Covid-19 Research: Are we moving too fast?

Covid-19 Research: Are we moving too fast?

Covid-19 Research: Are we moving too fast? Getting the balance right: There has been an enormous volume of important COVID-19 research coming out into the public domain.

There has been an enormous volume of important COVID-19 research coming out into the public domain This includes studies aimed at calculating case fatalities, effectiveness of new treatments, risk profiles, and effectiveness of mitigation strategies. One can understand why — there is an insatiable appetite and need for information about the novel coronavirus, and a promise of not only much publicity for any research findings on the topic but also the hope that such research can make an immediate difference in people’s lives by helping to determine the best response to this pandemic. That being said, a degree of caution is needed when it comes to the dissemination of new findings.

Existing problems with publishing

It is not uncommon for scientists to spend months, if not years, carefully developing an idea into a paper but we are seeing an increasing number of instances where the whole process takes a matter of days. Bias towards publishing research with ‘sexy’ findings often facilitated by problems in the research design, such as small samples and the winners curse, multiple comparisons, and selective reporting of results have been the source of much discussion. There are a small number of exceptions but it is generally the result of misinformation coupled with cognitive biases such as confirmation bias which we are all susceptible too (e.g. we tend to only see the evidence we want to see) rather than any malfeasance. There are also signs that such problems are beginning to be taken more seriously by scientists across all disciplines.

The pandemic has intensified the above issues, however, as not only are researchers rushing to write papers, but journals are also rushing to publish them with an expedited peer review process. Of course it is important to get good science on an important topic out into the public domain as quickly as possible but this does make an already unpredictable peer review process even noisier than usual. While good science has been key to shaping our response to the pandemic, research undertaken and published with great haste has the potential to cause harm.

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