Weekly digest: what’s happening in open science?

Steph Macdonald

Featuring the role of open science in combating the coronavirus outbreak, a new journal ranking system to measure research transparency and highlights from this week’s ISMPP U webinar.

Open science plays a vital role in tackling the coronavirus outbreak via The Washington Post

With fresh news stories on the coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) released almost every hour, it is encouraging to see the scientific community banding together to tackle the outbreak.

The pneumonia-like illness, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, has led to widespread panic across the globe. However, just 10 days after the virus was first reported, scientists from Fudan University in Shanghai and the University of Sydney uploaded the genetic sequence of the virus to an open access repository, driving a collaborative effort from the scientific community to uncover more information about the virus and how it spread. Downstream analysis has since revealed that the genetic structure of the virus bares striking similarities to that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the outbreak of which evolved into a pandemic in 2002. With new scientific tools and data-sharing policies in place, scientists from unrelated fields of molecular biology have been able to redirect their experiments to focus on combatting the outbreak. Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have already begun to develop a vaccine that may be ready to be tested in humans in as little as 3 months ­– a response that is six times faster than the response to the 2002 SARS outbreak.

There is no doubt that such rapid process is a direct result of the open science movement and the scientific community’s evolving attitude to data sharing; “we [researchers] don’t worry about who’s first, we just care about solving the problem,” stated Karla Satchell (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine). Acknowledging the limitations of the traditional peer-review process, journals are also doing their part to improve the speed and access to full-text articles. All relevant manuscripts published in The New England Journal of Medicine will be made available open access from the date of publication; a similar statement was also issued by Wiley.

Despite the clear benefits of open science, there is a risk that information made publicly available may be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Over in Silicon Valley, social media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter are doing their part to curb the deluge of half-truths and fake news, which range from stories accusing the US Government of patenting the outbreak to claims that oregano oil is an effective treatment against 2019-nCoV. Facebook is assigning ‘lower ranks’ to such stories (meaning they appear lower in user newsfeeds), and Twitter is directing users to more reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Visualizing the new era of medical communications via ISMPP U

Discussion at the 2020 European Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) highlighted how the way we communicate research is evolving. Although high-quality peer-reviewed publications are still the primary means of communicating new scientific findings, they are no longer the ‘end point’ for research dissemination. Both the scientific community and the general public are calling for information conveyed in a digestible and accessible format, such as that of infographics and plain language summaries. The webinar included presentations for experts in medical communication on how to develop a visual abstract, considerations for when using infographics and pointers on how to deliver an effective scientific presentation. Kelly Soldavin (Taylor & Francis) provided participants with practical tips for authors wishing to submit visual communications to journals and urging them to “push the boundaries” in terms of what journals can do to enhance publications. All these tips, and more, are available in the webinar presentation slides.

Transparency over impact factor? via Times Higher Education

This week, the Centre for Open Science (COS) announced a new system designed to rank academic journals based on their commitment to research transparency. Set to launch in February 2020, the journal transparency index will initially assess 300 journals from the fields of psychology, education and biomedical science. The index will rank journals using 10 transparency measurements, the results of which will be made publicly available in a league table; this will be similar to that of the Good Pharma Scorecard, which pharma companies based their clinical trial transparency and data-sharing practices on. The new indexing system was developed in response to concerns over the current ‘reproducibility crisis’ across the research community. Representatives from the COS hope that ranking journals based on their commitment to transparency will help to strengthen article methodology and will recognize individuals and organizations taking steps to overcome bad practice.