Tzu Chi Medical Journal

: 2021  |  Volume : 33  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 98--99

Research publications during public health emergencies

Malcolm Koo 
 Graduate Institute of Long-term Care, Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology, Hualien, Taiwan; Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Malcolm Koo
Graduate Institute of Long-term Care, Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology, 880, Section 2, Chien-Kuo Road, Hualien

How to cite this article:
Koo M. Research publications during public health emergencies.Tzu Chi Med J 2021;33:98-99

How to cite this URL:
Koo M. Research publications during public health emergencies. Tzu Chi Med J [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 9 ];33:98-99
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Full Text

Dear Editor,

At the time of global public health emergencies, such as the current 2019 coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19)[1], research articles on the topic are appearing at an ever-accelerating rate[2]. While the PubMed bibliographic database is arguably the most convenient and comprehensive online resource for accessing peer-reviewed biomedical literature, there are other sources to consider when timely information is a critical concern.

With the initiative put forward by the Wellcome Trust in response to the Zika virus outbreak in 2016[3], various major publishers and organizations have committed to make research findings relevant to global public health emergencies available as rapidly and openly as possible [Table 1]. With this, researchers can benefit from timely and free access to all relevant peer-reviewed research publications, including those otherwise accessible by subscription only.{Table 1}

A notable difference in the way of publishing research results between now and the past is the increased embracement of preprints by researchers in the biomedical field. On the one hand, preprints can dramatically increase both the speed and the visibility of research by posting reports online before a formal peer-review process. An article on the discovery and potential origin of COVID-19 posted on bioRxiv on January 23 has received over 206,000 downloads and was mentioned by 69 news outlets within a month[4]. On the other hand, they can open up the possibility of trading off accuracy with immediacy as well as a concern for misuse or misinterpretation. A case in point was the publication of an article on bioRxiv that claimed to find “uncanny similarities” between the new coronavirus and HIV[5]. While the article was swiftly retracted by the authors within 2 days after it was scrutinized by the scientific community, this was not fast enough to prevent the incorrect information from spreading through social networks.

Preprints are undoubtedly an efficient venue for scientific communication, especially during public health emergencies. Nevertheless, it is imperative to remember that they are not validated through peer-review. Medical researchers should maintain extra vigilance when reading and citing preprints. Frontline medical professionals should not to rely on them to guide their clinical practice. Last but not least, journalists have a responsibility to remind readers, the differences between preprints and published articles. Sensational and misleading reports can have the potential to further aggravate the already panic and chaotic situation.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 13].
2Stoye E. China Coronavirus: How many papers have been published? Nature 2020. [doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00253-8].
3Wellcome Trust. Statement on Data Sharing in Public Health Emergencies. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 13].
4Zhou P, Yang XL, Wang XG, Hu B, Zhang L, Zhang W, et al. Discovery of a novel coronavirus associated with the recent pneumonia outbreak in humans and its potential bat origin. BioRxiv 2020. [doi: 10.1101/2020.01.22.914952].
5Pradhan P, Pandey AK, Mishra A, Gupta P, Tripathi K, Menon MB, et al. Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and gag. BioRxiv 2020. [doi: 10.1101/2020.01.30.927871].