- Vincent Larivière
Université de Montréal
- Fei Shu
Hangzhou Dianzi University
- Cassidy R. Sugimoto
Major crises often reveal the hidden norms of the scientific system, making public well-known practices within science. The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak exposes an inconvenient truth about science: the current scholarly communication system does not serve the needs of science and society. More specifically, the crisis makes manifest two inefficiencies in the research system: the default to closed science and the overemphasis on elite, English-only publishing, irrespective of the context and consequences of the research.
On 31 January 2020, the Wellcome Trust called the coronavirus a “significant and urgent threat to global health” and called on “researchers, journals and funders to ensure that the research findings and data relevant to this outbreak are shared rapidly and openly to inform the public health response and help save lives.” Signatories to this statement included dominant publishers—such as Elsevier, Springer Nature, and Taylor & Francis—as well as several funders and scholarly societies. The joint signatories on this statement committed to making all research and data on the outbreak open immediately: on preprint repositories for those items that have not been peer-reviewed and on journal platforms for those articles which have already been reviewed.
The signatories on the Wellcome Trust statement agree to follow these principles not only for the present outbreak, but for all situations in the future “where there is a significant public health benefit to ensuring data is shared widely and rapidly.” This statement makes a direct link between public health and the sharing of research results: implicitly making the case that journal paywalls and embargoes hinder the advance of science and as a result are a threat to public health. However, it also raises the question, where does one draw the line as to what constitutes a ‘public health benefit’?