The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is one of the largest public philanthropic organisations involved in research funding, and has been a staunch advocate of open access publication for many years. In fact, all research financed through the foundation must be made immediately available in open access format. A new portal – Chronos – was recently launched to facilitate the publication of research results. Some 2971 articles per year have been published since the policy was introduced three years ago. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation strives to improve global health care and reduce extreme poverty. Amongst other strategies, the foundation achieves this goal by funding research into solutions for the aforementioned problems. As Ashley Farley – associate officer of knowledge & research services at BMGF – recently explained in an interview conducted by Wilma van Wezenbeek – program manager open access at VSNU - : ‘the foundation grasped early on that open access to information would help the organisation achieve its goals more quickly. Open access serves as a de facto catalyst, while ensuring that publications can be freely used due to the absence of copyright restrictions. Finally, the foundation also feels information should be freely available to the public from a moral standpoint.’
Dutch academics are often apprehensive about the requirement to ensure immediate open access publication, as they fear this will impede their ability to publish in renowned academic journals. So what is the foundation’s take on the issue? From the foundation’s perspective, the rapid availability of good research results is key. The debate on publication in renowned journals is driven by researchers’ career perspectives rather than focusing on the quality of their research. The research should stand on its own merit, and immediate publication on a platform allows for the results to be immediately tested and applied in practice.
Foundation researchers have also had the opportunity to publish their results through the foundation’s publication platform, Gates Open Research, since the past year. Today, Gates Open Research ranks number 4 in the top 10 list of journals published in by Gates foundation grantees. In a key advantage, the publication platform allows researchers to publish all relevant outcomes of their research after completion of the review process, unrestricted by a specific scope as is the practice of more traditional journals or publishers.
The foundation will be conducting further research to assess the success of its open access policy and rapid publication of academic articles. Having reached the three-year mark, the time has now come to review these matters in greater depth. Amongst other lessons learned, it has become clear that researchers can greatly benefit by joining forces. The first steps have already been taken in that direction. The foundation is currently determining how best to assess the success of its open access policy further as time goes on.
The foundation recently joined forces with Plan S. Can you explain the rationale behind that choice? ‘We regard Plan S as a natural next step along the road to reach 100% open access. We also need to speed up current developments. This insight was partly fueled by an assessment of BMGF’s article processing charges (APC) expenditures, which proved to have totalled 8 million dollars in the period since 2016. This led us to question whether this is the most effective way to spend our funds and disseminate research globally. We hope open access will lead to a shift in the current market. Despite their clear desirability, such drastic changes have been absent as of yet. Given our passion to ensure the rapid availability of research results and belief that this goal can be achieved more quickly through collaboration, we feel the initiative is definitely worth our support.’
In addition to the publication of articles, the scope is currently being broadened (with support from Plan S) to include the accessibility of research data. As this process has also highlighted, the shared data will be used by various major public sector parties. Although this could involve some potential disadvantages, smart data applications are set to make a real difference. BMGF expects these benefits will outweigh any disadvantages.
The foundation expects a great deal from the various developments in terms of transparency and data and research accessibility. Ashley ends the interview by expressing her hope and confidence in the future.
Alignment refers not only to the theme in international cooperation but also to the organisation of projects regarding open access and open science. For this reason, after having deployed a specific programme manager for open access for the past five years, from 2019 onwards the VSNU has chosen to switch to a programme manager for open access and open science. On 1 March 2019, Wilma van Wezenbeek will be handing the baton to Darco Jansen. Under his leadership, a clear and joint VSNU ambition will be formulated for open access and open science. Together with national and international stakeholders, he will strive to improve transparency in science still further.
Design and realization: Designwise
Visual material: Shutterstock, Unsplash, portrait photographs VSNU