Tuesday, April 24, 2018

North, South, and Open Access: The view from Egypt with Mahmoud Khalifa

At the end of last year I was contacted by Jamila Jaber, Library Director at the Islamic University of Lebanon (IUL), who asked me if I would consider doing an interview “with two researchers, one from a ‘developed country’ and one from a ‘developing country’ (from the Arab world for example).”
Mahmoud Khalifa
The aim, she explained, should be to allow for a discussion about scholarly communication and open access from two geographically different points of view.

It seemed like a good idea, so I asked Jaber if she could propose a candidate from the Arab world. She suggested Mahmoud Khalifa, who works as a librarian at the Library of Congress Cairo Office and is DOAJ Ambassador for the Middle East and Persian Gulf. He is also President of Cybrarians, which publishes an information science journal and runs two conferences.

To provide a voice from the developed world I invited Jeffrey MacKie-Mason to take part. MacKie-Mason is UC Berkeley’s University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer. The resultant Q&A with MacKie-Mason was published on April 8th (here), and a response to that Q&A from Khalifa on 19th (here). Today I am publishing a Q&A with Khalifa (below), which I will ask MacKie-Mason to comment on.

One topic I have been particularly keen to explore is the growing interest in Europe and the US in engineering a global “flip” of legacy subscription journals to a pay-to-publish open access model. I asked MacKie-Mason to take part partly because he is an enthusiastic advocate for journal flipping. In fact, he believes it to be the only practical way of achieving open access in the near term.

A global flip would imply a future in which the pay-to-publish model would come to dominate the scholarly publishing environment. Instead of readers (or their institutions) paying to access other researchers’ papers, authors would have to pay to publish their own papers – by means of article-processing charges (APCs). Currently, APCs are around $3,000 a paper, although they can be both higher and lower than this.

Not conformant with the philosophy of OA?

Many in the global North remain sceptical about the global flip proposal – for reasons I have explored here. For those in the global South the prospect of all international subscription journals converting to pay-to-publish gold OA is particularly daunting, and would surely be discriminatory since researchers in developing countries could expect to see today’s paywalls replaced by publication walls, threatening to further exclude them from the global scientific endeavour.

Indeed, Khalifa believes the use of APCs is not actually conformant with the philosophy of OA. And he says: “One of the aims of open access is to provide access to information free of charge, and that is much needed in developing countries. If APCs start to be widely applied it will create new hurdles for researchers in the global South looking to contribute to science.”

To support his argument, Khalifa points out that a $2,000 APC is equivalent to six months’ salary for a professor in Egypt. In light of this, he suggests developing countries might be better to build up their local journals and focus on publishing in them.

The problem here, however, is that researchers in the developing world are increasingly being told by their governments and institutions that they must publish in international journals.

A further problem, says Khalifa, is that local journals are not generally indexed in international citation databases like Scopus and Web of Science. This means that they are not visible to the global research community.

The journals could, of course, try and persuade these indexing services to include them. And they could apply for an impact factor (IF). But this could backfire, says Khalifa, because most of the citations that local journals attract are from resources that are also not recognised by the global indexing services. “As a result, the total number of citations a journal will be seen to have received will be very low, and so it will not get a good IF.”

So even if local journals managed to gain greater visibility, they could find they are deemed to be low-quality journals in the process.

Another possibility, says Khalifa, is for the global South to develop its own own regional tools and databases. “This would enable us to evaluate our own journals and develop our own IF reports and other metrics.”

But this would be a big task and would presumably require substantial funding. Currently, governments and research institutions in the South appear more focused on having their researchers publish in international journals than building up local solutions.  

It is therefore hard not to conclude that a global flip of legacy subscription journals to open access would be bad news for the developing world. For more on the issues please read the Q&A with Khalifa below.

One further thought: Those who maintain that publishers of international journals do not (as frequently claimed) overcharge for their products might like to ponder on the fact that it costs Khalifa just $250 a year to publish his journal.

The Q&A begins …

Q: Can you say something about yourself, your institution, and why and when you started to take an interest in open access?

MK: I work at the Library of Congress Cairo office. In 2002 I also established a non-profit organisation called cybrarians.org. This is focused on the library field in Egypt and other Arab countries.

I have been involved in open access since 2004 as a publisher of an e-journal in library and information science. We adopted open access as our primary publishing model.

In 2016, I was selected as DOAJ ambassador for the Middle East and Persian Gulf. As such, I am in charge of promoting a culture of open access in the region. I also review all the applications submitted to DOAJ from the area. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

North, South, and Open Access: Mahmoud Khalifa responds from Egypt

As I have previously reported, more and more countries in the global North are coming to the conclusion that if universal open access is to be achieved any time soon they are going to have to persuade or compel legacy scholarly publishers to convert all their subscription journals to gold OA, by means of a global “flip”.
Paywalls to Publication Walls?

This implies a future in which the pay-to-publish model will dominate. Instead of readers (or their institutions) paying to access other researchers’ papers, authors will have to pay to publish their own papers – by means of article-processing charges (APCs). Currently, APCs are around $3,000 a paper, although they can be both higher and lower than this.

The global flip strategy is being spearheaded by the Max-Planck-led OA2020 Initiative, and attempted in Europe by means of OA Big Deals. These are usually agreements negotiated with legacy publishers by national consortia of universities, with the aim of engineering a transition to OA by combining a large subscription payment for existing paywalled content with a large publishing payment to buy their researchers the right to publish their papers OA without having to pay APCs personally. 

It is intended that over time the OA component of these deals will grow to the point where all (or nearly all) new research is published open access, at which point it is assumed publishers will flip all their journals to an exclusively OA model.

This approach is gaining mindshare in the US too, and one of those advocating for it is Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, UC Berkeley’s University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer. In a recent Q&A MacKie-Mason outlined why he thinks a global flip is the only practical way forward.

How practical?

However, not everyone agrees that a global flip is practical, or even desirable, not least researchers based outside Europe and North America. To get a sense of how this approach looks from the Middle East I asked Mahmoud Khalifa, a librarian at the Library of Congress Cairo Office (and DOAJ Ambassador for the Middle East and Persian Gulf) to comment on MacKie-Mason’s answers to my questions, which he does below. Khalifa is an OA advocate, but I think we can sum up his response to the global flip idea by quoting him thus: “I have a different point of view!”

Explaining his reasoning, Khalifa points out that under the current subscription model access to scholarly journals in Egypt is funded by local research institutions and/or governments, not by researchers themselves. By contrast, if authors want to publish their work open access they have to cover any costs incurred themselves. While having to find the money to pay APCs is a challenge for any author, for those based in the global South it is practically impossible, not least because of salary differentials. For instance, says Khalifa, a $2,000 APC is equivalent to six months’ pay for a professor in Egypt.

Khalifa speaks from the perspective of someone living in the Middle East. We can be confident that the situation is even bleaker for researchers in other parts of the global South.

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) like Egypt could, of course, seek to negotiate their own OA Big Deals, and so take on the burden of paying the APCs for researchers. But how practical or likely is this? One could certainly imagine there would be political hurdles. It is bad enough that these countries currently have to pay extortionate sums of money to access research produced in the global North. To force them into a position where they have no choice but to pay the Northern-based publishing oligopoly thousands of dollars every time one of their researchers wants to publish a paper in an international journal is likely to to be viewed as discriminatory and retrograde.

Even if some LMICs did seek to negotiate their own OA Big Deals, it seems unlikely this would happen any time soon. Right now, the concept of an OA Big Deal does not even show up on the radar of journal licensing negotiators outside Europe and the US, far less the possibility of a mass conversion of subscription journals to OA. One Taiwanese researcher I contacted last year was intrigued when I told him that in Europe open access is being tied to Big Deal agreements. This was not an issue in the recent negotiations that Taiwan undertook with Elsevier, he said. The focus was entirely on licensing paywalled content.

One danger, therefore, is that a flip could take place without those in the global South being consulted, or the implications for them considered – it might simply be presented to them as a fait accompli.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

North, South, and Open Access: The view from California with Jeff MacKie-Mason

As anyone who has followed the story of open access will know, a multitude of issues has arisen since the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) adopted the term in order to promote the idea of research being made freely available on the internet. It has also led to a great deal of debate and disagreement over the best way of making open access a reality. 
Jeff MacKie-Mason

However, we seem to be arriving at the point where consensus is growing in the global North around the idea of persuading and/or forcing legacy publishers to convert (“flip”) all their journals from a subscription model to an open access model.

One implication of this would seem to be that we can expect widespread use of the pay-to-publish model where, instead of readers paying to access other researchers’ papers, authors will pay to publish their own papers – by means of article-processing charges (APCs). Currently, APCs are around $3,000 a paper, although they can be both higher and lower than this.

OA Big Deals

The argument for a global flip has been most fully articulated in a report published by the Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL) in April 2015. This concluded that “An internationally concerted shifting of subscription budgets [to open access] is possible at no financial risk, maybe even at lower overall costs.”

Using this report as a foundation, in 2016 MDPL established the OA2020 Initiative, which was launched at the (controversial) 12th Berlin Open Access conference. The stated aim of OA2020 is to “convert the majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to Open Access (OA) publishing.”

The MDPL report is also driving the current trend for OA Big Deals. These are being negotiated in Europe (usually by national consortia) with legacy publishers. The aim is to facilitate a transition from a subscription-based world to a pay-to-publish world, by means of agreements that combine subscription payment for paywalled content with a bulk payment to provide OA publishing rights for researchers to publish their papers OA without themselves having to find the money to pay APCs.
This model was pioneered by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), which is one of the OA2020 signatories.

Meanwhile, following the publication of a report from the University of California, there is a similar trend emerging in North America. The UC report concluded that a move to an APC model “could be successful over time, following a necessarily complex transition period.” The University of California is also a signatory to OA2020.

To encourage other US universities to go down the flipping road, in March this year the University of California launched its Pathways to OA initiative. Among other things, this proposes emulating the European OA Big Deal model (or offsetting agreement, as it is alternatively called). As a group of University of California OA advocates explained recently in Nature, “UC libraries will explore negotiating offsetting agreements to drive the transition of hybrid journals to becoming fully open access. The strategy involves setting transformation benchmarks and then, during the transition period, offsetting an institution’s spending on open-access article processing charges against the total price of its subscription package.”

OA Big Deals are nevertheless controversial, not least because there are concerns that they will consolidate the malevolent hold that some believe legacy publishers currently have over scholarly publishing.

Certainly, researchers in the global South view a mass flipping of subscription journals to OA with considerable concern. Since most have little or no access to APC funding (and are extremely unlikely to benefit from the hugely expensive OA Big Deals) they can expect to see today’s paywalls replaced by publication walls, making it extremely difficult for them to publish in international journals.

Alternatively, in response to European demands for flipping Elsevier has mooted what it calls “region-specific” open access. This would see European articles made available as immediate gold open access within Europe, but restricted to “green open access outside of Europe”.

Two points of view

One of those concerned about the implications that these developments could have for the developing world is Jamila Jaber, Library Director at the Islamic University of Lebanon (IUL). Last year she contacted me to ask if I would consider doing an interview “with two researchers, one from a ‘developed country’ and one from a ‘developing country’ (from the Arab world for example).”

The aim, she explained, should be to allow for a discussion about scholarly communication and open access from two geographically different points of view.

It seemed like a good idea, so I asked Jaber if she could propose a candidate from the Arab world, and she suggested Mahmoud Khalifa, who works as a librarian at the Library of Congress Cairo Office and is DOAJ Ambassador for the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Khalifa is also President of Cybrarians, which publishes an information science journal and runs two conferences.

To provide a voice from the developed world I invited Jeffrey MacKie-Mason to take part. MacKie-Mason is UC Berkeley’s University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer. He is also an enthusiastic advocate for journal flipping. MacKie-Mason argues that engineering a mass conversion of subscription journals to OA is currently the only practical way of achieving open access in the near term, and that while a global flip presents challenges for those in the global South, the current paywall situation for them is “awful”. He adds that we cannot expect open access “to remedy all inequities”.

Elsewhere, we could note, Leslie Chan, has argued that “The institutions and countries adopting the OA2020 initiative express very clearly that it is not their problem that scientists from developing countries can publish or not. It is a very selfish attitude, individualistic and even nationalistic.”

The challenge for me in organising a discussion between two people from, respectively, the North and the South was how to combine input from the two interviewees in a formal interview process. After thinking through various possibilities, I decided to do two separate interviews, and then invite each interviewee to comment on the answers provided by the other interviewee. 

It is not an ideal approach, but it might at least help focus (much needed) attention on the South/North question and give us a sense of how open access (and strategies for achieving it) can look very different in different parts of the world.

I would hope that others will comment too, since if these issues are not discussed fully now those in the global South could find that OA has made things worse rather than better, and that they have become locked out of the global research conversation in an even more insidious way than they are with the subscription system.

I think we are also invited to ask whether a global OA solution is actually possible. If it is not possible, then we might wonder how the BOAI’s promise that OA would enable the world to “share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich … and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge” can hope to be realised.

Below I publish the first interview, with MacKie-Mason. As well as being University Librarian at Berkley, he is Professor of the School of Information and Professor of Economics. He was formerly the Dean of the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

MacKie-Mason has been a pioneering scholar in the economics of the Internet, online behaviour, and digital information and has authored more than 85 publications in economics, computer science, law, public policy, and library science journals.

Note: I realise my reference to The Lord of the Rings in the penultimate question below may be a little obscure for a global audience. And as Jaber pointed out to me, Tolkien saw the “one ring” as a malevolent force. However, I think there was some ambiguity in his portrayal of the ring, and I want to make the point that any force unleashed by trying to manufacture a global solution for open access could prove malevolent or benevolent, depending on its impact on the entire research community (an impact that we can only really guess at right now).

I think it behoves us, therefore, to consider carefully what those implications might be before rushing ahead. And to appreciate that, unless a global solution has the interests of all researchers in mind, it cannot hope to fully realise the vision articulated by BOAI.

The Q&A begins …

Q: Can you say something about yourself, your institution, and why and when you started to take an interest in open access?

J M-M: I am currently the University Librarian for UC Berkeley, but I have a somewhat unusual background. I have a PhD in economics, and was a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan for 29 years. I came to Berkeley as Librarian two years ago; I’m also a professor of information and economics.

Since the early 1990s, my research has been on the economics of information production, dissemination and use, and the behavior of individuals in online environments. I’ve been studying access to scholarly communications for about 20 years; for example, I was the research director for the PEAK project, which experimented with different pricing models for access to 1200 Elsevier online journals, before Elsevier had released ScienceDirect.

I’ve been a strong open access advocate for at least 25 years; all of my research outputs have been available open access at the Michigan institutional repository since the 1990s. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Open Access Big Deal: Back to the Future

On a superficial reading open access is intended to do no more than what it says on the can: provide an internet-based scholarly communication system in which research is made available sans paywall – in other words, a system offering improved accessibility over the traditional subscription system. 

On a deeper reading, however, we learn that the OA movement was a response to the unsustainably high costs of the subscription system and that it was based on a conviction that open access would be a more cost-effective way of sharing research – in other words, a system offering improved affordability.
In addition, it was argued, open access would be a more transparent way of doing things than the subscription-based system. 

Essentially, the argument went like this: If researchers paid an article-processing charge (APC) every time they wanted to publish a paper (rather than librarians paying the costs of publishing by purchasing subscriptions to large bundles of journals courtesy of the so-called Big Deal), then not only could research papers be made freely available to all, but authors would be able to make price-based decisions when choosing where to publish. 

This price transparency, argued OA advocates, would introduce market forces into scholarly publishing that are absent in the subscription system. It would also allow new open access publishers to enter the market with lower-priced products, which would help drive down prices.

In short, OA advocates promised that open access would not only provide greater accessibility but a more cost-effective scholarly communication system, thereby solving the affordability problem that has long dogged scholarly publishing. And to achieve this, they said, transparency is key.

Transparency is key

Transparency is key because in order to make price-based decisions buyers need to be able to compare prices. While APCs allow this, Big Deals do not, because with the subscription system researchers have no idea whatsoever what costs are involved, and librarians (who buy on their behalf) do not have a published price list to work from and do not know what other librarians are paying for their Big Deals, since publishers insist on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). In such an environment pricing is opaque and everyone bar the publishers has to fly blind.

As OA developed, however, it became apparent that most researchers do not have access to the necessary funds to pay APCs, so libraries have again had to start acting as intermediaries. In doing so, however, they have found the task of managing hundreds of APC payments on behalf of researchers difficult, time-consuming and expensive. For this reason, they have struggled to cope.

At the same time, European governments, funders and university leaders have become increasingly impatient at the time it is taking to achieve widescale open access.

These two things have led to the emergence of the OA Big Deal. Here agreements are signed with legacy publishers that combine bulk journal subscription fees (as with traditional Big Deals) plus bulk OA publishing fees so that authors can publish without personally having to pay APCs. Those librarians and university leaders signing these deals have therefore come to view the OA Big Deal as the best way of transitioning to a fully OA publishing environment. And while today the OA Big Deal is more of a European issue, it looks set to become the model of choice elsewhere in the global North (also here).

As we shall see, however, there are good reasons to doubt that this strategy can provide a satisfactory outcome. 

Strikingly, it is the most vocal critics of legacy publishers and their prices (librarians and national university associations) who are promoting these deals, either because they fail to understand (or accept) the implications of what they are doing, or because they have been mesmerised by the EU’s rash  and unthought-through commitment to make all European research freely available by 2020.

It is also concerning that the negotiators of these OA Big Deals appear to have little appetite for transparency. What these agreements consist of, what they cost, and what kind of value for money they offer (or don’t offer), therefore, is generally unknown to anyone outside the small group of people taking part in in the negotiations.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Intellectual Properties of Learning: John Willinsky discusses his new book

Sixteen years ago, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) predicted the dawn of a new age of scholarly communication. Its declaration begins, “An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet.” 

Looking back, we might want to suggest that OA advocates spent too much time in the early years promoting the merits of openness, and too little time working out the best way of marrying the old tradition with the new technology. In addition, more time should have been spent on establishing what other old traditions of learning would need to be accommodated (and how) if the new world of scholarly communication that BOAI envisaged was to be realised. That too little consideration was given to these matters doubtless explains why so much confusion surrounds open access today, and why we are seeing growing frustration with it.

In light of this, a new book by John Willinsky – The Intellectual Properties of Learning, A Prehistory from Saint Jerome to John Locke – is timely.

Willinsky sets out to place open access within the larger historical context of learning’s traditions, values, and norms. And he does so by casting his eye all the way back to the rise of the monasteries, and then forward to the Statute of Anne (1710), which for the first time brought the regulation of copyright under the control of the government and courts, rather than private parties.

Willinsky is more than qualified to undertake this task. A former teacher and now Khosla Family Professor of education at Stanford University, Willinsky is also director of the Public Knowledge Project and widely regarded within the OA movement as a leader.

Willinsky’s purpose is clearly to promote open access, by demonstrating that it is a natural development of the culture of learning. As he put it in a recent blog post, while current demands for free access to publicly funded research “may seem an artefact of the internet, I hold that efforts to extend access to such work are part of a historic struggle among those devoted to learning, which in the history of the West, date back to the book-sharing and -copying networks that operated within the non-proprietary realm of medieval monasticism.”

Willinsky’s is a worthy and interesting project, but in reading his new book one is tempted also to look for an explanation as to why the OA movement has in many ways stumbled.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The OA Interviews: Ashley Farley of the Gates foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation (aka the Gates foundation) is a private foundation launched in 2000 by Bill and Melinda Gates. According to Wikipedia, it is the largest private foundation in the US, and currently holds $40.3 billion in assets. 

The primary aims of the foundation are to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty on a global basis and, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology in America. The foundation is controlled by its three trustees: Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett.

What is most noteworthy about the Gates foundation in the context of open access is that in 2014 it announced the most radical OA policy to date. The policy applies both to Gates-funded publications and to associated data, with the stated aim of enabling “the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded by the foundation, including any underlying data sets”.

The policy is striking both in its requirement that all research funded by the Gates foundation must be made freely available immediately on publication, and in its insistence that all funded papers must be published with a CC BY licence attached. The CC BY licence allows unrestricted reuse of a work, including for commercial purposes. At the time, Nature described it as the world’s strongest open access policy.

The policy came into effect in January 2015, although publishers and researchers were given a 2-year grace period during which a delay of 12 months was permitted before papers were made freely available.

In furtherance of its open access ambitions, in February 2017 the Gates foundation signed a year-long deal with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, to allow Gates-funded researchers to publish their papers open access in the highly-prestigious journal Science (along with four sister AAAS journals) without having to pay an article-processing charge (APC).

To cover the costs, the foundation awarded AAAS $100,000, which OA advocates estimate represents a price of between $6,667 to $10,000 per article.

A month later (March 2017), the Gates foundation announced that it was partnering with F1000Research to allow funded researchers to publish their papers on its own online publication platform Gates Open Research. The platform includes novel services developed by F1000 to encourage faster and more transparent publication of research outputs. The Wellcome Trust launched a similar platform called Wellcome Open Research in 2016.

While there is no NDA in place, F1000 has requested Gates not to reveal how much it is paying to use the platform.

Below Ashley Farley, Gates foundation Associate Officer of Knowledge & Research Services, answers some questions about the foundation and its embrace of open access.


The Q&A begins …

RP: Can you say something about yourself, your background, and your role and responsibilities as Associate Officer of Knowledge & Research Services at the Gates foundation?

AF: Yes! And thank you for the opportunity to share my work. I have spent my career working in both public and academic libraries. I completed my Masters in Library and Information Sciences, where I first learned about open access through an internship at the Gates foundation. While I had had experience in scholarly communications, open access was never part of the conversation.

In my current role (2.5 years now), open access and open research is my primary focus. A large portion of my work has included the implementation of the open access policy, which encompasses the build and roll out of the Chronos platform and Gates Open Research.

I love working on advocacy of openness, both internally and externally. I assist our grantees in understanding, complying with and benefiting from the policy.

I have become very passionate about open research and spend part of my day staying current on related news and discussions within the community.

Aside from open research I support all foundation staff as a librarian, by ways of finding research, completing literature reviews and recommending best solutions for data curation needs.

RP: How much does the Gates foundation contribute each year towards funding science, and what are the main areas it is focused on?

AF: The foundation has 29 program strategies, that administer over 1,669 grants, totalling $3.9 billion. The foundation focuses on Global Health, Global Development, Global Growth & Opportunity, Global Policy & Advocacy, and U.S. Programs.

For a further break down of the program teams and their strategies please visit the “What We Do” section of the foundation’s website. Overall, the strategies can be quite varied, but all are important in ensuring that “all lives have equal value”, which is the message driving our work.

RP: The figure of $3.9 billion you cite: is that the sum of money granted each year?

AF: Yes, in 2015 it was $4.2 billion. The total value of the grants awarded since inception is $41.3 billion (through Q4 2016).

Open access policy

RP: Can you talk me briefly through the journey the Gates foundation took to arrive at its open access policy, and what the thinking behind it was.

AF: The foundation has had a Global Access Policy in all grant agreements since 2003. The spirit of this policy is to provide information generated by foundation funding to the individuals we’re trying to help. The open access policy is a natural extension of this.

The foundation was also closely watching the successes of other institutions driving open access through their work. During this time, journals were also discussing how to make publications and data available during a public health crisis – why stop there?

Th policy grew out of an 11-person working group, across the foundation, and took nine months to develop. An in-depth landscape analysis was critical to the work. The policy recommendation was introduced to the Executive Leadership Team and was approved with a two-year transition period. This allowed for many important discussions to occur both internally and externally.

We worked with publishers that were not compliant and built Chronos to aid in making the policy come to life. More details on the policy’s journey can be found on SPARC’s site.

We are now part of the Open Research Funders Group, which aims to bring funders together to discuss open sharing of research outputs. Funder’s aligning in open policy will greatly benefit grantees and the overall research community.

RP: Ok, so the open access policy, which was introduced in 2015, grew out of the Global Access Policy and requires all Gates-funded research to be made open access immediately upon publication, and with a CC BY licence attached.

AF: Yes, the Global Access policy (adopted in 2003) is not an open access policy. The spirit of the Global Access policy is similar to the OA policy, but does not strictly mention publications or no-cost access. Thus, the OA policy was created to focus on access to peer-reviewed research that results from grant funding.

The OA policy also means access to underlying data. Not all grants result in publications. A feature of the Global Access policy is if a vaccine is developed, or something else created, it would be required to be sold to poorer countries at a discounted price. As the website puts it:

Global Access is a creative concept we came up with in 2003 that requires our grantees and partners to commit to making the products and information generated by foundation funding widely available at an affordable price, in sufficient volume, at a level of quality, and in a time frame that benefits the people we're trying to help. What role does Intellectual Property play in the foundation's approach to furthering Global Access? Intellectual Property provides a great opportunity to think creatively and strategically about how we can reach our ultimate beneficiaries. The careful and deliberate management of IP (patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and rights in data) and the associated rights created or accessed through foundation-funded projects, is a critical component to achieving Global Access. Global Access commitments also apply to collaborations with for-profit entities. Whether it is a groundbreaking diagnostic tool or a new toilet that does not require a sewer connection or electricity, they are allowed to sell what they develop with foundation funding at a profit in the developed world, as long as the products are made available to the people who need them most.

So yes, the open access policy grew out of the underlying principles of the Global Access policy. And the OA policy has always included a CC BY licence. 

RP: How many research papers a year are produced as a result of funding by the Gates foundation? Do you have any stats on where these papers are published? Who are the main publishers that publish Gates research for instance?

AF: One of the best outcomes of the open access policy has been better tracking of the foundation’s research outputs. As the policy also applies to any sub-grantee (the policy covers any research funded in-part or in-whole from the foundation) it’s historically been difficult to track publications.

We built Chronos for several reasons (see below) and one of them is real-time publication tracking data. Now the data is much easier to track and more reliable, as we offer templates for authors to include their grant numbers in the acknowledgments.

So, since Chronos was launched in August 2016 there have been 1,311articles for which the foundation has covered the article processing charges. The top 5 journals are PLOS ONE, Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vaccine, Gates Open Research, and Clinical Infectious Diseases. The top 5 publishers are Elsevier, Springer Nature, Oxford University Press, Public Library of Science (PLOS), and Wiley.

I’m sure there are publications that we have missed but moving forward our data continues to get better.

RP: I note that list of publishers is top-heavy in legacy publishers. I assume some Gates-funded research has been published in subscription journals but not on an OA basis? If so, can you put some numbers on that? Likewise, with CC BY: how many Gates-funded articles do you estimate there are out there that do not have a CC BY licence attached?

AF: Any research papers arising from grants prior to January 1st, 2015 do not have to comply with the Open Access policy. These articles are not tracked in Chronos but should be archived in PubMed. We haven’t done any sort of analysis on this scale yet.

Green open access

RP: As you said, Gates-funded research publications must now have a CC BY licence attached. They must also be made OA immediately. Does this imply that the Gates foundation sees no role for green OA? If it does see a role for green OA what is that role?

AF: I wouldn’t say that the foundation doesn’t see value or a role for green open access. However, the policy requires immediate access, reuse and copyright arrangements that green open access does not necessarily provide.

I see green open access as a great way to provide open access to articles already published in closed journals. The practice of self-archiving isn’t as prevalent as ensuring the published version is open, with no embargo.

Not all journals agree with immediate green open access and often the policies are difficult to understand. I also think it’s very important for authors to retain their copyright.

RP: As you indicated, the Gates foundation also has an open data policy. Can you say something about this policy and why it is deemed necessary?

AF: Part of the policy requires that the underlying data to the publication be openly available. We do have guidelines for this, but nothing very prescriptive – I wouldn’t call it an open data policy. This is something that we are hoping to work on soon, so that we can provide more support to grantees in sharing their data.

The reason it is necessary is that data is the most important part of a research project or publication and is needed for reuse, reproducibility or reanalysis. Our funding is often for projects that are long term or are continually working on a specific issue, such as eradicating malaria, thus it’s important to have access to data outputs to inform and strengthen future work.

Sharing data outside of the foundation is also very important and increases our impact and the chances of solving some of the world’s toughest issues.

OA partnerships

RP: A year ago, the Gates foundation entered into a deal with the AAAS to allow its researchers to publish open access articles in a number of legacy subscription journals, including Science. I believe that this project has now expired or will do shortly. How successful (or otherwise) has the initiative been? Do you expect it to be renewed? Do you anticipate similar deals being done with other publishers?

AF: I can’t speak to this as we are in current renegotiation. We are working on producing a public report reflecting on the first year to release in the next couple of months.

I do not anticipate similar deals with other publishers.

Our main goal was two-fold: ensuring grantees can publish in journals important to their career and to explore possible different business models. I care most about the quality and impact of the research itself – not the container.

RP: A month after signing the AAAS deal the Gates foundation announced a partnership with F1000 to allow the funder to publish its own research. What is the logic behind Gates Open Research, what are the costs of running the platform, and how does it fit with other initiatives like the deal with AAAS?

AF: I am very excited about Gates Open Research, which is built and supported by F1000’s model and technology. Here are what I think are the benefits: 
  • It’s a dynamic way of publishing, it is more of a living document that is completely transparent. Authors (Gates grantees) are in full control of what research outputs they want to publish. I believe that using the foundation’s branding shows that we are interested in a non-traditional way of publishing. I believe that this will greatly improve the scientific outputs and solve known issues in current publishing. Negative results are encouraged, as well as, pre-registration reports.
  • Research outputs do not get “stuck” in the publishing process. Since the creation of Chronos we can see articles at the submission stage, giving us data on time-to-acceptance. Looking at the submissions over the past 18 months I noticed that almost 200 submissions have been in the “submitted” status for six-months to a year. This is research that is not having any impact in the larger community. There are many reasons for this – lack of available peer-reviewers, editing the manuscript, waiting for the right journal issue, resubmission to other journals, etc. The Gates Open Research model assures that the research is available quickly, followed by open peer-review.
  • We can better serve different demographics. The foundation supports many grantees in the global south and these authors have struggled to be represented in journals. Gates Open Research provides an established, accredited venue to showcase their research. There is also the option to provide editing and language support services to authors whose primary language is not English.

The costs of running Gates Open Research is fairly low compared to other subscriptions and APC costs (which can be as high as $5,200 for some journals). We pay a yearly fee for the platform and a basic publishing fee for each article, similar to F1000’s stand-alone journal.

RP: Can you say how much the yearly fee is, and how much the basic publishing fee is for each article (I assume these are two separate fees)?

AF: The maintenance fees are commercially sensitive information, and I will not be revealing them. I can let you know, however, that the APCs range from $150 to $1000 depending on the article length, which is quite competitive compared to average APCs elsewhere.

RP: When was the first paper published on Gates Open Research and how many has it published to date?

AF: The first paper, a study protocol, was published November 6th, 2017. Currently, there are 22 articles on Gates Open Research, 15 have passed peer-review and the remaining are in different stages of the peer-review process.

Wellcome Open Research published a great report on their experiences of the first year of publications. We hope to have similar results one-year in.

RP: Do you think that publishing their own research papers raises any conflict of interest issues for funders, or that it could have a negative or distorting impact on the scholarly publishing market? Might it rather have a beneficial impact on the market?

AF: I do not believe that funder-driven publishing platforms present conflict of interest issues or that they will have a negative impact on the market. As the platform is fully transparent readers can assess any potential conflicts of interest.

As publication is only available to Gates-funded authors, program staff have already vetted the research team to give them a grant. Gates Open Research lets authors decide what information is important to share – not the journal.

Eliminating the need to reach a novelty standard can help safeguard research from being manipulated to seem more ground-breaking. We have created a stellar advisory board to help inform the work and direction of the platform.


RP: Can you say more about Chronos and why the Gates foundation uses it? And how do you see it developing in the future?

AF: Chronos manages the whole publishing process, connecting grants to publication, and overseeing invoice payment on the foundation’s behalf. The goal was to provide an easy, effective way to govern the policy.

We did not want the policy to be an administrative burden on grantees or program staff. For the first time we have real time data concerning publication outputs of grants and can track their impact via Altmetric.

While we built Chronos and were very involved in its inception, it is a stand-alone company and aims to serve other funders and institutions. I can see it becoming the main hub for researchers to publish under their various grants more easily than they can now.

Publisher submission systems differ widely and understanding policies can be difficult – Chronos solves both of these issues. For the future Chronos is working on automatically depositing articles in different repositories.

For small teams, such as ours (the foundation’s open access team is myself and my amazing manger, Jennifer Hansen), the Chronos Support team has been invaluable in assisting grantees with author forms and invoice payment.

RP: Last year the publisher InTech posted an announcement headed “Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Joins InTechOpen’s List of Open Access Funders”. This surprised some (including me) as InTech has a checkered history and was on Beall’s list of “Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”. The use of the word “joins” would seem to imply that the Gates foundation actively supported the announcement. Did it? Did InTech consult with the Gates foundation before publishing the announcement? If not, did the Gates foundation welcome InTech’s announcement?

AF: It did not. InTech wrote me to ask if their publications were compliant with our policy and if the foundation could be included on the list of funders who support the APCs of their grantees. They are compliant with our policy and we do have grantees that have published with InTech.

Many publishers include the foundation on a list of funders that support open access publishing and costs. Most publishers have been amazing advocates of our policy, even if they aren’t compliant.

I suspect InTech are using this to add credibility to their publication, but I have not heard any complaints from grantees who have published with them. I cannot say that for other potential predatory publishers.

Predatory publishers

RP: What, if anything, does the Gates foundation do to try and prevent funded authors from publishing their work with publishers that are, or might be perceived to be, predatory? Does it have a list of approved publishers/journals?

AF: The foundation does not want to editorialize where grantees publish outside of assuring compliancy of the open access policy. Chronos contains a database of over 26,000 journals, detailing their compliancy and aid in manuscript submission for users.

However, as built, Chronos does not contain Beall’s list. While we know of the bias of Beall’s list, predatory publishers do exist. I do not think the issue is unmanageable, but we have had grantees publish in suspected journals in the past. This has happened due to lack of information and the ability to publish in more well-known journals, and the need for quick publication for career advancement.

The main solution that I believe should be supported is more education on the topic. I would love to see the journals from the now defunct Beall’s added to Chronos with a layer of warning before users can submit. My thinking is to integrate Think, Check, Submit so that authors can use all of the available information to make an informed decision.

As a librarian I feel that quality control of journals can be a group effort of the community as well as the researcher doing basic data checks (valid phone numbers, addresses, board members, etc.) This is a common discussion point within the community and I’m excited to see what projects emerge to tackle the issue moving forward.

CC BY and APCs

RP: There has been some pushback against the use of CC BY licences for published research, most recently I think with the Declaration of Mexico in Favour of The Latin American Non-Commercial Open Access Ecosystem. What in your view are the pros and cons of making research available with a CC BY licence?

AF: The CC BY licence is a critical component of our policy. I believe it is the best licence to cultivate reuse and innovation, as researchers do not have to worry about infringing upon copyright. The foundation views the commercial space as another opportunity for innovation and discovery.

I don’t think commercial use should be feared. I have seen the examples in the past of commercial entities repackaging research materials and selling them online. These examples are rare and should be dealt with on an individual basis.

I feel that the pros outweigh the cons, by simplifying the process, empowering researchers, and opening up the research for future technologies (such as machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and translations).

RP: Many people have come to feel that APCs are undesirable, not least because for some it means that paywalls are simply swapped for publication walls (since those researchers who are not fortunate enough to be funded by Gates, and other funders like Wellcome who pay the APCs for authors, may not be able to afford to publish in OA journals). Are APCs here to stay? Or do we need to move beyond them?

AF: I do not think that APCs are the solution and I hope that we move beyond them. APCs are not reflective of the true cost of publishing. We receive email requests to pay these fees for non-grantees daily and so I see the financial burden on authors quite frequently.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do believe that there are better models and that the market for APCs could and should change.

There are examples surfacing suggesting how to change this model, such as John Willinsky’s latest pre-print titled “If funders and libraries subscribed to open access: The case of eLife, PLOS, and BioOne”. Note I mention this merely to inform, not to endorse such a model from the foundation’s perspective.

RP: What are the main challenges open access faces today, and how do you think these challenges will/can be overcome?

AF: One of the main challenges that I see holding open access practices back are the incentives surrounding career advancement. There have been many examples of the “publish or perish” culture damaging research practices. It’s up to institutions to change and alleviate this stressor from researchers.

As a funder we can establish the priority in what is looked for in the grant making process to incentivize openness and sharing. I know this will be a major shift in policy, behaviour, and expectations, but I think this work will be quite important.

RP: What role do you see in the future for legacy publishers?

AF: I would love to see legacy publishers really adapt to current technologies and improve their systems. I think there is a large role that they could play in innovating within the open science space. Data sharing and curation is a monumental task that publishers could help support. We need to move beyond posting PDFs of figures and data to creating dynamic data sharing opportunities.

I believe publishers should also democratize more of their data and open up citations (see the Initiative for Open Citations for instance).

Scientific research doesn’t need more of the same, it needs compelling tools reflective of current technologies to more effectively find, share, and build upon discoveries.