Gates Foundation and AAAS – comments

Last week, Nature News reported on the termination of the open access agreement between the Gates Foundation and AAAS. Under this agreement, that lasted 18 months, the Gates Foundation paid a lump sum to have papers  by their funded authors  in AAAS-journals  (including Science) published open access,  in compliance with the immediate open access mandate of the Gates Foundation.

In preparation of the Nature News article, the author, Richard van Noorden, asked us for our comments on these developments and was able to use a quote in the final article.

For transparency reasons, and because we feel this is an important issue, we share our full comments below.

What would be interesting to know is the reason the agreement was not renewed – whether it was due to an inability to reach an agreement over costs for this specific arrangement, or whether it signifies a wish by either AAAS or the Gates foundation to switch gears.

There are two  main points why we are glad this agreement is discontinued:

  • The Gates Foundation is very likely paying exorbitant APCs per paper given the lump sum and the number of papers made OA, simply to be able to publish OA and gain the reputation these journals convey, while leaving everything else as it is, especially the reward system.
  • The agreement was setting a bad example of showing that everything can be had if you just throw enough money at it, while many researchers, institutions and countries are struggling to provide immediate open access at current prices.

It has probably done next to nothing among the glam journal publishers to raise awareness of the importance to switch to open access and hasn’t paved the way for researchers and institutions lacking the type of resources that Gates Foundation has.

Recently, we are seeing more activities by funders that indicate a desire to better control costs associated with funding Open Access publications. Wellcome is reviewing their open access mandate (also in light of the large difference in APCs for hybrid and full gold OA journals), the European Union has been floating the idea of no longer funding hybrid open access publications (in the Impact Assessment (part 2, page 107) for Horizon Europe), and Robert Jan Smits, special envoy Open Access of the EC is exploring an agreement with European National funders to require grantees to publish in open access journals, control APC costs and stimulate the flipping of subscription and hybrid journals to full OA (as presented July 11 at ESOF (see the video recording and the accompanying press release by Science Europe).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these developments is whether they can be accompanied by a shift in evaluation criteria (by funders, governments and institutions) that will lessen the stranglehold of high-impact journals such as Nature, Science, NEJM and PNAS that enables them to negotiate agreements as the one described for AAAS and Gates at such high costs, or resist making agreements over OA publishing altogether.  

So it will be interesting to see whether Gates will continue to enforce its open access policy unchanged despite the termination of the agreement with AAAS/Science. If funders will be steadfast in their determination to both move OA forwards and are able to contribute to a change in evaluation criteria, we might yet see a true watershed moment in scholarly publication.

There is one additional aspect regarding current initiatives by funders to exert influence over OA publishing and its accompanying costs, and that is of course the funder publishing platforms as implemented by (a.o.) Gates and Wellcome and as put forward for tender by the EC.  These could be seen as a strategic option by funders to stimulate OA under conditions they can control, and indirectly also as a lever to promote more systemic change in OA publishing.

Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer