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How COVID-19 is Changing Research Culture

4th June 2020
 | Alex Jackson
Covid Report Cover Feature Image
Quick Read
  • In five months the volume of work generated has surpassed the most intensive of emergent fields
  • A relationship between medical sciences and preprint servers is emerging.
  • The speed at which the research community will be asked to change will likely require new mechanisms to ensure that research can be funded as quickly as possible.

Digital Science has today released a report highlighting the global research landscape trends and cultural changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report How COVID-19 is Changing Research Culture analyses publication trends, regional focal points of research, collaboration patterns, and top institutional producers of research in COVID-19.


The report key findings include:

  • As of 1 June 2020, there have been upwards of 42,700 scholarly articles on COVID-19 published, 3,100 clinical trials, 420 datasets, 270 patents, 750 policy documents, and 150 grants.
  • Preprints have rapidly established as a mainstream research output and a key part of COVID-19 research efforts. They started at relatively low levels in early January 2020 and accounted for around one-quarter of research output by the beginning of May 2020.
  • To date, more than 8,300 organisations have been involved in supporting COVID-19 research, with over 71,800 individual researchers identified as working on COVID-19 research.
  • The highest intensity of research into COVID-19 began in China and gradually migrated west mirroring the movement of the virus itself.
  • While the US and EU have both now published more than China in journals such as The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA, China continues to benefit from an early mover advantage and continues to enjoy the lionshare of the citations. While research in the field is clearly moving quickly, it currently remains anchored to China’s early publications.
  • A density map of global COVID-19 paper production shows there are three to four major centres of research: an extended area in China composed of several cities—Wuhan, where the virus is alleged to have started, Beijing and Shanghai; Europe, specifically Italy and the UK, two of the harder-hit countries; the US’s east coast research corridor including Boston and New York; and finally, a lighter focus from the Californian institutions on the West coast.
  • The top producing institution of COVID-19 research (since the beginning of 2020) is in China, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, followed by Harvard University and the University of Oxford.
  • The top healthcare producers of COVID-19 research (since the beginning of 2020) are Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, then Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, and Massachusetts General Hospital.
  • While the proportion of internationally co-authored work is steady, the vast majority of research on COVID to date has been unusually authored within countries.
  • At the time of writing, 156 grants totalling at least 20.8m USD have been awarded to COVID-themed researchers in public institutions.
  • Much of the clinical trial initiation activity in January and February is sponsored by China and this then begins to fall off in March, April and May. We see a similar wave for Europe and the US, but shifted back by two months, beginning in March.

Daniel Hook, CEO of Digital Science and co-author of the report, said:

“ The research world has moved faster than many would have suspected possible. As a result, many issues in the scholarly communication system, that so many have been working to improve in recent years, are being highlighted in this extreme situation. From peer review to scholarly search, we are seeing changes in behaviours condensed into a few months that many have long campaigned for. We live in interesting times.”

See the press release here