The concluding webinar of this year’s Biomedical Transparency Summit Series, hosted by the Center for Biomedical Research Transparency (CBMRT), took place at the end of last week and explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on research transparency. Presentations from Professor Ida Sim (UCSF Informatics and Research Innovation), Dr John Inglis (Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory Press), Deborah Dixon (Oxford University Press) and Dr Sandy Petty (CBMRT) gave a wide-ranging and insightful look at the learnings.
Rapid sharing of data is particularly important to meet the challenges of the pandemic. But, as Professor Sim highlighted, commitment to sharing individual participant-level data within the research community has been disappointing. In a survey of COVID-19 trial registrations:
- only 16% indicated a definite intention to share their data
- only 8% indicated they would share their data within 6 months of publication.
Discussions noted that there may be many reasons for the apparent reluctance to share data, including that researchers may just not know how to go about it. However, the success of digital cohort and citizen science studies indicates that many patients are willing to share their data to accelerate advances in care.
The success of digital cohort and citizen science studies indicates that many patients are willing to share their data to accelerate advances in care.
Dr Inglis brought his experience as co-founder of bioRxiv and medRxiv to the topic of preprints in the pandemic, highlighting how preprint servers have helped meet the need for urgent sharing of new information. Postings of COVID-19 preprints to medRxiv:
- rose rapidly from the start of 2020, peaking in May with more than 1,600 papers posted that month
- have accounted for 68% of all preprints posted since January 2020
- have generated >70,000 citations, 1.18 million social media mentions and 38,000 news stories.
For the 30% of COVID-19-related papers that have subsequently been published, the time to publication was substantially quicker than for non-COVID-19-related papers (98 days and 154 days, respectively).
The focus shifted to journals in the presentation by Dixon, who reported that journals relevant to COVID-19 had seen a big increase in workload, with some seeing a >60% increase in submissions and >50% increase in published articles. Review times for COVID-19-related papers have also been accelerated, falling from ~60 days to less than 10 days in the first month of the outbreak (before rising gradually again). Review times for non-COVID-19-related papers initially rose, but then returned to pre-pandemic levels. Important learnings from the pandemic have included the need to expand the pool of peer reviewers and increase the transparency of the review process.
In the final presentation, Dr Petty considered how the acceleration of research associated with COVID-19 has impacted transparency and publication bias. It has been noted that many of the deluge of studies from the pandemic lack the size and quality to provide valuable insights. When these studies are released into the public domain, they often generate disproportionate noise that can erode public understanding and trust in science. Dr Petty emphasised the perils of accelerating research without ensuring transparency on the design and conduct of studies and making data available. She identified key actions to overcome these challenges, including sustained programmes to encourage the transition from small, siloed research to large, well-designed multicentre studies, with data always made available.
Many of the deluge of studies from the pandemic lack the size and quality to provide valuable insights… [but] often generate disproportionate noise that can erode public understanding and trust in science.
Topics covered in the closing panel discussion, chaired by Drs Norbert Tavares (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) and Annalisa Jenkins (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), included whether data sharing should become mandatory, with panellists emphasising that, currently, many researchers would find this very challenging in terms of time, resources and know-how. However, it was felt that data sharing and transparency need to be given more emphasis when assessing scientific publications, looking beyond impact factors with their flaws and limitations.
With thanks to our sponsor, Aspire Scientific Ltd