How will the pandemic affect sight-saving research in the long term?
Aleksandra Jones | | Opinion
The global impact of pandemic mitigation measures on research has been immense – and vision science research is no exception. Social distancing and lockdowns have meant that most scientific research and clinical trials have been inevitably delayed, with researchers unable to either take their work home or carry it out in their usual settings. In the UK, 70 percent of clinical trials and studies have been paused, delayed, or stopped (1), with some institutions halting all but COVID-19-related and life-saving research (2).
Some practising clinician-researchers were redeployed to take care of patients affected by COVID-19. Many others have devoted their attention to COVID-19’s impact on eye care, with record numbers of papers produced and published on the topic – understandably, but to the detriment of other crucial vision-related research. In some settings, lab equipment has been repurposed to ramp up the number of available diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Importantly, with childcare settings and schools closed, researchers with caring responsibilities cannot always balance both duties – a challenge that disproportionately impacts women, resulting in fewer grant applications and paper submissions from female researchers (3).
But these obstacles aren’t new. COVID-19 is merely exacerbating challenges the scientific world has faced for a long time. Could the pandemic be our chance to improve the situation – not just temporarily, but as a permanent fix for some of scientific publishing’s most pressing issues?
Researchers and journal publishers are now pulling together to lessen the impact of the pandemic on their output. Papers are being published rapidly, with over 50 leading publishers opting to make all COVID-19-related content accessible to all (4). Meanwhile, authors are publishing their work on preprint servers or through open-access platforms ahead of peer review (5). Collaboration on local and international levels is rising as researchers explore new ways of remote networking and disseminating information. An open letter listing ways in which funding bodies can alleviate the impact of caring responsibilities on researchers’ productivity has been signed by hundreds of leading scientists worldwide (6). Is there an opportunity in this crisis to change scientific research for the better – forever?
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- AMRC, “COVID-19: The risk to AMRC charities” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/30pWgNz.
- NIHR UCLH BRC, “Research during COVID-19 pandemic” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/2Wyx7iI.
- Laboratory Equipment, “Data suggest female researchers fall behind during COVID-19” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/30qEhGJ.
- R Kiley, “Open access: how COVID-19 will change the way research findings are shared,” Wellcome (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/2ClCPxw.
- Wellcome, “Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/2E0r8g7.
- Open Letter, “Ensuring that researchers with caring responsibilities don’t get left behind” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/32xJKy2.