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Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates visiting women in Jamsaut village in Bihar, India. Open access to journals is particularly important for researchers in developing countries. (Gates Foundation Photo)

Scientific journals aren’t known for being advocates of open access — often research articles published in journals are behind a paywall, only accessible to subscribers. But that’s beginning to change.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been pushing for more open access to scientific research for several years, and as part of that effort it announced a new partnership today with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publishers of high-profile scientific journals like Science and Science Translational Medicine.

The partnership guarantees that research published in any AAAS journal and conducted by Gates-funded scientists will be free to access, read, and download as soon as it is published. The goal is to increase the openness of communication in the scientific community and beyond, and normalize open access publishing.

The two organizations are also looking at other possible programs to increase communication and open access in the scientific community, including open access tools like webinars and outreach to younger researchers, female researchers, and researchers in developing countries. Open access to research can be particularly important to researchers in developing countries, who are often on the frontlines of tackling these issues.

This step is a big departure from AAAS’s traditional stance: although it has put out certain open access publications, this agreement is more sweeping. It marks a shift from past models of subscriber-supported journals towards the increasingly popular model of researcher-paid, open access journals.

And there’s good reason for that: access to a library of research is crucial for scientists around the globe who are working to tackle a huge variety of issues, including climate change and global health and development.  Open access to research can be particularly important to researchers in developing countries, who are often on the frontlines of tackling these issues.

Science Publisher Bill Moran and Gates Foundation CEO Leigh Morgan lighted on the importance of open access in a joint statement about the new partnership: “The robust exchange of scientific information will play a crucial role in solving the big challenges of the 21st century, from the spread of infectious disease to climate shocks and food security. All of us involved – producers of scientific knowledge as well as funders, publishers and researchers – have a stake in ensuring the continued integrity of global scientific exchange.”

The Gates Foundation put an open access policy in place in 2015, and since then all Gates Foundation grants have come with the requirement that the research they fund be easily available to the public. The policy also guaranteed the Foundation would cover costs incurred by publishers to make research open to the public.

Twenty-four thousand other journals also offer open access publication options, and the Gates Foundation has invested in publishing platform Chronos, which connects researchers to open-access publishing options that fit their needs.

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