Coronavirus is forcing medical research to speed up

The strength of traditional academic journals, compared with other means of broadcasting scientific knowledge, is that they have the expertise to interrogate the validity of highly specialized experimental methods and the accuracy of the resulting data — and also make the importance of new findings clearer in context. That means getting relevant experts to review papers, which is especially difficult when dealing with a novel pathogen. Many of those who have gained expertise in Covid-19 are also in the thick of trying to stop it. “What we can say with confidence is the best available evidence is what’s coming through the journals,” Nosek says. “But the best available evidence is far, far short of certainty,” he adds — and the decisions that we make about the evidence have “to embrace the uncertainty.”

To make potentially life-or-death research available as quickly as possible, many publishers of elite journals with hefty paywalls, including Science, The Lancet, JAMA and The New England Journal of Medicine, have made coronavirus content free online. Thorp says he and others have also encouraged researchers to post their submissions to so-called preprint servers, where anyone can access them, before review. “Then, we’re not deciding whether the world should or should not have the information,” he says. “What we’re deciding is whether this is an important part of the scientific record that should have the endorsement of our peer-review process.”

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