Message from the Board President
At the beginning of this month I co-chaired a meeting for the publishing component group of the Council of Medical Specialty Societies (CMSS) where we considered the impact of COVID-19 on the scientific publishing industry. Although the pandemic is not even six months old, it has already made its mark on our field and will likely continue to do so for months and perhaps years to come.
The group of publishing professionals who attended the CMSS meeting spoke about the effects of COVID-19 on peer-review policies and procedures, noting that many journals are curtailing requests for additional experiments, suspending time limits on revisions, and accelerating the review and publication of SARS-CoV-2 research. In some cases, journals are waiving article processing charges for such research. We also discussed how COVID-19 will affect research output. Will it increase? Will it decrease because of lab closures and reduced research funding? Clearly journals that review SARS-CoV-2 research will see a jump in submissions – and it’s not just infectious disease journals – other specialties are seeing this research too, including hematology, cardiology, neurology, gastroenterology, and oncology. A graph from the March 26 edition of Nature demonstrates this influx. In just two months’ time, the number of submissions of coronavirus research tripled. You can see that the jump in preprints was even greater.
Speaking of preprints, our group debated their value during the pandemic. We acknowledged their ability to accelerate the dissemination of research around COVID-19, providing essential data relevant to the pandemic. But we also remarked on their downsides – the potential to promote false information, the development of policies around misleading or inaccurate information, and their power to sow public panic.
Interestingly, it seems as though some think the pandemic has reminded us of the value of peer-reviewed journals. In an April 30 article in Research Information, Mark Carden, chairman of the Researcher to Reader Conference, states “And, yes, in our own scholarly communications world, we currently appreciate the rapid global scientific response to this pandemic, with new coronavirus article preprints appearing every few hours. But we still value credibility, expertise and reputation, that has been slowly developed through a complex trust network.” To support this thought, a search on PubMed shows us that just since December of last year, nearly 11,000 articles related to COVID-19 have been published in the scientific literature.
Finally, the CMSS group considered perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of all of this – the economic cloud that is resulting in lab closures, layoffs, furloughs, and a potential downturn in commercial advertising for journals. While many of us may consider ourselves lucky to work in an industry that can function via remote work, we still face uncertain financial consequences.
What changes have you seen as a result of COVID-19 in your editorial offices? Have you adjusted procedures and policies? Have you seen a flood of submissions or are you experiencing a dry spell as research funding has contracted and scientists have been shut out of their labs or forced to the front lines if they are also clinicians? Has your journal changed its view on preprints? Has your organization been forced to issue layoffs or furloughs? I’d love to hear from you and learn from the collective wisdom of our membership about how you’re dealing with this – please join me on our Discussion Forum to share your thoughts and experiences.
Apropos of learning from our community during this time, ISMTE President-Elect, Meghan McDevitt, has compiled a collection of testimonials in this month’s issue of EON of how ISMTE members are coping with physical distancing, balancing childcare and schooling, and modifying editorial office/peer-review workflows. And for those of you who need some tips on managing those endless Zoom calls you’re having, co-editor of EON, Lindsey Brounstein, has put together a helpful overview of the video conferencing platform in this month’s “Taming Technology” column.We’re all experiencing change in the industry right now – in different ways, spanning multiple areas, and to varying degrees. But it seems as though we all wish the same thing (as is evidenced by how we often end our emails), so I’ll say it here: Stay safe and stay well.