Posted on 2 April 2020
The urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a rather interesting effect on the scientific process, at least as far as papers related to the virus are concerned.
Researchers will often sit on important papers until they are accepted by a respectable peer reviewed journal – peer review being a process in which other scientists evaluate a paper and have a chance to point out flaws. When it comes to pandemics such as this, however, time is of the essence, and now preprint (non peer reviewed) coronavirus papers are being released in their droves on platforms such as bioRxiv and medRxiv.
This has essentially opened up the peer review process to anyone with a social media account and an opinion, which could be both a good and a bad thing. It has allowed important findings to be released and appraised far more rapidly than would otherwise be the case. However, while these preprint servers do screen the articles they receive, those that are released still vary greatly in quality. These included a paper discussing the “uncanny” similarities between the novel coronavirus and HIV, fuelling genetic engineering conspiracy theories. The paper was criticised and swiftly retracted, but not before receiving publicity across various news outlets.
While the impact of this new way of processing research is still unclear, it is encouraging to see that the sometimes sluggish scientific process has been able to adapt to meet the urgency of the current crisis. However, there is certainly a balance to be found between speed and scientific rigour.
‘A completely new culture of doing research.’ Coronavirus outbreak changes how scientists communicate: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/completely-new-culture-doing-research-coronavirus-outbreak-changes-how-scientists