Gates Foundation embraces open collaboration

By Howard Rheingold, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 12 years 27 weeks ago.

David Bollier comments on the hell-freezes-over-news that Bill Gates is embracing the "knowledge commons" principles of open collaboration in the development of HIV/AIDS research, to which the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is donating more than a quarter billion dollars. Like Wal-Mart embracing organic food and China pursuing green development strategies, I keep my eye on the benefit more than the irony:

Yesterday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it would require that any researcher who get its grant monies for HIV/AIDS research will have to agree to share their scientific findings. The Gate Foundation was apparently frustrated that two decades of secrecy and competition among AIDS researchers have impeded efforts to come up with an AIDS vaccine. Scientists often decline to share their research because they are trying to obtain patents, withhold data until it is published, or simply protect their institutional turf.

But that’s not the best way to develop an AIDS vaccine, according to Nick Hellmann, the interim director of HIV projects at the Gates Foundation. The best research strategy is one that fosters an open, sharing environment. Says Hellmann: “There have to be better networks and collaborations [among HIV/AIDS researchers]. So we require all grantees to collaborate across a spectrum of grants.”

One researcher quoted in the WSJ account (July 20) said that enforced data sharing “increases the pace of discovery enormously rather than waiting for the process of writing formal journal articles, waiting for them to be published and [confirmed] by other labs.” Sharing lets rivals build on each other’s successes and avoid duplicative research and unproductive strategies.