What to expect from the post-pandemic release


An Australian Open Access expert explores the future of scholarly publishing – and the problems ahead

Scientists were at a loss. Previously healthy patients in China quickly became seriously ill, suffering from fever, severe coughing and difficulty breathing. The death rate looked high. Researchers needed to quickly share information about this new disease with other experts around the world.

As familiar as this situation is, this is not a description of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is an account of an event two decades earlier, when cases of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus were soaring in the early years of the 21st centurySt Century.

In both cases, how researchers were able to communicate their findings had a major impact on how the outbreaks were fought. And the differences between them make it clear where the journey of scientific publishing is going in the future.

The Sars problem

During the Sars outbreak in 2002, those closest to the disease tried to be quick to share what they knew about the virus. Often they failed.

According to an analysis from 2010, 22 percent of the studies on Sars at the time were submitted for publication during the pandemic. Only 7 percent were actually published.

In an article published earlier this month on communicating academic research, Virginia Barbour, director of Open Access Australia and co-head of the office for scholarly communication at Queensland University of Technology, argues that “the global publishing community was struggling to cope.” Sars epidemic.

“If that had been the case now, can you imagine how difficult it would have been to respond to Covid-19?” she asks Research Professional News in an email.

Covid breakthrough

Luckily for the world, the release situation is very different from Sars while the world’s scientists struggled to understand Covid-19. The Covid-19 pandemic unleashed what Barbour calls “a deluge of research,” and most of it was quickly available online and on preprint servers.

This time, scientists were able to disseminate early data and publish early findings in preprints, non-peer-reviewed publications that represent a relatively recent innovation in the research landscape. Traditional methods of publishing magazines have not been able to keep up with the pandemic.

Post-Covid, says Barbour, publishing should be headed for lasting change.

“In my view, the pandemic has intensified [the view] that traditional magazines alone cannot respond to the rapid flow of information needed in an emergency,” she says. “Traditional magazines will have a role in this system, but it is a limited one and should not be the dominant method.”

The tide seems to be turning in favor of new forms of scholarly publishing. In December 2021, the Australian Research Council made a major U-turn, canceling 32 applicants who had been disqualified from attending the ARC Future Fellowships and Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards because their applications contained references to preprints.

However, if this is progress, the question is whether it can be maintained.

row back

Barbour acknowledges that “we are already seeing signs that post-pandemic publishing may return to a more cohesive model” as the data-sharing emergency phase comes to an end.

Although Australia’s lead scientist, Cathy Foley, supports an Australian model of open access, the National Health and Medical Research Council has its own reforms, which for the 1 would respond like scientific publishers. NHMRC wanted the research it funded to be available Open Access immediately, not after a year, and wanted the authors to retain the rights to their publications.

Barbour believes that being able to quickly and easily access a wide range of new and existing research has been “vital” in fighting Covid-19, and she stresses that researchers “cannot allow publishers to determine which Know what they consider necessary to share and what not”.

“Since we don’t have a fully open scholarly communication ecosystem yet, publishers are simply trying to monetize their content again by charging for access,” she says. The move to open access is now “really important” as “we need to future-proof the system so that the next time there is an emergency – or when we’re dealing with climate change, for example – we don’t have to pick and choose or beg.” for access to research that is needed”.

Competing Priorities

To move towards a fully open future, issues around trust in research need to be addressed. Covid-19 has prompted many considerations in the scientific community about how researchers can quickly assess how much to trust new knowledge and how to balance the need to expedite publication with the need to carefully scrutinize claims.

Articles published in two medical journals, the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, were withdrawn in June 2020 after problems were identified with the data used for research into Covid-19. Although the traditional pre-publication peer review system was used, the urge to publish research results quickly still caused problems.

Preprint organizations find their own quality control solutions. For example, the preprint server medRxiv has developed its own quality assessment process. While it “is not a substitute for peer review, it appears to be able to reliably filter out research with ethical or similar issues,” says Barbour, who provides editorial advice to medRxiv.

An open future?

The pandemic has accelerated the pace at which research is moving toward openness, a shift that was already happening before 2020. Despite some publishers’ reluctance to fully embrace open access, the enthusiasm of policymakers means it’s unlikely to go off the radar.

Barbour believes that the pre-pandemic reliance on “self-publishing” and incentives “based solely on publication in certain journals” has come to an end.

The Open Access expert, who describes herself as a “pragmatic optimist”, still has concerns.

“The transition to open access is becoming unstoppable, but it’s still too slow, and I’m concerned that as we move toward more open access, we’re not limiting our options,” she says. “We must not allow open access itself to be locked down by some commercial groups.”


Comments are closed.