The COVID-19 pandemic has only been an even greater motivation to make science more open, transparent and accessible.
Gitter recalls its collaboration with Manubot, the tool to help the catalog of scientific publications in real time during the pandemic.
“We are in a crisis, use the tools and the knowledge we have to make real progress,” he says. “This is the main, and perhaps the only objective. The openness really helped speed things up.
The explosion of scientific literature related to COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 – over 50,000 articles in PubMed over the course of a year – has made it clear that scientists around the world are eager and ready to collaborate and to share their knowledge.
Many began immediately publishing the first manuscripts on preprint servers. These online databases contain research articles and scholarly articles that have not yet gone through the scientific peer review process (the “gold standard” for academic publication).
And that change wasn’t necessarily a bad thing at all, Gitter adds.
“A lot of people like me think preprint servers are science-wise,” he says. “It’s one way we should share our work and get feedback early on. “
Stewart, who leads a team of data scientists and helped with the Albany Medical collaboration, said the shift to preprints and data sharing has been immediate and swift in his field.
“When I started in science, people kept it all quiet because they didn’t want to be trapped,” he says. “Now the attitude is, ‘let’s put it on bioRxiv so we can claim our right! “”
In a pandemic dominated by disinformation, it is possible that preprints or early manuscripts inadvertently contributed to the explosion of inaccurate, misleading or false data or claims.
But among the research and academic communities, it just hasn’t worked in the pandemic, Gitter says. In fact, the explosion of preprints linked to the pandemic has shown that the system is working.
“Scientists rebutted very loudly some of the claims about the evolution of the virus and the origins of the virus that were not scientifically founded,” said Gitter, recalling the first months of the pandemic in 2020. “The disinformation was there, but it did not linger and spread too long.
But for Stewart, preprints are only part of the science. The most integral part is collaboration, like bringing his team’s expertise in RNA sequencing at a time when clinicians in New York State needed it most.
“I need collaborators, because I’m just an IT person,” Stewart laughs, pointing to one of his many monitors around his desk. “I need people who will help me test predictions and work with me to refine the biological validity of the algorithms we are developing.
For Schwartz, the message is (and was) clear, even before the pandemic: Great ideas come from collaboration and working together. The pandemic has underscored how much the scientific community needs it.