Open doors with social distance - research opens up during Covid-19 pandemic

by Open Science Group - Nikolai Hörmann, Cornelia van Scherpenberg & Rashi Goel

Covid-19 has thrown the world off balance causing a pandemic, a global shutdown and impacting each and every one of us. This requires a collaborative effort from everyone to make behavioral concessions which impact our regular social interactions. The best solution to return to our previous lifestyles is to build up herd immunity within the population, requiring about 70% of the population to become immune to Covid-19 [1]. The biggest effort lies in not overwhelming the healthcare system in the process to protect the people who are in the high risk groups.

This pandemic poses certain short and long-term challenges that need to be addressed. Within the next weeks, it is necessary to develop quick, reliable tests for Covid-19, allowing efficient isolation of contaminated patients and asymptomatic carriers. Furthermore, we need to provide sufficient personal protective equipment to healthcare workers and ventilators for severely affected patients. In the long term, it is necessary to find medication against the disease and develop a vaccine for Covid-19. 

These challenges require fast-acting, precise research, making widespread access to available information on Covid-19 a central factor for progress. For years, the open science movement has been trying to accomplish this goal. Covid-19 now highlights how important open science practices are for research and possibly also accelerates the transition to follow them on an international level.

First of all, open access to data and knowledge (this might seem obvious) is really important. No matter how successful an experiment or equipment is, if it is not freely available, it cannot contribute to solving the current problems. Luckily, the publishers of scientific journals [2] and engineers designing DIY face masks [3] or make-shift ventilators [4,5] have taken the necessary steps to make their resources accessible to everyone. Publishers have also created online platforms dedicated to information on Covid-19 and agreed to keep the articles open access as long as this pandemic lasts. 

Once robust experimental conditions are ensured, the results need to be shared. The Open Science practices recommend uploading papers to preprint servers as soon as the authors feel comfortable enough to share their results with the scientific community. The prominent preprint servers bioRxiv and medRxiv currently feature 1455 preprints on Covid-19 (as of 11.04.2020, 3pm [6]). This shows how fast findings can be communicated to other researchers accelerating the exchange of scientific findings. Especially, since recent studies did not find drastic changes to the main messages of published journal articles compared to their respective preprints [7,8]. However, since the manuscripts are not peer-reviewed it is still essential to critically assess their validity. Additionally, scientific journals and reviewers on their part are making adjustments for the Covid-19 related research to speed up the peer-review process and publish relevant articles quickly.

In addition to sharing the manuscript itself, proponents of open science suggest sharing supporting data and programming/statistical code used in the analyses. Transparency is important in the context of the current pandemic, as it allows research laboratories from all over the world to work on the same topic in a collaborative effort. Data-sharing platforms have been established to collect research information and data for modeling potential progressions of this Covid-19 pandemic [9,10,11]. 

Another suggestion is to grant open access to archived articles and chapters related to virology, crisis, crisis management, epidemiology, related public policy and psychology. This would allow computational researchers and mathematicians to improve their predictions of the current crisis[12]. 

Lastly, open science aims to advance the reproducibility of research. An experiment is reproducible if any researcher with the required resources (chemicals, computing power etc.) can obtain the same outcome when following the original study’s protocol step by step. Publishing false positive results on Covid-19 could mislead researchers and waste valuable time and resources which are needed to develop drugs, vaccines, or lifesaving equipment. Consequently, being able to rely on published experiments instead of troubleshooting them becomes crucial in fighting this pandemic. While reducing the time needed from results to publication is paramount in the current crisis, it is still necessary to conduct research rigorously, especially since lives may depend on it. 

Altogether, this inclusive and open research culture in medical research is setting a positive trend, which will hopefully catch on to other scientific fields and improve the current system [13]. Apart from the benefit to the larger scientific community, open science promotes the careers of individual researchers by increasing their visibility [14]. Especially, but not only during this crisis, it is important that everyone involved in research uses open science practices and joins forces to address this pandemic as it concerns us all. At this point in time, fast flow of important information could literally save lives!








  7. Klein M, Broadwell P, Farb SE, et al. Comparing published scientific journal articles to their pre-print versions. Int J Digit Libr20, 2019;335–350. doi:

  8. Goodman SN, Berlin J, Fletcher SW, et al. Manuscript Quality before and after Peer Review and Editing at Annals of Internal Medicine. Ann Intern Med. 1994;121:11–21. doi:






  14. Fraser N, Momeni F, Mayr P, Peters I. The effect of bioRxiv preprints on citations and altmetrics. bioRxiv 673665 2019. doi:

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