Data Sharing & Covid-19: Why Access to Data Is Crucial For Scientific Advancement

Publishing Jun 4, 2021

We find ourselves in unprecedented times. We have the resources and the means necessary to implement complete data sharing, yet this is still a subject of discussion in many fields. This is due to many factors, which we will cover in this article.

As an alternative to this ongoing discussion, one of the essential variables in the manageability of the COVID-19 pandemic has been international data sharing. The scientific community was quick to respond to the struggle to contain the spread of the virus. As a result, we have seen over a million records accessed, with over four million web requests since the start of the pandemic. We will mention more about this in the following sections.

Open Access Accelerates Research

Open Access publications allow researchers to get noticed and get credit. Anyone can find articles online as they are fully indexed, easily searchable, and open to text and data mining. Work is immediately available in its entirety and free to reuse and add to or change with attribution. When researchers can read and build upon the findings of others, science advances faster.

Anyone can access these advancements, not just a select group of researchers. By increasing access and visibility to research, we can amplify its power to inform, educate, and enlighten.  All of this played a massive role in the pandemic - Open Access increased the visibility of research data and information. Therefore, we saw journals and publishers worldwide adapt and understand this principle. They jointly released a statement promising full cooperation with data sharing and agreed on some emergency measures that would help speed up the delivery of information on up-to-date developments.

Several organizations started showing their research openly, and large-scale journals dropped subscription fees for articles relating to COVID-19, making them available to everyone.

Open Access To Covid-19 Data

The European Commission, ELIXIR (an intergovernmental organization that brings together life science resources from across Europe), the European Open Science Cloud, and several other partner institutions launched the European Covid-19 Data Platform. This platform accelerates research and supports the development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and effective vaccines by enabling rapid access to datasets and results on the pandemic.

Six months after the launch, the platform features over 60,000 SARS-CoV-2 sequences, along with other molecular data such as proteins, compounds, and drug targets. It also includes a secure authorized access mechanism for research use of human data across Europe. All this data is made readily available to researchers through the Data Portal.

The COVID-19 Data Portal constantly updates with new datasets and tools. One of the biggest challenges during the pandemic was to share data and findings in a coordinated way. Through the portal, users can upload their SARS-CoV-2 data and get access to data from other sources worldwide.

Six months after the launch, the portal had seen over three million web requests and thousands of data submissions. Now, as was also mentioned earlier, it offers Open Access to over 180,000 scientific publication records relating to the COVID-19 portal after over 300 institutions have deposited data.  

The Future Of Data Sharing

This Data Platform is a small first step towards enhanced international partnerships and a robust data-sharing infrastructure. The platform acts as a model for sharing infectious disease data in the future, further enabling collaboration between countries and disciplines. This is very encouraging, considering the data infrastructure can be reused and adapted to help understand, monitor, and eradicate other infectious diseases.

Access is only the beginning. Open is more than just being able to share and read an article. It is about providing the right context to understand it, the resources to replicate it, and the tools to collaborate to make science better. Thus, building the framework for fairer participation and distribution of knowledge.  Open Access data sharing has exponentially accelerated life science research and has furthered our understanding of health and disease. Furthermore, it is expected that by 2025, the amount of genetic data stored will be higher than YouTube, Twitter, and astronomy combined.

Data Sharing Best Practices + Covid-19

While many people want to make all science open in all fields, some disadvantages and challenges arise when heading in this direction. One of the challenges of some researchers during the pandemic, for example, was working remotely as a team and developing communication skills virtually.

To see more advantages, disadvantages, and potential solutions to Covid-19 data sharing, you can take a look at this table.

Below are a few good data sharing practices:

  • Grouping statistics into graphs, making it easy to scan and compare - as with the example of Coronavirus Watch, which summarizes the world’s collective knowledge about the virus.
  • Scientific communication, research, and data offer the possibility to create new scientific knowledge - by creating an open and leveled playing field while providing sharing and access to scientific content, technologies, and processes to the entire scientific community. This is crucial to do from developed and developing countries alike.
  • Access to verified and peer-reviewed data, journal articles, etc. - verified information can keep the public updated on the situation at hand and alleviate fears caused by ignorance or misinformation.
  • Unesco’s guide to Open Access curricula for librarians and researchers - great for scientists or researchers who wish to disseminate their materials relevant to the pandemic, virology, and public health but are unsure how to do so correctly. The guide consists of a set of modules for researchers and library institutions and is part of Unesco’s Medium-Term Strategy. By adopting this strategy, member states recognize that knowledge plays a crucial role in economic growth, social development, cultural enrichment, and democratic empowerment.

Almost 100 percent of research articles published on the Covid-19 virus are available on an Open Access basis. If we can do this for Covid-19, which is a big challenge, we should be able to do this for any other challenges, like respiratory disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Conclusion

Open Access is more important now than ever before. If there’s something that 2020 has taught us, it is that not one country alone can stop a pandemic. Collaboration is key. Through what we have been able to do throughout the pandemic, not only are we in a better position towards sharing the necessary information, but we are also more prepared for what is to come.

Orvium emerges as an excellent option to the numerous programs aimed at accelerating science. Our goal is to help researchers disseminate their work and knowledge in an open, accessible and transparent way, guided by the open science movement principles. Under this belief, we also collaborate with OpenAIRE to spread scientific knowledge and make science discoverable.

We as a society can always try to find more ways to be more collaborative.

To read more about our involvement towards a more collaborative future, take a look at our platform and our website.

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