Amid the yearlong coronavirus pandemic, scientists and researchers worldwide indeed have been working at breakneck speed.
A new analysis has revealed that through October last year, more than eighty-seven thousand scientific papers about the novel coronavirus were published globally.
“It is an astonishing number of publications—it may be unprecedented in the history of science,” Caroline Wagner, co-author of the study and associate professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, said in a statement.
“Nearly all of the scientific community around the world turned its attention to this one issue.”
For the research, the team searched for coronavirus-related articles in several scientific databases and soon discovered that nearly five thousand articles were produced on the disease between January and mid-April of 2020. That figure surged to more than forty-four thousand by mid-July and eighty-seven thousand by the start of October.
This new study was an update to one the researchers had published in July in PLOS ONE, which found that China and the United States led the world in coronavirus-related research during the early months of the ongoing pandemic.
The updated version showed that China’s contributions dropped significantly after infection rates in the country fell. From January 1 to April 8, Chinese scientists were involved in 47 percent of all global publications on coronavirus—and that figure plummeted to just 16 percent from July 13 to October 5.
Similar results were found in other countries where infection levels became more manageable.
“That surprised us a bit,” Wagner said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, governments flooded scientists with funding for COVID research, probably because they wanted to look like they were responding. It may be that when the threat went down, so did the funding.”
Meanwhile, scientists in the United States were involved in 23 percent of all worldwide coronavirus studies at the beginning of the pandemic. That figure rose to 33 percent from the July to October period.
The researchers also noted that the size of teams on coronavirus research projects, which was already getting smaller in the first study, continued its downward trend.
Wagner admitted that the finding was unexpected. She and her colleagues had expected team sizes would get larger as researchers had more time to plan and figure out more details of the pandemic.
“We attribute this continued decline to the need for speedy results as pandemic infections grew rapidly,” she said. “Smaller teams make it easier to work quickly.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.