The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak highlights serious deficiencies in scholarly communication | Impact of Social Sciences

“As research and government responses to the COVID-19 outbreak escalate in the face of a global public health crisis, Vincent Larivière, Fei Shu and Cassidy R. Sugimoto reflect on efforts to make research on this subject more widely available. Arguing that a narrow focus on research published in high ranking journals predominantly in English has impeded research efforts, they suggest that the renewed emphasis on carrying out open research on the virus presents an opportunity to reassess how research and scholarly communication systems serve the public good….

This is a positive step, but it does not go far enough to address public needs. The papers and book chapters that have been liberated by this measure represent only a tiny proportion of the available literature on coronavirus. According to the Web of Science (WOS), 13,818 articles have been published on the topic of coronaviruses since the late 1960s. More than half (51.5%) of these articles remain closed to access. The coronavirus is admittedly a large family of viruses and one might question relevance of older works to the current outbreak. However, as an example, the three papers on COVID-19 published in the February 15th issue of the Lancet relied on 69 distinct WOS-indexed papers, of which 73.2% are in the set of 13,818 coronaviruses papers. The oldest reference in these papers is to 1988, underscoring the fact that although the corona virus may be novel, research on the corona virus in fact draws on a long tail of often closed research literature….

The embeddedness of this scientific literature within much wider streams of research also highlights the limitations of this approach. The 13,818 coronavirus articles cite more than 200,000 articles—from virology to cancer and from public health, to genetics and heredity (Figure 1). Less than one third of the cited articles from which the “coronavirus articles” drew information and inspiration were other “coronavirus articles”. …”