The intense research effort on Covid-19 resulted, in the spring, by an explosion in the number of preprints, that is to say of deposits on databases of scientific articles not yet published in journals – after peer review. After this wave, we are witnessing a reflux, notes John Inglis (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory), co-founder of two of these bases, BioRxiv and MedRxiv, where there are more than 8,000 articles devoted to the new coronavirus and its effects.
The summer vacation may be one explanation for the slowing pace of article submissions, but the editor sees other explanations. “University closures and limits on childcare assistance have made scientific research in all fields more difficult,” John Inglis notes. On the other hand, eight months after the start of the mobilization of researchers, “We now know a lot, so that new information on all these subjects is produced more slowly”. And scientists who are not directly specialists in the field, who have come as reinforcements in the fight against Covid, may have refocused on their main research subject, the one for which they are funded and evaluated.
Finally, John Inglis notes that, in the spring, some preprints were content to share observations and data as soon as they were available to help better understand the pandemic, in an emergency. Today, “Scientists may be waiting longer to report their most recent results, spending more time expanding data sets, or performing more in-depth analysis before writing their conclusions.”, he says.
Can we expect a second wave of preprints if the epidemic rebounds? Maybe we will attend “To a certain increase as the epidemiologists record their observations on the course of the pandemic this winter”. But he would be surprised if the level of preprints linked to the pandemic “Returned to the April and May summits”.
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