Coronavirus: International Publishers Make COVID-19 Research Content Freely Available

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In an instance of world publishing responding to the coronavirus crisis, scholarly publishers and associations are pooling COVID-19 content for free professional and public access.

Image – iStockphoto: Lewis Tse Pui Lung

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Update: You can hear a discussion about this story on Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast Beyond the Book with Christopher Kenneally: Publishers Putting Research and Information To Work Against COVID-19

‘A Whole-of-System Effort’
In a letter circulated Friday (March 13), the chief science advisers of 12 nations are calling on publishers “to voluntarily agree to make their COVID-19 and coronavirus-related publications, and the available data supporting them, immediately accessible in PubMed Central and other appropriate public repositories, such as the World Health Organization’s COVID data base, to support the ongoing public health emergency response efforts.”

The reference to PubMed Central is to the repository of biomedical and life-sciences journal literature run by the National Library of Medicine at the United States’ National Institutes of Health.

The letter’s text indicates that it’s “sent on behalf of the chief science adviser or equivalent representing” Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Association of American Publishers‘ (AAP) president and CEO Maria A. Pallante has made a statement of the organization’s support for the Trump administration’s “leadership in convening researchers, funders, and publishers in the global emergency to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Her statement reads:

“Publishers purposefully and continuously contribute to the advancement of science and medicine by investing billions of dollars in producing and disseminating high-quality, peer-reviewed journal articles.

“In this urgent and serious environment, we are grateful to the many publishers who are doing their part to communicate valuable discoveries, analyses, and data as quickly as possible, including by making their copyrighted articles pertaining to the virus freely available for public use during this crisis, in both text and machine-readable formats.

“Many publishers—both commercial companies and nonprofit societies—have been doing so for weeks.”

In mentioning publishers engaged in content sharing for weeks, she’s referring to an agreement among academic journals, societies, institutes, and companies “to make research and data on the disease freely available, at least for the duration of the outbreak,” as reported by Emma Yasinski at The Scientist in mid-February.

And what’s playing out here is another example of the international book business engaging in responses to the mushrooming coronavirus emergency, as in the cases of the partnership between Gruppo Mondadori and Rakuten Kobo in Italy and the newly offered free access by to its services for publishers and nonprofits facing conference cancellations.

‘For the Duration of This Crisis’

At this writing, the latest update of The New York Times‘ comprehensive world mapping of coronavirus outbreak data today (March 16) lists world totals as:

  • 167,400 people sickened
  • 6,329 deaths, 3,116 of them outside of mainland China
  • 136 countries reporting detections of the coronavirus presence

In the case of this newly announced cooperative effort among publishers of COVID-19 research literature, the effort calls for the information to be provided “in both human and machine-readable format to allow for full text and data mining using artificial intelligence with rights accorded for research re-use and secondary analysis.”

Kelvin Droegemeier

“We further respectfully request,” write the science advisers behind the letter, “that this arrangement apply to articles published to date as well as future articles for the duration of this crisis.”

In terms of Pallante’s statement of appreciation for American leadership, research meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier is the Trump administration’s director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He has attended meetings of the coronavirus task force chaired by Mike Pence and at several points has looked to researchers for assistance.

On February 6, Droegemeier’s office wrote to the president of the US National Academy of Sciences, asking that American scientists and medical researchers investigate the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, as Ben Gittleson reported at ABC News, in light of misinformation about the virus online.

And there haven’t always been good feelings for Droegemeier in the publishing industry. As Kelsey Brugger of E&E News (Environment & Energy Publishing) on February 21, “Droegemeier is pushing back against publishers who in December said the administration was quietly pursuing an executive order to require immediate free distribution of taxpayer funded research.”

At that point in December, Brugger writes, the AAP was far less happy with Droegemeier and the Trump White House, writing with publishers that what the administration wanted “would effectively nationalize American intellectual property and ‘force us to give it away to the rest of the world for free.'”

In the coronavirus-related development, AAP and publishers seem much happier.

Publishers’ Comments: All In

Like Pallante, the leadership of many of the publishers and associations involved are contributing statements on the project, and the AAP has provided us with comments from several officers in the scholarly publishing industry and its professional community.

Kumsal Bayazit, CEO of Amsterdam’s Elsevier, for example, is quoted, saying, “The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic requires a global effort and Elsevier has been working together with the research and health community. At the start of the year we established a free COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus Information Center that is updated daily with the latest research and includes links to more than 19,500 articles from across our journals including Cell and The Lancet.

“In working with the White House to improve the discoverability and utility of this important body of knowledge, we are now making it available to PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories such as the WHO COVID database for full text and data mining and without any limitations for as long as needed while the public health emergency is ongoing.

“Through this partnership we hope to help researchers to keep up with the rapidly growing body of literature and identify trends as countries around the world address this global health crisis.”

At Springer Nature, based in Heidelburg, chief publishing officer Steven Inchcoombe says, “We’ve made available free of charge all relevant research we have published and continue to publish. We’re strongly urging our authors submitting articles related to this emergency to share underlying data sets relating to the outbreak as rapidly and widely as possible. And we’re a signatory on the consensus statement, sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“We also have a role to play providing good, fact-based journalistic and opinion content on this fast-moving public health issues in Nature—for researchers and research leaders—and Scientific American for the broader public.

“But we appreciate that more can be done, which is why we fully support this initiative from the United States and other countries to see relevant research from all publishers available in one place and for this information is to be available in formats to allow for full text and data mining, with the relevant rights in place for re-use and secondary analysis. We’re putting into place processes for this to happen and are confident that our authors will not only be supportive but expect us to take such action in times of crisis.”

At the San Francisco-based nonprofit open-access publisher PLOS (Public Library of Science), chief scientific officer Veronique Kiermer says, “Open access and open science are critical, especially in times of crisis.

“PLOS already supports, and calls on others to support, research being shared such that it can be centrally text- and data-mined, and also versioned in places where it will be most conveniently discovered by those tackling this crisis in real time.”

The American Chemistry Society (ACS) CEO Tom Connelly is quoted, saying that the organization “is committed to the global effort to halt the spread and threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. We applaud the Office of Science and Technology Policy and its global partners in aggregating all COVID-19 and related research into PubMed. ACS is contributing all such research from across our 60 plus peer-reviewed journals toward this critical effort.”

The ACS has announced its cancellation of its planned March 22 to 26 Spring 2020 National Meeting in Philadelphia.

Judy Verses, executive vice-president at Wiley Research, says, “As the COVID-19 crisis continues, Wiley and its society partners are devoted to doing all we can to aid in the global response by delivering relevant research to scientists and practitioners on the front lines.

“A whole-of-system effort is critical, and we pledge to continue to join forces with the global community to advance research and support patient care. We are depositing any COVID-19 related research we publish into PubMed Central and licensing it to maximize discoverability and usability.  To date, we have already enabled access to over 5,000 articles and have launched an AI-driven real-time feed aggregating the latest research and news on COVID-19.”

From the UK’s Emerald Group, the head of rights, Laura Wilson, is quoted, saying, “Having previously made all relevant coronavirus and pandemic-related resources freely available, Emerald Publishing is committed to providing these and new publications and/or supporting data to the appropriate public repositories, in support of the global research effort against COVID-19.”

And in the statement issued by the science advisors, there’s a strong vote of appreciation for the publishing industry’s contributions to the effort to understand and combat the fast-moving viral outbreak.

The advisors’ letter says, “We, as national leaders on science policy, applaud the efforts of researchers to understand and prevent the infection and spread of COVID-19. We also greatly appreciate the funders and publishers who play the important role of supporting, reviewing, and communicating research outcomes and making publications and data available to the global community for scientific research and public awareness.”

More from Publishing Perspectives the coronavirus outbreak is here

Download your free copy of our Spring Magazine here

In our Spring 2020 Magazine, Publishing Perspectives has interviewed publishers, industry experts, entrepreneurs, and authors to present a look at the book business for the coming year. Inside this issue of Publishing Perspectives Magazine, you’ll find articles and resources including:

  • Publishing and the coronavirus
  • Richard Charkin’s view of key industry challenges
  • China’s growing comic book market
  • Brussels Book Fair debuts its rights center
  • Eksmo CEO Evgeny Kapyev on Russia’s book market
  • Matchmaking for publishers and producers in Latin America
  • Book market data
  • A world tour of copyright developments
  • Translation sales resulting from Norway’s Frankfurter Buchmesse guest of honor program
  • An AI startup creating interactive stories
  • An interview with author Andrew Keen

Download ‘Publishing in Times of Crisis’ free of charge here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.