LONDON — Imagine if someone agreed to fund your new research project but barred you from searching any previously published work on the subject. No epidemiological data, no idea of the success or failure of earlier studies on the same thing and no contextual information to help you focus your research efforts. And at the end of it all, little or no chance of getting your work published in any of the prestigious peer-reviewed journals.

For some scientists in the developing world, that's pretty much how things are. The prohibitive costs of subscribing to thousands of academic journals mean they have very limited access to research data and what they can acquire is often restricted to abstracts.

But all that could start to change from Friday 24 May, when a World Health Organization initiative to provide affordable published material to poorer nations moves into the next stage of development. Called...

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