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Open publications in a time of crisis – should the door be partly or fully opened?

News from committee
03/04/2020

The Covid-19 epidemic has shown how necessary it is to progress in opening up scientific publications and research data. This is essential to accelerate discovery process and share data freely for the benefit of science and even more so for civil society and populations as a whole by breaking down economic barriers and borders in access to data and results.

Representatives of the scientific sphere from several countries including France made a joint appeal for publications to be opened up in the context of the fight against the epidemic with text mining included. The French government confirmed its commitment to open science policy on March 30th 2020. Several publishers and distributors responded quickly to the emergency by partially and temporarily releasing their publications on Covid 19 and coronaviruses. This will effectively open up validated sources which are already available and provide open access to results as soon as they appear while continuing to contribute to facilitated and accelerated dissemination.

However, articles dealing directly with the coronavirus put into open access in this emergency only represent a small part of the knowledge available today on the subject. This is because research on the actual subject and in related disciplines is not accessible under the same regime as Vincent Larivière, Fei Shu and Cassidy Sugimoto point out in their article published on March 5th 2020.

Care, basic and clinical research are obviously urgently important matters but an epidemic is a complex phenomenon that nevertheless requires a multidisciplinary approach to be understood. To stem the spread of the virus, prevent it returning, manage similar diseases better and ultimately mitigate or repair the effects of the virus on societies, different disciplines combine in biology, health and related disciplines (notably the humanities and social sciences and public health) to shed light on COVID-19 and produce fruitful results.

The immediate opening of publications, clinical trials and research data which are useful in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus epidemic is therefore truly essential to help knowledge advance, to benefit from its cumulative capacities and fuel research teams’ inventiveness. Current efforts are praiseworthy and significant progress has been made but the level of open science is insufficient given current requirements as Marin Dacos regrets in the article in his article published in ‘Le Monde‘ on March 27th 2020.

Scientists and researchers are currently involved to an exceptional extent in the fight against Covid-19 in the current health crisis to help accelerate research through pooling and sharing knowledge worldwide. The production of knowledge and results is advancing extremely rapidly thanks to opening up science including in the development of very short-term clinical applications.

Publishers and distributors of scholarly information have contributed by providing open or expanded access to publications and research data and this level of openness has demonstrated its richness and efficiency. In France, a consultation process is underway with the private and public actors involved to find the best ways to achieve this model and effectively open science on a daily basis. This is such a complex issue that the diversity of the constraints and available forces must be taken into account to implement a voluntary and balanced public policy.

Once the crisis is over, open science must become the usual functioning mode for the dissemination of research rather than an exceptional regime. The risk is that the temporary and partial aspects of open science in the crisis may only half-open the door when in fact this is an opportunity to truly cross the threshold to full open science.