Gates Goes for the Jugular

Gates drops support for APCs, and opens the floodgates for preprints

Who could have predicted that funders might prove fickle? That allowing them power over publication practices and business models might prove akin to letting the fox into the henhouse?

As I wrote in 2012 (bolding added):

Allowing [funders] into the henhouse, even if they seem benign initially, changes things. And they want things to change — whether corporate or philanthropic, more publications are clearly their priority, and they are willing to pay and leverage their grantees to achieve this.

The notion that “more is better” aligns OA publishers and funders — each wants more papers published, both philosophically and for commercial reasons. Their interests tilt toward quantity — for funders, more publications justify their spending and helps to attract more funding or corporate support; for OA publishers, more papers improve their bottom lines and increase their online traffic. However, there are two problems — first, the funding approaches behind OA are susceptible to caps and cuts; second, there isn’t a commensurate set of incentives for quality.

Yesterday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced “a significant milestone” as the funder “will cease support for individual article publishing fees, known as APCs, and mandate the use of preprints while advocating for their review.” This is part of their 2025 OA policy “refresh.”

Details are scant, but there is a section of FAQs. There is just the press release, a “one-pager,” and a related article which depends on a lie to sell the policy — but more on that later.

There aren’t details about timing (when or at what phase of pre-publication a preprint must be deposited), destination (approved platforms), enforcement (who checks?), or compensating publishers (who are already responsible for the lion’s share of preprint deposit, and without whose infrastructure compliance is likely to fall sharply).

  • This all reads like a child’s story of a magical future of preprint unicorns and sparkly science fairies.

The bottom line is clear — Gates has been radicalized, is no longer willing to pay for quality, and now sees a path to even greater quantity which is relatively cost-free via preprint servers.