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COVID-19 research freely accessible, but research data sharing and preprinting are low

06 December 2021

Levels of COVID-19 research data sharing have remained low during the pandemic, and preprinting of research on the virus has been lesser than hoped. This is according to a new report that examines the effectiveness of initiatives taken by players in the research ecosystem to promote sharing of COVID-19 research by stepping up open science approaches.

While the efforts of scientific publishers and the research community have sped up publication times for COVID-19 research, and made much of it freely accessible, more effort is needed if society is to truly benefit from open science, the Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis: The response of the scholarly communication system to the COVID-19 pandemic report says.

The sharing of the SARS-CoV-2 genome is seen as the poster child for open science, and the pandemic held up as a turning point for open science. Yet the report finds this has only partly been realised. It makes a series of key recommendations, three of which focus on opening up data, encouraging preprinting and strengthening collaboration across the scholarly communication ecosystem:

  • Only joint efforts will improve the availability and quality of research data sharing. Common data policy templates should be developed to require data sets and software to be posted to a trusted, FAIR-enabling repository, and to require formal citations to data sets and software.
  • Mandating preprinting and rewarding researchers who use preprints could shift the needle.  Publishers should include posting of preprints in their submission workflows and leaders should advocate for preprints.
  • Publishers and other scholarly communication organisations should intensify their joint efforts to improve the availability and quality of data and metadata on scholarly publishing, allowing for robust evidence-informed approaches to innovation in scholarly communication.

The report concludes that there is no magic bullet to improving scholarly communication. It is a joint responsibility that requires collaboration and coordinated action across stakeholders in the research system.

Early in 2020 a Wellcome-coordinated COVID-19 statement, signed by over 30 publishers, called for open or free access to all COVID-19 publications for the duration of the pandemic; for COVID-19 papers to be made available via preprint servers prior to journal publication; and data from COVID-19 research to be shared as early as possible.

A second initiative, launched by a group of publishers and related organisations, the COVID-19 Rapid Review Initiative, worked on implementing the commitments made in the Wellcome-coordinated COVID-19 statement and aimed to accelerate peer review of COVID-19 papers.

Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis: The response of the scholarly communication system to the COVID-19 pandemic has been written by a team comprising researchers, publishers, and other scholarly communication experts, all associated with the COVID-19 Rapid Review Initiative. It presents the results of research undertaken by the team and reviews research conducted by others, with a view to identify opportunities for the scholarly communication stakeholders to effect change that will extend beyond the pandemic and have long-lasting benefits.

The authors also conclude that obtaining robust evidence on the response of the scholarly communication system to the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging. Relevant publishing data is often not available or is of limited quality. To enable robust evidence-informed approaches to innovation in scholarly communication, joint efforts to improve the availability and quality of this type of data are needed.

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