//How the Gates Foundation is reshaping how science gets published with Ashley Farley

How the Gates Foundation is reshaping how science gets published with Ashley Farley


  • Gates Open Research is a publishing & research platform for Gates Grantees
  • They don’t editorialize and let scientists decide what is worthy of publication
  • It is a living document with version control, meaning publications can be improved if new data becomes available in a transparent manner.
  • An open peer review process makes sure it is scientifically sound while allowing for greater transparency for scientists to see why certain things aren’t being accepted

Ashley Farley
Associate Officer of Knowledge & Research Services at the Gates Foundation
Ashley has trained as a librarian from the University of Washington’s Information School.

She manages several Open Access and Open Research Initiatives at the Gates Foundation such as Chronos as well as Gates Open Research Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of course is the largest private foundation in the United States with $38B in assets. Its main aims are to reduce poverty and improve healthcare around the world.

What is Gates Open Research?

It’s a publishing platform built on F1000 technology and is exclusive to Gates Foundation Grantees. Most traditional scientific publishers haven’t taken advantage of technology in order to improve and speed up the dissemination of scientific knowledge.

A couple of major improvements and differences to traditional publications

Living document

Publications are version controlled vs a ‘one and done’ publication that most scientists are used to. This means you can release interesting research early without having having to worry that everything needs to look perfect to fit the requirements of a journal, because you can’t change it post publication. The fact that it is version controlled and everyone can see changes provides accountability and strengthens the research article. We can imagine this can have a strong impact on getting results out earlier while ensuring accuracy of the research.

No Editorializing

Since the scientists have already been vetted as part of their grant application processes, the Gates Foundation trusts scientists judgement on what is worth publishing and what isn’t. As such, it may allow people who are struggling to get published in the traditional publications because their working on ‘less sexy’ research. So someone who is researching say, how to improve agriculture output or better sanitation standards in the 3rd world, can still be published and advance their career. This research that can still save lives regardless of perceived “novelty”. It’s been reported that authors in the global south can struggle gaining publication and recognition in Western oriented journals. It’s important to provide a platform for this work.

No novelty standards

As part of the ‘no editorializing’ standard, the platform doesn’t require you to publish exciting new findings necessarily. As long as it is scientifically sound, it can be published on the platform. Things that may not be published in traditional journals can include negative results, reproducibility studies, protocols or important datasets that can have an impact on the scientific community.

Bio2040’s take: This is a great way to fight the positivity publication bias we’ve talked about before. Negative results may matter just as much, as it will prevent other scientists from running the same experiments with great effort.

Open Peer Review

In stark contrast to traditional journals, the Gates Open Research platform uses a so called post-publication open peer review approach. This means that the authors of the paper can invite other researchers to do a peer review on their article. This peer review then happens out in the open, meaning that any and all questions or comments are posted online for everyone to see. All of the reviews are citable, which gives credit to the reviews (this is not typical) and allows for reviews to be cited in other works.

See an example of an article where the peer-reviewer is quite critical of the approach and seems to provide valuable feedback for the researchers as well as helpful context for readers of the paper.

Bio2040’s take: We find the idea of open peer review quite intriguing, and the literature and opinions of people who’ve experienced it, suggest benefits as well as drawbacks. The gained transparency, constructive criticism, disclosed conflicts of interests can be very helpful.

On the flipside, we are afraid that author-invited peer-reviewers might be biasing the reviews. Now because it is transparent, we should be able to see any obvious conflicts of interest (ie both authors constantly positively peer-reviewing each other would likely lower credibility of their reviews)

Additionally, there is some evidence that open peer review makes the recruitment of peer reviewers harder, since the openness of the review may prevent reviewers from sharing their true opinions because they don’t want to publicly criticize colleagues. There is an emotional cost to this. Additionally, no one wants enemies who can torpedo your own publications or grant applications. Just imagine a young, yet-to-be scientist openly criticizing an established one. The established one now has opportunities to make the life of the younger one unnecessarily harder.

We don’t have a final conclusion on which is better. We like the transparency of the open-review, but are a bit worried it may lead to less reviewers or biased reviews.

These article provides more background on the pros and cons of open peer review



Who else is doing this?

The Wellcome Trust has pioneered a similar open research platform and was influential in getting the Gates Foundation to launch its own platform. A number of organizations have followed their lead and they have recently put out a report, highlighting some of the impact they’ve had with it in numbers.

How does publishing work on the Gates Open Research Platform?

F1000 has developed a technology and a process which allows for the dissemination of articles within 7 days. They don’t do any editorializing, but focus on a basic scientific soundness test as well as making sure that all the data is available and readable for others.

After this, the open peer review as described above starts.

What is Ashley’s definition of Open Research?

Open Research is much wider than just Open Access. It encompasses an open process from start to finish. So an open grant applications and grant review process. Preregistration of studies and an open and ongoing dissemination of results and finally an open peer review process.

What are the biggest bottlenecks preventing the adoption of open research?

In short, fear.

Grantees have been telling funders, including the Gates Foundation, that they need to publish in certain journals with high impact factors. This determines their ability to advance their careers and get further grants. The Gates Foundation is working together with journals to try to make sure that they can adhere to their main policy points. Those are for the Gates Foundation

  1. Open Access Publication
  2. Immediate Access to the publications, no embargos delaying open access
  3. CC BY license for the publication which favors reuse the most

So we need to work on changing minds with publishers and scientists and prove that the upside of working with an open research approach outweighs the downsides.

Bio2040’s take

Overall, we are extremely excited about the efforts that the Gates Foundation, together with the folks at Wellcome Trust and others, are doing to advance open research from a nice idea into reality. The data from our own conversations as well as tons of others gathered in the open science movement suggests that this is one of the largest bottlenecks in dramatically accelerating biomedical research and through that the finding of better cures for patients faster.

We’re coming to realize that we need both new technological infrastructure that makes this possible from a technical point of view, as well as quite a bit of social engineering to change the minds of people in the system and invite them to reconsider how they could adapt their ways of working so that science as a whole can benefit the most.

As so often, the devil is in the details

  • What infrastructure to provide for this?
  • What is the beachhead of scientists that will be most open to changing their approach first?
  • How do you design peer review processes that best for the scientific community as a whole, but also work for authors and reviewers?

The Gates foundation has thought deeply about these things and is making bold moves into a very interesting direction.

We are going to be watching with great interest how this plays out and are keeping our fingers crossed!

About Bio2040

There are so many challenges in drug discovery. We are a group of entrepreneurs and scientists who want to improve things. Our first measure is to educate ourselves and the community on what the biggest bottlenecks and their underlying reasons are. This leads us to discover exciting new opportunities. Bio2040 wants to be the leading place for or entrepreneurs & academics to meet, exchange ideas and launch new ventures.

How to stay connected or get involved

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By |2018-03-02T23:18:30+01:00March 2nd, 2018|Collaboration|0 Comments

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