Feature Interview

Mark Walport: government’s Wellcome new source of advice

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f2821 (Published 03 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2821
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. tdelamothe{at}bmj.com

Mark Walport, the new government chief scientific adviser, takes up the post after a decade as the Wellcome Trust’s director. Tony Delamothe spoke to him as he was clearing his desk at the Wellcome

The Wellcome Trust is the world’s third largest private foundation, with a total endowment approaching £15bn and an annual spend of about £650m. But of more interest to me when I met its (now former) director Mark Walport was how the Hammersmith professor I used to liaise with over educational articles for the BMJ came to be numbered among the UK’s top digital powerbrokers. Last year, Wired magazine had ranked him 17th—ahead of Tim Berners Lee (inventor of the world wide web) and Jimmy Wales (cofounder of Wikipedia).1 What were they thinking?

“Oh blimey, yes,” he groaned, before brightening. He attributed the accolade to the Wellcome’s role and interest in the power of data. There were the various Wellcome funded genome projects that had changed how biomedical science gets done—these days data are made public and the genetics community collaborates on the analysis. Then there was Walport’s passionate belief in the power of data, particularly over clinical outcomes, to improve the delivery of healthcare. And lastly was his unflinching support of open access publishing—his belief that to maximise the impact of research you must maximise its distribution (with the internet obviously playing a crucial part).

“The Wellcome Trust’s position is very straightforward,” he said, explaining its early lead in paying authors’ fees for open access publishing. Publishing the research is just part of the research process, he maintains, and the costs of publication are like any other research cost: centrifuges, gels, researchers’ salaries. “And what the publishers provide is the service to get it out there,” says Walport, “but they shouldn’t restrict access …

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