The impact of COVID-19 on the debate on open science: An analysis of expert opinion

Auteurs/Authors : Melanie Benson Marshall,  Stephen Pinfield, Pamela Abbott, Andrew Cox, Juan Pablo Alperin,  Natascha Chtena, Isabelle Dorsch, Alice Fleerackers, Monique Oliveira,
Isabella Peters

This study is an analysis of the international debate on open science that took place during the pandemic. It addresses the question, how did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the debate on open science?

The study takes the form of a qualitative analysis of a large corpus of key articles, editorials, blogs and thought pieces about the impact of COVID on open science, published during the pandemic in English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The findings show that many authors believed that it was clear that the experience of the pandemic had illustrated or strengthened the case for open science, with language such as a “stress test”, “catalyst”, “revolution” or “tipping point” frequently used. It was commonly believed that open science had played a positive role in the response to the pandemic, creating a clear ‘line of sight’ between open science and societal benefits.

Whilst the arguments about open science deployed in the debate were not substantially new, the focuses of debate changed in some key respects. There was much less attention given to business models for open access and critical perspectives on open science, but open data sharing, preprinting, information quality and misinformation became most prominent in debates. There were also moves to reframe open science conceptually, particularly in connecting science with society and addressing broader questions of equity.

The impact of COVID-19 on the debate on open science: An analysis of expert opinion


The neglect of equity and inclusion in open science policies of Europe and the Americas

Authors : Natascha Chtena, Juan Pablo Alperin, Esteban Morales, Alice Fleerackers, Isabelle Dorsch, Stephen Pinfield, Marc-André Simard

National, international, and organizational Open Science (OS) policies are being formulated to improve and accelerate research through increased transparency, collaboration, and better access to scientific knowledge.

Yet, there is mounting concern that OS policies—which are predicated on narrow understandings of openness, accessibility, and objectivity—do not effectively capture the ethos of OS and particularly its goal of making science more collaborative, inclusive, and socially engaged.

This study explores how OS is conceptualized in emerging OS policies and to what extent notions of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and public participation are reflected in policy guidelines and recommendations. We use a qualitative document research approach to critically analyze 52 OS policy documents published between January 2020 and December 2022 in Europe and the Americas.

Our results show that OS policies overwhelmingly focus on making research outputs publicly accessible, neglecting to advance the two aspects of OS that hold the key to achieving an inclusive and inclusive scientific culture—namely, EDI and public participation. While these concepts are often mentioned and even embraced in OS policy documents, concrete guidance on how they can be promoted in practice is overwhelmingly lacking.

Rather than advancing the openness of scientific findings first and promoting EDI and public participation efforts second, we argue that incentives and guidelines must be provided and implemented concurrently to advance the OS movement’s stated goal of making science open to all.

URL : The neglect of equity and inclusion in open science policies of Europe and the Americas


Making science public: a review of journalists’ use of Open Science research

Authors : Alice Fleerackers, Natascha Chten, Stephen Pinfield, Juan Pablo Alperin, Germana Barata, Monique Oliveira, Isabella Peters

Science journalists are uniquely positioned to increase the societal impact of open science by contextualizing and communicating research findings in ways that highlight their relevance and implications for non-specialist audiences.

Through engagement with and coverage of open research outputs, journalists can help align the ideals of openness, transparency, and accountability with the wider public sphere and its democratic potential.

Yet, it is unclear to what degree journalists use open research outputs in their reporting, what factors motivate or constrain this use, and how the recent surge in openly available research seen during the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the relationship between open science and science journalism.

This literature review thus examines journalists’ use of open research outputs, specifically open access publications and preprints. We focus on literature published from 2018 onwards—particularly literature relating to the COVID-19 pandemic—but also include seminal articles outside the search dates.

We find that, despite journalists’ potential to act as critical brokers of open access knowledge, their use of open research outputs is hampered by an overreliance on traditional criteria for evaluating scientific quality; concerns about the trustworthiness of open research outputs; and challenges using and verifying the findings.

We also find that, while the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged journalists to explore open research outputs such as preprints, the extent to which these explorations will become established journalistic practices remains unclear.

Furthermore, we note that current research is overwhelmingly authored and focused on the Global North, and the United States specifically.

Finally, given the dearth of research in this area, we conclude with recommendations for future research that attend to issues of equity and diversity, and more explicitly examine the intersections of open science and science journalism.

URL : Making science public: a review of journalists’ use of Open Science research


Science in motion: A qualitative analysis of journalists’ use and perception of preprints

Authors : Alice Fleerackers, Laura L. Moorhead, Lauren A. Maggio, Kaylee Fagan, Juan Pablo Alperin

This qualitative study explores how and why journalists use preprints—unreviewed research papers—in their reporting. Through thematic analysis of interviews conducted with 19 health and science journalists in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it applies a theoretical framework that conceptualizes COVID-19 preprint research as a form of post-normal science, characterized by high scientific uncertainty and societal relevance, urgent need for political decision-making, and value-related policy considerations.

Findings suggest that journalists approach the decision to cover preprints as a careful calculation, in which the potential public benefits and the ease of access preprints provided were weighed against risks of spreading misinformation.

Journalists described viewing unreviewed studies with extra skepticism and relied on diverse strategies to find, vet, and report on them. Some of these strategies represent standard science journalism, while others, such as labeling unreviewed studies as preprints, mark a departure from the norm. However, journalists also reported barriers to covering preprints, as many felt they lacked the expertise or the time required to fully understand or vet the research.

The findings suggest that coverage of preprints is likely to continue post-pandemic, with important implications for scientists, journalists, and the publics who read their work.

URL : Science in motion: A qualitative analysis of journalists’ use and perception of preprints


Communicating Scientific Uncertainty in an Age of COVID-19: An Investigation into the Use of Preprints by Digital Media Outlets

Authors : Alice Fleerackers, Michelle Riedlinger, Laura Moorhead, Rukhsana Ahmed, Juan Pablo Alperin

In this article, we investigate the surge in use of COVID-19-related preprints by media outlets. Journalists are a main source of reliable public health information during crises and, until recently, journalists have been reluctant to cover preprints because of the associated scientific uncertainty.

Yet, uploads of COVID-19 preprints and their uptake by online media have outstripped that of preprints about any other topic. Using an innovative approach combining altmetrics methods with content analysis, we identified a diversity of outlets covering COVID-19-related preprints during the early months of the pandemic, including specialist medical news outlets, traditional news media outlets, and aggregators.

We found a ubiquity of hyperlinks as citations and a multiplicity of framing devices for highlighting the scientific uncertainty associated with COVID-19 preprints. These devices were rarely used consistently (e.g., mentioning that the study was a preprint, unreviewed, preliminary, and/or in need of verification).

About half of the stories we analyzed contained framing devices emphasizing uncertainty. Outlets in our sample were much less likely to identify the research they mentioned as preprint research, compared to identifying it as simply “research.” This work has significant implications for public health communication within the changing media landscape.

While current best practices in public health risk communication promote identifying and promoting trustworthy sources of information, the uptake of preprint research by online media presents new challenges.

At the same time, it provides new opportunities for fostering greater awareness of the scientific uncertainty associated with health research findings.