Open Science in Times of Corona

How research has changed through the pandemic 

Let’s talk about the movement towards connected and open science that has happened and is still happening right now due to the pandemic that the corona virus brought upon us. You may have noticed as well that research has started to stretch its boundaries remarkably in the presence of the virus. Facing death, the fear of losing people close to your heart and the threat of our very own existential foundations has turned not only our personal but the economic and scientific world upside down. 

Open Science in times of Corona

It is evident that the more data researchers can access, the more quickly they can understand the virus and develop therapies and vaccines. Studies about the virus skyrocketed and within months, researchers from all different parts of the world were cooperating. The corona crisis highlights once more the crucial role of international collaboration on the frontiers of science 1 and the need to promote openness in access to data and outcomes of research. 

Open science networks are nothing new even though the necessity of an universal academic movement towards free, worldwide access to knowledge is still in its infancy. Open science is about breaking down walls, creating transparency and enabling collaboration and can be seen as a commonly shared moral system among researchers. Normally, academic personnel just do not have access to all publications. Here, light is shed on the power behind the act of combining knowledge in order to find the solution of a worldwide problem. 

Hence current open science initiatives have been a reason for this enormous acceleration of research about every facet of the coronavirus, where time is an important variable. Unfortunately, fast research does not necessarily mean good research. As advantageous as this movement toward sharing data and working on something bigger than us is, there are some downsides that need to be kept in mind.

Disadvantages of accelerated research 

The increase of publications about Covid-19 2 may bring some disadvantages regarding research quality, thoroughness of methods, representativeness of samples, and data bias. Undetected errors or faulty results due to a lack of review are possible and even happened already, you can see an example here3. Many studies investigating Covid-19 are ad-hoc studies that use methods that are known to show errors in comparison to long term studies because of the lack of present information. Furthermore, researchers across the world have reached a point where the amount of publications is too vast to oversee.

There have been attempts to solve this problem by providing online data sharing platforms like 4 to map out papers about the virus and their quality. Nature 5 has published tips on how to handle the data sharing during these demanding times like providing metadata overly cautious and to make sure that the context of collected data is understood thoroughly. 

Cautious approach in every research field 

Speaking on a psychological level, the problems caused by the pandemic are not easy to control rationally because of its high emotional compound, death. Studying the effects of corona on emotional, social and behavioural may now be especially tempting for us psychologists. Enhanced curiosity for new knowledge in (clinical) populations during these exceptional times is obvious but caution regarding accelerated research needs to be considered as well. 

This pandemic naturally opens up discussions on many essential topics considering that we as humans feel more or less threatened: for instance, the heightened awareness and lack of an holistic understanding of the process and subject matter, the question of credibility and whom to trust and the exploitation by bad actors. Furthermore, questions about research and the power of human curiosity and intelligence, the question of money and funders, questions about politics, freedom and fundamental needs might be posed.

The effort that has already been invested to find solutions to these problems is impressive. In order to continue on this path of open science and empathy I think that we should all take a minute and think about the potential that researchers around the world could have if this connectedness rests upon us after this crisis is over.




Anna Köstler

Anna just finished her master's studies in psychology at the University of Vienna. For her thesis she studied neural correlates of empathy in the brain and is aiming to follow her interest in neuroscience, clinical psychology, sleep and science communication. Traveling, friends, making music and writing keep her busy during leisure time.

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