More than 87 000 papers about coronavirus published since onset of pandemic

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  • Gathering as much information about Covid-19 as possible is crucial 
  • However, researchers were amazed at how many research publications were produced since the beginning of the pandemic
  • According to a recent analysis, more than 87 000 related papers have been published

From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic until October 2020, scientists from around the world have collectively published more than 87 000 research papers relating to the coronavirus, according to a recent analysis.

Findings were published in the journal Scientometrics.

Zooming in on Covid-19

Although gathering as much information as possible about Covid-19 is crucial, researchers were still stunned by the volume of papers published on the topic in such a short period of time.

“It is an astonishing number of publications – it may be unprecedented in the history of science,” said co-author of the study, Caroline Wagner.

“Nearly all of the scientific community around the world turned its attention to this one issue.”

Wagner and fellow researchers conducted an analysis after searching for articles related to coronavirus on many different databases. “Data were collected for multiple time periods, enabling us to analyse research publications during Covid-19 by periods,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The researchers categorised the data according to corresponding time periods which led to four period groups, namely, pre-Covid-19 (for articles produced between 2018 and 2019), Period I (1 January to 8 April 2020), Period II (9 April to 12 July 2020), and Period III (13 July to 5 October 2020).

They found that 4 875 coronavirus-related articles were published during Period I (January to mid-April 2020), but this number quickly rose to 44 013 by July. By the beginning of October, 87 515 articles on coronavirus had been published. 

Comparing coronavirus data accumulation trends to past trends

Wagner also compared the number of research papers on coronavirus to the amount of research available on another topic – Nanoscale science – that was popular in the 90s. The jump from 4 000 to 90 000 scientific papers on the topic of Nanoscale science took almost 19 years.

“Coronavirus research reached that level in about five months,” Wagner said.

When infection rates drop, the number of publications decrease as well.

The present study serves as an update to an earlier research paper, which found that the USA and China were leading coronavirus research in the world. The present study shows that China’s contribution dropped as soon as the country’s infection rates decreased.

Wagner expressed that they were surprised when they observed similar trends in other countries: when the infection rates dropped, the scientists of those countries became less involved with coronavirus publications. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, governments flooded scientists with funding for Covid research, probably because they wanted to look like they were responding,” Wagner explained. “It may be that when the threat went down, so did the funding.”

During the last period covered in the study, the involvement of American scientists had increased, but the size of research teams got smaller. Wagner and her team were surprised by this finding, as she and her colleagues expected team sizes to grow as the pandemic continued. 

“We attribute this continued decline to the need for speedy results as pandemic infections grew rapidly. Smaller teams make it easier to work quickly.”

Covid-19 policies meant a drop in international collaborations

A drop in international collaborations was also observed, partly due to practical reasons, such as travel bans being instated, but Wagner also claimed that political elements may have played a role, especially between the United States and China.

“We need to figure out a way to restart these collaborations as we move into the post-Covid period [because] international cooperation is crucial for the scientific enterprise,” Wagner said. 

Image credit: Pexels

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