When research is free for everyone, as it’s been during the pandemic, scientific experts of all kinds can shine light on the many facets of a health crisis, writes Britt Glaunsinger.
The United States has mobilized the full force of its clinical research enterprise to address the Covid-19 pandemic, allocating billions of dollars to support timely research. As of January 2021, for example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had issued nearly a thousand awards cumulatively worth roughly $2 billion to support Covid-19 projects ranging from the development of medical products (including diagnostics and vaccines) to evaluations of population-specific risk factors and outcomes.1 Such initiatives, which have yielded new technologies and important evidence, illustrate the value of robust scientific infrastructure.
“Our portfolio company, Figshare, has today launched its annual report The State of Open Data 2020. The report is the fifth in the series and includes survey results and a collection of articles from global industry experts, as well as a foreword from Dr Leslie McIntosh, CEO of Ripeta and Executive Director, Emeritus – Research Data Alliance US.
The State of Open Data is now the longest running longitudinal study on the subject, which was created in 2016, to examine attitudes and experiences of researchers working with open data – sharing it, reusing it, and redistributing it.
This year’s survey received around 4,500 responses from the research community and had an additional focus on research practices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It asked researchers how the pandemic was impacting their ability to carry out research, and their views on reuse of data and collaboration….”
“As of this week, roughly 10,000 preprints about the novel coronavirus were available on the preprint servers bioRxiv and medRxiv alone, a remarkable feat given that this virus has existed for less than a year. Collectively, these preprints have put vital research information into circulation much faster than would have been possible under the traditional academic publishing model, in which emerging knowledge is sequestered until it clears peer review. Although peer review has long been held up as the gold standard of academic publication, the flowering of preprints during the pandemic gives the lie to the fiction that pre-publication peer review is essential to ensuring scholarly rigor. In a fast-moving era of digital information, preprints should become the new normal….
Moreover, the pandemic has inspired the emergence of several third-party services that review or curate published preprints. PreLights, a preprint review site supported by the not-for-profit publisher The Company of Biologists, maintains a running timeline of what they deem to be “landmark” preprints about the biology and transmission of the novel coronavirus. Each entry gives a brief description of why the preprint is important, along with a direct link to the paper. As of this writing, they have highlighted approximately 125 preprints, providing a useful filtration system for the thousands of preprints that have been published about the coronavirus….”
“Though copyright law is the root of the problem, it is also the source of potential solutions. As the Supreme Court of Canada has stated, copyright is supposed to achieve “a balance between promoting the public interest in the encouragement and dissemination of works of the arts and intellect and obtaining a just reward for the creator.” Indeed, many of the activities about which my fellow educators worried are already protected within the scope of users’ rights. Canada’s Copyright Act contains exceptions for reading in public, for education and training (including for lessons communicated online), and a fair dealing defence for the purposes of education or private study. These provisions are to be interpreted with a view to the copyright balance, which “should be preserved in the digital environment.” If reading aloud to a class or showing an illustrative image on a PowerPoint slide was lawful in a classroom, it should be lawful in the online classroom.
The problem is that the specific educational exceptions are narrowly drawn and difficult to understand and satisfy, while the broader fair dealing defence requires a context-specific case-by-case assessment, making educators and their institutions reluctant to rely upon it. The result is a permission-first or ‘clear-for-fear’ culture that undermines user rights and unduly restricts the educational activities of teachers and students….”