Plan U: funders urged to mandate immediate preprint publication

Shifting towards open access journals will only achieve so much when review and editing processes take so long, scientists say

June 5, 2019
Open sign

Forget Plan S, what about “Plan U”? Scientists have argued that research funders should go one step further than Europe’s open access initiative by mandating that all papers that they finance should be made immediately available on preprint servers.

Writing in Plos Biology on 4 June, three open access advocates say that funders’ move to require research that they support to be made freely available at the point of publication goes only so far towards opening up scientific exchange when journal review and editing processes take so long.

Richard Sever and John Inglis, co-founders of the preprint server BioRxiv, and Mike Eisen, editor in chief of open access publishing platform eLife, make the case for Plan U – for “universal” – under which funders would require academics to post their work on preprint servers first, before peer review.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Dr Sever said that Plan U offered a “simpler” solution to transitioning to full open access.

Despite continuing efforts from coordinators in Europe, US funders remain reluctant to sign up to Plan S, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation being the only exception. The restriction on academics’ choice of where to publish, and the bar on embargo periods prior to free access, have been seen as key obstacles.

However, Dr Sever argued that preprints “have now entered the mainstream in biology”, and were being mandated by funders such as the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health. Few journals now considered a preprint “prior publication” and would accept papers that have been made available this way, he said.

“Funders could literally mandate this tomorrow,” Dr Sever added, “unlike the alternative solutions proposed, which all require significant structural changes likely to take years.” Plan U could be implemented alongside Plan S, he said.

Previous research by Steve Quake, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University – cited by Dr Sever and his co-authors – estimates that the aggregate time saved through publication via preprints could increase the pace of science fivefold over 10 years, by allowing researchers to start building on peers’ results immediately.

The revised Plan S guidance, however, has rejected calls to mandate use of preprints. “We welcome the sharing of preprints but we strongly agree with comments by respondents that the process of peer review is a significant addition of value to scholarly publication,” say Coalition S, the architects of the open access initiative.


Print headline: Plan U: Is it time to mandate the use of preprints?

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