Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis (Report)

Sharing of Research Data and Findings in a Global Pandemic


Waltman, Ludo; Pinfield, Stephen; Rzayeva, Narmin; Oliveira Henriques, Susana; Fang, Zhichao; Brumberg, Johanna; et al. (2021): Scholarly communication in times of crisis: The response of the scholarly communication system to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research on Research Institute. Report.


In the early days of the pandemic, Wellcome issued a statement calling for a global commitment to sharing of all scientific data and information pertaining to COVID-19 for the duration of the health crisis, 

The specifics of Wellcome's call asked those who signed on to commit to ensuring that:

  • all peer-reviewed research publications relevant to the outbreak are made immediately open access, or freely available at least for the duration of the outbreak
  • research findings relevant to the outbreak are shared immediately with the WHO upon journal submission, by the journal and with author knowledge
  • research findings are made available via preprint servers before journal publication, or via platforms that make papers openly accessible before peer review, with clear statements regarding the availability of underlying data
  • researchers share interim and final research data relating to the outbreak, together with protocols and standards used to collect the data, as rapidly and widely as possible - including with public health and research communities and the WHO
  • authors are clear that data or preprints shared ahead of submission will not pre-empt its publication in these journals.

The Research on Research Institute conducted a follow-up study to report on the success of that call to action. According to the press release issued in early December, the study was “written by a team comprising researchers, publishers, and other scholarly communication experts, all associated with the COVID-19 Rapid Review Initiative. It presents the results of research undertaken by the team and reviews research conducted by others, with a view to identify opportunities for the scholarly communication stakeholders to effect change that will extend beyond the pandemic and have long-lasting benefits.”

Key points taken from the Executive Summary appear below:

  • The scholarly communication system has been successful in making research openly or freely accessible;
  • The proportion of peer-reviewed COVID-19 outputs with a preprint is still low. This study identifies a preprint for just 5% of all peer-reviewed COVID-19 outputs. 
  • Sharing of COVID-19 research data has remained relatively low. 
  • Many journals managed to speed up publication times. 
  • Significant innovation has taken place in the area of peer reviewing preprints, but initiatives remain small-scale and experimental. 
  • Improving scholarly communication is a joint responsibility that requires collaboration and coordinated action across stakeholders in the research system. 
  • The pandemic has illustrated the importance of openness — open access, open data, and open science more widely. 
  • There is a need for more concerted action in the area of preprinting 
  • The prevalence of data sharing can be increased through joint efforts of key players. 
  • Additional investment in preprint peer review platforms are needed to scale up operations and to develop best practices for preprint peer review. 
  • Efforts should be intensified to improve the availability and quality of data and metadata on scholarly publishing, 

While none of those findings would appear to be surprising, the full text of the report is worth a review and may be found here