As the world grappled with the uncertain, ever-changing world of COVID-19, researchers and journalists were compelled to rethink the way they distribute information in the pandemic.
A new study led by Simon Fraser University has found the urgency and volatility of the virus has shaken the traditional publication protocols of the scientific and media communities.
“The urgency of the pandemic required researchers and journalists to sacrifice assurances of peer review for more rapid publication,” said Juan Pablo Alperin, publishing program professor with SFU. “Just as researchers are adjusting to the new way of rapidly communicating among each other, so too are journalists figuring out how that greater uncertainty needs to be conveyed to the public.”
Researchers say a combination of the expectation and need for credible health information and the breakneck pace of online news put significant pressure on the research process. Especially during the early days of the pandemic, this at times led to preliminary or “preprint” studies being misconstrued as peer-reviewed, confirmed information.
“We saw [confusion] with a couple of high profile preprints published at the beginning of the pandemic, for example, which linked tobacco to COVID-19 prevention,” said Alice Fleerackers, researcher in the Scholarly Communications Lab.
“These studies were highly flawed, but they got a ton of media coverage—sparking unnecessary panic and even encouraging some people to pick up smoking.”
Amid a constantly evolving approach to understanding and fighting back against COVID-19, Fleerackers noted news consumption during the pandemic has seen a boost in many countries.
“Journalists have not had an easy year. All things considered, I’m impressed with what they’ve been able to accomplish despite the odds,” she added. “And overall, audiences seem to be responding well. Many countries saw a boost in news consumption during the early stages of the pandemic, and trust in journalism has been high.”
The SFU-led study included research from scholars in the United States and Australia.