Thankfully, there are a few sources that are doing a stellar job at this. In this post, I’d like to point out three important and trusted sources that might suffice the needs of most researchers, doctors, government authorities, and the general public.
The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is an obvious source for some of the most reliable and definitive information from across the globe. WHO now has a special section on the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. The page has a host of sources that provide information on the current situation worldwide, online training resources, videos, travel advice, and the latest updates from across the globe.
Third, Atypon has done a brilliant job at aggregating information from across the globe on the coronavirus. Atypon has launched the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Special Edition feed that aggregates information from over 30,000 authoritative sources across the Internet. The real-time feed includes latest peer-reviewed research, preprints, and the latest news on the novel coronavirus outbreak.
I’m hoping this should help a lot of authorities and people get verified information on the global coronavirus pandemic. In case you know of any other verified sources that can be useful for specific audiences, do share details through the comments section.
Science communication is ripe for a paradigm change, and newer content formats might have a role to play. This probably hasn’t been more evident than now given the situation around the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
As I type this sentence, there are a total of 119,134 confirmed coronavirus cases* worldwide. Mainland China has detected 80,958 cases, half of whom have already recovered. South Korea (7,755), Italy (10,149), and Iran (8,042) are the new epicentres with the maximum number of cases outside China. And how, you may ask, do I know about these exact figures at a glance? This is courtesy of the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases dashboard hosted by Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Then, this simple graphic by Sara Chodosh posted on Popular Science shows how measles, smallpox, rubella, mumps, and SARS are much more contagious than coronavirus (COVID-19)! Now that’s the power of an infographic! (It should be noted that this doesn’t imply that measles is more fatal; it’s just that the world has dealt with diseases that are far more contagious, and the real challenge with the coronavirus is finding the right treatment and cure.)
Necessity of Reliable Data Flow
What needs to be noted here is that dashboards such as the one hosted by John Hopkins are possible only if reliable data flows in unhindered. Authorities across the world have been providing access to local data on the epidemic on a regular basis. In addition, the world’s top scholarly publishers such as Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, and SAGE Publishing have all announced immediate open access publishing of data and findings on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Nature has gone ahead and launched Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview—an open-source platform for rapid review of preprints related to emerging outbreaks—with support from the London-based charity Wellcome. All these efforts will go a long way in the effective treatment of patients and in helping the entire world emerge out of this crisis.
On a related note, several leading preprint servers such as bioRxiv, medRxiv, and ChemRxiv too have seen a surge in the number of preprint submissions related to the novel coronavirus. But given that preprints are not peer-reviewed, some of the material lacks scientific rigour, and some has already been exposed as flawed, or plain wrong, and has been withdrawn, writes Kate Kelland from Reuters as she discusses the risks of swiftly spreading coronavirus research.
Furthermore, several language editing companies have gone ahead to offer free editing services to all manuscripts related to the novel coronavirus.
The free availability of reliable research data has helped various authorities and doctors battling the situation to present the public with easy-to-understand handouts for dispelling notions and preventing the outbreak from further deteriorating.
The Real-life Impact of Science Communication
Hundreds of thousands of people have been able to make swift decisions around their travel plans and decision-makers at all levels have been able to respond with urgency AND clarity. Conferences have been cancelled at the last minute, and the entire conference circuit has taken a beating. Imagine the disaster if reliable data wasn’t presented in easily consumable formats, and these huge conferences had continued on schedule.
What can be the real-life impact if science communication available in the right format is actioned on in the appropriate manner? Check out this Op-ed on Why Vietnam has been the world’s number one country in dealing with coronavirus. Which is why I feel that science communication is ripe for a paradigm change, and newer content formats will have a role to play. More power to science communication!
Scholarly publishing, meant for driving discovery and innovation, has ironically lacked innovation in terms of publishing and dissemination. The consumption of even cutting-edge research has been largely limited to the traditional long-form journal article with the odd article in the newspaper, as opposed to impacting society in the ways it was perhaps meant to.
While it is important that research published in journals doesn’t stray from what we know and are familiar with, the fact is that the format in which it is presented has largely remained the same for a while now. And, this does call for some thinking. For example, the need for limiting the number of articles in each issue seems at odds with how the consumption of published research largely happens online. But, that discussion is for another time. The focus here is research discoverability.
Although newer formats such as infographics and videos can supplement, as opposed to replacing the “research manuscript,” they could also potentially help researchers to zero in on the specific aspects of their work. A good infographic, for example, can summarize an entire research paper and be consumed much faster than a 6000-word manuscript.
In other words, a researcher could browse through, say, 20 infographics much faster than the same number of manuscripts to decide on which study is more allied with their research interests.
The tweet below shows how a well-done infographic can visually summarize a study effectively. The key is to use the right keywords and graphical design elements and keep the target audience in mind when designing the infographic.
The use of newer effective formats in research communication might aid in enhancing the discoverability of more relevant studies for researchers, especially those working in multidisciplinary fields. Infographics can help highlight the relevance of a finding, which is a lever of discoverability. There could be various other tools that could potentially be employed to influence various other levers of discoverability.
Think of why posters are used in conferences instead of a snapshot of an abstract? It’s because visual and animated formats go a long way in not only communicating research and engaging the general public and audiences from associated fields but also help with the consumption of research output.
On a separate but related note, abstracts have seen some level of innovation with the emergence of graphical abstracts, video abstracts, and tweetable abstracts, to name a few. Importantly, abstracts are central to the discoverability of a study. These newer formats might have enhanced discoverability, but there is scope for improvement.
Video abstracts, for example, serve as “audio-visual summaries” of not just the abstract but the entire research paper along with practical applications. Examples of such video summaries are already out there in the public domain. This video on habitual toe-walking in children is a personal favorite.
I found this video to be particularly interesting because my nephew had this nagging habit of toe-walking and wouldn’t give it up! We were all concerned about how this habit would affect the development of his ankles. This video was quite reassuring, and as it turns out, my nephew did spontaneously cease toe-walking by the time he was 10! In short, this video is just one example of how more visual representations of research output can touch lives around the globe.
Video summaries of high-impact research papers or projects could even include the proposed impact on society and show how a study has achieved its goals in terms of making a difference to the world we live in.
This, in turn, would help enhance the “real-world impact” of research. Moreover, easy-to-understand research summaries encourage dissemination beyond the realms of traditional stakeholders within the scientific community. Dr. Pavlo Basilinskyy’s research on helping cars talk better to humans is a very good example of how video summaries can be employed to help funders effectively publicize the impact of the research they sponsor.
In one of my conversations with David Wojick, a veteran consultant in the scholarly publishing industry, he mentioned that for these newer formats to gain more popularity and acceptance, they would have to be highly standardized—just as journal articles are—so people can quickly find the information they are looking for. Standardization could indeed be an indication of the maturity of new formats.
That said, it’ll be a while for these newer formats to gain a foothold in science communication. But given how these newer formats make a considerable difference when it comes to communicating real-life impact, it might be safe to say that science communication is ripe for a paradigm change. Exciting times ahead!
This is the first in a series of articles that discuss the various issues plaguing the discoverability of #research worldwide.
In the past year, “Open Access” has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the scholarly publishing industry. The announcement of guidelines for Plan S, responses from various stakeholders, and the resulting amendments have dominated the discourse for several months. In essence, the proponents of Open Access have been toiling hard to free scholarly publishing from the clutches of paywalls in the interest of democratizing access to science. But even the elimination of all paywalls might not solve the problem of discoverability of research completely.
There is a school of thought that contests the fact that there might be more factors than just mere paywalls that limit the reach and discovery of scientific content. Toby Green, ex-COO at OECD Publishing, while commenting on Open Access on the OSI listserv, offers the opinion that “One part of the Open Access debate has always made me uncomfortable: the assumption that the biggest barrier to being read is a paywall.”
This tweet by Roger Schonfeld, Director – Libraries, Scholarly Publishing, and Museums at Ithaka S+R, points to a study on the time spent by researchers for searching articles. The study in question was conducted by Elsevier and Sense about Science and has revealed surprising statistics that researchers now spend almost as much time searching for articles as actually reading them!
On average, researchers spend just over four hours searching for research articles a week and more than five hours reading them. More intriguingly, between 2011 and 2019, researchers have been reading 10% fewer articles but are spending 11% more time finding articles. The full article by Adrian Mulligan elaborating on this study can be read here on Research Information.
Further, with the exponentially increasing global research output and an increasing amount of research going Open Access, this problem is sure to exacerbate. The sheer number of results each search would deliver would be proportionately higher, and sifting through them would take longer than ever before. For example, recently, the American Chemical Society, the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (German Chemical Society), and the Royal Society of Chemistry announced their partnership with the Chinese Chemical Society and the Chemical Society of Japan as co-owners to support the strategic and financial development of ChemRxiv, the premier preprint server for the global chemistry community.
Massive preprint servers, such as these, should make things easier for researchers, in that they wouldn’t have to search through dozens of different preprint servers. But would that really make things easier in terms of the time spent to zero in onto the right literature and reading it thoroughly to gauge relevance and impact remains to be seen. Imagine how much time authors would spend searching and shortlisting the right literature in such a massive database. In addition, if this leads to search and citation behavior that John Warner points out in this tweet, then these preprint consortiums of sorts might have to deal with a new problem.
The important point to be noted here is that publishing formats within scholarly publishing haven’t kept pace with the exponential increase in the number of papers being published worldwide. In the past few decades, scholarly publishing has witnessed the emergence of newer distribution platforms and channels through the Internet. But the basic output format—a text-heavy research article—has remained largely unchanged.
Hence, the Open Access movement might solve the issue of restricted access, but that alone might not enable scientists to make the most of access to research from around the globe. The need of the hour is for stakeholders in the scholarly publishing industry to complement Open Access with a focus on newer formats of research communication to enhance the discoverability of research. Better discoverability might help in driving more collaborations globally and give researchers more time to do what actually matters — more cutting-edge research!
Please share your views in the comments section below.