Decisive week for European open science

Nieuws | door Sicco de Knecht
5 juli 2018 | Developments in the closing hours of the academic year have open science advocates playing multidimensional chess. A new EU copyright directive that threatens open science gets rejected. The involvement of Elsevier in the Open Science Monitor receives fierce scrutiny. At the same time European funders are deliberating their backing of Plan S, the open science plan in preparation by special OA EU envoy Robert-Jan Smits.
Photo: European Union 2015
Thematic photos on the 2nd priority of Juncker’s Commission Digital Market

A vote in the European Parliament today was held on the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. This directive aimed to “modernise the European copyright framework and adapt it to the requirements of the digital age” has been in preparation for quite a while.

Young academics had previously warned against the implications that the directive would have for the open science and open access movement. The primary concern of The European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc) was that the copyright reform directive will “place unwarranted restrictions on the text-and-data mining of copyrighted works, give overly extensive rights to press publishers for the online use of press content, and sweepingly oblige requests for authorisation or automatic filtering for uploading online content.”

According to Eurodoc, text-and-data mining is crucial for research and innovation and should be permitted for public but also for commercial purposing. “We request the text-and-data mining not be labelled as a copyright infringement.” The European group of researchers argue that “access to online news and media is fundamental for an open and democratic society and for scientific knowledge dissemination.”

The vote today ended in a rejection by the European Parliament of the directive by a majority of 318 of 627 votes against. Eurodoc president Gareth O’Neill: “The vote today parliament was a great result for democracy. The directive was clearly not ready given the widespread concerns from citizens and stakeholders as well as the highly polarised nature of support for or against the directive.”

Backlash over EU decision to contract Elsevier to track open science

In close connection to the copyright debate the European Commission has received strong criticism from the academic field for allowing the participation of Elsevier in their Open Science Monitor. In an op-ed in the Guardian palaeontologist Jon Tennant condemned the contracting of a company that has a “notorious history of campaigning against openness in order to protect its paywall-based business“.

Tennant argues that Elsevier cannot be trusted with a task like this. Primarily because he deems the publisher to have “a notorious history of campaigning against openness in order to protect its paywall-based business” exemplified by earlier financial contributions in the anti-open lobby. Last year the publication by ScienceGuide of the ‘OA-pilot’ contract negotiated between Dutch universities and Elsevier sparked outrage over the company’s strategy to deliberately hamper the transition to open access.

Over the past week many academics from around the globe showed their dismay at the situation. Although European officials stress that the public tender is in full compliance with the EU regulations, many argue that involving Elsevier in this project is a major mistake. Elsevier itself has responded to the Guardian article in a written statement on their own website, claiming that it “serves the global research community to deliver open science.”

In a scathing response Tennant dissects the reasoning provided by Elsevier stating that the company cannot possibly participate in the Open Science Monitor without it being a conflict of interest. “ Elsevier’s oligarchic scope and complex portfolio of interests, which include publishing and other scientific workflow services (tied to specific business models and profit motives), as well as provision of metrics services, will hinder its impartial support of the European Commissin, Tennant argues.

Will European science funders back ‘Plan S’?

Whilst European institutions and academic publishers are trying to reach agreements on their ‘big deals’ European legislators are worried that their set goal of full and immediate open access by the year 2020 will not be reached. This ambition, agreed upon during the Dutch presidency of the European Union in 2016 is still far removed from being met with only an estimated 15% – 20% immediate and open access publications at the moment. Estimates based on the current progress make it seem highly unlikely that the goal of 100% open access will be reached before 2040.

Based on these numbers it is clear that more drastic measures need to be taken. A new and allegedly ambitious proposal drafted by special EU envoy for open access Robert-Jan Smits aims for a rapid acceleration towards 2020. In the proposal dubbed ‘Plan S’ European Science funders, together comprising 80% of science funding in the EU, would force the recipients of their grants to publish their articles immediate open access – thereby explicitly prohibiting them from dealing with subscription based journals and publishers.

Plan S, which is set to be revealed next week at the EuroScience Open Forum next week in Toulouse still needs to be signed. European funders are currently debating whether or not to support the plan – weighing the predisposition of academics for their beloved impact factor and rankings against the open science principles. As of now only the French have openly declared to support Plan S. However, many more members of EuroScience, such as the Dutch NWO, have previously stated their full and ambitious commitment to open science.

All things considered, this might prove to be a decisive week for the future of open science. The European Commission and EuroScience now see themselves faced with fundamental decisions on who to trust as a partner on the road to open science.


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