How Covid invited a rethink of the scientific publications business


Science journalists have for many years cited the difficulty of conciliating the (long) time required in scientific activity and the (rapid) time in which the media operate. The Covid-19 pandemic came perilously close to joining the two, when an avalanche of scientific papers about the virus were published with such haste that many had to be swiftly retracted. Science journalist and historian Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis reports on how the pandemic exposed the unvirtuous practices of the lucrative scientific publications business, now brought to a turning point and in need of reinvention.

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By July 10th 2022, PubMed, the US National Library of Medicine’s search engine for publications on biomedical topics, had referenced in its data base a total of 274,956 scientific papers of various sorts on the subject of Covid-19. The first of these was published in February 2020, since when the flow of papers has never ceased to grow.