The Gates Foundation and Open Access

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There has been quite a lot of reaction (e.g. here) to the recent announcement of a new Open Access Policy by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is one of the one of the world’s top funders of biomedical research. This mandates the distribution of research it funds as preprints and also states that it will not pay Article Processing Charges (APCs). The essentials of the policy, which comes into effect on 1st January 2025, are these:

  1. Funded Manuscripts Will Be Available. As soon as possible and to the extent feasible, Funded Manuscripts shall be published as a preprint in a preprint server recognized by the foundation or preapproved preprint server which applies a sufficient level of scrutiny to submissions. Accepted articles shall be deposited immediately upon publication in PubMed Central (PMC), or in another openly accessible repository, with proper metadata tagging identifying Gates funding. In addition, grantees shall disseminate Funded Manuscripts as described in their funding agreements with the foundation, including as described in any proposal or Global Access commitments.
  2. Dissemination of Funded Manuscripts Will Be On “Open Access” Terms. All Funded Manuscripts, including any subsequent updates to key conclusions, shall be available immediately, without any embargo, under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) or an equivalent license. This will permit all users to copy, redistribute, transform, and build on the material in any medium or format for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.
  3. Gates Grantees Will Retain Copyright. Grantees shall retain sufficient copyright in Funded Manuscripts to ensure such Funded Manuscripts are deposited into an open-access repository and published under the CC-BY 4.0 or equivalent license.
  4. Underlying Data Will Be Accessible Immediately. The Foundation requires that underlying data supporting the Funded Manuscripts shall be made accessible immediately and as open as possible upon availability of the Funded Manuscripts, subject to any applicable ethical, legal, or regulatory requirements or restrictions. All Funded Manuscripts must be accompanied by an Underlying Data Availability Statement that describes where any primary data, associated metadata, original software, and any additional relevant materials or information necessary to understand, assess, and replicate the Funded Manuscripts findings in totality can be found. Grantees are encouraged to adhere to the FAIR principles to improve the findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reuse of digital assets.
  5. The Foundation Will Not Pay Article Processing Charges (APC). Any publication fees are the responsibility of the grantees and their co-authors.
  6. Compliance Is A Requirement of Funding. This Open Access policy applies to all Funded Manuscripts, whether the funding is in whole or in part. Compliance will be continuously reviewed, and grantees and authors will be contacted when they are non-compliant.
    • As appropriate, Grantees should include the following acknowledgment and notice in Funded Manuscripts:
    • “This work was supported, in whole or in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [Grant number]. The conclusions and opinions expressed in this work are those of the author(s) alone and shall not be attributed to the Foundation. Under the grant conditions of the Foundation, a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License has already been assigned to the Author Accepted Manuscript version that might arise from this submission. Please note works submitted as a preprint have not undergone a peer review process.”

Reactions to this new policy are generally positive, except (unsurprisingly) for the academic publishing industry.

For what it’s worth, my view is that it is a good policy, and I wish more funders went along this route, but it falls short of being truly excellent. As it stands, the policy seems to encourage authors to put the “final” version of their articles in traditional journals, without these articles being freely available through Open Access. That falls short of goal establishing a global worldwide network of institutional and/or subject-based repositories, linked to peer review mechanisms such as overlays, that share research literature freely for the common good. To help achieve that aim, the Gates’ Foundation should to encourage overlays rather than traditional journals as the way to carry out peer review. Perhaps this will be the next step?

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