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COVID-19 stimulates innovations in open science and publishing

Part of an open magic book, bewitched book glows in the darkness, magic light. Education. Dreamy image of a fairytale

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will have a significant ongoing impact on the medical sector. Challenges for conducting clinical trials are recognised in recently released FDA guidance, with journals also highlighting the lasting effect that the pandemic will have on medical research. A JAMA viewpoint article, co-authored by the Deputy Editor, urges efforts to maintain clinical trial integrity and notes that future publications should acknowledge the methodological changes necessary to sustain clinical trials during the pandemic. As authors face demanding circumstances, guidance for medical publication professionals — recently released by the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) — tackles navigating authorship challenges arising due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, following a request from international experts, more than 30 publishers have committed to making all COVID-19 and coronavirus-related publications immediately accessible in public repositories, including PubMed Central. Publications and supporting data will be available in machine-readable formats to support text and data mining as well as machine learning.

Commenting on the initiative Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research at Wellcome, said “Researchers have worked tirelessly to generate an unprecedented amount of knowledge since the start of the outbreak. We are delighted that leading publishers will now further support them.”

Many publishers have also created resource hubs for their content. In a parallel development, a consortium of tech organisations, research institutes and the National Library of Medicine have released the free COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), currently including over 33,000 full-text publications on COVID-19 and coronaviruses in machine-readable format. The CORD-19 dataset is set to grow as new peer-reviewed publications and preprints are added weekly. The resource aims to facilitate research into key scientific questions related to COVID-19, with the White House recently joining the call for researchers to develop text and data mining tools in order to do so.

Amidst the huge increase in coronavirus publications submitted to journals, experts have come under pressure to peer review increasing numbers of articles, while intensifying their own research. In this climate, new initiatives are looking at ways to maintain the assurance provided by peer review and avoid disseminating flawed or misleading information. With support from Wellcome, the open peer review platform Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview has recently been launched, facilitating rapid, structured review of preprints related to emerging outbreaks including COVID-19. Pre-print servers such as bioRxiv have also adapted their procedures, introducing an initial expert assessment to screen out publications that might be dangerously misleading.

Despite these efforts, some believe that the push for open science must go further. In a post for the LSE Impact Blog, information science experts note that many older coronavirus articles remain behind paywalls and closed to access, while advances in science and medicine are often informed by insights gained in other areas of research. In addition, institutional pressures on researchers to publish in prestigious, international journals may delay timely communication of important information to those working in front-line medical care and bias communications to the needs of Western societies. The authors applaud the efforts to open up coronavirus science during the pandemic, but hope that this will act as a catalyst for widespread change, stating “it is essential to recognize what is made clear in this moment of crisis: a robust scientific system and an informed citizenry requires immediate and public access to research.” Given the growing movement for open science, we too are interested to see whether innovations developed amidst the coronavirus pandemic can be translated to other areas of medical publishing.


Summary by Ian Faulkner PhD from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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