The coronavirus pandemic is a terrible crisis, of course. But it also presents an opportunity to change the way that research is conducted and shared, so that science can become more open, more efficient and more collaborative.
At ResearchGate, a professional network for scientists that advocates for open research, we are pragmatic optimists. We are working towards a world made better by science. Scientific breakthroughs are needed, both now and in the future.
The way that researchers are responding to COVID-19 right now can serve as a blueprint for that future. Scientists publishing data, ideas and information relating to the coronavirus pandemic on ResearchGate, for instance, are pushing against the old patterns of scientific culture.
Researchers are far more likely to post early-stage research to the platform than we’ve traditionally seen in other domains. We’re seeing people publish shorter, more concise content, and more figures. It’s really exciting to see researchers uploading more and more preprints. The urgency and ubiquity of this crisis is encouraging the global community of researchers to share more readily, working across disciplines, domains and sectors, even as borders remain closed. The Sars-CoV-2 virus doesn’t respect borders, and we must support researchers in working across them too.
The way that research is validated and shared hasn’t changed much over the past decades, or perhaps the last century. We still rely on arcane systems of peer review and the in-person symposium or conference is still a primary means of knowledge exchange. The COVID-19 crisis is challenging both: one because it is too slow (it can take six to nine months for a scientist’s manuscript to be peer-reviewed and appear in a journal), and the other because it is no longer safe. We need to try new ways to do things, in real time, and the ideas that work in this time of crisis will serve us well in future. The cadence required of us in this moment will provide opportunities to explore both incremental and transformative changes.
At ResearchGate, we’re constantly working to improve scientific productivity to enable much-needed breakthroughs. COVID-19 is spurring us on to do our best to support researchers to become more efficient and more open. We need to connect with all the actors in science to further this change: funders, publishers, institutions and even nations need to come together and reimagine what science could be and how it could—and must—drive the development of smarter, more inclusive and more resilient societies.
The future of science is surely international, interdisciplinary and open. Through the lens of COVID-19, efforts like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) stand out as leading the way, in bringing national donors, philanthropists and companies together to solve problems. There are also many examples of cross-disciplinary and international collaborations that give hope in our abilities to forge a new culture of science, from CERN (physics) to the Human Cell Atlas (genomics). ResearchGate’s own COVID-19 community page is designed to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration around the coronavirus pandemic.
The tools that we develop through the COVID-19 crisis must equip us to work together across borders to face future crises. Our collective actions in the face of climate change, for instance, have been woefully inadequate to date. Let’s use this crisis to learn how to make science better, and let’s continue these efforts beyond the crisis, together. This moment is an opportunity to pave new paths that we’ll follow tomorrow.