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Publishers 'swift to release Covid-19 research' – STM Association

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Matt McKay

Never before has science taken front stage - and front page - for such a prolonged period.

The coronavirus pandemic has made household names out of government scientists and doctors and the term 'follow the science' has become a global catchphrase. It’s a big burden to shoulder for a community that normally prefers to let others take the limelight. But Covid-19 has changed all that. The world is looking to science for answers. For a treatment. For a vaccine. For a cure.

The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) has been swift to respond to the thirst for knowledge and as early as February this year, was co-ordinating the efforts of the academic publishing  community to make all research papers on Covid-19 freely available. Within weeks, publishers had responded emphatically, making more than 50,000 Covid-19 related papers freely available. To date, almost 150 million people have read or downloaded this research, making it one of the most sought-after topics of all time. 

To put this volume of downloads in context, STM compared them other media downloaded. As this infographic shows, downloads of one of the world’s most popular video games – Grand Theft Auto V- managed 130m after seven years, whilst sales of the blockbuster Da Vinci Code book are currently running at 80 million.

As well as making research papers freely available, publishers have given rights for deep-dive data mining using artificial intelligence through open, interoperable systems such as Crossref and other aggregate solutions.

STM CEO Ian Moss says the initiative by publishers is a mark of their commitment to co-operation in times of crisis: 'They all acted swiftly without hesitation to help shed light on this pandemic and ultimately save lives. Speed is vital when dealing with a crisis such as Covid-19. The faster that science is published - the faster that treatments, therapies and potential vaccines can be developed. But speed must be balanced against accuracy and publishers have taken no shortcuts in ensuring that articles conform to rigorous peer review. Above all else, it’s imperative that science remains trusted.'

Work on releasing Covid-19 data started in January when publishers built and deployed coronavirus resource hubs with immediate access to resources. On January 30, STM wrote to all its members to coordinate and broaden the wider efforts to make relevant research quickly and freely available. On February 10 STM deployed  a Covid-19 resource page. As of 15 April 2020, 30 STM members had submitted links to resources and freely available content.

Publishers are still working closely with policymakers and repository providers across Europe and the United States to make these resources available. In addition, publishers are collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAST) and WHO to negotiate access to Chinese research literature for the organisation’s Covid-19 database. As a member of the WHO’s newly formed ‘Evidence Collaborative’ publishers are ensuring that information retrieval, analysis and the dissemination of research on Covid-19 is conducted with robust and consistently sound methodologies.

Co-operation within the publishing community is not a new phenomenon. Although competitors, publishers share a common purpose to advance knowledge which transcends commercial concerns. Whilst their response to Covid-19 stands as on example of how the publishing industry regularly collaborates effectively it does not just do so at times of crisis. Publishers continually work together to serve society by ensuing that research is of the highest quality, trustworthy and easy to access.

The publishing community is committed to helping combat Covid-19. It is only through significant investments in essential infrastructure that publishers have been able to offer researchers the full range and potential of their systems and solutions. These have enhanced researcher’s abilities to address the global health crisis and aid the global response to the pandemic.

Matt McKay is director of communications at the International Association of STM Publishers

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