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Gates Foundation announces open-access publishing venture

Global health charity is latest funder to start its own publishing ‘channel’ — and the European Commission is considering its own service.


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One of the world's wealthiest charities, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, is set to launch its own open-access publishing venture later this year. The initiative, Gates Open Research, was announced on 23 March and will be modelled on a service begun last year by the London-based biomedical charity, the Wellcome Trust. Like that effort, the Gates Foundation’s platform is intended to accelerate the publication of articles and data from research funded by the charity.

Along similar lines, the European Commission (EC) is considering its own open-access publishing platform for outputs from its €80-billion (US$86-billion) Horizon 2020 research programme. At an 'open science' conference in Berlin on 21 March, an EC representative suggested the service might launch this year, says Sabina Leonelli, a philosopher at the University of Exeter, UK, who attended the meeting.

An EC spokesperson said that the Commission was looking at Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation models, and had asked a panel called the Open Science Policy Platform (of which Leonelli is a member) to provide an opinion on the idea.

Welcome to the team

The Gates Foundation has, similarly to the Wellcome Trust, contracted management of its publishing service to F1000Research, an open-access platform that rapidly publishes papers and data sets after an initial sanity check by its in-house editors. Papers are peer-reviewed after publication, and the reviews and the names of their authors are published alongside.

The foundation will have no editorial oversight of Gates Open Research, says spokesperson Bryan Callahan. It will also fully cover all article-processing charges (APCs) — US$150 for articles of up to 1,000 words, $500 for those ranging 1,000–2,500 words and $1,000 for those exceeding 2,500 words.

Callahan says the platform should prove useful to Gates-funded researchers in developing countries. It should also help grantees avoid predatory publishers.

Wellcome Open Research published its first papers in November 2016. According to Robert Kiley, Wellcome’s head of digital services, the platform currently hosts 53 articles, at an average cost of £791 (US$990) per paper for the 50 invoiced so far. That contrasts with an average of £2,044 for the 3,552 articles that the Charity Open Access Fund (a coalition of six UK charities, of which Wellcome Trust is the largest) supported to make open access between October 2015 and September 2016. Over this period, the coalition spent £6.6 million on APCs — up 32% from the previous financial year.

For researchers, a benefit of the Wellcome Open channel is that papers appear quickly, typically being posted around one week after submission, and passing peer review after a median of 27 days. (Not all article pass peer review: those that are rejected remain on the site but are not indexed in abstract databases such as PubMed).

The Gates foundation — whose funding generates around 2,000–2,500 research articles per year — has one of the most stringent open-access policies of any research funder. Researchers must make their papers and data open access immediately upon publication, and allow their unrestricted reuse. “We believe that published research resulting from our funding should be promptly and broadly disseminated,” says Callahan. “Our research saves lives.”

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An earlier version of this story attributed the spending on article processing charges solely to the Wellcome Trust. In fact, the money came from the Charity Open Access Fund, of which the Wellcome is a prominent member.

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