Big Boost For Open Access As Wellcome And Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Back EU's 'Plan S'

from the no-embargoes,-and-cc-by dept

Back in September, Techdirt wrote about the oddly-named 'Plan S', which was nonetheless an important step forward for open access in Europe. As we remarked then, the hope was that others would support the initiative, and that has now happened, with two of the biggest names in the science funding world signing up to the approach:

To ensure that research findings are shared widely and are made freely available at the time of publication, Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have today (Monday) joined cOAlition S and endorsed the principles of Plan S.

An article in Nature on the move notes that Wellcome gave out $1.4 billion in grants in 2016–17, while the Gates Foundation spent $4.7 billion in 2017, although not all of that was on science. So the backing of these two organizations is a massive vote of confidence in Plan S and its requirements. Wellcome has also unveiled its new, more stringent open access policy, which includes a number of important changes, including the following:

All Wellcome-funded research articles must be made freely available through PubMed Central (PMC) and Europe PMC at the time of publication. We previously allowed a six-month embargo period. This change will make sure that the peer-reviewed version is freely available to everyone at the time of publication.

This move finally rectifies one of the biggest blunders by academic funding organizations: allowing publishers to impose an embargo -- typically six or even 12 months -- before publicly-funded research work was freely available as open access. There was absolutely no reason to allow this. After all, the funding organizations could simply have said to publishers: "if you want to publish work we paid for, you must follow our rules". But in a moment of weakness, they allowed themselves to be bamboozled by publishers, granting an unnecessary monopoly on published papers, and slowing down the dissemination of research.

All articles must be published under a Creative Commons attribution licence (CC-BY). We previously only required this licence when an article processing charge (APC) was paid. This change will make sure that others -- including commercial entities and AI/text-data mining services -- can reuse our funded research to discover new knowledge.

Although a more subtle change, it's an important one. It establishes unequivocally that anyone, including companies, may build on research financed by Wellcome. In particular, it explicitly allows anyone to carry out text and data mining (TDM), and to use papers and their data for training machine-learning systems. That's particularly important in the light of the EU's stupid decision to prevent companies in Europe from carrying out either TDM or training machine-learning systems on material to which they do not have legal access to unless they pay an additional licensing fee to publishers. This pretty much guarantees that the EU will become a backwater for AI compared to the US and China, where no such obstacles are placed in the way of companies.

Like Plan S, Wellcome's open access policy no longer supports double-dipping "hybrid journals", which charge researchers who want to release their work as open access, but also require libraries to take out full-price subscriptions for journals that include these freely-available articles. An innovative aspect of the new policy is that it will require some research to be published as preprints in advance of formal publication in journals:

Where there is a significant public health benefit to preprints being shared widely and rapidly, such as a disease outbreak, these preprints must be published:

before peer review

on an approved platform that supports immediate publication of the complete manuscript under a CC-BY licence.

That's eminently sensible -- in the event of public health emergencies, you want the latest research to be out there in the hands of health workers as soon as possible. It's also a nice boost for preprints, which are rapidly emerging as an important way of sharing knowledge.

The Gates Foundation has said that it will update its open access policy, which in any case is already broadly in line with the principles of Plan S, over the next 12 months. Even without that revision, the latest announcement by these two funding heavyweights is highly significant, and is likely to make the argument for similar organizations around the world to align their open access policies with Plan S hard to resist. We can therefore probably expect more to join cOAlition S and help bring the world closer to the long-cherished dream of full open access to the world's research, with no embargoes, and under a permissive CC-BY license.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: academia, academic research, creative commons, eu, open access, philanthropy, plan s
Companies: bill and melinda gates foundation, wellcome trust

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  1. icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 6 Nov 2018 @ 6:34pm

    Re: Sensible is not an option

    I can see some of the major universities complaining about this. After all, it will be very hard for the university's technology transfer office to monetize all these new discoveries if the information is already publicly available.

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