Bioethics Blogs

Gates Foundation announces world’s strongest policy on open access research

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced the world’s strongest policy in support of open research and open data. If strictly enforced, it would prevent Gates-funded researchers from publishing in well-known journals such as Nature and Science.

On 20 November, the medical charity, based in Seattle, Washington, announced that from January 2015, researchers it funds must make open their resulting papers and underlying data sets immediately upon publication — and must make that research available for commercial reuse. “We believe that published research resulting from our funding should be promptly and broadly disseminated,” the foundation states. It says it will pay the necessary publication fees (which often amount to thousands of dollars per article).

The foundation is allowing two years’ grace: until 2017, researchers may apply a 12-month delay before their articles and data are made free. At first glance, this suggests that authors may still — for now — publish in journals that do not offer immediate open-access (OA) publishing, such as Science and Nature. These journals permit researchers to archive their peer-reviewed manuscripts elsewhere online, usually after a delay of 6–12 months after publication.

Allowing 1 year’s delay makes the charity’s OA policy similar to those of other medical funders, such as the UK Wellcome Trust or the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). But the charity’s intention to close off this option by 2017 might put pressure on paywalled journals to create an OA publishing route.

However, the Gates Foundation’s policy has a second, more onerous twist that appears to put it directly in conflict with many non-OA journals now, rather than in 2017.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.