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Study finds COVID-19 research freely accessible, but research data sharing and preprinting are low
Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis: The response of the scholarly communication system to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, a report has been published that studies how well the commitments to the Wellcome-coordinated COVID-19 statement and the COVID-19 Rapid Review Initiative have been kept.
The project was led by the Research on Research Institute (RoRI) and includes a number of organizations and individuals associated with the COVID-19 Rapid Reviewer Initiative: eLife, FAIRsharing, Hindawi, MIT Press, PLOS, the Royal Society, and Springer Nature.
As a recap, in March 2020, a group of publishers and scholarly communications organizations, including PLOS, set up the COVID-19 Rapid Reviewer Initiative with an aim of maximizing the efficiency of peer review of COVID-19 research. An interim report on the group’s activities was published on March 8, 2021.
PLOS is delighted to have participated in this project which showcases an uncommon moment of scholarly publishers collaborating to gather useful insights on the performance of the scholarly communication system. We are pleased that many of the commitments examined were easily fulfilled by PLOS – all the research we publish is always open by default (CC BY), and all our journals require authors to make all data necessary to replicate their study’s findings publicly available (see our full data availability policy).
We’re also pleased to see that our efforts to fast-track COVID-19 research were successful (see section 3 of the report).
As regards the low levels of preprint adoption that the study finds across the board, we note that while we strongly encourage preprint posting for ALL articles, and can facilitate it on an author’s behalf if they opt to post to bioRxiv at submission, we will continue to look for even better ways to facilitate this. Further integrations with additional preprint servers are already planned.
Several of the report’s recommendations point to the need for, or to the benefits of, scholarly communications stakeholders working together to gather data and improve the system. At PLOS, we remain ready to collaborate openly and help lead a transformation in research communication.
Please find below the Press Release written and circulated by the project team.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (December 6, 2021)
COVID-19 research freely accessible, but research data sharing and preprinting are low
Levels of COVID-19 research data sharing have remained low during the pandemic, and preprinting of research on the virus has been lower than two initiatives tried to ensure it would be. 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 speeded 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.
Ludo Waltman, Associate Director, Research on Research Institute (RoRI) and Professor of Quantitative Science Studies, Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University says: “Development of innovative new forms of peer review, for instance by @PREreview_ and @mitpress @RapidReviewsC19, is extremely important and deserves further attention from all relevant actors in the system. I hope that the pandemic will be an impetus for more innovation in this area.”
Stephen Pinfield, Associate Director, Research on Research Institute (RoRI) and Professor of Information Services Management, University of Sheffield says: “Approaches adopted during the pandemic have powerfully illustrated the benefits of openness. It is important that we apply those lessons in future to improve the scholarly communication system for the benefit of the research community and society more generally.”
The report is available at: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.17125394
General Press Contact:
Ruth Francis, Communications Consultant
Ludo Waltman, Associate Director, Research on Research Institute (RoRI) and Professor of Quantitative Science Studies, Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University
Stephen Pinfield, Associate Director, Research on Research Institute (RoRI) and Professor of Information Services Management, University of Sheffield
About COVID-19 Collaboration Group
On 27 April 2020, a group of publishers and scholarly communications organisations announced a joint initiative to maximize the efficiency of peer review, ensuring that key work related to COVID-19 is reviewed and published as quickly and openly as possible, supported by Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association ( https://oaspa.org/covid-19-publishers-open-letter-of-intent-rapid-review/).