June 29, 2020

The Pandemic’s Effect on Scientific Journals

The Pandemic’s Effect on Scientific Journals

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the world operates. One sector particularly has been scientific publishing. A recent study examined how the publication process has changed during the pandemic. The results indicate since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical journals have managed to drastically accelerate their publication process to make it nearly twice as fast for COVID-19 related articles. On the contrary, articles not related to COVID-19 that were published since the beginning of the pandemic, do not show any acceleration. Their turnaround times are similar to articles published before the pandemic.

This is concerning considering two major studies relating to COVID-19 that have recently been retracted. The studies were published in The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet, two highly regarded journals. These retractions have alarmed scientists, who fear the desire of information has turned into a rushed scientific process, threatening the credibility of the scientific community.

“The problem with trust is that it’s too easy to lose and too hard to get back,” Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, told the New York Times. “These are big blunders.” Dr. Eric Rubin, current Editor-in-Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine addressed the retraction to The New York Times, stating, “We shouldn’t have published this, we should have had reviewers who would recognize the problem.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, distinguished scientific journals, such as The Lancet, have received over three times as many submissions as they typically would, according to the Editor-in-Chief Dr. Richard Horton. Dr. Horton called the paper retracted by his journal a “fabrication” and “a monumental fraud.” He also makes it clear that the peer review was never intended to detect outright deceit, he said, and anyone who thinks otherwise has “a fundamental misunderstanding of what peer review is,” noting, “if you have an author who deliberately tries to mislead, it’s surprisingly easy for them to do so.”

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the speed at which scientific publications can occur, leading to a debate over open access. Robert-Jan Smits, president of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and architect of the European-led ‘Plan S’ for open-access publishing, told Nature he thinks the coronavirus crisis will be looked back on as the event that tipped science in general towards fast, open publishing. “It’s the final push that is necessary,” he says. On the other hand, Cameron Neylon, a researcher on scholarly communications at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, told Nature, “we might find that some of the heat is going to go out of the open-access movement and that you’re going to find fewer journals, fewer articles being written, and greater attempts in a tight job market to publish in highly regarded publications.”