Go back

South African medical council doubles down on Plan S

Images: Simon Fraser University [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons; Prawny, via Pixabay

SAMRC head wants things to be even more “disruptive”

Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, has reaffirmed the council’s support for Plan S, despite criticism of the initiative from some academics in the country.

Last week, Research Africa reported that some academics are sceptical of Plan S. Researchers called for the plan to be “decolonised”, saying it would be more expensive and threatens academic freedom and intellectual property.

Gray has rubbished these opinions. In a statement in response to the article on 4 November, she discounts that Plan S would make publishing more costly for South African researchers. She said the view that researchers will be limited in where they can publish is also “reductionist”, adding that Plan S would democratise research rather than enforcing a Eurocentric view.

Research Africa asked Gray to elaborate on the thinking of the SAMRC in backing Plan S.

Why Plans S and not a new South African or African open access policy, or can these coexist?

We need to work globally for impact. Working alone will not solve the issues of access to data. Publicly funded research must be made available for knowledge translation.

Is it a valid criticism that Plan S curtails academic freedom because it could prohibit funded researchers from publishing in their preferred journals?

I don’t follow this argument at all; in fact it democratises science, as we have said. Published research that comes from the public purse needs to be available for all. I guess if researchers pay for their own research, they can publish where they want, but if they take taxpayer’s money then the public deserves access to it. As a public funder, the SAMRC has an academic and social responsibility to make the results of publicly funded research available for all. What is academic freedom if you restrict access? It sounds more like academic privilege. I care more about academic accountability and respect for the public or taxpayers that fund our research. Researchers who receive money from government have a responsibility to make the results of their research available: that’s what knowledge translation is all about.

Was there encouragement to endorse Plan S from signatory funders with which the SAMRC has had a long relationship, such as the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust?

The SAMRC has talked for many years about access to data and publications. I would want to be even more disruptive and make data freely available as well, just like Statistics South Africa does. So it’s more of a coming-together of funders who see a responsibility for broad access to the science they fund. Access to research should not be a privilege but a right.

Would Plan S be significantly cheaper, or would it work out about the same but with the added perk wider access? 

The idea is that it will become incrementally cheaper, with access as a perk.