Again and again, crises have led to a cultural change. Often an acute threat has turned into sustainable progress. Despite all the necessary provisional nature of current observations on the corona crisis, such a development seems to be emerging, especially in science and research. During the last months, the ways in which we conduct research, innovation and how we communicate science have changed so profoundly that it may well change the world forever. The ORION partner Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), has asked its scientists about their views on open science practices and possible changes due to the corona crisis.
We are experiencing a time of closures and compartmentalization but at the same time we are also experiencing a new, unexpected opening of processes - with rapid gains in knowledge about how to combat corona through collective knowledge, data exchange and collaboration. In addition, established patterns of thought, for example on the subject of data protection, are being called into question. To get an impression of the current state and possible changes in the Open Science community in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few scientists from the ORION partner MDC were surveyed on the topic.
The scientists highlighted changes in several areas of their research life. In terms of Open Access, the scientists stated that preprint platforms such as bioRxiv.org, collabovid.org or MediArXiv have been used more frequently since the outbreak of the corona crisis. The ORION Podcast previously also interviewed two MDC scientists who publish and utilise preprints. Science communication on social media platforms has increased, with current research on COVID-19 being discussed and commented on more intensively by scientists on Twitter. Everyday communication between scientists also required innovation as shown by a considerably increased number of virtual scientific meetings, conferences, and freely accessible scientific webinars.
The pandemic - an opportunity for Open Science
However, these shifts towards the Open Science practices were not without concerns. The scientists were critical of the fact that the quality and the peer review of scientific studies on COVID-19 seems to have suffered in some cases, possibly in order to be published more quickly due to the relevance of the topic along with the desire to be established in the COVID-19 field.
Nevertheless, the overall tone was optimistic, the interviewed scientists expressed hope that the scientific community will recognize the benefit and value of Open Science platforms such as bioRxiv.org and that in the long run, science can be discussed more critically, openly, and transparently by the broader scientific community at an earlier point in the publication process.
Additionally, some of the scientists anticipated that in the wake of the Corona crisis and the associated increased demand for the rapid and publicly accessible publication of studies on COVID-19, more scientists recognize that the scientific publishing landscape needs to change from time- and cost-intensive processes to a more transparent, faster and efficient culture.
Online communication channels winners
When the scientists were asked whether they expected lasting changes in Open Science practices, or collaborations in their research field, due to the corona crisis, some stated that the most lasting change will probably be the use of virtual communication and data sharing platforms, but that they do not expect any long-term adjustments otherwise.
Despite the opportunities that the corona crisis offers for the Open Science movement, the doubts expressed by the scientists in the survey, show that although the corona crisis may have led to a sensitization of the scientific community towards Open Science practices, there is still a long way to go after the crisis to achieve sustainable change with the goal of Open Science.
This blogpost was written by Emma Harris and Verena Haage at MDC. The questions were prompted by the Openess Scanner of the INNOSCI, a forum for open innovation culture funded by German Ministry for Science and Education and the Deutsche Stifterverband.