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Gates Foundation mandates preprints

Big research funder also says it will stop paying article-processing charges

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
April 4, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 11


An aerial view of a large organization's campus.
Credit: Sea Cow/Wikimedia Commons
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says it will mandate all researchers to post preprint articles stemming from any research the foundation funds.

The foundation, which is the largest charitable organization in the US, will also no longer pay article-processing charges (APCs), which open access journals usually assess to publish peer-reviewed studies. “By discontinuing to support these fees, we can work to address inequities in current publishing models and reinvest the funds elsewhere,” the foundation says in a statement.

Authors will still be able to publish in journals of their choice, the foundation says, but the focus on preprints will make their research available before the journals publish their finished work. The foundation will also encourage peer review of preprints, but details are scarce.

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, a professor and coordinator for research professional development at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, says she worries that Gates Foundation–funded researchers who can’t find other means to pay for APCs won’t be able to publish in journals that charge them.

“Given that such journals are now desirable outlets in some fields, this is likely to frustrate authors, particularly if they previously had APCs paid by Gates,” she says.

Due to be rolled out in 2025, the policy change has sparked a conversation on social media about more equitable and sustainable publishing practices.

In 2015, the Gates Foundation announced a then-bold open access policy, which, the group says, prioritized “the access, transparency, and equity of funded research.” At the time, the move was praised by proponents of open access.

Now, nearly a decade later, the foundation is refreshing the policy, arguing that open access in its current form has led to “some unsavory publishing practices,” including unchecked pricing, peer review of questionable quality, and paper mills—organizations­ that churn out subpar or fake studies in exchange for a fee.

Richard Sever, assistant director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and cofounder of the preprint server bioRxiv, says the preprint policy is an endorsement of Plan U, an approach that he and others suggested in 2019 to speed up access to research through funder-mandated preprints. “The fact that a heavy hitter like Gates is doing this will prompt more people to really consider what peer review should look like in the future,” he says.



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