Rethinking the approach to academic research practices during a pandemic

Abstract. With the Covid-19 pandemic, accessibility of scientific information is of utmost importance. This article examines the effect of the pandemic to academic research practices. It analyzes the flaws of established system of research communication and benefits of Open Science movement.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted society that we all know and institutions of higher education were not an exception. Universities, colleges and research institutions all around the world have fully or partially switched to online learning and working in order to preserve public safety. In particular academic research field faced major challenges during this crisis. However, despite all those challenges, an opportunity to improve and develop academic research practices was created.

The pandemic has changed the ways we work and study, thus transforming research practices. It forced us to fundamentally rethink our academic research practices in a way that require different approach to fit into the state of emergency caused by novel coronavirus. One of such changes in approach was in the field of research communication. The established system of research communication has not evolved enough to meet the needs and interests of the research community during global health crisis. Its deficiencies are well known among academics and mainly include three issues. Firstly, it is a lag time between submission of articles and research works for review and their actual publication. Second problem is accessibility of knowledge due to paywall. It is quite pricy for both students and academics to subscribe to all journals and publications to get necessary information

for a certain research. And third issue is hyperinflation of article processing charges paid by authors or their institutions upon submission for publication, publishing fees varying from under $100 to over $3000 [1].

In spite of broad acknowledgment of these issues, they have preserved due to demand for scholarly journal publications and profit-driven commercial entities.

Nevertheless, during the pandemic it was proven that with sufficient political will, it is possible to reform the established system of scholarly communication. The governments and international organizations around the world have been making an appeal to research community for openness and transparency of research. As a result, the amount of pandemic related research work has been phenomenal and led to an unprecedented scientific progress. The vast majority of COVID-19 research papers are freely available and delay time between submission and publication of those papers has decreased, while data sharing activities have increased significantly. And even though there are some concerns among academics that the speed of publication may compromise the accuracy of data, it is also true that widespread openness can lead to increased scientific scrutiny and more rapid identification of inaccurate research conclusions.

The open science movement is now in a rather strong position with accelerated transformation of the culture of exchange of research data and more intensive international collaborations of scientists. However, it is still uncertain whether such open research communication system will remain in post-pandemic world.

International publishers made their Covid-19 content openly available, in most cases also creating special resources designed to facilitate and accelerate the process of interaction with research results. Such actions were also carried out during Ebola crisis, when many took similar steps, but the scale of the previous viral threat cannot be compared with what we are seeing in the world today.

One of the first initiatives created at the start of pandemic was the Elsevier Novel Coronavirus Information Center [2]. All articles posted in it are available without a subscription. In addition to scientific articles, access to data is very important, without which it is impossible to verify the outputs of other researchers or conduct your own research. In the second half of April, the Covid- 19 Data Portal was created, where scientists can post databases: DNA decoding, information on the structure of the virus protein, data on preclinical studies and clinical trials, as well as epidemiological data [3]. Another major initiative is the Open Covid Pledge, a project in which organizations and individuals donate their intellectual property, including research and patents, to fight the coronavirus [4].

While scientific communication may not have been this fast before, scientists have had to face many of the challenges of quarantine. Some researchers talk about the impossibility of verifying the results of other people's research in the absence of access to their own laboratory. In addition, the world froze in everything that does not concern the coronavirus, which means that many research projects have been frozen, which can slow down the development of scientific areas that are in no way connected with the pandemic and viruses.

The Covid crisis also provoked the noble gestures of publishing houses and services, including in the field of higher education. Springer, in particular, has made available more than 500 textbooks in a variety of disciplines to help universities and students cope with the challenges of moving to remote learning [5]. JStor also came up with a similar initiative: the service opened access to 6,000 e-books and 150 scientific journals [6].

One of the most daring initiatives to open access to content amid the pandemic was the National Emergency Library - the Internet Archive project [7]. The Archive has been developing the Open Library platform for a very long time: through it, users get access not only to the public domain and works published under open licenses, but also to protected publications. The National Library of India also took desperate measures and now anyone can get access to 38 million documents even without registration [8]. However, the copyright holders did not like the initiative as they claimed infringement of their copyright.

All that has now become available, for the most part, is temporary. These are desperate solutions to an emergency, and as soon as it stabilizes, formally everything should roll back. Some publishers have already started to move their content back behind paywalls, or have indicated that they will do so in the near future. The situation is different in terms of projects with data, and some breakthrough is obvious in this direction. Another issue is that dealing with this kind of information requires great care and raises issued of ethics and human rights, for which human rights organizations should be worried now even more than the right to access information.

Nevertheless, the pandemic demonstrated us the undeniable benefits of open science. The crisis has highlighted the urgent need to make science available to society as a whole. According to UNESCO, before the Covid-19 crisis, only one in four scientific publications was in the public domain. The head of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay stated that «closed models of scientific activity are no longer relevant, because they lead to increased inequality between countries and scientists, and scientific progress remains the property of a minority» [9]. At a time when rumors and false information spreads rapidly, advancing credibility in science becomes even more pressing. Thus, we should use current situation to rethink and transform the current flawed system of research communications into something more transparent, open and efficient.

List of references

  1. Khoo, S.Y.-S., 2019. Article Processing Charge Hyperinflation and Price Insensitivity: An Open Access Sequel to the Serials Crisis. LIBER Quarterly - 29(1) - pp.1–18.
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  3. Coronavirus: Commission launches data sharing platform for researchers, 20 April 2020 [Electronic resource] - Access mode: URL: //
  4. Open COVID Pledge: Removing Obstacles to Sharing IP in the Fight Against COVID-19, Diane Peters, 7 April 2020 [Electronic resource] - Access mode: URL: // in-the-fight-against-covid-19/
  5. Springer Nature makes key textbooks freely accessible for educators, students and academics affected by coronavirus lockdown, 2 April 2020 [Electronic resource] - Access mode: URL: // initiative-for-educators-and-students/17858180
  6. Open-Access JSTOR Materials Accessible to the Public, Orla Murnaghan, 19 March 2020 [Electronic resource] - Access mode: URL: // makes-database-accessible-to-the-public/
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  8. Национальная цифровая библиотека Индии предлагает открытый доступ к значительной части своей коллекции [Electronic resource] - Access mode: URL: // k-znachitelnoy-chasti-svoey-kollektsii-5ea73b2903b1e00001780d4e
  9. Open access to facilitate research and information on COVID-19 [Electronic resource] - Access mode: URL: //
Year: 2021
City: Almaty
Category: Economy