January 21, 2022

Report: “Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis: The Response of the Scholarly Communication System to the COVID-19 Pandemic”

From the Research on Research Institute (RORI):

Getting the right incentives and policies for open or free access publishing aligned across the many players of the scholarly communication ecosystem is difficult. To avoid too much of the burden or cost falling on one player in particular – publishers, service providers, funders or researchers – conversations and collaborations should be brokered across the system.

The pandemic has highlighted the pressures on the scientific publication system and early on commitments were made to uphold and increase open access activities. Together with partners, we recognised a need to look more closely at the impact of COVID-19 on academic publishing, to see what’s working well, and where there’s room for improvement.

Our report, Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis: The response of the scholarly communication system to the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrates what we think is essential in scholarly communication – speed and quality – but achieving it is a shared responsibility.

The project team – including researchers, publishers, and other scholarly communication experts – examined how well commitments to the Wellcome-coordinated COVID-19 statement and the COVID-19 Rapid Review Initiative were kept.

We carried out extensive scientometric analysis, surveyed authors of COVID-19 preprints and looked at case studies.

We used data from Dimensions, Crossref, Unpaywall, PubMed, and Altmetric, as well as data made available by publishers (eLife, Hindawi, PLOS, Royal Society, and Springer Nature).

The key areas explored in the report are:

  • open or free access publishing
  • preprinting
  • data sharing
  • acceleration of peer review
  • new forms of peer review (such as open online peer review)

What has the pandemic done for scholarly communication? Although the sharing of the SARS-CoV-2 genome within days of the virus being identified is upheld as the poster child for open science, the overall speed, quality and volume of COVID-19 research and data being shared openly has been a mix of success and shortcomings. 

We found:

  • Most COVID-19 research articles have been made open or free access.
  • Levels of preprinting and data sharing are (much) lower than many had hoped.
  • There has been a lot of pressure on the journal peer review system – rejection rates for COVID-19 research were high because of issues with quality – yet many journals managed to speed up peer review of COVID-19 research.
  • Publishers, platforms and other service providers are innovating new forms of peer review, but only at a small scale.
  • Different stakeholders jointly made a strong commitment to open sharing of COVID-19 research results, but there seems to have been less ongoing collaborative working in ensuring the commitment was implemented. The report concludes that there is no magic bullet to improving scholarly communication. It is a joint responsibility that requires stakeholders working together more intensively to realise change in the system.

Direct to Publication Announcement

Report Authors

Ludo Waltman, Stephen Pinfield, Narmin Rzayeva, Susana Oliveira Henriques, Zhichao Fang, Johanna Brumberg, Sarah Greaves, Phil HurstPhil Hurst, Andy Collings, Arianne Heinrichs, Nick Lindsay, Catriona J. MacCallum, Daniel Morgan, Susanna-Assunta Sansone, Sowmya Swaminathan

Direct to Full Text Report: Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis: The Response Of The Scholarly Communication System To The Covid-19 Pandemic

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.