COVID-19 cases currently stand at over 445,000 worldwide. Now more than ever, scientists, researchers and publishers are working together to accelerate and distribute research that can contribute to the cessation of this pandemic.
Since mid-January 2020, there has been a rapid increase in the amount of papers relating to coronaviruses as a collective, and COVID-19. As of 17/03/2020 there have been a total of 1,882 COVID-19 related paper abstracts published across 530 different journals on Researcher.
This short blog will detail the efforts of the publishing industry in the fight against COVID-19. It is common knowledge that publishers have made all coronavirus related research freely available, but here we will take a look at what else publishers are doing and the affect this pandemic is having on the publishing industry.
Paywalls and access to coronavirus research
Firstly, all major scientific publishers have removed their paywalls for coronavirus related research. This has enabled free access to thousands of articles relating to coronaviruses as a collective (with the majority being decades old) as well as recently published COVID-19 research, however, accessibility is merely one aspect of the publishing industry's efforts.
There has also been a shift in the way that papers are being published. Research findings are now being made available on preprint servers and other digital platforms before peer review, accelerating dissemination and discoverability. To improve reliability, researchers are asked to provide clear statements regarding the availability of underlying data before making their research findings available.
André Vermeij has created an excellent blog on Medium that has used a ‘combination of NLP (Natural Language Processing) and network analysis to create an interactive, searchable and annotated network map of output released since the beginning of the outbreak’.
Sharing research data
Next, global data sharing has been instrumental in supporting the ongoing response efforts by researchers. Emma Yasinski at The Scientist stated that there is an agreement between ‘academic journals, societies, institutes, and companies to make research and data on the disease freely available, at least for the duration of the outbreak.’
There has also been an extended effort in calls for data sets to be provided “in both human and machine-readable format to allow for full text and data mining using artificial intelligence with rights accorded for research re-use and secondary analysis.”
The global market
Unsurprisingly, global markets have plunged. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation’s secretary general, Angel Gurria, has stated that the economic shock is already greater than that of the financial crisis of 2008. Transport services, tourism, hospitality and high street markets are now expected to see a stark decline and low growth. On the other hand, it has been estimated that the healthcare and technology markets will remain steady as they ‘will play a significant role in the containment of the disease’.
However, for academic publishers, the picture is less clear. Publishers will continue to play a pivotal role in circulating COVID-19 research and will, therefore, be crucial to the curtailment of the pandemic. Yet as research output shifts towards COVID-19, other areas may face a decline depending on research output strategies.
Academic publishers are doing all they can to help curtail this pandemic, but what have been the reactions of the authors who would usually engage in the research and peer-review process?
Through an analysis of author tweets, there is a general sense that researchers are happy that some academic publishers have not only opened up their paywalls, but have accelerated the amount of research relating to COVID-19. With the increase in research volume, and with many authors trying to juggle new routines, there have been complaints that they are receiving updates, alerts and too many emails asking them to review papers without consideration. In fact, these authors have even stated that they know that these alerts and reminders are automated. Could this increase in volume be a step too far for some?
Elsevier has created their own web page in which you will find expert, curated information for the research and health community on COVID-19. All resources are free to access and include guidelines for clinicians and patients.
Springer Nature has created a dedicated page displaying research articles from their journals. This includes additional commentary on the topic and any relevant books. All content displayed on this page is free to access.
Wiley has stated that in addition to the articles on their site that relate to the outbreak, they are also making a collection of journal articles and book chapters on coronavirus research freely available to the global scientific community. Newly published articles will be made free within 24 hours of publication during the working week. Wiley is also feeding their content into PubMed Central.
The Microbiology Society has brought together a collection of works and is hosting it on a dedicated web page to allow for the widest possible distribution of relevant research. This content is free to access.
Taylor & Francis has published a microsite that aggregates and organises all recently published COVID-19 research in one place. This includes relevant research articles and book chapters across multiple subject areas. All breaking research relating to COVID-19 is freely accessible and will be added to the web page as soon as it is published.
During a pandemic, it is essential for high-quality research to be shared as quickly and as effectively as possible. We have already started to see changes in the way in which research is published. Does this mean that the academic publishing industry now has a new role to play? Ultimately, we may find that this pandemic causes a fundamental shift in the global dissemination of research, and publishers will undoubtedly be at the centre of this transition.