The Coronavirus Is Already Changing the Way We Think About Scientific Cooperation
Viruses ‘cooperate.’ To keep up, scientists are, too.
Viruses are constantly evolving through interactions inside “clouds.” Inside these swarms, they pick up traits from their neighbors, forming novel strains that more efficiently hijack cells or are harder for the immune system to neutralize. Essentially, they cooperate.
To fight the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe, scientists are also cooperating, and on an unprecedented level.
Ditching the normal publication process for research — which moves slowly and oftentimes offers access only to those who pay — more than 50 journals and publishers signed a statement in January pledging to share findings rapidly and openly and to make all of their publications related to Covid-19 and the coronavirus “immediately accessible” and licensable “in ways that facilitate reuse.”
Michael A. Johansson, a biologist with the CDC, and Daniela Saderi, co-founder of PREreview, an open source preprint platform for collaborative writing, meanwhile launched Outbreak Science Rapid Prereview, an open source platform for rapid review of preprints related to emerging outbreaks. Scientists have uploaded more than 750 coronavirus-related preprints onto medRxiv and bioRxiv, free online archives and distribution services for unpublished preprints.
“Outbreaks of pathogens such as the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that is responsible for COVID-19 move fast and can affect anyone,” Johansson and Saderi wrote in a letter to the journal Nature announcing their project. “Research to support outbreak response needs to be fast and open, too, as do mechanisms to review outbreak-related research.”
The willingness to cooperate goes beyond academic research. Thousands of health care workers, engineers, seamstresses, and researchers are sharing and discussing technical designs for scarce commodities like masks, ventilators, and respirators in a Facebook group titled Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies. The community launched an open-source 3D-printer ventilator project, which produced a design in seven days. According to Forbes, the design will be reviewed by the Irish government by as early as next week. Designers hope…