Johns Hopkins University Press

The need to understand and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic presented an enormous stress test for scientists and for scientific research. The need for rapid access to the latest COVID-19 research highlighted a number of longstanding shortcomings in scholarly publishing, most notably delayed publication of scientific findings and barriers to access for both readers and authors to fee-charging journals. During the global health crisis, innovations were made in scholarly publishing toward greater openness, such as accelerated peer review processes and increased use of preprints. However, different stakeholders across the scientific community will need to make a concerted effort to ensure that the openness fostered during the pandemic contributes to long-lasting change in scholarly publishing.

the covid-19 pandemic and resulting containment measures created an unprecedented "stress test" for science. The emergence of a novel coronavirus, with life-threatening consequences for many populations globally, meant that the results of new scientific research and potential solutions for containing and treating the pandemic were urgently needed. The scientific community responded en masse. Within 10 months of the first confirmed COVID-19 case, over 125,000 research articles were released; of these, more than 30,000 research outputs had been posted as "preprints," available before peer review or formal publication in a journal (Fraser et al. 2021). The pandemic prompted an avalanche of new papers, with more than 530,000 released either by journals or as preprints, according to the Dimensions bibliometric database. It fed the largest one-year increase in all scholarly articles and the largest ever annual total (Brainard 2021).

As the demand for new findings about the virus accelerated, the process of carrying out scientific research was in many cases disrupted by national lockdowns and remote working measures. Against [End Page 127] this backdrop, there was an increased need for scientific collaboration across geographic boundaries and for an accelerated sharing of research findings among scientists and with policymakers and other stakeholders in a remarkably wide range of disciplines, not just healthcare sectors.

The combined need for rapid international sharing of results and for many different actors to be able to access those results highlighted the limitations of traditional scholarly publishing and gave new impetus to the development and uptake of tools for open science. Researchers—along with many research funders and scholarly publishers—responded to this need by changing their practices, hastening peer-review processes, and introducing many innovations, at least for the short term. The long-term impact and sustainability of these changes, however, remain to be seen.


The pandemic shone a light on the inaccessibility of much scientific research. Although publication in open access (OA) is increasing, it is often based on a "gold OA" model funded through article processing charges (APCs) that are unaffordable for many researchers, particularly in the Global South. In 2021 the average APC for publishing an OA article was as high as $958 (Morrison et al. 2021). The cost of publishing in high-impact "legacy" journals based on the printed publication model is far higher: the APC for publishing in Nature in 2021 was $9,968, over 10 times the average cost. When the average research grant in South Africa is approximately 146,000 rand ($8,852) (Osman and Rooryck 2022), it is hardly surprising that OA publishing in such journals remains out of reach for authors in resource-constrained settings. At the same time, the number of for-profit publishing houses has increased in recent years, inspired by the lucrative business model of some of the largest commercial publishers. In 2010 Elsevier's scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724 million—a profit margin of 36 percent (Alwine et al. 2021). In the past three years, Wiley's average payout ratio has exceeded 50 percent (Simply Wall Street 2022). [End Page 128]

In a world where the internet is increasingly used as the first point of call in the search for medical diagnoses, one in four people seeking medical information online in the United States report that they hit a paywall at least once (Fox and Duggan 2013). The cost of journal subscriptions leaves medical information beyond the reach of many, especially in low- and middle-income countries, where lack of access to scientific findings may compound other vulnerabilities. The consequences of lack of access and poor discoverability of crucial scientific outputs were witnessed in the mismanagement of one the world's biggest outbreaks in recent years: the Ebola virus epidemic of the mid-2000s in five West African countries, several of which had the world's weakest health systems. Ebola antibodies were detected in West African patients in the early 1980s, and findings were published in a 1982 issue of Annals of Virology (Knobloch, Albiez, and Schmitz 1982), which were further confirmed in 1986. Following these findings, Liberia should have been included in the "Ebola zone," but researchers in West Africa and beyond—as well as policymakers responsible for handling the virus—were initially unaware of the findings, a situation exacerbated by the cost of downloading the relevant paper (Dahn, Mussah, and Nutt 2015; Šehović 2017). Missed initial diagnoses and unfamiliarity with the Ebola virus delayed its detection, causing rapid transnational spread that resulted in a deadly wave of Ebola cases in Liberia in 2014 (Gostin and Friedman 2015).


Since the start of the twenty-first century, the open science movement has been fueled by both technological revolution and scholarly pressure (Harnad et al. 2004). Widespread use of the internet has increased the prevalence of web-based knowledge transfer services and accelerated the communication revolution. New information technology has provided an opportunity to develop and enable innovative open-access publishing models (Waithaka and Onyancha 2021). Over the space of a few years, this communication revolution has brought a real paradigm shift in the sharing of academic knowledge, and the [End Page 129] internet has provided new platforms for the production and dissemination of knowledge, as well as for OA (Ejikeme and Ezema 2019).

In particular, web-based institutional repositories (IR) have been designed to provide access to and enable unrestricted communication of research outputs for both scholars and the wider community. IRs have played an important role in "green" (or repository-based) OA through the storage, preservation, and dissemination of scholarly outputs (self-archiving). However, they are perceived to undermine the commercial interests of journal publishers, and their success depends on the infrastructure of the scholarly community, including technological infrastructure such as servers, as well as libraries, funding organizations, and policies.

While academic libraries have contributed immensely to the dissemination of open-access scholarship, they have not been successful in optimally leveraging their networks to avoid duplication of efforts. Although the current dispersed model has facilitated local control, it has resulted in the creation of siloed content, inconsistency in application of metadata standards, research deficiencies, and an increased strain on scarce resources. Institutional repositories, particularly in the Global South, are characterized by lack of local grassroots support, poor usability, low usage, high cost, fragmented control, and distorted markets (Arlitsch and Grant 2018).

Moreover, there have been delays in establishing an obvious developmental consequence of the internet, which can largely be attributed to academic apathy and inertia and publisher protection of profit margins and old business models. Both have become major bottlenecks for the growth of universal open access.


The most positive disruption in the wake of COVID-19 was the tacit but convincing demonstration of the value of open science to scholarly research by different stakeholders, including publishers (Tavernier 2020). The publishing world fast-tracked the peer-review and publication process. For example, Nature established its Outbreak Science [End Page 130] Rapid PREview server in response to COVID-19. The national governments of several countries called for wider access to scholarly knowledge (Finley 2020).

In January 2020 the Wellcome Trust released a statement calling on researchers, journals, and funders to ensure that research findings and data relevant to the novel coronavirus outbreak were shared rapidly. The statement garnered widespread support, including from many scientific societies and journal publishers such as Wiley, Springer Nature, and Elsevier (Wellcome Trust 2020), and several journal publishers agreed to make all their COVID-19 and coronavirus–related publications (as well as the data supporting those publications) immediately available in PubMed Central (PMC) and to license those publications in ways that facilitated reuse. The magnitude of the crisis prompted publishers to respond, accelerating peer review of COVID-19 manuscripts and pledging to make COVID-19 articles available without a paywall. In May 2020, 85 percent of all COVID-19 articles were free to read (Brainard 2021).

This shift in practices by the largest scientific publishers in the face of a global threat recognized and responded to some of the shortcomings in scientific publishing. The number of scientific papers has increased enormously in recent decades (Bornmann, Haunschild, and Mutz 2021). The interest of commercial publishers to expand their businesses, encourage publication in systems of research assessment, and increase government funding for STEM subjects in particular have all contributed to this expansion. This and the fact that peer review is voluntary and unpaid have placed peer review under immense pressure, reducing the number of reviewers, lengthening the time between submission and publication, and ultimately slowing down the pace of scientific discovery.

The length of time between submission and publication in traditional journals differs by journal and discipline, but typically takes several months, sometimes stretching over a year (Powell 2016). In biomedical journals, the median time span from submission to publication varied from 70 to 558 days (Andersen et al. 2021). This delay [End Page 131] is in part explained by the length of the peer-review process, which is being lengthened by reviewer fatigue and an increasing number of requests from an increasing number of journals (Petrescu and Krishen 2022). As the number of papers on COVID-19 increased, the research community was quickly overwhelmed by preprints and articles of variable quality (Hurst and Greaves 2021). The traditional review process was too slow to keep pace with the increase in publications, and at times journalists and policymakers cited—as authoritative sources of advice—preprints and papers that were later retracted. To address this challenge, publishing industry stakeholders established the COVID-19 Rapid Review (C19RR) group to expand the pool of reviewers with relevant expertise (such as from industry), encourage transfer of manuscripts between publishers, ensure all articles submitted to journals were also published as preprints, and include mandatory data availability statements. Moreover, expert reviewers were encouraged to identify important COVID-19 preprints, thereby closing the loop between early research and publication. Around 1,500 researchers signed up for C19RR within a few days, including a strong showing of researchers from China and countries in the Global South that are typically underrepresented among peer reviewers (Greaves and Treadway 2020). In this way, the rapid review process may have increased the diversity of peer reviewers.

One of the most notable changes to scientific scholarship was the increased use of preprints to rapidly and openly share new findings and stimulate new research on the virus. Preprints can be defined as complete written descriptions of scholarly output that may or may not be submitted to peer-reviewed journals (Bourne et al. 2017). Preprints include submissions under review and rejected submissions. Initiatives such as the "Plan U" initiative launched in 2019 advocated for the immediate publication of preprints from funded research, particularly during disease outbreaks (Sever et al. 2019).

While the physical distribution of paper preprint copies goes back to at least the 1960s, since the early 1990s preprints have increasingly been distributed online. Special mention must be made of [End Page 132] the particle physics community in institutionalizing the practice of exchanging preprints, first by mail, through departmental libraries and laboratories, and later online. The advent of digital archives only made the practice faster and more global. The first preprint server, arXiv, was established in 1991. Today, in some fields of physics almost all research papers are deposited on arXiv. Its success may be attributed to a "preprint culture" in physics, where physicists are encouraged to use archives as authors and readers from the start of their careers (Delfanti 2015). Since the launch of arXiv, subject-specific repositories dedicated to most natural and social sciences have been established, such as medRxiv, bioRxiv, ChemRxiv, and SocArXiv. Many such repositories have been founded by individual researchers or institutions and are dependent on the continued support of the scholarly community for maintenance and uptake, as well as financial resources. In addition, there are now region-specific repositories such as SciELO for Latin America, Europe PMC, and AfricArXiv, as well as national repositories such as Japan's Jxiv. Preprint servers make use of digital technology to address challenges of affordability and delay in the dissemination of scholarly knowledge and evidence (Boulton 2020).

This became particularly important in the context of a global pandemic, when there was an urgent need for scientists to share information and for medical professionals and decision-makers within governments to find possible treatments for the virus to halt its spread. With no fees for publication or access, preprint servers allow scientists who cannot afford APCs or other publication fees to publish their work, and they allow universal access to anyone who wishes to read it. This is in contrast to the "pay to read" (subscription) or "pay to publish" (including APCs for open-access articles) business models that characterize much of scientific publishing today. In the context of a global pandemic, there is an ethical imperative for scientists in all countries to have equitable access to mechanisms of sharing their research and gaining feedback from peers. As the pandemic evolved with the emergence of new variants in different geographical locations, the need to share quickly across different settings was only heightened. [End Page 133]

Even though there have been several respiratory viral epidemics in the past decade, the way the research community responded to COVID-19 indicates a clear cultural shift in scholarly communication. Although the distribution of prepublication research was encouraged during the Zika and Ebola virus outbreaks, the popularity of preprints remained modest. Fewer than 5 percent of journal articles on Ebola and Zika were preprints prior to publication (Johansson et al. 2018). However, during the COVID-19 crisis there was an unprecedented acceptance of preprints, which became widely used to rapidly and openly share new findings and stimulate new research on the virus.

The first preprint on COVID-19 appeared only a few days after the World Health Organization (WHO) published its first guidance on the novel coronavirus (Watson 2022). From then on, the number of preprints on the topic increased substantially. This was particularly apparent on medRxiv, a site for medical preprints. Between August 1 and December 31, 2019, a total of 14,078 preprints were posted on medRxiv and bioRxiv. Between June and December 2019, fewer than 100 preprint articles were deposited on medRxiv each week. This increased fourfold by April 2020, with preprints on COVID-19 making up the vast majority of submissions (Callaway 2020). While the biomedical research community has steadily embraced preprints over the past decade, COVID-19 accelerated this development. The number of preprints on medRvix and bioRxiv increased over 60 percent between January 1 and May 31, 2020 (Ravinetto et al. 2021). This includes preprints on COVID-19 and on other topics, and it is possible that the visibility of preprints on COVID-19 encouraged authors of papers on other topics to post them as preprints. By the end of April 2020, there were over 19,000 publications on COVID-19, with approximately 65 percent published in scientific journals and 35 percent published on preprint servers (Fraser et al. 2021).

In addition to quick, free access to scientific findings, preprint servers offer other benefits to the authors and readers of scientific research. By providing an opportunity to share manuscripts that have not yet been peer-reviewed, preprint servers allow researchers to [End Page 134] quickly share and receive feedback on works in progress and to access work by other researchers worldwide. In the context of a fast-moving health crisis, preprint servers allow for accelerated sharing of results, supporting international scientific collaboration. The WHO Working Group on Ethics and COVID-19 explicitly stated that researchers have an ethical obligation to share information that has the potential to aid response efforts "as soon as it is quality-controlled for release" and "without waiting for publication in scientific journals." Moreover, the working group's guidance calls on journals to facilitate this process by ensuring that publication as a preprint does not preclude publication in their journals (WHO 2020). There is an apparent contradiction in this advice, as the guidance encourages the use of preprints while insisting that they be "quality-controlled." Nonetheless, the guidance recognizes that rapid sharing of results can help avoid duplication and ensure activities are consistent with efforts to respond to the pandemic. Access to scientific knowledge increases the likelihood of innovative solutions that can lead to positive social impacts.


COVID-19 dominated the media in the months following the declaration of a pandemic, with widespread popular demand for scientific information and scientific findings under the spotlight as never before. Communicating the scientific uncertainties around a novel coronavirus and rapidly evolving global pandemic proved a challenge for scientists and journalists tasked with informing the public.

While the rapid publication of scientific results was of great importance during the pandemic, so too were the ways scientists engaged directly with citizens, such as through the media, which helped stimulate discussion and condition public attitudes toward mitigating the impact of the virus. It demonstrated that science is about dialogue and the dissemination of ideas in formats other than traditional publications. The informal communication of science is an essential contribution to public discourse, debate, problem solving, innovation, education, and government policy, and serves to advance the role of [End Page 135] science as a global public good. However, the balance of scientific effort has become distorted in recent years, as a consequence of evaluation systems that focus on publications as means of assessment for tenure and promotion within universities, to the detriment of other means of communicating science.

The urgent demand for knowledge and the latency of the peer-review process, even with rapid reviews, meant that preprints became a more widely used source of information, shared via traditional and social media. A 2021 bioRxiv study revealed that COVID-19-related preprint abstracts were viewed over 15 times more than non-COVID-19 preprint abstracts (Fraser et al. 2021). However, outside the scientific community, the status of preprint articles as early research findings that have not been through peer review is not always well known, and this context is not always provided when excerpts are shared in the media. In fact, around half of all major news stories based on COVID-19 preprints did not mention that the cited research had not been peer-reviewed or subjected to verification procedures (O'Grady 2021).


The large volume of research on COVID-19 and the quick dissemination of results through preprints and rapid review processes have raised concerns, particularly in light of increased attention from the public, media, and policymakers. Flawed research can undermine trust in science (Bagdasarian, Cross, and Fisher 2020). While it is crucial to avoid sloppy research, poor data analysis, and unethical practices, it is also important to be aware of the widespread public misconception of science as necessarily precise, accurate, and true. In contrast, and in practice, science deals with uncertainty; its conclusions are provisional (Boulton 2021). This public misconception of science is both understandable and unfortunate: understandable because most science taught in schools is indeed very well known; unfortunate because many of the issues that are important for public policy tend to have high levels of uncertainty. It is crucial to minimize [End Page 136] uncertainty through sound scientific practice while recognizing that uncertainty is intrinsic to scientific discovery.

The unprecedented speed at which research on COVID-19 has been conducted and published, particularly in regard to medication, has led to what has been described as a "paperdemic," fueled by "speed science" of variable quality. This is particularly concerning as misconduct and unethical practices in medical research have been reported more frequently than in other scientific fields (Fanelli 2009). And research misconduct is surprisingly widespread: for example, in the Netherlands, the 2021 National Survey on Research Integrity found that about one in two researchers admitted to frequently engaging in questionable research practices (Gopalakrishna 2021). In the context of increased use of preprints and accelerated review processes, this is concerning.


"Research integrity" broadly implies adherence to ethical and professional principles, values, and practices when conducting and applying scholarly research (Kretser et al. 2019). It includes practices that aim to insulate scholarly output from bias, fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, and conflict of interest while ensuring objectivity, reliability, openness, and reproducibility. Ensuring ethical publishing practices is also a key feature of research integrity.

The purpose of peer review is to assess the importance, quality, and novelty of a paper; identify unwarranted claims, demonstrably fallacious interpretations, and lack of originality; and suggest improvements in comprehensibility or logic. Some reviews are rigorous and an asset to both the author and journal editor, whether the papers are accepted, rejected, or revised. Some are trivial and of little value or improperly biased. However, the fact that inaccurate and poor-quality papers have passed through peer review suggests that the current model has not been effective in ensuring research quality (Ioannidis 2005). These bad papers are often slow to be retracted, which leaves inaccurate publications available with no indication that their findings [End Page 137] have been called into question. It takes around three years for all retractions published in a given year to be correctly indexed in PubMed—longer than the publication process itself (Loadsman 2019). The discovery of error and the mechanisms that facilitate this discovery are strengths of the scientific process, not weaknesses. In the modern world of confident assertiveness, retraction is regarded as failure; in science, it is success.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous cases of scientific fraud published in reputed journals and called out on the blog Retraction Watch (n.d.). Several inaccurate peer-reviewed research papers published during the pandemic have had adverse implications for clinical care and public health responses and have increased anxiety among the public (Frampton, Woods, and Scott 2021). Several high-profile peer-reviewed journals, including the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, have published retractions (Ledford and Van Noorden 2020). Indeed, the retraction rate for scientific publications on COVID-19 has been exceptionally high compared with other related research topics (Yeo-Neh and Tang 2019). As noted above, this is not necessarily bad, but it is important to establish whether the papers were retracted because of egregious avoidable error, failure of integrity, or implicit uncertainty.

Though rapid research sharing through preprints has been extremely beneficial to the clinical management of COVID-19 patients, it is important to understand, acknowledge, and clearly describe the status, nature, and purpose of preprints. Improving the understanding of journalists (especially nonscience journalists) is particularly important in order to prevent the misrepresentation of preprints as rigorous scientific opinion. Due to increased scrutiny of preprints during the pandemic, most preprint repositories now display disclaimers noting that a work is not yet peer-reviewed and should not be relied on without context or be reported as established information without consulting multiple experts (see for an example). There is a need to categorize early research findings based on level of scrutiny and to ensure that findings are not methodologically flawed. Rigorous [End Page 138] review is clearly of the utmost importance when research may be immediately applied to processes affecting public health and well-being or expensive public policy.

There are calls for the scholarly community to formalize and adopt "good preprint practices" that ensure research integrity, transparency, and reproducibility. These good practices must be identified, implemented, and enforced (Ravinetto et al. 2021).


Preprint servers typically allow authors to retain copyright of their work and later to license or transfer it to a publisher if they choose to do so. However, almost all preprint servers require that authors grant them the license to host and distribute the preprint, and many servers favor a CC-BY license, one of the least restrictive Creative Commons' licenses (one step removed from public domain) that permit reuse and sharing for any, including commercial, purposes. Such licenses can enable commercial firms to exploit the findings of publicly funded research for profit or make it easy for well-resourced scholars in the Global North to exploit the data of scholars in the Global South for profit (Meagher 2021). These concerns are not limited to the publication of preprints but may be heightened by the nature of preprint servers as easily accessible places to share early results. It is important to encourage researchers to retain their rights and to familiarize themselves with different copyright and licensing models.

Some suggest that preprints are representative of the scientific process itself and that they promote the sharing of ideas and open critique at an early stage in the research process, when it's likely to be most useful. An increase in the use of preprint repositories should be combined with an established mechanism for rigorous open peer review to ensure quality of early research. Overlay journals, a type of open access e-journal that adds a layer of editorial curation and peer review for open-access publications hosted on a preprint server or open repository, also offer promising solutions for the development of accessible, peer-reviewed papers. [End Page 139]

In addition to promoting scholarly critique of preprints and other publications, online open-review platforms allow for easy tracking of a scholar's contributions as a reviewer. With many scholars calling for greater recognition for time spent peer-reviewing, online review platforms provide systematic tracking to demonstrate a reviewer's contribution to the scientific community. Technological innovations, such as artificial intelligence–assisted reviewing, could also enhance the peer-review system and are not currently being exploited to their full potential (Woods et al. 2022).


The availability of open data and open code is important for reproducibility of research (Royal Society 2012). Concurrent publication of supporting data and code can support transparency and reproducibility and thereby ensure independent verification and measure quality of scholarly research. The failure to deposit data in a trustworthy repository concurrently with publication of a truth claim should be regarded as malpractice.

Data sharing also reduces duplication of efforts by enabling reuse of data sets for additional analysis or supplementation that can nurture further research. This is particularly important in cases that can swiftly impact clinical practice and public policy, as is the case with COVID-19. In computational research and modeling studies where codes encompass major portions of methodologies or prediction of results, posting the code on repositories like GitHub enhances reproducibility.

However, a 2021 study of major preprint repositories reveals that approximately 75 percent of arXiv papers, 67 percent of bioRxiv papers, and 79 percent of medRxiv papers contain neither open data nor open code markers (Collins and Alexander 2022). Most of these preprints, which were eventually published in peer-reviewed journals, also did not provide these essential markers. Preprint repositories could ensure that metadata of research is openly available (McGuinness and Sheppard 2021). For example, they could demand [End Page 140] that authors describe the openness of their research practices in submissions. Good research integrity practices include systematic documentation, effective methodology, and accurate reporting. Such steps could go a long way in ensuring transparency, reproducibility, and reliability while curbing the spread of misinformation.


The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on scholarly publishing went beyond the increase in number of scientific articles in the form of preprints and published papers. The reaction of publishers to COVID-19 proved that they could operate more quickly and openly when faced with a crisis. The move to lift paywalls and accelerate peer-review processes is an explicit recognition that delays and barriers to access currently impede the circulation of useful scientific knowledge. This begs the question: Why not do the same for other global threats that require rapid responses, most notably climate change? Some publishers have experimented with this, such as when the Nature portfolio of journals provided free access to a selection of content on climate solutions in the month leading up to the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference (International Science Council 2021). Yet a review of articles cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report Working Group I (2021) and Working Group II (2022) found that just 63 percent of the research cited is free to read online (Kramer and Neylon 2022). The authors of the review found that there had been an increase in publisher-supported open access in the previous decade but the supply of this literature on other repositories (including preprint repositories) had stagnated over the past five to seven years.

While the pandemic has led to large shifts in scientific publishing—such as increased use of preprints, a commitment to open sharing of articles and data, and faster peer review—whether or not it will lead to lasting change remains to be seen. Waltman et al. (2021) note that the proportion of published articles on COVID-19 that began as preprints remains low and that sharing of COVID-19 research data has also been relatively low. [End Page 141]

While the rapid review initiative (C19RR) mentioned above has led to a more diverse pool of available reviewers, the increase in submissions from male authors has been greater than that from female authors, across all subject areas, which may be attributed to women taking on greater caring responsibilities during COVID-related lock-downs (Else 2020). More research is required on whether an increase in the use of preprints has led to more submissions from authors in the Global South.


The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented levels of interest in scientific research. The public need to understand and respond to an existential threat, and to access scientific findings, has undoubtedly created an ethical imperative for scientists and publishers to change their publishing practices. But sustaining the innovations of the pandemic era will require scrutiny of scholarly publishing models and support for infrastructure such as preprint servers. Funding bodies and employers increasingly recognize preprints in funding and hiring decisions, but this is by no means widespread and there are discrepancies across disciplines. Likewise, the implementation of data-sharing mandates will demand appropriate infrastructure and investment of time and resources from the research community, which is not necessarily recognized and rewarded in research evaluation processes. Wider awareness and adoption of open science practices should help to capitalize on the innovations in scholarly publishing developed during the pandemic and indeed could help counter some of the concerns raised about preprint publication and rapid peer review.

In many ways, the pandemic-accelerated shift in scholarly publishing arrived at the right time. The long-running debate about OA publishing had gained new impetus after the 2018 launch of "Plan S," an initiative for OA science publishing backed by the European Commission and a consortium of national research agencies and funders from 12 European countries. The resulting organization, cOAlition S, became one of many advocating for transformation in scholarly [End Page 142] publishing around the world. Just a few months before the first coronavirus cases were observed, UNESCO member states at the General Conference in Paris tasked the organization with the development of an international standard-setting instrument on open science. The UNESCO Open Science Recommendation, adopted in November 2021 by its 193 member states, notes that the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the urgency and need to foster equitable access to scientific information and facilitate sharing of scientific knowledge and data. Ensuring that these goals are met will require action from a large number of stakeholders: publishers, research funders, scientific societies, and individual researchers themselves. This is one of the key aims of the International Science Council's (ISC) ongoing project on scientific publishing. The nonprofit ISC was established in 2018 to foster greater openness among its members, including national and regional science bodies, as well as disciplinary unions and associations.

Fuller adoption of open science principles and practices, such as greater use of data sharing and open peer-review processes, could have forestalled some of the shortcomings of rapid review and early publication of unverified research during the COVID-19 pandemic (Besançon et al. 2021). Support from institutions and international initiatives can help further the adoption of these principles.

Preprints in particular can assist in rapid dissemination of new evidence-based knowledge to the scholarly community and also improve research transparency with mechanisms for quick feedback from peers, open data and code to support verification of findings, and rapid retraction of flawed studies. Free preprint servers have the potential to increase access to scientific research, ensuring that important findings inform responses to societal challenges and reducing duplication in scientific research. Preprints combined with open peer-review practices have the potential to make the publication process more efficient, in a manner that offers more equitable open access. In this collaborative model of scientific advancement, fueled by open information sharing, the role of the research community as primary [End Page 143] producers and consumers of scientific knowledge is made more important, as is the need to uphold responsible research practices for studies published prior to (or without) formal peer review. Preprint repositories have a role to play here in upholding certain requirements for deposited papers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a living laboratory for innovations in scientific publishing, with massive uptake of preprint repositories alongside accelerated peer review and support for concurrent data publication. At the same time, a number of flawed studies and retractions—including those in legacy journals—have fueled concerns about research integrity and quality, especially in light of heightened global interest in COVID-19 research findings and widespread sharing of early findings on social media. If the advances brought by preprints are to be sustained once the pandemic has subsided, scientists themselves will need to have a greater say in defining the future of scientific publishing and in governing its infrastructure and processes. Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom (2007) present an institutional analysis design framework for analyzing governance in common pool resources and evaluate knowledge as a commons, pointing out that knowledge is a non-diminishing resource whose greater access enhances its value and utility.

Finally, there is a need to educate the public, journalists, and science communicators that research papers are propositions and not ultimate solutions. This demands responsible science communication that interacts directly with all stakeholders and institutional policies that train scientists and nonscientists in respectful dialogue, communication, and critical evaluation. A publication system that promotes the sharing of findings in a way that is open to scrutiny and challenge from both scientists and the wider public is essential to fulfilling science's role as a global public good. [End Page 144]

Lizzie Sayer

lizzie sayer is senior communications officer at the International Science Council, where she leads the council's project on the future of scientific publishing. Previously she managed the International Social Science Council-UNESCO publication, the 2016 World Social Science Report, Challenging Inequalities: Pathways to a Just World.

Jenice Goveas

jenice goveas is senior campaign manager for the International Science Council's future of scientific publishing project. She works in the areas of science diplomacy, emerging technologies, science advice, open science, and science communication. She recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship in science policy at the Indian Institute of Science.

Geoffrey Boulton

geoffrey boulton is Regius Professor of Geology and Vice Principal Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Governing Board of the International Science Council. He is renowned for his work in glaciology, on the roles of science, and on universities. Relevant publications include Opening the Record of Science: Making Scholarly Publishing Work for Science in the Digital Era and Science as a Global Public Good (both published by the ISC in 2021).


Many of the concepts in this paper arose from our involvement in the discussions of the International Science Council Steering Group on the Future of Scientific Publishing.


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