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Corona: 87,000 publications in ten months

Forum Science Corona: 87,000 publications in ten months

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    Corona: 87,000 publications in ten months

    In the first ten months of the corona pandemic alone, a good 87,000 specialist articles on Covid-19 and Sars-CoV-2 appeared – that is more than on any other topic in such a short time. The high number of publications reflects the enormous number of research teams currently devoted to this topic. Scientists from China, the USA and Great Britain are most heavily involved, while the trend is towards smaller, less international teams.

    The corona pandemic also caught medical research off guard: Because Sars-CoV-2 has jumped from the animal kingdom to humans, hardly anything was known about this corona virus and its effects. The need for research was and is correspondingly high. Research teams around the world are looking for therapies against Covid-19 and vaccines, but are also researching the behavior of the virus, its mutations and the consequences and long-term effects of Covid-19.

    In this respect, it is hardly surprising that the intensive research activity has also produced a veritable glut of specialist articles on the subject – both in peer-reviewed journals and on preprint platforms. Xiaojing Cai from Zhejiang University and two US colleagues investigated how many publications there have been so far and from whom they come.

    Unprecedented number of publications

    The result: from January to October 2020 alone, more than 87,000 specialist articles on Sars-CoV-2 and Covid-19 were published worldwide. Coronavirus publications started with 4,875 articles by April 2020, then their number rose to 44,013 by July 2020 and then reached 87,515 at the beginning of October. For comparison: the trend topic nanotechnology took 19 years to go from 4,000 to around 90,000 publications.

    “That’s an astonishing number of publications – it could be unprecedented in the history of science,” says co-author Caroline Wagner of Ohio State University. “Almost the entire scientific community around the world has focused its attention on this one topic.” A reinforcing factor was the fact that more money was flowing into corona research and that specialist journals were working on the submitted manuscripts more quickly.

    Publications develop parallel to the number of infections

    Also interesting: the researchers found a clear connection between the number of infections in the countries and their scientific output. At the beginning of the pandemic, 47 percent of all publications came from China. However, as of April 2020, publications from the USA and Europe increased steadily. After the number of infections in China fell drastically, publications from this country made up only around 16 percent from July to October 2020.

    The team noticed similar trends in other countries. “We attribute this to two possible reasons: one is the increased need for information and data during an acute outbreak, the second reason could be the increased funding of research by governments during these times,” write Cai and her colleagues. As the threat in the countries subsided, so too did production.

    Research teams are getting smaller

    However, another trend in corona research was surprising: In the course of the pandemic, the research teams became smaller and the lists of authors on the specialist articles became shorter and shorter. “That was unexpected,” said the researchers. Because in view of the increasingly complex questions and the more extensive amounts of data, they would have expected that the teams would rather expand.

    “We attribute this to the need for quick results,” says Wagner. In smaller teams, organization is easier and less time is needed for coordination and communication.

    Less international cooperation

    Also interesting: The international networking of the research groups also changed both compared to the pre-Covid era and during the pandemic. In the first few months, collaborations between Chinese and US teams dominated the published research. Then there were cross-border projects with other nations such as Italy, France and India. Overall, however, there was a trend towards less international teams.

    According to the researchers, possible reasons for this are the travel restrictions during the corona pandemic, but also political influences. In April, for example, China introduced a regulation according to which all specialist articles must be checked by the government before publication – a procedure that few foreign scientists are likely to put up with. Conversely, there was an increased distrust of Chinese research in the USA because of the generally frosty political relations. (Scientometrics, 2021; doi: 10.1007 / s11192-021-03873-7)

    Source: Ohio State University

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Forum Science Corona: 87,000 publications in ten months