This week’s Nature (w/c 23rd March 2020) discusses the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has on the world of research – as well as the editors’ ability to publish the journal itself. It outlines Nature’s pledge to support the research community while we go through this unprecedented time and seek a way out. An edited version of the editorial is reposted here with permission.
Like many of you, we’re struggling to comprehend the new world we find ourselves in. For decades, we’ve been publishing research and news about emerging infectious diseases and the potential havoc a pandemic can wreak. Now we are all living it; anxious about what the future holds but also determined to support research and — where we can — to help find a way out.
Compared to what so many are experiencing, the impact on Nature has been relatively small, but nonetheless historic. At 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday 17 March, we sent to press the first issue of Nature in just over 150 years that had been completed with all our staff working remotely. Some colleagues had less than 24 hours to prepare, as the previous evening our London offices — Nature’s headquarters — officially closed, and staff rushed to set up makeshift offices in their homes.
As countries introduce unprecedented measures to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, one of the most alarming conclusions from infectious-disease modelling is that there is no clear exit strategy. […] In all likelihood, a lasting exit strategy will come from the research that so many of you are involved in. Worldwide, the outbreak has already resulted in the publication of more than 900 English-language papers, preprints and reports (as of 12 March) — and many more when research in other languages is counted. This includes research on virus structure; how it spreads; clinical features of the disease; potential drug targets; the effectiveness of quarantine measures; and the psychological effects on health-care workers. Much more is to come, for example on the virus’s impact on economies and on livelihoods, on mental health, environmental protection and global efforts in diversity and inclusion.
It’s hard to think of a higher-stakes research project. And this urgent study has to take place in a world where there is no normal. As health-care professionals work to exhaustion so that the sick get immediate relief, researchers, too, are working continuous shifts. This is happening as universities are emptying, investigators are unable to visit their labs, experiments are being cancelled or delayed, and routines shattered. We know that some of you have become ill and that many are simultaneously caring for children, or for partners, elderly relatives or friends.
We’re doing two things to help: redoubling our commitment to publishing your research, and providing authoritative, evidence-based reporting and commentary on the outbreak.
To do that, we are committing to the following.
• Nature and its publisher Springer Nature — together with other publishers globally — are making coronavirus-related research openly available as quickly as possible. And reporting research and data on preprint servers, for example, will in no way affect consideration of submissions to Nature. Springer Nature has also signed on with global organisations such as the Wellcome Trust and the consensus statement, the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) via PubMedCentral, the WHO’S COVID database and the Allen Institute for AI to best support access to and engagement with critical research at this time. More can be read in the letter from our CEO Frank Vrancken Peeters. (This second sentence is an addition to the original editorial)
• Research published in Nature, and in other Nature Research journals, can be accessed through the Nature Research coronavirus research page. In addition, if you’re an author on any Springer Nature journal and need support in curating coronavirus-related data, we have set up a support page to help.
• In Nature’s ‘magazine’ sections — our news, commentary and multimedia — we are prioritizing in-depth coverage of the virus and COVID-19 disease. We have introduced a continually updated live blog, and a dedicated section in our daily newsletter, Nature Briefing, which is curating essential coronavirus coverage from around the world. You can also expect more expert commentary and in-depth analysis in our World View and Features sections.
• Our new weekly Coronapod podcast will feature interviews with researchers on the frontlines of the pandemic, those whose work has been affected by the outbreak, and insights from our expert reporters.
• And we’d like to hear how you’re doing. Are you studying the coronavirus? Has your research, teaching or funding been affected? How are you feeling and have you found ways to cope?
• As we prioritize our pandemic coverage, we will be reducing some of our other content in Nature’s magazine section. We understand that you, like us, are still interested in other issues, and we’ll continue to cover various important discoveries and developments in the world of research.
• For our authors and reviewers, we’re well aware that many of you will have difficulty meeting deadlines associated with our peer-review process. If you are an author or a reviewer, please let us know if you need extra time. Our automated systems will continue to remind you of the original timelines, but we intend to be highly flexible.
• We intend to expedite consideration and review of COVID-19 papers. To help us achieve this, we would like to hear from those of you with relevant expertise who can review over short timescales. If this is something you can do, please write to email@example.com, putting ‘COVID-19 reviewer’ in the subject line.
• Travel restrictions mean that most of our editors and reporters will be unable to meet researchers in face-to-face meetings for the foreseeable future. However, social distancing is not social isolation, and we are doing more to reach out to you in virtual ways.
All these are small steps, and we will be looking for any opportunity — working with you all — to do more, so the world can return to something like normality. This is a big moment for research, and the whole world needs to see results.
This editorial originally appeared in this week’s Nature.