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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Scholarly Publishing in Review: Recapping 2020 and Looking Forward to 2021


Dr. Avriel Licciardi, Research Communications Strategist

January 2021

2020 has been an extraordinary year full of challenges as well as remarkable accomplishments, especially within the academic community and scholarly publishing industry. We became accustomed to virtual meetings, conferences, and learning from our homes or isolated offices, tested our patience with research laboratories in lockdown, united as an industry to promote open science and COVID-19 publications being open access, and perhaps finally picked up that hobby we always said we would.

While numerous positive trends have emerged from 2020, the past twelve months were plagued by a global crisis and its consequences, many of which the scientific community continues to address today and will do so for the coming months (or years). Here, we review the challenges and impact of 2020 on the academic and publishing industries, in addition to the positive developments to look forward to in 2021 and beyond.

2020 in Review: Researchers in Lockdown

Throughout the lockdown period(s), some researchers reorganized their daily schedules to focus solely on writing manuscripts, finally gaining the time to make writing progress. By contrast, however, many other scientists’ research was interrupted due to laboratory restrictions, shutdown of commercial facilities, or lack of access to campuses and materials, ultimately leading to research disruption and distress. Impact of the sudden lockdowns in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the mental health of many researchers, particularly PhD and post-doctoral scholars who question their future in academia. Despite these unexpected challenges in an already stressful period in one’s academic career, early career scientists are resilient, adaptable, and hopeful regarding the current situation, continuing to conduct research, move science forward, and land faculty positions.

Lockdowns and travel bans resulted in the expansion of virtual scientific conferences across nearly all disciplines to become the norm, which offered unique and new opportunities for researchers worldwide to attend typically out-of-reach discussions from the comfort of their home. While virtual conferences have lifted some barriers to participation, they aren’t without obstacles: networking remains challenging, especially for early career scientists; and “Zoom fatigue” is real. Regardless, many researchers are hopeful that future conferences and meetings will offer hybrid formats, with both virtual and in-person options, as 2020 has revealed that remote workshops, conferences, and webinars present options for sustainable online communities.

2020 in Review: Turning Points for Open Science and Academic Publishing

The scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic was momentous; COVID-19 research, vaccine development, and rapid dissemination of scientific information appeared in daily headlines worldwide. As detailed in Frontiers Science News, the COVID-19 crisis highlighted trends in both science policy and scholarly publishing, underlining the role and future of technology in publishing, the trend toward open science, and impact of pre-prints and alternative publishing outlets in the academic realm.

Behind the scenes of COVID-19, the publishing industry underwent notable changes. The publishing world prepared for the full implementation of Plan S, which mandates that all publications on research financed by 25 major funders must be published in a compliant open access journal or platform. Along similar lines, fully open access publishers, such as MDPI and Hindawi, experienced remarkable publishing growth. Clarivate Analytics announced efforts towards calculating the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) based on the date of electronic publication and not the date of print publication. Finally, as highlighted by an article in Nature, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a torrent of coronavirus-related research flooded pre-print servers and journals, with preprints accounting for 17% to 30% of total COVID-19 research papers. COVID-19 manuscripts were reviewed at record speeds, and the scientific contributions to coronavirus research efforts changed as the virus traveled around the world.

Looking Forward to 2021

A highlight of this past year was the resilience of the international scientific community: we came together to tackle one of the largest challenges humanity has encountered in the past 100 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a renewed emphasis on the value of evidence-based and transparent research as well as the benefits (and risks) of open science. Thus, as we look to 2021 with 2020 in our back pocket, there is no question: the academic and publishing communities are prepared to overcome whatever the world has to offer.

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