LSE - Small Logo
LSE - Small Logo

Kathleen Shearer

Eloy Rodrigues

Bianca Amaro

William Nixon

Dr Daisy Selematsela

Martha Whitehead

Kazutsuna Yamaji

Wolfram Horstmann

September 24th, 2020

COVID-19 has profoundly changed the way we conduct and share research. Let’s not return to business as usual when the pandemic is over!

4 comments | 79 shares

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Kathleen Shearer

Eloy Rodrigues

Bianca Amaro

William Nixon

Dr Daisy Selematsela

Martha Whitehead

Kazutsuna Yamaji

Wolfram Horstmann

September 24th, 2020

COVID-19 has profoundly changed the way we conduct and share research. Let’s not return to business as usual when the pandemic is over!

4 comments | 79 shares

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

COVID-19 has led to rapid and open sharing of research outputs. But will this new, radically open research communications paradigm result in permanent change? Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) executive board members, Kathleen Shearer, Eloy Rodrigues, Bianca Amaro, Wolfram Horstmann, William Nixon, Daisy Selematsela, Martha Whitehead and Kazu Yamaji, argue that the new research climate proves that longstanding shortcomings regarding the time and cost of research can be overcome with enough political will, and that maintaining a culture of open science going forward is necessary to address the big social problems of our time.


 

Our current research and social context – the coronavirus pandemic, economic upheaval, climate change, racial injustice – requires timely and reliable research results, shared equitably by, and with, all parts of the world.

The status quo for research communications

The mainstream system for research communications, which was built in the print age and has not evolved to meet the changing needs of the research community, is far from ideal and does not serve well the needs of research or society. The shortcomings are well known and include:

  • Long delays from submission to publication for articles and monographs
  • High costs for both to access publications through subscriptions, and to publish through article processing charges
  • Overlooked contributions with too much focus on the article or book as the final research product, rather than recognizing the full range of relevant contributions, such as data, metadata, preprints, and protocols
  • Lack of transparency in peer review and quality control mechanisms
  • Significant biases towards the interests of the global north and trendy research topics

These issues contribute to a sub-optimal communications milieu in which research efforts are hampered because investigators cannot access the full corpus of literature in their field, cannot text and data mine to extract new knowledge; and research findings are not available and cannot be readily adopted by other actors in society.

Despite widespread recognition of these problems, they have endured for many years, in large part because research communications has been predominantly outsourced to profit-driven commercial entities, whose missions do not align with those of the research community or the public at large.

How COVID19 has changed the landscape?

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has demonstrated that with enough political will, these issues can be overcome.

The intensity and volume of research related to COVID-19 has been unprecedented and governments and funders around the world have been calling for rapid and open sharing of research outputs.

The response has been remarkable and has led to unparalleled scientific progress. Early studies on the availability of COVID-19 research papers show that, while not all articles are open access with appropriate reuse licenses, the vast majority are freely available. Lag times from article submission to publication for COVID-19 articles have been greatly accelerated compared to the norm. And, both preprint and data sharing activities have intensified significantly. The issue of quality assurance and public confidence in research outcomes is a critical one. While some concerns have been expressed about whether quality control of publications and data is being compromised because of the speed with which research outcomes are being shared, it also seems to be the case that widespread openness can lead to increased scientific scrutiny and more rapid identification of inaccurate research conclusions. This shows that quality assurance can be implemented in such an environment.

Research communications has been predominantly outsourced to profit-driven commercial entities, whose missions do not align with those of the research community or the public at large.

But will this new, radically open research communications paradigm result in permanent change?

Many subscription publishers have temporarily made their COVID-19 content openly available, or are providing special conditions for libraries to allow researchers to access relevant collections, demonstrating that there is a willingness to adapt when there is a crisis of this proportion. However, some have already started to move their content back behind paywalls, or have indicated that they will do so in the near future.

COVID-19 has provided us with a relevant and practical example of the benefits of open science. The current moment should act as a catalyst for transforming the current flawed system of research communications into a global knowledge commons; a commons that is more efficient, inclusive, and governed by the scholarly community; a commons with no barriers to access or to publish research.

 

The global knowledge commons and how to get there

Transforming the system does not mean starting from scratch. We already have many elements of the global knowledge commons in place. There are thousands of repositories around the world, mostly hosted by long-lived and trusted organizations such as universities and research institutions, that collect and provide access to a wide variety of research outputs. And COAR is developing an overlay model that will integrate peer review and other types of evaluation services into the distributed international repository and preprint network, which will soon be piloted by several organizations.

We must start now to shift our resources towards open, community-based infrastructures and services whose values align with those of research and society.

These repositories are part of a substantial and growing community of open infrastructures that are committed to fair and inclusive open access, open data and open science. They exist alongside other services such as open and community-based journals and hosting services like Redalyc, OpenEdition, and African Journals Online (along with many others around the world), national and regional indexing and discovery networks like OpenAIRE, and LA Referencia, as well as other open tools and services. Together, these community-based, open infrastructures, which cost a fraction of the funds spent on the large commercial publishers, form the roots of a thriving and sustainable scholarly communications ecosystem.

Let’s build on the lessons we’ve learned through the COVID-19 pandemic. Or, in the words of Robert-Jan Smits, former director general of research and innovation at the European Commission, “Let’s turn this abnormal situation, in which COVID-19-relevant papers and data are shared widely, into a normal situation”.

We must start now to shift our resources towards open, community-based infrastructures and services whose values align with those of research and society. Let us not go back to business as usual once the pandemic is over. The problems facing the world today are just too important.


 

COAR– Confederation of Open Access Repositories- is an international association with members and partners from over 50 countries around the world representing libraries, universities, research institutions, government funders and others. COAR’s aim is to develop a global knowledge commons where all valuable research contributions can be accessed and shared.


Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Impact Blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

Photo by iMattSmart on Unsplash

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author

Kathleen Shearer

Kathleen Shearer has been the Executive Director of COAR since 2013, and participates in numerous other organizations in Canada and internationally.. She has been working in the area of open access, open science, scholarly communications, and research data management for over 20 years. In April 2020, Shearer published a paper with colleagues on the need for bibliodiversity in open scholarly communications called Fostering Bibliodiversity in Scholarly Communications: A Call for Action. Shearer is also a Research Associate with the Canadian Association of Research Libraries and was instrumental in launching the Portage Initiative in Canada, a national research data management network.

Eloy Rodrigues

Eloy Rodrigues is the Director of the University of Minho Libraries. Eloy established University of Minho institutional repository in 2003, and has been the scientific and technical coordinator of RCAAP (Portugal Open Access Science Repository) since 2008. At international level he has been working on several EU funded projects (like OpenAIRE) related with Open Access, coordinated FOSTER and FOSTER Plus projects, and is member of the European University Association Expert Group on Science 2.0/Open Science. Eloy is currently the Chair of the Executive Board of COAR, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories. He is also a member of the Working Group – Política Nacional de Ciência Aberta (National Open Science Policy), created by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education of Portugal.

Bianca Amaro

Bianca Amaro is Coordinator of the Brazilian Open Science Program - Brazilian Institute of Science and Technology Information (IBICT) Dr. Amaro holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from Pompeu Fabra University (Spain). Acts in the following subjects: Scientific Communication, Copyright, Open Access to Scientific Information and Open Science. Coordinator of the Brazilian Open Science Program at the Brazilian Institute of Science and Technology Information (IBICT). Winner of the International Electronic Publishing Trust for Development Award (EPT 2015). Member of the Executive Board of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR). President of the Federated Network of Institutional Repositories of Scientific Publications (LA Referencia).

William Nixon

William Nixon is a senior leader with over 18 years of international experience with digital libraries, repositories and Open Scholarship at the University of Glasgow. He was chair of the Open Repositories Steering Committee (2015-17) and is currently a member of SPARC Europe board (2020-23). He is also a member of the COAR Executive Board.

Dr Daisy Selematsela

Dr Daisy Selematsela is the Executive Director of the University of South Africa, Department of Library and Information Services. She has previously served as the Acting Vice Principal for Research Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation at the University of South Africa until 31 May 2018. She previously served as the National System of Innovation as Executive Director, Knowledge Management Corporate at the National Research Foundation (NRF). She is Professor of Practice of Information and Knowledge Management of the University of Johannesburg. She has a combined 27 years’ experience in the Higher Education sector and within the National System of Innovation (NSI). She serves as mentor and external examiner for undergraduate and postgraduate students in Library, Information Science and Knowledge Management.

Martha Whitehead

Martha Whitehead is Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian, and Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. As a library leader, Martha has worked to ensure that research libraries are deeply embedded in their teaching, learning and research communities, and that they are deeply engaged in developing an open, sustainable, global knowledge commons for the benefit of those communities and society as a whole. She currently serves on the Executive Board of COAR and the Board of Canada’s New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization, and chairs the ARL-CARL Task Force on Research Data Services.

Kazutsuna Yamaji

Kazutsuna Yamaji is a professor at the National Institute of Informatics in Japan. Kazu Yamaji received his Ph.D. degree in Systems and Information Engineering from the Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan, in 2000. Currently he is a professor and the director of a research center for open science and data platforms at the National Institute of Informatics (NII), Japan. His primary research interests include modeling and developing trusted e-science space in order to share and reuse research materials.

Wolfram Horstmann

Wolfram Horstmann is the director of the Göttingen State and University Library (University of Göttingen) since 2014 and professor at the Institute for Library and Information Science (IBI) at Humboldt-University Berlin, teaching `Publishing` and `Digital Research`. Prior to his current position he was Associate Director at the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, UK. He is currently leading several strategic projects in the areas scholarly communication, open access, research data and digital transformation. He is executive member and Chair of the Steering Group on Scholarly Communication and Research Infrastructures for the European research library association LIBER and member of the Executive Board of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR). In the Research Data Alliance (RDA), he is a member of the Organisational Advisory Board.

Posted In: COVID 19 | Open Access | Research communication

4 Comments

This work by LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.