The staff at AARC wish you well during this time of immense challenges for the Academy. In recent weeks, scholars from many disciplines have posted studies on the COVID-19 pandemic to preprint repositories, as evidenced by the continuously updated Twitter feeds from preprint servers such as the clinical-focused medRxiv.

Screenshot of the medRxiv Twitter feed, ca. March 31, 2020

Research funders are making money available for scholarship on COVID-19, including new opportunities from NIH and a host of other funders.

Screenshot of a search for “COVID-19”

Screenshot of a search for “COVID-19”, ca. March 31, 2020

We expect that all forms of scholarship and recognition – from research grants and journal articles to books, honorific awards, and citations – will be impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming years. While many forms of research take months or even years to become available, preprints are one way to disseminate knowledge rapidly and without restriction. This level of access and timeliness make preprints ideal as a way to explore “real-time” scholarship on an emerging topic. Hopefully, the global mobilization of scholars to study all aspects of the novel coronavirus and present their results will hasten the end of this pandemic through knowledge production and sharing.

We’ve been monitoring preprint publication patterns through the course of the pandemic, keeping track of those studies whose title or abstract mention terms directly related to the current global health crisis (e.g., “coronavirus”, “COVID-19,” “SARS-CoV-2”, etc.). The medRxiv repository has seen a substantial increase in the number of preprints posted in the last 5 months, from around 200 preprints per month pre-pandemic (November, 2019), to more than 900 preprints in March, 2020. Interestingly, the uptick in preprints posted to medRxiv is due almost entirely to research about the novel coronavirus (in orange), although a slightly higher number of preprints on non-coronavirus related topics have also been posted in the last two months (in blue). In February, 43.7% of the preprints on medRxiv were related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, that number rose to 69.3%.

medRxiv preprints from January, 2020 through March, 2020

Other preprint servers that are not clinical-focused are seeing only a modest number of studies posted about COVID-19. In February, 2.0% of the preprints on bioRxiv were about coronavirus, in March this rose to 4.1%.

bioRxiv preprints from January, 2020 through March, 2020

The arXiv repository describes itself as serving “physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics.” Nonetheless, 1.4% of the preprints posted to arXiv in March were about the COVID-19 pandemic.

arXiv preprints from January, 2020 through March, 2020

We will follow this trend in the coming weeks to explore how COVID-19 alters the research and publishing landscape, and we hope to include the results of research from other fields – particularly preprints from the social sciences, arts, and humanities. In the months and years ahead, we will look to identify patterns and changes, and adapt our database in light of the “new normal” brought about by this global pandemic. In the meantime, we are encouraged to see so many scholars sharing their work rapidly and without access restrictions or paywalls.

Best wishes from AARC, be well!