Apart from the public health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in research and publishing outbreak responsible for potentially substandard research. This shifting tide in publishing trends has been fastened by the rush to publish along with pre-prints submissions on one side and retraction of published articles or unauthenticated publications on other hand. One of the leading ethicists of the Journal of Medical Ethics has pointed out that this fastened speed of publishing has indicated that the quality of publications was being compromised by lowering guards of quality checks.
Adjunct Professor Katrina Bramstedt from Bond University, Australia, and Secretary-General at Luxembourg Agency for Research Integrity added that such sort of compromised and unauthenticated publications will directly affect the patients, clinicians, and potential government decisions and policies.
In other words, COVID-19 has brought Chaos in public health and publishing culture. As speedy this pandemic is spreading the scientists and researchers are propelled to search for the possible remedy or vaccine to overcome this global pandemic. Ultimately this pressure is directed towards medical journals and preprint repositories resulting in a large number of publications because of weakened quality checks.
Journal of Medical Ethics editor, Professor John McMillan, adds: “Researchers face powerful headwinds against their efforts to further knowledge about COVID-19. The urgency for evidence, the rewards from finding a successful therapy or vaccine, and the prevalence of disinformation mean scientific integrity is critically important”.
A rough estimate of this publishing trend covers the majority of papers from Asia (57.5%) with most contributions from China(58%). The statistics of this publishing trends is surprising, on May 7, 2020, a total of 1221 articles were registered on the international clinical trial registry site, ClinicalTrials.gov and by July 31, 2020, 19 published articles and 14 preprints were been retracted/withdrawn because of unauthenticated results counted as an expression of concern.
Recently Two preprints (SSRN preprint server) and two research papers were retracted from The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine because of unverifiable data common. And another preprint from the USA about COVID-19 antibody seroprevalence has come under scrutiny for an undisclosed conflict of interest. Both the journal and the researchers will face the consequences regardless of an honest mistake. Previous statistics show that in such cases the citations are likely to have a hit and fall by 8-9%.
One of the main reasons for this quality issue is rush to publish means there is less time for quality checks by researchers and their supervisors and thorough reviews of study applications by research ethics committees, says Professor Bramstedt.
To overcome these pressing issues it was recommended to emphasize the efficiency of the submission process and make research ethics and integrity training compulsory for all the researchers. There must be timely access for authors to seek ethical advice for complex issues, legal consequences, and penalties in case of breach of terms and policies. And any infraction of policies and standards should have meaningful consequences to ward off repeat offense, also regardless of the outcome, its important to immediately make the results and investigations public. Apart from authors/researchers on other hand the journals and preprint repositories must be proactive and maintain a rigorous peer-review process to ensure the quality of publications.