Wordvice reporter Onshore Paik explains how COVID-19 is reshaping the scientific research and publications landscape in myriad ways–and not all of them negative.

NEW YORK, NY, August 14, 2020 /24-7PressRelease/ — With partial or complete institutional shutdowns, working restrictions, and research projects being cancelled or put on indefinite hold, COVID-19 has altered scientific research, both temporarily and permanently. Much research requiring extensive fieldwork has been cancelled, often with no timetable for rescheduling. 57% of life scientists reported to a Genome Biology survey stating that they had lost work, with 25% of the respondents reporting up to 6 months of lost work due to laboratory shutdowns.

However, not all changes have been for the worse. According to ResearchGate co-founder and CEO Dr. Ijad Madisch, “The pandemic is pushing us to make research more open, more efficient, and more collaborative.” Here are three major ways the coronavirus pandemic has transformed science for the better.

Virtual conferences have become normalized.
Pre-pandemic, scientific collaboration relied on in-person research group meetings, symposiums, and conferences. By making such in-person events unsafe, coronavirus has forced researchers to accept virtual conferences as the new norm. This is not an entirely temporary phenomenon; this new virtual reality of scientific gatherings is likely to be relevant even after the pandemic is over.

The normalization of virtual conferences has allowed more researchers to attend. 7,267 people registered for the April Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS), a huge jump from the usual 1,600-1,800.

Virtual conferences also democratize access to knowledge exchange and opportunities for scientific collaboration. In many developing countries, it is difficult to get a research grant approved. According to Dr. Chris Wood, director of the National Advanced Microscopy Lab Institute of Biotechnology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, “You have to trim your budget to get a grant approved, and travel is the first thing to go.” Interactive online talks and presentations allow researchers who cannot afford travel to be included in global scientific discussion.

Of course, there are many benefits of in-person conferences that virtual conferences lack. In-person meetings provide an environment that encourages informal discussions and is more conducive to networking. In an interview with Nature, Dr. Lynn Cominsky, astrophysicist and Chair of Astronomy and Physics at Sonoma State University in California, said, “Some of the best proposals and projects that I’ve thought about have come from random interactions with people at conferences.”

Understanding this, directors of meetings of scientific organizations are considering the benefits of both virtual and in-person conferences. Future conferences will likely adopt a hybrid approach that allows for both physical and virtual attendees.

The boundaries between specializations are blurring.
Modern science is highly specialized, and medicine is no exception. However, with the global health crisis brought on by COVID-19, even medical researchers and doctors working in subfields other than infectious diseases have been drawn into efforts against the virus. This phenomenon of medical scientists conducting research beyond the boundaries of their respective fields is likely to have a long-term impact on medical research.

Furthermore, encouraged by special calls for papers on COVID-19, scientists from drastically different fields are collaborating on novel, relevant, interdisciplinary research. Studies on the various effects of COVID-19 on society are of special interest. In a June position paper, Holmes et al. explored the psychological, social, and neuroscientific effects of COVID-19, detailing the immediate priorities and long-term strategies for mental health research. And in July, an interdisciplinary group of scientists (including virologists, economists, and ecologists) published an essay in Science explaining how future pandemics can be prevented by reducing deforestation and restricting wildlife trade. This interest in interdisciplinary collaborations is likely to continue, allowing scientists to explore a wider range of research interests.

The future of scholarly publication is open-access.
A distinctive feature of COVID-19’s impact is that virtually all published research on the topic is free to read. More than 30 prominent journals have committed to making an exception for new and older publications relevant to the virus. Although the removal of paywalls is a temporary emergency response to COVID-19, it is unlikely that all scientific research will be put back behind paywalls after the pandemic is over.

Supporters of open-access, alongside government agencies and large research foundations, have been advocating to make more of their work publicly available decades before the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has simply sped up the transition.

While these trends in rapid journal approval have made science more nimble, there are some notable drawbacks. It has become difficult to assess the legitimacy of studies and ensure manuscript quality. New methods of evaluating the value and validity of papers should be developed as science moves towards an open-access future.

Academics who wish to make their work available to the global scientific community should strongly consider writing their drafts in English. ESL researchers should also consider using online editing services. Such services employ professional academic editors with graduate degrees and backgrounds in a variety of disciplines.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered scientific communication and collaboration in unprecedented ways. However, many of these changes just might push science forward in a new direction. This crisis has also illuminated the resilience and borderless nature of the international scientific community. As David Liu, Vice Chair of the Faculty at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said in a Chemical and Engineering News interview, “Seeing how quickly and effectively scientists and doctors worldwide are working together around the clock, generating, sharing, and vetting crucial data with little regard for cost or personal gain, is a powerful reminder that we are united by a common goal of importance […] Long after humanity wins the war against this virus, the evolution of how we organize, execute, and communicate science…may prove to be among the most important legacies of COVID-19.”

The international research community certainly shares this outlook.

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