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Promoting Open Science in COVID times: An Opportunity to build Trust among Researchers and the Public in Global Health

Open Science is the technology that enables trust-building among the researchers and the public. It allows the percolation of technical, scientific information, data, and research outputs to the general population (Open Access), which in turn, allows broader exploration  (Open Data) of research methodology and findings among all the stakeholders (Open to Society). In 2009, Nilsen described Open science as the extent that makes “everything—data, scientific opinions, questions, ideas, folk knowledge, workflows and everything else—available as it happens publically.”

Suleksi & Ibaraki‘s 2010 study showed that the scientific research paper outputs increased by 15% between 1990 and 2001, while scientific literacy declined despite increasing public interest. Ipsos Mori Survey 2011  findings suggest that access to original scientific work enhances their trust in it.

Despite established Open Science benefits, there is no structured framework to promote open science globally. Open Science encompasses a variety of activities. One such activity is submitting research papers in publicly accessible repositories, publishing in open access journals, including data sets with publications, writing and collaborating through blogs, or maintaining project websites. Open notebook science is a Classical example of Open Science where “researchers post their laboratory notebooks on the Internet for public scrutiny [. . .] in as close to real-time as possible”.

During the ongoing COVID 19 times, globally, most nations have mobilized their health research capabilities to address Covid 19 solutions. The United States of America alone has allocated billions of dollars to support timely research and dissemination for Covid 19 solutions. Specifically, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has already issued nearly 1000 research awards worth roughly $2 Billion to support the development of Covid 19 solutions, including diagnosis and vaccines, as well as identification of the populations at risk and their risk factors. These investments have been instrumental in designing and testing novel solutions against Covid-19.

Chan et. al, 2014 reported that the complete protocols, study reports, and participant-level datasets are rarely available in Scientific Journals. Most of the time, only about half of the studies reported in the scientific journals follow selective reporting of methods and results. Hence, the readers are often oblivious to the study information because of a lack of full access, leading to potential biases in the interpretation.

Globally, Covid 19 has created an urgency to adopt Open Science. A great example of this recent emphasis is uploading the Open Access database for the initial genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 by the concerned researchers. This -access to data sharing enabled the researchers working on this across the globe to draw insights about the new covid 19 variants. Another initiative to promote open science is the free-of-cost availability of Covid 19 related articles by major publishers like Elsevier and Springer Nature. Recent evidence also suggests that the authors have started sharing their preprints more systematically than before. Additionally, the pre-publication reviews of the articles are being uploaded on external platforms like Pubpeer. Specific to data, initiatives like OpenSAFELY, have emerged as a premier Open Science database for medical researchers that complies with the legal regulations.

Pieces of evidence suggest that Open Science adoption justifies the rigor of the researchers and ensures reliability and reproducibility of the scientific evidence.  Further, greater adoption of the Open science platforms will eventually lead to increased trust among the researchers’ community and the general public regarding the scientific evidence. This practice, if followed persistently, will increase the research efficiency that will further lead to improved health outcomes.

Conclusion: Since the last decade, the Scientific Community and stakeholders like the donor agencies and the Governments have been advocating for broader adoption of the Open Science principles. However,  little progress has been made so far, even in the industrialized nations. COVID 19 pandemic has forced the researchers and the Governments towards faster acceptance of the Open science principles. While it has successfully catalyzed the trust among the researchers and the scientific communities, a long road still needs to be adopted for wider adoption, especially among the researchers in the developing nations


Sanjeev Kumar works with the Health Systems Transformation Platform (HSTP) in Research Specialist Capacity. He has worked with multiple State Health Systems in India. (Twitter: @snjvkumar386)

Anand Kumar, Public Health Professional, India. He has extensively worked in strengthening Urban Health & MCH Services in Bihar, India. ( twitter:@optmanand)

  1. Dear Sanjeev and Anand
    Indeed need of the hour reflecting in your blog. It contemplates the issues in selective reporting in research article, partially developed understanding in the minds of reader, and need for openness in the research community. It means, not only report sharing, but also the data, the process, the writing, the methods, the thought process that led to the conclusion and arriving at educated recommendations.
    But the other side for open science, is to have the pupil or masses capable of grasping such information. One critical factors remains to be touched, is the interest of masses to invest time, learn and comment of the work that is still going on; when most of them are trying to catch up with the latest information.
    But indeed the open science will promote the discussion and it is a democratic way to take the forward the science, in its true spirits.
    Congratulation on your article.

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