies for research quality.

This is an exciting project and should this vision become reality, it would revolutionize science publishing. However, the proposal and its implementation raises many questions. Are scientists ready to adopt such a scholar-led publication model? If traditional journals and their associated reputation effects disappear, what alternative mechanisms of reputation building will the scientific community employ? This proposal is also expected to face strong opposition from traditional publishers, who will see their immense profit margins threatened by it.

cOAlition S will be consulting with the research community until April 2024 to gather their feedback on the proposal. Based on the feedback through this consultation, a revised proposal will be developed for the cOAlition S funders to consider in June 2024.

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