COVID-19 Is Challenging Medical and Scientific Publishing

Article by By Vilas Dhar, Amy Brand & Stefano Bertozzi: “We need a transformation in how early data is shared. But the urgent need for peer-reviewed science, coupled with the potential harms of unreviewed publication, has set the stage for a public discussion on the future of academic publishing. It’s clear that we need rapid, transparent peer review that allows reviewers, authors, and readers to engage with one another, and for dynamic use of technology to accelerate publishing timelines without reducing academic rigor or researcher accountability. However, the field of academic publishing will need significant financial support to catalyze these changes.

Philanthropic organizations, as longtime supporters of scientific research, must be at the vanguard of the effort to fund improvements in how science is curated, reviewed, and published. When the MIT Press first began to address the need for the rapid dissemination of COVID-19-related research and scholarship—by making a selection relevant e-books and journal articles freely available, as well as developing a new, rapid publication model for books, under the imprint First Reads—senior staff were interested in undertaking bolder efforts to address the specific problems engendered by the pandemic. The proliferation of preprints related to COVID-19 was already apparent, as was the danger of un-vetted science seeding mainstream media stories with deleterious results.

Rapid Reviews: COVID-19 (RR:C19) is an innovation in open publishing that allows for rigorous, transparent peer review that is publicly shared in advance of publication. We believe that pushing the peer review process further upstream—so that it occurs at the preprint stage—will benefit a wide variety of stakeholders: journalists, clinicians, researchers, and the public at large.  …

With this and future efforts, we’ve identified five key opportunities to align academic publishing priorities with the public good:

  1. Transparency: Redesign and incentivize the peer review process to publish all peer reviews alongside primary research, reducing duplicate reviews and allowing readers and authors to understand and engage with the critiques.
  2. Accountability: The roles of various authors on any given manuscript should be clearly defined and presented for the readers. When datasets are used, one or more of the authors should have explicit responsibility for verifying the integrity of the data and should document that verification process within the paper’s methodology section.
  3. Urgency: Scientific research can be slow moving and time consuming. Publishing data does not have to be. Publishing houses should build networks of experts who are able to dedicate time to scrutinizing papers in a timely manner with the goal of rapid review with rigor.
  4. Digital-First Publishing: While science is a dynamic process of continued learning and exploration, much of scientific publishing conforms to outdated print models. Academic journals should explore opportunities to deploy AI-powered tools to identify peer-reviewers or preprint scholarship and digital publishing platforms to enable more visible communication and collaboration about research findings. Not only can reviews be closer to real-time, but authors can easily respond and modify their work for continuous quality improvement.
  5. Funding: Pioneering new solutions in academic publishing will require significant trial and error, at a time when traditional business models such as library subscriptions are in decline. Philanthropies should step forward to provide catalytic risk financing, testing new models and driving social good outcomes….(More)”.